Alan Kastner is a person I’ve gotten to know over the past year through his work and personal exchanges. I wanted to present Alan in this way just before the start of my final semester of university studies, but I got overwhelmed from the word go. So, I asked if he could be patient with me until the semester drew to a close. As the respectful Sir that he is, he kindly agreed to hold off plans. Now it has become the right time to introduce the brilliance of what is Alan Kastner.
His latest works are fanciful, intriguing, and intuitive provoking thought and anticipation for more.
Journey with me as we get to know Alan and discover his path into the realm of iPhoneography…
Edgar C: Tell me about yourself? Where are you from?
Alan Kastner: Born on the banks of the St. Lawrence River outside Montreal and schooled mostly in Toronto, I landed in Tokyo 23 years ago on a 2-year research fellowship from the Japanese government. After failing to return to Canada when that ended, I’ve since been living in central Tokyo where I earn my keep as a freelance writer, translator and branding consultant for a number of local ad agencies and production houses. My fascination with cameras and photography began before I learned to spell. That passion intensified after joining the photography club at my local high school, and I spent much of the next five years in the club’s darkroom. (Yes, high school was a five-year sentence in those days.) Immediately after joining, I took money saved from delivering newspapers and purchased an Olympus Trip 35 camera. So, that’d be the first 35mm camera into which I crammed bulk-loaded film as I commenced shooting most anything around me.
Other pastimes have mostly taken a back seat since immersing myself in iPhoneography the past year. For the past 13 years I have also collected, restored and researched the histories of early Japanese transistor radios. The earliest models use many intricate parts and have a hand-built quality that is not found in later products; and they incorporate fabulous colors and designs never seen after that era. Also, as the first semiconductor, the transistor is what brought us the personal computers and iPhones we all know and love. My other major time-burner would be a love for my own form of yoga. I’ve been doing that on-and-off for over 30 years now.
EC: How did you get into iPhoneography?
AK: I started pursuing iPhoneography in earnest in January of this year. It began when a local friend recommended I start posting on Instagram late last December. Intrigued by the square format but not by the limitations of the 3.5” screen for display purposes, I started posting on Flickr around the new year. This led to the purchase of Hipstamatic on January 3; and things have continue to escalate from there. Prior to this experience, I had been snapping the occasional photo with the iPhone 3G that I purchased in 2008, and later with a 3GS. It was the 3GS that first gave me a sense that there was true potential in the iPhone’s camera. Prior to that, I was a dyed-in-the-wool big glass junkie. The tables have been turned since January, and my DSLR bodies have been gathering dust all year.
EC: What does iPhoneography mean to you?
AK: It’s quite simple. To me, iPhoneography involves working with the iPhone camera and the apps available for the iPhone, while exploring the vast potential the platform offers us. After close to a year of pursuing the craft daily, I continue to view iPhoneography as the brightest of all my experiences in photography to date. The hardware/software combination gives me a tool by which I can synthesize all the skills I had previously acquired; and it’s all self-contained on a single device that fits in my pocket. I shoot and process entirely on the iPhone. And I like it that way because, aging eyes aside, I’m fond of performing all related tasks in the palm of my hand. The process is a vital part of a highly personal and emotional experience.
EC: Can you recall the first iPhoto you took that made you go WOW, I really got something here!?
AK: I think it would be a photo I shot just a few days after purchasing Hipstamatic. I was taking a walk on a cold winter day and stopped to read for a few minutes at Tokyo University’s baseball ground. It’s a favorite quiet spot in my neighborhood, and I like sitting in the bleachers. Built in 1937, they survived the war and are today protected by the city because the arched steel-reinforced concrete construction is quite unique. It was getting late in the day, and the sun was setting off to one side. I snapped a few shots of the unique architecture and found I had captured the mood as I experienced it. Capturing the mood has always been important to me, so that became the moment I began to shoot with greater zeal. I started waking early to take walks around the area after sunrise in search of interesting subjects. Within a few weeks of that day, I also began to edit images. My first edit was a major epiphany of sorts; but that’s another story. ;-)
EC: How often do you work on your iPhoneography? Do you spend a numerous amount of time on working and reworking your photos?
AK: I have a need to work on images every day, even if a busy schedule means doing so late at night when I should be sleeping, when in transit, or wherever I must sit for more than a few minutes. When time allows, I can easily spend the better part of the day editing. I try to shoot regularly, but sometimes find that difficult. In an attempt to compensate, I make sure to allow time to walk a few extra stations before jumping the subway after meetings, take time to walk after meeting friends, and so on. No matter how much time I make for pursuing the craft, it never seems enough.
EC: How has social media such as Twitter helped or hinder the way you choose to share your work with others?
AK: Now there’s a good question. In terms of physically uploading images, it’s quite easy to share images with other folks. However, things become more complicated when seeking to conduct meaningful conversations with other members of the community. I have long held a desire for a central service that would let us express our feelings about an image, and have that same information, (“comments and faves”), reflected on all the related social media sites. That would spare us from worrying about visiting others’ streams, galleries or what have you on each site while ensuring our thoughts are conveyed and our support is shown. Our late friend Nacho loved the idea when we first discussed it. I began on Flickr and that is still where much of my conversation takes place. I’m also quite active on iPhoneArt.com. Sadly, spreading oneself too thin is common, and I’m failing the past few months to visit the streams of friends as much as I’d like, or as they deserve. This pains me to no end.
