Interview: Chris Berntsen


Almost a year ago, I featured the work of Chris Berntsen here on Empty Stretch. I prefaced his work with the following

“Chris Bernsten is one of those photographers whose work is equal parts inspirational & aggravating. Inspirational in the sense that his photos make me want to go out & explore & keep shooting, & aggravating because I feel like I will never be able to capture the emotional breadth they cover & the intimacy he offers the viewer into his life of wander.”

& damn if this guy still doesn’t make me hate my own photos, just because his are that good. I recently was privileged enough to have a morning conversation with the man himself, to shed some light on him & his work.


ES: Basics first, age/ where are you from/ what makes life worth living?

CB: I’m twenty seven, born and raised in New York. I grew up in the suburbs outside of the city and took every opportunity to ride the train to the city for skating or shows or hanging out. Things that make life worth living: spending time with friends, skating, shooting pictures, collaborating with others on projects, shows, sex, drinking coffee at 2 am as well as at 9 am…

ES: How did you get into photography? You are heavily indebted with punk & diy ethos i.e. music, skateboarding, & travel, what was the timeline of finding these things, how does photography play into it all?

CB: Photography was sort of a natural addition to record those things. I got my first camera in order to shoot skate photos of my friends. When I was sixteen I started a skateboard company and did that until I was 23. The camera was always secondary though and I didn’t photograph so many things I wish I had in those high school days! I look back on my photo albums from then and nothing’s really changed except the pictures might be a little sharper; still shows, friends, skating. Nowadays things come in tandem, a mutual motivation to both live that thing and to shoot it. Friendships develop through the process of shooting with them for example.


ES: it’s interesting how friendships happen through photography I have run in to people in my home town that I hung out with when I first started photographing & they have always remembered those photos I took & it becomes an interesting thing because, even though you are the one taking/making the photos the other person is forever a part of it.

CB: yea for sure, there’s a solidification of experience through photographing. Neither you or the people in the pictures can deny the existence of that recorded history, even if it has various interpretations.


ES: I come from a world of ephemeral material, small zines & photocopied fliers & my photos exist on small prints that I give away, yet being a contemporary photographer we sort of have to have an internet presence, how do you see the coexistence of these two worlds?

Does that even make sense?

CB: Yea it makes sense – yea it’s funny because it’s like double duty. I post something online, then photocopy it and mail it out to some of the same people who saw it before when I posted it online. I think the internet is cool though. I recently started sending in mail to Film Por Vida’s Print Exchange Program and that’s a perfect example of how the internet can create community around something that is founded in analog hand made craft. The internet is really just another outlet to publish pictures on, I prefer things in my hand any day though.

ES: I was thinking about it the other day but essentially the internet is still in the vein of the ephemeral because any day it could be gone. & the dispersing of work is interesting because I find myself delegating work now, saying o this is going in a zine so I’m not going to put it on my site.

CB: yea, I don’t care much about purity of medium, make things and be happy

ES: You have done installation’s with Elsewhere collective, zines & collages; what format do you want people to see your work in?

CB: I think content dictates how something gets made. I am obsessed with books, at the same time, certain work is more about installation. The thing I’m most excited about is doing my slideshows. I love the group experience of projecting these little slices of life with music. I just did one down in New Orleans and being able to have friends and strangers react simultaneously to the images is really rewarding.


ES: & then one last question I ask everyone because I can’t even answer it myself but why do you travel?

CB: haha, I don’t know either anymore. I used to feel the need to run away from New York City life but these days I’m excited about it. Traveling: random interactions, learning a lot about other people and yourself in a short time, taking pictures you’d never have at home, seeing nature, riding around other cities on fucked up bikes, what’s not to love?

Please do yourself a favor & find more of Chris Berntsen’s work at his website & his blog. 


Interview: Sarah Moore


Photos of places I’d rather be…check.

Portraits of mundane moments…check.

Taking on haters of technology…check & check.

