April 2, 2021
By Kuni Shim
Doyle. San Francisco CA, 2017
Thank you for taking the time for the interview. Could you introduce yourself to Art Terms Magazine readers?
Hello I am Christopher Soukup, I currently reside in San Francisco with my wife and our dog. I’ve lived in the bay area for quite some time so the west coast is now home, previously I spent most of my formative years living in the east coast most notably in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
When did you start shooting with camera? And what makes you decide to be a photographer at first?
Soon after college, I was introduced to the beautiful tonal range of Ansel Adams. Cliché as it may be made me interested in creating something with a camera. Not too soon after I was gifted a Pentax K1000 and used that for a considerable time. At that time in my life, I had neither the patience nor direction to really become a photographer, that was not until really about 7-8 years ago where something clicked that made me want to dive deeper and create a body of work.
Francisco CA, 2017
Who is your favorite artist and why?
It’s pretty hard to narrow down a list to just one. Some that instantly come to mind are Roy DeCarava, Jeff Brouws, Steven Fitch, Joseph Hoflehener, but if I had to name only one it would probably be Robert Adams. His work really introduced the concept of how man has changed the natural landscape. His images are very quiet, almost understated and while wonderful on their own, they seemingly take on another level when seen in book form or in a gallery. There is a thoughtfulness that is hard to explain that seems pervasive in his photographs.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
First, I would say that process seems to always be in a constant state of evolution. Lately, it's either planning to go to a location such as the Salton Sea in Southern California and just wander the location for the entire weekend and make some images. Just being out can create a stream of conscious approaches to finding and making work. While at home sometimes it's either something you saw and then paid a visit at night or just visiting parts of the city and making work. I seem to vacillate between being picky about when to stop, setup, and make an image vs just doing it and evaluating later.
on the Edge of Town. San Francisco CA, 2017
Where do you usually get your inspiration?
Inspiration seems to come in a very wide variety of ways. Sometimes it’s seeing something in someone else’s photographs that gives you an idea. Music, especially soundtracks from movies and a movie itself can prompt a variety of ideas. Mostly I would say that all of the aforementioned items just prove as fodder to get out, search, attempt to see and make a photograph and then see how that sits with you weeks or months later.
You usually shoot in San Francisco. Do you have any plans to take photographs in another city or country?
You are correct that the majority of my work has been made in and around San Francisco. I have also done an extensive amount in the desert southwest and I’ve been fortunate to get to Hong Kong a few times and once to Iceland. I plan on revisiting Hong Kong again, while some of the old feel to the place is still in existence, pandemic permitting of course. Beyond that, I’ve had my eye on other parts of east Asia such as Japan, Taiwan and if lucky enough, some time in Seoul.
and Turns. San Francisco CA, 2018
Unlike the current works, you only took black and white photographs in the past. Why did you change the style of your work?
I still make black and white photographs from time to time, but the focus in the last 4 to 5 years has been on night work. The change in style was really more of a change in subject matter. The black and white work was focused mainly on seascapes, landscapes and at times architecture. Most of what I create comes from a place of generating a certain feeling or mood. Seascapes and landscapes, especially when creating them via a long exposure lends themselves to black and white more so than color, for me at least. I think it has to do with black and white being one step removed from reality, by removing color adds to the scene. While I appreciate color landscapes, in a sense they just don’t generate as much of a feeling, a mood as black and white. For the night, so much is about shadows and man made light, and while black and white works wonderfully, I had the inverse feeling, where to me the color added a creative element while black and white seems as though something would be missing. Most of my night subjects are older places, something that could have been from decades ago or something that just looks and feels like a scene in a dark movie. I’m not sure why this is for me, yet I know I prefer to go with the flow of what feels right to me than adhere to a strict standard.
in Plain Sight. Santa Clara CA, 2018
Is there any difficulty that comes from taking photos at night?