(Please Stop Nuking My Eggs)
EC: Do you have any formal training regarding traditional photography?
AK: Not the type of formal training that would lead to a career, no. I spent those five years in the high school darkroom as a member of the photo club and yearbook staff. As importantly, I set up my own darkroom by the second year, so was spending quite a lot of time experimenting with different papers and techniques at home. After that, I traveled for a couple of years taking photographs and then worked as a freelance photographer for about a year before returning to university.
EC: What types of subjects do you like to shoot?
AK: More than specific subjects, what drives my creative urge is capturing the mood of the moment, either as I observe it, or as a reflection of what I am feeling at the time. That said, people often associate me with photos of architecture. Those closer to me know of my fascination with geometry, form, motion and what I refer to as “the perpetual sense of slight imbalance that keeps us on our toes.”
EC: What about your hometown is so special that it makes you want to capture it through your iPhone?
AK: Tokyo offers so much in terms of both scale and diversity, it’s hard to sum up in words. More than anything, I love to find and capture the contradictions between new and old, traditional and cosmopolitan. I live in an old neighborhood, which gives access to some traditional flavor. And, I often find myself shooting typical scenes of the modern city as I move about, be that buildings in the Ginza district, people on the streets, or the train stations. Anything goes. All combined, it provides a fertile environment for pursuing iPhoneography.
EC: Who inspires you? Who are your artistic influences?
AK: I try to draw inspiration from every aspect of my life and experience, right down to smelling the flowers, listening to the birds and such. This includes everybody I interact with and all the images I view, both those within the iPhoneography community and those from the broader world of photography and art. I was obsessed with viewing photographs from early childhood. Always had my nose buried in Life magazine, National Geographic and other magazines and books my parents subscribed to or purchased. Later, while pursuing a world of black-and-white photography as a teenager and young adult, I was fascinated by the work of Bresson, Capa, Kertesz, Man Ray and too many others to list. The same can be said of music, most forms of visual arts, books, film; you name it. And again, too many names to list. The first who come to mind are Modigliani, Rothko, Picasso, Hundertwasser, Kafka, Wittgenstein, Burroughs, Tanizaki, Kobayashi Hideo, The Manyoshu, Ozu, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Serge Chaloff, Tom Waits, John Cale, and so on. I wouldn’t venture that any serve as a direct influence. But we are all products of our experience, and these entities do reflect certain preferences of style.
EC: When you’re in a creative block what do you do to break out if it? Do you look at the work of other iPhoneographers to be re-inspired?
AK: Perhaps because I’ve been at it for less than year, I haven’t suffered a real block, per se. There have been a couple of brief spans when I felt uninspired, such as when I temporarily relocated to Canada in the spring following the incident at the nuclear power plant here. When that happens, I just do something else. Take a walk. Restore a radio. It doesn’t much matter what. Before I know it, I’m eager to shoot again. Since returning to Tokyo, I’ve been more frustrated when I don’t have time to create than with anything else. :-)
EC: What has been the some of the challenges of using the iPhone as a camera?
AK: In my view, it’s precisely the so-called challenges that make iPhoneography exciting. The iPhone forces us to engage our subjects in a unique manner, as we shoot without zoom or real manual settings. Limited resolution relative to the desire to create and print at large size drives me to compose using the whole of the available frame and avoid excessive cropping after the shot. This inspires unique manners of contortion and fore-rear movement to nail each exposure. It’s a full-body experience that differs from carrying big glass with powerful reach and range. I love it.
(Crossing the Rubicon)
EC: Has your work been published before, if so, where? Did you ever expect your work to be noticed by the iPhoneography community?
AK: My work hasn’t (yet) been published in proper printed form. However, if referring to the world of blogs and sites, I’ve appeared in features on most of those we tend to view as a community. That includes iPhoneography, iPhoneogenic, LifeinLoFi, iPhoneArt.com, iphoneographyCentral, Fotogriphone, and EyeEm (where I was also featured in an interview in June). In addition, I have showed my work in roughly ten exhibitions this year. Geographically, that spans four American states as well as London, and includes having a few images in catalogs as well as newspaper features such as one in ArtWeek LA.
I also have a number of exciting plans already scheduled for 2012. Kicking off the year, I will be showing ten pieces at “Latitudes International Photography Festival in Huelva” (Latitudes Festival Fotografia Huelva), a major photography exhibition in Spain, which will run from February 13th through April 1st. iPhoneography is being added to the event for the first time, so it is a big opportunity for the six selected iPhoneographers to demonstrate what our community has to offer.
