Still Life 1, London, England 2014
“The final book will weigh about five kilos and it’s going to cost a fortune just to ship it. I think I’ll probably sell between one and three copies.” This is not the most optimistic prognosis for a new publication, but Carl Kleiner doesn’t seem at all perturbed. The Swedish photographer has spent the past six years creating a vast visual diary of his daily life, and is now busy turning it into a book. “It’s a vanity project; it’s pure passion,” he says, “but it will be a book that I can give to people that I think deserve it.”
Carl is a man whose reputation precedes him. He’s known internationally for his extraordinary still-life photography and has spawned countless imitators over his career. But his new book is unlike the Carl Kleiner most of us know. For starters his six-book archive displays nothing of the pristine, polished studio environment with which we usually associate him, and secondly he’s switched digital for analog, using a second-hand Rolleflex and Portra film to capture his photographs.
“With analog you don’t control the images in the same way you do with digital. This camera makes this very present, and the kinds of images I’m making with it are a real documentary style. It doesn’t really interrupt the flow of life as a digital camera would. Often you’ll shoot something, look at the picture and maybe you’ll judge it and want to recapture it – to make the moment better than it actually was. But that’s why I really enjoy this camera; because you can’t reshoot anything, so you get a very different type of image.
“Many of these pictures are quite still and that’s because of the limitations of the camera. If I was using the digital camera I’d just push the ISO and capture quicker moments much more. But I do that with other cameras and there’s something beautiful in the slow pace. It’s like in the old days when you really had to focus and be aware of the process of making a photograph. You can’t just snap away. You need to do it right.”
The slow pace of Carl’s analogue photography lends itself naturally to portraiture, and his ability for capturing friends and family in moments of calm and tenderness is antithetical to his commercial work – the studio environments of which sometimes seem sterile. During the six-year lifespan of his diary he’s also became a father, and pictures of his son feature prominently in the archive.
“This is so sad though,” he says, “because I actually have two sons. The younger one never shows up and I need to change that, otherwise he’ll be really pissed when he gets older. Both of the boys look quite similar, but the oldest keeps growing and doing new things, while the younger just does the same as his brother did a year ago – which makes him less interesting. But they both definitely took the project down a different route.”
That route is inherently personal, placing Carl’s nearest and dearest centre stage, alongside chance encounters with naturally harmonious compositions, reportage from exotic holidays, the occasional behind-the-scenes image from his studio and yes, one or two analog selfies. None of this is Carl Kleiner as we know him – although the quality of imagery is just as consistent – but that’s what makes the project so delicious; it just doesn’t make much sense.
“It’s kind of stupid,” he says, “because these images aren’t really well known among the people I work with and the people who look at my work. The smart thing would probably be to make a book with my still life. But this is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time so I’m just going to do it anyway.”