You Can't Fool Mother Nature: A Talk with Photographer George Katzenberger
|Courtesy George Katzenberger|
As Billie Holiday sang the blues over the Starbucks speakers, I paged through a box of George Katzenberger's serene landscape photos as he sat next to me, sharing anecdotes about the individual pictures.
Shot in Infrared (IR), the photos are hallucinatory, serene postcards, until you suddenly notice hidden (in plain sight) a dark black, even menacing, cell phone tower made to look like a pine tree, or a fur tree or a palm tree or a ....
White-haired, casually dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, Katzenberger likes to talk and likes to laugh. He doesn't take himself seriously, but you should.
I realized that I could create a photo documentary with a hook--that I could reveal and expose these "Impostors" (as I decided to name the project). If a shot of a forest has a fake in it, that fake will stand out as a black sheep in a herd of white sheep.In fact, it is this metaphor angle that inspired the entire documentary.
Tech note: The leaves of real trees reflect away 100 percent of the infrared light as if they were painted white. Fake dark green leaves do not. Furthermore, green is on the opposite end of the spectrum from red/infrared and cannot be "seen" by the film. Impostors show up as if painted black. To further the effect, I use filters to block out all visible light (color) allowing only infrared light to hit the film (or the CCD). I am also beginning to shoot artificial turf and lawns to expand my definition of "impostors".As a result of your photos, you're now a bit of an expert about cell phone trees. Any info to share with readers?
Sure. The RF radiation from cell towers isn't as dangerous as some people think. That doesn't mean you should build a tree house in one, but what they do emit is aimed out, not down. I also would not recommend holding your cell phone to your head 24-7. A phone's RF radiation level is about the same as a 5-mile walkie-talkie.
Can you share the names of five artists that inspire you and why? Arthur Taussig: A local photographer, he's particularly skilled at using his compositions to further the story telling.
W. Eugene Smith Few photographers were as talented at using compositions and light. Very powerful stuff.
Frank Zappa and Beck: I love the way they are willing to use anything, any noise to be a part of the music.
Joni Mitchell: I love her ability to use lyrics to paint a scene during her music.
I'm hoping to develop "Impostors" into a book.
I also have a project where I try to shoot military aircraft to look like cartoons--or at least as non-glamorous as I can. I don't have anything against the military. It is just an art project - an exercise in perspective.
As we wrapped our conversation and walked toward the exit, Katzenberger pointed a finger at a tall metal and cement tower in the middle of the strip mall's crowded parking lot. No way, I thought, having been to the coffee shop a dozen times and not giving it a second thought.
Stepping into the sunshine, we walked up to the pole, Katzenberger noting that the model number of the tower wasn't posted on it, as they usually are.
"Maybe they've retired it or just don't want people to know it's a phone tower," he said.
It was gated, but I could see the back door as he listed the giveaways--GPS antenna, radiation warning on the back door, keyed entrance, grounding strap--all essentially hidden from view.
Mental note to self: Look up more often.
If you'd like to contact Katzenberger about his work, you can send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org