Photographer Kristoffer Paulsen tells us about getting a photo right in camera, how cameras and guitars are similar and the vintage guitar he owns that might – just might – be ex-Rolling Stones.
My first camera was this tiny, shitty little instamatic with a plastic lens that mum bought me. I took it with me when we went on holidays and I burnt through a whole lot of film. I instantly loved the whole process of taking photos.
I studied photography at school and at TAFE, so my background was technical rather than art. I kind of like that my education, my foundation, is in the old school science side of things where you were dealing with darkrooms and chemicals and where you had to try and get it right when you took the shot.
Back then it was harder to manipulate and polish a photo after you’d taken it. There’s this notion now that you don’t need to be as rigorous because you can fix it in post. But pre-digital, when every photo cost you and you couldn’t just blaze away, it was like you had to consider the shot more, respect the process, pay attention. But even now with digital, if you get things right in the analogue you can actually work quicker and better.
My dad played bass and so there were always guitars around the house when I was growing up. I got my first guitar before I could play it and now I own about 12 guitars. I still play most days. I always loved guitar magazines where the guitars were beautifully photographed on white backgrounds so that you could see every detail.
I think with me – and this extends to cameras as well – there’s this real fascination with functional design, where for something to be truly beautiful it has to look great but it has to perform beautifully as well. Things have to serve a purpose and that’s one of the things I love about guitars – there’s always something they can do. It bothers me when things don’t work which is why with an old camera, I’ll spend more money fixing it than what it’s worth because when it works it becomes beautiful to me.
It’s well documented that gear is addictive and I think I’ve proved that with cameras and guitars. Old guitars always fascinate me because of the stories that go with them. There’s a whole history with guitars that you can follow. Different guitars are attached to different subcultures at different times.
The last time I was in the States I went to the Guitar Center In Union Square in New York because they have this really cool vintage section. I bought a 1959 Gretsch 6118 and one of the guys in the store came up to me after I’d bought it and told me it used to be owned by Brian Jones when he played with the Rolling Stones. I’ve seen photos of him playing a guitar like mine. It could all be bullshit but it’s a nice story.
I think my musical background effects my approach to life and the way I take photos. It’s all about perfection through imperfection. Mistakes. Taking things out that shouldn’t be there. I think failing that way is awesome – it means you learn something.