Interview with Chuck Kimmerle
#1 Please introduce yourself?
My name is Chuck Kimmerle. I am a tail-end baby-boomer who has spent the bulk of his life, professional as well as hobbyist, as a photographer of one sort or another. After a four year stint in the Army Infantry followed by another four years in college, I started working as a newspaper photographer, a field in which I stayed for 16 years working at newspapers in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and North Dakota, where I shared in a nomination for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography. I left newspaper work to become the photographer at the University of North Dakota, a much more relaxing position, where I remained for the next 10 years.
In 2010 my wife and moved to Wyoming, where I am currently freelancing as an editorial and educational photographer.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
I took my first photograph with my grandmother’s Brownie Hawkeye when I was 3 or 4 years old, despite being told, under no uncertain terms, to not push the button. I got spanked. Photography and I did not start off on a good foot. Advance a few years to high school graduation. My graduation present? A Canon Canonet G 1.7, a wonderful little rangefinder which I still possess. It was with that camera that I began to realize the power of images.
My first images were, of course, mundane recordings of geography, of place, but I soon began to tire of such simple snapshots and started experimenting with more self-expressive and meaningful work. It was near that time that I realized I had found, quite unexpectedly, a potential career path.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
I am not formally trained as an artist. My college degree was in Photographic Engineering Technology, a now largely obsolete vocation, which did provide basic photography classes but emphasized the more technical aspects such as darkroom work, developing, chemistry and sensitometry.
I did take one photography class from within the art department, but grew frustrated at what I perceived as ideas, of concepts, being much more highly valued than the resulting images.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
The photographers who inspire me change on a daily basis. There are so many, both past and present, with much to offer. At various times I look to the work of Ansel Adams (of course), Robert Adams, Steve Szabo, Fay Godwin, Michael Kenna and Minor White, to name but a few. One constant, however, has always been Edward Weston. I admire both his imagery, which was quite varied and heartfelt, as well as his relentless spirit in elevating photography to a form of art on par with painting and sculpture.
In addition, I find great inspiration in the writings of Robert Adams and Bill Jay. Adams for his insightful commentary on photography as it relates to the world of art, and Jay for his biting, yet honest, wit and humor.
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph? Are you planning every step or is it always spontaneous?
I actually do very little in the way of preparation. For me, the biggest joy in landscape photography is the discovery of unexpected treasures. To that end, I do little location planning. Most of my photographic outings are planned around an approximated direction of travel and a relaxed timeline. That is not to say I don’t do a modicum of research regarding my upcoming travels. It does help to be somewhat prepared and knowledgeable. However, I don’t let that knowledge restrict, too much, my free-flowing travels.
That same basic philosophy holds true even during the few times I have an actual destination in mind, such as a national park or town. After arrival, I simply explore, often randomly, without too much thought to any particular location.
#6 What fascinates you in places that you shoot?
That depends on the subject matter. When photographing North Dakota farmsteads, I am absolutely enthralled by the memories those places contain. Decades of memories of family and of harvest and of planting. Worrying and happiness. Where others see sadness and decay, I see history and aged beauty. I find these places to have a positive energy which I humbly respect.
When working with broader landscapes, I am fascinated by how insignificant and powerless I feel against the both the elements and the land.
#7 We can see your photographs only in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
For me, the elemental form and texture of a subject or scene is what I am drawn to. Black and white allows me to emphasize those characteristics without the added, and distracting, factor of color.
#8 Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
Let’s get the gear out of the way first: I use a Nikon D3x, with my primary lenses being the 24, 45, and 85mm PC-E lenses. I find that these lenses, with their perspective control, manual focus and requisite tripod slow me down a bit and make the process more contemplative and less harried. I had shot 4×5 in the past, but found that process too slow and cumbersome for me, but after switching to digital, found that I was working too fast, too hectic. With the PC-E lenses I found an happy medium, not too fast, not too slow. As Goldilocks said, “just right.”
My preferred paper is Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 308. I have tried glossy and satin surfaces, but have found the subtleness and richness of the matte rag papers, especially the HPR 308, to be more to my liking. I have been encouraged to switch to a glossy baryta paper to increase the d-max of my prints, but I’ve never felt that to be very important.
On a related note, I print every image I work on. I do not consider an image complete, nor can I accurately judge the tonal quality and aesthetic feel, until it is on paper.
#9 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
My best advice is to not be afraid to make mistakes. There is more to learn by analyzing a failed image than admiring a good one.
Education, such as classes or workshops, can provide a basic foundation for exploiting a photographer’s personal creativity, as well as providing much needed inspiration, but they will not teach creativity itself. That is the solely within the individual and, like any interior muscle, it needs to be exercised. That means taking photos, lots of photos. I am always amazed when a young aspiring photographer tells me he/she is too busy to take photos.
#10 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
I will be the 2012 fall artist-in-residence at North Cascades National Park where I will spend more than five weeks exploring and photographing the area near Stehekin, a small, remote community within the park. No television, no Internet, no cell service, limited radio. The only communication with the outside world is via a community satellite phone. I am very much looking forward to the experience.
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