Ilan Wolff: “Photography is not a job for me. Is a way of life.”

Ilan Wolff is a pinhole photographer based between Haute Savoie (France) and Almeria (Spain). He uses different types of camera obscura: from old boxes and cans to his van and ordinary room. Also he makes photograms with the shapes of people and even lunagrams – a type of photograms that are made using the moonlight.

Self portrait inside the car – Camera Obscura

How did you come to pinhole technique?

When I went to study photography in 1977, on the second day the teacher asked that we bring boxes to make a camera obscura and later to do one image. From that moment I liked the idea – to use recycling material as a camera… year and half after my studies (after experiencing different photography medias) I decided to concentrate on this technique.

You declare that used different objects as a pinhole: for example, metal cans and whiskey bottles. What else? Which of them was your favorite?

I don’t have a favorite pinhole camera. Most of my cameras are made from metal, and some  from cartons, they are round shapes from different food products like tea, milk powder, whisky or champagne bottles, beer or coca cola cans, spaghetti etc.  I have 25 metal round cans all the same size from industrial products  which I use for “series ” of reportages. Then I use my van as a camera for large size images or sometimes room spaces, also for large size images.

Cameras Collection

Could you tell about “3 Pinhole cameras” project?

3 pinhole cameras are boxes from carton or metal where whisky or champagne bottles are sold. Normally in the duty free we can find it. The special shape of the boxes ( long and narrow) allowed me to drill 3 holes in order to have 3 images on one sheet of paper. the images dissolved one in the other and created an interesting effect.  I have around 30 cameras of 3 pihole all from whisky or champagne bottles.

According to your site, now you use your van and ordinary room as a camera obscura. How did you come to it?

During the first 10 years of using only a pinhole camera, I was always curious to see how the image is creating inside the dark box  – what does magic look like?

In 1992 I received a bourse for a project about the city of Paris, so I decided to transfer my studio in the city to a camera, covering the windows with black plastic, in each window I made one hole in the plastic . On the wall in front of the window I will tape a photography paper and while I’m inside the camera I could take a photo and see how the magic is created.

Also you create photograms. How can you explain your interest in this technique?

While doing a series of images with my studio in Paris, I could have the outside world reflected on the photo paper, during exposing the paper to the light, I lay down objects or my own body on the paper, so the light which come from the window will reflect not only the landscape outside but also create a photograms images of the objects or human body. I mix two old techniques in photography – photogram and pinhole , so I call this new technique “Pinogram” (in English) or “Sténogram” (in French).

My idea was to create a new reality which does not really exist, by putting together the outside world with the inside world.  Few years later I started to create pure photogram images.

How do you make photograms?

I was fascinated with photogram technique, because you create an image without any optical device. There is a physical contact and relation between me and the object which I found even more stronger than pinhole camera. I look at photograms as a process – a chemical reaction to light, so I got more and more involved in that media. In 1999 I started to create a series about the 4 elements only with photograms. During 5 years I realized that photogram is a process to create an image with energy, so a new technique – “Calorigram” (creating an image with heat) was born. There is no limitation in this technique and so I start to be involved more and more with Photogram, Calorigarm, Sténogram and Lunagram.

The project that has really attracted our attention was ‘Lunagram’. Could you, please, tell more about this it?

The Lunagram idea came out while doing photograms in my studio, that time I lived in a small village in the mountains and for a few years I used a lot of nature as my objects – flowers, fruits, Vegetables, leaves etc.

At that time I was feeling that I wanted to work with a very simple material and technique. In the most pure way to create an image – using nature as my subject, as well as using the energy from the nature to create my images – the moon light. So I started to work at night – the night was my darkroom, the nature around me was the subject and the moon light was my energy.

I don’t see a difference between the two lights – artificial or moon light. Sometimes I create photograms in my studio  using just regular lamps and sometimes I create Lunagram images – it’s a question of the subject’s concept or philosophy.

When I realized that I can create a photography image only by using nature and his energy, I understand that there is no limitation and everything is possible and that’s why I made the “San Sebastian lunagram”  in 2007 (video of this project on my website) together with a group of people during 9 hours at night – A 30 meters long photography image – one negative and another 30 meters positive image –  all with nature force and human mind.

What is really important in photography for you?

The most important thing in photography for me is the process!! to feel it and to do it with my own hands.

I’m fascinated about finding new ways of creating images, also building new cameras to have different effects.

For me photography started with building my own camera… or collecting objects in order to do a photogram or lunagram. I hate machines and high technology, I love simple and basic material and technique.

The final image – the photograph which I did is only a proof that I did the process.

I think, there are some photographers who inspire you. Can you tell us about these people?

Not really !! When I was a student I loved Man-Ray works and Jerry Uesslman… 

Do you participate in any exhibitions or contests?

From the ’80th – 2000 I participated in many photography projects, and had many exhibitions – my main income was from photography projects and selling photographs. In the last 20 years I have concentrated more on my own work, had less projects and exhibitions and gave more workshops in schools, art-school, universities and culture places – now workshops are my main activities. In the last 10 years I have had very few exhibitions, my main activities are workshops and lectures.

Is photography your main job?

Photography is not a job for me. Is a way of life. It’s a passion, hobby… it’s everything.

Took me years until I had my income from photography, I did other jobs meantime.

For example, never had a private car, allways a van, because in the first 10 years it was a second darkroom and second home and later also a camera (camera obscura), a multi-function vehicle. In the first 15 years I traveled a lot, I was a nomad all because of pinhole photography. I changed countries and homes… through pinhole photography I understood that photography for me is an adventure, an experience which is very unique, a goal in life. Today I feel very lucky because I could survive (earn my living) from my passion.

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