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Fstoppers Interviews Rob Walwyn on His Upcoming Photo Exhibition ‘Karrikins’

Fstoppers Interviews Rob Walwyn on His Upcoming Photo Exhibition 'Karrikins'

Australian photographer Rob Walwyn is hosting the first exhibition of his project ‘Karrikins’ as part of Sydney’s Head On Photo Festival. Karrikins documents the aftermath of the bushfires that devastated Australia’s east coast in late 2019 and early 2020. What makes Walwyn’s images even more stunning is his use of Kodak’s discontinued false-color infrared film Aerochrome. 

Apocalyptic scenes of the 2019-2020 bushfire season made news around the world as vast swathes of the east coast of Australia burned. The bushfires claimed more than 72,000 square miles of land, destroyed over 5,900 buildings, and most tragically, 34 people lost their lives. The devastation was not confined to human lives either — it’s been estimated that the bushfires killed more than three billion living creatures. Yes, that’s right, three billion. 

In the aftermath of the bushfires, Sydney film photographer Rob Walwyn headed to different parts of New South Wales to capture the devastation and the regrowth that occurred soon after the bushfires. He decided to photograph what he saw using one of the few rolls of Kodak’s Aerochrome film he owned at the time. 

I’d be lying if I said that the decision to shoot that first roll of Aerochrome on the bushfire regrowth was anything but an aesthetic choice. I was hoping that bright green new regrowth snaking up the trees would look beautiful on Aerochrome. It was only after I got the first rollback and received some feedback on the images that I thought this could make a really special project.

Kodak Aerochrome film is a false-color infrared film developed by Kodak in tandem with the US Military during World War Two. Originally, it was designed for aerial photography with forestry, cartography, and industrial and military applications, such as detecting enemy camouflage. With Walwyn’s Karrikins project, Kodak Aerochrome has been used with stunning results to document post-bushfire regrowth. 

“Aerochrome captures the infrared light reflecting off the regrowth in lurid shades of pink and red, contrasting against the burnt and blackened trees, evoking images of the flickering flames that crept up these trees only months earlier,” explains Walwyn. 

On his first roll, he captured what he believes to be the iconic image of the series: Karrikins #1. The image shows the blackened trunks of trees, which contrasts perfectly with the bright pink regrowth of new leaves. Buoyed by this image and the encouraging results of this first roll, the Karrikins project was born. 

The name of the project is a nod to the bushfire regrowth Walwyn documented through his photographs:

I studied Chemistry at Uni and when I came to read about the family of molecules known as karrikins (with etymology deriving from an Aboriginal word for smoke), that are produced during bushfires and can lead to the germination of dormant seeds of a variety of different plant species. I knew I had found the perfect name for my series.

Since that first roll of Aerochrome, Walwyn has documented the regrowth of the bush on more than 20 rolls of precious infrared film. Shooting both 120 and 35mm film, his cameras of choice have been the Pentax 67II, Mamiya 645, and Fuji TX-2 (Xpan). During my discussion with Walwyn, he talked me through some of his favorite images below. 

Karrikins #1 

Karrikins #1 was from his first-ever roll of Aerochrome taken in Bilpin in the Blue Mountains in March 2020. It was the first image he posted on social media shot on Aerochrome. 

The response and feedback was incredible, not just in terms of the number of likes and comments this image got, which were orders of magnitude more than an average post, but also the number of people I had messaging me asking about prints and to find out more about this film. The fact that I took this image, which is the archetypal photo of this series, on my first roll, makes it even more special to me. This image is taken on the side of Bells Line of Road, an area that was particularly devastated by the 2019-20 bushfires.

Karrikins #8 

Karrikins #8 was shot in the Blue Mountains in January 2021. At first glance, this photo may not look special, pictured is an extremely rare pink flannel flower (Actinotus forsythii). The pink flannel flower can only be found in scattered parts of eastern Australia, from the Blue Mountains to northeastern Victoria. 

This flower is not endangered as a species; however, they appear so infrequently that many bushwalkers have never seen them. The flowers favor heath and open forest areas at altitudes.

