This week, I decided I wanted to write up an interview transcript on my session with photographer Christian Frarey. Hailing from Michigan, Frarey's love of photography was spurred when his father gave him his first film camera: a Minolta X-700. We met up in Greenpoint and explored a bit, visiting a record store before sitting down for the interview. (This was also delightfully one of my more conversational interviews.)
Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.
Christian: I grew up in Michigan. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was five, but that was because of movies like Jurassic Park. I loved movies. I didn't always have friends to hang out with because of where we lived - it was very rural. I would just go to a friend's house and watch movies all the time. I always wanted to be a part of that world. I gave filmmaking a try, but I didn't really enjoy it too much, so then I got into photography a little bit later, like in middle school.
My dad gave me my first film camera - it was a Minolta X-700, which I still have. If your Canon ever breaks down (I shoot with a Canon AE-1 Program) go get a Minolta X-700 - it's a good time. Didn't have any formal training at all - I wanted to go to film school, but that was expensive. I thought, "Maybe I'll just take a year off and see what happens". I actually started working kind-of odd jobs for money, like a stint at Jersey Giant, and then saved up enough to move to New York in 2014 with my sister.
Allison: So how did you get into photography then? Was it when your dad gave you the camera?
Christian: My dad did it for awhile - he had a lot of odd hobbies - he likes woodworking and he did some photography classes at the local community college just because he was interested in it. It's sort of a thing you do to get closer to a parent or somebody you like - it was the same with my mom and music. I started to get into records because that's what she knew - you do it to get closer to your parents, I guess. It was fun capturing these little family moments and whatnot: Christmas parties, being the annoying kid with the camera taking pictures of everybody. I still do that...
My dad sold off a bunch of his stuff, which was kind of irritating when I actually did get into photography hardcore. He was like, "Oh man, I should've kept my 4x5 for you." He still enjoys it. He is always asking me, "What kind of camera should I get?" "I don't know. It depends on what you want to do."
Allison: So why shoot film?
Christian: It makes me think less. I know you can spend hours in a darkroom, Ansel Adams-style, dodging and burning, and all that. You can still manipulate it, even though it's on film. I sort of enjoy the "what you see is what you get." I'm not worried so much.
I shoot a lot of black and white film: it's inexpensive to buy and develop. It is what it is. It sort of relies on you to be knowledgeable about composition and the way the light looks. It makes you think in a totally different way.
I shoot both (film and digital) quite often. It's whatever I feel like shooting really. I'm not one of those people that's a die-hard film only person in the film vs. digital debate. Shoot whatever you want.
Allison: So what made you decide to get the Widelux camera?
Christian: I had first heard of the Widelux through the actor Jeff Bridges, who's 'The Dude' in The Big Lebowski - he's a passionate photographer and over the past 30 to 40 years, he's always shot film on set behind the scenes, and he's had a Widelux. It gives you this really strange perspective because it's a turn-based thing, not unlike the Hasselblad, where it just snaps the picture and it has to swivel around to get the whole picture, and it gives you this sort of weird distortion if you don't level it right, which is always really cool.
The interest in panoramic stuff is from my love of movies - I always liked the CinemaScope look, like the broad, huge frame is really nice. I like it - it's nice and clean. With the Widelux, it swivels, so it takes a moment. Even at 1/250th of a second, it takes a moment. When you shoot at 1/15th of a second, it takes about a full second to go its full rotation, so it's sort of like one part of the photograph is at a different time than another part of the photograph, which is kind of cool. It's a shame, because not many people will repair them anymore. They're very much like a clock inside with all these gears, and if I open it, my head would explode. I would have no idea what to do to clean it. Plus it's pretty.
Allison: It's a very pretty camera.
Christian: I am a big fan of the Art Deco silver and black - I wish they would still make lenses silver and black. I think it looks so cool.
Allison: What artists, either from your medium or other mediums, inspire you?
Christian: It's kind of weird - I don't have quite a knowledge of classic photographers. I know the basics - like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, and Annie Leibovitz. I know of those people in a sense, but I don't know what other people would consider the "classic street photographers". I still get a lot of my inspiration from movies and the look from directors of photography - people like Roger Deakins, who has been a DP for 40 years and has worked on all the Coen brothers movies. I get a large amount of inspiration from movies, probably more so than from other photographers. Especially because there are a lot of people trying to do things differently, especially in television.
Allison: What are some of your other inspirations? What drives you to take pictures?