Without further adieu, I present Sarah Moore

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Empty Stretch: Age/ Where are you from? What are your favorite things in life?

Sarah Moore: I’m 25.  I grew up in Brookings, South Dakota.  I absolutely love and try to live for travel of any sort, even if it’s just a day trip or a long bike ride.  I love biking for how it makes me feel, but I love driving as though I’m in a car commercial or something.  I’m obsessed with the South Dakota landscape.  I love but fear the ocean.  Good whiskey is my beverage of choice (though bottom-shelf whiskey is never rejected).  If good conversation can be enjoyed with the whiskey, that’s even better.  I also like knitting and singing/dancing like a loser.  Oh, and I’ll read and re-read anything David Foster Wallace ever wrote.

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ES: How did you start taking photos?

SM: I was slow and hesitant in getting into photography.  My first camera was a film SLR, which I got when I was maybe a sophomore in high school.  I never really thought much about photography growing up though.  Old photo albums were always interesting to me, but I didn’t find the need or desire to capture and preserve my own moments. In fact, I think when I was growing up I wanted to forget a lot of moments, not lock them up in an album.

When I went to college though, I decided to major in Photography.  It was kind of a rash 19-year-old decision.  Then even as a photo major, I didn’t start to really take photos until the spring of my junior year.  I went back to South Dakota in March that year, and I just started photographing the landscape and myself and my family.  Something clicked, and I haven’t stopped since, although I have gone through quite a few ruts.

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ES: A lot of your work is landscapes, do you just drive til you “see” the shot or do you have in your head, sort of what you are looking for?

SM: I think it’s a little bit of both.  When I started photographing in South Dakota, I would drive until I saw a landscape that meshed with what was in my head.  I knew I wanted vast and flat land, but since that is everywhere there, I would be a bit more particular about where I stopped.  I looked for good light or the right color palette of a field or just a perfect horizon line.  I’m always a bit more particular when shooting in the Midwest because the landscape is really repetitive, so nuances are very important.

With some of my other landscapes, like those in my series Scape, I just drove or walked until I saw something that caught my eye.  For that body of work, I traveled around a good chunk of the country in a short amount of time, so I didn’t have the luxury of being as picky as I am at other times.  I’ve traveled back to photograph in South Dakota for five years now, so I’ve been able to work a bit more meticulously and thoughtfully there.

Overall, I think it depends on what I’m trying to achieve with my landscapes, or even what my mood is at the time.

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Corn fts Expanse

ES: The photos in your series Expanse have these elusive titles, ie The Dune, The Intersection, are these places of importance in your life or merely photos in a series?

SM: Well, to be honest, titling individual images has always been a bit tricky for me.  For my work in Expanse, I started out titling things very straight forward, just based on what they were, who they included, or when they were taken.  There’s a photo titled The Tree and one titled The Road, both of which are named after what they obviously represent.  There are also some titled Me and Mom and Me and Rachel and Mom, which are simply who they portray.

But, regardless of titles, all the photos in Expanse are places of importance in my life.  That project comes from a very personal place –– literally and figuratively –– so all the photos hold some sort of importance for me.

The Intersection fts Expanse
Backwards fts Expanse

ES: Beginning artists often do a lot of self portraiture because it is the easiest model to work with, did you start there as well & just never stop, or did the self portraits come into your work at a later date?

SM: I definitely started out making self-portraits because it was easy.  I was a willing and available model.  With my work in Expanse, the self-portraits started out as me just wanting to put someone in that landscape, and I was the only one around at the time.  But as that project evolved, I realized that self-portraiture was a crucial element to my concept.  Many of my projects, and Expanse in particular, are about elements of loneliness and alienation.  I realized pretty early on that if I wanted to talk about my personal loneliness or distance from people, self-portraiture in certain landscapes was one way to do that.

