Tag: film photography

Mental Souvenirs

The Parisian photographer Isa Gelb collects visual impressions of seemingly unremarkable things. The resulting photos are strangely arresting.

Can you introduce yourself?
I’m a French art director, graphic designer, and a self-taught photographer, based in Paris. I drink too much coffee and smoke too many cigarettes. I’m probably the laziest person on earth, and the queen of procrastination. I would have loved raising tigers or being a horse whisperer. I’m learning to be at peace with myself and how to feel more love for the world I live in. 

Film or Digital?
Definitely film.
On your website you write: “I have a camera and I take pictures. That’s it”. Is it?
My motto sums up very well how I approach photography. I find myself at a loss to talk more specifically about my pictures. They are just unspectacular moments taken while wandering here and there. I don’t try or want to document anything. I take photos because it makes me feel alive and attentive to my surroundings. 
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
In what way?
I feel like I don’t fit into this world, and taking pictures is a way for me to escape. I lose myself when shooting, and all my worries melt away. Saul Leiter once said “I go out to take a walk, I see something, I take a picture. I take photographs. I have avoided profound explanations of what I do.” I couldn’t agree more.
Is is a form of record-keeping? Or even building memories?
Not really memories because they are not connected to important things or people – but rather mental souvenirs. They are like a diary to me, I snap them and move on. Now that you ask, I realize that I seldom look at old pictures. But in some way, I feel happy they do exist because it means I exist too.
The reason why I’ve been so fascinated with your photography is how you can turn the mundane into something surprisingly poetic. Unwashed cars become a rich tapestry. Two barricades, barely touching, become humanized.
It’s funny because I’m often told that my pictures are “poetic” but that is never my intention. I don’t see them that way, but I guess viewers have a different interpretation because they are not familiar with what is behind the images that I take.
What is the process like?
I walk a lot, and look carefully. I pay attention to details, to things I find beautiful in their ugliness – if that makes sense – or to things that are naturally beautiful and attractive. I don’t think much while I wander, I just let things come to me and shoot as soon as something catches my eyes. That’s why I always carry a camera: At every corner there can be something interesting that I wouldn’t want to miss.
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
You seem to have a particular fascination with light: The way it falls through a window, draws figures on the carpet, or illuminates a scene. Is light another one of those seemingly mundane things we too often overlook?
Light makes photography. Light creates interesting ephemeral patterns that not much people, except photographers, pay attention to. I like the idea that when you capture a picture, you capture a piece of space but also a piece of time because these patterns created by light don’t last long. So you have a particular piece of time in your frame. Photography has to do with light, but also with time.
Your description of your walks reminds me of the flâneur, that iconic figure of the early 20th century, who walks around the city, quietly observing. Is this a role you recognize yourself in?
Yes and no. Yes, because I see myself as an observer and a solitary walker. But no, because  the flâneur feels comfortable, “at home”, everywhere he or she goes. I don’t. Also, because I don’t think I belong to the street photographer community, in the noble sense of the term.
Why is that?
Street photography is a broad subject with many different opinions. In my eyes, it’s about taking photos of life, most of the time including people. To be interesting, these photos must leave a strong impression on the viewers because of the power, the energy and even the drama they produce. My work is far from that. Anyway, I don’t want to be defined by a style or a genre. Being labelled is be the worst thing that could happen to me.

Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
You also run the photography magazine Underdogs – a showcase of new photography talent.
I’ve been looking at tons of online magazines over the last few years. And, it seemed to me that in each one there is a frustrating dissonance between what I like and dislike. This frustration spurred me on to produce my own creation among the countless photo zines mushrooming online – a place where I could feature, to the fullest extent, photographers and their work which I personally appreciate and admire.
The most difficult issue that I was confronted with was deciding on a concept for Underdogs. I have often discovered, with my many encounters with artists over the years, the reluctance or even dread that the interview or self analysis of work can produce in the mind of an individual. Sometimes, this comes from a photographer’s belief that the work speaks for itself, or that explanations can limit the imagination of the viewer’s own interpretation of the work, or they are bewildered with what to say about themselves. So I thought why not let them decide whether they like to write about themselves or their work? Contributors are given the option to explain their motivations, or to just leave their images as is.
The eleventh issue has been released in January 2017, and I’m very happy to receive positive feedback, and more subscribers. This gives me the energy to keep going on.
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
To see more of Isa Gelb’s pictures, visit her website. And while you’re at it, download a free issue of Underdogs.

Spatial Awareness

Between the 1970s and early 1990s, British photographer Joe Dilworth regularly peeked behind the iron curtain. His pictures are visual memories from a parallel society – and documents of a deep fascination.

“As a kid, I used to get in trouble for staring at people,” says British photographer Joe Dilworth. In photography, he found a way to channel his curiosity – but without staying completely out of trouble.
In his youth, he had visited Czechoslovakia as part of a scouting exchange with the Pioneer movement – a experience so memorable that he wanted to repeat it. “You weren’t supposed to go… which exerted a huge pull on me,” he says.
After studying Fine Art at Saint Martins and Goldsmiths in London, Joe regularly returned to Eastern Europe, an area that was then still firmly behind the iron curtain.

Berlin, 1989


Budapest, 1986


Budapest, 1989


Joe’s photos from the time document everyday life in the region over several years. He made multiple trips to cities like Budapest, Prague, and East Berlin, where he shot photos on the streets. But his photos are less accurately described by their individual subjects than they are by their overall theme. Taken together, these photos all revolve around space: The open space these cities contain, how people fill it, and how public life takes a hold within it.
“Going there was a way of slipping back into the past,” Joe explains. “When I was growing up, post-war London was an underpopulated city, with lots of ruins and emptiness.” But taking pictures there was more than just an act of remembrance – it was also an investigation of the differences. “The world there was a mirror image to capitalism, everything worked in a completely different way.”
When the Cold War had ended, Joe returned to these places and took more pictures. Thanks to his remarkably consistent style, the more recent photos fit neatly with the older ones. In fact, it often becomes difficult to tell which decade the photos were taken in.

Berlin, 1996


Budapest, 2004


Moscow, 2000


Many photos resulted from the way Joe himself interacted with space: The Rolleiflex camera he continues to use takes pictures from a waist level: It’s a unique angle that gives even his contemporary pictures a certain vintage atmosphere. And shooting from below allows the photographer to get close to his subject: “It’s a submissive gesture,” Joe explains, “and it automatically makes you part of the environment without imposing on others.”
It’s the difference between looking and staring, if you will.

Berlin, 2009


Buadors, 2007


Joe Dilworth is a photographer from London. He studied Fine Art at Saint Martin’s College and Goldsmiths in London. He also spent several years playing as a drummer in several bands, including Stereolab. He now lives in the German capital, where he is one of the co-founders of the photography book store Bildband Berlin. See more of his work on his website and make sure to follow him on Instagram.
Many thanks to Maya Hristova for help on this piece.