Cait Oppermann and Yael Malka interview

New York photographers Cait Oppermann and Yael Malka raised money through Kickstarter to fund their project Sea Blues – a book charting their 70-day journey through Morocco, Turkey and parts of Europe.

Interview by David Spry
June 2013

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i. Sea Blues, cover
ii.Yael by the Pool, Cait Oppermann
iii. Untitled (Cait in Doorway), Yael Malka
iv. Untitled (Best at Rest), Yael Malka
v. Paris Parc, Cait Oppermann
vi. Medina Kids, Cait Oppermann
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. Sea Blues, spreads from the book

All photos © Cait Oppermann and Yael Malka 2013

 

 

In 2012, Cait Oppermann and Yael Malka proposed a book of pictures, tentatively titled Too Much Information, on Kickstarter. As well as some text (journals, recorded dialogue, etc), it would contain a collection of photographs made over a period of two months while backpacking. They raised $4,348 for the book through crowd-funding, exceeding their goal.

Sea Blues was launched in Brooklyn in May.

 

This is the first book you have released together. What has the making process entailed, and in what ways has this process surprised you?

Yael: It was actually really difficult to give my full attention to one project for this long. I mean, I've worked on projects for this long but there was more movement going on, whereas the process of making a book is a much slower one, which I am not used to. It's hard to remember that editing, layout and sequencing is still considered making work. I put so much of my energy and focus into the book this past year and I would get frustrated because it was taking up all my time and I didn't feel like I was producing work really.

Also, I'm used to shooting, editing, printing and re-shooting, and doing it all over again. Whereas this was constant shooting, without looking at the photos throughout that time at all, then having them all overwhelm me at once. There was a lot of editing, and lots of re-editing. That was definitely the hardest part. After the trip was over and the shooting was done, it was time for the real work, which was definitely fun but tiring.

Cait: I knew it was going to be a long, drawn-out process, but I wasn't fully prepared for all of the small details of what had to get done. Shooting and going through all of the film was the easy part. There are so many things to think about when putting together a book, especially one like Sea Blues with so much physical work going into it. 

I'm usually kind of a loner when it comes to my process, in that I like to make my own decisions. Yael and I work extremely well together but that's not to say that there weren't a number of artistic disagreements when it came to compiling the book. Lots of disagreements were had. It all worked out though. We're both so happy with what we came up with together.

"We work extremely well together but that's not to say that there weren't a number of artistic disagreements when it came to compiling the book."

It must have been a shock to raise nearly $850 more than you'd intended, though I'm sure it was useful. Had you used crowd-funding before?

Yael: No, this was the first time I'd ever used crowd-funding. My sister had used Indiegogo in the past to fund a play she was producing but it just never occurred to me that it was something I could do. Cait was super-enthusiastic about Kickstarter and had funded a couple projects previously. I didn't know much about it or really understand how it worked at first, but once I did it really blew my mind.

Cait: I was new to crowd-funding in that I had never been on the receiving end, and it was so exciting. There are really two waves – at the beginning and then at the end. There was a sense of urgency towards the end, so we were kind of biting our nails the whole way through, and then miraculously we went way over. That felt great.

Will crowd-funding play an increasingly significant role in facilitating self-published books and self-actualised projects in the future? People contribute to projects that they will enjoy, and in turn, makers' costs are lower and it is easier to break even. It seems as if everybody wins!

Cait: I see very few cons with this process. The artist maintains full control, as opposed to working with a publisher, where there is often pressure to make certain decisions you wouldn't necessarily love to make. It's also a great feeling when you know a huge number of people want you to do this amazing thing, rather than a few people who think they could make some money.

Of course, in some cases it would great to be approached by a publisher. But with this book, we weren't open to compromising, and at the end of the day it's really about sharing a common interest with people who believe in you enough to give you money to make something great. That's the best part.

"With this book, we weren't open to compromising, and at the end of the day it's really about sharing a common interest with people who believe in you enough to give you money to make something great."


What did you travel with in terms of photographic equipment? I imagine that between several cameras and a bulk of film, among other things, there would've been quite a lot to carry.

Yael: Oh man! So much extra weight! We brought about 140 rolls of 120 film with us, which weighed almost 25 pounds (11.4 kg)!

Funny side note about that… When we entered Tangier and were checking in at customs, the police were totally freaked that it was ammunition! Luckily Cait speaks French, and after about 15 minutes of explaining and convincing them that this was film, they let us go. But we were terrified that they were going to take it away, which would have been tragic and would have meant no book.

I carried my Hasselblad everywhere with me. I also took my Olympus Stylus with me, which I hardly used.

We had a particular bag (my mom’s tote bag, which she gave us right before taking off for our trip) that we carried our film around in, which we would reluctantly take turns carrying. It was so heavy! But it was really special bringing it around with us our whole trip. That film has been everywhere and has seen everything we have. It's kind of a romantic idea.