I haven’t really stopped taking self-portraits in about five years.  It’s something I think about and get asked about a lot.  It’s not that I find myself a perfectly captivating model, or an especially beautiful one.  I know there are others more engaging in front of a camera, and also love photographing other people.  But there’s something about self-portraiture that still intrigues me.  There’s an element of personal surprise in it that I can’t find in other portraits.  There are facial expressions I’ll make or stances I’ll take that I could never plan or replicate.  I’ll often take a photo of myself and be completely shocked by what the camera captured, or what I was willing to give the camera in that particular moment.  I like to think that I know myself really well, but photography constantly shows me that I really don’t.  It’s a strange thing.  Besides, no one else is taking my picture that much.  I like to think it’s good that I’m capturing my life for myself and maybe for others.

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ES: I like to ask this question because I myself can never accurately answer it, but why do you travel, what is it that forces you out there to photograph?

SM: That is a difficult question to answer.  I’ve never been very good about photographing in my own “back yard” so to speak.  When I was in college in Providence, I basically never photographed there.  I would instead travel back to South Dakota multiple times a year to make work.  Likewise, when I was growing up in South Dakota, I never photographed there; I instead dreamt of moving to an exotic locale where I could finally find inspiration.  Travel has always been an excuse for me to go out and make photos, even if I’m merely going back to a place I know quite well.

Even without photography, I think I would travel and move a lot.  I guess setting down roots kind of scares me.  I’ve done it before, with friendships and jobs and relationships.  Attachments like that have brought me happiness, but they’ve also hurt me pretty badly.  I think part of me thinks that if I keep moving and searching, I won’t get hurt.  Of course, that mentality can be pretty lonely as well.

That being said, I also just love traveling for the sake of seeing.  This world, albeit incredibly screwed up, is still really beautiful, and the more I travel, the more I realize that.

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ES: What are your means of making photos, it seems you range in medium tools & i was wondering how you decide what was appropriate in each situation.

SM: Well, for most of my South Dakota work I use my Mamiya medium format camera.  I absolutely love that camera.  I love how big it is but also how easy it is to use.  I love looking into the ground glass and seeing the world differently.  I love the focusing bellows.  Everything.  But, that camera also takes more set-up time and it costs a lot more money to use (film and scanning) than digital.

I shoot a lot with my Canon 5d nowadays.  I don’t like digital as much as film, not for pretentious reasons, but just because I think I work more carefully when I shoot with film.  But I’m also pretty broke, and I really can’t afford to shoot film and pay for scanning all the time.  I miss the “free” scanning days of college.  Shooting digital is also nice when I’m trying to work quicker or when I’m traveling.  When I was on my road trip, I photographed so many different places within tight time restraints.  I was just trying to take it all in, in a kind of cataloguing way.  Digital was great for that.

Generally speaking, I try to shoot with both my film and digital cameras on most excursions.  But I’m sadly pretty far behind on my developing and scanning.

Also, it should be said that I shoot a lot with my iPhone these days.  Haters of technology be damned –– I think it’s fun to shoot like crazy, and if that happens to be done with a phone, so be it.

fts Expanse

Please vist her tumblr to see more of her work.


Interview: Michela Palermo


Michela Palermo is one of the reasons I like running this site. A few weeks ago we received an email that said she liked what we were doing & that a video link was attached. The video was of a zine that Palermo had self produced & in simple words, blew all of us away. With out further adieu, I present Michela Palermo.

Empty Stretch: Age, Where you are from, What are your 3 favorite things in life?

Michela Palermo: 31. I’m from a small townin the south of Italy. Favourite things,: trees, straight dogs and laundrymats.

ES: How did you get into photography/ start taking photos, & how long have you been photographing for?

MP: After my degree in Political Science I decided to shift to Photography, believing in the power of image and representation in contemporary world. I decided to study photography at International center of Photography (New York) in 2008, since then I have been committed to finding my way in photography.

ES: You have a very specific type of photo that you make & I was wondering if that was based on anything; being inspired by certain photographers or just the world around you?

