1 How long have you been taking photos?
Since I was a teenager, but not continuously. For many years, I only made photographs on hiking trips into the mountains of California or elsewhere, including Canada, New Zealand and Tasmania. Otherwise, I would have spells of relative inactivity, interspersed with fits of wandering around with a camera in some of the strange places I’ve lived in various parts of the U.S. I learned film early on and still prefer it to the painful sameness-of-look that characterizes most digital “photography”, which I prefer to call electronic imaging. Since I began to use medium-format cameras four years ago, I have become interested, much to my surprise, in going out to wander the less photographed parts of New York City, particularly with the old cameras that have come my way. I don’t consider myself to be much of a city person though, and if I had my way, I’d shoot landscapes in places like Nova Scotia, Scotland or the Sierra Nevada of California.
2 Why do you take photos?
I don’t know exactly why. Certain things attract my attention as I walk around that I want to photograph. Light and shadow is the organizing principle of photographic representation, and the best way to record that is with B & W film, via the tone-color of surfaces and voids. When I use various color films, the problems become more akin to painting, as the variables in composing and constructing the image increase dramatically. With the square negative of medium-format in particular, I suppose that I’m always trying to construct an essentially imaginary conception of what I encounter in the field. I’m especially conscious of how both the deep-space illusion caused by perspective cues joins with the divisions of the picture plane (photographic frame), to form an image that elicits the sensation of being in a particular place at a particular time. The way in which such formal concerns engage the edge of the frame is also something I am somewhat obsessed with, probably to an unhealthy degree. But as I noted above, the resulting image is essentially an imaginary thing to look at, without the intention of any sort of narrative or what is commonly called “realism”. What the viewer sees might be something entirely different. But I don’t have any control over that, which is a very good thing indeed.
3 What’s your favourite camera ?
The camera that I have at the time, as I’ve heard it said by others. But as I’ve mentioned, medium-format is what I prefer these days. I use a 1980s vintage Hasselblad 500cm as my work-horse. There’s something about it being an SLR that I find to be oddly comforting. I also like the way it sounds when the shutter is released, especially in abandoned buildings. I also love my Rolleiflex 2.8 F, but it currently has light leak problems which I’ve yet to resolve. If I shoot 35mm, I use a Contax RTS from the 1970s, or a Leica M 4 from the 1960s. For stealth I use a Rollei 35 pocket camera, perfect for the NYC subway or intrusive street photography.
4 Favourite Location?
Places that I find while wandering around, sometimes with fellow photographer friends who know the city much better than do I. I should say that I do not “look” for anything in particular, but find the stuff I want to photograph by chance or by luck, which is how most people with cameras work it seems. I tend to return to the places that have some sort of hold on me: certain industrial or post-industrial parts of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx; or, dark, abandoned buildings have a romantic/picaresque quality that is a real challenge to make work in a photograph, as so much of the “Urbex” stuff that I see is dreary, boring, and mostly unimaginative documentation; or, underneath bridges or elevated highways or anything that produces deep shadow on sunny days. With each return visit, I see something that I hadn’t seen before, and am always surprised. The only constant is a preference for mid to late afternoon light.
5 Favourite Lens?
I prefer to use so-called “standard” focal length lenses. For medium format, either an 80mm or 75mm lens. Since so much of what I photograph includes architectural elements, the inherent distortion of wide-angle lenses always causes problems for me. I love the painterly tonal quality that Zeiss lenses on both the Hassie and Rolleiflex produce, whether with B & W or with color. With 135 film, I’m more inclined to use both standard 50mm and 35mm or 40mm, medium wide-angle lenses. Leitz lenses have a more graphic tonal quality to them, which, when I’m shooting 135 film, is a refreshing change from the brilliant, smooth world of Zeiss.
Find more work by Ryk at http://www.flickr.com/photos/27751852@N08/