June 18, 2021
The Photographer Interviews: Courtney Kessler
I’m pretty intuitive when it comes to making and composing images - I’ve tried having reminders of elements I want to incorporate such as creating depth and layers within a portrait, but once I get started I forget everything and just work intuitively. I try my best not to overcomplicate things or get in my head about the technical side of things because it impedes creativity for me.
I primarily use large format film cameras (both 4x5 and 8x10 formats). These types of cameras are essentially large light-tight boxes. The large film size holds a lot more information in the image, and gives a depth to the photo that is unlike anything else. Using large format cameras makes me work at an incredibly slow pace, but it forces me to really think about composing an image and I find I am much happier with the photos I take because of that!
The project I’m most proud of is my portrait series of people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Being a queer woman and a photographer, the idea of photographing people in the LGBTQIA+ community had been slowly swirling around in my head for years. As someone who struggles with impostor syndrome, coming across the words “You Are Gay History” hit me hard.
We are here now. We ourselves are a product of all the queer history that has come before us, and someday we will be the history that the next generation of queer youth comes across in a book. I wanted to participate in that process, and this compelled me to continue to document the queer folks around me. I am still in the very early stages of this project, as I plan to work on this for many years and build a large body of work.
I try to choose subjects that I feel are under appreciated. Everyday, simple things bring me joy. A favorite coffee mug, an area or location that is significant to the subject, or even little notes left around the house. I do my best to incorporate this quiet simplicity into my portraits.
My favorite image that I’ve made is the portrait of my mom doing the annual maintenance on her plane. I had taken many photos that day, and this was my last sheet of film. I pulled up a stool and asked her to sit for a proper portrait.
When I developed the film later that day and looked at the image, I felt like she had allowed herself to be truly seen - in all of her vulnerability and quiet determination. This was the start of looking for this kind of intimacy in my portraits.