CJ Chandler (b. 1992)
Grahamstown, South Africa. Currently based in Germany.
What kinds of things do you most enjoy photographing?
Light, colour and composition are important and I like to shoot for a project: that is, with a concept in mind. Interacting with people can be both challenging and rewarding, and I enjoy making portraits – there’s an interesting exchange that occurs. I try not to limit myself to a ‘thing’ as I find that sometimes the most banal objects can make a great photograph.
Describe your photographic style.
My attempt to avoid limitations links to my style, which relates to the concept of each project. I prefer to shoot outside the studio and engage with the real world. In doing so I open myself up to many more stimuli, which can become overwhelming. So in a way, my style has to do with the way I’m thinking about the work. My recent project, the twist of a knee, has a lot to do with details: the images are abstracted fragments of reality.
Photography is a lot about the journey. How has it influenced your personal life
and the way in which you view the world (around you)?
I moved to Cape Town for my undergrad and am currently in Germany, due to start working towards a masters. Studying a fine art degree focussed on photography certainly changed the way I see. Not only technically, but also in a way that allows me to investigate the power imbalances and problems of societal structure. Both photography and movement have positively changed the way I think, see and interact with the world. When looking for or making images, I feel more engaged.
I’ve relocated to follow projects and/or opportunities. This movement allows for a change in perspective and definitely has had and will have an affect on my personal life. This can be strenuous, but my family and friends have been incredibly supportive. For the twist of a knee I moved back to Grahamstown, my childhood home. The work exists because of the perspective I have gained over the years: because of the way learning and thinking about art and photography has changed the way I see the world. The result is a stumbling, uncomfortable journey through a place that is both foreign and familiar.
Photography is also about capturing a moment in time. What is your approach to a
shot and your approach to a body of work?
Again, this depends on the project. I believe patience is important and that less is more. I like to put myself into a situation and see what happens. Often the shot is not planned, but the result of my presence in that moment. Other times I’ll spend hours in a place or with people and get nothing. I’ve also walked past a scene and thought “damn, that’s good!” but by the time my camera is out I’m past the question of whether or not the shot is worth the film, the moment has passed and the light has changed. It has to feel right.
Is photography your professional career? Or do you work in another field?
Photography is certainly my focus for now: both in practice and research.
Tell me about your upcoming photobook, the twist of a knee.
I was the Tierney Fellow for Michaelis for 2017/18 and made this work for the fellowship, after thinking about it for some time. The catalogue text reads as follows:
“It was with a sense of dislocation after completing my undergraduate at Michaelis that I decided to make a project based in Grahamstown, where I was born. I had wondered about the role of photography in South Africa and my place in the discourse. With the move home I became interested in the mundanity of the everyday routine, chance interactions, processes, labour and cycles.”
“My intention was to make photographs for a book geographically focused on this town: a place of significant socio-political contrast and harsh light. The result is a fractured yet intimate journey. Detailed evidence of everyday encounters is present yet the book is intentionally devoid of signifiers of time and space. It is, ultimately, both familiar and uncomfortable.”
What gear do you shoot with? Specifically camera arsenal and film stock.
Recently I’ve been using my Mamiya M645 and 1000s. While traveling I’m shooting on an Olympus Trip 35. Film stock: Kodak Portra and Ilford HP5 plus, for now.
Growth is important for any artistic craft. How do you stay motivated and
enthusiastic about your work?
Staying motivated can be tough. Researching the work of other artists; be that in books, online or in the flesh, is vital to my practice. I’m lucky to have had the privilege of travel and I base a lot of my movement around gallery shows, shooting and family/friends. Moving around keeps me thinking and looking with a fresh eye: there’s something about seeing a place for the first time that gets me keen to shoot.
I think it’s important to let work rest, to give it time and space and to come back to it critically. Sincere criticism can elevate a project and I find that showing my work and talking about it helps me stay motivated. I’ve come to realise how important it is for me to complete a project or body of work. That is, to finish things off and move on. It is easy to continuously make small changes, thus becoming overwhelmed by perfection. Deadlines are useful to make space for new projects.
In the age where digital photography is present, what draws you to film and what makes it special to you?
Film seems to be more raw, both in process and product. The process is more time consuming and can be laborious which forces consideration (and frustration). Somehow it’s possible to tell if a photographer is shooting film. I don’t really know what it is. And I don’t know whether this makes the final product more valuable or not. I’ve considered the shift to digital, and for a lot of reasons it makes sense. But I already own this gear, I know it and I trust the results. Maybe I’ll make some images using a digital camera or iPhone at some point, but for the twist of a knee it’s all film. I try not to think too much whether or not I got “the shot”, but that first look at a freshly developed roll is always exciting.
What are your influences? Please list other photographers you look up to or
things that generally inspire your image-making process.
As a photographer and artist, it is vitally important to be conscious of your surroundings. In a way my work is an attempt to figure out my place in the world, so I am influenced by the people I interact with and the spaces in which I find myself.
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Jean Brundrit, Sam Contis, David Goldblatt, Gregory Halpern, Pieter Hugo, Svea Josephy, Zanele Muholi, Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, Jo Ractliffe, Torbjøn Rødland, Viviane Sassen, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotsky and Wolfgang Tillmans have all influenced my work recently.
What else do you enjoy? (Hobbies, etc – Any other creative exploits or interests?)
Most of the things I do relate to my practice in some way. I enjoy watching films as there are many links between photography and cinema: the visuals of course, but also the narrative. I read, write and occasionally draw – the product of which ends up as a kind of visual journal that exists as a document of my process.
Any tips for aspiring film photographers?
What lies on the horizon? (any plans for series, exhibitions, travels, etc.) And what do you hope to achieve in the future?
I’ll be moving around Europe for September: UK, Germany and the Netherlands. I start the masters program at HFBK, Hamburg, in October and will be working towards that for the next two years. In the future I’d like for my photobook/s to be published, and for more of my photographs and artwork to be shown in galleries to a wider audience. I’m also keen to shoot more commercial work and am interested in collaboration.
All images taken from the twist of a knee series. View teaser of the upcoming photobook here: http://christopherjameschandler.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/twist_dummy_spread.pdf
It was with a sense of dislocation after completing my undergraduate at Michaelis that I decided to make a project based in Grahamstown, where I was born. I had wondered about the role of photography in South Africa and my place in the discourse. With the move home I became interested in the mundanity of the everyday routine, chance interactions, processes, labour and cycles.
My intention was to make photographs for a book geographically focused on this town: a place of significant socio-political contrast and harsh light. The result is a fractured yet intimate journey. Detailed evidence of everyday encounters is present yet the book is intentionally devoid of signifiers of time and space. It is, ultimately, both familiar and uncomfortable.
All photos by Christopher James Chandler
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