Nicolo Sertorio’s Thoughts on the Local Photo World

Kim Sikora: As a working photographer in San Francisco, what was your biggest challenge been?

Nicolo Sertorio: I chose to live and work in the San Francisco bay area because I fell in love with the place and people from my very first visit. But it is a bit of a compromise from the point of view of a photographic career: it is a smaller market compared to New York or Los Angeles, there are fewer local clients, etc. Also, my personal style for commercial work (‘refined lifestyle’) tends to resonate more with East Coast clients. But there is no way I am moving, especially now that we invested in a new studio!

KS: Artists in San Francisco face many obstacles, and it can be a struggle to make the time and space to create new work. How do you balance your personal and professional time?

NS: It definitely takes discipline to carve out time for personal work, but at the same time it is where I get inspiration, motivation, and renewed excitement. On the commercial side I try to have a personal (‘test’) shoot every couple of months. On the fine-art side I tend to work on series/ideas that evolve over fairly long periods of time. But it is a balance between all the dimensions of life constantly screaming for attention, one that has to be constantly re-negotiated.

Of course it helps to have a supportive partner. In my case my wife is a scientist, so we share the passion for our work, the sacrifices, the patience and determination required, the ideals.

KS: You took part in APA’s spring portfolio review event. How do you feel that this impacted your work or your photography career?

NS: I have attended several portfolio reviews and found the APA San Francisco one to be small and intimate, which I liked.
Jaqueline Fodor gave me some great advice and encouragement to include one of my personal series on my commercial web site. I had been weary of doing so, but have been getting very good feedback since.

KS: Are there other resources you think photographers in the bay area would benefit from?

NS: I always push myself and my friends to shoot more and collaborate more. ASMP and APA are both great organizations to meet fellow photographers. I also enjoy the ‘Dog & Pony’ shows that Propville organizes. But I do feel that as an imaging community we could do a lot more together.

KS: Do you have any new projects you’d like to tell us about?

NS: The latest projects (and time guzzlers) for me have been:

Got elected as the new president of ASMP Northern California chapter. As a new board we have many great ideas but limited resources, so it has been taking a lot of our time to establish the foundation for many new programs and workshops that will be rolling out in the fall.

I just released my latest personal/fine-art series (check ‘Passages II: Rest Areas’ on my fine-art site: So far it has been received very well: it has been included in multiple group shows and won several awards. I am currently exploring the idea of making it into a book.

Jun Takano and the Unknown Delta

Kim Sikora: In your statement for “Delta Unknown,” you speak about the traditional and alternate sides of the word “solitude.” Can you talk a bit more about this?

Jun Takano: Well, I am a Brazilian born and raised in São Paulo. In Brazil, the word solitude has a negative meaning… The Latin people that very warm and sociable therefore they always seek to be around people. In Brazil, solitude has almost the same meaning of loneliness, therefore, when you say you feel solitude, usually you are sad and lonely.

I realized that, sometimes, solitude could have a different meaning, something less negative. Every now and them I just want to be away from people and be quiet enjoying the sunset for instance… It is the serene feeling we sometimes want to feel. That is what I wanted to portray in my series.

KS: How did you create the concept for this series?

JT: The whole concept of my series started by me being homesick. … That is when I found the Delta, which in many ways reminded me of the countryside city of Tupã (Brazil), where my grandfather lived. … Therefore, the Delta triggered so many childhood memories and became my home away from home, somewhere where I could feel some comfort. It became my meditation place.

KS: Your images in this series have an ethereal quality to them. Can you talk a bit more about your experience of solitude, and your methods of photographing these with a 4×5 camera?

JT: It was a humbling experience to spend hours at night shooting for my project. The time of day I choose to shoot, helps to create this ethereal mood because of the absence of people. In many nights I felt I was the only person out there.

The 4×5 camera helped me slow down and to feel the place before I start shooting, this helped me to have a better emotional response to my subject. My methods to shoot with a large format camera at night are very meticulous. I had to carefully meter the scene, slowly compose and focus my shot, take many a Polaroid test shots, wait for hours to get my exposure.

