Benjamin Goss is an American photographer living in Sweden and author of an amazing photographic work.
By “photographic work” I mean, from taking to developing, from printing to manipulating the physical objects… the whole process… Benjamin Goss is not only a talented photographer but also a talented printer.
Across the whole range of film cameras, from 35mm such as the Contax G1 or the Voigtlander Bessa R3m, to a medium format Hasselblad, to 4×5 or 8×10 large format cameras, one thing holds strong… Benjamin Goss sees a bit more than the rest of us, a bit differently than the rest of us and praise the gods he takes photographs of the amazing things he sees.
It is an absolute honor to feature this amazing photographer and I can’t thank him enough for answering my questions.
So here it is… Benjamin Goss!
You are a true film photographer in every sense of the expression. From shooting to darkroom work you create amazing, true and organic photographs. Where did it all start? I can’t imagine you starting with a big 8×10. Was there any “first” camera?
Before I started in the darkroom I began shooting color slides with a 35mm Pentax K1000. Digital cameras didn’t exist then, so shooting slides was a cheap alternative for my learning process. In the beginning you take pictures of just about everything just to see the results. A learning experience of what the eye see’s and what the camera captures. I went through way too many film rolls and paid developing to find this out.
I’ve seen pictures from you taken with a Bessa R3m (if I’m not wrong) and also with an Hasselblad. Moving up in negative size was a conscious attitude or did you just tried out different cameras and felt good using bigger negatives?
Moving up in negative size was a conscious choice when I began working in the darkroom. My first medium format camera was a Pentax 645. Today I use everything from 35 to 8×10, and I’m working on building a 40x50cm pinhole camera for paper negatives. I pick a camera and its format in accordance to what the situation is and what results I’m looking for. Ex. Using the 8×10 for documentary street work is not the best idea, believe me I’ve tried. Every camera has its strengths and weakness’s.
I’m asking this because I also know you like to handle the negatives in the darkroom in a very interventionist way like painting on them. Having a bigger negative gives you more space to work on?
Yes this is true. There is more information to work with.
Large format… what drove you into it? Is it the ultimate “canvas” for you?
Many photographers move up to large format for “clarity”. I chose it for its short depth of field and distinct look when tilting and shifting the focus plane. As of right now using 8×10 paper negatives could very well be my ultimate canvas.
You don’t use a large format camera looking for the perfect exposure, the perfect focus, the perfect detail and you don’t “use” it the way large format photographers to? Wouldn’t a 35mm or even a medium format camera allow you more exposures thus experimenting more?
I’m trying to find perfection in imperfection. The paper negative process I’m using is suited for this goal. Ive tried paper negs in 35mm, medium format, and 4×5 cameras. The results from the 4×5 are o.k. but still not satisfying. Sure I could use film but I loose the ghostly feeling I’m after. Film is to sharp. 8×10 works great for the results I want.
You mainly shoot people using the 4×5 or the 8×10. Do you feel that posing in front of a large format camera brings out more “respect” for the moment, for the medium, for the photographer? Do you think it influences the attitude of the people you portrait?
Yes it does bring out a sense of respect for the moment. When I photograph with the 8×10 it’s a ritual for me and becomes one for the person I’m photographing as well. We have a kind of three way symbiosis between myself the subject and the camera. This result I have not found with cameras you hold up to your eye.
Any favorite lens for the large format cameras?
95% of all my work I’m using a “normal lens”. An equivalent of a 50mm lens in 35 film.
You do spend a lot of time in the darkroom printing and experimenting.
Yes I have and will continue to. I spent many years before digital trying to make the perfect print over and over again with the same negative. I succeeded, but how boring it became. With the rise in digital and seeing “perfect prints” from this new medium popping out so fast and so many, It changed the way I use the darkroom. I then began experimenting in making terrible prints on purpose, even so far as developing my negatives haphazardly. Every time I end up doing something “wrong” in the darkroom it ends up being slowly right for me.
Is taking the picture just half work?
For me, yes. Letting someone else develop and print my work is mad.
Every print you make is unique, impossible to repeat. Is that unique print the “conclusion” of a photograph? Does it end there?
Hmm, I guess it is in a sense, even though I like to think it never has an end. Most of my images have a end. But some negatives I have been giving new life to by reprinting together with other negatives. Sometimes one color and B&W together, sometimes three B&W.
I was browsing through your stream and sometimes, when you go back to New York you take the Bessa R along. Is that your vacations camera? What lenses do you use on the Bessa?
It was a wonderful travel partner! It was in India with me as well. Unfortunately I sold it to make room for other cameras. If I remember it was a 40mm 1.4.
This one is from a friend. Sometimes you add the caption “First Aid Kit” on some photographs. What’s the First Aid Kit?
First Aid Kit is a Swedish band that is becoming big here in Sweden and internationally.
I’ve never seen anything digital from you. Where do you stand about digital photography?
I have nothing negative to say about digital. I work as a commercial photographer to earn a living and I use digital cameras for these assignments. For my personal work I need something more that I cant explain. More food for my soul.
Personally I believe that analog photography is not only a medium for taking pictures, it is a medium that keeps alive a very special aesthetics of presenting whatever subject. Do you think that digital photography is “standardizing” our visual perception of what a photograph should look like?
Standardizing of our visual perception has been around since the beginning of photography and advertising. The Digital medium has excelerated this phenomenon to the extent of visual pollution. As photographers it is our responsibility to give respect to the power and gravity an image has.