The Kaje talks vintage photographic lenses to Chris Anthony

In the September issue of The Kaje we featured an interview with photographer Chris Anthony. We are now making the whole interview available on the blog, for all of you that want to know more about Chris, how he works and what he’s thinking! Best known for his use of vintage lenses, and also his work with My Chemical Romance on the ‘The Black Parade’ album, we look beyond My Chemical Romance and find out about Chris Anthony.

Firstly, why photography? Of all the mediums available what drew you to this particular one, and do you ever think there will be a time that you may move into another one?

The short answer is I love making images and since I can’t draw or paint, I use a camera. One day I will take a drawing class and then hopefully fulfill my dream of painting large canvases!

And yet I think photography has an important role in the art world today but I do fear that with all the advances in digital technology that photographers and their audience will be relating to a screen as opposed to an organic piece of material and that I think is a great pity.

You are well-known for the “vintage” and Victorian-Gothic look of some of your work, working with turn of the 19th century lenses and photo software – why use the lenses? couldn’t you get the same effect with only digital enhancements?

The simple answer is No, you can’t achieve the same effect digitally, and I can always tell when photographs are manipulated to feel old and it screams artificial to me. I shoot everything with a large format camera and sometimes I use new lenses, sometimes very old ones, but the quality of the large negatives is superior to anything digital today (since I usually exhibit very large prints) and the versatility of the camera is unrivaled.

I am less and less interested in digital manipulation in general, and I’m certainly guilty of my share of it. I’ve always done all my own retouching/compositing and it’s actually a lot of fun to do, but no matter how good the final results are there’s a veritable loss of soul that takes place the more you run an in image through the digital grind, in my humble opinion. I learned photography in the darkroom and I still am learning very old processes such as wetplate and platinum printing and I don’t want to come across as some photography purist, but images made in an organic way are simply so much more beautiful.

What’s your favourite lens at present?(and for those of our readers who don’t know what it does – what does it do for your work?)

It’s a French lens from the 1860s. I love it for portraits. Especially in color as the glass is not coated and not intended for color films and so it always yields interesting results that are wonderful and sort of muted.

We have to ask about the “My Chemical Romance” set of images you put together for the Black Parade album, how did that come about? Do you mind that a lot of people may know you best for that?

I was approached by Ellen Wakayama who is the head art director at Warner Bros Records. She had seen some of my work and showed it to Gerard Way and he thought I would be perfect for his vision. Gerard and I got on very well and it was a very happy experience from start to finish. I’m probably known in different circles for different things, but I definitely don’t mind that a lot of people connect me with the MCR work. It was just as fun a project to work on as anything I’ve ever done and the results are a kind of Epic Goth (!) that I’ve perhaps moved a bit away from today, but I’m still proud of the images.

From your 2009-10 collections, the group of images focusing on the beach and sea is very isolating and stark. It moves away from the “vintage” element of previous work, what did you want to achieve with this project?

Lots of things, but mostly I was thinking about climate change and the effects global warming will have on the ice caps. It’s my exaggerated idea of a future world where a lot of land has become submerged in ocean water.

It’s always been my dream to travel to Antarctica but I still haven’t found the time or money to make the trip. About two years ago I was looking into the expedition companies that take you there and once again I was left with only my fantasies of the South Pole. I’m no expert by any means but I pay attention to the global warming reports and I thought how horrible it would be if the poles were to completely melt away in my lifetime.

That’s when I started to imagine a future society of survivors submerged in sea water. I live in Los Angeles and there are many places along the coast I could have used for this series so no, it wasn’t a coincidence that I chose Venice Beach. It seemed fitting as I was indeed thinking of the slowly sinking Venice (Italy) which also happens to be my favorite place in the world. That was a neat piece of symmetry that appealed to me.

The carnival aspect is certainly a nod to Venice. I can’t help but almost always inject a bit of theatrics into my work. And my love for performers and storytellers gives me this romantic notion that those sorts of people will always be vital for mankind. I designed the rest of the costumes/props to have come from the military or at least be very utilitarian.

If you could photograph anyone, in any place, with any theme – who, where and how would it be? No limitations at all!

I really can’t think of anyone. I’m not that interested in photographing celebrities. Then again, to go back in time and stand on the set of The Maltese Falcon and then do a portrait with Humphrey Bogart would be rather extraordinary.

What’s your main focus moving into the next few years?

Who knows? Hopefully a book. More shows in Europe. Doing more portrait work. Setting up a lab for collodion wetplate work…

Is there anyone in particular you are looking forward to working with in the future? Or is there a particular subject/theme that you really want to make time to explore?

I would love to work with Colleen Atwood again – she did the costumes for MCR. I’m working on a new series now that I can’t really write anything coherent about, but it will hopefully take me to various locations around the United States.

You are part of a new generation of photographers who are turning the old conventions on their heads, does that put a lot of pressure on you?

I don’t know that I’m a part of any particular group or movement so I don’t think about things like that at all.

Of all the collections you have worked on, which is you favourite and why?

Venice. I used to work more large scale, with a large crew and then a lot of post manipulation. These days I prefer to keep it much simpler and more organic. I always shoot with a large format camera and I’ve been using a lot of 19th century lenses and staying away from the computer. I don’t have any rules about it though, I just want to preserve as much of the moment captured as possible from now on and not tinker with it so much after the fact.

You have also been involved in the world of music videos – specifically directing The Dandy Warhols “Godless” video – how did that come about?

I was a director for a number of years when I still living in Stockholm. They saw some of my work, liked it and had me come over and make a couple of videos. Last two I made actually.

What are your influences, both creatively and photographically?

Everything and anything. Composers like Debussy and Satie inspire great cinematic images, so I always daydream with their music in the background. From authors like PG Wodehouse and Truman Capote. I see at least 6-7 films a week so I undoubtedly derive much inspiration from moving pictures. Ideas, though, or rather themes, come from different places. Sometimes from deep within myself or childhood. Or from the newspaper. I’m finding though that it is much better to be inspired than to think up new ideas if that makes sense. I think I’m more influenced by filmmakers and painters. People like Orson Welles, David Lean, Terry Gilliam and lots of others. Painters I love are Ensor and Bacon and Millais. Certainly there are photographers I love too; Julia Margaret Cameron, Joel-Peter Witkin, Sarah Moon and Sally Mann.

For more information on Chris Anthony and his work, click here for his website.

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