KS: For those unfamiliar with the area. can you talk about the residents of the Delta area?

JT: To me is very hard to talk about the residents of the area, I had covered a wide range of the Delta so there were lots of different cities I shot. However I can tell that they all have one thing in common, they are usually humble and nice.

During the day they are usually sympathetic people, at night this might change a little bit because to them I am the weird guy with a big camera pointing at their business and houses, so they can get a little wary about my presence. However, I have never had a problem with violence or something like that, they are usually curious and want to know what I am doing at 3 am in the streets or they just call the cops to check on me.

KS: What is one thing you want your viewers to walk away from your photography with?

JT: I want the viewer to have some kind of emotional response to my photographs, even if it is completely different than my own response. We all have different backgrounds and grew up in different scenarios, therefore any feeling or memory my images trigger will make me happy.

In addition, I would like people to understand the need of taking care of our environment, to respect what we have around us.

KS: Another great facet of this project is the color in each image. Can you explain what kinds of post-processing you do, if any?

JT: To be honest, there is not much I do in post processing. The fact that I use film already helps me with all those colors, film handles colors and highlights differently than digital, especially at night. When I am scanning my negatives I usually choose one light source and I try to make it as close as I saw it when I was shooting. I neutralize one light source but I am aware that the others will shift and get some nice different colors.

KS: Is there a new project you’re working on you’d like to tell us about?

JT: I am working in a daytime project of the Delta right now. I really love this place. The majority of the photos are being shot at daytime from a boat. It is much more like a street photography; I am shooting different things I can capture from a boat’s view. But it is still in the beginning; there is a long way to go before it gets ready.

Tim Sullivan Exhibition

Kim Sikora: Can you talk a little bit about the work you’ve been creating at the lab?

Tim Sullivan: My current show at Steven Wolf Fine Arts “Blackout, Bleach and Blueballs” is a series in 3 separate, but related parts. The “Blackout” section includes the flocked lightbulbs and the negative photographs where I depict shining darkness upon the world.

“Bleach” is an negative sculpture and sound piece, basically an inverted cassette tape or Nirvana “Bleach”.

“Blueballs” is an interactive video installation that consists of a “ball room” with multiple sizes of blue balls from 10″ to 7ft in diameter where the viewer is invited to kick or punch the balls around, the blue of the balls is keyed out and can be viewed on a monitor in the other room.

KS: How did you create the concept for these images?

TS: For the “Blackout” photos I wanted to show what things would look like if darkness shone upon them. This was really just a concept that I have thought about for a long time, but never quite knew how to depict. I started with the black flocked lightbulbs, when photographers want to absorb light they usually use a black velvet backdrop, taking this material and covering a lightbulb with it was the simplest way to give the concept of negating light. I thought I might cover sections of my still lives with black flock to make a more physical or sculptural representation of “shining blackness”.

Before I began making such sculptural tableaux it came to me that when looking at a negative one sees the light that is not there rather than the light that is. So a very bright and blown out photo would be very dark, a very dark photo would be light, glare would be black and shadows white, in this negative world.

But I couldn’t just show a negative as the viewers mind would go directly to that, so I created inverted scenes, little negative worlds by painting and printing objects in their opposite hues to give a sense that the world is “real” but the lights are shining darkness rather than light.

KS: You make interesting choices with the objects of your still lives.
Are there narratives behind these?

TS: They are narrative. To me they are mostly self portraits, personal narratives about me and the people in my life.

They are takes on 16th-17th century dutch vanitas paintings which were oftentimes portraits themselves, containing objects that were specific to the patron, etc. In “Trix” I wanted to blur the line between a more serious fine art still life and an advertising photo, I have been very influenced by ad photography growing up so it’s a little bit of an homage, not to mention that it directly points out that you are about to be “tricked”.

KS: What has your biggest challenge been?

