The art of outdoors
Stuart Klipper is an American fine artist who shoots the world mostly through a Linhof Technorama 617. He tells Nick Smith about his search for the ‘wide-field’
New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Library of Congress, The National Museum of American Art… just a few of the many organisations to have exhibited or collected Stuart Klipper’s photography.
An American fine art photographer with an international reputation, Klipper has spent decades travelling the planet in order to ‘seek out order’. His vision is expressed through a battered old Linhof Technorama 617 that he keeps in a battered old gadget bag. He wears rings of turquoise, sapphire and Navajo silver on every finger. He says the weight of the rings ‘helps to keep my trim on an even keel.’
Stuart Klipper doesn’t take photographs. He prefers to use the word ‘make’ in the way that an artist makes art. His images are panoramas in the 617 format, which he shoots on film. When asked why he prefers the ‘wide-field’ format he simply says ‘because it’s wider’. Sometimes he shoots verticals, but most of the pictures – from North Pole to South Pole and (even rarer) all 50 states of America – are horizontal panoramas.
Nick Smith: When did you first realise you going to become a photographer?
Stuart Klipper: Photography was a hobby among many. I went to college at University of Michigan and I read [John Van Druton’s] ‘I am a camera’. I realised I had a predisposition to seek out some sort of order. I realised I am a camera and so I decided to use one.
NS: What was your first camera?
SK: My dad documented my life with excess beyond even a presidential documentary photographer. Cameras were everywhere, mostly Kodak. My first real camera I got at 13 with my Bah Mitzvah money, a Rolleicord twin lens reflex.
NS: What formal training do you have?
SK: I’m pretty much an autodidact, but I hung around after my degree and took a few courses in the art school there: Phil Davies taught a very technical introduction to photography. There was another fellow that taught the aesthetics and design end of the spectrum.
NS: How important is it to specialise?
SK: Of all the things I’ve been called in life one of the things I enjoy most is ‘a generalist’. I look at everything with equanimity. I don’t think anything is intrinsically more special than anything else. Everything’s fair game.
NS: What is the best assignment you’ve been on?
SK: Give me some assignments please. About a dozen years ago someone from the New York Times commissioned me to shoot a story about a small city in South Dakota that was remarkably economically successful. I was just going around town photographing street scenes.
NS: What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?
SK: You travel a lot and you mostly travel alone. There are certain aspects of the unsought solitude that can get to you. It’s finally started to become a bit corrosive, but you do your work no matter what.
NS: Film of digital why?
SK: I’m not a Luddite and I’m not old fashioned. Film is what the Linhof uses. A consignment of film arrived recently and the rolls all tumbled out. I was surprised by the feeling of looking at all these photographs waiting to be made.
NS: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from another photographer?
SK: The two photographers that sum it up in one sentence are Ansell Adams and Garry Winogrand. For over 30 years I’ve been a close friend of Lee Friedlander. We hardly ever talk about photography, but there is something osmotic coming through about how to live life as a photographer.
NS: What does photography mean to you?
SK: I have an extremely broad range of interest, and if there is one place where I can synthesise what I know about the world it’s through photography. It’s the most important way of getting a handle on the world, how we all can.
NS: What makes a great photograph?
SK: Photography isn’t about photography; it’s about the world. I just make pictures. There are no rules. Find your own vocabulary.
Klipper’s 5 Golden rules
1) Find your own vocabulary
2) Photography isn’t about photography
3) Know who came before you and what they did
4) Your equipment is only the toolbox
5) There are no rules
Cameras: Linhof Technorama 617, Mamiya 7, Konica Hexar
Film: Fuji Provia 100F 120 roll film and Provia 35mm film
Stuart Klipper’s new book of panoramic photography The Antarctic: From the Circle to the Pole has just been published by Chronicle Books and is available on Amazon.