“We are incredibly complex creatures that never fail to surprise”: Christaan Felber on his fascinating portraits

Christaan talks us through how he got his start in the industry, and what it’s like to keep up a busy work schedule among his dedication to post-production.

4 November 2021


“I'd say my style of photography is almost anthropological in nature,” says New York City-based photographer Christaan Felber. Born in Los Angeles and raised in New Jersey, Christaan’s portfolio is all about strong colours, deep contrast, and stark shadows. Whilst his work feels distinctly American, Christaan actually got his big break photographing the British band The Vaccines on tour with them. “This body of work, along with my boxing book Boxeo Clasico, led me to get jobs with The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and many others,” Christaan explains. Along with portraiture, sports is also a common theme across Christaan’s work, giving a refreshing re-focus on a typically insular masculine realm. “The first step of my process is that I try to find something that I’m interested in and want to know more about,” Christaan tells us. “From there – and I think this is the hardest part for me and a lot of artists – is maintaining consistency in the work schedule.”

For Christaan, it can be at times overwhelming to keep up with the work schedule, especially with an impressively high-profile clientele list such as his (The North Face, Puma, Nike, and Apple). But once the post-production process comes along, Christaan finds himself in his element. “That can be the most fun because it’s when the work starts to take shape and begins resembling what you had in your head from the start,” he adds. “The final stage is marketing, which involves a lot of knocking on doors and trying to start a conversation in order to gauge interest in the work, whether it be with galleries, book publishers or magazines.”

GalleryChristaan Felber (Copyright © Christaan Felber, 2021)

“Oftentimes, when I’m approaching a subject, whether that’s a concept, a person or an object, I feel a bit like an alien trying to understand and document it,” Christaan says of his portrait style. “My goal is to always get to the core of the subject and to do so, hopefully, in a way that is beautiful.” To do so, Christaan evokes colour palettes from the 50s and 60s, drawing on muted but warm tones to elevate his subjects out of the frame. “I’ve probably developed this style from multiple sources,” Christaan explains. “From my documentary inspirations such as Mary Ellen Mark, the color of artists like Stephen Shore and Jackson Pollock, to the writing of creative nonfiction writers such as Ted Conover and Truman Capote.” It’s these kinds of techniques which Christaan loves applying to his portrait subjects, often finding it most engaging to photograph people over objects.

One of Christaan’s favourite shots during his career was the one he took of the late rapper Mac Miller, which by some fate of chance became the last professional photograph ever taken of him. “I never knew much about him, but this image has now forever been linked to him,” Christaan says. “I have people regularly sending me tattoos they’ve gotten of this portrait. It just goes to show you the power of photography and its ability to freeze a moment and person in time.” These kinds of human connections resonate with a photographer like Christaan, who even still maintains a friendship with The Vaccines today.

“Lately I’ve been trying to figure out how to ‘flip the script’ on photography,” Christaan concludes. “The world feels so saturated by images and they all feel very curated.” The photographer isn’t exactly clear of what the next steps are, but he’s working on images that reflect “his own internal world as opposed to documenting the external world.” And in the words of Christaan himself: it’s challenging.

GalleryAll images copyright © Christaan Felber, 2021

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Christaan Felber (Copyright © Christaan Felber, 2021)

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About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

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