Interview #9: Charles David Corbin (2020)⁠

Mee Canyon Alcove 3 (Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, Colorado, USA, 2020) by Charles David Corbin.

Charles David Corbin is a self-taught photographer whose life circles around exploring the great outdoors. Having moved from a computer engineering career to professionally building bicycles, his work shows an eagerness for the tactile that only the touch of nature seems to fulfill. In fact, although the monochrome scenes exhibit ordinary matter — common elements — the strength with which they are exposed may only leave the viewer with profound sense of awe for the natural world. Here’s our interview with him.

MS/Before even discussing photography, what’s a bit your background in life?

CDC/I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, just far enough away from nature that weekend beach trips felt like a treat. In middle and high school I played sports and participated in the outdoor club. It was in there that I began to engage in outdoor activities like cycling and climbing. Trips to the mountains were few and far between, but thoughts of those trips occupied my imagination for most months of the year. I studied engineering in upstate New York where these activities were more accessible and most weekends were spent at a local crag climbing with my housemates.

My wife and I moved to our current home in Colorado in the early 2000’s where we no longer climb, but still enjoy the outdoors on foot, bike and ski regularly. It’s an integral part of our life. I’ve worked as a web designer and developer, received advanced engineering degrees, and worked at a national lab on DOE projects. I began building bicycles as a hobby in the mid-2000s to satisfy a “maker” itch (my careers have been computer based and I have a need to create something concrete). I am a nearly-off-the-scale introvert that prefers quiet and solitude.

CH4 1 & 2 (Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA, 2020) by Charles David Corbin.

MS/Where does your current interested for photography roots itself?

CDC/Photography became my creative outlet when I left my engineering career and turned my bicycle-building hobby into my profession. Until recently, my relationship with photography would best be described as a dalliance, and it still remains very much a hobby. My first camera, a Canon DLSR, was a gift from my parents in middle school. It was during a climbing phase, when images of the high mountains were not plentiful enough. Although I don’t recall exactly, I’m sure it was my fascination with those images that prompted the gift. Being largely removed from the mountains in Florida, my first memory of that camera was of photographing flowers in our backyard. I was fascinated with the details, patterns and colours, and amazed by all of the complexity and beauty in everyday things that it helped me see. (I think there is something about how the camera restricts one’s field of view that makes one acutely aware.)

MS/How did your interest for abstractionism begin?

CDC/It wasn’t until college that I started to appreciate photography as an art form. There, I was exposed to (or maybe started to notice for the first time) fine art photography, and it was then that I fell in love with black and white photography. In the years since, I dabbled in photography using a homemade pinhole camera, a 35mm film camera, and a medium format TLR. Only recently did I decide to upgrade from using a phone to a second-hand mirrorless system for my work, and with that upgrade I’m finding my interest in photography reignited.

Rebuilding 1 (Goblin Valley, Utag, USA, 2020) & Trypophobia 1 (Devil’s Canyon, Colorado, USA, 2020) by Charles David Corbin.

MS/How do you approach photography in general? Have you had any formation?

CDC/I don’t have any formal training in photography aside from a printmaking class. Although I’ve enjoyed making photographs for most of my life, I feel like I am still very new to photography as an expressive medium. I am an experimenter at heart, and I learn by observing and doing. This usually means one good image for every ten frames taken if I’m lucky.

My approach to photography is informal and unstructured. Usually, I have only a basic idea of what I want to capture when I go out, and try not to have any expectations for results. Too much planning takes the joy out of the process for me. I get the most satisfaction out of the act of exploring and finding whatever interesting things there are to be found. I do seek interesting locations on occasion, but more often than not, I only travel short distances to look for interesting subjects.

MS/What is your creation process and what role does editing play in your work?

CDC/I’m definitely still developing a style. I gravitate towards two types of scenes: super minimalist and totally chaotic. While these are dissimilar on the surface, the chaotic scenes I choose are not entirely random. I look for underlying patterns and order. It is the structure in the minimal and the chaotic that I find beautiful, and which unites them.

I process most of my images in black and white. Processing is often exploration. Sometimes I have a strong vision for what I want to accomplish. More often, processing helps me realize what I saw when I captured the image, but wasn’t fully conscious of at the time. I have many images, that when I go to process, I wonder why bothered to capture them, but discover something beautiful emerge.

Rebuilding 1 (Goblin Valley, Utah, USA, 2020) by Charles David Corbin.

MS/How do you curate your own work?

CDC/I’m fairly selective of what I choose to put online. Some images I process ten different ways before finally relegating them to the trash. Admittedly, I am insecure about the quality of my work, so that pushes me to be more selective than I probably should be. But as I receive positive feedback, I’m becoming more comfortable posting my images. Since I’m making photographs for my own enjoyment, I know I shouldn’t care what others think, but I can’t help but want some sort of validation.

MS/How has been your experience on Instagram so far?

CDC/The IG community has been very supportive in this respect. It is definitely a great source of inspiration, and I find that most are willing to answer questions about their process and technique. I’m happy to see so many photographers supporting each with positive comments, regardless of subject and style. But perhaps IG can be too supportive. I think most people are uncomfortable providing or receiving constructive feedback online (talking from experience), so it is sometimes difficult to understand what makes an image successful (or not) and how to improve.

Social media has definitely accelerated my learning by exposing me to a wide array of styles and techniques, but I feel like I get the most useful feedback from in-person interactions, and so I will attend local meet-ups on occasion to share and discuss my images.

MS/Have you ever published your work?

CDC/I’ve never exhibited my work or had it featured. To be honest, I never felt like I had anything worthy to share. I’m really grateful and excited to be taking part in this project and hope it gives me the confidence to exhibit images locally when it is safe to do so.

Propagation 1 & Obsidian Waves 1 (Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2020) by Charles David Corbin.

MS/You’ve changed your mind about the images we’re presenting [in this interview]. How are your newer pictures more representative? Have you witnessed a progression in you art?

CDC/Having spent some time reviewing my work, I feel like this grouping is more cohesive — in style and in subject — and would better reflect the attention I give to the layout of my own gallery. I post in series — multiples of threes — where each image is a variation on a theme. I consider the order and layout carefully, paying special attention to the progression (e.g. scale, time, space) of the images. This grouping was selected in a similar way, with images representing frequent subjects seen in my work: stone, water, and ice.

Is my work evolving? Absolutely. This is a large part of what makes photography enjoyable. Is it improving? Most likely, yes. But t I look at my previous work as the best that I could do at that point in time. I bore easily and lose interest if I am not learning, so it is necessary that my work continue to challenge me to explore, refine and change.

Portrait of Charles David Corbin.

Charles David Corbin is a self-taught photographer whose life circles around exploring the great outdoors. Having moved from a computer engineering career to professionally building bicycles, his work shows an eagerness for the tactile that only the touch of nature seems to fulfill. In fact, although the monochrome scenes exhibit ordinary matter — common elements — the strength with which they are exposed may only leave the viewer with profound sense of awe for the natural world.

Interviewed by M. Solav.

New digital magazine that seeks to portray the abstract photography scene and the human-beings behind the pictures in all their depth and diversity.

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