Cally Whitham is a photographer living in rural Auckland, New Zealand, photographing the mundane and ordinary in a romantic light. Her work can best be described as a type of modern pictorialism.
Although the pictorialistic movement dominated the late 19th and early 20th century and faded with modernism, her work exhibits a newer, more modern movement to pictorialism.
“For the pictorialist, a photograph, like a painting, drawing or engraving, was a way of projecting an emotional intent into the viewer’s realm of imagination.” (Wikipedia)
She often travels, not to be confined to any photography studio. Setting out to find that right photographic moment, that perfect composition. Whether it be by car, train or canoe, she has a way of capturing and creating images that are mesmerizing.
“Landscapes and houses I almost always shoot from a moving car . . . everything I shoot outside using natural light.”
Using light and dark surrealism, she transforms images reminiscent and reflective of the great master painters such as Rembrandt and Da Vinci.
Growing up in rural New Zealand and visiting her Aunt’s farm, she shot her first roll of film at age 11 capturing simple old houses and livestock. Some of her most outstanding photographic work is capturing the surreal light and dark composition of simple farm animals and waterfowl.
Her photographic works also include nostalgic landscapes and homes around the New Zealand landscape and the world. A reminder of a simpler time, very much like 1920’s or 1930’s Americana. Like postcards of the past. This can be seen in such projects as The (Virtual) Grand Tour and Flux.
“My work identifies aesthetic value where none appears apparent and invites viewers to reflect on simpler things.”
She has won a number of awards for her work including the Kodak Portraiture Awards AIPA (Advertising and Illustrative Photographers Association) Award. She has been featured in a number of Magazines and articles including Aesthetic Magazine, Frankie Magazine, Super Deluxe , Vogue, Homestyle Magazine (New Zealand) and others.
I recently contacted Cally on her latest projects and a little background to her work.
How did you get started in photography and what inspired you?
My Father is a painter and sketcher and I often went along with him as a child, when he went to scope out locations to paint or draw. Sometimes he would just sketch to paint later but most often he would take photos to paint from.
“I loved the idea that you could capture something and keep it for later, that a moment didn’t have to end, it could be revisited again and again through photographs when ever you felt the need.”
Where did you formerly study?
Carrington Design School, which is now Unitec, in Auckland.
You do landscape, stills, portrait and animal subjects. What do you like photographing most?
I love to photograph birds the most. I always get such a thrill out of photographing birds if it goes well. Getting great photos of birds is pretty hard so if I succeed I feel a great sense of achievement. I also love to photograph rural landscapes, I can’t get enough of lone trees, farm buildings, sheds and old houses.
Although I don’t publish a lot of them, I also really love to photograph people.
What would you consider some of your best works?
That is quite a hard question, I like different works for different reasons.
I have favorites more than singling out works that I would consider my best. Because nothing is shot in the studio there is usually a bit of a story around each shoot or image. The images that were hard work to obtain are some of my favorites but they may not be considered my ‘best’ by people who love my work.
Some of the work I might consider to be my best is based around how hard-won they were, for instance some of my poultry shots, hens were photographed through the bars of small cages at poultry shows and a considerable amount of work had to be carried out post production to bring out the portrait I wanted to convey. I guess my perception of my work is quite different to the viewers as I know what has gone into each image so I perhaps perceive it in a different way.
My most popular work has certainly been my animal portraits of cows and sheep followed by my poultry portraits. People have really felt strong connections with those works.
I really enjoyed shooting the series ‘Flight’ of Royal Spoonbills on the Kaipara harbour.
“I shot them from a canoe – a major challenge with a super telephoto lens, as I had to hand hold it and shoot into the sky while trying to track birds in flight.” (Flight Series)
Both my camera body and lens are very heavy and the canoe rocked every time I moved. However the light was beautiful, the sea was calm and the clouds and sky were perfect and I was very pleased with the results. It is such a high for me when everything comes together on location like that.
What equipment do you use in your studio (camera, software, etc.)?
I never shoot in a studio. I have never had the patience for tripods, flashes and lights. It would make my life much easier I am sure, but then there is no ‘thrill of the chase’. Everything I shoot is outside using natural light, I like the challenge to capture what is available and make it work.
I usually use a Canon 7D with a big 150-500mm lens for photographing birds and some animals with a big flight distance (anything that runs off pretty much as soon as it sees me getting any where near). For anything that I can get reasonably close to I use a Canon 24-105mm lens and for portraits I love to use a Canon 85mm 1.2mm lens. It is a huge piece of glass but it takes lovely photos of people.
Landscapes and houses I almost always shoot from a moving car and I shoot with a Fjui x100s, it is so light and easy to shoot with and produces great results in any light. Recently I have purchased a Fuji X-T1 and that takes such incredible images I am starting to think about of migrating over to mirrorless for everything except the super telephoto stuff.
I have a Mac and use Lightroom together with Photoshop for my post production stuff. I also use Corel Painter a bit too.
I have a Manfrotto tripod that I keep promising myself I will use but I just can’t face a static camera, the closest I get is the monopod when I use my super telephoto. I like to move when I shoot; I can’t bare being pinned down to a tripod.
Your work is exquisite. Your Waterfowl series reminds me of a masters painting. What goes into your thought process when making a decision on the type of subject you produce?
The light and then the subject. I always find inspiration in light rather than subject. Pretty much everything I produce is really just a study of light falling on things. It is always the light I notice first and then I look for the right subject for it to fall onto.
If it’s rural light then I like to have rural subjects for it to fall onto. If it’s fantastic modelling light, then I want to find a face to capture it on – it can be human or bird or animal depending on the situation.
What do you do with your work now? (Sales, Shows, Competitions)
I sell my work these days and I have a show from time to time. I used to enter competitions and won a number of awards for portraiture and art photography back in my early career, but I don’t tend to enter any more. My work has a lot of post production and isn’t really the right fit for competition criteria.