JRP: Christopher Voelker is a photographer whose story is one of inspiration and admiration. Disabled since an accident left him wheel chair bound as a teenager Christopher has forged ahead with his photography. (“Hollywood Hot Shot“ / www.DarynKagan.com)
Today his client list speaks not only to his competence and commitment as a professional but to his spirit as well. It is with pleasure I present Christopher Voelker. Thanks Christopher for sharing a few moments with JRP Blog.
Christopher Voelker: Thanks James, it’s a pleasure to talk about what is dear to my soul. The making of photographs in the studio. Photography virtually gave me a reason to live. It has provided me an avenue to integrate into society, and a career that has sustained me for 20 plus years.
JRP: Where do you call home Christopher?
Christopher Voelker: My home is in Northridge which is in the San Fernando “valley” of Los Angeles.
My home is above my studio which has an elevator to the 2nd floor. My studio & home combined are 5200 square feet with a large 40 foot wide cyclorama with 22 foot ceilings. We have a roll-up door that allows you to drive cars or big props into the studio.
My home is a modern structure that I built 17-years-ago and is a real one of a kind. I feel very fortunate to have such a great pad.
JRP: How you got your start in photography was part of a life changing moment, will you explain for our readers?
Christopher Voelker: Well I am basically a self taught photographer with the bare bones taught through Community College. I learned by turning on a light and watched how it affected a face and created a mood.
Shadows are a big part of what I do and is the counterbalance to light in what I do. You can’t have one without the other. Creating images that are unique and not being afraid, but following my instincts is what makes me tick.
JRP: Who were your early role models, and is there someone you credit with having a major influence on your work and philosophy?
Christopher Voelker: My role models are Avedon, Irving Penn, Cartier Bresson, Bill Brant, Helmut Newton, Ralph Gibson, David Bailey, GEORGE HURRELL.
JRP: What portion of your work is digital and what percentage is film?
Christopher Voelker: Digital 80% Film 20%, sad to admit, but the truth.
JRP: What cameras do you use and are there any special modifications to help with your unique circumstances?
Christopher Voelker: The only equipment I use that is modified is a Gowland rolling studio camera stand that can facilitate from 35 mm to 4X5.
Cameras: Linhof Technikardan 4X5, Hasselblad 500 CM, Hasselblad 553 ELX, Eos 1 DS, Eos 1 DS Mk 2, Canon G10, Canon Eos 1N film camera.
JRP: Do you print in house and if so what do you use?
Christopher Voelker: I use a Beseler MXT enlarger with a Zone 6 variable contrast cold head for my black & white prints from negatives.
For digital I use a Canon IPF 500 17″ printer that makes prints that are fantastic for digital. I love film, but I have to shoot digital for most publications, but digital is growing on me.
JRP: What is the most critical moment of image capture in your opinion?
Christopher Voelker: The thought that goes into an image before you make it, I am referring to studio images where you make a concept or idea come to life.
Anticipation is key if you see it happen it is too late, creating a dialog with your subject is so important, communication is what is critical. If your subject is not confident, it will show in your images.
JRP: Share with us some of the special projects you have in progress.
Christopher Voelker: I just returned from Greece where I was invited by The Ministry Of Education to teach disabled Junior & Senior High School students how to make a studio portraits.
I also had a large gallery show in conjunction with the workshop I taught. It was an incredible experience to be recognized by the Greek Government and to be a guest of the such a lovely country.
I photographed the Minister Of Education, but also shot several individuals that attended the symposium. It was the first time the Greek government had such a symposium recognizing the disabled community in Greece.
Disabled rights, and access in Greece is not what we are used to in the states. The conference had around 2000 people. I think we changed minds as what disabled individuals can achieve.
Kids from all over Greece attended the event which was at the Ministry of Education a mammoth marble building which originally was the press center for the 2004 Olympics.
The portraits were made with both Tungsten & studio strobe. The students used a rolling studio stand I brought along. The Minister & the students loved it and it made my heart soar with delight.
Greece is just lovely and a real taste of Europe. Images shown in this article are a few of the Greek workers that I photographed there.
JRP: What advice you have for photographers starting out?
Christopher Voelker: Carry a camera with you as you never know who or what you will encounter.
Study, study, and study some more about light. Everyone has a digital cameras, what separates you from others. Intern with photographers you admire. Experiment with different light. Dedicate yourself if you are really serious. Learn to shoot different formats, don’t be afraid of experimentation.
Try and photograph what you love or fear. Let photography be more than just capturing a moment.
Get to KNOW your camera to where it is second nature. When I got my 4×5 I watched and photographed without film the television in bed using a tripod at night for weeks upside down (as it has nor prism) and after many hours we became intimately acquainted. Now it’s controls are automatic and I can concentrate on making images.
JRP: What words of encouragement do you have for those of us that are physically challenged?
Christopher Voelker: If you have a disability do research on the web. A general apparatus is the magic arm it can attach to a chair quite simply and can articulate in a manner that supports the camera.
Don’t let your disability stop you from expressing yourself, there are ALWAYS ways to rig your camera even if you have to trigger it with your mouth.
A cable attached to a camera can make what seems impossible, possible indeed. The key to making photography work for whatever your disability is research, and if someone tells you you can’t then move on to a more resourceful individual.
Get away from automatic settings on you camera and use manual. Find out how to alter the exposure instead of letting the camera do the thinking for you.
JRP: Thank you Christopher for sharing some of your thoughts and images with us. It has been very inspirational talking with you. Continued success and good fortune.
Christopher Voelker: My Pleasure, thank you.
JRP: On September 11, 2014 Christopher passed away. Read the article here: http://www.newmobility.com/2014/09/christopher-voelker-creative-force-helped-define-new-mobility-dies-53/