Chris Bernabeo is a photographer currently living and working in New York City.
I did undergrad at the Pratt Institute in New York City and studied film. I was required to take a traditional darkroom photography course during my first year. I started to notice that shooting photographs allowed for a more personal approach to the work and I loved shooting analog and printing in the darkroom. I continued shooting stills on the side and found myself enjoying photography more than filmmaking.
What role does the photographer have in society?
I think the photographer’s role in society has expanded greatly in the digital age. Many genres of photography are now so much more accessible than the past which allows people to find photographs and learn what excites them or satisfies them in a photograph. In a way, photographers help in suggesting a way in which subjects should be viewed in whether is portraiture, fashion, landscape, streets etc.
What themes do you pursue?
A lot of my work is an exploration of relationships. This includes relationships between myself and the subjects I photograph as well as between a subject and a space/environment. There’s something I love about shooting strangers out in the world and finding things that connect them to our shared space in an interesting way.
Who inspires your work?
Vivian Maier, Peter Hujar, Diane Arbus & Stanley Kubrick to name a few. Right now I love Harley Weir, but honestly, I don’t know who doesn’t. Her work makes me want to hang up the towel…she’s incredible. I also work for Cass Bird, whose photographs always continue to inspire & excite me. It’s been a dream to work alongside an artist so closely whose work you’ve admired. I’ve learned a lot of valuable advice from her about photography and life.
What makes a memorable photograph?
To capture a moment that another’s eye may have missed. It could be a gaze from a subject or a piece of trash on the ground but there’s something about capturing a moment that someone may have wanted to have been there, to see up close and personal, memorable photographs have this magical quality of making viewers wish they were there in that moment.
What do you want viewers to take away from your work?
As long as the work evokes some sort of initial gut reaction or emotion, that’s what I always like a viewer to take away from the work. It could be the colours or the subject or some sort of connection that the viewer finds themselves having upon viewing.
What motivates you to keep taking pictures?
Taking pictures and making work has always been a release for me. For me it’s a visual diary and a large portion of how I communicate my existence to the world, it just feels essential to me.
What are some of your favourite photography books?
Diane Arbus: A Chronology, a collection of Arbus’ letters with friends, family and colleagues, personal notebooks and other various writings, is a fascinating glimpse into the mind and practice of one of my favourite photographers. Arbus frequently details her disappointment and struggles within her photographic work, something I and I imagine most artists deal with all the time.
Just Kids by Patti Smith is my all-time favourite book. A memoir which documents the relationship between Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe as starving artists living in the 1960s & 1970s NYC shines a light on the period of time when photography started to become a more recognisable medium of art. Reading and contrasting the NYC art scene then to the NYC art scene now is always something I find so fascinating and sometimes upsetting – I think I lived in the wrong era.
When you shoot, how much in instinctual and how much is planned?
It really depends on the shoot, but for most of my personal work it is usually unplanned and when I see it I am fortunate to have a camera with me to capture it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of times where I don’t have a camera – I feel like I could write a book on pictures I wish I had taken but didn’t have a camera. When I shoot fashion/editorial or commercial work obviously the clothes, the model, the cameras are all there because it is planned but the goal is to always to break it down to feel authentic and of the moment.
How has social media played a role in your work?
I’ve always commended social media outlets like Instagram and Tumblr because they’ve allowed myself and other artists to share our work to an audience that spans across the globe. I’ve followed the work of photographers whom I’ve never met in other countries and it’s inspiring to see how much different work is being produced out there. That being said, I do hope that social media and the digital age does not equal a demise of print – there’s something about physically holding or viewing a photograph printed in front of you that I don’t think could ever be replaced digitally.
What advice would you give yourself if you started in photography all over again?
I have really enjoyed the journey I’ve had since I started shooting. A lot of the difficulties I’ve had or horrible moments have really been defining in making me a better and more conscious photographer. There’s something about struggling and really going through it, the good and the bad, that helps mould you to be ready for a lot of various situations which to me is invaluable.