Rfotofolio is honored that Brigitte Carnochans’ work will be in Depth of Field this September.
Brigitte Carnochan has said, “does the world need another pretty picture of a flower?” Her answer was “yes” and that she needed them too.
We feel the same, and try to feature work that brings beauty to the world. Brigitte has certainly captured and shared beauty. It’s our pleasure to bring you her work and words.
What first brought you to photography?
I’ve always loved making portraits of my friends and family, but it wasn’t until I turned 50 and decided (for a reason now lost to me in the mists of time) to take a darkroom class at a local junior college that I became obsessed with making images and printing them.
What drew you to working in the platinum process ?
I’ve loved the richness and depth of platinum ever since I first saw it, but making internegatives or using a giant view camera just weren’t options for me. Once it became possible to make high quality digital negatives, I realized that I could finally use this process that I’d admired for so long.
Which photographers and other artist do you admire ?
Ah–such a hard question, when there are dozens of photographers, if not hundreds, that have inspired and influenced my work over the years—and continue to do so. I look at a lot of photography books and go to exhibitions and websites all the time. Even when I find the work bad or unappealing it stimulates my own ideas. Teaching is another way to see new work and new approaches. I suppose the first work that I gravitated to was that of the Pictorialists–and then later photographers like Edward Weston, Ruth Bernhard, Imogen Cunningham, Joyce Tenneson, Sarah Moon, Irving Penn—really, I could go on and on. I saw the Robert Mapplethorpe show at the Berkeley Art Museum in 1989, the year before I took my first darkroom class. His controversial images aside, I fell in love with his flowers and nudes–equally erotic and beautiful. They’ve always stayed in my imagination.
What makes a great photograph in your view?
Well, if it stays with you—over time—it has a certain power, right? I think there are so many things about a photograph that might make it “great.” The “decisive moment” is certainly one which is interesting to me, since I often think about poses with my models in advance–and then I find that it’s a moment of transition–unplanned and unforeseen that is THE shot. And out in my garden–it’s the light, the wind, the angle of view. And when I give up on the wind and light and bring it into my studio, it’s the accident of arrangement. I often have very precise views of things—and then they don’t work and I try this and that. And that’s what most often ends up being THE shot.
Do you ever have a creative block and if so , how do you work through it?
Painfully. I mean, who likes being at a dead-end? But I think the secret is to keep trying—keep giving yourself assignments and going out there and making photographs. I’ve certainly had blocks—but if you read through the memoirs and autobiographies of writers, painters, photographers, you realize that this is part of the process—and you carry on. You keep making the effort—putting words on the paper, images on the film, pixels on the CD card. What’s the alternative—giving up? I suppose so, but it’s not really an option for me. Eventually, something clicks and I can move forward.
Would you tell about your editing process?
I use Lightroom now and so I just rate things—go through several times picking the images from a particular shoot I like and pulling them into Photoshop to work them up. And maybe in the end I don’t like them after all—that’s the beauty of the digital world—you don’t have to invest THAT much energy into something until you make a negative for a platinum image or you work it up precisely for a digital print. … The digital world is amazing to me.
Would you tell us about your workspace?
I work in two children’s bedrooms in our house, connected by a bathroom. It’s very convenient—but too small, of course. Fortunately, our children are grown, so we don’t need the bedrooms. My darkroom is in the garage. It works out fine most of the year because I live in California and the temperature is moderate most of the time.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Once I took my first photography class in 1990, I began to see the world completely differently—how could I not? The first assignment was to photograph “light”. I’ve never stopped being grateful for that insight into a way of seeing the world. Just being attentive to light has changed my ordinary life–not just my photographic life. In fact, my husband also will point out “a certain slant of light” (to quote Emily Dickinson), which makes it that much more terrific.
How important is it to your art form to have a “creative community”?
Very important. And I’m very lucky to have lots of interesting and talented colleagues and friends all around me. I’m involved in several small groups of friends with mutual interests—3-7 people who get together to socialize and enjoy art events—one of the great pleasures of being in this community. From another perspective, I also enjoy seeing what my former students are up to. Years ago one of them in the Stanford Continuing Studies course I taught, set up a Yahoo group so that the students in the various classes could stay connected. Over the years the group has grown and meets every 5-6 weeks or so to exchange ideas, pass along information and share work.
Would you tell us about your series “Leaving My Garden”?
For years I’ve grown most of the subject matter in my photos—the flowers and the fruits generally come from my garden. But in the last couple of years I’ve gotten interested in the leaves and grasses—even the weeds—I see outside my garden or in some of the amazing estate gardens we have in this area. Some (when it’s legal) I bring back into my studio to photograph and others I photograph in situ, so to speak.
These subjects began to attract me at about the same time that I began to work with platinum/palladium images, and the two—process and Image—have grown together. I love platinum’s extravagantly long tonal range, depth, and permanence—and the subtlety of the warm black, grey, and brown tones are perfect for this subject matter.
Is there another type of photography or subject matter you would like tackle?
Well, I definitely want to continue to work in platinum/palladium, and I’m at the very beginning of a new series of nudes. There’s a definite story I want to tell with this body of work, but it’s so early that I can’t even formulate it properly yet. This is always the exciting but also frustrating time for me—when I’m experimenting and struggling to find the best way to express what’s in my head. Sometimes it comes easier than other times. My FLOATING WORLD series came to me almost ready-made. This current idea has proven a bit harder in the birthing stage.
Any advice or just a statement you would like to share with us?
I rarely let a day go by without doing something related to photography. If I’m not actively engaged in shooting or printing or post-processing, I’m thinking about an image I’ve been working on, or a statement about a body of work, or a way to teach something better. Or I find time to finally get through an on-line tutorial or look at blogs or websites, catch up on the photo magazines that I subscribe to. I know any number of people who are unhappy in their jobs (or don’t have a job!) and that makes me feel like the luckiest person alive to be able to wake up every morning and do what I’d be doing if I were on vacation.
Thank you Brigitte for sharing your art and your time.