On May 30 th, 2017, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Brandon Woelfel at Classic Color, a printing shop in Chicago where Thought Catalog Books is rendering his first full-color photography volume, . Brandon is a soft spokens and kind fellow who a utilizes a camera and a sculptural editing process to create an alternate reality where illumination is playful and nearly life-like as it swirls around, illuminates, and intersects with the world of his subjects. We had a chance to talk a bit about his creative process amid the buzzing of publish machines.
KJ Parish : Hi Brandon. When did you first become interested in photography?
Brandon Woelfel : I was in my sophomore year of college at the School of Visual Arts analyzing computer art and I kinda get interested in it through Instagram. I kept following all these photographers I appeared up to and I actually got my first DSLR at 19 and now I’m 22. So, I’ve been doing it virtually four years but I’ve definitely been into art my entire life…taking art classes at school and side classes. I’ve always been an artistic kid.
KJ : Are you inspired by people that have a digital or extra-worldly concept or technique in their artwork?
BW : I’m always inspired by unique styles. For so long I kind of got into my own niche of editing and I guess that maintained evolving into something that it is right now. It’s always going to keep evolving and changing so it’s definitely a lot of fun.
KJ : There’s kind of a realism and fantasy component to your work and I’m wondering where that came from and how that started.
BW : I think it’s always been there. I guess when I startedI don’t knowit definitely evolved into what it is right now.
KJ : Did you feel drawn to working with light early on? When do you feel like the first/ earliest paintings that became part of Luminescence if you can pick out one or two conceptuallyhow did those even come to fruition or where did those ideas come from?
BW : I started shooting a lot with my friends and simply became comfortable with expressing myself to them and what I wanted to get across in the final product. So…they helped me a lot only kind of express myself.
KJ : You were drawn to light though, including with regard to?
BW : The light play came in…the first time I did it was around Christmas time and I feel like I just never stopped. Everyone does the light play around Christmas but I felt like I simply kept going with it and never actually stopped.
KJ : Did it actually start with Christmas lights? With one photo and you started to edit that photo and you’re like” what can I do now ???”
BW : Yeah, because I like challenging myself with photography and shooting at night kind of became that challenge for me…how I can play with light and retrieve all those darkness because shooting at night your defines are always changing depending on the light source. The challenge for me was what kind of sparked the light play.
KJ : It was sort of a technological, continuing conceptual exploration.
BW : Yeah, yeah. I challenge myself with what else I can do…pushing the limits and simply keep going off that.
KJ : So, you’re always considering what else you can do.
BW : Yeah, sometimes even with using different models I feel like the whole picture is different. It’s a whole different look depending on who’s in it and I take a lot of photos in the same spots but I feel like you wouldn’t really know because you can construct them seem so different with simply the light source and who’s in it and how you edit it. It’s funny because I’ve actually taken photos in my room a lot but throughout the years they’ve totally evolved. Comparing[ photos] to those taken a year later is completely different. I try and edit at the least a batch of photos per day so with that it’s always my editing style changing, procuring something new, find new tools, and watching different artist tutorials.
KJ : It sounds like you’ve taken a lot of photos in the same places but do you intentionally go out and find new places, too? What inspires you about a place?
BW : I actually follow a lot of accounts on Instagram, and since I’m based in NY there are a lot of art galleries around there. I follow accounts that keep me up to date on so scouting out is fun for me. I’ll find a new locating and screenshot it and send it to my friends and say ” We need to go here! It objective next week !” and then we’ll make a trip out of it and go for fun but also take photos. That happened like last week, actually( laughs ). So, it’s definitely the fun of it and then getting home and editing those photos is like a whole different experience for me.
KJ : You take photos inside of gallery exhibits?
BW : Yeah, I do that a lot. There’s a lot of various types of ones that are hidden no one knows aboutthey’re only for like a week long. Definitely a fun thing for me.
KJ : Huh, that’s really cool. What are you looking for when you’re putting together a photograph or an idea for a photograph?
BW : I’m looking for the right light. I don’t like to shoot in direct sunlightthat’s not my thingbut if I have to, I try and make it run around my own style. I like to keep that kind of neutral…a lot of days I want it to be known that it’s my own style and people could find that[ style] in a crowdthat’s really important to me. But yeah, I shoot a lot of’ depthy’ photos and the background is super blurred so I’m always looking for what the background could give me and the lighting and foreground illuminated playing off the mode. It’s so many different categories that come into play when I’m thinking of a photo. It’s not really one specific thing.
KJ : Do you want to talk specifically about any art that inspires you? Or people that inspired you at all?
BW : Um..let’s see. I’m not inspired by one specific artist, it’s more like if I find an image and then I’ll either run screenshot that for’ inspo’ or save it for afterwards and it’s usually all different. Like, if you looked at my’ inspo’ folder, it’s all different artists but the concepts are along my style.
KJ : You’re drawn to people’s technique and not necessarily one person’s continuous style.
BW : Right, yeah.
KJ : That’s interesting. That’s like, a whole other dialogue( giggles ). How did you come to photograph so many couples, especially the encompas photo[ for Luminescence ] that particular couple seems to be important to you.
