Ezra Pink uses the flash on his camera to reveal a reality others might have overlooked. His pictures are stark, colorful impressions of moments when time stood still. We asked Ezra about his background in photography and the origins of his style.
Tell us a little about yourself: Where are you from and how did you get started with photography?
I come from a home where we did not take a lot of photos. There was never really a camera around. The only time we took photos was on vacation: My mother would buy one disposable camera for the trip and that was that. My grandmother, in contrast, had a lot of photo albums at home. She collected the photos from all the other family members and filled up several books. It was a strange collection, because she would archive just about any photograph she would receive.
I am not sure to what extent these things created a desire to produce photographs myself, but here I am, shooting every day. It changes the way I see my surroundings, and the way I interact with people. I guess you can say it makes life more interesting.
“With a camera I don’t feel clumsy.”
Why is that?
Before I discovered photography, I was writing poetry and short stories, but I always felt clumsy – with a camera I don’t feel that way. In the end it is about finding the medium that works best for you.
You have a very unique style: Using a flash, you’re illuminating your subject while casting dark shadows behind it. How did you get started with that?
It started out of necessity. I take most of my photos with a compact camera, so if you shoot in low light, you will either use the flash or drag the shutter. At some point I started putting a big flash on my compact, which gives you a lot more creative freedom.
What do you like so much about this way of taking photos?
When you use the flash, you let the other person know that you are taking a photograph. It is a clear visual cue that announces that this moment will be captured forever and – for 1/250 of a second – time will freeze. The subject is caught like a deer in the headlights and like the deer it briefly shows its ultimate vulnerability. I hope I don’t sound overly dramatic here. (laughs)
“Shoot until you have a good photo and then shoot some more, but know when you have taken enough.”
Many of your pictures look like snapshots, but they’re so well done that you could have planned them out. How much of your work is about preparation and how much is about chance?
Every photograph is different. The bride jumping in the pool was just a snapshot, for example. It was taken in between takes on the set of Baby Bitchka, a film written and directed by Anna Roznowska that is currently in post-production. The girl jumping into the pool is the female lead, Romina Küper. We were at this pool in a hotel on the outskirts of Berlin and we had been shooting all morning. Romina had to spend a lot of time in the water and whenever we had a little break, she got out of the pool to warm up a little. When the time came that she had to jump back in the pool I had my camera ready. I took one shot and the moment I saw her contour lit up in mid-air, I knew I had a good photograph.
Sometimes I need a lot of shots though. Just a few weeks ago, I saw an oil spill on the street that looked like a woman’s breast. When you try to capture an illusion you have to get the light and the angle just right, otherwise it is not going to have the desired effect. I took at least fifty shots before I moved on. If I have a rule, it goes something like this: Shoot until you have a good photo and then shoot some more, but know when you have taken enough.
“A good photograph unmasks reality for a second.”
Your aesthetic transforms reality, making it a bit more abstract. Are you trying to send a message through this transformation?
I have mentioned vulnerability before – and yes, I think a good photograph unmasks reality for a second. It strips the subject down, and more importantly, it might be able to strip down the viewer, too.
I like to imagine a world where we all walk around naked – maybe that would be a good thing. We should all do that one day of the year, I think afterwards everyone would be a little more relaxed. It is an idea that should be examined at least.
Your photos often feature the mundane: Cigarette butts, half-eaten food, pigeons – what fascinates you about those subjects?
From its start, photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects. In that regard it is very different from painting. It democratizes experiences by translating them into images. You can look at Feininger, Kertesz, Eggleston, the list of people who depicted the mundane is endless. I don’t know if they can give you a good answer. What I do know is that photographs acquire a meaning through their purpose. I mean think about all the cups of coffee that are posted on Instagram every day. By arranging these mundane subjects in a particular way and sharing them through a website, an exhibition, or a book, they do become important.
What are you doing at the moment? What’s your next step?
I just got off a fourteen-hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, since I am currently in Thailand to work on my first photo book. It is a new experience for me to work on only one project for several months, so let’s see what I can come up with.
On another note, my friend Jon Cuadros is about to publish his first book and right now we are in the process of setting up a show together. It will be just the two of us and it will be in Berlin-Mitte and it will be big! The exact date and location will be announced soon, so follow me on one of my channels or send me an email, if you want to come!
Ezra Pink is German-American photographer. On his 16th birthday, Chloë Sevigny sent him a birthday card: “I know we will all have to grow up at some point, but in your case it is rather a shame. This is the best day of your life and no matter what other people will tell you, from now on it’ll only go downhill – please don’t take this personal.” Shortly afterwards he went on a fishing trip with his uncle and suffered a heat stroke to the point that he collapsed in the boat. When he woke up, he told his uncle that he wanted to become a photographer, but he did not pick up a camera for another ten years. He is currently working on his first photo book in Thailand.