I began shooting this year with no intentions other than to share some photos with a few friends and family on Flickr. That left me somewhat like a deer trapped in the headlights of an oncoming car when members of the community started showing some of my photos a bit of love. I am my own biggest critic and take joy in striving to improve my skills. But I can be lazy if left on my own.The encouragement has therefore inspired me to work yet harder on polishing my craft. Even as my name reaches more people with each passing month, my attitude remains the same. The one major change might be in deriving greater pleasure in learning to better express myself through my images. It has led to a desire to keep pursuing the same path and see where it might take me. In other words, I love working to further develop my skills, and I can see doing it forever. Nothing could feel better than that. :-)
EC: What has been the most surprising or most predictable reaction from people to your iPhotographs?
AK: I don’t surprise easily. I suppose the funniest story would be the day a person who had been following me for some time on 500px.com suddenly realized that my photos were all from an iPhone and expressed genuine surprise. I got a kick out of discovering that he had been viewing my work as other than iPhoneography the whole time I’d known him. (It also shows that he doesn’t read profiles or tags well, as I state my kit clearly in both places.)
EC: What’s in your iPhone camera bag (apps)? What are a few of your favorite apps that you’re currently using and which ones don’t you like?
AK: I must have upward of 90 photo apps on my phone. The capture apps I use most frequently include the default Camera app (since the release of iOS 5), 6×6, Lomora 2, Hipstamatic, Streetmate. Inspired by Carlein’s brilliant work with the app, I’ve also taken great pleasure in shooting a recent series with Slow Shutter Cam.
My main processing apps are Filterstorm, Iris Photo Suite and Photo FX, with a little Photoforge2 thrown in lately. For textures and other effects, I’ve recently been using King Camera, Magic Hour, Dynamic Light, Pixlromatic, Scratchcam FX and other apps.
(Damiel on the Right)
EC: Where do you see iPhoneography/mobile photography a year from now? A few years from now?
AK: I don’t view iPhoneography itself as being much different a year from now. The apps will gain more features and become a little more robust. That’s about it. Looking down the road a few years is much more difficult. However, I do believe that iPhoneography (or mobile photography, if you prefer) will continue to thrive as its own genre, and will continue to offer infinite possibilities.
Blame it on my long experience in Japan, but I sometimes draw parallels between iPhoneography and ukiyo-e. The same way the early generations of iPhone and limited availability of apps determined much of the result, the first ukiyo-e were limited to a single color and simple forms. As techniques developed and tools improved, the number of colors increased until intricate polychrome images became possible. But no matter how sophisticated the process and output became, ukiyo-e has always remained ukiyo-e. The one difference we might like to see is that iPhoneography gains commercial value more quickly than this traditional Japanese analog. :-)
EC: Do you mind telling us how you have created a recent piece of iPhonographic work from start to finish?
AK: It’d be my pleasure. While not my latest work, it’s an image I feel has meaning to both of us because I made it for Nacho.
STEP 1 This is the original, unedited Hipstamatic photo.
STEP 2 I cropped the borders and rendered it as a straight monochrome image using Photo fx.
I was aiming for tones that somewhat resembled those Nacho liked to use. This is because I wanted his spirit to be part of the process as I reformed the building into something bigger and better for him.
STEP 3 This is a preparatory stage that involves using 3D Photo to get some of the “parts” I needed to build Nacho’s new fortress.
STEP 4 Here we see some of the 3D Photo image layered onto the image from step 2. The blending was done using Superimposer, and the fine-tuning was done in Filterstorm.
STEP 5 I’ve simply reversed the image in Filterstorm to acquire he “parts” I needed to form the right half of the new structure.
STEP 6 This step involves lots of fine hand work in Filterstorm to blend the components I wanted from step 5 with the image from step 4.
There are few intermediate images as I fine tuned the blending.
STEP 7 Here I’ve added some more detail to complete the roof-line and cleaned up some lines, etc. The work continues to be done in Filterstorm.
STEP 8 With the structure complete, I applied the “Sunset 1” gradient in Photo fx.
STEP 9 I added the “Relight” light fx in Photo fx to get the glow I wanted behind the building.
STEP 10 I rendered the image as a print in PhotoArtista-Haiku.
STEP 11 Here I’ve blended the images from steps 9 and 10. This was done in DXP.
STEP 12 I blended an additional (different) print from PhotoArtista-Haiku. (I left out the image of the print to keep the total number of images under control.)
At this stage I also blended in the Kanji character seal that Nacho used as his avatar on Flicker and elsewhere. The characters represent his surname.
STEP 13 I then blended back much of the image from step 9 to get rid of the PhotoArtista-Haiku effect on the building and trees.
That completes the image I titled “New Digs For Nathaniel.”
This actual workflow involved more steps than shown here. However, those mostly involve subtle changes to tune the image that involve hand work rather than apping.
EC: What other thoughts would you like to share?
AK: Only to state that I couldn’t imagine a more invigorating and inspiring pursuit to be engaged in, and I’m thankful to be a member of the community.
I’m also grateful to you, Edgar, for giving me this opportunity to share a little more of myself with folks in the community.
( Meditation on Architectural Possibilities)
For more on Alan check out these links:
All images shown here are copyrighted property of the artist and are published on all iPhoneogenic outlets with the consent of the artist, please contact Alan Kastner for copyright privileges.