For this first interview, we are very happy to present the work of a brilliant photographer, whose approach is very close to our vision. She is a Parisian graphic designer & shooting films since 2012. Besides being a photographer she is also the creator of Underdogs magazine. Isa Gelb introduces herself: “I fell to earth years ago, and I still wonder what I’m doing in this world I don’t always understand or feel connected with. Taking photographs allows me to build, piece by piece, my own world. It might be the one I would feel more comfortable living in.”
What got you into photography and what did you capture in your first pictures ?
At that time, I hung out with friends who were musicians, and it bothered me that I was doing nothing while they were jamming together. Taking pictures of them playing came to mind. Once I started, I found I enjoyed the medium and sensuality of the camera itself, beyond the subjects of my pictures. I thought my pictures then were very bad though and decided to learn photography, so I enrolled in a photo school. After my first year, I made some serious mistakes in my life that caused me to leave school and quit photography for a while.
How have you evolved from those and why do you photograph today ?
It’s hard for me to answer this question in a coherent way. After I left photo school, I didn’t take a single picture until years later (except for a few family photos). When I began to take pictures for myself again, it was as if my vision had completely changed. In some ways, my approach remains the same. I still feel like I don’t fit into this world, and taking pictures is still a way for me to escape. I lose myself when shooting, and all my worries melt away.
“I still feel like I don’t fit into this world, and taking pictures is still a way for me to escape. I lose myself when shooting, and all my worries melt away”.
Photography lets me express myself in a unique way, I never plan anything far ahead, I just go out, look around, and push the shutter each time something catches my eye, or sometimes even when it doesn’t, in the hopes of a nice surprise!
Since you are also a graphic designer, how does this influence your compositions ?
My training as a graphic designer has taught me how to apply a grid, to create a purposeful hierarchy, to use a logical color palette, and other basic principles. Some of these principles apply to both photography and graphic design. As a professional designer, I am often required to rigidly adhere to intricate functional details to meet the objectives of my assigned projects. As an amateur photographer, I’m more free. Still, I notice there are “lines”, often “diagonals” in my pictures that give the viewer a direction to approach the image (this may only be my own interpretation). I try to free myself of the “grid” that has stuck to my brain! It is difficult because it has become so natural to me. On the other hand, I feel my pictures break some of the more conventional rules of photography.
Viewing your work, we can feel that there is beauty is in everyday life. Do you bring your camera with you everywhere ? What camera(s) do you use ?
I always carry a camera with me. Since I purchased an Olympus mju, I don’t always carry heavier cameras like I used to. On weekends and days off, I bring my Contax G2 or one of my Nikon, or both. I live with my cameras. At every street corner, in the sky, on a path in a small woods, anywhere, there can be something to shoot, and I wouldn’t want to miss it.
What photograph are you most proud of and what can you tell us about it ?
It’s hard to say. I tend to like my newest pictures the best. I sometimes forget about my old pictures. If I had to pick my current favorite picture, it would be the one of the man exercising in a park while his dog is patiently waiting. I saw him training from a distance, but by the time I got closer, he had stopped. I asked him if he would do his exercises again, and that I’d like to take a picture (I very seldom dare asking people). He said he was tired but would do them just once or twice more. I had to be quick, I took two shots but didn’t expect anything good. When I first saw the pictures, I thought it wasn’t bad, but at the same time I didn’t really like it. But I somehow warmed up to it, and now I love it.
Can you describe us your favorite kind of light ?
If I weren’t so lazy, I would wake up before the sun reaches the horizon, when the sky is lit but the sun is not yet visible. The light at this hour is special. But since I rarely wake up that early, I tend to use any available light during the day. The only light I can’t stand is that of dull gray days when the sky is flat and without relief.
We noticed the color red is often present in your pictures, is there a special reason ?
There’s not. Like I said earlier, I do not consciously plan my shots, and I never have an exact idea of what I’m going to shoot. I let things come to me. Even when I go to an event like a horse race, I have no idea of what I will capture. When I reflect on it, for me, red is the color of madness, violence, energy and passion. Colors scream out a message, so perhaps when I take pictures in which the color red is dominant, I’m in an angry or energetic mood. I have no idea. It’s unconscious. It also has to do with the place I’m visiting. However, when I view all of my pictures together, I notice there is always a dominant color, either colder or warmer depending on the season. For example, the colors in my pictures from December are cold, almost all blue.
How do you keep a fresh eye ?
Leafing through photography books and viewing photography and art websites, going to exhibits are my way. Being the curator and publisher of a photography magazine (Underdogs), I also spend a lot of time viewing other photographers’ blogs and artist pages. They help me find inspiration. I learn a lot from others. Also, keeping a fresh eye isn’t just about seeing. I also gain much from the dialogues I have with other photographers. In practice, because I don’t travel as often as I’d like to, I try to see my nearby surroundings like a tourist would. It’s challenging. Ultimately, I believe curiosity is the key to seeing the world with a fresh perception.
A photographer or artist that have influenced your work ?
There are many, but if I had to chose one, it would be William Eggleston. He taught me that all subjects matter. His concepts of the democratic camera and the poetry of the mundane influenced my way of seeing and shooting. His pictures showed me that “ugliness” deserves to be taken into consideration by photographers as much as “beauty”.
On another level, I’ve learned from David Bowie (who has always been by my side!) that something like “changing by staying the same” is the best way for me to move forward and create new possibilities for myself as a photographer.
A book that you love ?
It’s kind of like my pictures — I tend to like the last book I’ve read more than the others. Since I mentioned Eggleston, I’ll say the three-volume collection of his early work, Chromes, which never bores me. I can’t afford to buy it, so I often go to the art book shop near my work at lunch time to flip through its pages. It’s always a pleasure for the eyes.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as a photographer ?
“Keep out of the frame what doesn’t really matter”. And a personal piece of advice that may not make sense out of context, but here it is: “You should take your photography more seriously”. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that!
What are your current and future projects ?
I live from day to day and rarely plan ahead. I can’t handle working on a series or other long-term projects. I get bored very quickly. I like surprises. But recently a photographer who I know online asked me to participate in a double-exposure film swap. It will take time for me to produce both a color and B&W roll of film for this project. It will be exciting and challenging to work with someone who I don’t know in real life and who lives in a different country. Above all, it will be a challenge for me to not mess things up because of the very specific technical requirements.
And last but not least, what is your favorite photo website ?
There are many but my first choice is American Suburb X because of its mix of art from the past and present. One of the best website to educate art lovers. The layout is awesome too. I like the large pictures that jump out at you when you open the home page. I also enjoy the newer websites, such as yours run by enthusiasts photographers who share their view on photography and other visual arts. They’re all fresh!