Johan Kramer — Edition 3 — Q&A
Johan Kramer is an advertising icon turned exquisite filmmaker and photographer — a terrific storyteller who loves the documentary-format. There is always a sense of intimacy, honesty and purity that has become Johan’s trademark over the years. For Edition 3, Johan shot a roll of Adox Color Implosion 100 on a Nikon F5.
What attracted you to One Shot?
It’s an homage to analog and creative choices. In that way, it’s a sweet message to all photographers and directors out there. I see so many people around me just shooting loads of material, without making real choices. The idea is quite often that it will be figured out in the edit or even in post-production. To me, that almost seems like a lack of craftsmanship. I think making choices right from the start is essential to the creative process. This is what separates a good photographer or film director from someone who just presses a button 1,000 times.
How did it feel to shoot a roll knowing there would be no edit and every shot would go into the world?
It’s a great feeling. The realization that you have a limited number of shots on a roll makes you really think and be present in the moment. I had to think about an interview I saw recently with William Eggleston, in which he explained that he shoots his subjects only once. Just one shot. He said: “This is an excellent discipline in my mind. It saves time when editing and makes you choose your shot wisely. One shot should be all you need.”
What do you love about analog photography?
For me, film photography is about imperfection. It’s alive. Digital is clean and feels dead. The authenticity of the photo I take using an older camera and unpredictable film add a level of depth to the image taken. I just love the excitement and satisfaction this brings when I get the images back. We live in an era of instant gratification, somehow we think that we need to see instantly what we are doing and you can ask yourself the question: why? Slowing down is a pretty good idea, to take the time to be more thoughtful and special, before you share with others.
What's your opinion on analog vs. digital photography?
Analog exists. Digital is not here. It’s just 0’s and 1’s. You can touch film. You can even smell it. There’s a certain spirituality connected to it. The serendipity of a moment that cannot be erased and the separation of the editing process asks for a more thoughtful method and also gives you sometimes beautiful happy accidents. The mistakes in the work function in a positive way: they surprise you and make you happy. Digital is a straitjacket with not much room for error. We have the most fantastic digital cameras and even your iPhone makes great pics… super easy, right now, right here… but there’s something sweet about removing photography from that immediate equation. Waiting a few days for your material is beautiful. When you get your rolls back, it’s like having your birthday. You start unpacking all these wonderful presents…
How did you come up with your series?
Well, I guess you can see friendship as a relationship of mutual affection between people. I thought about a couple that had spent a long time together. I looked on Marktplaats (the Dutch Ebay) and found two tiny dolls from the Fifties. I bought them for eight euros and when they arrived in a small white envelope, I immediately brought them with me outside to the forest in the area where I live. I spent a whole afternoon lying on the ground with my camera to ‘get into’ their perspective. There were some people walking by that afternoon who looked a bit strange at me. An adult man lying in the mud to take a pic of two mini-dolls. Well, it was fun. Since then, I have actually taken this couple to lots of places….
Did you ever imagine you'd be destroying your negatives on purpose?
A long time ago, I directed a commercial where we wanted the images to look like old, damaged found footage. I suggested that we hold the films near the fire, just to get some nice cracks. It wasn’t a good idea. The whole roll instantly burned and was destroyed. This time, it’s different. I love the idea behind it. It’s really nice to have a unique photo on your wall. It’s special.
How did photography change your world?
I strongly believe in learning by doing. I am an autodidact. When my father passed away 25 years ago, I inherited his photo-camera. A Rolleicord. I learned how to use it and this was the start of my analog photo career. I‘ve taken so many photographs of my daughters, actually of everything. There are many photo cameras lying around in our house. In a way, it’s an impossible attempt to hold on to life. I think about the beautiful words of the Italian writer Italo Calvino in ‘Difficult loves.’ He wrote: “the minute you start saying something, ‘Ah, how beautiful! We must photograph it!’ you are already close to the view of the person who thinks that everything that is not photographed is lost, as if it had never existed, and that therefore, in order really to live, you must photograph as much as you can, and to photograph as much as you can you must either live in the most photographable way possible, or else consider photographable every moment of your life. The first course leads to stupidity; the second to madness.” I love this ha ha.