Shooting at night is now something that I am quite used to and doing otherwise now takes adjustment. Almost all of my work is done on a tripod, as was 90% of my black and white photographs. Most exposures are anywhere from 30 seconds to many minutes, so you have to be quite patient if you are not used to that style. If shooting film, the night adds an entirely different challenge over brightly lit scenes especially if shooting negative film. The most negative film will have a healthy dose of reciprocity failure that needs to be added to the reading from a light meter in some cases many minutes longer. Meaning a light reading may indicate an exposure of a minute but factoring in the reciprocity failure of a specific film then the actual exposure may be close to 4 minutes. Everything is much slower at night.
All Need a Fix. San Francisco CA, 2018
Does it take a long time to decide where to shoot? Or do you decide the place spontaneously?
I have many times seen something, a place, a car, etc, and look to see what artificial light will be available, but in reality, you are only guessing and have to see the place at night. Sometimes this works, but mostly it will not be what you expect as either something has changed or the lighting might just not be adequate. A huge portion of my work was made by just venturing out and searching. I find being observant, open-minded, patient to be the keys to what opens possibilities. Some subjects are obvious, others take a willingness to consider and maybe be nothing at all. So much depends upon the lighting conditions so you have to be there much more so than planning something in advance.
Did you intend all the models of cars and those positions in your photos?
I am not against staging photos, but when it comes to the cars in my photographs none of them are mine and all were where they were. I like the older cars as it puts a potential timestamp on a photograph, even if that potential time stamp may be decades off from reality.
End Amber. San Francisco CA, 2019
What does your work aim to say?
I don’t believe that most of what I do has a specific message. Not specific in the sense of what you would expect from photojournalism work or documentary. I like creating a scene from what’s available. I am always drawn to photographs or movie scenes that generate a mood, something that puts the viewer on the fine line between something calm and quiet to something ominous. Maybe a slight feeling of unease. The night always brings about a sense of stillness and some find that soothing, some find that eerie and uncomfortable, I like making photographs that put you on that edge.
The light in your works spreads softly and gently like the light in the fog. For your works, what is the meaning of light that is blurry and calm but clearly shows its presence?
I’m not sure I really have a story in mind or specific meaning to the light that I love and what you are referring to. It’s way more about a feeling, something in the gut a sense of mystery and mood. I can live in that feeling for quite a while and I suppose most of what I do at night is to find things like that.
San Francisco CA, 2017
The feeling of digital camera photographs and film camera photographs are clearly different. What do you think is the biggest difference between a digital camera and a film camera?
I am not someone who spends a lot of time focusing on gear so there are probably others that can speak to what and why it makes a difference to use one or the other. I’ve also had people incorrectly assume whether a given photograph was done using digital or film, but I too have a mindset that there is something inherently different between one or the other. I like using both and in the past 6 months, I’ve expanded into using a 4x5 camera, which is a new experience that does require some adjustment. Technically for me, the difference comes down to two things, at least for night work. Digital allows for more latitude for small details and differences in light in the shadows, while film excels for how it handles highlights. Highlights from a digital camera can be overly harsh while film, the especially negative film makes that aspect softer and what feels more natural. Both of those thoughts are purely personal preferences. There has been a boom of sorts with using film and, similar to the revival of vinyl in the record industry. People like alternatives and the soft tones, warmer colors that come with some of the existing stock have a nostalgic appeal in both using and viewing an image, I think that is really big right now at least on social media. My preference is to use what you enjoy, view the camera as more of a tool than a statement, and do what allows you to make the photographs you want.
Is there a reason why you only take cityscape or landscape, not portraits?
This is a very timely question, as incorporating people into my portfolio is on my to-do list, mainly as a way for me to complete a project for a book. The pandemic obviously makes this much harder and I have a number of ideas about what I would want, and they probably would not be along the lines of traditional portraiture. I believe this is the next area for me to explore and I expect it will take some time along with the typical trial and error that comes with anything new. To really answer your question, I’ve never made it a priority and I suppose that means for that time I’ve not had the emotional pull to do so, that’ll change.
