On a warm summer’s morning in a quiet corner of London, Viveca welcomed me to her home. The garden wind-chimes were jingling softly. The sun was shining through the window, warming up Jasper, the cat, who was sleeping in his favourite corner.
Truth Will Out
CM: When did you start taking photographs?
VK: When I was a little girl my mother let me borrow her Box Brownie and I’ve been interested in photography ever since. But it wasn’t until I bought my first DSLR in 2008 that I began to take photography more seriously. Everybody in my family is very ‘arty’: it’s a family of architects, painters, designer and poets. So I grew up in a very creative environment and I was always encouraged to express myself in a visual way.
CM: What makes you happy?
VK: I love the whole process of creating photos: from the moment I see something, take my time to compose the photo, to the later stages, when I’m absorbed in the computer, processing the image.
A Postcard Arrives
CM: How do you find inspiration?
VK: Something inspires me when I ‘see it’ – I go to any location with an open mind and I take it as it is, rather than thinking beforehand “I Have Got To Get Such and Such a Picture”.
CM: From the base photograph, how do you create the final image?
VK: Once I’ve taken the base photo and I’ve uploaded it to the computer I process further with different layers and textures. I have a huge database of textures: some that I’ve downloaded from the internet and others that I’ve photographed myself.
CM: How do you create your own textures?
VK: I can see textures everywhere, on any surface. When I started going to derelict buildings I found walls covered in fantastic peeling paint of all sorts: tiny little flecks, big plasticky sheets ripping off the wall. Then the repertoire increased to include other derelict textures, like rusty metal, distressed wood, torn material, broken glass, mossy stone. I built up my textures database over time and it’s all categorised in Lightroom, where I can easily find the samples I’m looking for. Then I work in Photoshop. I was using Photoshop CS3 for a very long time and I recently went to Photoshop CS6, so I’ve upgraded very slowly with big gaps in between. Nowadays technology is moving so fast: software, cameras, mobile phones.
CM: When did you start IPhoneography?
VK: In 2012. Before that I had an Blackberry phone, but its camera wasn’t very good. I wanted a camera that I could have with me all the time. My compact digital is still bulky enough to be obvious in my handbag. I wanted a decent phone-camera. I did some research on various models and the IPhone came top in terms of quality. I also liked all the photography apps that are available for it. So I upgraded from android to IPhone and I’m totally converted now.
CM: What apps do you use for your mobile photography?
VK: I take most of my IPhone pictures in Hipstamatic. I do a bit of further processing on my IPad, because the screen is bigger than the IPhone, it is easier to process and it uses the same apps, but most of the times the photos are straight out of IPhone.
CM: What kind of scenes make you think: “That’s going to be a good IPhone photograph’?
VK: Everything! When I look around I see pictures all over the place: the shadows of the plants on the wall, these biscuits on the blue plate and the pattern of the tablecloth underneath; sections of bookshelves… Anything that I think looks interesting and catches my eye. You get nice close-ups with the IPhone; I do the inevitable flower shots as well. Food? Yes … sometimes. Selfies? Yes, all that! I love shooting square format, I’m not sure why because I never worked with a medium format camera. I do crop a lot of my photos ‘square’ anyway, so I really like to be able to shoot on the IPhone’s Hipstamatic in square format from the off.
CM: Nowadays, with mobile photography becoming so accessible and everybody posting hundreds of photos a day online, how do you stand out?
VK: I think my work looks different, but I don’t quite know how I do that. Perhaps the way I see the world reflects my background, my upbringing, my personal experiences. I agree that it is very hard to stay different and unique because there are so many people doing digital photography. It’s accessible to everyone and there are magazines, websites and tutorials, where anyone can learn any of these techniques. But in the end, it comes down to the individual’s eye, your way of ‘seeing’, the choice of subject matter and how you put it together. I am very particular about getting it right ‘in-camera’. Generally, when I take a photograph, I concentrate on getting the image right in terms of exposure, composition, etc. And it’s only when I come to the computer processing stage, which is a totally completely separate stage, that I see everything afresh.
