Christian Campbell visited Pakistan last year, and took an abundance of photographs. We at Ink had the good luck of interviewing him.
1. Why have you taken up photography?
I took up photography and started getting interested in it when I was living in Germany.
I have done a lot of traveling from the age of 19 to around 25. I lived in Germany for a little while, France for a little while, and you know there was just a lot to see. I wanted to document it and the more I documented it I realised what worked and what didn’t aesthetically for me in terms of framing, lighting conditions and what not. So I started getting that eye and curiosity. Then when I moved back to North America, I was quickly cast into a TV series down in Los Angeles. I went down there and just wanted to continue photography as my hobby. LA wasn’t that stimulating to me though in terms of visuals and what to photograph. I don’t like still life, I love people and situations. I’m an actor so I like to see life, people’s faces, and all the various forms. At that time I was still doing emulsion – it wasn’t digital yet. I would go to these rental dark rooms that you have in the market in LA and just spend days, focusing on my work and experimenting and learning how to focus papers and also what I needed to do out in the field as it was effecting what I was doing in the dark room. And then I went digital.
2. How was that switch?
It was easy for me because I enjoyed learning about electronics. I love deconstructing things – reverse engineering things – with digital photography I loved learning about the editing afterwards. Something that appeals to my mind is just figuring things out. I like computers – I like the ease with which you can just go back and forth. You get a lot more latitude when you get into digital.
3. But do you think it is as authentic?
I don’t think it is authentic when you Photoshop the hell out of it. I prefer doing only very little. If I have to do too much to a photo then it really isn’t a photo worth keeping and I discard it pretty quickly. I try to get it right the first time – when I’m taking photographs I try to get the conditions right. And then I’ll do little adjustments digitally later – I tweak it.
4. What exactly have you shot so far in Pakistan?
Everything from architecture, mosques, and street scenes – I’m really into street scenes. The first day I got into Lahore, I went to the fort and did some photography there. It was a tour of people so I didn’t really have enough time to sit down. But I did go out to the old market, and there the faces, the people … I mean Steven Spielberg couldn’t pay enough to get a set like that. It is just incredible. You are transported in time, hundreds if not thousands of years back – nothing has changed except the odd vehicle and some of the products. It is just fascinating to me so I was snapping a lot of photos while eating my ‘kabab’.
5. So you like our food?
I do love the food – although if you could just get rid of the ‘naan’ it is the perfect Atkins diet. It has been a challenge finding vegetables. The Spinach and Potato dish that you have, that’s very good. I had it at Food Street today.
6. Have you had any formal education in Photography?
Formal – no. I think the only formal education I got was specifically for having an eye for framing, from being an actor and being on movie sets with the Director of Photography [DOP].So I understand framework; how to cut a frame and make it interesting and all. And then also my stepfather who is a big part of my life, began our family business which is a printing company, which is one of the larger ones in Canada. Graphic Design was also happening in-house, so for me it was always about specifics. It was always about looking for the details on a printed page, color saturation etc. So I guess, maybe that was my formal education? Other than that I just read a lot of books.
7. How does it feel being on the other side of a still camera?
I hate being in front of a still camera. I’m ok with acting in front of a camera because it is moving. Being in front of a still camera feels very awkward to me. I’m an actor and I need to move. I feel so stiff and false when I stand there smiling for a still camera.
8. How do you juggle between your acting and your photography?
Often my acting provides a lot of opportunity to photograph, because it takes me to far flung places. Often sets are pretty cool in terms of what theme they are created on e.g. Western Town [Period Films]. So when you are photographing you get transported back in time, much like the old market in Lahore.
9. So your camera is with you all the time?
I try to take it with me on set and yet try not to get in anyone’s way. And try to get work done as well as be an actor.
10. What do you do with your photography? Do you exhibit it?
Well yeah. I haven’t exhibited. For me it’s personal. I do it for me and my family and for them to see. I do it for myself personally. I mean I meet people all the time who say “oh wow you do photography and that’s great”. Maybe one day I’ll create and exhibit.
If one day I can find a theme through my work and a thread, then sure I’ll do an exhibit. At this point I haven’t done an exhibit. Now that I’ve done digital, you know strangely enough, I rarely ever print. Which is terrible. I mean that’s what photographs should be. They should be printed and put on walls. But I’m also a transient human being and I’m always traveling and moving apartments, so my pictures – if I hang them up, soon it’ll just be nails all over the place. And then I’ll have to lug them around every time I move. I don’t print a lot and probably one day I’ll start printing.
11. Have you been to Pakistan before? OR is this your first trip?
12. So why did you want to come down here?
Well, a friend had invited me for a party that she was throwing for her father’s 65th birthday in Islamabad. She had sent out a blast email to all her friends if anyone wanted to come down for the party. And because I was already making a plan to back pack throughout India with my camera on my own, since I’ve never been to this region, I thought I’ll go to Pakistan. I flew in to Mumbai, and the very next day to Pakistan. I went to the party. But then the Indian consulate messed up my visa and only gave me a single entry visa, so now I’m stuck.
13. So where are you going to go now?
Tomorrow I’m going to go to Karachi. Spend the rest of my time in Karachi and try to get out to the countryside in Sindh.
14. What inspires you the most when you are photographing?
People. People’s faces. What seems probably normal and banal to you guys is fascinating for me. The first few days I was here, I wanted to shoot everything because everyone is dressed differently, it’s just such a foreign thing that you only see in movies, its dream like to me. So it’s fascinating to me.
15. And how was the episode yesterday with Papoo Saheen?
Papoo Saheen. It was pretty fascinating. It was great. But the lights went out so it didn’t make it photographically very great. I managed to get some stuff just before the lights went out and some stuff in the other room upstairs where there was something going on. But the push and the throng, and the throb of the throngs really made it difficult to get in there and work. I’m also trying to figure out the sensitivity of the people here, whether they want to be photographed, you know. That’s something I’m always sensitive to, its just not invading anyone’s space.
16. So did you feel that they were, but they were out of it anyways?
Yeah they were the easiest people to photograph, cuz most of them were staring right at me the whole time because I looked so foreign to them, So I figured well if you’re staring at me I guess I get the right to take pictures. So I would just snap at them and they would continue they would stare right down the barrel. And it was great, it was posed, it was fantastic, dilated pupils, perfect, click. Couldn’t beat it.
17. Where do you prefer living? I mean you move around a lot, UK, Canada, US?
Well right now because I have been in the US for so long, New York city is definitely my place. It’s where my heart is. It’s where so much has happened for me in the past 6, 7 years. And Los Angeles, definitely no, I don’t like that place, but I do spend a lot of time there. And then I mean, Canada is always my home, home, but my new home now is definitely New York City and the people in New York, and all of that. I love it. The stimulation
of the place.
18. And what are you doing with regard to acting these days? What are some of your projects?
Uh. I just finished a project. Well I didn’t just finish it up. We just screened it. It premiered at the Austin South by South West film festival and it was an absurdist comedy that a friend and I made through a shoe string budget, but it got accepted as competition and got great reviews and all that stuff. So did that … very strange film, I don’t even know if I get it; and I helped make it. And then I did 2 other films, one with Malissa George, its a thriller for MGM. And that hasn’t come out yet, its still in post. And the other one with Shannon Elizabeth that is in post as well. Both of them I just recently shot.
19. Have you worked with your sister?
She and I have worked twice. Well we worked a lot as kids together because my dad would direct us in shows together. Then we produced movies back in 1998 called “Too Smooth”, which was just a very light hearted romantic comedy, and we most recently did a movie, which we’re both really proud of. That was sort, its become a cult classic in the US, its sort of a rocky horror show, it was originally a play and I helped to, I originated the role of it back in 1999 and performed then, went to New York, then started in LA, back to New York again. It’s kind of a political satire of a very bad anti-marijuana film that was made in 1936. It’s an anti-propaganda film about how the government can manipulate you to think certain ways and what not. So its become a real cult hit now and its being performed all over in high schools.
20. Have you ever thought of directing?
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I directed theatre. I ran a theatre for 5 years in LA and I have directed plays. Haven’t directed any film or television. But that will come.
21. How would you describe your photography style?
Um. I couldn’t tell you. I think I’m finding that still. I think for me its hard to find my style because its hard for me to be objective. Same thing about acting, you know. I’m so in it that its hard for me. I’d have to talk to someone else who sees it and they could maybe describe it to me. I think I’m trying to find a style still. When I travel, I’m photographing, for one is capturing memories, and secondarily is trying to make those
memories really something worth looking at over and over again, not just a snapshot that jogs your memory, I’d like to save something which is a snapshot but is also a moving image.
22. When you’re looking through the lens while taking a picture, is there something going through your mind? Is there a feeling?
What I enjoy about photography is that it really focuses my attention on details around me. So it’s not just what’s happening through the lens. As soon as I take my eye away from the lens, the world, everything is a potential shot. What’s going on with the light over there? How would that look through the lens? And how would I frame that? The mundane becomes interesting. Little details that you just don’t see normally or we take
for granted suddenly are seen with new eyes. Its kind of child like in a way. So I like that because it makes you really hyper aware of things that you normally don’t see. Most of the time I just float through life asleep. So photography helps me wake up. I guess that’s my feeling Sometimes a shot is like playing pool for me. You just know when the shot is right, and you take it. It’s an innate feeling, you don’t know why, its not cognitive, you just take it
and you know now’s the time to strike. And so you strike. And you look at it and you’re happy with it.
Which photographer’s have you been inspired by?
Ansel Adams was one of the first ones that really struck me. Although I like to work a lot with black and white which is also romantic and made you look great! And it was great in the dark room too with black and white. I like guerilla shots that look beautiful. I’m not in to setting up lights; frankly I don’t really know how to use lights. I do know how to use lights, working in the film industry; I know how to back light, fore light, key light. I just don’t like it, because I don’t like the whole set up. I think the set up creates an atmosphere of “we’re about to take a shot” and that makes your subject or your subject matter very scientific, like quantum physics, where the results will change because of the observer.
All pictures taken
by Christian Campbell