Meet film photographer, fashion editor, and stylist Britta Burger and see a few of her top-notch portraits taken with the New Lomography Petzval Lens.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography.
I shoot mainly editorials with a focus on subcultures and people on the fringes of fashion, style and – I guess – society. My background is fashion, I used to be a stylist/journalist. I still write, and I still style, mainly my own shoots, which tend to be a mix of fashion/portrait and documentary photography. Apart from my photo equipment I normally just bring a couple of bags of clothes if it’s a fashion shoot and let the models choose what they want to wear from my selection. I don’t think much about the clothes once I start shooting, the styling works when you don’t notice the clothes. It means they’re right. And then I just spend some time with whoever I shoot, it’s normally just me and the model, and wait until things start looking fun or interesting or relaxed or until the light is right or for any other sign and start shooting. You can’t work like that for everyone and I do make compromises sometimes, but it works for Cooler magazine, which is a skate/surf/snow/street mag I’m the fashion editor of, and a few other magazines and newspapers, brands such as Volcom, and hopefully for a new zine called Cheap Tricks (out in July) I’m working on with my friend Dasha Love (who also modelled for this Petzval shoot, alongside Mia Kingsley, another super talented photographer).
How was it shooting with the New Petzval lens?
It was easier than I thought. I tried it out on a friend’s digital Canon SLR first, figured out how to do the swirl effect and then put it on my film one. Mia and Dasha found the fact that the lens was significantly bigger and heavier than the camera, and very old school looking pretty entertaining, especially when – due to the nature of the lens – I had to climb on fences and skate ramps to get enough distance between me and them and the background and apparently looked like I was on a pirate ship looking through a telescope.
What do you love about film photography?
I like quite a specific aesthetic, it’s not only about analogue vs digital, I wouldn’t use just any lens or film either for example, there’s actually only one type of black and white film I use and three or four colour ones. To achieve the same look shooting digital wouldn’t be possible, and even if it was, I’d feel like I was wasting my time making digital photography look like it’s analogue. I don’t mind editing and actually love laying out photo spreads, but I find post production boring, with digital it feels like the shoot is only the start of a long editing and post production process. There’s a craft element to shooting on film course, which I’m fascinated with. That and the whole nostalgia thing with analogue photography is obviously a bit of a trend, but considering I’m pretty ancient and have owned and used some kind of analogue camera since the late 80s, I’m not nostalgic for something I only know from reruns of 90s TV shows at least. Not that I’m particularly nostalgic of the 90s, they weren’t better or worse than other decades. A general sense of nostalgia is part of photography though, you are capturing a moment, but when you look at the image that moment is past and you are generally pretty aware of that passage of time, it’s like looking at a memory. Film is more suitable for that. But that might just be a feeling.
In your opinion, what makes the perfect portrait?
There’s a lot of talk about capturing a person, someone’s essence, but I’m not superficial enough to believe in this. It’s hard enough to make someone look vaguely like they look in real life. In Roland Barthes’ famous book about photography, ‘Camera Lucida,’ he writes about going through all his recently deceased mother’s photographs until he finally finds one of her, aged five and in a winter garden, where he truly recognises her essence. But even that’s subjective, someone else might have ‘recognised’ her in a different picture. What you can see is predominantly the photographer’s idea of things, the way the photographer wants the world to be. Even in documentary photography, war photography, the photographer chooses what’s photographed, when to press the button. So if anything, a portrait is about the relationship between the photographer and the sitter, about what went on between them the moment the photo was taken, how the photographer sees the model, maybe, ideally, about a moment of truth.
Have you had any difficult or challenging situations throughout your photography career?
I’ve been chased off people’s land once or twice, nothing really life threatening though, I generally get on well with people, the most challenging thing tends to be the budget.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a professional portrait photographer?
Hard to say, it’s different for everyone. Maybe try and become really good at shooting stuff you know – your family, your close friends, people you grew up with – before you branch out to the unknown. It might seem boring and mundane to you but it’s generally more interesting for people to look at than your pictures of your latest trip to Fiji.
Thanks for Taking part Britta!
Visit Britta Burger’s website for more of her photographs.