MP: I guess there is no way for photographers to separate their inner experiences from what they continue to register and frame in pictures. I bring all the pictures I have seen, all the books I have read, all the songs I have heard, and people I have loved in my photography. When I shot for this project I was living in New York City.

I bumped in New York trilogy from Paul Auster as well as I received some spam email of Olga, a woman seeking for a husband, writing me about love. I did a lot of double take, like crazy connections with what I’ve experienced or just imagined.

ES: What is your working method? Do you think of a project then go photograph? or do you photograph & make it up as you go?

MP: There are no rules.

Mainly when I start a project I have a kind of proposal in my mind. I try to figure out  my goals and articulate my photography for this.

For other projects, as As I Was Following You, I just edit and edit again some snapshots I use to take around, and put together for reinventing a world.

Photography can be very powerful.

ES: The video for the zine looks gorgeous, have you done many zines before, if not have you been happy with the medium & the sharing of your work thru it?

MP: As I was Following you was my first fanzine.  I love printing and I’m always playng with papers. It was a way to make my project  lighter and to send it around.

I’m very happy with the medium, I love the idea of the selfpublishing, you can make something easy and sharing your work.

There are a flourishing scene for this kind of stuff. And it is funny.

ES: The work on your site is contrasty black & white & striking color photos. which format do you enjoy more. do you decide you do a project what format you are going to use.

MP: I’m mostly shooting color now. Colors help me to describe the world in the way I see it. But I have a box of unprocessed films took during the last year. Lost pictures, as unconsciousness notes. It was the way I came out with this project.: make a sort of visual diary of my days. I’m not even sure if I went through.

Photography can be considered as an evidence or not. With lost frames I’m willing  to reconstruct worlds, to reinventing my memories.

Please see more of Michela’s work here & watch a preview of the zine as well.


Interview: Frank Carino


Frank Carino seems like a nice dude. He takes awesome pictures and also enjoys alien documentaries, what else do you need to know? Check out our interview with Frank below:

Empty Stretch: Age/Current location/things you enjoy

Frank Carino: I am a newly 21 year old living in Brooklyn, NY.  I enjoy Asian food, my dog Molly, hanging out with my peoples, drinking coors light, outdoor activities i.e. hikin, fishin, muddin, climbin, campin, riding bikes, assorted beach activities, carpentry on Sundays, making music with my friends, reading, thinking about scuba, watching alien documentaries, and kissing.

ES: What got you into photography? Who do you look at for influence?

FC: I think my initial interest in photography came from my mom, when she was younger she did a lot of field sciences and would always take her camera. Growing up she would talk about capturing and tagging birds and the photos she would take.  I always thought, and still do, that she was so cool and this photography thing she talked about was part of that appeal, so naturally it interested me. Then for my ninth birthday my parents gave me a camera to keep me interested while we went hiking, from then it was on. It became this huge obsession for me, I guess I’ve always like the fact that I can be making things wherever I go, as well as capturing moments that would otherwise escape me.  The idea of forgetting memories is so scary to me, I also find that I need some sort of hard evidence to prove that I am living and doing.

I grew up very influenced by Ansel Adams and Steven Mccurry, but today my peoples are Wolfgang Tillmans, Sam Falls, Matt Wilson, Vicky Sambordines, Ryan Forester, Jack Pierson, Gerheart Richtor, Robert Frank, Ed Templton, Ari Marcopoulos, Walead Beshty, Alec Soth, and David Benjamin Sherry.

ES: How do you view your work? Is it more of a timeline of your travel or a larger body of work that is continually growing?

FC: I consider this work to be more of a big body of work that has a non-linear time line function for me.  I never really wanted it to be about documenting certain travels or times, but am more interested in creating an environment of images that would work to capture or create the sense of emotion that these moments evoked for me.  At this point I am considering this body of work to be done to some extent.  Its sort of hard to explain, I am still making images that work in the same way as these and am adding to this body, but at this point have started making a much different set of images that incorporates some of the same feel of these images and some of the same aesthetics but in combination and conversation with different images, and with different intent.  At the same time if I make a really strong image that I feel fits into this project I wouldn’t deny its place with these and possibly with the new stuff at the same time.

