Film photographer Norbi Whitney, .a.k.a. norbi, is a man of many talents and interests. He grew up around the circus and has become a circus artist himself. He's also fond of contemporary structures, Brutalism, and urban decay. These have also become key points in his work on film. The photographer also explores these topics on their vlog. Get to know Norbi and his one-of-a-kind artistry in this interview.
How are you lately as a film photographer during the pandemic?
I was one of the many who lost their job in the past year. I had nothing to do, and unfortunately no inspiration to do anything for myself either with that free time. However, going out for a walk with my camera (when allowed) was the one thing I had to look forward to. I think I shot more film in the past year than any other year since I started. I also started making videos for YouTube, which is something I had been thinking about for a while.
It was a tough relationship though, as I had no money coming in, but still buying and developing a lot of film… Still, I think it was a good choice, as it really helped me stay focused on something during a moment of having nothing else. I also got much more heavily involved in the online analog community and made some great online friends which I look forward to meeting in real life sometime soon.
When did you get into film? What drew or appealed to you to the medium?
I started shooting film in 2015, kind of by accident. I had been shooting digital for a few years and then my mum unexpectedly gifted me a Pentax Spotmatic which she had found at a garage sale.
The first roll of film was quite stressful without that instant visual feedback, but, as I think everyone will say, it also made me totally slow down and think about every shot. I was definitely initially drawn in by that aspect, and enjoyed the different pace of going out for a long walk and maybe only taking 1 or 2 photos. That stuck with me through my digital work too, as I think I take a lot fewer photos while having the same amount of (or more) keepers.
Then as I was exposed to different types of cameras, that also became a huge draw. I love how every different manufacturer, at different moments in time, had various constraints (either in size, quality, budget, technology, etc) which led to a number of different build variations. How each camera functioned and wanting to experience each different restriction or quirk, is something I love about the analog world.
We noticed how much you put emphasis on movement in your portraits, especially urban ones. May you tell us more about this?
I’m a circus artist by profession, and artistic movement is something I have been exposed to my entire life. When I bought my first (digital) camera, it was with the intention of creating interesting videos of fellow circus artists. That transitioned to taking photos of circus performances, and then to the idea of capturing the artist in everyday settings. Take off the costume and make-up, take them away from the stage, and show that they are just another human like everyone else. It’s been difficult to responsibly meet up with other people recently, but I plan to get back into that soon!
You also did a series of photographs in regards to Brutalism, using the Lomography Color Negative film. May you tell us more about your passion for photographing buildings?
I’m not sure when my interest in architecture started, but both my brother and father are very knowledgeable on the subject, so it most likely came from them. That said, even before it was strictly about architecture, I’ve always been interested in stark lines and solid shapes, so I guess being drawn to Brutalism is probably not a surprise.
I’ve also always loved abandoned places too, and feel a certain something nostalgic when I was lucky enough to have visited somewhere before it was demolished. Remarkable buildings being an integral part of their surroundings, having not just their image but also a kind of part of their soul captured on film forever, even after they’ve fallen into ruin, feels like an important relationship between film and architecture.
How was the experience of using the Lomography Color Negative film?
Lomography’s Colour Negative film is always a go-to choice because of the flexibility it provides at a more reasonable price point than similar stocks. I feel like I can get clean, true-to-life colors, as well as impressive dynamic range, which are all something I look for when capturing architecture.
Tell us a little more about yourself as Norbi Whitney.
I was born in Spain, to British parents, spent the last decade living in Canada, and am now based in Germany for the foreseeable future. I’m engaged to a beautiful circus artist from Tokyo, who I’ve been lucky enough to share the stage for the past five years.
As I mentioned before, I am a circus artist. I have been for just over 20 years now, and for about 15 of those it has been my main income. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to over 40 countries, across 6 continents, thanks to this wonderful profession. Unfortunately, when all performance venues close for a year a half, that can take a toll, but the uncertainty of my own future is part of the package of choosing an artistic life. Maybe if I wanted stability and certainty, I wouldn’t shoot film… Outside of all that I have a keen interest in foreign languages, good food, and playing video games!
Where do you get inspiration from?
I definitely don’t seek out, or really have any method for stimulating inspiration. Sometimes a camera’s unique limitations will inspire how I shoot it, or a certain film stock will lend itself towards a particular style or subject. Sometimes I’ll just be riding around and see a cool building… nothing more.
Something as simple as properly checking who you follow on Instagram can be a great help though. I follow a lot of people who do similar work to me, so that’s helping me see what I maybe would like to try and how I would like to improve. It is also very important to take note of photos you don’t like and note why you don’t like them, to help steer your own future work in the right direction.
What's next for Norbi?
Getting back on stage is my next thing. After almost 2 years off, I’ll be performing in Düsseldorf for 3 months starting in October. After that hopefully, things pick up again, I can start traveling again, and working on some new photography projects around the world!