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Friday, June 15, 2007

Bob O'Connor - Echoes

A young professional who was raised in the digital age prefers film and available light when he's behind a camera and goes high-tech in post

Getting Personal

To do more of his own work, O'Connor recently traveled to Iceland and spent two weeks photographing what he wanted, how he wanted. If ever there was a location suited to his style, it's the surreal emptiness of Iceland.

“At least for a year, I was thinking I needed to get to Iceland,” he says, “because it's so perfect for what I do; you just point the camera anywhere. When we were there, it was light 24 hours a day. The landscape is dramatic everywhere and changes rapidly. Within the same hour, you'd pass moss-covered rocks, grassy fields, black sand beaches—it's certainly the coolest place I've ever been and probably ever will be.

“Some of the photos were living in my head beforehand,” he continues. “Going there, I wanted to do a horse photo, and from day one we were trying to do horse photos. Iceland has more sheep and horses than it does people. Every time we'd get close to the horses, by the time we were ready to shoot, the horses would leave. So it was like 10 days of horse problems. The horse photo was pretty much the last shot we did there. We went out with the specific effort to get this photo before we left. It was a challenge, but finally after two weeks there was a cooperative horse that stayed close to the camera. I really love that photo. Everything about it is perfect in its scale and drama.”

Of Film And Chemicals

O'Connor's work is often dramatic and colorful, but not in a syrupy way. Ever-present and all-important, colors aren't oversaturated. They somehow manage to remain true to life, yet even more vivid. He says the key to this comes from remaining neutral—with Kodak Portra 400NC film, color-correcting with filters during exposure and adopting the mindset of a dedicated lab printer.

“Part of the color thing with me,” he says, “is that on a lot of my first photo jobs, I was a custom printer and I spent years doing C-prints for people, so my sensibilities are really in tune with making C-prints. Just through hours in the darkroom printing, I can color-correct my way out of anything. I can make anything neutral at this point. It's really easy to get a print 95 percent of the way and make an okay print, but it's that ‘final point of yellow' kind of correction. It's the detail that takes a good print to a great print. I think that color-correcting is probably that same thing.”

Though he solely shoots film, is an experienced darkroom printer and prefers ambient light, O'Connor is no technophobe. He chooses his tools based on his assignments. “If I had a studio and shot still life,” he says, “as much as I like the view camera, I don't think there's any way in hell I'd be shooting that way.” When it comes to postproduction and printing, O'Connor is as high-tech as anyone.


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