Photographer Focus: CZAR KRISTOFF

Interview by Erin Nøir

What did you study in college? How did it hone or mold you as the visual artist that you are now?
I was planning on taking Fine Arts actually way back in 2005 but I was forced to take an associate course in Hotel and Restaurant Management. I worked for over a year in that field. It was fun to be honest but it felt like I don’t belong there. Thinking about it now, I guess it was meant to happen. I don’t think I’ll be as obsessive or honest in expressing myself right now if I was able to prior.

What were the early beginnings of your photography like? How did you transition from Laguna’s skateboarding scene to what/where you usually shoot nowadays?
I received my first camera five or six years ago. My images have no direction at all. After a couple of years, I bumped into a group of skateboarders and I started documenting them. Whenever there’s a skate event, a random stroll or just hanging out, I’m always there. It was a great pleasure to experience their world and being able to archive it. Regarding the transition, I don’t think I struggle that much. I don’t think my process changed severely either. I still shoot in the streets. I still feel like a visitor in every situation, and I still question the functionality of things. I think the difference now is that I am more relaxed during the act of making pictures. More contemplative unlike before.

During your artist talk at Thousandfold, you presented Low Clouds, a “rework” of some of your images from your photobook, Fugue. Compare and contrast them.
I enjoy the idea of recycling but I think it has to be done with the right process and honest purpose. I decided to include some images from Fugue in Low Clouds to serve as a guide to a certain idea or memory that I’m trying to articulate in this ongoing series. I think visually they kind of had similar visual structure but different process. Same fetish but different sentiments.

How would you describe your creative process?
Before, I just create images whenever I’m able to and then when it’s ready, I’ll publish it online or in physical form. But now, reading and researching has become a part of my process.

Your published works are mostly in monochrome but you also have occasional bursts of full color photographs. How do you know which mode to use?
Both represent different languages. There are times I couldn’t convey a thought, emotion or idea using the first language, that’s the time I’ll use the second one.

Is there a reason why majority of your pictures show just portions of the whole subject? Does this reflect your personality?
I guess my upbringing plays a vital role in this kind of decision. To filter emotional and physical freedom is a necessity since I was as a kid until to this day. So I guess the idea of cropping or zooming into subjects came from that. For example, if there’s a situation that I wanted to remember but too difficult to digest, I prefer to focus on few portions and refuse the rest of it.

Most of the most powerful photographs you’re known for are standalone. Have you ever thought of doing a story-driven photo series? What would it be about?
Yes, I have been contemplating about it recently. I was analyzing my images I made few years ago. I might create something out of those photographic sketches. For your second question, I don’t know what it would be about, perhaps acceptance and pleasure.

What are your constant struggles as a photographer in the Philippines and how do you get by them?
Most of the people here undervalue photography. I guess it’s because of the accessibility of the camera. It’s a banal activity now and almost everyone knows how to operate it. So I guess that’s why people don’t consider it as a special skill anymore. And thus, the medium and the creator suffer.

But optimistically speaking, especially with these initiatives created by Thousandfold, I’m hoping that a photography renaissance will happen soon here in Manila and hopefully there will be more spaces for photo exhibitions and activities, more photo book and zine releases, and more photographers who would break conventions and speak their own visual language, unfiltered and without fear.

Which photographers or image-based artists do you look up to?
Wolfgang Tillmans, William Eggleston, Rineke Dijkstra, Lars Tundbjork, Mark Peckmezian, The Internet

What’s your next photo project after Fugue and/or Low Clouds? Any upcoming shows soon?
I’m planning on making a new body of work in the coming months. For 2016, luckily I’m involved in a couple of group exhibitions plus one solo show. 🙂

All photos © Czar Kristoff from the slideshow, Low Clouds

Czar Kristoff (b.1989) is a self-taught photographer based in Laguna, Philippines. His images has been exhibited and showcased in several group shows in London, Copenhagen, Vienna, Manila and Berlin. And featured in publications and websites such as Der Greif Magazine, YET Magazine, Self Publish Be Happy, If You Leave Magazine, T Magazine and Of The Afternoon. He released his first self-published zine titled Fugue this year via Thousandfold Small Press.