Christian: I don't know - it's just something I've done for so long and I enjoy it, and I'm fairly decent at it. I'm not very good at hyping myself and saying, "Yeah, I'm really good at this," but I would say I'm okay at it. When you find that thing, even though you can't explain it, you just know you can do that. It allows me to get out of my head-space just walking around the city taking pictures.
I feel like getting older makes you appreciate the family photos - all the family photos that we have at home I've told my parents to bring just so I can scan them and have them. I feel like they became more important to me when I got older. I'd like to eventually make a whole book of all those photos together, because there's so many chunks of the family that have certain photos, and I want to try and accumulate them all together like a big book, but that's a chore.
Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?
Christian: My father definitely was a big inspiration for getting into photography. He didn't push me in any way to do it - he just thought I would enjoy it.
Along the way, I've met really cool people, especially in New York. Lloyd Bishop is the photographer over at Late Night with Seth Meyers, and I met him visiting the city for the first time in 2013, and it was just one of those things where I saw an article about him, and I said, "Oh, I should hit him up and see if he'd maybe want to meet and just talk about my work and the business and such," and he did. We've kept in touch since then.
I met a celebrity portrait photographer named Mark Mann through Lloyd - they're both Scottish. Mark sort of took me under his wing a bit and allowed me to assist on a few cool gigs like the Tribeca Film Festival and an interview for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Lloyd and Mark have been amazing people just to ask for advice - photography is their bread and butter. I'm always amazed when people can do that and survive, and they have families, and that's scary to me that they rely on this thing, but they're amazing people.
Mark introduced me to Penumbra, so I was grateful for that. The people at Penumbra like Geoffrey Berliner, Jolene Lupo, Molly Rapp, Sam Dole, and all those people are my film nerd buddies. I don't get to see them too much, but when I do it's a really good time. You try to find those people - hopefully they'll be mentors or people to hang out with. It's always fun, even if I ask them too many questions.
Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about living in New York City?
Christian: Ugh... the subway. No. Ummm, my least favorite thing is moving here, luckily I had my sister and our friend from Michigan - we were roommates, and that was fine, but even though there are so many people that live in the city, it is really one of the loneliest places ever. Everybody has their own bubble, and everybody is concerned about themselves and what they're doing, so you walk by all these people and they couldn't care less about you. It's a very lonely feeling, and I was so homesick for months after moving here. Eventually you just push through it and recognize, "This is where I am now. Let's try to make it better." You meet people and just grow from there.
The flip-side is that there are so many people and that’s a way for you to branch out and meet fellow nerds of photography or movies or music. The best thing is just walking around the city taking pictures and seeing these random moments that for those people are just their everyday life, but to you it's something interesting.
Allison: Advice for people who want to move to New York City?
Christian: Save as much money as you can.
Like with moving to any city, be sure. I guess you're never actually sure. My sister and I moved here kind of on a whim just because the opportunity came up. I mean, nobody's ever really truly ready for something like this, because it's a huge life change.
Just be outgoing, as best as you can. Get involved with activities here in the city - something that you enjoy - there's movies in the park - there are a million things happening here every day. Just try to put yourself out there - something I wish I had done a bit more when I first moved here.
Also eat good food. Try to find good food. I always tell people who are visiting, "Save your money for food and drinks." You can buy any of the stuff here online, but the food is a fun experience. I love cooking and baking.
Allison: Is there anything else you want readers to know?
Christian: Hey man, follow me on Instagram. (@frareyphotography)
Allison: I was gonna link your Instagram anyways!
Christian: Just do your own thing. This is a hard question. What did other people say?
Allison: They said, "Do your own thing and don't be afraid to follow your dreams." (I know this is a dramatically redacted version of the amazing answers other artists and creatives have given to me.)
Christian: I try not to say that, because following your dreams is a tough thing to do. I came here kind of following a dream of sorts, and it sucks. Should I say, "Don't follow your dreams,"? Try, but be cautious.
Allison: That's good.
Christian: Try, but be very very cautious. Unless you have a foot in the door for an internship, it is so hard to do anything media-related: production, dancing... there are so many people wanting to do that thing that it's just so overrun with people. You really have to try to do something different or just get lucky. Just get lucky - that's what you can do. Try to meet people and get lucky, not in a sexual way, but you can do that too. (This made me laugh a little bit.) Just have as good a time as you can. Enjoy the little moments just hanging out with friends drinking on a Friday night - maybe take some pictures.
You can view Christian's Instagram here.
You can order prints of Christian's photographs here.