ES: You take a lot of really nice portraits, what is it about portraits that interest you?

FC: Thank you,  I have never really thought to much about the portrait or at least why I make so many portraits, I guess there is the obvious fact of wanting to record a friend or whoever doing something that I find to be “cool” or formally interesting.  Behind that I think that I am drawn to trying to create pictures that make a viewer feel like they are friends with my subjects, I am really interested in making images that place the viewer into the thick of the actions and the relationships, to evoke an emotive response.  This group of images has different layers, but one of my main goals with them was to try to create really warm, inviting, and fun images, reminiscent of really great times with good friends, and you need pictures of friends to convey friendship. Also my friends are fucking good-looking dudes who are really fun to photograph so that’s always an incentive.

ES: What is your photo education? How has it or your lack of one developed your work?

FC: So right now I am pursuing my BFA at School of Visual Arts, I feel like it really helped me develop my work.  While in school you are constantly having to make new work and learn how to really talk about art in a critical way, this has become really important to my progression.  Learning technical skills has also helped me greatly because they allow me to make the images exactly how I want and with the look that I want.  I also love the community that an art education provides, constantly being surrounded by other artist and good teachers is really great.  The subjectivity of art critique can lead to certain restrictions placed by taste, but it’s actually really helpful to have to fight for your own work because you start to understand what really matters to you.

ES: Could you explain the ‘fun’ section of your web page some. What’s the thought behind that besides to induce a good time and possibly scare the elderly?

FC: Hahaha, I should put a seizer warning.  When I was designing my website I was really interested in making something that felt true to me and my images as well as different from what I am constantly seeing as a photo website.  I was led to trying to create a site that acts as a digital gallery space.  I really wanted their to be a character to the site that I haven’t really seen that much.  I ran into the issue of “hireability” because no magazine person or whoever is going to want to fuck around with my gif maze, thus the fun section and the easy section were born.

When designing the fun section I was really thinking about trying to build a Dionysian experience of excess and gluttony, I wanted the user to really have to deal with me and hopefully be entertained.  The initial homepage is a map that I made to base the site off of so that acts as some help, but I was really trying to trap a viewer in my website, there are certain pages that will just keep opening if you keep clicking; also as you navigate I have designed it so that four different windows open up, essentially taking over your computer screen and forcing someone to ex-out of a bunch of stuff.

While trying to trap the viewer in my website I also included little links to different ephemera that inspires/ makes me laugh, there different youtube videos of like this Russian dude shooting crazy machine guns at trees and shit, and then different alien proof videos.  I am really not trying to be a dick in taking over the browser window, I am trying to give people something new to do that will be interesting.  One issue that I have run into is adding stuff to it is really hard, hopefully this week I will be doing a new update with a bunch of new work and trying to do it in another interesting experience.

ES: The aesthetic of that ‘fun’ section seems to fit the aesthetic of your photography pretty well. How did you arrive to the aesthetic your shooting currently? What type of medium do you work the most with and camera type?

FC: Its kind of a funny story when I was first getting into color I accidentally ran over this old TLR that I was way into while on a trip in Joshua Tree, it forced me to have to shoot 35mm over the whole trip and that really started a whole new thing for me.  I bought a Yashica T4 shortly after and that became my camera of choice for some time, that little thing in my pocket with such a great lens.  Now I shoot a mix of 35mm SLR and point and shoot, 4×5, and 6×7.  I guess it depends on what I want my end product and the feel of the image to be, that’s what dictates which camera I pull out.

ES: What are three things that get you out of bed in the morning?

