Flickr Showcase: Charlie Engman

Explores the mechanics, limits, and intricacies of the body to make a sucessful picture.

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Charlie Engman photographs himself in various states of undress in contorted positions, the effect is captivating, with an air of mystery and sentimentality. The new photographer is flexible with the set up of his shots, leaving elements to chance, this freedom affords him development in composition. He talks to Dazed about his technique, his short lifespan as a photographer and how he finds inspiration in literature.

Dazed Digital: What's your background as a photographer?
Charlie Engman: My life as a photographer is very short—a little over a year, starting with one of those horrible, horrible point-and-shoot digital guys everyone has. Painting and collage were my first go-to media actually, and photography came later out of necessity; life got busy and the (deceptive!) immediacy of photography was very appealing.

DD: What do you look for when setting up a shot?
Charlie Engman: I leave a lot of room for chance to enter my photographs. The majority come to me out of happenstance or trial and error and are taken in familiar places. If I do any setting up, it’s quick and rough. It’s often just a matter of finding two things that rhyme and sticking them together or simply documenting them as they are already stuck. Usually it’s the unintentional stuff—detritus, gravity, reality—that completes the photo.
There are also specific shapes, textures, and gestures I’m instinctively drawn to, but I only know what they are when I see them.

DD: Are the people you shoot your friends?
Charlie Engman: I have used friends, and sometimes it works, but I often feel that in order to make a successful image I need intimate knowledge of the mechanics, limits, and intricacies of the body pictured, and for that I only have recourse to myself. So it’s pretty much me, a self-timer, and a lot of running around that makes this work! That said, it’s important that these photographs are not portraits, not of people nor of places. I’m after something much simpler and more fundamental, I think.

DD: What equipment/film do you use? What do you like about the equipment/film you use?
Charlie Engman: I use a Canon 40D for the body work because I generally work alone and so need a self-timer and instant play-back, but many of my other photographs are shot on a 1970s Canon EF1 analog inherited from Dad. The EF1 is a gem, but the 40D is very much a learner’s tool—it takes flat, mediocre images—and I am desperately trying to get my hands on a larger format camera.

DD: Are you inspired by any particular films? Art? Literature?
Charlie Engman: I’m not sure if I’d call this inspiration per se, but it probably means something that I’ve read the “Time Passes” section of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf about a hundred times. As for art, Egon Schiele is tops, and Stelarc is gross but interesting (and when I met him he told me I was attractive! haha).

DD: What about other photographers?
Charlie Engman: Photographers I really chase after range from Rinko Kawauchi with her very ephemeral, spontaneous, and color-driven approach to the more constructed work of Francesca Woodman or Boyd Webb. But, really, any convincing photograph does me right.

DD: Where would you most like to shoot next?
Charlie Engman: I’ve just moved, so I’m excited to try out the new place, but I also want to see how it feels to really control and design a space myself a la someone like Gregory Crewdson.

DD: What inspired you to start this body of work?
Charlie Engman: I’m very involved with contemporary dance and performance, so I have a particularly productive relationship with my/the body; I very much recognize it as material, as well as the center of a whole lot of emotional activity. The work pretty naturally came out of that relationship, and domestic space came into it as a somewhat logical extension—that’s where most of our bodies spend most of their time and leave most traces.

DD: What is the appeal of the surroundings you choose? What inspires you to mimic, and incorporate yourself with them?
Charlie Engman: I try not to search too deep for motivations or inspirations, but I think the immediacy I mentioned earlier is a big factor. Reaching out and touching something, appending yourself to something, manipulating, arranging, and placing something somewhere—I feel these immediate physical and visual actions are somehow really important and special. It’s weird, but when I describe my photographs I often find myself miming the action of pushing a button or picturing soft-serve ice cream being swirled into a cone. That’s probably it.

DD: The contents of your images could be described as sculptural. Do you feel that the photography is an important part of the process, and the final piece, or is it merely to document?
Charlie Engman: That’s a really good, hard question. Very recently I’ve started making sculpture and focusing on physical objects, but I’m having a hard time letting go of the flatness and controlling viewpoint of 2-D work. A lot of my work hinges on obfuscation and the isolation of specific elements, and I really use the frame of the photograph for all it’s worth! But I also make films and do performance, so in many ways, yes, the still photographs do feel more like storyboards or sketches than photographs in their own right. I try not to put my work into any kind of hierarchy, though.

DD: Do you feel humor is important to your work?
Charlie Engman: I don’t think I ever specifically set out to achieve humor in my images, but I always welcome it when it appears and hope that it does. The body (and the space around it) can be awkward, especially when under scrutiny, and I think it’s important to highlight those moments as well as the darker, more rarified ones. Also, because I work a lot with the naked body, I really rely on the oblique humor of The Nude to combat a quote-on-quote nude aesthetic. There is a lot of nude photography/self-portraiture out there, particularly on flickr, and as a “genre” and a general social phenomenon it carries a lot of baggage that I try to avoid but don’t deny. The nude form, or the suggestion of it, is essential to my work, but is not, I hope, the fulcrum.
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