By Janet Alexander–
Growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, Drexel University educated photographer Natalie Obermaier says, “The happiest moments were spent endlessly picking blue crabs on a picnic table with corn on the cob and serious amounts of old bay.” It’s a brief, but telling insight into Natalie’s photographic sensibility, which often appears both incidental and intimate, capturing vulnerability, but with enough critical distance to remain unpretentious. Natalie says of her own work, “the world is just a stage on which to put your subjects. Frame them with light and structure and with a little magic you breathe life into the theater.” Having earned Resource’s coveted Photographer of the Week title, it would seem that Natalie put on quite a show.
What was your experience at Drexel like?
Drexel was perfect for me mainly because of the Co-op opportunity which allows students to work in their field for college credit and, if you are lucky, money as well. The allotted time is different for each major but the 6 months I spent away gave me a very real understanding of the industry, that schooling can’t always provide, and made me a much more informed student when I returned–a perspective that I am not sure the typical college experience allows.
Does having served in multiple roles, i.e. a model, assistant, and master printer, impact how you photograph?
I think everyone who photographs people should sit for another artist. It is incredibly important to understand how you are being “seen.” I recently had the experience of sitting for a painter on the street in New York and I loved it, may even have created a new addiction. The way that they take you in is so intense that I sat deliberating on how my subjects must feel in such situations, while my heart pounded and I attempted to give him the “real me” without completely knowing what that meant or how to do it.
I loved assisting other photographers–what a perfect way to gain insight into the dance between photographer and model, while using the latest gear and lights and decoding the client from afar. And understanding the possibilities of a print is just as vital as editing. Not every negative is vibrating with excitement from the get-go but an ability to see the ultimate end potential helps separate the good from the mediocre.
Tell me about your international traveling. Any favorite or most memorable locations?
I think every photographer has a list of the “photographs not taken.” It’s not that these un-captured moments outweigh the captured ones, but for some reason that question always takes me to the ones that got away. I just returned from three weeks in New Zealand and was once again reminded that international travel firstly gives you an understanding of the place you traveled away from. One favorite moment was witnessing an 8 year old boy–who I had just spent several hours photographing with no common language, except our eyes–run a mile to catch up with our car as we clambered through the terrible potholes in the Cape Town township to return a piece of gear that I had forgotten.
Why not digital? Why film?
I don’t only shoot film, but having just experienced the loss of digital files I am tempted to change that. Film slows you down and gives you more of an opportunity to connect with your subject. You don’t fire away to guarantee that you “got it” and there is a very potent experience that you have after shooting film and before you have seen it when, for me at least, you doubt that you did “get it.” WIth digital I rarely have that wonderful joy of discovering that I did in fact catch the magic.
How do you like Venice?
I love Venice, but change is good. I have been here 8 years and it is very easy to see how you could look up in 20 and wonder where the time went. In places with more dramatic seasons you are able to gauge the passing of time a little better. The snowstorm of so and so when your car was stuck for five days. We don’t have many of those and the tedium of an ever blue sky can make you long for weather. I am curious about living in NY, but I’m not sure I could live in Manhattan. I always kind of assumed it would happen, but there are several big cities in Europe that appeal as well. Coin toss?
How do you use social media to promote yourself?
I have been using Facebook to show off the Photo of the Day project that started this year. I am completely hooked on the concept and would like to keep it going for as long as possible. I kind of missed the window with Instagram but may have to incorporate it into the mix. It is, after all, essentially, what it’s there for.
Do you think social media is a valuable tool of self-promotion for work?
Of course. There was a while there where it felt a bit slimy to constantly be plugging yourself, but you have to make it your own and find the right way to go about it. For the most part I think the ceaseless train of Kickstarters parading by is a bit embarrassing for the medium. Not in every instance, mind you, but who doesn’t want to go on a motorcycle trip around the US to photograph the small towns and the people in them?!
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
It is not about the gear you have. The embroidered pillow says it all: “Shoot first, ask questions later.”
Visit Natalie’s personal website for more information: http://natalieobermaier.com