What Aspiring Creatives Can (And Should) Learn From This Burgeoning Photographer

What Aspiring Creatives Can (And Should) Learn From This Burgeoning Photographer

Charlie Rubin talks to PSFK about his hybrid film-digital process and how emerging artists can rise above the crowd.

Rachel Oliner, PSFK
  • 4 june 2014

For the bedraggled masses commuting in and out of New York every day, the city can seem like a tiring and never-ending employment machine, sucking out workers’ hours in exchange for pay. Billboards dripping with consumerism point out the hottest trends to spend your rent check on, and superficial interactions see you telling acquaintances how much you missed them and how you should grab that coffee tomorrow. Underneath all of this, however, lies the reason that so many creatives still dream of NYC and the opportunities it holds, upholding and reinterpreting the freeing view of the city made popular by the likes of Joan Baez and Andy Warhol in the ’60s.

“Everywhere else is just kidding, right?” As a small fish in what could be considered a massive ocean, photographer Charlie Rubin‘s response shows just how much living in NYC has influenced his practice as a young artist. The city’s streets, the countless music shows, the way the sun looks hanging above Brooklyn’s skyline – every facet of life here inspires Rubin. After a brief stint in Los Angeles, the Haverford College grad returned to New York and earned his MFA from Parsons The New School For Design in New York and hasn’t looked back. From the Unseen Fair in Amsterdam to the Pingyao International Photo Festival in China, the 28-year-old has exhibited around the world in just a few short years, a testament to the hard work he has put in to garner exposure for his work.


Using what he calls a hybrid film/digital process, Rubin shoots with a film camera, but instead of printing the negatives in a darkroom, scans them into a computer to create digital files. To apply his perception-shifting alterations to his photos, he sometimes paints or draws on the negatives, or just prints and re-scans them. For example, the shot above, All your dreams belong to us (2012), was made by adding inkjet ink onto a 4 x 6 photograph and then re-scanning it. While new technologies like Instagram and its suite of  filters have become the norm, turning anyone with a smartphone into a quote-unquote photographer, Rubin prefers to stick with the classics. “A lot of the technology I use is over a hundred years old,” explains Rubin. “Digital cameras are getting really good at emulating a film photograph, but there is still a certain light, black point, and color associated with it that just isn’t the same as a picture taken with a film camera.”


Rubin began his career in high school art classes, adding layers of paint and physicality to his photographs as he became increasingly bored of the monotonous images clouding our news feeds, lacking any sort of expression. A comprehensive look into Rubin’s work and his thought process can be seen in his first book Strange Paradise, published this year by Conveyor Editions. The 60-page kaleidoscopic body of work makes you question what’s real, and what’s been altered by Rubin’s hand. The book also questions how technology shapes what we perceive to be “real,” as well as what “artificial” even means in the context of our increasingly virtual and digital age.

Aside from keeping in touch with people and keeping his Tumblr updated, Rubin has distinct strategies set in place to achieve his personal goals and hit his milestones for this year and the ones to come. “Send your work out constantly to editors and other artists you admire, enter relevant contests and use social media to your advantage,” says Rubin, adding, “But don’t be annoying.” This tactic has worked well for Rubin, who entered himself in the FOAM Magazine Talent Call in 2013 and snagged one of the 16 finalist spots. With 1,566 submissions from 72 different countries, that’s no small feat.


Not only is Rubin pounding the pavement for his own practice, he has also devised a way for other artists to introduce their pieces to new audiences. Neighboring Walls is a series of open-call art shows held in the private apartments of local artists, with the locations rotating on a monthly basis. Rubin was bothered by the lack of spaces in NYC where people could exhibit new work, without having to pay costly submission fees or jumping through other hurdles to be seen. “Making a low pressure, no-bureaucracy process for people to share art and meet new artists was the goal,” says Rubin. While the participating artists have a place to sell or trade their pieces, attendees can also leave with affordable and original artwork, and maybe a few new friends.


After I noticed the slim, On Kawara-like “2014” tattoo on the back of his arm, Rubin spoke about his big plans for the rest of the year, including some very cool photo blankets, pairings of still-life photos with paintings, and also a portrait project. Keep a look out for things to come from this artist, and check out more of his work here.

Charlie Rubin


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