Kristian Bertel - JPG
20 Sep 2011
Official interview on JPG - The Danish photographer Kristian Bertel tells about his series of pictures from his journey through Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in India.
Can you tell me about yourself?
- Yes, I was born and raised in the north west of Denmark and I initially worked as a graphic designer before I started on photography. I think my defining moment, or what you call it, came in 2006 when I discovered portrait photography and began to photograph people.
Can you tell me about your photos from India?
- Well, I began on a long-term project on India in 2008. I started out by taking humanitarian-based images of the Indian people and their living conditions. I was drawn to people's faces and I turned my attention to documentary photography.
You mentioned that you are drawn to people's faces. Can you explain me more, what you mean?
- Yes, I think that every face tells a story. Eyes and wrinkles can say much about a face. It can reveal the story about a specific person, that the person for instance has lived a hard life. I like the melancholic expression in people's faces, and that is why I don't publish many photos where people are smiling. In India I came to the attention of poverty in the Indian cities, and I began to document the child beggars. I have made an essay about India's street children named "Child Beggars of New Delhi", an essay, where my pictures were more photo journalistic motivated.
What does photography mean to you?
- Photography for me is an important eyewitness, and I think the photograph is near, even though photography as a media portrays life far away from Denmark. With the images from India, I have tried to do this, although the culture and conditions may be different from our own. By going at eye level with the people I photograph, I think the opportunity to capture an intimate documentary picture of what I see, is more present. I also think photography can have somekind of voice, so people can be aware of topics and stories in the world, which I think need to be told. I recently published a photo essay here on JPG Magazine called "Backstory - The Indian Dayworkers", which describes some of the working conditions in India. What interested me the most was the big difference on the working conditions in India compared to Denmark. India has the world's highest accident rate among construction workers. Most of the companies do not even provide safety belts, protection eye wears, hand gloves, shoes or helmets to their workers.
What inspires the photographer in you?
- I have developed such a great appreciation for the power of time and emotions. In some situations you only have a split of second to capture a moment. A moment that can create a picture which can stand as a noteworthy and classic photograph to oneself for many years. I like the idea that beautiful and great photos can be taken in an instant, if you are in the right place at the right time.
Can you tell me about the photo published in this interview?
- Yes, I remember it was near Ranakpur, I walked a small evening walk not far away from the hotel where I was staying. The man on the photo is a shepherd and he was acompanied by two younger boys and of course the sheeps. While the two boys were making fun with me, the shepherd stayed totally silent. He placed himself on a rock while I began taking pictures. I remember I was quite near to him, during the photo shooting and he had the same look on his face all the time.
How do you feel about taking pictures of poverty?
- It was strange for me to see those of the Indians, who were poor and crippled. I wish that I had been more encouraging with my camera and also took several pictures of them. I think it's a balance I have to do with myself. People around me might think it's provocative, that I come as a white man and use the photographic sceneries of India's misery. But I must also look at the meaning of it in the larger perspective, that it serves as a higher goal in telling the world about these people through images.
How do you feel about the subjects that you photograph?
- I do not like making the subjects pose. I think there is a sense of spontaneity that is apparent in most of my frames. According to myself, I should let moments happen as they do. I believe that photojournalism and travel photography are similar. You need to narrate a story about what is happening, and not make things happen.
What makes a good picture?
- A good picture is most of the time very subjectively. I have been shooting photos with a 70-200 mm because I want to have these intimate close-up images. Feeling comfortable with your equipment is also important for me. Normally I shoot a couple of frames of each subject to be sure that I have captured the situation as I see it. On assignments and further traveling I want to have more focus on wideangle photography.
What camera did you use for your Indian photos?
- On my trip I used a Nikon D200 SLR camera. A slightly older model from Nikon, but still with good technical characteristics. When I arrived in a small village or a major city, I had pretty much my 70-200 mm lens mounted on my camera. I had covered some of the lens with a yellow tape to protect the lens value.
What is your view on the increasing use of photo editing tools like Photoshop in photography?
I think it's part of the artistic process of photographers. Though I think photos shall not be over-effected. For instance I think HDR photography can be too vivid sometimes.
You can see more of Kristian's photos on the website: