In conversation with PNW-based multidisciplinary artist Samantha Muljat, whose ephemeral photography is sure to make you walk into landscapes from your dreams:
You see the world in such pretty colours. How did you get into photography, and what draws you to the medium?
When I was little, I drew and painted a lot. My mom always talks about how I was a very quiet child who would sit at our kitchen table for hours and draw. Later, when I was 8 or 9, my dad got me a point and shoot and I quickly realized that photography can be used as a tool to explore nature in a different way. After high school, I went to the University of Art and Design in Offenbach, Germany to study painting. I quickly started exploring other mediums and ended up getting a bachelor in photography and a master's degree in design and fine art.
I find that photography - or the photography that I practise - is the perfect intersection between all the other mediums I enjoy. It can be really hands-on, especially with experimental analog photography. Or, it can be hands-off, with digital editing. I can also draw from another medium, such as painting, if I paint on negatives directly or work with coloring negatives. I enjoy having options, crossing into other realms and borrowing techniques that are traditionally used in other forms of art.
-Describe your personal aesthetic in three words.
Experimental, colorful, strong.
What camera do you use, and which is your favorite film to work with?
My most used camera at the moment is a Pentax ME Super and I love the Revolog 460nm.
Were you always sure that you wanted to be a photographer or was it a series of coincidences that got you here?
I knew I wanted to be an artist. I don’t consider myself a photographer only. I also love making music, graphic design and painting, although I haven’t painted in a really long time. In school, I started out as a painter, then dabbled into film and ended up doing photography and graphic design. I felt like I never quite fit into one of the categories and always felt an urge to bend borders between them. I did a lot of collage-y mixed-media stuff, which was neither liked by the photographers, nor by the painters. For many years, I thought it to be a flaw, not being able to decide where I belonged. Now I actually think that I learned so
much more that way.
Is there one photograph right now by you or someone else that has moved you deeply?
I follow SHOOT FILM MAGAZINE on Instagram; they have an amazing curation of artists. I came across this shot of an old Icelandic church. It is by Daniel Björkert. There’s a longing and melancholy in this photo that I find palpable.
Who are some photographers whose work inspire you?
I draw a lot of inspiration from paintings and record covers. Actually, more so than photography alone. I’m a huge fan of Romanticism. Caspar David Friedrich is one of my favorite painters. I love the surrealist paintings of Kay Sage and Rene Margritte. As far as photography and design goes, I’m a huge fan of Hipgnosis and the collages of Jim Harter. I also love Cindy Sherman and of course - Ansel Adams.
So many people are returning to film cameras. In this age of abundance, where every second person is a self-proclaimed photographer, what do you think makes for a good photograph?
I think you do need a little bit of training of sorts. I don’t mean the technical aspect of photography, like how to work a camera; I mean learning about composition and aesthetic rules. I sometimes see fairly well executed photographs and then something is oddly cropped, or off-centered. That stuff bugs me. It’s not necessary to get a formal education, there are plenty of books out there teaching about how to compose a good picture. I also think it helps to try out other mediums. It’s not about perfecting any of those arts - I’m far, far away from that. It’s about finding common denominators and really sharpening your senses. It’s about changing perspective. Painting has helped me to become better at taking photos, graphic design has helped me to have a better understanding of use of space and composition. Learning how do to typography properly has deepened those and so on and so forth.
Do you develop your own film?
I do not. I bring my negatives to a lab and then scan said negatives at home. I’ve developed film before though and would love to do that at home. I recently moved and haven’t really set up my studio just yet. Once I’m a bit further along in this process, I can figure out if my space allows an area to set up a mini-lab.
Do you have any self-portraits you could share? What is your relationship with the self vis-a-vis the camera?
Back in April, I did an album cover shoot for the artist Geomi. Since we’re living through a pandemic, I decided not to hire a model for the shoot out of safety reasons for the person and I and did the shoot using myself as the figure in the pictures. I think it turned out pretty good. Usually, I enjoy being slightly under the radar. Maybe I’ll experiment with self-portraits bit more in the future, who knows.
The art of photography is often quite solitary. Can you please talk about what it's like to be so connected to beauty, images, nature, and nostalgia?
I love to spend an entire day outside, with no distraction, no other people. Just a car, my camera and I. I sometimes enjoy taking paths I’ve never taken and getting lost on purpose. A day in the mountains is the best way to spend any possible day. After I come home, I continue my exploration by manipulating the pictures I have taken, which to me is just the fortification of my inquisitiveness and curiosity.
Nostalgia is the taste of a warm cup of tea, the sour scent of mildly rotting apples in a field in fall. Eating lentil soup after coming home from a cold day in the mountains. How the air smells shortly before snowfall.
What are you working on these days?
Right now, I’m working on the LP cover for my own band Glasses. I’ll be doing the photography, typography and layout for it. It’s going to be a gatefold, which I find extra exciting. I also want to get back into painting, that’s been on my list for quite some time. Other than that I’ve been curious about making videos of sorts. I’m not really sure what the content is going to be, whether it’ll be tutorials, taking people along on shoots, or something entirely different. I have to ponder on that a bit more.