Photogenic Presents, Episode 7: Chris Gampat of The Phoblographer
The Phoblographer has long been one of the leading sources of information for the modern photographer. It's also been our favorite photography blog for years.
We were lucky enough to be able to team up with them to do a unique collab. As part of that process, we sat down with the Founder and Editor-In-Chief, Chris Gampat.
Join us as we learn more about Chris, The Phoblographer, and what inspired the designs in this new collection.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography to me means in some ways the expression of who we are every day. We do things for a reason, whatever it is that we’re doing. We eat because we’re hungry. We drink because we’re thirsty. In photography, we document because we’re trying to understand the world around us. Or we’re trying to express an idea we have.
Chris Gampat, Photographed by Bill Wadman.
Photography has always been an expression of self in one way or another, usually with a determined purpose. There’s the intention, the process of the creating the photograph, and what you hope to get out of it.
To me, that is what photography generally is. An expression of self, based on intention.
How has photography impacted your life?
Let’s start from the beginning. I really got into photography years ago with an old Razr flip phone. My mom was a technophobe. After playing with the phone, I wanted a more serious camera. I took some point and shoots and old Olympus cameras we had around. They were all film, we never got a digital camera in the house until I needed one for college – photojournalism class. I took photojournalism because I knew I had to broaden my horizons. I knew I would need photos as well as writing.
My photojournalism professor really hated all my work and all my projects. I started channeling all the rage and anxiety from that negativity into improving my photography. I started calling publications and trying to convince them to buy my images. And finally, I sold an image - one that he hated - and I told him about it. He was like, “Oh wow, what do I know, I hated that image. Good for you.”
Photo: Chris Gampat, from the series Caught On Tape
That’s how I got an A in that class. All the failing, anxiety, and everything…when the class was over, and I got the A, I wasn’t satisfied. I had tried so hard to get this A, and now that I had it, I felt this void. So I took Photojournalism II. I was a technology journalist and a photographer. Ever since, photography has been a whole bunch of expression and an evolution of my own artistic process. I used to be a concert violinist, and I played the bass guitar. So photography was another creative outlet.
My mom was a classic immigrant mom, who crushed all my dreams of being an artist. She never wanted me to pursue art. And finally my sister convinced her to let me pursue journalism and photography in college. And I began to shine with photojournalism, based on the fact that I was such a good writer (I was a published poet by 16).When I graduated, I couldn’t see myself reviewing video games as a technology reporter until I was 65, but I could see myself talking about how light was hitting a subject.
As I’ve become legally blind over the past few years, it’s become even more important.
It has become imperative to me to express to people how I see the world. It’s become more than documenting. It’s become more about creating.
Nothing captures reality the way I see it. I’ve tried to inform people and express to people how I see the world.
How would you describe your style of photography?
For work, I do a lot of documentary and studio portrait stuff. I feel like many people relate to that who are aspiring photographers. On a personal level, I’m much more conceptual.
Photo: Chris Gampat, from the series The Secret Order Of The Slice
I’ve had the privilege of being able to interview so many photographers at the Phoblographer, and that’s helped me a lot. These days I’m a very conceptual photographer. I have a notebook in my living room, I plan for a year, and then execute over a couple of months. I really want to refine everything that I do in a series. I already have an idea of the project I want to do next year.
Where can we see your personal work?
www.thegampat.com is where you can see my personal work.
In your own words, what is The Phoblographer?
The Phoblographer is a website people can come to every day to catch up to what is happening in the photo world, as well as a fuller analysis and inspiration. We put a different spin on every one of our stories, where we put more into the actual psychology behind creating photographs.
We publish often, we’re one of the best resources for everything that’s going on in the photo world and everything that’s super interesting.
Also a great place to come to for finding out about discounts, deals, and opinions. You can get the facts everywhere. But for someone who has an educated, thought-out opinion on something, we’re the website to come to.
When did you start it, and what was the impetus?
The Phoblographer started in 2009. I had the idea to do this in Nov ‘09. I sat there and built the website a couple days before New Year’s Eve 2009. 2009 was a pretty dark time for college graduates.
