Photographs by Nico Lopez-Alegria
In conversation with Nigel Telman II
The private life of photographer Natalie Tischler is very important to her. Taking on her world independently, her photos offer viewers a glimpse into the beautiful and ever-changing life she leads. To Natalie these photos are a window: imperfect moments captured through her camera’s lens. On April 18th, I got a chance to experience a slice of Natalie’s academic world in the Diana Center, where we spoke on social media, the fleetingness of time and the moments that shape her.
Could you give us an introduction of yourself?
Of course. My name is Natalie Tischler. I am currently a sophomore at Barnard, majoring in Architecture, potentially minoring in Sociology if I take enough classes, and I’m from upstate New York. Woodstock.
That was a very all-encompassing intro, we got everything! What are three words you would use to describe yourself? That’s always a tough one, I know.
Just three words? Huh… I would definitely say independent as one of them - in that I know what I like and know what I don’t like. But not in an annoying way. I don’t know, I feel like any words I say are going to be kind of egotistic!
It’s definitely okay to be egoistic sometimes!
Well, if I’m being egotistic, I would say independent, straightforward and real.
Why was independent the first word you immediately thought of?
I’ve just always thought of myself that way. I think I’m independent because I just have my own way of doing things. I don’t let other people get in the way of that, and I’m just very okay with being with myself. I think that’s a thing a lot of people struggle with - especially at this age. Everyone gets wrapped up in campus and cliques and groups - they very much care what other people think.
That’s definitely something I’ve thought about too. I’ve had to have these moments of coming to terms with being happy on my own, but I felt weird about it for a long time.
It’s just something you’re pressured to feel insecure about. Especially with social media, everyone has followers and they’re posting all this stuff with their friends - no one takes the time to say ‘I’m alone and I’m okay with this.’
It’s interesting that you have this sort of anti-social-media vibe yet photography is a medium that has been well adopted by social media. How do you feel about the close relationship between photography and social media?
I was actually just thinking about this when we were talking about film earlier. I primarily shoot on film, but that gets converted digitally and then posted. I definitely go in waves of using instagram… I really only post things that I like. I wouldn’t say I’m anti social media, but I do think that the way people use it and how pervasive it is is kind of insane.
I think that’s definitely fair to say. It fits with this idea of capturing fleeting moments that you talked about in your artist statement; social media tends to cement moments and put them on display forever. Is that part of your aversion to it?
I don’t think so. I definitely post things that are like - for example, when I post a selfie I’m just like ‘what am I doing this for.’ It’s not like I want to share myself but that’s what I do when I share photos and I definitely share more photos than I do selfies. It is fleeting, instant gratification, when I take and share photos. And the reciprocity I get from people when they like it is kind of flattering.
From the pictures you take and share on instagram, both photos and selfies, which one do you feel captures more of you?
I’m not aspiring to post things that make me look a certain way to other people. I post things I think are aesthetically pleasing, or things that I’m proud of. I just posted today on my story an architecture project I worked on all night. I was like ‘yeah, I can post this.’
Obviously, physically, the selfie captures me [laughs]. But I do think that the photos I post of things I see are probably more representative of myself. I definitely put less effort into it - I craft it less. Taking a selfie takes effort, you’re constantly worried about what people think of it. I’m definitely guilty of it though. I think that the image a person creates on instagram - I mean it can be just about selfies and posts - but I think it’s more about portraying what they think. It’s kind of like my photos: it’s portraying how I see the world and what I value aesthetically.
So how long have you actually been doing photography? And what got you started?
Well my dad, he does photography. That's not his job, that’s just [what he does] on the side. And my sister used to do photography too, so I was surrounded by it. In eighth or ninth grade I took a black and white film class, but before that I was mostly doing digital. I went to some day camps for it and I think that’s when I really started getting into it. I didn’t get into doing photography for myself until I started shooting film. That started when I did a mentorship in ninth or tenth grade. I strictly shot film and I had never done that before. The mentorship was organized through my high school with this local photographer who was super big into film. That was where film started for me, and from then on I would just take photos of my friends. Since moving to the city, there’s been way more opportunities for photos.
How has photography helped you engage with the city? I know you’re from Woodstock; that’s a very different environment!
Yes, there’s no engagement [in Woodstock]. I think it makes me explore for things more. Sometimes I want to do a photoshoot at a specific site that I think is really cool, or at a concert with a little band so I can be like ‘hey, do you need a photographer?’ which isn’t something I would normally do. It definitely gives me a better appreciation for the city. I feel like I look through a lens of photography - imagining everything as being a photo - and it’s interesting. It’s subconscious at this point - I don’t notice it until I notice it - but then I’m like ‘oh that would make a good photo!’
So you’ve started observing all of life through this gaze?
I mean yes and no. It’s not like I see something and I’m like ‘oh I’m making a mental note to go back here,’ but maybe it’ll inspire me for a future shoot. Also looking at other artists’ work in the city, especially street photography, is easier to do in the city. And the people you meet! I did a project recently called “Love in Dumbo.” We had to go around and take photos of strangers and ask them ‘what does love mean to you.’ It was really interesting because I'll rarely see a stranger and ask to take their photo. It's, like, a little uncomfortable. But for that I had a purpose so it was fun.
Now you say you rarely do it but when you do ask strangers for photos how does it feel?
