BEN MICHEL

Interview by Jennifer Kwon

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Jennifer Kwon: Could you briefly describe yourself as a photographer? What is your past experience with cameras? 

Ben Michel: I just shot things with a point-and-shoot camera. Nothing formal.

JK: What led you to enroll in a photography class?

BM: I like taking pictures and thought ‘why not work with a nicer camera?’

JK: What are some of the lessons you learned about photography in the class?

BM: I learned that you can choose any angle on any subject, and there is no predefined set of rules of what makes a picture. I learned how to break out of that mind set.

JK: Were you working with a film camera or a digital?

BM: I shoot with a digital camera.

JK: Oh, yeah, digital cameras are awesome. Scanning can be a real pain sometimes…

BM: Haha, yes, I heard.

JK: When you were shooting these photos, was there a particular set of themes you wanted to convey?

BM: Um… Not really. I just started taking pictures, and Chris said that I’m taking a lot of photos of buildings, and that was true. I like to photograph architecture, and I happened to take photos of different places. Also, sometimes, I happened to be taking photos at the same place at different times.

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JK: Then, was there a particular reason why you focused on buildings?

BM: Well, I got to say that I find it very hard to take portraits. I also do not like constructing photos… Buildings, on the other hand, are stationary, and you can always come back to photograph them.

JK: Do you have a favorite building at Harvard that you might want to photograph?

BM: I like Adams, its entryway. I live upstairs, so I have the balcony. I also like the catholic church building on Bow Street by the Kong. It’s intriguing… It looks so out of place. Predating the surrounding architecture for a several hundred years.

JK: Could you describe the process of making these photos? What your typical experience would be like on a day you are shooting…

BM: I would go somewhere and take a bunch of pictures. A lot of photos taken by very similar angles… I try to find what works best—something I want to shoot—and frame it accordingly.

JK: So, you don’t really direct your photos?

BM: Not really. Almost never.

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JK: “Clean, aloofness (bird’s eye view), and winter” were the three words I thought of when I saw your photographs… Was there any particular response you expected from a viewer?

BM: Well, I didn’t have an intent really. I took photos of things that had interesting composition and lines. I like taking photos of things with strong lines and clear structures or otherwise, very complex.

JK: Do you think your photographs reflect your personality?

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BM: Probably.  I’m sort of structurally oriented, mathematical, and logical. I try to look at reality and make some order of it, rather than to create something else. I can see how my photos would reflect these attributes.

JK: Were there any difficulties in shooting these photos?

BM: It was very difficult to make photographs that were interesting.

JK: I think that is what everyone thinks and struggles with: making something that has an impact. How do your photographs make you feel?

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BM: Right now, I am frustrated, since I’ve been dealing with them for so long. I react to them in a way to find out what could have been done better about the photos.

JK: If you were to give a title to this set of photos, what would it be?

BM: The project was about “times and spaces” originally. I would title them according to when and where the pictures were taken.

JK: Did any photographer or an artist inspire you?

BM: I did look at a lot of photos by other photographers. And I was very impressed by William Eggleston’s work. He’s very interesting…. You should definitely look him up.

JK: Does any particular image pop up in your mind when you think of Eggleston?

BM: Well, there is a picture of a big tin roof, slanted. There is a bright orange sign that says “peaches” on it, and the rest of the photo is filled with the blue sky, everywhere. And there are rotting peaches. Very disgusting… It is very aesthetically appealing and gross at the same time. It made give a second glance at it.

eggleston                                  Untitled (Peaches), William Eggleston, 1973/© 

JK: Are you interested in other fields of art? Do you plan to take other classes in the VES department?

BM: Haha, the reason I took photography is… Well, it is easier for me to take photos than to create art. I’d like to be better at other artistic fields, but I do not have time any more to take other classes, so I probably won’t take any more.

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