TS: Almost everything in this “negative world” is a different shade of blue…I don’t think the human eye is used to distinguishing between all of these different blues and we certainly do not have the vocabulary for it. Just figuring out those blues, categorizing them and mixing the paint has been quite the challenge. Outside of mixing 50 shades of blue the painting of objects in general was pretty difficult as I haven’t actually painted since undergraduate school and even though I was just painting over mostly 3 diminutional objects I had to decide upon a consistent style whether it was “realistic” or more expressive.

KS: As artists, most of us face obstacles in creating work. How do you
balance your personal and professional time?

TS: If you are not living off of your art, which most of us are not, you have to able to pull all nighters. I’s harder as you get older to pull all nighters so you have to figure out a way to live off a part time job, which is hard in an expensive city like SF.

Also one can try to find work where you can incorporate your practice into your job. When I used to be an art consultant I would consider getting dressed in a suit and selling an Andy Warhol all part of a big performance. Also if you have a family you can incorporate them into your art making practice, I spent some serious “quality time” making work with my family.

If you are an artist you should have no problem figuring out creative ways to multitask and if you are excited about the work your making you’ll make it happen, when I’m in the middle of a project I’d rather keep going than eat.

DIY “C” Printers: Improvement Prints for 40% Off

Our clients have a discerning eye when it comes to perfect prints. If you’re one of the many photographers and hobbyists who utilize our Print on Demand service, this discount was created with you in mind.

For those unfamiliar, Print on Demand allows photographers to make digital “C” prints- without the need for print technicians. We love our staff, and we chose them for their incredible abilities, but there are times when we’d just like to have control over our own prints!

We all like to make the most of our print canvasses, by printing out small test strips before that final large print. But inevitably, you will sometimes prnt an image and find you need to make another change before calling it perfect.

If you find that your final print needs just one more reprint, or essential change, you can get your second print at 40% off.

We take our role as a community-based photo lab seriously, and to us, this is one of our most important services. We remain the only lab in the bay area that offers DIY digital “C” printing and workspace. Our color-managed digital darkrooms are always free while you’re printing (as is the espresso and tea!), and it’s our sincere hope that this encourages the creation of new work, beautiful photography, and gorgeous prints.

Make them great!

Madeleine Campbell Explores the Familiar

Kim Sikora: How did you create the concept for this series?

Madeleine Campbell: The current series I’m working on, titled Cloth, is inspired by the apartment I’m subletting while in San Francisco and part of a larger body of work, titled Anthropomorphic Spaces. I am exploring a reciprocal relationship between self and space through psychoanalysis, haunting, intuition, and personal history.

KS: How do you decide when and where to shoot? Were there destinations with history you tracked down, or was it more or a fluid exploration?

MC: I shoot in places that I know on a personal level, places I have lived in or spent a lot of time in. I explore familiar spaces in unfamiliar ways as a means to speak toward a singular/plural understanding of time, space, and the unknown.

KS: Many of your images have a brooding quality to them. What kind of emotional content do they hold for you?

MC: Private spaces are both those which shield us and those which conceal us, this interplay between comfort and fear is central to my work. While my photographs are often read as being quite dark, play is a major influence in both my process, and my conceptual framework.

KS: In particular, I’m very curious about the image on the television, and the view of a stone backyard patio. What is going on in these pictures?

MC: Both images are from a project titled Old Man’s Voice in which I documented my grandparents’ home as a site of myth, memory, and cultural association. With my grandparents’ house now vacant, the lack of habitation creates a museum like effect in which all the objects are frozen in time. In stark contrast, the surrounding yard has become wildly overgrown. The juxtaposition of interior/exterior space symbolizes the passing of time and acts as a metaphor for the psychological/physical self.

KS: Can you tell us a bit more about your shooting process?

MC: It is performative in nature and for this reason I like to shoot on my own, using myself as subject (via wireless remote), or with my sister whom I use as a stand-in for myself. I shoot both photography and video on a canon 5D mark II.

KS: What is one thing you want your viewers to walk away from your photography with?

MC: I want to provide avenues for the viewer to explore intimate spaces through personal associations and collective experience.

