Photography by Design
By Lis Bokt
23 Jul 2007
1. What kind of designer are you?
I have spent most of my life studying design. From architecture to interior design, they've all captivated me and made the choice difficult in choosing a career. Currently, I work as a graphic designer. My work allows me to design for many forms of media: websites, print, video and clothing.
2. What did you want to do for a living when you were a kid?
As a kid, I didn't know exactly what it was I wanted to do. I had the strong pull of art - there was a good three or four years when I was absolutely certain I wanted to be a book illustrator -although I also had an avid interest in the sciences. The two together formed a very strong interest in astronomy; for I was enthralled with the images I saw of the galaxy around us from the instant I saw them. Such a combination between the arts and sciences have dominated my life since then - currently I am content with working as an Art Director for a science organization.
3. What is it about your design work that makes your photography better? And vice versa? Where do you see parallels between the two?
I am often asked by others what some of the "secrets" of my photography are, or if there are any "tips or tricks" that I can share. I really only have one thing to tell people: composition. A strong theme in my photography is not the "what" but the "how". I would prefer a strong photo of a boring subject over a poor photo of an interesting subject almost always. This is how I approach anything creative that I do - be it my photography, my design work, or my watercolours. It is a theme that I had pounded into my brain in every art class, every design class, and every book that I've ever read about art history. I have learned that after pointing out major rules of composition to others, they begin to identify why they like many pieces whereas before they simply knew they liked it, but had no idea why.
On a similar note, the biggest lesson I have walked away with from learning anything artistic is that it is not what you are doing, but how you are doing it. In print design, the key is to be consistent - same font family, same type of lines, same colour scheme. In sewing, consistency is equally important. The seams can be any width you like in a piece, as long as they are all the same. My grandmother, who was a seamstress most of her life, once told me the most important artistic lesson she ever learned was "how to draw a straight line". I understand now, though it took me a few years to realize why it was so important.
4. What do you find most challenging about your work?
In my work, I definitely find the most difficult part is to make things that are visually boring appear visually interesting. They may be very fascinating examples of science, but to a bystander it may not appear as much - or it may appear as nothing special, particular with common items like circuit boards and electrical boxes. However I enjoy a challenge and always have.
5. Do you have design heroes? Photography heroes?
Some of my biggest influences have been from fashion designers, architects, painters and photographers. Gianfranco Ferre first got his degree in architecture before deciding to work in haute couture, which is an influence in his own work that I've always admired. I've also had a high regard for Jean Paul Gaultier and Bestey Johnson, two designers who have made a history of bright colours, bold designs and throwing out the rulebook of traditional opinions.
I've spent a great deal of time staring at the photography of others, half in awe and half in a pursuit to understand what they did. I've always admired Ansel Adams, and suggest his work whenever people ask me if I have any suggestions for learning about the strength of composition. I also enjoy viewing the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. He was, in his time, absolutely ground breaking and often considered the grandfather of street photography. His work is surprisingly timeless, given the subjects. In more modern photography, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for David LaChapelle and Annie Leibovitz. They both have a great talent for making the viewer focus on one thing in a mass of chaos, forming a sense of simplicity in a sea of energy. This is a theme I use constantly in my photography, especially my self-portraits, and something I constantly strive to perform better. They both also manage to use colour in absolutely shocking manners, and at the same time make it seem perfectly natural, as if there were no other way to display their subject. Perhaps there isn't.
6. Name some unexpected sources of inspiration you've had.
My inspiration really does come from the world around me. I find many of the common sources of inspiration - I can never resist a beautiful flower or sunset, for example. But I love things that (I hope) most people don't usually notice. I like rust and decay, and I have a near-obsession with magnification. My magnifying filters have seen almost as much use as my camera itself. I like ripping things away from any hint of context or meaning, and photographing them just as they are. Usually the idea to do this to a particular subject comes from trying to photograph something else nearby. I often take my camera and "hunt" with the lens, looking for something that way that I may not have noticed before. Industrial machinery seems to be a strong point for me, particularly if it includes peeling paint.
7. Do you have any regular habits/exercises that make you a better designer? Photographer?
I am constantly striving to be a better photographer, designer and artist in general. I study everything around me - from the way the clothes I'm wearing are made, to the headlines in the magazines I read. By now, my friends are used to me running up to them with an ad and instead of gushing about the product demonstrated, I'll say, "Look how they did that! Isn't that an amazing design?!" Slowly they are learning to see the world the way I do, and most have admitted that it becomes much more artistic once they start. Every time I do a photo shoot, I aim to do something I've never done before. I may return to the same subjects, but I view them with different eyes each time. I try not to repeat myself. It is easy to form a habit, especially when doing something artistic. While a downside of this is sometimes my work lacks a consistency - especially over a long period of time -I believe it demonstrates growth as an artist. In viewing the works of some of my favourite painters, I admire how over their lifetime they evolved with their work. The art of a young Matisse looks virtually nothing to that of his late years. The idea of never learning anything new, never exploring different ideas, terrifies me. I'd much rather push myself as an artist and find many different ways that don't work, than only work with one or two that work consistently well.
This is something that I try very hard to do, in every aspect of my life. The reward, I believe, has been easily worth the effort.