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Interview with Otto Kitchens of ottok photography

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Otto Kitchens is the photoblogger behind ottok photography.


PetaPixel: Could you tell me about yourself?

Otto Kitchens: I live right off downtown Atlanta, GA in an old Victorian house with my Ocicat cat, Sam. I’ve been in Atlanta for most of my adult life. I work in the IT industry as my current day job, a necessary evil to help fund my photography. I would love to do photography full-time, but right now that’s not possible.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

OK: I got a Canon AE-1 film camera in high school and used it through college, but never really passionately. Then I started doing big vacations with a friend every year. My introduction back into photography as a passion began then, wanting to better record my travels.

I started with a basic point-and-shoot film camera and then decided to jump on the digital bandwagon. My first was a pretty basic 2MP HP digital camera. Then I progressed to a Canon G2, I think. I kept hitting limitations with what it was able to do, so I finally got a digital SLR, a Canon 20D. It was also around this time that my passion for photography progressed beyond my travels. Then I started to capture the more local world around me.

I eventually got back into film, starting with the ever popular Holga. Then it was like a light bulb went off and so more about the potential creative side of photography became clearer. Then I started obtaining other film cameras and started using my digital SLR less and less. Until finally, my digital SLR became forgotten in my camera cabinet. I now have almost 30 film cameras, mostly medium format but also some 35mm cameras as well.

I also got into working in the darkroom and signed up for a course at a community art center to learn how to develop my own B&W film and make my own B&W prints in the darkroom. Now I develop my own B&W film at home and still go into the darkroom to do printing as often as I can. I love shooting color and B&W film. My cameras range from the high end, my beloved Hasselblad 501CM and Pentax 67, to the downright “crappy” plastic cameras with little to no settings, and I use that lovingly. I also have several pinhole cameras as well. In fact, I just got a new old camera from eBay, an Ilford Sporti, made in the late 50s to early 60s.


PP: What do you like about film photography that caused you to put your digital gear aside? Most people seem to go the opposite direction.

OK: Yeah, I know. Heh. I’m not sure… it’s hard to put into words exactly. There is something tactile about film; it can be gritty and dirty, magical even. I don’t have that same feeling with digital. This is just a personal response. I have nothing against digital at all as I credit it for getting me back into photography and finding my real passion in life. Who knows one day I might shoot digital again; I still follow the new advancements, etc. If I had to get a digital camera now, I’d get the new Canon 5D Mark II – well, I’d save up for it. :-)

PP: How much time does your hobby take you?

OK: Oh wow, a lot. Usually at least and hour or two a day during the work week, and potentially a whole day each weekend, if not more. It’s the weekends where I get out to shoot when I can. It’s hard to do that during the week. If I am getting ready for a show, my involvement takes a lot more time.

PP: How about money? How expensive is this hobby for you?

OK: Well, it wouldn’t be so expensive if I’d quit buying cameras. :-) But yes, it has been expensive, but totally worth it. The personal fulfillment that photography gives me is incredible – I can’t imagine not doing it now.


PP: What is your favorite type of photography?

OK: I like doing all of that really. No particular one is my favorite. It really depends on my mood and the subject when I go out to shoot. I usually take 2-4 cameras with me, each with its own characteristic. Once I get somewhere and get a feel for the place, I’ll use one or more of the cameras to capture either what I’m seeing or what I’m feeling about the location, be it on a country road or an abandoned building. If I’m at a single site, I’ll usually walk around the area without a camera in hand to get a sense of what it is like and what grabs my attention. And it’s then when I’ll start shooting.

I may be at a location for a couple of hours but only take about 36 or so pictures. I’m very deliberate about each shot and what I want to capture. The world just falls away when I put the viewfinder to my eye and it’s very calming for me.

PP: Where are some of the places you’ve traveled to?

OK: New Zealand (twice), Alaska, the Pacific Northwest (US and Canada), Fiji, the Caribbean, Europe several times including drives around Ireland and Scotland and a hike around Mont Blanc, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico…

PP: Where are some places you’re hoping to go in the future?

OK: Well, if I can manage it, this fall I want to go to the US Southwest. There is a hike in the Himalayas that we want to do. Patagonia is high on our list as is Africa.


PP: If you had to choose just one body and one lens, which would you choose?

OK: That’s a toughie, I love so many of my cameras, but if I had to choose one I’d say my Hasselblad 501CM with an 80mm lens.

PP: What type of photography would you want to become a professional in?

OK: Fine art, whatever exactly that it. That’s what calls me. Most commercial photography doesn’t overly appeal to me. I’ve sold stuff commercially and as fine art prints, but I like to shoot what I want, when I want.

PP: Do you use your bathroom as a darkroom?

OK: No, my kitchen. I have a changing bag that I use to work on film and then I just use the kitchen sink. I eventually would like to convert my attic and add a real darkroom up there. But I have other things that are higher priority on this old house than that.


PP: How many mistakes or disasters have you had with film photography?

OK: Oh several. On a Polaroid back for my Holga, I’ve had it unattach exposing the Polaroid film, more than once. On a pinhole I’ve had the “lens” cover fall off, exposing the film again. And a few times I’ve had developing problems, the worst being once using the fixer before the stop bath, actually switching the two mixtures accidentally. That roll was ruined. One of the potential drawbacks of using film that I wouldn’t have with digitial, barring losing or destroying the memory card.

PP: What do you wish you had known when you first started out in photography?

OK: I don’t know. I like where I am right now with my art, and I see the mistakes that I’ve made as the path that got me where I am, warts and all. And hopefully where I’m going.


PP: What advice would you give someone starting out in film photography?

OK: Well, for film or digital, I’d say learn what I call the art of slowing down. Give thought to each shot; take your time understanding the composition, focal length, etc. That’s why I like to walk through or around a location before I ever start photographing. Also, learn to shoot in manual mode as that teaches you a lot and gives you way more control over the results. Even if you don’t shoot in manual mode all the time, learning how to do it is a wonderful teacher.

OK: Also, don’t be afraid to take chances, be adventurous. Learn the rules of composition, etc., but also try breaking them. I think that’s partly why I like having so many cameras. Each interprets a scene in its own way and allows me to try new things.


PP: What’s on your wishlist right now?

OK: Camera-wise I don’t have much of a wishlist… that is until I see some new (usually old) camera that I didn’t know of or think about until I saw some pictures by it and I’ll usually get it, unless it’s really expensive. Otherwise, I really would like to get a better scanner to scan in my negatives. I have a decent one, but I’d like to have a better one. I’m always on the lookout for a new, good camera bag. I have plenty, but I keep an eye out for the one.

PP: Where do you usually purchase your camera equipment from?

OK: I have two main locations, eBay or KEH. I’ve certainly bought from other places, but these are the two that I have used the most. KEH is local and I know someone who works there, so that’s convenient.


PP: Do you follow any photographers online?

OK: Yes, I follow a lot and have been inspired by and become friends with quite a few of them. I enjoy seeing what others are doing. Just a few of them are: 16+ photography, BOXMAN fotologue, eddiemallin, Film is not dead it just smells funny (not a single photographer, but it showcases a wonderful collection of images from different photographers around the world), and Lost in Pixels.

PP: If you could see one person interviewed on PetaPixel, who would you choose?

OK: Tread from gotreadgo. He’s a real hoot. :-)

PP: Is there anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

OK: Hmm… shoot for yourself, not for others. You have to please yourself first. If others like it, then that’s wonderful; if they don’t, so what. It’s your art; don’t lose sight of that. I’m pretty sure why I’ve mainly stuck with fine art photography. It had to have some meaning for me.

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