This is another installment in our continuing series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.
This week we feature kolored.
Give us your quick bio.
My name is Paul Birman. I’m a full-time visual artist, currently residing in Manhattan with my wife, a cat and two turtles. I was born in Moscow, Russia in ’81, immigrated to Chicago in ’95, and moved to New York City on Halloween ’08.
Smith Magazine does this cool project called the six-word memoir. What’s yours?
Hmm…can’t really think of anything.
You grew up in Moscow. How does that affect your point of view in your work, if at all?
Russian society has this unique nihilistic take on everything. But at the same time, Russians are able to achieve amazing feats. I think it translates into my work in a lot of ways, mostly coming from my subconscious. I’m interested in things that are gritty, dirty, dysfunctional, yet beautiful and inspiring.
I read in the Bloginity.com interview you said you got over your trepidation of doing close-up street photography when you moved to New York. What made the difference?
I went to this huge anti-Israel rally in Times Square. The crowd was very intimidating and at times things got pretty violent. I’ve never experienced a demonstration so volatile. It was very inspiring to be able to capture the emotion and in some cases even hatred. After you stick your camera into the face of someone who is screaming “death to Israel” and waving a Hamas flag, you can pretty much take a photo of anyone.
You seem to take a lot of photos of pretty girls. Is that intentional?
I try to take photos of anyone or anything that I find inspiring or unique. I’ve noticed the trend with pretty girls, but I haven’t been able to explain it. Perhaps it’s just instinctual.
Do you ever get photographer’s block, when the inspiration just isn’t there? What do you do in those times?
Definitely. When that happens, it means that I’ve reached the end of a certain chapter, if you will. It means that I’m ready to explore a different style, take my work into a slightly different direction. Of course I can’t help being a little bummed out for a while, but I know that whatever happens next will be bigger, better, and I get pretty excited since I have no idea what it will be.
Do you remember the first photo you took where you actually felt, “Now, that was good”?
I do. I took a self-portrait with a little Canon A40 point-and-shoot. It was the first camera I ever used that had a “manual” setting on it. I took a table light, and pointed it at my face at an angle, so that only a part of my face was exposed. That was totally an “…oooh, OK, I get it” moment.
How do you know when you’ve taken a good photo?
When I have to change my underwear.
Having lived in New York myself, I would imagine people on the streets can be either blasé or aggressive in the face of a photographer taking their photo. What’s the reaction like?
I try not to leave a lot of time for a reaction. Some street photographers like to get into confrontations; I don’t. I like to get what I need to get and move on. I have techniques to avoid interaction with people. But I have gotten stares, lectures, smiles, winks, dirty looks and even a couple of bitch-outs. Nothing physically violent yet.
How often do you shoot – do you make a point to go out at certain times, when the mood strikes you, etc.?
I shoot pretty often, and a lot. Probably five to six days a week on average, both for myself and work-related projects. I’ve been shooting a lot of video too since I got a 5Dmk2 last year. If I’m going on an errand, I’ll try to bring whatever camera would be most practical. (I also have a 35mm rangefinder and a Canon G9.)
What’s your most favorite camera you’ve ever had?
The one I have now, Canon 5Dmk2. I keep discovering more and more amazing things about it every day. It’s a truly fantastic tool.
Who are your creative influences?
I’m a huge fan of abstract expressionism. Although it’s nothing like the work I do, I believe in the artistic process and the ability of subconscious thoughts to have a huge influence on the finished product. Although I think a thorough technical understanding and ability is important in visual arts, sometimes I don’t know why I compose the way I do or why I light the way I do. It just happens.
And what’s this about your wife creating a reality show that’d be “Jersey Shore” for Russians? For real?
Yea, it’s true. I’m actually working on this project with her. I signed on as the director of photography and I’ve been shooting a lot of interesting footage for the past week or so. We are currently casting potential housemates. This project has been getting a ton of press, from a spread in the New York Post to perezhilton.com, even Regis talked about it. We’re pretty excited and we’ll see what happens with it. You can check out more info about it at facebook.com/brightonbeach.
Interview by Julie Haire.