CM: Would you say that you are also a ‘technical’ photographer?
VK: I guess I am a little bit geeky when it comes to cameras, and computers, but not as much as I used to be. Now I approach it like this: As long as it does what I want it to do, that’s the main thing!
CM: Is there a particular project where you’ve tried different approaches?
VK: I’ve been to Venice with my mum a few times, she loves Venice and I can’t persuade her to go anywhere else! I was looking for ways to take different photos on each trip, so I photographed Venice with a Holga, with my compact, then with my Nikon using only the 50mm f1.4 lens (I think it’s quite good discipline to know how to use a 50mm – it makes you think a bit more about your composition!). And on another trip I only used the IPhone.
Play it again Sam
CM: You obtained your Associateship and your Fellowship distinctions relatively close to each other, and your work is very distinctive; this led you to giving talks and lectures to camera clubs and photographic societies. Tell us about your activities and your plans for the future.
VK: I have two talks in my programme: “Urban Exploration to Fine Art – a Photographic Journey”, which starts off from 2009 when I got my first DSLR and I was into UrbEx and exploring derelict buildings – in the meantime I was getting my distinctions: my Licentiateship and my Associateship. During this period I started doing more ‘arty’ images. The second talk covers the period since I got my IPhone “From IPhoneography to Photo Illustrations – My Continuing Journey”. This talk is divided in two parts: the first half is all about IPhoneography and the second part moves on to my Fellowship panel. I love giving talks. Everybody is always so enthusiastic! Many people have expressed their interest in learning more about my technique, so I’m doing my first workshop at the end of July. It’s not a photography or a Photoshop workshop as such, and it’s not for beginners. It’s geared at camera club members, where participants need to have a basic understanding of Photoshop. I will teach the specific techniques that I talk about in my lectures: layering textures, as I’ve mentioned before, and the ‘multiplicity technique’, where you have several versions of the same person in one shot. These techniques are not difficult and I think the end result is quite impressive.
CM: What would you like to explore in the future?
VK: At the moment I’m open to new ideas. I’m always looking for different ways to take different images and expand what I do. I don’t want to get stuck in a rut or think that because people like this I should just carry on doing it. I’d quite like to try street photography. I attended a talk by Dave Mason recently, who is an excellent street photographer. I like his street sense of humour. He takes the picture at the right moment, when the person or people are just at the right place. Getting the decisive moment, pressing the shutter at the right time, is a real skill.
CM: What is your involvement with the RPS?
VK: I’m a member of the Digital Imaging and Visual Art Special Interest Groups, I’m the secretary of the Visual Art Group committee, and assistant editor of the magazine.
CM: In what way has joining the RPS and getting your distinctions changed you?
VK: I feel more confident, after obtaining my Associateship I started giving talks to camera clubs and photographic associations. Standing up in front of strangers and talking for 2 hours is something that I would never have thought about doing. And I love it! From a personal level, getting the ‘A’ and the ‘F’ so close together feels great! These distinctions are recognised and respected internationally and I feel it is a real achievement.
CM: Finally, what is your favourite place to photograph?
VK: It is amazing how much satisfaction you can get from hanging out all day photographing a derelict asylum. But that’s what it was like, it was bliss! It was something I’d never done before, it was exciting and fun and I met some really nice people, including my partner. I had the best time, so I always look back on that very fondly.
To find out more about Viveca’s work, visit her website http://www.vivecakohphotography.co.uk/
Viveca gives presentations to camera clubs and photographic societies, to check out her programme visit http://www.vivecakohphotography.com/2013/03/18/urban-exploration-to-fine-art-a-photographic-journey-a-presentation-for-photographic-societies-camera-clubs/ and http://www.vivecakohphotography.com/2013/11/19/from-iphoneography-to-photo-illustrations-my-continuing-journey/
This interview first appeared on 17 July 2014 on the Royal Photographic Society’s blog.
All photos by Viveca Koh FRPS