Most of the people in Frank Bowles’ photos look surprised or shocked, and they should be. Bowles has been capturing intimate and unprecedented moments for a few years, but after relocating from Chicago to Brooklyn, his range has expanded. Opting for the organic experience of developing film, Bowles’ portfolio boasts a mixture of striking models and reckless youth. The result is a body of an honest, airbrush-free depiction of the urban twenty-something lifestyle. Portable spoke to Frank about his experience working with physical film manipulation and his penchant for candid photos.
Portable: How did you get started doing photography?
Frank Bowles: I guess I really got interested in it when I was a history major. I would be in the archives writing papers, mainly about Chicago, and I would go through the archived pictures and got interested in how the city used to look. It was cool to see a familiar environment that I lived in about 100 years before.
P: You shoot primarily analog, what drew you to film as opposed to digital equipment?
Frank Bowles: I still shoot digital, just not as often. You get really great effects with film. Its cool experimenting with different cameras too because each has a different quirk and makes the process of shooting photos really interesting. I feel like film is more honest. When you print in the dark room, that’s your image right there. You don’t have to go into Photoshop and mess around with effects. I mostly just scan the images in and crop them, that’s it. It’s more of a ritual for me, to be able to put the roll of film in your camera, shoot it, and if its black and white you can develop and scan it. You are a part of the process the entire way through and its really fulfilling.
P: What or who inspires your work?
Frank Bowles: A lot of the photographers I look up to have the aesthetic that I like; sincere, honest, fun and energetic moments caught where it seems completely natural, almost like I’m not there. I’m drawn to images that depict the teenage angst that I wish I had. You know, kids tagging up streets and causing mayhem, running around the city.
P: How does your process differ in photographing models/candid/friends/people you meet?
Frank Bowles: When I photograph my friends, a lot of the time I use a point and shoot, disposables too. To me those moments are genuine. The really good ones I feel like make me feel something more than just happiness. But when I shoot models, there’s more thought to it. I’ll usually lay out a storyboard for those professional shoots. Find images that inspire me for the shoot and from there try to put my own touch to it. I’ve been starting to try to make my professional work with models appear more personal.
P: How does shooting in New York differ from Chicago?
Frank Bowles: I guess I’ve always been shooting my friends, but since moving to New York I feel better about publishing images that may or may not have gotten me into trouble. It’s more acceptable to really follow your creative vision here as opposed to Chicago. I felt a little more repressed there, but I get inspired daily here.
P: A lot of your photographs are set outdoors or in natural environments, do you prefer these settings to shooting in a studio?
Frank Bowles: I definitely enjoy shooting outdoors more. I love using natural light because you’re working with an environment you can’t control. You have to pay attention to the sun, the shadows of the trees. It makes the images a little more real when you don’t have control. You don’t have to worry about the technicalities, just about composing a great image. But I’m also really shy about shooting certain types of photos outdoors so I will do some light manipulation in the studio.
P: Even though you shoot analog, do you ever manipulate your photos? How?
Frank Bowles: I do use Photoshop to get out imperfections, dust and hair. I try to emulate the effect of film to keep a consistent feel. In terms of the polaroids, since it’s a hard copy image, I can physically alter the image. I like to cut them up and run the images under water to move the chemicals around inside of it to get some interesting effects. It’s almost like painting or any other two-dimensional medium you would work with.
P: What kind of work do you have coming up in the future?
Frank Bowles: Just printed up a zine of my own stuff, a combination of candid friends and models I’ve worked with recently. And working on photos with an 8×10 camera, something I haven’t done before so I’m excited to play around with that film and see the results.