Root Hill Interview

Interview with photographer Frank Ishman

Over the past month we have had the honor of showing ‘Visibility’ from international photographer Frank Ishman. Frank has worked for a wide variety of clients such as: Paramount Motion Pictures, Flux Magazine, International Rescue Committee, American Cancer Society, Bank of America and JDC. Frank’s style has a very unique quality that somehow transcends the flatness of a 2D medium. He illustrates the emotional state of his subjects and then compels the viewer to identify with it. We had the pleasure of talking to Frank about ‘Visibility’, his travels, and how he captures his art.

Can you tell us about ‘Visibility’ now up at Root Hill Cafe?[It’s] Redondo Beach, California. I was out there showing my book and going to meetings, [while] staying with a friend. One thing I had to do [for my friend] was walk his dog. I got up in the morning and tried to figure out where I was taking the dog. The first few times I went out it was later in the day, so it didn’t really look like those images [from ‘Visibility’]. One morning I got up really early…went down to a pier and there was this magical sort of thing happening. So, I ran the dog back to the house and grabbed my camera…. And then started shooting. For four days after that I took pictures every morning. It’s this, sort of, reveal from every single day; as the fog opened up, I’d see something different…. It was really organic, and it just happened.
How did you arrive at the title for the series?Initially it was walking into perfect lighting conditions; not necessarily with perfect backgrounds…. [T]he atmosphere and mother nature kind of showed me what it wanted me to see. I really wasn’t seeking anything out. I shot images where it was completely clouded over…and you couldn’t see anything through the fog…. But then, I shot some where it was just perfect. I’d look one way, but it wouldn’t work, and then turn and it would be like “that’s it!”  Everyday certain things were visible and certain things weren’t. That’s where the title came from…’Visibility’. It’s kind of turned into something I want to do in Detroit, Boston, [and] Atlanta. …[I’ll] go out in the morning or at night just when it’s dark… and capture what can kind of be seen.

How do you get your shots? I usually see the shot before I put the camera up to my eye…. I want to take the picture fast enough so I can get what I am seeing, even if it’s a guesstimate of what I think is going to happen. I feel a rush playing ‘beat the clock’. I can kind of see a scene unfold and it’s like (hand gestures taking a photo) I need to be there for it….  It was magical in a sense that the first two images [in ‘Visibility’] were kind of unexpected. It’s the world of digital, you know…you don’t have to go to a lab to process. I immediately saw the image on the screen, and I started working backwards…. I see shots left and right. I don’t really stop and think about exposure. I just pick [the camera] up and know this feels ‘more silhouetted’ or ‘this feels more open’ or ‘this could be a good exposure…and it just happens.
What do you shoot with? For [‘Visibility’] I shot with LEICA digital M8. I also shoot with Hasselblad with digital back; I shoot with a 4 x 5 with a digital back…I shoot with everything really. The newest one I shoot with is a Fuji X100. 
You seem to travel a lot. Where do you like shooting the most? India and Ireland. I lived in India for a year. Lived in London for three years, but went to Ireland a bit…. When I look now at [‘Visibility’], it kind of looks like Ring of Kerry or around that area…. Although the pallette of the places that I love has little to do with what I shoot…. I would say the influences are more personal.  It’s that initial feeling I get from a shot or it’s something I’ve read or seen…. It’s a feeling [that] I try to capture.

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