The seeds can lay dormant for years on end, waiting for a special confluence of events forming the right conditions for their emergence – a year or so after bushfire followed by rainfall, which is exactly what the flower’s home turf experienced last year. When I saw pictures of these rare flowers popping up on social media, I knew it would be a perfect subject to shoot on Aerochrome for my series.

Karrikins #14 

Karrikins #14 is another of Rob’s favorite images of the series to date. 

This image was taken in September 2020 in Yaouk in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. Only seconds after I took the photo, the light finally broke through this otherwise cloudy and rainy day and perfectly illuminated the scene with beautiful light and a nice rainbow as well – of course, I missed these beautiful lighting conditions as this was the last shot on the roll, but perhaps the cows wouldn’t have been lined up and staring at the camera moments later, so maybe it all worked out for the best anyway.

Karrikins #12

Finally, I asked Walwyn to tell me about my favorite image of the series. It shows a group of young people taking selfies and having fun in a swimming pool, while the haunting pink regrowth and blackened trees loom large behind them.  

That’s also from the Snowy Mountains, from the same trip as the cow shot. The swimming pool is thermal – naturally 26 degrees all year round. It must be pretty nice to visit the pool in winter when it’s freezing. I saw an image of this pool on social media and the fact that it had these beautiful trees in the background and the mountains were ravaged by bushfires, contrasting with people frolicking in the pool and having fun, that’s what made this image special for me.

Visit the Karrikins Exhibition

These are just some of the hundreds of stunning infrared photos Walwyn has taken using Aerochrome for the Karrikins project. He has meticulously whittled down the images to just 17 for his first exhibition ‘Karrikins’ taking place from November 24-28 at the Barometer Gallery in Paddington, Sydney. The exhibition is part of Sydney’s Head On Photo Festival, which is taking place at dozens of galleries and outdoor spaces across the Emerald City until November 28. The festival also features workshops and panel discussions. 

Images used with permission of Rob Walwyn.

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Building a Magical Empire: Fstoppers Interviews Bella Kotak

Building a Magical Empire: Fstoppers Interviews Bella Kotak

Bella Kotak is an international fine art, fashion, and portrait photographer whose magical aesthetic has gained her fans all across the globe and garnered her features in industry magazines like Rangefinder and PhotoPlus, but her photography career didn’t start in the happiest place.

Growing Into an Artist

Kotak grew up in Kenya, surrounded by a melting pot of cultures and people of different ethnic backgrounds. She fondly remembers the welcoming culture, the stories, and food, and even the feeling of the air. When she needed an escape, she got lost in Western fantasies and fairy tale books. But her family moved to the UK when Kotak was 16, and everything changed. She became one of two people of color in her school and experienced racism and cultural ignorance for the first time. That was the start of an emotionally tumultuous time for Kotak, where she did her best to hide her internal pain by masking it with an optimistic attitude. “And then I found Linkin Park,” Kotak said with a laugh, “and that was it.”

Dressed all in black, listening to heavy metal, and determined to pursue a career in art, Kotak’s plans were brought up short when her parents insisted she go to university. In the gentlest form of rebellion ever, she chose to focus on architecture because that provided at least some form of artistic expression, but Kotak says she was not happy, which led her to photography as a form of escapism. “When I first started taking pictures, it was to escape the choices that I was making […] I felt so lost, I felt so trapped, I felt really angry at myself more than anything, for not feeling strong enough to make bigger decisions, like just leaving this career.” So, Kotak pushed all of those feelings into photography. 

Through the medium of photography, Kotak was able to create characters that were delicate but powerful, controlling their own destinies in beautiful, fantastical worlds. Before long, her delicate characters became stronger, wearing armor and crowns as the symbols of strength that Kotak began to discover in herself. “I started to see them as queens because I started to see myself as a queen,” she said. 