BW : Yeah, that girl in the photo is my neighbour. We live right next door[ to each other] and have lived next door to each other for our whole lives, actually. We grew up together and she’s been there through all my, like, photo techniques. She knows all about it. And then he came into the pictureI kind built them an’ actual scene'( giggles) and yeah…they are always down for experimenting. They’re always helping me out with photo notions. If I have an idea, I’ll merely be like” Go outside !” because she lives right there. I like how they give a different emotion to the photo. It’s more relatable. It definitely shows more emotion. Even having friends in a photo, it wholly changes the vibe…
KJ : As opposed to models, you mean?
BW : YeahI like having photos look virtually candid and’ in the moment .’ I mean, I’ll obviously pose the model or friend I’m utilizing but I like it to appears more natural than it feels.
KJ : So “they il be” kind of a continuing recurring couple for that reason because you have a personal relationship with them and they obviously have a relationship with each other. Is it weird for them at all that they’re kind of known[ through your work ]?
BW : They’ve gotten used to it. They have also gotten really good at posing too. I don’t really have to tell them anymore. With certain friends I want to use for photos, they have to get comfy in front of the camera. I feel like I use a lot of recurring people because they know how I shoot and how I work so they just vibe off that.
KJ : So, do you know everybody that you’re shooting?
BW : I definitely satisfy a lot of them for the first time when we plan out a shoot and then, depending on how the shoot goes and if we vibe and stuff, I definitely have become great friends with a lot of the people. A lot of the person or persons in the book that are recurring I’ve become great friends with. Merely from shooting or I’m already friends with them and they help me out with a photo. I’ve made a lot of friendships through photography.
KJ : Do people approach you a lot be interested to know whether they can be photographed by you?
BW : Definitely on social media a lot but I mostly shoot for brands , not test shoots like that. But it’s definitely a lot of fun fulfilling someone for the first time and how the photos play out and the dayyou remember that day with all of the photos we took together.
KJ : Okay, so you said you’re 22, right?
BW : Yeah.
KJ : Where did you grow up?
BW : I grew up and am still based in Long Island, New York.
KJ : What do you shoot with?
BW : I shoot with a Nikon D7 50 and I largely use my 50 mm 1.4 but I also shoot with my 85 mm 1.4 a lot. Here and there, I use my 35 mm. I like to use fixed portrait lenses , not really zoom. Those are my favorite ones.
KJ : If you had to describe your technique or your process, how would you describe it?
BW : It’s definitely more technological than it seems. I have grown to know the programs I use and what each tool can benefit me for each photo. It’s definitely more of a technical process, playing with a lot of layers and hues, colour correction, selective color…a bunch of different elements and tools play into each photo that I take.
KJ : As you put together the photos for Luminescence , what did “youre feeling” was the underlying concept? Did you feel there was an underlying idea emerging or a feel to the book or was it more about this technical exploration of sun? Do you feel like it became emotional or is there a style you might describe this work to someone who’s never seen it or considered your work yet on Instagram?
BW : When I was curating it I was pulling all of my favorite images that I’ve taken and thinking of what went on behind them that no one will get to see. But they get to see the final image, which is cool. Putting them together as each full page, each photo various kinds of reflects off the otherit’s like the coloring is playing off each other. It doesn’t have to be the same moment but I curate it so the colours play off one another. That was kind of a challenge for me too because I was putting together images I never supposed could go together. But, after looking at them from afar and investigating each page, it kind of came together to be what it is. A plenty of light play in there.
KJ : What was it like to put these images together for a book that is going to appear in publish?
BW : It was an awesome feeling and it still does not feel real, but umm .. it was cool because I really only had maybe 1…2…3 of my photos actually printed out so “re coming” and seeing it all published on a mass scale like this is a crazy feeling because, like I said…everyone’s seen it on a small scale[ Instagram/ mobile ]… so it’s definitely an awesome feeling being able to hold a photo that you took. And showing the people that are in them. They are super stoked on it too. It’s cool.
KJ : I think it’s interesting that you’re coming at this in such a different way than’ traditional’ photographers in the past. So much of your work existed in a[ solely] digital spaceon Instagram where people are interacting with it in a really specific style around a specific device. Now it’s coming alive in a different way with publish. This is a first for you, I know, and you’ll have some kind of experience once you’re thumbing through the book when it’s donelike” wow, this is how it feelings in this format” and sensing what feels different about it. Not having been someone who spent all of their time in a dark room trying to develop all of these, it’s such a different experience[ with paper ]. Just thinking of the experience of looking at it on the screen withthe sunlight of your screen playing with the sun in the photo and how that compares with print and paper.
BW : And, being able to hold something that has a memory behind it is a cool feeling.
KJ : I thought it was interesting as I was going through all the proofs. All of the repetition of the models and the feel of themit starts to have this uniformity after a while. It’s like these express of various types of lives, settings…a lot of different girls moving through this volume and it has this youthful, playful feeling to it.
BW : Yeah, person described or commented that” your photos all look different but they somehow go together” so I feel like that was my goal for this bookto have every page appear completely unique but you know they’re all from the same book.
KJ : It’s cool because[ a photo] might be shoot in a place that seems dark and gritty but there’s always this kind of positivity or optimism that seems to be a part of your work and I don’t know if that’s intentional or not but it’s definitely there.
BW : Yeah, I love photos that have that feel good sense and expression in the photos. You can relate to it or it can remind you of a good time in their own lives or something that you’re going through.
KJ : Well, great. Thanks for taking the time for this interview.
BW : No problem!
* This interview has been modified for brevity.
Get your copy of Brandon Woelfel’s new book, here.
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