Interview with Brian Kosoff
#1 Please introduce yourself
My name is Brian Kosoff. I’m a photographer born and raised in NYC .
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
It was my uncle who sparked my interest. He was a hobbyist photographer. He shot mostly slide film with a Nikkormat and every time there was a family function at his home he would put on a slide show of all the family and vacation pics he had taken. He drove a convertible, travelled and was really cool, so I guess I used him as a role model to a large extent. He passed away last year, but years before he died he had a chance to see my work hanging next to Ansel Adams’ in a NYC gallery. I think he then realized how much of an impact he had on my life.
I took photography classes in high school and made a home darkroom. In my last year of high school there was an internship program that allowed me to assist a couple of editorial and advertising photographers in Manhattan. That pretty much sealed the deal that I would become a photographer.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
I was fortunate that my high school had a serious art department, which gave me the opportunity to study and produce other forms of art including sculpture. I made sculptures out of stone with hammer and chisel. My sculpture teacher, who is to this day a good friend, was young and patient. He was also very intent on his students doing good work. To his credit my school had one or two National Scholastics gold medal winners every year, which was a significant achievement for any school. I entered both a sculpture and a photograph in the contest. I won for sculpture but not photography.
After high school and thanks to that high school internship program, I was able to assist in the summer before I started college. I attended the School of Visual Arts in NY while continuing to freelance assist. At SVA I was a photo major but still studied sculpture. Because I felt I was learning so much more by assisting, I decided to leave SVA in my second year.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
When I see a beautifully done photograph by another photographer I am inspired to work harder, but mostly just the sight of what our planet has to offer and how incredibly spectacular that can be is inspiration enough for me. I can’t say that any specific photographers inspired me, but I was influenced by photographers I respect.
Penn is the photographer who I have to say I have the most respect for over all. He was a great still life shooter, as well as great at fashion and portrait. I know of no one who can do all of those things equally as well. And as far as still life goes, he was the best. He was also a gentleman and very professional.
I admired Ansel Adams, but the more I shot landscape the less I was impressed with his photographs. Maybe this is because his work became so copied and was therefore less visually exciting to me. But his contributions to photography and the environment were enormous and no one will ever match that. I believe that photography is accepted as an art today because of Ansel Adams.
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph? Are you planning every step or is it always spontaneous?
Having come from a studio background, I was an advertising and editorial photographer in NYC, I was accustomed to a very controlled environment. And with the professional background there is a heavy reliance on being well prepared because failure is not an option. You have to produce work of the highest standards every time or you will soon find yourself out of business. That requires doing one’s homework, being able to recognize problems before they occur and being able to handle anything that the project or situation throws at you. For those with little experience of professional assignments it’s a very different mindset than going out and taking pictures for your self. Instead you’re making pictures that will be brutally evaluated by people whose own livelihoods may depend on the quality of your performance.
Regarding landscape, I will often come across a scene that has all the right compositional elements but not the right light or atmosphere. In that case I take compass readings to determine ideally where I want the Sun to be, and then using astronomical software I will determine what date and time that year that it’s in the spot I want, and I’ll come back then. I will also take into consideration tides, moon position, foliage, weather, atmosphere, geography, agricultural cycles, etc. I view the process of landscape photography in a more holistic perspective.
As an example for the image “Prescott Trees” I made three trips in a year from NY to Washington State just for that shot. The version I ended up using had fall foliage.
They say that chance favors the prepared mind, so I try to be prepared. But there’s always that wild card. And sometimes I’m just driving down the road and wham! There’s a shot right in front of me. Then again, I’m on that road because I had previously studied topo maps and the weather history of the area and I knew the likelihood of getting a good shot there was high. But for all the prep work I do, there’s still the uncertainty that nature plays. I recall a trip to Iceland, timed specifically so that the Moon would appear rising between two volcanic, Stone Henge-like rock formations that I had seen on a previous trip. Alas I had 3 straight overcast days and never got the shot. I’ll get that image someday.
#6 What fascinates you in places that you shoot?
Everything. A recent shoot had me doing long night time exposures and as I was at a high altitude and the skies were dark and clear I had an amazing view of the Milky Way. Just fantastic. And all the while, hearing Coyotes howl. You don’t get that growing up in Brooklyn.
Landscape is a lifestyle. I think most of us that pursue it just love being in some quiet remote place and during some especially dramatic or tranquil moment. It’s also a very solitary pursuit so I think that anyone who works at it has to be comfortable with spending time alone.
#7 We can see your photographs only in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
Black & White to me is the truest form of photography. I know that may sound contradictory given that B&W is inherently an interpretation of the scene, but B&W is all about light, tone, gradation and composition. It’s doesn’t get much simpler than that. A lot of color work I find rather gaudy, especially when they crank up the saturation. It’s almost vulgar to me. That said I have started carrying color film again, but I will use it mostly for scenes in which the tones in B&W would render too flat such as a shade of blue adjacent to a shade of red that would render them both to the same shade of gray. Too often I just pass on those images. But if I carry color I then have the possibility of getting something worthwhile.
#8 Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process? (post-processing, equipment (digital/traditional), printing, favourite paper, etc…)
I shoot 120 B&W film, usually 6x12cm, with either a Linhof Technika MT3000 and a Sinar zoom back or a Fotoman 612. I also carry a Mamiya 7II as a back up or grab shot camera. I print on Ilford Multigrade.
I don’t believe in forcing a print, that is, continuously working on an image that’s just not heading in the right direction. Because I think that one’s emotional state is critical to the nature of one’s work, If the session is taking too long or becoming far too laborious, I’ll come back to it in another day. Or I’ll just leave that neg in that enlarger and start work on another neg in my other enlarger.
Sometimes I will wait years on an image because I need to live with it for a while to figure it out. And sometimes an image that I didn’t fully appreciate I have come to see differently with the passage of time and my growth as a photographer. That’s why you may see me introduce as new work something that I actually shot 5 years ago.
#9 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
I have spent a tremendous amount of time testing materials, methods and equipment, but most of all you need patience and persistence. For the first few years after I switched from my commercial work to landscape work, I shot and processed more test film than actual photographs. I learned my materials, refined my processing and field methods, and continue to do so. It never ends.
#10 What do you do in your life besides photography?
My wife and photography are my main focus in life. I usually spend 4-6 months a year on the road shooting and then come home to a ton of work not addressed while I was away, that does not leave me with a lot of free time. I spend time with family, I play piano, I work on my house.
#11 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
There are a few long term projects that I’m working on, and I’m always wanting to see what’s around the next corner because there might be a shot there. I just started working on pigment print versions of my work. A lot of my newer images I think work better big, and printing silver larger than 24” is very difficult and expensive to do, so I have been testing and working with different pigment papers and processes. This year I will release my work in 40- 60” pigment as well as in my standard silver gelatin sizes.
I’m also considering giving workshops this year. They will focus more on the holistic aspect of landscape, that is knowledge just not related to technique or equipment but including an understanding of the variables of nature, atmosphere, geography and geology. I feel that these elements are often neglected but are the most critical components of landscape.
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