10 Questions with Paris Brummer

1. Can you please tell us a few words about yourself, where are you from.

I am a photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. I was born in Johannesburg (a land locked province in South Africa where gold was discovered) and moved to Cape Town to study fine art. 

I majored in photography. After I graduated, I worked in the film industry – a flourishing industry in Cape Town – and am now a freelance Photographer shooting for publications and galleries.

2. What is your photography story, how did you start? How did you get where you are now?

After completing high school I took a gap year and specialised in a photographic study year at Vega – a branding and advertising school in South Africa. I wasn’t quite ready for university just yet and the move that came with it. I grew up in Johannesburg and had established many of my relationships and friendship ties within that province, so moving to Cape Town (at the coast) so soon seemed rather overwhelming. I eventually finished my year at Vega and moved to Cape Town to study fine arts at the University of Cape Town. I majored in Printmaking and photography, which taught me a lot about the nature and beauty of the print. My third year body of work was on film and it was my first introspective look into spaces and how people lived in a post-apartheid South Africa. I became very aware of how people used and mis-used land and space. It was then that I began shooting with this idea of a post apocalyptic lensing and my images are thus often void of people. I then worked in the film industry where I specialised in sourcing film locations around South Africa (Cape Town is very versatile and can look like other places in the world, so a lot of films and commercials are shot here). This also informed the way I see spaces and sites of inhabitance. I am now a freelance commercial photographer and I shoot for architectural firms, print publications and art galleries.

3. What’s your favourite gear to use (camera, lens, film) ?

Choosing one is really difficult but I would have to say that at the moment (yes, it changes), is my Pentax 67. I love the ergonomics and handling of that camera and the larger negative is so pleasing. I really love Kodak Portra 400. I know it’s no surprise as it’s loved by most but there is a reason the stock is so consistent and true to real life colour. (If only they’d bring back Fujifilm REALA). I shoot portra 400 at 200 and find the contrast sits well at that box speed. If I’m shooting black and white it would have to be Ilford Delta – what an incredible film! The dynamic tonal range is really satisfying.

4. What do you enjoy shooting the most? And Why?

I enjoy shooting spaces and places inhabited by people but in my photographs, there aren’t any humans, only traces of them. I have a fascination with the way we inhabit this world and how we co-exist or at least try to co-exist with one another. I am very critical and cynical about the misuse of space as well. In post apartheid South Africa we are faced with a lack of social housing and a massive poverty gap as a result of our socio-political history. So I’m critical of the misuse of property and space by the South African government and often how buildings are left to decay without being renovated and re-established as affordable housing. Another angle I enjoy is looking at the world as if we are living in a post apocalyptic dystopian time, so my images often show neglect, decay and negligence. A world devoid of humans and a trail of lessons needing to be learnt…

5. How do you educate yourself to take better photos?

Re-evaluating some of the work shot by photographers in history – including my favourites like David Goldblatt, Guy Tillim, Andreas Gursky, Candida Hofer and Todd Hido. I try to inform myself on the latest discourse about photography or things like new topographics. I watch a lot of Youtube – including gear reviews – and particularly like the videos of Jamie Windsor and the Nerdwriter. Windsor is critical and informative and always brings back photography to a scholarly level which often makes me nostalgic of my art school days. I sometimes guest lecture at the ORMS Cape Town school of photography so being able to unlearn some bad habits through teaching technical skills helps me stay on top of my game.

6. Have you ever doubted yourself? And what helped you to overcome that?

Often. All the time actually. I try to stay off instagram for a bit and I immerse myself into the work of photographers I love and learnt about at university. Social Media is very powerful and often makes us doubt our work because we become inundated with images other photographers’ take, and naturally a small hint of jealousy then grows into anxiety and then into insecurity and suddenly you don’t feel like posting a single image ever again. Which is why an instagram detox (even if just for a day) is super necessary. Imposter syndrome can create a massive creative block.

7. What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you? 

There are a few for me. One would be the finished product. Whether this is the developed, scanned, printed image or the final digital edit that gets sent off to the client or printed in the magazine. That’s what makes it all worthwhile, seeing your finished work and knowing that YOU made that. And it’s yours – it doesn’t belong to anyone else. The Second thrill is the one of stumbling upon a scene or abandoned location that is just longing to be shot and then having the ability to access it to capture it. The last is overcoming a challenging composition or subject matter. Sometimes you get faced with a scene that just isn’t working for you and its that moment when you take that last shot that you realise you’ve challenged yourself to create something outside of your comfort zone.

8. Among your works, which one is your favourite? Tell us the story behind it. 

I’d have to say it’s a photo of an empty phone booth I took in when I was in Matsumoto in Japan. There’s a number of reasons why it’s a strong contender amongst others as my favourite. The first reasons are mostly surface aesthetics – it was in Japan (one of my favourite countries in the world) and it was taken on a then-newly purchased Fujica GS645 Pro camera that I had my heart set on upon first sight of it. There is of course the fact that it was my first time shooting a high speed film, Cinestill at night, and I was excited to use a cinematic film to see how it rendered the colours of Japan’s Neon cities. The photo went on to be exhibited along with another photograph at the first Analogue Cape Town exhibition. The two works’ titles would relay the lyrics of a Paul Simon song “These are the days of miracle and wonder”, “This is the long distance call”. I enjoy how the empty telephone booth speaks to the idea of a dystopian future where humans have disappeared and this scene has been left as is. I also found it fascinating that telephone booths were still popular in Japan as they are obsolete in South Africa.

9.What gives you inspiration? 

Going on road trips and looking for things to photograph. We will often visit new unfamiliar places and spend the first day scouting the town looking for things to shoot, then returning at twilight with our tripods and documenting the town lights coming on. It’s the little things I guess. I’ve stopped looking for inspiration but rather letting small things inspire me. Due to Covid restrictions, local travel has boomed in South Africa and in many regards local tourism has made areas safer and friendlier, so the hunger to travel locally has grown and along with it, the re-discovery of one’s back yard.

10. Exactly what it is you want to say with your photographs?

I don’t think I want my photographs to say anything from my point of view or have their meaning be informed by me but rather for the viewer to read into the images however they feel fit. See the scene for themselves and apply their own fictional narrative to it. I want the photos to exist as cinematic film stills – screen grabbed from movies – where the viewer has no prior or informed knowledge of narrative or script but can rather formulate their own story from looking at the images. I try to make my photos as aesthetically graphic (in a design sense) as possible whether its through colour or form or composition, so it grabs the attention of the viewer who can then pause, look at the image and then create from it.

You can follow Paris on Instagram @youmeandmyfuji and visit her website www.parisbrummer.com

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