Now that she has turned to make art into her lifestyle, Kotak no longer needs to escape into those fantasy worlds, so what does that mean for the future of her career? She is leaving that open to exploration, but for now, Kotak says she’s creating images that show the kind of world she wants everyone to live in and asking herself what kind of messages she wants to portray. “What do I want to see in the world,” she said, “and how does that translate into my work?”

One thing Kotak knows she wants to focus on is inclusivity. Living in a relatively homogenous community, most of the models Kotak worked at the beginning of her career were friends, and she says her portfolio suffered from a lack of diversity. But she’s made that a conscious point of change, working with companies like the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who cast people of color as principal dancers, and making more of an effort to contact models with diverse ethnicities and body types. She makes this effort, she says, because it reflects the kind of inclusive world she wants to live in. But when she’s putting together these ideas, what is her process?

Making Art 

Sometimes, inspiration hits out of the blue, and Kotak puts those ideas in her journal. Other times, she collaborates with the artists and designers she works with and takes inspiration from them and their designs to build ideas, much like puzzle pieces. Kotak says she’s also always looking for locations that inspire her, and from there, the concept comes together in a kind of rough framework. Rather than being too attached to a specific visual outcome, Kotak becomes attached to an idea. She says that gives her the openness to be able to use new inspiration to change things as she shoots or to deal with obstacles while protecting herself from disappointment. 

Another thing Kotak keeps in mind when creating is leaving room for the viewer to put themselves inside the world of her characters by keeping her images slightly ambiguous. “I feel like if I give too much context, it can detract from their experience of what they’re seeing […] if they can create their own connection, they’re more invested.” 

Kotak is not only incredibly open about her process, but with her advice, and one of the main questions hopeful photographers have is how they can source the kind of incredible garments that contribute to the opulent feeling of Kotak’s work. “I created images with what I already had,” she said, “so whatever I could make, I made. I would go to thrift stores and find some cool stuff like lace dresses and things I could turn into headpieces.” So, Kotak advises people to start with what they can already get their hands on and put together a quality portfolio they can show the designers they’d like to work with and to be certain their portfolio is high quality, because if photographers want to work with designers on a collaborative basis, they need to be able to give the designers images that will help sell their work. And if the photographer intends to take the photos in a very artistic direction, to be certain they still give designers images that will sell their work. 

Kotak also said that if you’re not in a place where the quality is quite up to par or if you don’t have the confidence to seek a collaborative relationship, you can always ask if designers rent their creations, as many of them have designed specifically set aside for rental. Local costume shops, theaters, opera houses, or other performing arts venues can also be great places to find a wardrobe. Don’t forget Facebook groups for designers or places like Etsy, Kotak adds, because you never know how many of those designers are in need of great images of their designs. “You might even end up getting hired!”

Getting Paid

This leads to the question of how fantasy photographers get paid. With such a niche style, it’s easy to wonder how fantasy photographers make their money, but Kotak says there are several places to build income streams. Personal shoots should never be discounted because the world of fantasy lovers grows every day. Book covers can also be a great source of revenue, and Kotak says it was a mainstay at the beginning of her career. She would reach out to publishing houses and talk to their art director or cover designers, show them her work, and ask them to keep her in mind for future covers.

Stock licensing agencies, Kotak says, is also a good avenue for potential income if the photographer pays attention to what sells and curates what they post to fit those parameters. And finally, Kotak encourages photographers not to be afraid to build themselves platforms where their expertise can help others, whether that’s workshops, courses, or online mentoring. “And don’t feel like just because it’s a niche genre, there’s no money […] there’s a significant amount of money in this because it is niche and it’s not diluted so much.” This means art fairs could be a potential source of income because there aren’t many fantasy photographers in those spaces.

Finally, Kotak made it a point to create and cultivate an email list for direct marketing and to treat the people who sign up for your list really well, because those are the people who want information and are most likely to buy or sign up for new ventures. “Give away something for free, treat them really well, share offers with them,” Kotak says, which is highly important, because the people on your email list will be more receptive in general than strangers and more likely to support you in the future.

