“The photographs that stick with
me are the ones that immediately hit
me in the stomach, that give me a
jolt, and make me think.”
Interview with Brian Sokolowski
by Marie-Pierre Lambelin
1/ How did you start to interest you to photography and become passionate about
it ? What made you first pick up a camera?
I’ve been a musician almost my entire life. And I also dabbled in writing for quite a few years- so the arts have always been a dominant part of my life. Around 1995, I was going through some rough times, and for all intents and purposes, I was lost. The person I was living with had an old Pentax Super sitting on her shelf. I took it off the shelf and shot for about 10 hours that first day. It quickly became the most integral, important way for me to express myself.
2/ Where do you get your inspiration? How do you choose your subjects?
I’ve always been drawn to subjects that I felt were closest to how I was feeling. Much of my early work deals with themes of isolation, confusion, loss, etc. Which makes perfect sense to me, as that’s how I felt in my early years of photography. Content and substance have always been the most vital part of my work. I feel that no matter what medium of art you practice – you should be trying to say something. About who you are, about society. The photographs that stick with me are the ones that immediately hit me in the stomach, that give me a jolt, and make me think. Nice light, composition are well and good, but if the photograph doesn’t say anything, than really – it’s just a snapshot.
3/ Do you think it is important to be technically competent?
Absolutely. Your camera has to become a extension of you. How much latitude do you have with the film you’re using? What are the limitations of your camera? There are so many variables. And then we can talk about developing and printing, but that’s an entirely different topic. Unless of course you just want to take nice snapshots… then by all means set your camera on auto, and fire away.
4/ Why do you shoot with film rather than digital?
I’ve yet to see a digital print with the same warmth and texture as a film print. It’s not a matter of nostalgia, or sentimentality at all. That’s a fallacy. It’s simply the superior tool. That being said, the entire process… from loading my film, all the way to printing, is a very organic process for me. I feel that I have complete ownership of my work. Through every step. And, as I said- it just looks better.
5/ Most of your pictures are in B&W, why?
I feel like with B/W, I can get right to the heart of the matter, so to speak. No distractions. I do enjoy looking at great color work, and ironically, one of my best selling photographs is a color photograph shot with Portra of “The Pink Lady.” But it’s taken me almost 20 years to get my black and withe photographs to a point where I’m happy with them. Well… almost.
6/ What matters more to you? The story? Details? Mood?
It’s always about the story. The mood and details need to compliment and accentuate the story. But without the story, there’s nothing there. The goal for me over the years has been to be able to combine the three elements into a succinct, honest, and flowing frame. For the most part, I think that new photographers work in a certain order.
First concentrating on the details, second- finding mood within the scene, and lastly – weaving them together to form a story. It’s a natural progression.
7/ Can you quote me three works that have struck you, or really influenced and why?
For me, music, literature, and photography have worked hand in hand. So I’ll give you one of each.
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”. We’re talking about the Kings of Jazz collaborating on this record… Col-trane, Adderley, Cobb, Evans, Chambers. The best thing about this record is that it never flaunts it’s genius. It’s absolute control from each of these masters. That’s my favorite characteristic of great photographers as well… subtly and control.
Dan Fante “Chump Change”. Dan is somewhere in between his Father- John, and Bukowski. In this book, as well as the other three in this series, Fante writes on an autobiographical basis- which means he really puts himself out there. The main character “Bruno” is an absolute train wreck, which is something I very much relate to.
I think the best work comes from topics and subjects that you’re intimately close to.
The same with photography.
Robert Frank “The Americans”. The Americans showed a different America than the wholesome, popular- non confrontational photo essays of that era. His subjects weren’t necessarily living the American dream. They were factory workers, transvestites, and people living on the fringe. It’s as refreshing now as it was then.
8/ What would you tell a newcomer who asks for your advice on how to start?
Not much advice other than practice, practice, and then practice more.
9/ What projects are you working on? What is your actuality? Tell us more about your agency CORE.
Currently, I’m working on a project on affordable housing and gentrification here in Chicago. CORE is the brainchild of four friends and photographers from Chicago: Nima Taradji, Axelle Hortsmann, Andrew Steiner, and myself. Our goal is to raise awareness, and social consciousness though long tern multimedia essays and projects.