Think of the word "city" and the first thing that comes to mind is a line of concrete and steel buildings. Cityscape of high-rise has become synonymous to what an urbanized area should looked like.
In his series en.formation, photographer Jonathan Castellino shoots multiple exposure photographs of familiar city scenes with the Lomo LC-A, as a way of challenging the viewers to go beyond looking at the urban jungle and examine how it feels living inside its chaotic, ever-evolving confines.
Hi Jonathan! Welcome to the Lomography magazine. To start, can you tell us the first time you held a camera? What were your first shots like?
I was 11 when I made my first photos. I brought a Kodak disc-film camera, outdated even at that time, on a family trip to Washington D.C., USA. It was 1994. The shots may have been great – I’ll never know: local camera labs could not process the film, as it was in a format that had already been abandoned.
You have several photo projects that center on urban exploration. What’s the pull of documenting cityscapes?
The city changes so fast, and while everyone seems to be pointing cameras in the city, very few are pointing them at the city, in a meaningful way.
Let’s put the spotlight on en.formation, that you took using the Lomo LC-A. What inspired you to start this series?
I am fascinated with composite images. I have an entire series called interference.patterns; really clean, calculated images, a kind of visual poetry examining the overlapping layers in the city, and the intersection of nature and culture therein.
This new series, en.formation, is a more visceral, chaotic look at the same subject. The title itself is a play on an old format of the word ‘information’, mimicked, here, in the equipment and process used for the series. I had heard about the ‘ghost mod’ for the LC-A (creating a button which allows for a relatively seamless double-exposure), but abandoned the idea because 1) I don’t like cutting into cameras and 2) I wanted to see if I could estimate a manual rewind of the film, to make my own double (and sometimes triple) exposures. The first roll was insane. It really forced me to let go of my preconceptions in regards to composition and balance. It was a perfect project to counter my more articulate, orderly, digital work.
Among other camera choices, why did you pick the Lomo LC-A?
I happened upon a well-maintained, original LC-A at a local antique market, and purchased it (inexpensively) from the old camera seller who worked the booth. I was aware of the cult following surrounding the camera. It sat around for a while. I was in the middle of a deep German rangefinder binge, and when I came up for air, I realized that shooting film wasn’t fun for me anymore. I was using very precise (not to mention bulky) film cameras before the LC-A, and the magic-of-process inherent to shooting film was all but lost.
The ‘shoot-rewind-shoot’ process of en.formation makes it so that I cannot even tell how far along in a roll of film I am; it’s a wild experience. My solution? Keep many, varied rolls of 35mm film in my bag, ready for a re-load at an undetermined time on my daily journey. The LC-A, and this series, reinvigorated my desire to shoot film.
Multiple exposure is a tricky photography technique. Do you plan your shots ahead or do you go with the flow?
Composition is always approximate, with this series. The whole point is that any planning will fall apart because of the lack of precision when manually rewinding the film. The more that I simply ‘go with the flow’, the more interesting the resulting images turn out. It raises a lot of questions regarding intent and creativity.
You use both film and digital cameras. What do you like best about each medium?
Abandoning almost all of my film cameras except my LC-A(s) has allowed me to make a clear distinction between my digital and film images. Where before, I liked to leave information about the format ambiguous, there now exists a clear aesthetic distinction between my digital and film work. I trust the results with digital images, which let the subject be itself. Conversely, in the way I now use film, the ghostly and twisted transformations resulting from the process are what drive the aesthetic of the images (and series, by extension).
You shoot mostly in black and white. Any reason behind this artistic choice?
A lot of my experimental work is a personal value study. The way in which the eye naturally reads through a photograph tends to give primacy to vibrancy, so that colour often becomes distracting to pattern. The images in this series are already quite structurally chaotic; choosing black and white allows me at least some control.
What makes a good photograph?
That depends on what you mean by ‘good’. A good photograph can result from something as unplanned as happenstance. It is therefore the good body of work, the work that is consistent, that should be valued.
Did any artists influence your work?
While the masters of photography have certainly influenced me, I have found that inspiration in the last few years has come mostly from literature and music: W.G. Sebald and Marilynne Robinson (literature), Arvo Pärt and Aphex Twin (music). There are many more, of course. These just come immediately to mind.
Any advice for those who want to take up photography?
Those looking to take up photography should keep in mind that it is precisely everything that is not photography in their life, that will influence their best pictures.
What’s next for you?
I am at the point, with certain photographic projects, where they have me more than I have them. I can’t not work at them. This includes my documentation of modern ruins, as well as images relating more generally to the transformation of landscapes. I hope to continue making these photos, lecturing, and sharing this work with others. I am not sure where en.formation fits into this, but for the time being, it is keeping my love of film photography alive.
In photography, like many other things, stagnation means death. I am always expanding and exploring new subjects, and new ways to make images. Some of my current projects include documenting the ordinary life of public figures, as well as experimental automotive photography. Both of these projects are in their infancy, but the drive behind them is already present.
All images and information in this article are provided to Lomography by Jonathan Castellino and used here with permission. Visit his wesbites for his daily photographs and other photography projects.