KS: A lot of photographers struggle with the balance of personal work and otehr money-making pursuits. How do you balance the two?

MC: I’m currently working towards a masters of applied arts at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, which has allowed me the time to focus solely on my personal work.

KS: Can you tell us what to expect in the next few weeks of your residency?

MC: I will be shooting new work and using the Dickerman Prints’ Print on Demand services. I’m also really looking forward to meeting the other residents and having the opportunity to work in such a creative environment.

Peter and Lisa Layer Patterns of the Bay

Kim Sikora: Can you tell us a bit about your beginnings as a team of photographers?

Peter Tonningsen and Lisa Levine: We met as artists-in-residence at Kala Art Institute about six years ago and have much in common… We began collaborating through an annual event called Alameda on Camera… We had both participated individually in this event in the past, so proposed collaborating one year thinking it would be fun, but were told it was ‘against the rules’ of the event. However coincidence was in our favor as the random pieces of the map we each drew happened to border each other, so we proceeded to photograph each other’s area while standing on the shared border of our map sections.

PT & LL: We did this using a multiple exposure technique in which we each photographed on 35mm film, rewound that film, exchanged it, and then repeated that process right over the top of what the other had just photographed, with this shooting and exchange occurring multiple times… thus our collaboration and multiple-image methodology was born.

KS: When you first started out photographing as a team, what things did you first gravitate towards?

PT & LL: Given the nature of the first piece we created together, we started off interested in exploring borders, particularly the borders between divergent neighborhoods… For example, one of the first areas we examined was the border between the Port of Oakland and the surrounding West Oakland neighborhood

KS: How has your imagery changed in the past few years?

PT & LL: Our work has become less about the context of borders and more about the dialog and discovery we have with each other and how that interchange can be developed to distinctively describe and portray place and experience… We have become increasingly dedicated to pursuing public art opportunities as we are thrilled with the challenge of creating solutions for site-specific spaces…

KS: You have a lot of images shot in the Bay Area, and all of them are delightfully complex. Can you tell us a bit more about your shooting methods?

PT & LL: We are both urban at heart, so favor industrial and metropolitan subject matter, especially because of the dynamic and serendipitous nature of these kinds of environments. Regarding our shooting and creative methodology… We are especially drawn to this combination (multiple exposures) of analog and digital technologies, which we believe makes our work especially relevant given the rapidly changing climate of digital photography today.

KS: How did you decide when and where to shoot? Were there destinations with history you tracked down, or was it more or a fluid exploration?

PT & LL: Sometimes the sites we choose are predicated by commissions we are working on, while other times they are simply places that have caught our attention for being visually interesting. Once we start exploring a place, everything about the context of that location becomes of interest… How all that unveils itself to us is more of a fluid exploration. Our preference is to go to the sites together and wander about, talking about and shooting what most captivates our attention.

KS: What kind of feeling, or what experience of your context do you hope to give viewers?

PT & LL: Essentially we hope that our viewers will relish in a sense of discovery and excitement at seeing a familiar place anew. We want to provide aesthetically alluring, yet visually complex and contemplative works, where the audience can take in a location from multiple viewpoints and multiple points in time… For those interested in photography, we also hope that they will be engaged with how our process challenges conventional standards of a photograph document by extending notions of photographic time, space, framing, and authorship.

KS: Can you explain on of your most recent public art installations? What are your goals for public displays like this?

PT & LL: The most recent Public Art project we completed was for Highland Hospital where we were commissioned to produce a series wall-mounted images reflecting the varying communities throughout Alameda County that the Hospital serves. The goal of our artwork was to celebrate the diversity of the populace served by Highland Hospital while providing a familiar sense of home and place to patients, visitors and staff.

Hopefully through such a familiar portrayal of the surrounding environment we contribute to the overall quality of care and wellbeing that the hospital provides by promoting reflection and conversation and helping decrease some of the anxiety that can be part of the hospital experience.

KS: What can we expect to see in the next few weeks of your residency?