We graduated into the toughest economy this country has seen since the Great Depression. Even though I'd had 5 internships, no one would give me a job.
I was living at home with mom and sister, shooting various gigs.
I was trying to be a journalist in the photography/tech world. Because I didn’t have a job, my mom was pretty negative about the whole situation – that I wouldn’t amount to anything and I needed to get out of the house and get a real job. When I was younger, my dad taught me how to mediate, so that helped a lot during this stage.
Eventually, I realized I wanted to create something that would last into the future. I studied the other websites, and wanted to create something very different than what was out there.
Photo: Chris Gampat, from the series The Secret Order Of The Slice
One of the main impetuses was not necessarily doing everything from a lab perspective, testing lenses, etc.
In reality, photographers shoot for clients who don’t care about that stuff. A bride is not gonna analyze pixels, she’s going to look at the moments you captured. Same with family photos.
It was about more practicality. That practicality was the basis for us talking about the psychology of everything, like we do now. To explain the practicality, we had to explain why people do things the way they do. So that’s how The Phoblographer got started.
What are you most proud of when it comes to the Phoblographer?
Honestly, our survival. The past 10 years have been very rough in the media industry. We’re turning 9 at the end of the year. It’s been a difficult couple of years.
For part of this time, I worked at a day job, which I really genuinely hated. It was at a big photo store here in NYC. I didn’t really like it, I planned for a year on how to escape it.
One of the things I’m most proud is how I did escape, and build The Phoblographer, and I was able to hire a bunch of other photographers, and pay them well.
We pay writers within 24 hours of receiving an invoice. We’re ethical, we’re empathetic, we listen to people
I’ve created a website where people work well together, and they’re happy to be here. There’s no politics like there is in a regular a day job. People work together, we have open communications, everyone gets along.
That’s what I pride myself on.
Photo: Chris Gampat, from the series Caught On Tape
What are some things that tell you how much of an impact you’ve had on the photography community?
When you search online for most things in the photo sphere, we’re usually in the first 3 searches, often #1 or #2. This is because we’ve always been ethical about the way search works. We have maintained strong journalistic ethics due to my background as a journalist.
The photo sphere has historically been a very dark place where people go and comment negatively all the time. So to counter that, I used to print out all the really nice, kind emails I would receive and put them up around my office. Every time I was in a dark place, I would see the emails and think about all the people I’ve helped.
At one point, all those positive emails completely filled a room. After a while, I just didn’t need it anymore. I believed in myself and everything we were doing. It’s about focus.
Why did you want to work with TogTees?
TogTees reached out to me a couple years ago. I thought the designs were really cool. Then you sent me some shirts pins and stickers. I put them on my MacBook and then I put the shirts on, and I saw it was really high quality.
The clothing hasn’t faded. It’s lasted wash after wash. It’s held up so well over time. It’s very high quality.
Even though I lost 40 lbs this year, your clothing still looks good on me. I love how the clothing is designed to last a long time, and isn’t something simply seasonal.
Best of all, your shirts aren’t super expense. You buy a couple and they’re going to last a really long time. And you look back and say that’s was a good buy, maybe I should buy some more.
Was there a particular design that caught your eye?
F8 and Be There – I really liked that design a whole lot. I loved the typography, I loved the message, and what was connoted with it.
Also some of you pins, like the ISO 800 pins and the Audiovisual pin.
How would you describe the process of translating ideas into visual designs with TogTees?
It was an interview process. You spoke to me about what The Phoblographer means to me, who we are overall. I used our token process of how we go about approaching every problem – who what where when how why. We dissected the website based on that. I gave you a couple of ideas and things to think about. Then you came back with some designs, and we refined them. And now we’re launching shirts!
Tell us about the History of Photography design? Why do you like it?
I always really been fascinated with the history of photography, because there is this theory in communications studies that as we crate technology, we become that technology. When people were first doing photography, it changed the world because there weren’t major large paintings being commissioned anymore. There were portraits like tintypes and daguerreotypes, and photography has continued to change the world in many ways.