Your Own Way Home. San Francisco CA, 2017
What was the most difficult experience while creating amazing artworks?
Two things come to mind. First is getting caught up in what someone else may think, appealing to an audience. I think that can be tricky and might lead you off the path that got you started In the first place. The second would be impressing yourself. When you start out making photographs with any intent, things seem wide open, and as you gain experience or a body of work things narrow down. In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities and in the expert's mind, there are fewer so I think the challenge can be to impress yourself you need to have more of a mentality of a beginner than a so-called expert. That’s a hard balance to achieve, how do you keep things fresh and exciting, to me that leads to possibility.
Bay. Raton NM, 2018
What is the most important detail or point you consider the most (when taking a photograph)?
I am far from perfect, so I think the most important detail for me is ensuring that I don’t trick myself from seeing plainly. Many times I have gotten a rollback from the lab or uploaded images and wondered what I was thinking or how did I fail to compose something better. Sometimes it's reminding yourself to be really present and evaluating what you are seeing in the viewfinder vs imagining what the photograph will be in the end. The other thing I consider, especially at night since there can be a lot of waiting for a 2-minute exposure is to look behind me, just look around and consider. That time of just standing there can allow you to see something that driving by or walking by would naturally prevent you from noticing.
Newberry Springs. CA,
How do you think social media affects the art field?
Social media is always an interesting topic. When I started to become more invested in photography I spent a lot of time exploring other photographers' work on Flickr. This gave me the ability to be exposed to a really wide array of styles, approaches, techniques, etc. It gave me some direction. When I consider the alternative, that would have been visiting many galleries, searching through many books, something that is quite frankly hard to do especially if you live somewhere that might not have much available. So social media for me was a great accelerator. On the other side, much of photography is consumed via Instagram. That platform has opened a lot of doors for people, it certainly can generate a great deal of opportunity. In my opinion, viewing most photographs or maybe even for some almost all photographs via a phone is a really poor way of experiencing photography. Algorithms, like buttons, etc. are great for creating engagement and making money for a free service. I don’t think they are great for how it influences someone in making photographs. Some images work fine for small screens, some should be experienced on paper in a large print. I’ve heard many speak about how they shape their work so that it will be successful for Instagram. Maybe that is a good approach, maybe not. It’s also easy to get into a comparative mindset especially with metrics such as followers and likes. I actively try to avoid that from influencing me and what to create but I know that I am no less immune to it than anyone else.
Driving Rain. San Francisco CA, 2017
Is there one particular image you’ve taken that you’re most proud of or close to? Why’s that?
This changes for me quite often. The photograph entitled “In a Driving Rain” is probably my most favorite. I saw the scene during the day, went to dinner in the area with the intent to come back once the sun had faded away. Making the photograph was taken during a growing wind-strewn downpour, which sometimes can be great or not usable. The final result has the soft tones I like, the diffused light due to the low clouds and heavy rain, and that mid-century feel that I enjoy. When you make photographs the story in your head in all the phases can really influence what you think of the image, maybe even significantly so compared to the casual observer, I think there is a lot of that for me with this photograph.
What kind of artist do you want to be remembered as?
I’ve never really given this much thought. I understand the question, I think the thing I always come back to is the doing of it. Meaning, the experience starts to finish of making photographs and being in that mindset. Not to get too philosophical, but a person really only has the present to be concerned with, legacy in a sense is up to others to determine.
Amboy CA, 2018
Is there a new genre or expression technique you want to try?
Incorporating people into my existing work.
Is there an artistic goal that you would ultimately reach through your work?
My current goals are to round out some of my current work into book form and ultimately to have an exhibition where I’ll have full creative control to present my photographs as I would like them to be viewed. Photographs on paper are important to me, and I think the experience of size, big or small, can make a big difference in how the work will be received.