Interview #70: Chris Bernabeo


CUS: How did you get into photography?

Chris Bernabeo: I loved making films when I was younger and taking pictures sort of evolved from that. I got a hold of my Dad’s old Minolta 35mm senior year of high school and that’s when I remember first falling in love with analog photography.


CUS: Did you study, or are you studying, photography? If not, how did you learn?

CB: I got my degree in Film at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I did a lot of darkroom work there and I always found the work that came out of them to be what I loved doing the most. Film was being bombarded into my skull at school and I sort of fell out of love with it. I started focusing on lifestyle and fashion photo work outside of school. I’m hoping one day I go back and make a documentary or a short narrative, but for now most of my motion work are fashion films or complementary to fashion photoshoots I’m doing.


CUS: Tell us a little about where you live. How does your city/country/location have an affect on your photography?

CB: I moved to New York City in 2009 and currently live in Brooklyn. There is always something or someone new to see or meet. I love that endless opportunity, it creates a really strong platform to constantly be inspired by or find something new to take on and explore artistically.


CUS: Tell us about your photographic process.

CB: My work is about capturing a subject authentically as if there isn’t a camera present. It’s about making them comfortable enough to open up that sort of opportunity to you. There’s a lot of trust, respect, and patience that is involved.


CUS: What did you have for breakfast this morning?

CB: A scrambled egg white wrap with kale and quinoa. Healthy and delicious.


CUS: Who are the individuals in your photographs?

CB: The majority of my portraits are of close friends living in NYC. I’m constantly photographing Kelly, one of my best friends & roommate. I shoot them differently because I have such different relationships with each of them. I photograph the two children I babysit for quite a bit too.


CUS: What makes a good image?

CB: I like a photograph where a personality is present.


CUS: Where do you draw inspiration from?

The people I have surrounded myself with are my biggest inspiration. Each of them has taught me something unique about myself that has had an impact in my growth personally and artistically.


CUS: Tell us about the locations in your photographs.

CB: I used to live in a really romantic pre-war Brownstone in Brooklyn that was amazing to shoot portraits in and a lot of work comes from inside there. Photographing while traveling always excites me,  I’m trying to make it more of a priority to save up to travel more. Even though I love New York City, I’d love to move to San Francisco at some point in my 20’s and try it out and see how work coming out of there would look.


CUS: Do you believe that with the rise of digital photography the phrase “everyone can be a photographer” is true? What are your thoughts on digital vs. film photography, photography and the Internet? (For example, mass amounts of images being uploaded every day via sites such as Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…) How do you differentiate “art” photography and “non-art” photography?

CB: I won’t lie; I love Instagram & Tumblr. I use both platforms frequently and I think they’re great in terms of a place to showcase my work and to network outside of friends, family, acquaintances, etc. As for the film vs. digital debate; I’m a film advocate all the way but that doesn’t come without an appreciation for digital. I scan my negatives and color correct, all processes which have their roots in the digital revolution.There are some jobs that just don’t allow for film. It’s a personal preference, I connect and relate more with a photograph taken on film more than a digital photograph. I do believe shooting film is very important for any photographer starting out though; not just for aesthetic, but to really discipline yourself to press the shutter preciously and to not have that instant gratification that digital gives which can really break the tone and flow of a shoot or even a shooting style.  


CUS: Do you think that the Internet (as opposed to a gallery or any other art institution) is a legitimate place to showcase photographic work or do photographs have to be seen in “the flesh” to be fully appreciated and experienced?

CB: The internet has made the ability to share your work extremely easy. I want people to see my photographs and I appreciate platforms that allow me to do that.  I do believe that there is still something about being face to face with a photograph that doesn’t translate through a  screen or ever will. I try and print my work in zines that let them live a life off a hard drive or a URL. I think printing out your work is very important, but so is taking advantage of the internet and getting your work out there as much as possible.


CUS: What are your plans for the spring?

CB: I’m shooting for a new book coming out later this year for Stone Fox Bride, an alternative wedding brand that I’ve worked with in the past and am a fan of. In June, I’m traveling to Nashville (first time) for a good friend’s bachelorette weekend that I’m excited to shoot. Once the clocks are set forward and it’s lighter out, warmer, etc. I start thaw out and get a lot more inspired and motivated, so I’m looking forward to that as well.


CUS: Your favorite photographer?

CB: I’m in love with Vivian Maier’s uncovered work and story, it’s fascinating to me and I don’t think I’ve found an image of hers that doesn’t make me swoon. I’m a big fan of older street photography (especially from New York City) and Paul McDonough’s (a professor I had at Pratt Institute) work is amazing and his book, ‘New York Photographs 1968-1978’ is one of my favorites. I work for Cass Bird and her work is constantly inspiring me. Recently, I’ve been in love with Glen Luchford’s Rag & Bone campaigns in terms of blending fashion with a sort of personal/documentary shooting style.


CUS: If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?

CB: I’d love to work with Venetia Scott, her styling work and her photographs have this very stoic, retro vibe that can stand on their own and  in the present. I think our blend of styles would be very interesting.


CUS: Your dream equipment?

CB: A Pentax 6x7 or Mamiya RZ have always been the two cameras I’d love to call my own but they’re just a little too out of my price range for right now, one day though. An endless supply of free 35mm and 120mm Portra 400, 800 and TriX 400 film would be my idea of heaven. I’d also love a sexy Bolex to shoot my fashion films on 16mm.


CUS: What is the biggest challenge you face with your work?

CB: Being able to define a voice in my photographs that is consistent even when the subject matter is so varied. Other than that I’d say budgeting for film and processing is tough but worth it.


CUS: What are some of your favorite books and films?

CB: ‘The Shining’ has always been and continues to be my all time favorite film. ‘Girl, Interrupted’ & ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ are two of my other favorites. I read ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith at a really transitionary time in my life and was living on the same block of the apartment she shared with Robert Mapplethorpe shortly after they first met. Their connection with one another is one that really resounds with myself and my best friend who recently moved to LA. It has a really soft spot in my heart. ‘Hate: A Romance: A Novel’ by Tristan Garcia was a more recent read that really stuck with me.


CUS: If you could photograph any person (past or present) who would you choose and why?

CB: In terms of the past, young Marlon Brando 100%. There is one black and white photograph of him reading outside on his porch that I am in love with and constantly using as a reference when I shoot men. I like that he has multiple sides to capture in terms of personality. As for present day, Ezra Miller and Winona Ryder would be really cool subjects.


CUS: What advice would you give to your fellow photographers?

CB: Never stop shooting for yourself, it’s how your voice in your photographs develops and I don’t think it ever really stops developing. When changes occur in your life you change with it and I think that goes for photography as well, don’t be afraid of that chance because I think it’s growth as an artist and personal understanding. Shooting film as well for the reasons I mentioned previously.


CUS: Our last interviewee, Corey Vaughan, asks: When is your artistic practice influenced by your personal development?

CB: Before I came out in 2011 my work was really stiff and there was no real piece of myself in the work. I was hoping to take an honest portrait of someone without really being honest with myself. It’s a lot easier to ask someone to let their guard down and be genuine when you are genuine with yourself.


CUS: Last but not least, what would you like to ask the next interviewee?

CB: What is an image of yours that you believe best represents your style and aesthetic and what was the situation surrounding it?

Chris Bernabeo, based out of NY, NY

Images provided by Chris Bernabeo. All rights reserved.