Following our introduction about him and his work in black and white last week, we now bring to you Lomography's exclusive interview with New York-based photographer Christopher Lange, in which he discusses all things photography as well as his equally interesting non-photographic pursuits. Oh, and he graciously shares his very own recipe for roast chicken, too!
Young he may be, but Christopher Lange definitely knows a thing or two about photography. Growing up in a family of artists, Lange recalls being exposed to the medium as early as infancy and finally taking his own deliberate steps to pursuing photography himself at 12, on the day the legendary photography master Henri Cartier-Bresson died. Lange proves to be an articulate and well-rounded individual as well, as his interests lie on wider spectrum to include writing and underground house/techno music.
Hello, Christopher! Before we begin, kindly introduce yourself to the members of the Lomography community.
Hi there, I’m Christopher Lange, a 23-year old photographer from NYC.
In the feature by I Still Shoot Film about your work, you mentioned that you practically grew up being surrounded by film, seeing as your father was a former fashion photographer himself. How much and in what way/s would you say this has influenced your own craft?
Growing up in a home of photography (and photographers) essentially meant that the medium was never far out of my consciousness. Being able to consult with my father regarding certain technical aspects of the medium, mostly concerning the studio, has been a huge resource as well as a bonding experience. My mother has pretty extensive fine art training herself, in painting and drawing. She was at Parsons and the Art Students League back in the 70’s so she’s practically an encyclopedia of art history and theory.
I would say that they’ve definitely influenced me through their encouragement and overarching knowledge of the medium, but we have completely different tastes when it comes to the sort of qualities we’re looking to get out of our work. My dad hasn’t shot black and white in years, and has basically always been a color guy. Between the two of them, I have always been able to discuss and critique both technical and aesthetic issues of my work, even way before ever going to art school myself.
Do you still remember the time you shot your first film photographs? Please tell us about your experience, if you can.
I made my first photographs when I was still an infant, sitting on my dad’s lap in his studio with the cable release of a Hasselblad or Mamiya RZ in my hands. But when it comes to my own truly conscious efforts at shooting film, that was at the age of 12. I was at summer camp and had the chance to do a couple days of darkroom/photography workshops with a college student, Nikki, who was volunteering. I think I fell in love with her a little bit on the first day. It was actually the day that Henri Cartier-Bresson died. We spent about two hours looking at his work, talking at length about the photographs, and then she handed me a Nikon F, a roll of film, and that was that. I still have the (fading) RC prints I made there, one in particular is of this little boy, Tejo, dancing around in a court-yard which I still love. I really ought to scan the print…
We’ve noticed that all of your photographs featured in abovementioned interview, Tumblr, and on your website (save for one) were taken in black and white. The films you’ve listed as favorites are all black and white emulsions as well. That said, why do you prefer shooting in black and white? What subjects do you shoot in monochrome, and, when you do, in color?
Black and white has always resonated with me, I think [it’s] because of my love for ink drawings and metal-etching prints. The amount of control that I have as an artist with monochromatic images is really what drives me to use it for most of my work. You have a lot more freedom to push values around when your brain isn’t concerned with whether or not the white balance or shades of colors are “correct.” I have the capability to process both BW and C-41/RA-4 at home, but I don’t really enjoy printing color negs by hand at all.
My preference for color is to shoot C-41 or digital and then print inkjet or via my lab’s Durst Lambda onto RA-4 paper, which is a very different head-space than coaxing a print out of a BW neg in the darkroom. I also prefer the texture that black and white film grain has over chromogenic dye. I’m very attracted to the feeling that sandpapery, salt-and-pepper grain can instill in black and white. I think if Fuji still made their old high-speed color neg film I would use a lot more color film. I adore the look that the 1600 speed had; it was very pointillistic…you could almost get a Georges Seurat-like texture out of it if you shot/printed it right. I also want to try that CineStill film that just came out recently.
My subject matter doesn’t really vary all that much. Even when I have color film in the camera I’m attracted to geometric elements of composition and range of luminosity far more than the hue or saturation of bright colors.
What comprises your current photographic arsenal?
Equipment-wise, I use a variety of cameras for various purposes. I try not to get stuck on that stuff too much since in reality I think that the gear, beyond a certain point, doesn’t really impart too much difference. That said, I use a Leica M2 for 90% of my 35mm photography, with the remainder being split between three Nikons: F3, F3/T, F4, and an Olympus Stylus Epic and a Contax T2. As far as medium format is concerned I use a pair of Hasselblad 500s, an old Rolleiflex, and a Pentax 67…I’ll do some 4×5, but that’s only once or twice a year. The Leica, Nikons, and Hasselblads are my go-to bodies for anything “serious.”
What inspires you? Who are the photographers and/or artists that you look up to?
A lot of my aesthetic sensibility comes from early 20th and late 19th century art. I’m completely in love with surrealism and abstract expressionism, and I’m addicted to the challenge that comes along with twisting a medium that is inherently incredibly realistic into a detached sense of space and value. Playing with spatial perception and depth is a visceral joy for me. There’s a great deal of literature I derive emotional inspiration from. I tend to “feel” a lot more strongly about photographing if I’ve read something that turns my brain inside out. Charles Baudelaire, Rainer Maria Rilke, Dostoyevsky, and Nietzsche have been favorites of mine for ages.
There are too many photographers to name who have played a pivotal role in inspiring me, but the following definitely are some of the most prominent: Daido Moriyama, André Kertész, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Saul Leiter, and Pentti Sammalahti. I won’t go into the details of why and how… I don’t think I can really qualify it verbally, but all of their work has been a huge part of my life in various respects.
Do you have a favorite project or photograph among those that you’ve done so far? Any interesting and memorable story behind i? Please tell us about it.
My favorite project… ha, now that’s tough! My method for making pictures is pretty off-the-cuff. I generally respond and adapt to situations as they come about, and weave the images that compliment each other into a series over a longer period of time. It can take seemingly forever to arrive at a selection of photographs that I am willing to call a “series,” but in a way I enjoy photographing this way. I try not to have too many specific preconceptions of what I’m going to shoot on any given day, and make an effort to remain receptive of any possibilities that come my way.
The Tensor / Tessera series was the polar opposite of that, however. I completed that work for my senior BFA thesis at Alfred University in the Spring of 2013. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to explore for my thesis, and I had a couple of these one-off, very strange, abstract architectural compositions, and realized that it was a theme that I hadn’t ever put in a concerted effort on examining. I photographed for 4 months, and it seemed to pull itself together, narratively and thematically. It was an interesting experience because I don’t generally enjoy photographing exclusively static objects, but I turned it into a game of perception and ended up with 16 or 17 photographs. It was really all about graphic form and twisting around the viewer’s sense of dimension in a flat print. I split the work evenly between 35 and 6×6, and the final exhibition was comprised of four 30×30” mural prints, and 12 16×20” prints. They’re all toned fiber prints, framed with 8 ply window mats – pretty striking to see on the wall, if I do say so myself.
What is your dream project?
I’ve had this strange desire to shadow a crew of fishermen on a small deep sea trawler for a long time… I can visualize a lot of elements of the photographs in my head, the overcast light, fog, salt spray, small bits of peeling paint on the deck-railing. I’m actually very attracted to any setting in which bonds are formed between strangers, be it through a common ideology, occupational necessity, or any of the other circumstances which draw people of all sorts together. The brother/sisterhood of humankind is definitely something I want to explore extensively.
Are there other hobbies or interests that you have aside from photography?
Outside of photographic pursuits, I spend a lot of time writing, both prose and poetry and longer, more analytical things about art and theory. I actually just started a new communal blog for written pieces on the changing landscape of contemporary photography called Crime & Treason; I put up the first post a few days ago! I love to cook as well. All sorts of food, but I make a mean roast chicken. I’ll share the rough recipe: stuff the interior with lemon or lime wedges and some chunks of ginger, rub the outside with a little olive oil, and add a layer of rosemary and finely chopped garlic, and salt and pepper. Put it in a deep roasting pan with about a half inch of water, and roast it at 400 for 90 minutes or so (this is based on a roughly five pound chicken).
I’m also pretty entrenched in the underground house/techno scene here in the city. NYC has such a deep history of dance music that I love. The fact that Limelight in Manhattan is now a shopping mall is a travesty to me, total disrespect to “Old New York.” Larry Levan is probably turning in his grave at the thought of the old Paradise Garage space being renovated into condos or some nonsense like that. I try to go hear Francois K spin at Cielo every Monday night, though – he’s a real legend in the world of nightlife. There are so many amazing people in the community who pour every last bit of themselves into making it a familial experience.
What has been keeping you busy these days? Any ongoing/upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us? Exhibitions you’d like to promote?
The past few months have held a few big changes. I graduated from my
university almost a year ago, and I’ve been continuing to work on my own photographs in addition to teaching darkroom classes at The Bushwick Community Darkroom and working alongside Willis Hartshorn, who is the former director of the International Center of Photography, and a close friend. I spent about seven months going to his studio on a weekly basis. I also just donated a print which sold in the Her Justice benefit photography auction two weeks ago, and have another print in the Bushwick Open Studios auction which is coming up in a couple weeks! I need to get back to work in the darkroom soon. It’s been a while since I’ve printed and I have far too many negatives to catch up on!
Any advice or tips that you could give aspiring photographers, both in black and white and film photography in general?
Probably the single best piece of advice I ever came across was from Abbas, which was to get a good pair of walking shoes, and fall in love. It’s hard to do any better than that, but I will say that being studious and diving deeply into art history is an immutably fantastic way to widen your visual lexicon. I would also recommend that anyone who is serious about using film, and wants to learn more, to join the Analog Photography Users Group at APUG.org. It’s an extremely knowledgeable and helpful community.
Any last words?
Thank you again to Julien (Editor’s note: You’re welcome, and thank you, too!) for asking me to do this interview, to you readers, and the entire Lomography community for helping to keep film alive photography interesting.
All photographs in this article were shot and provided to Lomography by Christopher Lange.
Related article: Black and white film photography by Christopher Lange