An Interview With a Photographer
Martin Dam Kristensen
I met up with Martin, a professional photographer, at Il Caffe by Åboulevarden in Aarhus, where we sat down for a talk about photography over coffee and biscotti. This day Martin had one of his ‘practical Saturdays’, as he calls it. Here he runs his errands, pays the bills – and is luckily also able to squeeze in time to talk to students like me.
Due to Martins working process, combined with our separate schedules, I unfortunately wasn’t able to come along with him and actually photograph his photographic process. But we talked a lot about it, so in a way I feel like I’ve actually been along.
Darkrooms and a Curiosity Towards Music
Nushka: The first question is simply why you became a photographer, what was/is the attraction for you? Very basic, I know…
Martin: Yeah, and then actually also the hardest. Why did I become that? The problem is that it’s such an incredibly long time ago that I wasn’t really conscious about it at the time. It goes back to when I was just maybe 16, 12, 14 years old and I grew up on the countryside in Northern Jutland and had a neighbour whose father was a photographer. And I don’t know if it has anything to do with that but it was at least the beginning for me. I starting playing around with it for fun and took films and developed them in the dark room. You know, completely basic. But I think that the interest would have been there even if he hadn’t been there because I remember having to choose subjects in school and I just liked the practical process, that it was just possible to do something like that, developing film. And all the technical stuff was fun and it was just a fascination of that there would come a photograph out of it. I thought that was really great. And at the same time I was also very interested in music so my whole beginning with photography was music pictures. […] Later I also found out that it was probably an excuse to get closer and come up front, which I wouldn’t do otherwise. Besides that it gave me the opportunity to develop the photographs and show them to the artists the next time they would come to town and I would have an excuse to talk to them. So it was also an opening to that part.
N: Do you play yourself?
M: No, not really. It’s nothing but just a curiosity towards music.
Educational and Working Background
M: […] I met The Blue Van 7-8 years ago, well that’s a long story… The whole thing with music photography was steadily developing and I moved to Aarhus in ’93 and I started working at Japan Photo and was accepted to Fotojournalisthøjskolen and photographed more and more music and started working for Berlingske Tidende (danish newspaper, red.) in Copenhagen. And because of that I came out to more and more concerts and interviews with the artists etc. And made covers for record companies and it kind of escalated that way, or actually a whole lot, in those years until 2003 where I decided that I actually dint’ want to do it anymore. Well, not that I didn’t want to do it anymore, but it had to be under different circumstances then. But I said ‘no’ to everyone who called except the people that I already knew and worked with.
N: What made you want to stop?
M: It was too much at night and in the weekend and there was never time to do anything else and I just always had a bad conscience. And it’s rare that you make an awful lot of money on it, or at least, I knew a great deal of people in the music industry and there were a lot who always needed someone to ‘just’ take some photographs or ‘just’ come to that concert, and back then it was mostly negatives so the work just started building itself up, with negatives that had to be scanned and ideas that had to be created and I could just feel that I had become tired of it. But what I then decided was that I wanted to keep doing music photography and I have very good friends within that environment and I wanted to travel more with them and be closer to them and make more of an effort, and that was, to name a few, artists like The Blue Van, Teitur and Tina Dickow.
|The Blue Van. Photograph courtesy of Martin Dam Kristensen.|
[…] Meanwhile I’ve graduated from Fotojournalisthøjskolen in 2000 and started getting customers within trade magazines, IT etc. which kept me busy during the day and when you then have to do the music thing on top of that it just becomes too much. And I could just feel that there wasn’t time to read a book or go to the cinema, or at least not as much time as I would’ve wanted.
M: […] With the kind of customer that I mostly have now it’s typically something with a portrait of someone who isn’t used to being photographed for a magazine.
N: And then you then always need some kind of idea?
M: Yes, and I rarely have that, which is why it becomes intimate because I often come out to someone I need to photograph and basically don’t know how or why, which is why it can be difficult to bring someone [which is one of the reasons that I wasn’t able to document Martin’s working process, because he didn’t have any other jobs around the time that I had to do this interview]. Many of them, maybe I have some idea of where I want to go with the picture but then you come out there and something’s completely different than what I had expected or it’s a whole other type that what I thought and then you still need to re-boot, because the idea doesn’t fit on them anyway. It depends a lot on what I do though.
N: So what do you prefer to do? ‘Commissioned work’ or to still follow the music artists?
M: I still really like to get out but it’s mostly something I do for fun, or you know, for very little or nothing. But I feel that now it has to be con amore – you know, because I want to. ‘Cause I make enough on the other stuff, so it’s not because I have to. Mostly with the music artist it’s something where I just call them up and ask if I can come and they rarely mind and sometimes if the photographs end up being useful they get permission to use them.
N: But it’s still something you mostly do for yourself?