And as she grows her creative empires with that advice, Kotak will continue to produce richly elegant worlds for her viewers to escape into that not only represent pieces of herself as she grows but the kind of world she hopes to live in. 

To see more of Bella Kotak’s work, follow her on Instagram.

Lead image shared with permission of Bella Kotak.

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Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson

Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson

Have you ever asked yourself why you picked up a camera? Learn about the inspiring and touching work of photographer Rich Johnson as he gives a voice to the incredible teachers who are fighting for their kids’ futures each day.

This week, students across the country will be going back to school in some way or another. They will be returning to a place completely changed by COVID-19 and will face new challenges along the way. While the educational landscape has changed, teachers’ commitment to their students’ education has not. This article highlights the teachers’ narrative as they continue their tremendous work in light of COVID-19.

The Backstory 

I had the chance to sit down with commercial and portrait photographer Rich Johnson and discuss his new series: Dear Students. 

Rich Johnson is a photographer based just outside Orlando, FL. Before exploring the “what” or the “how” of any project, Johnson hones in on the “why.” In his own words, he describes his thought process:

My approach to creating anything has always been to focus on why I am creating before I even think about how I am going to create. This helps keep the story front and center.

The Message Behind the Work

To Johnson’s point of prioritizing the “why,” the story and message must always come first. Only then, as photographers, is it our role to use the camera to illustrate and bring life to that message. For this project, Johnson explained that he felt while there was an emphasis on the student experience during this time, there was a gap in the narrative of teachers amidst this new environment. Johnson reflected on the fact that “being a parent of two elementary school students, I hear from my children how they feel about school this year. On social media, I see how parents feel about school this year, but what I don’t see a lot of is how the teachers feel about school this year.” Johnson created this initiative as an effort to change that: 

 A project that, while very small, is my attempt to give teachers in our community a chance to speak directly to their students through a letter and express how they felt on their mask.

To give the audience a more inclusive look into the project, Johnson teamed up with fellow creative, Chaz Dillon, to produce a video that highlights the project and shows the participants reading their letter to their prospective students:

The Process of Bringing the Project to Life

Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson 1

Lighting is a critical part of any photograph and, as many creatives can attest, is something that can be easy to overthink on set. But Johnson emphasizes that if you find yourself overthinking lighting on set, remember to bring your focus back to the “why” of the shoot. Johnson explained that he had two obstacles to overcome to bring the shots to life. “First, how do you make an engaging portrait that shows the teacher’s emotions when you only have the eyes. The second was this pure white mask front and center that I knew I didn’t want overexposed.”

Johnson explained his lighting setup and was kind enough to provide a lighting diagram to show how he brought the teachers’ stories to life. He explained that:

I used two AD600s behind the subject both with a gridded 12×56″ Quick Strip softbox to create a very dramatic rim light. Next, I flagged an AD200 with a shoot-through umbrella with a V-Flat World v-flat that also doubled as a negative fill camera left. On camera right, I had an AD 200 with a 20″ Deep Parabolic Quick softbox as my key, and right below, I had another v-flat folded down to add a little fill in the shadows. 

Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson 2

The Final Images 

Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson 3Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson 4Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson 5Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson 6Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson 7Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson 8Using the Power of Photography to Give Hope: Fstoppers Interviews Rich Johnson 9

Closing: A Message to Photographers During These Times

Wrapping up this interview, I asked Johnson to share what he’d like to tell artists during these uncertain times. I was thankful that he shared such meaningful and heartfelt advice:

I feel like now, more than ever, there is a need for creatives to use their talents to tell stories and document the quickly changing world around us. The ideas don’t need to be complex; they can be as simple as a portrait and a written letter. There are countless nonprofits, organizations, and causes around the world struggling right now and in desperate need of talented creatives that will help make an impact. Be true to the message and allow people to share their voice and whatever you do. Try not to direct the narrative unless it’s your story. 

If you were inspired by this project and want to see more of his work, please take a look at Rich Johnson’s Instagram

What are some personal projects you have done during this pandemic? Share your stories in the comments below!

All images used with permission of Rich Johnson. 

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