PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?
Ilan Bresler: Hi, Michael, and thank you so much for interviewing me.
About myself… Well, I was born in Russia, and when I was about 7-8 my family immigrated to Israel. As a young fellow, it was hard to overcome to language barrier and the lack of friends so I turned to photography using my grandpa’s old Russian camera (I don’t even remember the brand now). The camera allowed me to become an observer to life and ignore the difficulties of finding friends in an unknown country. A few years later, I’ve neglected my camera when it became awkward to hang around with, and by then I already had friends so it wasn’t too difficult. But the love for photography was already part of me, and when digital cameras became available, I rushed to ask my parents to get me one. They bought me a 3.1 mega pixel, Nikon 3100. It was a birthday present that changed my life.
I’ve enjoyed the frames I got from this little marvel, and when posted them on an Israeli photo forum, the feedback I got was like a long needed “drug”. The photographers I’ve met on that forum taught me most of what I know today and my style and approach to photography is rooted in those first years on that forum. Since then I’ve established (or was part of a group that established) two major photo forums in Israel, and even though now I took a step back from running them, I’m still very active in the online photo community.
Nowadays, I concentrate mainly on my blog and my new hobby – Twitter :)
PP: What was the forum you posted your photos to? Is it still around?
IB: The first forum I posted my photos on was one of the largest forums systems in Israel, Tapuz.co.il. The forums are in Hebrew, so I’m not sure how much people reading this interview can enjoy it. The second forum was called Click Art, and the main goal was of that forum was to group photographers and find any community projects we, as photographers, can participate in. We helped orphan kids and arranged Bar-Mitzvah parties; we went to the northern part of Israel, to entertain the kids during the second Lebanon war. The kids were locked in bomb shelters 24 hours a day and we asked for toys donations and any entertainers who could volunteer and come with us. We ended up a full bus of toys and people who came to ease the time for those kids. Our job was to photo the whole event, print the photo and give it back to the children and their families. In our ‘peak’ we had about 60 photographers, ready to volunteer and help the society in any project available. The group fell apart at the end, and the reasons are not that important now.
PP: What do you shoot?
IB: I enjoy street photography. Most of my photos are of people in different situations. When I was first introduced to street photography, I heard a very clever phrase – “I don’t take photos of people, I take photos of situations” – And I think that’s very true. Our lives are a puzzle of mundane moment we never stop to consider or notice. These are the moments I love the capture: While we eat, while we talk, while we pick our noses. I try to mix my love to street with two elements – I enjoy playing with light – Edward Hopper paintings, with their selective dramatic lighting are one of the inspirations, the works of Martin Parr with his strong colors and light is another. The other element is humor. I’m considered a ‘joker’ by those who know me, and in my best photos I manage to transfer that part of my personality. In the best of my photos – I use both elements.
PP: Why do you shoot?
IB: I’m not sure there is a single answer to this question. I’m not shy, but I always put walls between me and other people in my life. I guess we all do. But camera allows me to be someone else, a kind of foreign observer, thus allowing me to feel more comfortable, more ‘open’ in my dealing with the surrounding. When asked to write a short bio on my Twitter account, I wrote – “Photography for me is a way to find my inner peace. Same with blogging. So I combine the two” – I guess it’s pretty accurate for both of these hobbies of mine.
PP: What equipment do you use now?
IB: Today I use Nikon D80 with Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. Recently I sold my ‘arsenal’ of lenses, amongst them Nikon 18-200mm, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, Nikon 24mm f/2.8 and Nikon 70-210mm. I find that I most enjoy the wide lenses and the Tamron is wide enough and fast enough to satisfy my needs. Few months ago I also purchased the compact Ricoh GX200, which never leaves my bag. It’s not very comfortable to go around with the bulky DSLR, and the GX200 is exactly what I need (wide angle, RAW support, 2 dials, fast… ) during my daily routines.
PP: How much do you think a photograph can be post-processed and manipulated before it is no longer considered photography?
IB: That’s a tough question. This topic, today, is a bit of a controversy. Some say, that if given the tools, photographer, as any other artist, should use any tool he can to improve and refine his work. With the possibilities we now have, no matter if you use Adobe products or free programs like Gimp, the options and the expected results are endless. Even though I’m still only close to my thirties, and I’m very open minded and enjoy technology very much, I’m pretty conservative in my views of photo art. I shoot only RAW, which gives me great flexibility, but when I work on a photo, most of the time – I will only use the tools that were available in a dark room – crop, burn and dodge tools are my most trusted companions. Very rare for me to erase something out of the frame, and I’ll do that in extreme condition only – Can’t even remember the last frame I did that. Obviously, resize and sharpen are used all the time, and in times when it fits – I’ll convert the photo to black and white. Color manipulation, heavy processing – It’s just not me. I believe that a good photo can stand by itself, without all the extra hoo-ha. Lately, I’m tempted to try Lightroom but I’m just too lazy to change my workflow.
PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?
IB: As mention earlier, I shoot only RAW. The RAW file is taken to Nikon Capture NX2 software where I refine all the RAW setting, exposure especially. The file then saved in a TIFF format, which I open in Photoshop (CS3). There I go through the little details; burning and dodge tools are used. The result is saved in a PSD format, for any future use, mostly for cases when I send photos to competition or publications. The image is resized to fit the Internet format and I save it in quality of about 7. That low resolution and quality saves me the need to use watermark/signature on my photos – Even if someone ‘steals’ my works, the low quality won’t allow them to print it. The final result is that each photo has about 4 files and all this is kept in two separate hard drives.
PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences of shooting strangers?
IB: One of our first Click Art projects was a visit to a delinquent youth club. It wasn’t even a ‘real’ delinquent youth, but more of young fellows from broken home who are at high risk to become well… delinquents. A group of volunteers run a kind of neighborhood club, where these boys can meet, play social games and enjoy toasts and coke for few shekels. The volunteers contacted us and asked us to share a project, to follow the club during a long period of time, and see these boys grow up. When we came it became very obvious that the guys there weren’t used to be in center of a big group specially when lenses of every kind were pointed at them. Their excitement was very pronounced. After most of the food stored in the club was thrown in a mini food fight, the couch was broken, few fist fights started, and a window smashed, the volunteers asked us to leave and comeback some other time – when the idea of us being amongst them will settle. We weren’t really afraid of being hurt, but the atmosphere was pretty scary. We came back the next week.
PP: What is one thing you learned that had the biggest positive impact on your photography?
IB: One of the best things I’ve learned and I feel lucky to learn it from my first step in digital photography is – Shoot digital but think film. Many people love to say that after coming back from a trip (for example) they have thousands of photos. Digital camera will surely allow that. But I don’t think that quantity of frames is a guarantee for quality. If you enjoy clicking the frames so much, maybe it’s better to buy an HD video camera, shoot the whole trip, and then just choose the good frames. I don’t shoot much. Even though I’m in digital world, I use my camera as I once used my film camera. I try to think before I click. That’s one of the reasons I find it hard to go out with another photographers for photo walks. I just can’t concentrate with all the pixels flying around :)
PP: When did you start your photoblog? What inspired you to start it?
IB: I started my photoblog on a whim. I had my flickr gallery for few years, and I really tried to put myself into it. I commented photos, participated in different groups… And one day I just snapped. I thought – why I do so much “work”, when the gallery is not even really my own? It belongs to flickr, and all my content is buried under millions of photos and comments uploaded to that site – every second. Moment later I was already creating my own blog on Blogger platform, never even imagining that these were my first steps to something that will change my life and my view on the virtual social side of photography.
PP: What role does Twitter play in your life and what you do?
IB: I started my Twitter account on April, 2007. After few tweets, the account was neglected for more than a year. Can’t remember now why and when I decided to give it another try but today I can say that I’m a Twitterholic. As a tool, I think Twitter was designed to be a social platform, but as things tend to evolve by themselves, it became a very strong and solid self-promotional / marketing platform – Good platform always finds its course between what it was designed to be and what it really becomes. Personally, I think I use Twitter approximately 85% for the social aspect and about 15% for promotional benefits. My blog is updated once a week, so I don’t really have that many things to promote, specially when I don’t sell anything and just looking for comment and reviews for my work. Putting promotion aside (easy when it’s only 15%), Twitter became the best source for meeting new photographers and some of them became almost like real friends. Through my new friends I found more photoblogs to follow, and became a part of an international photo project “Around the World, Street Photography in BNW”.
Another great example for Twitter effect is this interview – It’s the platform that made it possible for us to meet.
PP: Who are some of the photographers you follow online?
IB: There are over 150 photoblogs I follow on RSS and over 350 photographers on Twitter, so it’ll be very difficult to point only a few :)
Aldo Risolvo (@AldoRisolvo) – We met on Twitter and became (almost like real) friends – Professional photographer and great guy. Francesco Gallarotti (@gallarotti) – a very talented photographers and I always enjoy reading his posts. Sephi Bergerson (@fotowala) – Amazing wedding photographer. His tweets are something worth waiting for. One of the busiest photographers and tweeterer I know, and would warmly recommend is Wong Kin Leong (@WahliaoDotCom). He is the mastermind behind the previously mentioned “Around the World” project, and I just can’t understand when this guy find few minutes to rest. Last but not least is Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) – Just visit his blog, you’d understand why I follow him.
PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?
PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?
IB: Stop reading (for today!), take your cameras and go outside ;) Thank you for having me, Michael, it was a pleasure!