Session 4: Debbie Carlos

Debbie Carlos’s art has been something that remained deeply etched in our heads throughout the years. Her photographs often contain a little quirk and a somewhat silent space within that allows her subjects to have voices of their own. We’ve been a fan of her works, even from many years back. So for this dröm sessions, we’re actually quite excited to share the works of Debbie Carlos. It was a nice warm fuzzy feeling to be able to speak with her since.

Debbie was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Manila, Philippines. She has since studied psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts and photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Hello there Debbie! How did photography became a part of who you are, what started your passion in photography?

Hi Dröm!
I have enjoyed making art since I was young. My first real experience with using the camera in a knowledgeable way was during the summer I spent at a fine arts camp during high school. That’s where I really fell in love with photography, but I had to pack up my camera during college to study psychology. During the last semester of my senior year, I took a photography class and was hooked again. After getting my first degree in psychology, I went back to school to study photography.

a 2012 calendar: collaborative work between Debbie & her brother, Dante Carlos.

Test printing on fabric

What is the driving force behind your craft? What makes you pick up your camera and decide on what makes a shot?

Its funny because I know exactly what I like and what I like to capture but am not entirely sure why and when I make that decisive moment to press the shutter button. Its sort of an informed but intuitive process. A lot of times, I’ll take a picture of something when I don’t even feel that strongly about it. I’ll go back to it after a little while and see why I took it. The way the subject is glancing, something caught in the background. Its like a weird middle ground between happy accident and knowing.

If we’re not mistaken, you used to “revive” vintage analogue cameras (I think it was the Kodak Brownie) that used obsolete films by modifying them. Do you have any photograph(s) that were successfully shot & developed from this experiment? Can you describe a little, what modifications were made to produce these shots?

Yeah, I used to be into the old (and new) toy cameras. I didn’t do much modifying other than sealing holgas and dianas with electrical tape to prevent light leaks. I used to also mess up my polaroids once they came out of the camera by bending it to try to get a weird effect in the image.

At one point, maybe 7 years ago , I mainly used my diana, holga, polaroids and a lomo lc-a as my primary equipment so most of the images from that time were probably made on toy cameras.

results from one of debbie’s toy camera modification experimentation

Analogue & film or digital & pixels? Do you have a preference between these 2 mediums, why?

I will always prefer shooting on film and bringing it into digital for post. There is something about film — the grain, the almost instant atmosphere and loveliness it can inject into images. It just imbues the picture with feeling, emotion, meaning. I edit digitally because I feel like I have more control, the process is faster and its also cheaper. I’ve never really liked the darkroom process.

Do you have a favorite camera that you usually shoot with? Do you have a collection of many cameras at home, if so, how many (both working ones and for display)?

Up until about a year ago, I had been using a pentax 35mm slr for most of my pictures but I have gotten increasingly frustrated with the cost of film and how inconsistent the image quality was. Also, being able to blow up 35mm images was very limiting. I now shoot with a Canon Rebel for both personal and professional projects.

It seems like much fun to visit the spaces of creative individuals! What made you decide to start on your project “studio tours”? Would you eventually publish a printed publication out of these photos?

The first studio tour I did was actually something someone hired me to do. I found I really loved it. A lot of the pictures in my body of work take place in an interior or a domestic environment and I think its sort of an extension of that. A studio is a home away from home. Its a work space but its also really personal. I’ve always felt like it was cool, even a privilege, to see what goes on behind the scenes but maybe I just like to have an excuse to snoop around.

I also love being able to connect with people I really admire. That’s probably the best part.

Studio tour: Boyfren/Girlfren

AHC: Modern Adornments by Debbie

We really enjoy reading your blog because you are so hands on in other forms of creative mediums as well, apart from photography. We love your embroidered scouts patches, they’re brilliant! You also started AHC in 2011, where you create your own line of accessories as well. Were all all these creativity discovered when you were young or along the way, as you grew up?

Thanks! In terms of the jewelry, I used to make simple necklaces when I was young. One of my favorite memories is going to buy beads, cords and clasps every time my family would go to Taiwan every summer. I would spend hours in my grandparent’s house making necklaces and bracelets and giving them away to my family.

The embroidery is a more recent discovery from my time at art school. Both embroidery and jewelry making are such tactile activities and a really nice change from clicking a bunch of buttons and being on the computer.

some of Debbie’s hand embroidered scout patches, aren’t they just amazing?!

Do you have an all time favorite Debbie Carlos photo/creation/project?

I’m not sure. I have a lot of pictures that become favorite pictures of the moment, but being someone that uses her camera constantly and does not usually work in series, my favorites always change.

Featured directly above is one of Debbie’s favourite photo

You studied psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts and photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We’re reminded of how some friends/customers often struggled choosing between the academic & creative side of them. It is 1 thing to call what you love a hobby and another to call it a career. What made you decide to pursue/choose photography instead, what were some of your main thoughts/mental conflicts behind it (if any), and was it a tough choice?

There was never really a doubt in my mind that being an artist or a photographer was a good and valid profession. The only hesitation came from whether I would be any good, whether anyone would like my work, and whether I could make a living from it. After graduating from art school, I was working in photography, just not as a photographer. When my position as a studio manager went from full time to part time, I had to find a way of making more money so I was essentially pushed into putting my own work out there. It was scary for sure, but I think it was one of the best things that happened to me.

Lastly, is there anything that you can say to encourage/advice all creative individuals out there who are thinking of making a career switch, or are contemplating between pursuing their creative side over the academics?

Doing what makes you happy is the most important thing.

To read up more about Debbie and her recent works, visit her blog here!