Nowhere Newsletter 12: Bryan Birks

Interview with photographer Bryan Birks

What is your backstory?

My name is Bryan Birks and I’m 29 years old. I’m from a smaller town called Festus, Missouri and currently living in St. Louis, Missouri. My day job is owning a wedding photography and videography business. I started that back in college when my roommate’s sister was getting married and they asked me to do video. I worked at a gas station as I was starting that and eventually I got to the point where I could support myself on just that. That was in 2011 and I’ve been doing weddings ever since. September of 2019 I started shooting film and it’s changed the way that I look at photography and everything around me in general.

What camera/editing setup do you use?

I shoot, process, and scan everything at home. It’s the cheapest option for me even though I have been shooting less and being more intentional with my shots. At the moment at use an Anniversary Speed Graphic for large format. I don’t use movements too much so an older camera with a focal plane shutter is perfect for me. For medium format I use a Pentax 6x7. It’s the perfect companion for 4x5. For scanning I use a digital camera and convert with Negative Lab Pro.

How do you achieve the look of your photographs and could you take us through the process?

The look of my photos might look a certain way because I have very similar setups. I don’t like to get too crazy with editing because I like a natural aesthetic. Over editing turns it more into a piece of art than a photograph for me. I just try to edit everything how I remember it and only like to include pops of color where I want it to really shine. Technically I like to shoot close to wide open for portraits so the subject stands out from their environment but I have no problem stopping down to get all the details of a landscape.

Could you tell us the backstory of some of your photographs?

The project I’m working on now involves a lot of driving around and looking for subjects to photograph. Basically I’ll drive around until I spot a car that fits the tone of what I’m going for and then I’ll go up and knock on the door. I explain the project and see if they’re up for a portrait. Many times they are and sometimes they’re not. The goal is to just capture them in their most natural surroundings and get the back story on the car itself. Almost every time I meet someone I’ll get their number so I can pass along the photo I take of them at a later date.

What is ‘Analog Artisans’ and what is the story behind it?

Analog Artisans came to be because of my intense hate for the photo walk type YouTube video. People walk around and take photos of nothing meaningful set to hip hop music. I wanted to make short documentaries on interesting people but also wanted to practice my portraiture so I started to reach out to people that make things for a living. It’s slowly evolved into filming and photographing other photographers as they explain their history and process. I’ve learned more about myself and photography with that than any course could possibly teach me. I have some very accomplished photographers lined up for that next year and I’m very excited to share.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

My advice for aspiring photographers is to use the resources available to you for free to learn as much as you can. You don’t need to buy a course or go to college to learn how to shoot. I wasted four years of my life on a tv/film degree and it got be absolutely nowhere. It has its merits for sure but don’t go into debt or blow your life savings on education. College and the real world is all about who you know so get out there and make real connections with people. If you’re wanting to learn film don’t learn with a film camera. That’s throwing money away. Learn on digital and then work towards a film camera. The inner workings and how a photograph is made is exactly the same on both mediums. Film isn’t different. It’s still aperture, shutter, and ISO. Socially you need to be present with the people that support you and not get lazy in terms of showing that you appreciate the small acts of kindness that they impose everyday.