Future Gets Tense: An Interview with FRANKLIN OBREGON

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"...art comes to you, proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moment's sake" -- Walter Pater, 1873

Franklin Obregon is a young photographer with an idée fixe, the French expression for "obsession," but meaning, most literally a fixed idea, one that persists, that cannot be shrugged off. And the expression is particularly apt, because Obregon's idea, his obsession is the fixing of the ephemeral -- to freeze a moment in time, and to give tangible form to what is essentially impossible to hold. His work is largely autobiographical, documentary-style series of film shots organized into what he calls "journals" in which he provides the viewer a glimpse into his private life and that of his friends. The popularity of his work has to do with the aesthetic quality of his photographs and the subject matter which often tantalizes and/or provides glimpses of exquisite beauty found in the most unexpected places. Recently I sat down with Franklin to discuss the motivation behind his work, how he works, as well as the larger issues of memory, voyeurism, and identity.

So how did you get into photography? I was always interested in it. But it really started in 2006 with my first trip back to Venezuela since I moved to the United States. I wanted to document my trip so I bought a nice DSLR. But then I didn’t really get focused on photography until a couple years later.

What made you pick up film? Because most of your work is film…I started learning with the digital and then I just got cheap film cameras over the years. The issue was that they were all manual cameras, but I like to shoot things as they are happening; I like to capture the moment, so I don’t want to have to stop and adjust. But then I found the point and shoots and from then on I pretty much shot with those. It’s convenient. I don’t have to carry around a big camera.

So what cameras do you use now? The main one is the Olympus Stylus Epic, which is the little point and shoot film camera that I have. That’s what is with me, in my pocket, all the time. Sometimes I shoot with the Nikon D90, the digital SLR. That’s if I’m shooting for someone else, shooting models for example, because they like to see results right away.

How would you describe the look? The contrast, it’s different. It’s definitely sharper with digital. Since I have lenses that can be opened very wide, like 1.4, I can shoot really shallow depths of field. I do that more with the digital.

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You mentioned in another interview that film generates narrative. Can you talk about narrative in the context of your work? It’s not so much that the actual film forms a narrative; it’s what I shoot with the film. It’s the life aspect of it. Everything that I come across in my life that I enjoy I like to take pictures of. So, in a sense, with the journals I pretty much keep them month to month. Each journal is chronological, but the pictures in each post might not be because I like to have them sequenced in a way that flows. So, there’s a little lie there, but everything is from a set time period.

You also stated in another interview that you take pictures of things you consume. Can you explain? It’s pictures of things that I see, things that I eat, that I interact with – the emotions that I felt in those moments are captured in the picture. If you look at my past work, it’s pictures of people having a good time and that might be what I want life to be like. And that’s something that has changed recently. I’ve started taking “sad” pictures. [laughter] I definitely want the pictures to bring an emotion forth. I don’t know if it evokes the same emotion for other people as it does for me because I am the one shooting it, but I like to think it does – that people are getting something out of it.

It’s interesting because you have your journals, like photographic diaries. Do you consider your work autobiographical? Mostly, yes.

So do you see yourself in your pictures. Could someone “read” you looking at your pictures? They could read certain aspects of me. For example, recently, in the journals there’s not a lot of nudity going on. In the past, there was. I think people, because of that, thought I was a sex fiend.

"I am a sexual person.

But it doesn’t consume me."

I did. [laughter] I mean that’s a part of my personality. I am a sexual person. But it doesn’t consume me. There’s a lot of pictures of people smoking pot…so yeah, certain aspects of my personality. The parts that I like to show.

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Do you identify with the subjects in your pictures? Not in the documentary style stuff. Like if I’m shooting people by themselves I’ll definitely tell them to feel something, to think of something that makes them feel a certain way. I want it to come across in the pictures because in a way I do see myself in that person. That happens with the conceptual shoots. There is that thought behind it. But, with the everyday stuff, no, it’s just the things around me.

A lot of your photography does feature female nudes and they’re particularly erotic. What is it that appeals to you so much about the female form?I love women. I think women are wonderful. I think they’re beautiful. I like the curves that they have, the lines that female bodies form – it’s just perfect. I think it’s wonderful. Women are big in the exact areas that they should be big. I don’t know, they’re just beautiful beings.

So, do you think that men are less beautiful? I like a certain type of man. There’s a certain look he’s going to have to have. Skinny…

Androgynous? No. Skinny, well built. Just a nice looking dude with no gut. [laughter] A nice looking guy. But with girls, I just love girls. All types.

What is the difference between shooting people, landscapes, buildings...? Well, to me the most important thing is composition. A picture can look nice. It can be well shot, the lighting is perfect and everything, but to me composition is what matters the most. With people, I want them to be the focus of the picture, draw the most attention. With landscapes, it’s more about geometry, in a weird way. If I’m shooting landscapes or buildings, I try to have lines in the pictures that will go with the frame or against the frame in some a way I like.

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It’s interesting because you referred to lines in reference to women’s bodies. Are there times when bodies become something like landscapes? Yeah for sure.

Or a time when buildings become like bodies? Yeah, like when it’s a model shoot, it’s not just my life.…there’s definitely the aspect of it becoming like a landscape. They’re standing still. There’s no movement. So definitely, there is overlap with the shapes and all that jazz.