FC: I read an interview once in which the guy said he was awaken by the sun caressing his face every morning, well he’s a dick.  Most days I wake up to my alarm pissing me off and then rush off to the train, on the weekends I wake up to my girlfriend shaking me saying “wake the fuck up I really want bacon,” but every once in a while I wake up naturally with no stress and no responsibility and that’s the best feeling ever.

ES (bonus round question): The Internet, how the fuck does that work?

FC: I am not sure if this was a question or not but I really like it,  I see the internet as if the wild west, the deep ocean, and space all had a baby.  I mean you can buy drugs, wives, and guns online but then there is also google and the FBI who act as Wyatt Earp.

To see more of Frank Carino’s work check out his webpage!

Interview: Hannah Kuo

fts Destination Fiordland

Hannah Kuo is one of those people you fortunate to have in your life. I have rewritten the intro to this interview quite possibly a dozen times now & nothing seemed to fit right. So I reread the interview & realized that I just need to let her speak for herself. Please enjoy.

Empty Stretch: Age, Where you are from, Things you enjoy

Hannah Kuo: I am 23 as of right now in 2012, born in Taipei, Taiwan. Relocated to Beijing when I was four and spent 14 ridiculous years there. Moved to New York in 2006 to strive for my paper approval of legitimacy in Photography at Parsons. It’s been a year and a half and I still haven’t received it in the mail… yet. I enjoy Tetris, food, online dating, sporting, traveling (who doesn’t?), googling things, and playing with cats.

ES: How did you get into photography/ start taking pictures?

HK: My dad handed me my first digital camera in 1998, a Sony MVC-FD7 Mavica (the ones that you put a 3.5” floppy disk in for storage, remember?) for no particular reason. I started bringing it to school to photograph my friends and you know… just the usual school life. After a while I decided to create a website to showcase those photos, it ran for quite a few years with different photographic mediums (35mm film/disposable cameras, slightly more advanced digital cameras, webcam pics, scanned photographs submitted by other people… etc) until the popular girls started asking me to make separate sections dedicated to themselves. Since then, I’ve just always carried a camera of any sort with me wherever I went.

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ES: Your photographic work covers a huge swath of the medium. You have polaroids & snapshots & then well lit & formally composed in studio portraits & then coneceptual based black & white work. Has one thing led to another or does the project demand a certain format? How do you decide what gets photographed how?

HK: Each project demands a certain format. When I shoot with my 6×7 camera (Greetings, Destination Fiordland, It Was Romance…), my structure is more formal and I become fixated on everything that is within the frame. In these photographs I intended to create something for the viewer. When I shoot with my 35mm point and shoot, I am more casual and involved with everything else that’s happening outside of the frame, therefore in these photographs, the viewer would be creating an experience with me. Though, my decision for how things get photographed is sometime unconscious.  The polaroids were to entertain my grandma with instant gratification, which I later learned that they were too small for her to see.

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ES: That leads to the question of what is your general working process? I have spent enough time with you to know you always have a camera on you. Do you shoot & then decide direction or do you think of projects & then fulfill them?

HK: I usually have several different projects going on. My diary is an ongoing project, though while I am shooting and editing for my diary, some photographs collectively turn into another prospective project — so in this case I would say it is kind of a mixture of both. Some personal projects I am still slowly working on… those are the ones that I just can’t make up my mind about. I then consider those as my “long term” projects…

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fts USA Younguns II

ES: You went to school for photography & work at a representation gallery/firm how have those affected your view of the medium?

HK: Going to school for photography definitely polished up my technical skills, which then greatly allowed me to leave most technical aspects behind in order to comfortably focus on the subject matter. Working at a representation firm showed me how the industry is operated — beyond being behind the lens — and confirmed the term, as I re-quote my co-worker quoting Wu-Tang, “C.R.E.A.M – Cash Rules Everything Around Me.”

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ES: In a world so saturated with photographs & photographers, what keeps you making photos?

HK: I have terrible memory so if I don’t make photographs, I won’t remember anything.

To see more of Hannah’s work please visit her website & also follow her diary.