As a part of our Central Saint Martins Short course exhibition series, we interviewed Karl Grupe about his work in the exhibition, where he finds inspiration and his advice for aspiring creatives.

The exhibition is open to the public in the Central Saint Martins Window Gallery at 1 Granary Square until 3 September.

What is your name and what short courses do you teach?

Hello. I’m Karl Grupe and I teach Reportage Photography, Photographers’ London and Art of Snapshot Photography at Central Saint Martins.

©Karl Grupe

©Karl Grupe

How and why did you become a photography tutor?

Years ago in Vancouver I was juggling many freelance gigs. While working on getting my own editorial assignments, I worked as a advertising and editorial photographers’ assistant, a stock photographer’s studio manager, pitched projects to magazines on behalf of photographers and was the Western Canada talent scout for an international stock photography agency. I was initially invited to speak at workshops because of my knowledge and position in stock photography. Once I developed my first workshop I saw that I had a skill for building courses and teaching them. Looking into the future, I saw this as ‘future-proofing’ around a media art I really had a love for. I then began building courses for visual arts colleges and universities.

©Karl Grupe, Swissroll

©Karl Grupe, Swissroll

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you stay inspired?

Inspiration comes from many sources. As a visual practitioner and educator I find most of it coming from research through people/ environment watching, online, print (magazines and newspapers) and books. I am a social and cultural observer so many ideas come from reflecting on trends and changes that we are going through. Most of the time I am really listening to conversations, whether they are in the class or online.

©Karl Grupe, A Blue Wild

©Karl Grupe, A Blue Wild

What are you working on at the moment?

I am in the middle of a move right now to a new studio, so everything is on hold for the summer. The studio will be in Cornwall, where I will continue examining the antithetical technical approach to landscape photography. I am interested in the currency of the photographic aesthetic. I am curious about our reliance on technology and its influence on this currency. If we screw with it and something pops out that is unexpected, curiously ugly or completely accidental then where does the value of the image rest for me as a creator, marketer of my work and in the visual arts industry?

My second project is an ethnographic documentary film on the migrants illegally crossing the border from the US to Canada. I got the doc film bug two years ago filming Pickerel Nine and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I hope that once my move is finished I can pick up on this again and head out.

©Karl Grupe, PickerelNine

©Karl Grupe, PickerelNine

Tell us about your work in the Central Saint Martins Short Courses exhibition.

A Harsh Land is the first stage of my study of the evolving currency and expectation of photography. I did my Masters thesis exploring the affect of technology democratising photography and Instagram being the global exhibition hall to witness this. The combination of the smartphone and the Instagram app revolutionised the currency of talent. Not in all respects, but in many it blew a large hole in the industry. Obviously pedigree still counts for something – but there has been a revolutionary shift in the elements contributing to the currency of popular and commercial photography.

©Karl Grupe, A Harsh Land

©Karl Grupe, A Harsh Land

I reached for landscape photography as a first stage in exploring this theme further because landscape photography tends to be treated with formality. Of course there are people doing what is now called ICM photography (intentional camera movement) to escape the rigour of landscape photography but I see this as only one layer. ICM is only been elevated because there is no longer a film bill to pay and as blowback to practices like the HDR movement (high dynamic range). These ICM photographers have found the experimentation, luck and dance that happens between camera and photographer to be somewhat zen-like or creatively revolutionary. For me it is only the first stage. One layer of the reveal. You can see my practice of that here and while it moves on to the journey I wish to take it is one dimensional. The images in the CSM exhibition are much more aggressive and obnoxious towards the subject. I am regarding the subject in a different way.

Which piece of creative work, in any discipline, do you think everyone should see and why?

Independent film making. For a variety of reasons. I’ll give you two examples.

One, Roger Ballen’s film Asylum of the Birds  is a behind-the-scenes documentary examining an artist photographing in a dangerous, post-apocolyptic, diasporic environment. The audio to this is both informative and impressive and shows both the tools and the commitment to his body of work over a six year period. You receive an education PLUS witness the craft in progress. I show this film in my class and it digs up everything; dedication to process, making contact with a group of people who normally would not be so accepting, working conditions and personal safety, collaboration with locals, tools and equipment, scouting, risk for one’s art, the construction of a personal vision, understanding the background to a personal visual language. It’s not an education video – it’s just something so unique, unforgettable and creative you cannot walk away from it being educated.

Two, Leviathan is a film which will completely test your patience and expectations. It is a wonderful example of what technology has done to us if we go into the movie reflecting on our uneasiness we feel while watching it – those of us who make it to the end. The trailer is nothing like the film so many people were “lured” (if you see the link please excuse the pun) into believing the film would be something maybe along the lines of The Blair Witch Project meets Jaws. It’s not. It’s simply a visceral ethnographic documentary shot with tools we all have access to – mainly Go-Pro cameras. Again, like Ballen, it is Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s experience being recorded which has led to its success. But more importantly it’s the drawn out lengthy scenes of observation which serve as the Marmite test. Movie-goers are used to 2.5 seconds as the average shot length. Leviathan goes on for long shot after long shot up to two or three minutes of the same scene making viewers squirm in their seats. It’s not that the scene is uncomfortable to watch, it instead is our diet for imagery, how we need to be fed in the context of cinema.

Both films take us through a multilayer journey, with Ballen aiming his sights on photographic books and Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel aiming their’s on cinema. Both films set up a journey for us to reflect and I think this reflection is very important when looking at being creative.

What’s the best bit of advice you have ever received?

Always hire people better than you.

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?

Get your work out there. You won’t know anything about where your heading if your work is not out there.

More of Karl’s work can be viewed on his Twitter Facebook and Instagram pages.
Karl Grupe teaches a range of short courses at Central Saint Martins, including Reportage PhotographyPhotographers’ London and Art of Snapshot Photography. Further details on all of our courses can be found on the Short Course website.  The CSM Short Courses exhibition takes place in the Window Gallery at Central Saint Martins until 3 September 2017. To see what goes on in the CSM Short Courses classroom, follow @csmshortcourses and #MYCSM