I think in the ideal situation I wouldn't want to ask the person because it'd change how they would act. What I see is the position I want them to be in. So if I am asking them - which I don't usually do, I'm kind of like a creep from afar - but if I do ask them it's not that weird. I don't do it that often.
Why not? What is it about the candid photo that speaks to you more?
Doing a photoshoot for Ratrock, for example, vs. just bringing my camera when I go out one night - is just a completely different mindset. If I'm taking a shoot for someone I need to have an idea for location, natural light, composition and ideas for body positions. But when I'm randomly taking photos it's a lot more fun. When you plan a shoot more the results are more like ‘okay I know this is how I framed the photo.’
It's more what you expected it to be?
Not exactly. With film it's always iffy. I think that's the better part of candids: it's totally random and I'm not taking them for any sort of value. I'm taking them to get one or two good ones that I can send to my friends and say ‘oh this is cute.’ Which is something I really like doing, sharing those photos with my friends. Because they're candid no one knows what they're going to look like.
It’s just there for a moment.
Yeah, and there's no pressure for them to be perfect. I feel like those are some of the best images I've taken. Something else I really enjoy about film over digital is taking a bunch of photos and then kind of - well I have this whole philosophy about film versus digital photography.
Oh, I'd like to hear that actually! What is your philosophy on film vs. digital photography?
When I take digital photos, depending on what I'm shooting, I take at least two hundred to three hundred. If it's an event probably more. But when I take film I use one or two rolls which is at most sixty. I think that, after going through them and selecting them, you just end up much less satisfied with the digital ones because there are so many options. Comparing two images that are so similar becomes so nitpicky. Those small details shouldn’t even matter, but I have too many options so I'm never going to be satisfied. But say you have a blurry shot on film. If I had that on digital I would immediately discard it. But if I have it on film it has the potential to be cooler and more artistic because it's just a happenstance of film.
So when you limit yourself you feel more creative?
Yeah. I mean I have to think about what I'm shooting more because I don't have the freedom of taking five hundred photos. It definitely makes me more conscious of what I'm taking. I'm also just more content with what I'm shooting. I appreciate each photo more. Because they're all so different. It's like a paradox of choice. It doesn't mean that film is better than digital; I'm just more satisfied with film. And I'm more satisfied with mess ups that can happen.
I kind of feel the same way because I feel like a lot of really great art can come from mistakes. Sometimes the weirdness is what makes it better. I want to switch gears now and talk about your composed shots a little more. What kinds of techniques do you use to capture moments and feelings?
Well for Spec [the technique I use] is limited because it's going into the newspaper. So a lot of the time it's just a portrait and a story that goes along with it, so I have to tie the two together. It's not super free, especially if it's an event. You can try and get cool angles, but that's about it. But in terms of Ratrock shoots, they're very free. You're paired with the artist, and you shoot them with their trust. Obviously you want to represent the person, but you can also have your own creative vision.
I took photos of Kosta Karakashyan, who's a dancer, for Ratrock. We had really good natural lighting, and the [body] positions [he used] were cool. There were a lot of different positions and angles to get, but I feel like that's what I try to get anyway, shooting from really low angles or really close up or kind of distorting a normal portrait because I get bored with them. There's only so much you can do.
I don't think I can truly capture the essence of a person in a photo. I think that [capturing that] is more about how you interact with the person. If they're uncomfortable it’s just going to be a very uncomfortable shoot, and they're not going to act normal. I never start a shoot with ‘you're going to do that and then you're going to do this.’ I don't go into shoots with major expectations. It definitely depends on who you're shooting; it's a huge collaboration. When I'm taking portraits it's very collaborative.
I’ve heard you currently work for Vice; that's crazy! What’s it like working for them?
Yeah! I'm working at Vice this semester in their creative ad agency. It's called Virtue. It's not something I ever thought I'd get into. You think of marketing and ad agencies and you're like ‘that's so boring,’ or at least I do. I don't think I would've applied for an advertising internship anywhere else but Vice because they're trying to change the way ads are made and broadcasted, so you actually enjoy watching them. It's been fun, and it's kept me very busy this semester, but it's ending soon.
Where do you see photography in your future?
I never really thought of photography as a job for me, so I don't ever see myself doing it as a career focus; but I would love to do photos for magazines. I have friends who do it, and there are so many magazines and opportunities. I don't want to major in visual arts because I don't want to study it; it's more of a personal thing. I don't know exactly [how], but I know it will always be with me. My camera will always be on me.
How do you want people to perceive your work?
I honestly don't know. I think there are different types of photography for different purposes: expository photography, journalistic photography, photography that's trying to make a statement. I don't think that my photos are like that but I definitely think I would like to do more things like that, that have a purpose or serve to send some sort of message of evoke something. But I think in just my regular work portraits or photos of my friends, it's just aesthetically something to look at. I don't know what that does for other people. The important part is I like it. There's no pressure on it for me, so I think it's nice that I have something I objectively value. I can keep it if I like it and discard it if I don't.
Unless they’re for something, I don't plan on taking photos. I bring my camera places but I'll only take it out if I'm in a situation I want to take photos in. In that way it's for documenting not important parts of my life but parts of my life that clearly provoked me to take a photo. And then I have a memory of that. It's like I'm carrying a journal. Photography is really just for me.