Do you feel like inanimate objects have a personality, a certain energy? There’s definitely an energy. I’ve shot a lot around my neighborhood, partly because it’s my neighborhood and I want to document that, but also because I walk past a building – there’s an aura to it. It just looks fucking amazing.

What is the behind the scenes dynamic like between you and your models? How do you direct a shoot? This how I work – I ask them to pose a certain way. I’ll talk to them, try to get the shots I’ve thought of beforehand, but I’m definitely trying to capture the in-between moments as well. Those are the ones I like the most because, in a sense, it’s real life. I want people to be comfortable. I have shot a lot of strangers recently, so I try to get to know people in the process of it all.

What do you think the experience is like for the model? It’s got to be weird! I’m fucking weirded out when people take my pictures, so maybe I put that on them. But, they must like it if they’re down for it.

What do you think they like about it? Maybe I’m capturing a part of their personality, conserving a way that they looked in a certain period of time. I don’t know.

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When you think about your work, do you consider it art or something else? Yeah, I do consider it art. Because I feel like, I know this sounds cheesy, but I feel like there’s art in everything. The things that I capture are not out of this world, but I fucking love them. And they make me happy. Like the landscapes, shooting buildings, seeing those pictures and seeing those buildings. That’s art. So yeah, I guess I do. But, I don’t think of it as fine art. I mean, I’m not shooting thinking, 'this is art,' but I am shooting and thinking, 'oh this is fucking awesome picture.'

Do you know when you’re shooting with film whether it’s going to come out the way you want it to?Yeah, especially with the point and shoot when I am shooting with the flash. When it flashes I can see the picture that is being captured. The flash makes it stop in my head. I see it perfectly, so it makes me super excited because I’m like, “oh shit, it’s going to be great!” And then I just have to wait until I get the film developed.

Do you feel like the suspense is part of the pleasure of taking pictures with film? Yes, because when I get an awesome print back I just feel ecstatic. It makes me feel so happy. And when I get a picture back that I thought was going to look good and it doesn’t, it makes me feel sad.

Awww.

[laughter]

Can you talk about memory in the context of your work? I’m nostalgic, super nostalgic. Very much so. I love to look back on life. I listen to certain music I listened to when I was young because I like the way it makes me feel. I would say it’s what drives my work. Because the majority of the work I do is the documentary style stuff. So it’s definitely a big part.

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Talk about voyeurism. What element do you think voyeurism plays in photography and film in general? In your own work specifically....I would say it plays a big part because I’m definitely, sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes I’m definitely watching things. I’m not as involved. So in that sense it’s voyeuristic. But, I don’t know if I get pleasure out of it… I just like to watch.

Haha, exactly! [laughter] Yeah, ok, I guess you’re right. Because I am trying to capture things, looking in on them. So I guess it plays a big part? I don’t know.

Do you feel like you’re at the stage where you’re looking to challenge your style significantly? If there was an opportunity that would force you into a different direction, would you take it? It all depends on what I would be doing. Internally, I feel like I want to do something different. I love the journals and how everything looks, but I’ve been doing that for two years now. I want to try something different, a different format…

Can you see transitions with the past two years, even within the context of the journals? There has been a transition from the sexual to sensual, making it not so overt. At a point I was very much shooting through a male point of view, like a dirty male point of view. So, I guess I’ve changed. I’ve grown from that to something a little different.

Does it have to do with a change in how you view women? I think it has to do with a change in how I want my work to be viewed. It was attracting the wrong kind of attention. I don’t want people to look at my work as just sexual. To me, it’s more than that. I see those sexual pictures as nice pictures. Yeah, there might be body parts, awesome body parts sticking out, but I’m not going to just put up a picture because it’s a nice ass. It’s more than that; it’s composition.

I’m pulling up some of your photos at random. Can you talk about how each one came about? How you think they work?

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That’s Dani. We were in her backyard. I wanted to do a shoot with a girl where there was no nudity, but it was still sexy. But, not obvious like “oh look at my ass,” or shit like that. just a girl, being cute with her body.  [laughter]

And how did you direct her? I had her stand where she’s standing because I like that her face is in the dark and the light was coming diagonally across. At first I had her standing with her arms relaxed by her side, but it needed some movement, movement with her skirt.

How much editing when into this? Just color correction. Some cropping maybe?

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That’s a shoot that I did for the zine, No Thoughts. I wanted to shoot a guy for it and asked my friend Chris. I wanted to shoot him getting dressed because he has a good sense of style. Have you ever seen This is England?

Is it about skin heads?Yeah, so I just wanted to get a guy with that look. I just like the way this picture came out. I like everything about it. The way you can see the grease in the back of his hair, but the top part is out of focus, the shadow on the wall, the way his head is tilted…

Did you do any editing? Yeah, I made it black and white.

Ok, that’s all I’ve got. Thanks! Just don’t make me sound stupid.

Obregon moved to the United States from Venezuela in 1996. He now resides in Richmond, VA. His work has been published in the German magazine, Neon, in RVA Magazine, No Thoughts zine, Blood of the Young zine, Digital Temple magazine, Moon magazine, and on the Juxtapoz and Filthy Gorgeous Things websites, among others. The Photocopy Club, based in the UK, will be exhibiting his work as part of group shows to be held in Brighton and London.

Text by ANNA WITTEL for PAS UN AUTRE

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