TogTees x Phoblographer History of Photography Tee. See all available colors here.
Beyond the studio, the 35mm film camera came about and people were able to document everyday day life. Images were coming in to the world from everywhere.
That changed the world, instead of us talking about things, we started taking photos and telling stories with photos.
That’s continued to develop with the way film developed and got better, and then it turned into digital, it impacted photography in a much different way, especially in conjunction with the world wide web.
Then it became the phone. Suddenly, there was good cameras in everyone’s pocket all the time.
That’s the idea of the timeline. At least the thought process behind it.
It interesting to look at the different cameras and how they impacted the world in different ways.
And personally I think that’s the best conversation starter for any photographer.
Tell us about the Lens Arsenal design. Why does it speak to you?
It really speaks to me because I‘ve always been a prime lens lover and I know most of our readers have too. When I look at this kit, it’s something that’s very personal to all of us. Some of us start with a 50mm lens and then go to 35mm to document daily life. These 4 focal lengths encapsulate the types of photos we are all. If you’re a street shooter, you probably never go past 50. If you’re a portrait shooter, you’re probably 50mm, 85 mm type of person.
TogTees x Phoblographer Prime Lens Arsenal Tee. See all available colors here.
The fact that you can get everything pretty much done with just these 4 lenses, affects not just your creative process (you learn to see how the lenses see) but also creates something that is very personalized to you. While also keep things light and fun in a way.
What do you mean?
There’s the idea of the holy trinity of lenses (14mm-24mm, 24mm-70mm, 70mm-200mm). And you’re supposed to just use those lenses and that’s all you need.
Depending on the needs of the photographer, you’re probably OK with a couple of focal lengths. The way most people use zoom lenses, you usually just use one or 2 focal lengths over and over. Because the primes are smaller and lighter, you can pack extra stuff like a flash in the bag, or you can keep it very light and easy to use.
There’s an element of focusing on the art more than the gear.
Where you’re stuck with one focal length, you focus much more on what’s in front of you, an instead of looking at all the possible framings, etc. like you do with a zoom. You’re putting more emphasis on the actual subject, not the camera and equipment. The art of moving around changes your perspective in ways that zoom lens sometimes hinder. In some ways, they’re crutches.
Where do you see yourself creatively in one year?
I’m currently undertaking my first one portrait a week project. I’m purposely doing it with the idea of creating one conceptual portrait each week. At the end of the year, I’ll be a significantly better photographer, in terms of being able to express self as an artist.
I took a year off of alcohol, and I lost 50 lbs. Because I’ve made strides like that, I know I’m capable of doing these kinds of things.
Where do you see The Phoblographer going in the next few years?
We turn 10 next year. There’s a bunch of things that we want to do to reach even more developed photographers. Mass market is cool, but people who want to push themselves and become the best photographer they can, it’s imperative that we do that.
Photography is changing so much right now. There’s too many people documenting things and not enough people creating things.
I want to turn the photography community into creating stuff in camera, not in Photoshop. Spending more time with the subject in front of you. Finding a way to make the landscape look like a painting in camera. Finding a way to add light into a scene and know what it’s going to do I camera.
The Phoblographer is going to keep our core audience, but I also want to expand us and give us a more unique advantage. By helping people create better.
In 10 years, I see us as an even larger organization, evolved in different ways. I’m looking beyond Youtubers and Instagrammers. When I look at the landscape, at all the content, everyone is doing the same stuff. Doing tutorials, reviews, interviews, etc. I don’t need to do reviews on gear or tutorials better than the next guy. I want us to find a niche that is significantly different than everything everyone else is doing. We’re working on honing that, and finding ways to do that.
In a year, I see us being a different Phoblographer, at least in some important ways.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us.
View the full Photogenic x Phoblographer Collection here.
Editor's Note: From 2016-2021, Photogenic Supply was called TogTees. We changed our name in mid-2021, but you might still occasionally see our old name on our website. We're still the same people :)