Inside this issue
Chris FrielFeatured Photographer
Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.
Chris Friel is a photographer with a wonderful, natural eye – a modern day Faye Godwin perhaps. His photography is instinctive and all the more refreshing for it. A high bandwidth flickr stream has some stunning gems and whilst he is an extremely very accomplished black and white photographer, his colour experimentation is showing some very promising results and stand out from the ‘shake and bake’ crowd.
I would like to preface my answers by saying that I am very much a part time amateur with a day job who picked up a camera 4 years ago, so feel rather self-conscious following in the footsteps of people like david tolcher. With this caveat here goes:
In most photographers lives there are ‘epiphanic’ moments where things become clear, or new directions are formed. What were your two main moments and how did they change your photography?
It probably sounds rather basic, but it was when I started showing images to strangers. Before joining flickr 3 years ago I had just been shooting for myself and printing out odd things at home. Suddenly my pictures were seen by complete strangers who had no need to be polite, unlike my long-suffering family and friends. Not only did I get lots of feedback but I was also exposed to a barrage of new images from all over the world. It really was a revelation.
I was a painter for many years before starting photography and with a painting it would be months before I got any idea whether anyone else liked a particular work or not.
Now I can shoot an image in the afternoon, post it that evening, and 1000 people will have seen it by the following morning. It’s a wonderful feedback loop and a great way to learn.
When I realized that I could shoot colour. Being red/green colour blind I only ever shot black and white images up until a year ago. I was too nervous about my colour temperatures to ever go for a natural looking landscape. When I decided that it didn’t matter if the colours were all wrong, I started shooting a lot more colour and now it accounts for a large part of my output.
I can see aspects of Faye Godwin, Bill Brandt & Harry Callahan in some of your black and white work and possibly Frank Grisdale and some painterly references in your ‘movement’ works. I realise that these are probably not your influences but I wonder what are? How have your influences changed over time?
Flattery will get you everywhere. I like all four but you are particularly astute about two of them:
Faye Godwin was an early influence, 10 years ago when were living in London with young children we used to borrow a friends country cottage a few doors from where she lived. There was one of her photos above the fireplace. Despite the fact that it was a simple shot of a single sheep and I didn’t even own a camera at the time, I spent many nights studying that image and trying to work out why I liked it. I guess it was the first photo I really consciously admired.
Frank Grisdale was a big influence when I started shooting colour. I actually wrote a note to him last year saying how much I liked his work. He was kind enough to answer and we ended up doing a print swap.
So ten years on I still greatly admire Fay Godwin and I have a Frank Grisdale print hanging over my own fireplace.
A very short shortlist of favourite photographers would include Susan Burnstine, Michal Giedrojc, Nicolas Hughes, Klavdij Sluban and Alexander Gronsky.
The Russian photographer Alexey Titarenko is probably my current favourite. His series on Saint Petersburg shot over the last 20 years is just wonderful.
The colour work is influenced by various painters including Kurt Jackson, Keith Carter, David Greenall and Howard Hodgkin
My influences are forever changing in that I am always coming across new work from people I had never even heard of before. However my favourites have remained remarkably static. A decade ago I was studying David Greenall’s landscapes and trying to emulate them with paint. Now I suppose I am attempting to do the same thing with photography.
You have developed a wonderful technique for infusing your photography with movement or emotion which harks back to a pictorial era – do you think that photography is too ‘representational’ at times, trying to reproduce exactly what was there rather than the feelings associated with it?
Thanks for the kind words but who am I to say. I certainly lean towards interpretation rather than representation.
I think my technique may also be a result of where I live and time constraints.
I am lucky enough to live on a beach in a relatively rural area in southern England, where the surrounding countryside is beautiful, but in a rather tame southern England sort of way. Maybe if I lived in northwest Scotland I would be obsessed by representing my surroundings more accurately.
I know some of our audience would love to know a little bit about how you take your pictures. Can you give us an idea without ‘giving away’ your secrets (perhaps we could do a video of you working in the field sometime?)
Certainly no secrets. I think the only consistent theme in the process is walking long distances, usually in the rain, and shooting far too many pictures. My shooting ratio is appalling. On an average afternoon I take about 600 images, of which I keep 50 and have one that I like if I am lucky. In my defence I would say that I know when I have a picture I will keep as soon as I have taken it. I just have to hone the process a little!
In terms of the black and white pictures most are just shot straight with canon 24 and 45m tilt shift lenses on a canon 5dmk11. The lenses are at maximum shift to give a big sky and then tilted in various directions to give a shallow depth of field. I did dabble with bw long exposure for a while but soon moved over to colour.
In terms of colour pieces, these are generally shot with the same lenses using long exposure times and camera movement. I just use an nd 6 filter and a polarizer, set the camera to maximum contrast and wrong colour temperature, exposure for 2 to 5 seconds depending on the subject matter, wave the camera around, and hope for the best. Practice gives you an idea about the balance between keeping the camera still and movement.
Many of your pictures have a sense of ‘gaze’ about them, a feeling of quiet and almost loneliness and they have a way of putting the viewer inside the picture. Is this something you consciously look for or is it something that seems to have emerged over time.
It’s not something I consciously look for. I just try to take photos that appeal to me and then am grateful if they strike a chord with anyone else.
You work in colour and black and white – most people say it is difficult to think both of these at the same time. Do you go out with a particular style in mind or do you switch as the subjects take your fancy (or possibly all chosen in post processing?)
I switch around depending on subject matter and mood, I am forever taking the nd filter on and off the camera.
I am ashamed to say that until recently all my pictures were taken as in-camera jpegs, so the black and white images were all processed as in-camera bw jpegs. Therefore there wasn’t much choice in post!
This was partly a function of using, until earlier this year, an old pc which could not handle large numbers of raw files, and partly due to an aversion to editing.
I have literally just started shooting everything in raw so I’ll see if this changes how I work.
I think Frank Grisdale has quoted the 10000 hour rule in the past – the idea that if you spend 10000 hours practicing anything you will eventually achieve some sort of success in that field. I think I need to put in a few more hours.
The images I have taken so far are rather random and have no cohesive structure. My next step is to start applying what I have learned to some longer-term projects.
Who do you think we should feature as our next photographer