Interviews | Kevin Pointer
by Deyan Stefanov 03.12.2008 14:53
Thank you Kevin for the opportunity to have a peek in the “kitchen” of such an amazing photographer as yourself. Let’s start with the cliche question number one. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is Kevin Pointer in the eyes of Kevin
Oh sure, start with an easy one… hmmm…
For the mundane stuff, by day I’m a Systems Administrator contracted to a department at the University of Illinois where I deal mainly with Linux, Solaris, OS X, and various Windows flavors. A progression from a computer science degree, to doing programming, onto running computer systems. Outside of the necessary evil of work, my main passion is photography…
but mainly photography.
I live with an Irish fiddler/freelance editor and two cats in a house overflowing with books, CDs, DVDs, computers, and cameras.
I see myself as someone who goes out and tries to see the world and capture the moments that exist.
I have been eager to ask the question about the cameras but let me go further back and ask you about your first encounter with photography. How did it all start and when did it become a passion for you?
My first memories of photography were from when I was 7 or 8. One of the “toys” a played with at my grandparent’s house was an old Kodak Brownie Target Six-20 box camera (a camera I still own). I wasn’t shooting film with it, but even then cameras were magical things to me. It wasn’t until I was 10 or 11 until I finally got to run a roll through that camera, nothing special, just some snapshots. I had a photography class in high school around 1982, but didn’t really touch a camera for a number of years. In my twenties I shot with some 35mm cameras which were the beginnings of my art photography. In 1999 I bought a pair of Holga 120s cameras and began my toy camera shooting. A Nikon N70 35mm SLR was added a little later. An ad in Communication Arts magazine for a free Polaroid Creative Uses magazine started my addiction with Polaroid films. A Daylab slide printer and a Polaroid 690 came into the collection. The addition of my first digital camera, an Agfa ePhoto 307, started my real development of my photographic eye. Being able to shoot with few limitations (other than the limited built-in memory of the camera) led me into a lot of experimentation. Several more digital cameras followed, but the output was mainly used for doing digital photomontage and artwork. It really wasn’t until I started posting my work online in 2005 and interacting with other photographers that my current passion for photography began.
Indeed the visibility of so many great photographers and their works online is inspiring, especially when one is able to actually converse with them. You mentioned a few cameras already Kevin and it would be very interesting to find out how did they become over 200?
Insanity is probably how they became over 200…It started out gradually. A couple years ago I’d worked up to about twelve cameras and shot them all in different combinations. Then there was that whole internet interaction thing that started and I got exposed to what kind of images different cameras produced, so I would try and track down the cameras I liked through camera dealers. Then two years
ago I signed up on eBay and the flood gates opened and suddenly I had over 200 cameras and a lot less money. It has been quite a fun journey though.
How do you decide which camera to pick up when you go out shooting? In that line of thoughts, how important do you consider the medium – digital/analog/instant – if important at all in photography?
Picking cameras used to be a lot easier, it was running the first roll through the latest cameras I had bought. Now that I’ve finally shot rolls
in all of them, I get to try and figure out a shooting system. Right now it is shooting another roll through some of my favorites or trying to
pick cameras that fit with what I plan on shooting. I finally have the collection organized, so finding a specific camera is a lot easier.
To me the medium is only important for the type of image it produces. When I go out shooting, I usually have at least three digital cameras, six to eight film cameras, and one to three Polaroids and what I love is how each one produces a different kind of photo.
Each camera and medium has a personality that transforms the world.
I might add that the same is valid for the artists themselves – they transform the world.
I just obey the cameras.
Who are the photographers or artists that have influenced your work and inspired you most?
One of my oldest influences is Max Ernst. His surreal collage work and artistic experiments are amazing. Other influences/inspirations in no
particular order: Hieronymus Bosch, H.R. Giger, Man Ray, Helmut Newton, Joel-Peter Witkin, Joyce Tenneson, Nobuyoshi Araki, Dave McKean (is god), Aubrey Beardsley, Howard Schatz, Simon Marsden, Edward Weston, Sally Mann, Connie Imboden, Ruth Bernhard, Vaughan Oliver, Enki Bilal, Moebius, and a host of others.
What inspires you besides photography itself?
Part of what I do is to capture how time changes the world. I focus a lot on the parts of the world that are forgotten and slowly decaying until sometimes they just disappear, torn down and replaced with more lifeless housing developments. I love finding bits of the past that still exist, largely forgotten in the modern surroundings. Old bridges, abandoned buildings and barns, etc. An ongoing series is shooting how a local river changes over the years.
Can you tell us a bit more about the post work you do. Something that amazed me is that you buried film in your backyard for a month! You use chemicals, heat, shellac and many more astonishing techniques and processes. How are the ideas for those born?
With digital it has become a Lightroom (crop, b&w conversion, initial tone) to Photoshop (final tone and possible vignette) process. I tend to
shoot digital with a final square image in mind since the 6×6 format is my favorite, but a lot of it depends on the image.
With film it is color to the lab or develop my own b&w. Negatives are scanned on my film scanner and usually only some curves and dust removal is done.
A lot of my experimentation grew out of the stuff you can do with Polaroids. SX-70 manipulations, emulsion lifts, image transfers, and
decayed Polaroid negatives. I started to think of ways you could do interesting things with normal slides and negatives. My initial experiments with slides led me to coat some of them with thick layers of shellac that I had sitting in the basement for wood finishing and it has become a favorite for image alteration. I have burned negatives, used a heat gun on Polaroids, left prints outside for months (which I intended to do with negatives before I decided to just bury some). I have torn apart Polaroids and soaked them in tea and coffee, then bleached them, the list goes on. A lot of the experimentation comes out of what to do with a Polaroid on negative that doesn’t really work and physically transform it into something new using whatever happens to be around the house.
This is very inspiring and I will have to see what lies around the basement myself.
It is fun to find creative new uses for things.
Is there an experiment/process you wanted but haven’t had the chance to try yet?
There are quite a few darkroom techniques and processes I want to try. I am almost ready to start doing my own darkroom prints and I really want to start experimenting with alternative and historic photographic processes.
You mention historic processes and that leads me to the next question. How do you see the future of photography in regards to the recent news that instant film is being discontinued? Do you think film will be abandoned as not commercially successful product and simply become history?
I can’t see film disappearing completely for quite a while (I hope), but I do see it becoming a smaller more expensive market. If someone doesn’t license the integral film technology from Polaroid, it will be very sad. Fuji makes 3×4 and 4×5 instant films and they are dedicated to film, so there is an alternative to peel apart, though they don’t have anything like 669 or 55. Both Fuji and Ilford are committed to the film market and there are a number of other small manufacturers making film, so I expect to see 35mm and 120mm for as long as it is economically viable to produce. I kind of look at it like the way the introduction of the compact disc changed vinyl. Most vinyl disappeared, but there are still plants and records being produced and the medium has some hardcore fans.
We all hope that if this happens it will be in the distant future.
Now to get away from the serious note I will ask how do you manage not to take pictures of your cats as this is a must-do for the cat lovers?… or maybe we just haven’t seen those?
There are some pictures of them, but I don’t really shoot them unless I’m testing out a new digital camera around the house since they aren’t the most cooperative models.
Are there any last words of advice for the young photographers that you would like to share?
The most important thing is to just get out and shoot. Look at the work of other photographers, see how they approach different subjects and how it can give you new ideas for your own photography. Get a new camera or lens and see how it changes the world and your photography. Learn the rules, then break them. Keep experimenting.
Thank you again for your time with us Kevin. This has been really inspiring!
You can view Kevin’s works at: