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Exploring the true medium of light with Ken Gerhardt | #MemberSpotlight

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"The camera need not be a cold mechanical device. Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart." This is the mantra by which Ken Gerhardt wields his camera and shapes his vision.

A commercial and fine-art film photographer from Cape Town with literally dozens of Creativepool features and achievements under his belt, Ken is a man with an auteur’s eye. He learned his craft at Dirk Schwager Studios. It was there that he started to appreciate the simple joys and black and white 135mm film, which he still uses to this day.

To learn more of his love of keeping it simple and a good night’s sleep, we caught up with Ken to shine our member spotlight on his creative mind.

How did you get into the industry?

My interest in the fine arts and my desire to study got me talking to a professional photographer outside the art school. He asked when in my spare time if I would be interested in assisting him on assignments. Yes, of course, I replied. I never did get to enrol at Michaelis Art School, Cape Town.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

Cape Town, South Africa. I have reached that juncture in my career where I now pursue my photographic work. However, I still shoot for commercial, industrial and marketing clients. In addition, I exhibit my B&W hand print collections in Milan, Italy.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

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As mentioned above, my heart is firmly set on B&W Film exhibitions. Combined with exhibiting, I direct & produce definitive vlogs & documentaries on social and/or spiritual behaviour. My mission is to bridge the gap between Christ & viewers.

Then, there are those moments when light adorns a landscape in irresistible splendour–artists brush oils over a stretched canvas in pursuit–I load a roll of film to do likewise. What drives all this? Travel, travel & more travel.

Can you explain your creative process? What makes it unique?

In-Camera–Discipline! There is far too much hype in the digital–image–capture world and the post-production genius of Adobe software. (Algorithms own ones digital image!) I fear the art of making & taking photographs in-camera is seldom practised nowadays.

 You ask what makes my work unique. Irrespective of the digital power of image manipulation; I still pre-visualise and plan a body of work whether shooting for clients or for self; I select one genre/category; I research as much as possible and, once I have decided on my particular treatment, I do NOT deviate. If I do, I soon realise that I’ve wandered off that fine line that keeps me creatively switched on–you have gotta stay on track!

This approach came about in the days of shooting on film stock. We had to stay on–point, unlike modern digital cameras where one can shoot ad nauseam. Good photographs are not achieved by many frames triggered in pursuit; it has all to do with sticking to the planning (and execution) of your particular assignment.

How would you describe you style?

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Keep-It-Simple-Stupid, KISS. Should I wander off my preconceived treatment and storyline, inevitable failure looms. If you don’t shoot what’s in your mind's eye–it is not going to find its way into your camera!

I apply KISS to all my photography–I do not rely on Adobe post-production for my images. The original nuances, moods and details must remain real and evident as a shot at the time. Be assured nature will deliver her ambience better than Adobe can manipulate; all I need do is WAIT for the exact moment! She will bring on the mood I have been so patient for!

So, good planning, sticking to the treatment and keeping on track is my way to go. I have never had to overcook on my digital images in Adobe post-production thus far!

Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Oh, there are so many talented photographers to choose from! I decided way back in my career to follow Renaissance masters, true painters that laboured over their canvases; Rembrandt, Van Gogh and the likes set high standards ages ago.

A particular filmmaker/director that shaped my B&W stills career was Federico Fellini. Need I say more? Fellini, Wow! He could project vivid images back at you off the silver screen, mind-blowing motion pictures frame-by-frame! It was almost as if Fellini didn’t need dialogue; his flickering visual narrative was genius personified!

What tips would you give to aspiring creatives looking for work?

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Develop your own style and favourite subject matter in your portfolio. Make sure that you, as the photographer enjoy what YOU are shooting. You must be honest with yourself in this! Is it food, fashion or architecture etc? Once you are convinced of your speciality, you will be far better equipped to convince creatives that you are the right person for the job.

What tips would you give to other professionals to get more clients?

This follows from what I wrote above. Clients must recognise your particular style from the get-go; show a portfolio of ONLY what you are practised at shooting. Murphy’s Law has it that creatives often commission you to shoot a campaign which has little bearing on your portfolio.

Why have they decided to choose you? The main reason is that your portfolio proves how disciplined you are in your particular skill-set! They instinctively know you will carry this expertise through and deliver the goodies they want!

What kind of tools/kit/software could you not do without?

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My manual analogue camera, a roll of B&W film and trusted light-meter…

Seriously though, I’m of the opposite opinion. I could do without the plethora of so many digital tools, pre-sets and magical methods that Adobe post-production offers.

It is all too overwhelming! I only want to get out there and make & take pictures. And not be staring at my iMac wading through hours of computation in pursuit of algorithmic newness! My philosophy is; if the subject is not correctly composed and exposed in-camera–I may as well change my career!

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

A good night’s sleep… (magic–light waits for no camera!)

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

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Walking into the gallery displaying my framed black & white photographs with folks gathered in gossip heads tilted to ’n fro, vino-in-hand, suitably entertained while milling and musing over my Silver-Gelatin hand prints, it’s a buzz…

What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?

There is nothing to change within the industry, really. However, a good idea is to continually modify one's portfolio to market trends. NOT your style but what you present to prospective clients. Make an effort to refresh or reshoot what is in your portfolio to match what the commercial/consumer industry is hinting at.

Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

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The best inspiration to offer in photography is to challenge yourself. Enhance your techniques. For instance, select ONE lens (the least used or, the orphanas I call it) and spend the entire weekend shooting with it. Process the files and be brutal in selecting only 3 of the best shots.

The more critical you are, the more you hone your skill. It is like spending an entire weekend eating everything with only chopsticks. You will be surprised by Sunday evening how dexterous your hand has become–the same applies to your photographic–eye! Regards, Ken.

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