Kristin Bedford, LA-Based photographer: “An engaged observer who dives in the soul of America”
“My father, Chris Bedford (1944-2011), was a bohemian, activist, filmmaker, explorer and ardent observer. He also opened the door for me to share what I saw. When I was four years old he gave me my first camera and took me out shooting. Throughout my childhood (in Washington DC) I have no recollection of him telling me if I was taking ‘good’ or ‘bad’ photos. He was a catalyst and never a critic.”
This is how LA-Based Photographer Kristin Bedford, came into Photography.
Because of such a compelling entry in the Art world Bedford managed to carve out a first name for herself and find her own path. Kristin focuses ”on long-term visual studies of where we live – the streets we walk down, the places we worship in, the homes we create, and the spaces between them all. Her subjects have included street culture in numerous urban centers, religious movements, and the modern day legacy of historic African American communities”.
In facts, Kristin Bedford delivers exhaustive in depth studies of the very soul of American people that Europeans don’t know about and most Americans neither.
In 2013, Bedford spent five weeks living with and photographing the Father Divine community: “Father Divine, known to his followers as God, once had tens of thousands of devotees in 1930s Harlem. To the outside world Father Divine died in 1965, but for his followers he “lay his body down” and is still with them as he always has been. Now in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, eighteen of the remaining celibate followers live with Mother Divine at Father’s estate outside of Philadelphia”.
As a result, “The Perfect Picture” is a wonderful collection of photographs with such a strong narrative and meaning, that each would be a short story.
bAm: What would be a perfect picture?
Kristin Bedford: The name of the series, “The Perfect Picture,” is taken from a religious analogy Father Divine would use when comparing faith with photography. I wanted to use some of the groups’ language in describing the series. On my own, I would not use those words to describe an image – they feel too limiting, too finite.
Without respect, photography is stuck on a superficial plane.
bAm: You pay a lot of attention to the preparation of a project, can you explain to our reader how you get prepared? What are your main focuses?
Kristin Bedford: I choose my projects based on intuition. From that abstract place I jump into the material and do an immense amount of research on the subject. I start by reading history books and looking at archival sources. My process is to digest the information so that I can then approach the subject on my own terms but with an informed disposition.
I have spent my life photographing communities of people. For me 90% of photography is showing respect and 10% is taking photographs. Part of preparing and doing research is learning what is important to a community and showing respect for those values. Without respect, photography is stuck on a superficial plane.
bAm: What camera were you shooting with?
Kristin Bedford: Since I was a girl I have had a technical and emotional connection to Nikon. There are many great cameras out there but Nikon was my first love and continues to be my tool of choice. For this project I used the Nikon D800. I don’t want to intrude on peoples’ personal space with a flash so I use cameras that have very sensitive sensors and can handle extremely low light.
How close you are tells a story in itself.
I work solely with a fixed lens, which means I am always at the distance from my subject that you see in the photos. Proximity is very meaningful to me. How close you are tells a story in itself. I don’t believe in prying or zooming in on people from a distance. If I am near a subject it is because there is some level of trust, there is a relationship, and there has been a dialogue. This methodology takes time and a lot of patience but it seems to be my path.
bAm: Do you have a different technical approach for each series or the technical follows your instinct and adapt from the situation that occurs?
Kristin Bedford: My technical approach is to work with and adapt to light that is naturally part of the landscape. I am not interested in creating a new reality, which is why I have never done studio photography. For every series there are new lighting challenges that I grapple with. Often these obstacles become a gift and help define the look and feel of a series in ways I could not have foreseen.
In my series “Be Still”, the photos were taken in a small storefront church that had a large window that streamed tons of light during the services. At first I was frustrated by how over-exposed the images were but then I realized it was the nature of the room to be that bright. The series came together when I accepted the light as it was and did not try to tame it.
My process is to turn myself over to the unknown and let my photos tell me what the story is
bAm: Once you are emerged into the scene and ready to shoot, what is happening? What are your thoughts, your feelings?
Kristin Bedford: My process is to turn myself over to the unknown and let my photos tell me what the story is. I immerse myself in a situation and try to be as present and focused as I possibly can. It is from this place that I make photographs.
The only things I can control are my intentions and my craft. The story the photos tell is something that is slowly revealed over time, and I must wait to see what it is.
If there is one feeling or thought that runs through me when I shoot it is quietude. I must have a deep sense of quiet to make photographs. It is from this place that I start to see images that speak to me.
bAm: How do you edit your photos to make a final body of work?
Kristin Bedford: I choose photos that speak to me on an intuitive level, and I abandon any sort of logical thinking about what images make more sense than others. After my initial group of photos has been chosen, I then return to see what themes are emerging from them. At that point I begin to see how the story will weave together.
The theme that stood out in “The Perfect Picture” was of the quiet moments and daily rituals of the followers. Their small actions reveal their steadfast connection to Father Divine. I chose photos that I hope would offer glimpses of their mysterious and constant faith. With the lack of new followers, their movement is likely in its final chapter. I was given the privilege of seeing their traditions before they fade away. With these photos I want to convey the beauty and the tension of the path they are on.
“Cruise Night”: Typical lowrider imagery depicts a sort of danger, grit and gangster ethos
bAm: Your current project “Cruise Night” is about a community of car lovers, another kind of Faith. What is your intention this time?
Kristin Bedford: “Cruise Night” is about Mexican-American lowrider car culture in Los Angeles. The term “lowrider” has two meanings – it can be a car that is customized to drive close to the road, or the person who drives such a car. Dating back to the 1940s, Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles have been developing a rich lowrider culture that speaks to their social, political and creative identities as a community.
Lowrider culture is a complex and stunning movement that goes way beyond the visual stereotypes that we are often shown. Typical lowrider imagery depicts a sort of danger, grit and gangster ethos.
My work veers far from traditional lowrider or car culture imagery. For the last fourteen months I have spent time at lowrider cruise nights, getting to know people and taking photographs.
The series is an intimate look at cultural identity, history and the art of cruising down the boulevard.
My intention is to create an opening for others to see this nuanced and beautiful chapter of American history in the ways that I have. I am one small voice in a big chapter on lowrider history, car history, and Mexican-American history, but I think there is a tenderness and freshness in this work that is worth considering. Kristin Bedford
Interview conducted by Beatrice Chassepot – Los Angeles, September 20th, 2016