An Interview with Mitja Kobal

Interview with Mitja Kobal, May 2016

KB: Your work with structures is wonderfully dynamic as are your sweeping rich landscapes. I also notice that you sometimes use ND filters (I think?) for the sky (especially with “The Island”). Why do you do that? To help the eye focus on the subject better, or just because you like the effect or to mix things up a bit?

MK: I use hard ND filters to mix things up a little bit yes. With landscapes I use them for two reasons: a) with heavy dense filters I get rid off people, cars and all the possible ‘noise’ in more crowded areas; b) ND filters are able to lengthen exposure times dramatically ie. 5min by the clear sunny days when otherwise exposure would be 1/200s. With that you can add sense of time in the photographs like passing clouds, rivers and everything moving instead of being just frozen. As for me that adds a bit of ethereal feel to the landscapes.
I use ND filters that can block up to 16 stops of light. With these filters though, the big problem is leaking light in the camera and white balance. So you need to be careful to cover all the possible light leaks with black tape (viewfinder, inputs) and use a black matte cloth to cover the lens except the actual front of the lens.

KB: Your “Women” series of portraits are very beautiful. I noticed that most of them are incredibly crisp, whereas there are three of four that are softer (I prefer these ones!). How come? Why did you choose to do that?

MK: As for women portraits, I am still developing that field, that’s why such a variety. I like both styles wide aperture or closed one. Sometimes I do it to get rid of the background, other times just to add some softness. I should edit that section more carefully.

KB: The “God’s in Heaven” series is simply amazing! Such tension and thick BLACK images: glorious – and for me at least – ambiguous work! Mitja, I’m a fan of ambiguity, but there are times when it’s inappropriate, wouldn’t you say? Should a photograph always clearly communicate something (how can it not?) to the viewer? How much is the viewer’s interpretation of a photo important and vital? And when is it not? For example, the caption (from your website), “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world” seems incredibly sarcastic/ironic? – a feeling of entrapment here with this set, just incredible! Should the photographer always leave a suggestion of intended meaning through a title (or lack of one) or a short statement about it?

MK: Haha, well, depends on how we express ourselves. I always want to give the viewer room for his/her own interpretation. Sometimes, with a series mostly the title is pretty much just a gentle guidance. I like poetic way of looking at the images or series of them. I do a lot of commercial work, which I hate but you gotta survive. I mean I love shooting anything, but my personal work is where I enjoy the most, create images you can dive into, not just: here is a picture of a cat. I was professional dj for over 10 years and was really into music, instrumental music. I always hated anything with vocals because of too much directness and I don’t like that. I prefer to create my own world when listening to a song/track. A track name was enough, and the better, the more imaginative the title was the better.
The deeper you go the more complex photography becomes. I tried many different techniques and got moderately skilled in few of them. That gives me many more options to do it as I imagined.

KB: Your jewelry and accessories shots have a gorgeously shallow DoF. What are you shooting with? How much post processing do you do? Or are the shots sent off to someone else for that?

MK: Jewelry was mostly shot with canon 5dmk2, 35mm lens at f/1.4 or 70-200 at f/2.8. I do all the post edit on the images by myself. I used to do a ton of post processing, a bit too much many times. Now getting bit more closer to reality. For commercial photographers I don’t mind if post is outsourced, but fine art and non commercial stuff should be the work of the author, I think. It’s like Rembrandt bought a brush do a sketch where things must be and the light and give it to someone else to actually paint it. From what I know photography was never just a shot taken with the camera. But also long hours in the darkroom. These two parts can’t go without one and another.  There’s never a ton of images in that area. However, if the photographer is just too booked to do that, then there’s no other way.

KB: Is photography an instinct, a feeling, as Cartier-Bresson said? Or can we learn to take photos?

MK: I agree with that saying. No huge, best or latest camera will do it for you. Your vision is the photograph. The Camera is just a tool, and better it is the better easier/precisely your vision will be accomplished. The post production is essential as well as having tones and feeling that are there to give worth to your vision.

KB: Where does photography stand in contemporary art today? Is it stuck in the delightfully wacky world of advertising? What’s new? 

MK: I consider myself moderately a newbie in photography. Seriously I’m into it last 4-5 years. I think with digital age there is loads of digital bs on the web. Everything changed from photography, painting and music. Nowadays everybody can do it. There’s billions of ‘artists’ on the web and music. That brings billions of images or music that are not worth the time, but also a lot of exquisite and absolutely amazing art. If you can filter it wisely you find these golden boys and girls. For that you need time and passion. This is the reason I quit music, as I don’t have enough time to go through all the noise to find good artist or tracks.

KB: I noticed that you use a few social networking sites. Do you think that social networks are diluting the art of photography, or creating more artists? Are social networks the death of photography, or a kind of rebirth? 
Or have they simply created a new branch of photography, or better, a new kind of photographer? (I find it quite hard to use the term “photographer” when thinking about social networks! But what else can we use? “Egotistical photography users”?)

MK: Social networks, at the start I signed in to flickr, which I used mostly for my blog…then to others for the feedback and exposure, not so much for the ego but to get feedback, whether what I do is good or bad. At the end you see comments are mostly one word thing. I stopped using all social networks but Instagram which I only started not so long ago, I kept my Facebook page also…I have to delete all the old ones, as they are of no use. The far best and serious is Lens Culture network. They are serious about their online gallery and network. It’s a proper photographers’ network with portfolio reviews by pro editors etc..
I think curated online galleries are the only place to go if going somewhere online except for your own website. Instagram is also a good place I think. I have discovered some pretty cool stuff there. Other galleries are there mostly to feed the ego.
End


Mitja Kobal is a professional freelance photographer currently based in Vienna, Austria.
Specializes in architecture | portrait | industrial photography.
Also a regular contributor to “Getty images”.

www.mitjakobal.com
kobal@mitjakobal.com

Mitjakobal.com. (2016). Mitja Kobal photographer. [online] Available at: http://www.mitjakobal.com/81766/works [Accessed 23 Apr. 2016].

LensCulture, M. (2016). Mitja Kobal | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/mitjakobal [Accessed 23 Apr. 2016].

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