Carla Kogelman (b. 1961) has worked in the theatre industry for 25 years. In December 2011, she graduated at the Foto Academie Amsterdam. In 2012, she was commissioned by Szene Bunte Wähne, a youth theater festival in Austria, to make a documentary about the rural Waldviertel region.
Q: Hi Carla! You won the 1st place in The Street & Documentary Category! You were competing with some of the greatest talents from all around the world. Can you tell us how did you feel when you find out your photograph took the first place?
A: Yes ! I felt happy !
Q: Your presence on entire B&W CHILD COMPETITION (both first and second half) was well noticed. In the first half, two of your photographs made it to the final, but it seems that in the second half, your series of photographs “Ich bin Waldviertel” made a statement. All 5 photographs scored really well! Can you tell us more about this series? What’s the story behind it?
A: In 2012, I was commissioned by Szene Bunte Wähne, a youth theater festival in Austria, to make a documentary about the rural Waldviertel region. I studied the daily life of Hannah & Alena, two children in a farmers family in a small bio herbal village. I continued the series in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
In my work I capture the daily life of people, and I focus especially on children. Being around the same people for a long time, I try to become invisible. This gives me the opportunity to get a good insight into the lives of the subjects and to reach the real story behind what is observed superficially. Most fascinating to me is how the children in different circumstances interact with each other, how their bodies communicate, and how the relationships emerge and evolve.
I grew up in a big family myself on the rural countryside and I might be reflecting on my own childhood while capturing the life of these children.
Q: Can you tell us more about you? Where you were born and raised?
A: I was born and raised in a small village in the rural countryside in the eastern part of Holland. When I was 2 years old my father had a tragic accident, his motor crashed and my sister died. My father was badly physically and mentally injured and returned home with the brains and the behavior of a child. My mother lost the man she married. Our family was heavily marked with this. I grew up in special circumstances without the care of a real father. Instead there was this aggressive man living under the same roof. A man who embarrassed me a lot. I felt often ashamed of him. I was not happy at all.
Some years ago I went back to this village to make a photo series. I tried to find my past and childhood. I could not find it. But I could find it in Austria. Not my childhood, but an universal childhood. Trough the children I can express myself. A lot of people recognize their own childhood in my pictures.
Q: Do you have an official education in photography? Where did you learn photography?
A: I started at the Foto Academie Amsterdam in 2008. I graduated in December 2011 with specialism documentary & portraits.
I have always been interested in stories back stage, the ‘true’ stories behind the actors instead of the stories performed on stage. I won 1st Prize at the Zilveren Camera 2011 with a series of portraits of actors back stage.
In 2013 I won the SO (Selection Of dutch photography) Awards 2013, the national photography portfolio contest.
With the series ICH BIN WALDVIERTEL I won first prize Observed Stories at World Press Photo 2014 , the Cortona on the Move 2014 Happiness Award and the Pf Portfolio Prize 2014. And I am shortlisted for the Sony World photography Awards.
Q: Can you tell us more about your career? Have you always been a photographer or photography as a career came later in your life?
A: In 1985 I finalized my study as social worker with children. My focus changed quite soon. I started a theatre agency in 1990. And travelled the world with theses companies for many years. Most of the companies I worked with were producing highly visual theatre, low language based. I loved to be a non-tourist and loved to meet with the locals. After working in the theatre industry for almost 25 years as an independent producer I decided it was time again for a change and I started at the Foto Academie. After selling other people stories for many years it was time to create my own personal stories.
Q: There is something truly wonderful, powerful and if we can say “old school” in your photographs. Your work is full of raw, honest, vivid, magic moments. We cannot but notice, it has a quality of old masters of photography. That being said, can you tell us who influenced your work and who are photographers you admire?
A: I take that as a compliment, thank you! I do appreciate the work of Sally Mann and August Sander a lot. Also the language of Inta Ruka and Anders Petersen does inspire me. And I was blown away by the movie “das weisse band’’ (the white ribbon) by Michael Haneke.
Q: Your style could be described mostly as a documentary photography. Do you take a role of 100% observer who knows when to press the button or you also allow yourself to interfere with the scenes and subjects in front of you?
The strongest part of my work is the slow documentary part. This takes time. Children are very creative. Unpolished. They are the best directors of their own pictures. I am not a good director. I interfere by choosing them, by taking a position, choosing an angle or perspective, by being around. Portraits are sometimes staged and for group portraits it’s hardly impossible not to stage. Even then I prefer the part just before or after the setting. But I prefer my unstaged work. It’s more natural and honest. I always try to get a certain personal touch in it.
Q: Do you shoot film or digital or both? Can you tell us more about the equipment you are using?
A: I am working digitally with a Nikon d800e. Mainly with the 35 mm, sometimes with the 85 mm. I am rather a photographer than a photoshopper…
Q: It seems like your heart belongs to B&W Photography? Why is that so?
A: I get distracted by colors. B&W is more about content. A story becomes more timeless for me in B&W.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received about photography over the years?
A: To get some education. Somebody told me in 2008 to get education. If I wouldn’t have followed and taken that advice seriously I would still be at the same level.
Q: What inspires you?
A: People. Humanity.
Q: Photography equals learning. Can you tell us how and where do you learn?
A: I learn every day. I follow a lot of workshops, seminars and meetings about photography. Both life as well as on the internet. It is crucial to know what is around to determine my own focus.
Q: How and where do you sell your work? Do you work with agencies? Do you sell prints or photography books or both?
A: I am a freelancer and I don’t work with an agency. It is a combination of doing commercial work which brings in the money and making a lot of personal work. I also get longer assignments. The personal work I try to get published as well. I also apply a lot for subsidies and other financial sources to create the work I wanna create. In the end I make a lot of personal work. I am not interested in making money, I am interested in meeting people and creating personal stories about them.
Q: What is your biggest challenge when photographing?
A: Photographing is for 10-20% making a click on a camera. The other part is all the business around it. From finding a financial sources, finding the right people m, making the pictures, to have you work seen to the audience to creating the story you want to show the world. The biggest challenge is to edit your work to the story you want to commit to. And having a good adventure!
Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment as a photographer?
Winning first prize at World Press Photo in 2014 was the best so far.
Q: Do you often participate in photography contests?
A: Yes, I do participate a lot. But only with professional juries. I don’t like and don’t do the ‘’you win when you get the most likes ‘’ contests. I participate In contests and in portfolio reviews. It refreshes my own world. Every contest has different conditions. And when a professional jury is around it’s always good to get criticism. A lot of times I don’t win , which is not easy … but learning is always difficult. And sometimes I win, which is great!
Q: How important for every photographer is to participate in quality photography contests?
A: It is really good to do research what a specific contest is about. Every contest has its own specific rules and conditions. Besides, it’s really worth it to see what other photographers are working on. What their theme and their story is. A lot of work has been made visible and stories have been told throughout contests. It is good to have you work criticized by professionals.
Q: You have a lot of photography exhibitions behind you. Can you tell us more about this? What photography exhibitions mean to you personally and why they are important?
A: It is important for me that people see my work. It is nice to have an audience. I am not only making work for myself, I want to show it around. It is also important for the people I photograph. It is certain rewarding of my work, my time, my passion. I do appreciate the easy access exhibits in local areas. Because you can bring the stories back to the people where they belong.
Q: What is your message to other photographers?
A: Try to find your own passion and style and signature. Focus. Get close. Create your own stories, invest in them and believe in them. And show them to the world!