Nowhere Newsletter 14: Casey Bennett

Interview with photographer Casey Bennett

What is your backstory?

My name is Casey Bennett. I grew up in rural ranching communities throughout my childhood and that has had a significant influence on the work that I make today. I spent a lot of time watching movies and drawing pictures and around the age of 13, I became obsessed with independent/foreign cinema. My ambition was to be a filmmaker like my idols at the time. After I graduated,  I did a short stint in film school and fell out of love with the idea of that being a viable career choice. Shortly after that experience, I fell into a depression and to keep myself productive, I started loading up my dad’s 35mm camera and began photographing everything around me - family, friends, work.

I was making mistakes, but welcomed the challenge. I spent hundreds of dollars in those first few months just shooting film. From there, I transitioned over to digital and started shooting concerts in the basement of a small cafe. About a year later, I decided to make a move to Victoria, which is on Vancouver Island. I was there for a good 8 years. I continued shooting concerts and eventually got my first wedding gig and that led to my first editorial which led me to commercial work which led me to working at the University of Victoria as a campus photographer/archivist. I gradually burned out because I could not manage my time properly and I just wasn’t shooting for myself. I’ve since stopped taking on professional photo gigs and I now work in a museum digitizing negatives from its vast collection. As for where photography fits into my life, I am focusing on long term personal projects that I intend on publishing into books.

What camera gear / editing setup do you use?

I currently use a Mamiya RB67 medium format camera with one lens, the 127mm. For editing, I’ve recently started “scanning” my black and white negatives using a DSLR, a 100mm macro lens and a light panel. I find this method to be more efficient and editing RAW files does have an advantage over TIFF. This of course, will be debated for eternity, but for now, I like it. For the rest, I keep it simple -- I will upload my files into Lightroom, import them into Photoshop for general clean up like dust removal. I will then save that file which appears back in Lightroom where I do very basic adjustments.

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

A lot of the time, I feel like my photography is me projecting my own anxieties and traumas into something that I am still working out on my own, if that makes sense. I tend to look for things such as oddities in day to day life, discarded, isolated, uneasiness or abandoned - really things that I am feeling at that particular moment and capturing that on film. Lately, I have been inspired by these books of poetry written by this local poet named Lorne Dufour. A lot of what he writes is about the natural act of growing older, the hardships of working yourself to the bone, watching his friends pass on and the ever changing landscape from what it used to be his home to something unrecognizable.

Could you provide 3 before and after shots and take us through your process?

#1 (below)

I made this photo this past summer for my series ‘God Broke My Truck’. It’s a pile of old junk cars in the backlot of a towing company overlooking the river valley. Just as the sun was starting to dip down behind the mountain, I quickly drove down and proceeded to walk through the tall grass alongside the railway to find a good spot -- I don’t always scout before shooting. I liked that pipe protruding out from beneath the railway, so I composed it so I could have both the sky and that pipe in the frame. I set up my tripod and waited for the light to soften -- it was still a little too harsh that the bright golden hour light was glaring off of every part of exposed chrome. Finally the sun started to make its final appearance when I suddenly heard a train rumbling around the corner -- it was too late and he came careening into my shot. I was frustrated as I thought I was losing all of my valuable light. The moment his caboose was out of the frame, I did a quick light meter to see if anything had changed in that time that felt like forever, it didn’t and I made two exposures. On my way back to my truck, I was greeted by a contract worker for BC Rail who kindly let me know that walking this close to the tracks was an offense and that I could be fined -- fortunately, he wasn’t the one who issued said fines, but just gave me a friendly reminder. I used my Mamiya RB67, my 127mm lens at about f/11 on Ilford HP5 Plus. I didn’t have any film developer or access to a scanner at the time, so I had The Lab in Vancouver do this for me. I’m not sure what type of scanner they use, so I can’t provide those details. As you can see, the colours are very muted with flat tones and there is next to no contrast. You can’t see it either, but this particular negative was very dusty and I spent a solid hour cloning out the tiniest specks of dust -- the hillside part in the image was the worst. As for adjusting, I do very basic levels/curves and highlight adjustments when I work with black and white film. 

(Unedited photograph, left)

#2 (below)

I wanted to share this sequence of photos I made a few weeks ago before the first snowfall. I was driving along a gravel road that I find myself wandering down quite often, when I spotted on the side of the road, these discarded deer carcasses. I imagine the truck these fell from had not tied their tarp down properly and lost them. The sun was just beginning to dip behind the mountains, so I quickly set up my tri-pod, set up my Mamiya RB67 and took a reading using the light meter on my phone. I shot this at about f/8 and likely around 1/60th of a second or slower. I took the first image on the right just as the light was just dying and the second on the right, just after the light had gone completely. I used Ilford HP5 Plus at box speed, and had the film developed and scanned by The Lab in Vancouver. I chose the second image to go into my series.

(Unedited photograph, left)

#3 (below)

I made this portrait of Dennis back in 2017, a day after the evacuation order for Williams Lake had been lifted due to the wildfires in British Columbia. He was standing in line outside of the mall awaiting to get inside to pick up supplies provided by the Red Cross. I’ve come to enjoy shooting portraits of people with beautifully weathered faces -- wrinkles, scars, lines, baggy eyes, exhaustion -- a seasoned face. A face that can tell you one million stories. I approached him as he stood against the wall and with my Mamiya 645 camera in hand, I asked if I could take his portrait. He was kind and obliged. I remember talking with him for a brief moment, before we were interrupted by someone who wanted to have a word with him. I thanked him for his time and I continued on -- I have not seen him since. I photographed him at about f/5.6 and maybe I had a 1/125th or 1/250th shutter speed -- it was open shade. I love the lines cascading across his face, the disheveled beard, his exposed teeth -- I wanted a tighter crop than what I had composed, so I cropped to get closer to see the features that attracted me in the first place. I used curves and my levels to emphasize the darkness under his eyes and expose those wrinkles. 

(Unedited photograph, left)