Cait: I carried my Mamiya 7II, which is pretty lightweight and is a great travel camera. I also had a Canon flash with me, as well as little Olympus Stylus point and shoot. 

The Stylus was a little camera and it sadly died soon after we got back. I think I was too hard on it, poor thing. I had to literally pull my last roll out of its cold, dead body because it wouldn't even turn on anymore to rewind. R.I.P. 

Other than that, the enormous bag of film was really the most cumbersome of our supplies. We guarded it with our lives because it carried not only our fresh rolls, but our exposed ones as well. It was so heavy that the bag we took it in was a mangled piece of cloth by the end. 

This project is like a memento or a diary, and it is quite personal in that sense. Were your photographs made in an intuitive way, as a diary entry or a celebration of seeing or feeling something? Did you find that with the looming parameters of the book (quantity, quality, language), some structure had to be imposed upon the use of the camera?

Yael: It was a combination of all of these. Many of the pictures were shot in an intuitive way because we would take our cameras everywhere with us and had no idea what we were going to come across that day or how we were going to feel. I wouldn't say it was a celebration of seeing or feeling something, but more of an observation or study of it.

But then there were also photographs that were taken in a more structured manner, such as the series Twenty-One Beds, which came out of self-portraits taken together on each bed, couch or floor we slept on.

We never limited ourselves in what we shot throughout the trip. There were definitely ideas we had in mind prior to the trip that we didn't feel as passionate about once we were travelling. For example, we were planning on taking photographs of each person we stayed with, but that didn't happen for a few reasons but mainly because we didn't think it added to what our trip meant to us. I think we just needed some sort of stability or idea that we could latch onto before leaving because we really had no idea what to expect.

Cait: Definitely a combination. I've always shot this way though. For me, it was so refreshing to see something new every day because I can get so bogged down by the familiarity at home in New York. When everything is new and therefore interesting, shooting is so instinctual.

That said, it really is a diary. The self-portraits we took are a great log of our experience as time progressed throughout the trip. You can really see how we were fresh and green and excited and then, later on, tired and tanned and a little thinner. Series came out without us realising, and in that way it's also like a diary of our realisations and comparisons between places along the way.  

"When everything is new and therefore interesting, shooting is so instinctual."


What is unique about your collaborative relationship?

Yael: I've always worked in a way where I conceptualise a project, then create images around that idea, but this was a completely different way of working for me. This trip was more about shooting intuitively, and I was closed off to the idea of working with that approach for a long time. But I was able to learn a lot from Cait because she had been shooting like that for a while. The discussions we had about this prior to the trip and while travelling were really helpful to me and opened me up in a lot of ways in terms of seeing.

What's unique about our collaboration though is that we were traveling for 70 days together, and never once wanted to kill each other!

Cait: We eat, sleep and work together. Other than a few hours of the day on most days, we're together all the time. I don't know exactly how this plays into the way we work together artistically, because we've only ever collaborated in that environment, but it definitely cuts out a lot the formalities and politeness when we disagree. Again, this could be good or bad, but I don't know the other side of it, so (even though I hate this phrase) ‘it is what it is’.

What was in your mind while editing, and how long did this take?

Yael: From the editing of the photos to the editing of the sequencing to the editing of the layout, it took about eight months. We had so many photos to go through, and once we were finally done editing them I thought, ‘Okay, now's the easy part’, when in fact it was the hardest one yet. Figuring out the sequencing and layout of the book was challenging. We also had creative differences at times, which we worked through of course.

It kind of felt like an endless project at times, even though I could see progress being made. There were a lot of surprises, which was all part of the learning process, and I'm glad I went through it because now I can be more prepared for the next book!

Cait: I think the editing was going on before we even left to travel. I had ideas of imaginary photos I might take. I'd make up some little still life in my head and of course it never happened, but it set me up for what I was looking for. While we were travelling I wasn't thinking much about the book in terms of shooting for the book, but I had certain images in my head that I was dying to see paired with other images.

Can you talk about Sea Blues as a title? When did the title emerge?

Yael: There are a few reasons for the title.

One night in January, Cait and I were brainstorming names for the book. During this long talk, which felt inconclusive, I said, ‘Ugh, I don't know, Sea Blue!’ (which is my nickname for Cait because her eyes are ocean coloured). This sounds really silly whenever I retell the story but after I said that to Cait, she said, ‘That's it! That's what we're calling the book’. It made sense right away.

We yearned so much for our trip after coming home, and still felt very disoriented, so Sea Blues became the reality that ceased to exist, that was our trip, yet our connection to it at the same time.

It also has to do with the disorientation and detachment we felt while travelling. We were having fun and enjoying ourselves although kind of lost and having no control over it.

 

caitoppermann.com
yaelmalka.com