“Make time for personal projects so you’re always shooting something you love” - Benjamin Holtrop
Portland is a hotbed of creative talent, so it’s no surprise that artist Benjamin Holtrop has adopted the city, and its eclectic residents, as his muse. We met up with the photographer and art director to talk inspiration, his minimalistic style and what makes him tick.
As a teenager growing up in rural Portland, Benjamin Holtrop spent most of his time outdoors photographing the wildlife at his family farm. Despite being drawn to photography from an early age, he enrolled to study medicine at college and didn’t pursue a career within the art world until he found himself immersed with, and inspired by, other creatives.
Fast forward five years and his pared-back imagery has gained a cult following on Instagram, he’s an art director at Aesthetic, a visual content agency, and also produces his own online lifestyle magazine, The Forager.
From collaborating with his roommates on art projects to hosting dinners for fellow photographers, Ben is in his element when surrounded by the city’s creative community. We caught up with our MarkMaker to talk photos, Portland and how to stay original.
T: What was your first camera?
My mother gave me her 35mm Minolta when I was 15. We lived on a farm, so I photographed our animals constantly. Now I mostly use a Pentax 645 camera. It’s medium format, which means the film is bigger and it delivers a better, clearer image.
T: How did you transition from being an amateur to a professional photographer?
It wasn't until I asked my friends to pose for me that I really learned my craft. There was an immediate trust there, so I could take my time without them judging me. From there, people started asking me to take their photos and I started to get paid work. Still, no matter how busy I am, I always make time to shoot things that I love.
T: What makes Portland so special?
Definitely the creative community. I live with a florist, a designer, a producer and an illustrator, and just being around them is really inspiring. Luckily we get to collaborate on different stuff we’re working on.
T: What are your favorite spots in Portland?
For breakfast, I’d head to a café called Maurice and get one of their pastries. It’s very European and feels like an experience in another country. At night I like to go to Angel Face and order a Negroni cocktail. There’s no menu - you say what you like and they make it exactly the way you want it.
I also love to cook for friends at home, so I’ll pick up fruits and vegetables from the Portland Farmer’s Market on Broadway. I really like the contemporary photography at Blue Sky Gallery, and often head to Beam and Anchor for artisan goods. When I walk in there, I want to buy everything.
T: Digital versus film - what’s your favorite?
I shoot mostly on film. Using film causes you to slow down and be more careful with each shot, rather than just clicking away. I also love that physical sound and feel of the shutter opening and closing when using film.
T: How do your images on social differ from your other work?
Instagram helps me share my process rather than my final product. I think a lot of people, including me, like to see how others get to a certain point. But when I shoot film, that’s the final product.
T: What photographers have influenced or inspired your work?
The late Richard Avedon really captured the essence of his subjects. He infused so much movement into his shots and ended up changing the fashion photography scene completely - that’s something I want to do. I want to always be moving forward and making the standard better.
T: Where do you learn about new techniques and processes?
By talking with other creatives - other photographers, artists, painters and musicians. They let you know about what’s changing. Surrounding yourself with other artists gives you a deeper insight into your own work.
T: How did you develop your distinctive minimal style?
If you shoot on film, you quickly discover that film love's light. I realized early on that I was always searching for light and was drawn to photos that were bright with clean lines. There’s a fine line between minimalism and coming across as too cold though, so I always add a touch of warmth to every shot - a plant or a weathered object that has a good story behind it. That subtle addition is important to me.
T: When did you realize you had a lot of photography fans?
At the beginning of my career, I took an image of a girl in a dress and I lit the dress on fire. It blew up on Flickr and then I saw it all over Tumblr. That was when I realized, “Wow, people really follow my work. This is crazy.”
T: What advice do you give new photographers?
Don't be afraid to reach out to the people who inspire you. It’s how I’ve made some of my closest photographer friends - people are usually happy to help out. The best way to get into photography is to pick up a camera. Everyone has to start somewhere.
T: What do you wear on a photo shoot?
I usually wear a sturdy boot, chinos and a white shirt – it’s a great natural light reflector. Being comfortable but stylish without worrying what I look like is the goal. Versatility is also important to me because Portland weather changes all the time.
T: How does Timberland fit in with your lifestyle?
For me, as an artist, I’m drawn to things that have a story. I like Timberland’s history of beginning as workwear and then transforming into a stylish brand that people can wear anywhere.
T: What does the Modern Trail mean to you?
It’s about taking risks; doing what you love and helping others do the same along the way.