PT & LL: The focus of our residency has been to develop a series of prints centered on the replacement of the Eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which is expected to be completed later this summer. We hope to arrange exhibition of our work at multiple locations on both sides of the Bay in conjunction with the Bridge’s opening celebrations.

Tim Sullivan Causes a Blackout

Dickerman artist-in-residence Tim Sullivan has reversed the world of exposure in the most interesting and unusual way.

Using black lights (no glow here, actual blackened lights, friends), Tim paints the objects of his still lives in their opposing hues. Then he photographs his carefully-constructed scenes, and reverses the color image.

The result? A world where light shines black, and shadows are a luminous white.

Here’s a description of the photography Tim will be sharing in his upcoming show:
(via Steven Wolf Fine Art website)

“Using cheap tricks, bad puns and a perverted color spectrum, Tim Sullivan bathes a new body of photos and sculpture in a playful, malignant darkness. Commonplace images from advertising and some of the artist’s treasured objects of nostalgia are rendered uncanny by this complex nocturne.

Darkness and light are nothing more than digital constructs in this black-lit parallel world. While some may shrivel in the tenebra of this 24-hour punk rock basement, Sullivan lounges in it like a vampire. And when he rises and waves his scepter, darkness becomes visible.”

Here’s quick cell phone shot of Tim’s blackened lightbulbs. Each of these has been flocked, to appear as if the blackness, or hue is the kind of “light” that illuminates his subjects.

Anastasia Kuba on the Trainlines of Russia

One of our newest artists-in-residence, Anastasia Kuba is fascinated by the inner life of Russian trains. Motivated in part by the forbidden nature of photographing on the trains, Anastasia familiarizes herself with the workers around her, angling for portraits of her subjects in context.

Kim Sikora: Can you talk a little bit about your series “People of the Road”?

Anastasia Kuba: At the moment rail road is still the most popular way to travel from the city to a city. (The) rail Road is like circulatory system of gigantic country.

I will be travelling through Russia by train from West to East making multiple stops in different cities. My main focus will be train attendants. Russian train attendants are known to have a very tough exterior, but at the same time to be very soulful.  I am interested in learning what is behind that mask of an inapproachable person. I want to know what their life is like, who they are,  what their day consists of, what do they see outside of the train window.

I was looking through different forums to find how international travelers see Russian train attendants. This was my favorite:

“Everyone who’s been doing a trip by train while in Russia knows what I’m talking about. These almost mythical stern people treating their cars like their own children, vacuum cleaning it at least twice a day, keeping their passengers in check … And lest you open the window….”

KS: When you are shooting in the trains, are you seeking out specific subjects or details to include?

AK: I am photographing everything/everyone that catches my eye. I think about what to include/ what to not include later when editing.

KS: How does this series relate to your past work?

AK: Vulnerability and strength has been the main focus of my work and it is a main theme of this project.

KS: How did you create the concept for this series?

AK: One of the times I went back to Russia to visit my family and took a train from Moscow to Voronezh I met a train attendant who captivated me with her personality. I remember a moment when an impatient child asked her when is train going to stop. She answered him nicely and then spoke to herself while looking at the window: “When is the train is going to stop… all my life I am asking myself this question”. I just couldn’t forget her. She was so soulful, authentic…

KS: Given the obstacles that most of us face as artists, it can be a struggle to make the time and space to create new work. How do you balance your personal and professional time?

AK: I think I am extremely lucky. I am professional photographer/ artist. Photography is my work, hobby, passion and lifestyle.

KS: Each of your subjects looks they hold a number of stories within them. Are there any stories from your experience with them you’d like to share?

AK: The lady on the very first photograph shared a car with me on the train from Moscow to Voronezh. Her name is Nusha. She was the first person I photographed for that project. Nusha was on her way home from visiting her son who just had a new born grandchild. She has 7 children. When she was 32 and her youngest child was 3 month old her husband passed away…

KS: You are beginning to plan your continuation of this project in Russia. Can you tell us more about your timeframe for your trip? How do you plan to fund it?