M: Yes, but they always end up being used for something, but the starting point is always for myself. Well, and not always. I was just up at Tina Dickow’s, she just moved to Island and had a baby, and she needed some video footage, an EPK (press release in video format, red.) and we know each other so well so we just say ‘now we’ll try this and if it doesn’t work we’ll try something else’. Of course it smells a bit like ‘commissioned work’ but I also just made a couple of covers for Michael Falch and it’s kind of the same thing, where he calls me up and asks if I want to come down after a concert and make a couple of covers and then we do that, so it’s both.
N: I like that you work like that. And music is such an organic thing and I just really like the idea that the photographs for covers etc. are made like that, that you just meet up after the concert backstage and then do it right there on the spot in the natural environment and that it’s not some set-up in a studio.
M: Yes, and I don’t feel good about studios. I generally prefer locations or you know, something. But I have to say that a couple of the latest I’ve made, for ex Tina’s, last, last, last was made in a studio with a background that then didn’t end up being white, but it was when we started. We ended up painting a pretty big grey back-drop together and then it became a little, you know, that was kind of the though behind, to somehow create a background.
N: I like that idea, just two friends, hanging out, painting.
M: Yeah, and that was kind of the idea, and also as what you said before [I talked about my own project for the course], to have something to do and not just stand there and to filth it up with charcoal and chalk and stuff like that so it wasn’t so styled and pretty and what it ended up with I don’t know, but that was pretty fun to do.
|Cover for Tina Dickow. Photgraphy courtesy of Martin Dam Kristensen.|
N: So where do you mostly work and do that kind of stuff?
M: At the time I had a studio in Viby with a couple of guys (called Vestfront, red.), which was pretty neat. So that’s where I started, and that’s been fun. But, uhm, what do I prefer to do? That’s what you asked?
N: Yes, but from what you’ve been saying, it sound like you prefer the music part?
M: Yeah, well, not really. The music in itself doesn’t really interest me or the ‘artist’…
N: Except from the ones you already knew/know?
M: Yeah, of course, as human beings, but what they do as artists doesn’t necessarily interest me. The image of them on stage, the image of them styled on a cover doesn’t speak to me, and I also don’t really want to do it. So Tina’s latest cover is also something with something different. I don’t mind if we can just do it and it happens, but what I like about going on tour with them is that you see it all from another point of view and it’s also a quite fun and easy way to get around.
N: So that’s what you’d rather do on your ‘holidays’? Travel with artists?
M: Yes, rather that than to just go somewhere and lie around. There are a lot of fun things about that kind of life, super fans, fun roadies etc. I like the fascination that people have of the environment.
[…] I’d like to do something ‘behind’ everything that’s around that scene sometime.
N: You did the video with Tina, have you considered following the artists with a video camera instead and doing some kind of documentary instead of photography?
M: No, not really, because it’s a huge project and there are so many things that you need to think about: sound, image, more cameras running simultaneously and I know that if I do that kind of thing I would come home with endless amounts of recorded hours that I need to watch and work on and then I just don’t get it done. We tried doing it with The Blue Van, which actually ended up being used as a video. I also did a so-called video for Teitur 5 years ago but I’m not good at delegating the workload, so it’s just much too much. It was a fun experience for me to try to play around with, but no more than that. For now.
N: What do you want people to take away from your work?
M: I actually don’t care what people think of my photographs. If someone says that a photograph is great, that I don’t like or feel anything about, then I don’t care. And if I really like a photograph and someone doesn’t, well that doesn’t really matter to me either. Of course I am happy that people are interested in my work, and that I can make a living of it because of it, but the most important thing to me is how I feel about the photograph.
Show Me Your Camera
N: We also need to talk about your camera, which one did you bring today?
M: It’s a Canon EOS 5D, which I use the most. Many photographers have switched to Nikon in the past couple of years and I think it is good that Canon’s monopoly was finally broken. At the time they owned about 90% of the market. Nikon introduced higher solution, better focus and video. But now you can get practically the same functions for both, which is why I stuck with this one. It does what I need it to do.
N: How do you feel about this camera? Often people feel particularly strong about for ex an analogue camera. When you pick it up something happens. The feel, the sound of the shutter, the clicks of the buttons. Do you feel a specific way when you work with this camera?
M: No, not really, actually. For me my camera, well, this camera, is just a tool. I consider myself more of a craft man than an artist and my camera allows me to come places that I wouldn’t otherwise. It also makes me observe more actively. Usually when I go to a concert I would stay more in the back, but when I’m photographing I have to be up front and that way I actually get a better concert experience, because I am kept there. And I don’t get bored, because I’m engaged in a different way – I’m working towards something, so I can’t just leave in the middle.
[…] The photograph itself, the result of the process, is probably more of a bi-product of the experience. It’s what I do before the ‘click’ that interests me.
Analogue vs. Digital
M: […] There is actually a certain amount of frustration connected to it (his camera, red.), because it is digital. There are a lot of advantages to digital photography, but the problem is that you always get exactly what you want. There is no spontaneity. You can keep shooting until you get the exact image you were looking for. There is no magic with digital photography. It’s almost too perfect. But it’s definitely easier.