AK: I am planning on going in August and travelling  till mid December, because  am interested in showing the rail road life through a change of seasons. Everyone who took a train in Russia once was very excited tohearr about this project. I am launching my kickstarter compain June 1st and I hope that people support me iin my wish to learn and to tell stories of Russian train attendants and all people who’s life is tied o Russian Rail Road.

Stay tuned for the inclusion of Anastasia’s work in the next residency show.

Ana Vega’s Decisive Imagery

Ana Vega’s photography exists at the intersection of engineered fiction and bare reality. Ana is one of our newest photographers in the Residency Program here at the lab, and will be exhibiting images from this body of work in an event at ABCo Artspace in Oakland this upcoming weekend.

Don’t miss the opening, this Saturday April 20, 6pm at 3135 Filbert St in Oakland.

Ana says, “The act of photographing represents a series of decisions and actions, and my work investigates the protocols of the look, of visual perception. I strive to offer images that, despite their realistic qualities, provoke a hesitation as to how to understand them.”

Kim Sikora: Can you talk a little bit about your series? How did you create the concept?

Ana Vega: Her eyelashes rise and fall like a theatre curtain is the trio of images that I worked on while in residency at Dickerman. I was working with silicone, pigmenting it and then pouring it. I wanted to make tongues that would come out of a picture. I then worked with them in the studio with a neutral backdrop to make these images. The process became close to painting, applying color to a surface, red puddles on a flat grey. The images appear in a degree zero as face expressions, moods, postures. Between extreme abstraction and immediate facial recognition.

The images for Her eyelashes rise and fall like a theatre curtain are a parade of an eyelash’s calculated
palpitations, in postures of seduction. Sticking out tongues pouting lusciously, showing their make-up and apparent retouches, like lipstick marks/tracks. The idea of mutual desire with images. “Pictures want to be kissed. And of course we want to kiss them back.”

There is the pleasure of distortion; when the photograph arrives on my screen, the primary mood isn’t the same any more, it’s ready to change. I can knead it and put on a different face, the face I want to show. There is a temporality that is specific to the photographic medium, that is dismantled in stages. It shows through as a being that is always malleable, at each step of production, in it’s own way.

KS: A lot of your images are very clean and spare. Can you describe some of your aesthetic choices in
this vein?

AV: The studio space has an essential role in my images, it is this place where I can bring an object and isolate it – from its context, from its relationships to the world, to us in a certain way – and create fiction… Its a blank. The spareness that you are referring to comes from the will of a specific focus. As portraits of sorts, the subject is placed in plain view. I put my subjects through auditions, and as characters they may play several different roles, or re-appear in different contexts or scenes.

KS: How has your imagery changed in the past few years?

AV: It’s actually changing now, again. My work has always been interested in the aesthetics of advertising, and its static feel. Without leaving that arena, but as a departure towards something more sensual, my imagery is now looking for a more formless or anonymous shape.

KS: For this project, you’ve been in many different locations, LA, SF, and Paris. Do you see any trends
in the local photography scene? How would you compare this to other cities you’ve lived and created in?

AV: I came to California because I’ve been interested for the past couple of years in a young scene of
photographers that was bubbling up in a very influencial way for me – Elad Lassry, Sam Falls, Lukas Blalock, Michele Abeless… Annette Kelm, in Germany..

Southern California gave me something more, something else, difficult to describe. The landscape and cityscape, Peter Shire (and the Memphis Studios)… but it’s not only that. I like this quote from Don Draper, talking about love, “What’s the difference between a husband knocking on a door and a sailor getting off a ship? About ten thousand volts.” Los Angeles is the antinomy of Paris. And yet, loving Paris, it comes so naturally to fall in love with LA. They have this kind of relationship of extreme desire, telling each other “don´t change a thing.”

KS: Is there a new project you’re working on you’d like to tell us about?

AV: A couple of projects are upcoming, a collective show at the 104 in Paris this September. And I’ll be back in California for a duo-show with Gina Osterloh, a great photographer that I met in LA, at Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles in September 2014.