Stephen Voss is a photographer with an impressive portfolio (he did portraits with the likes of Alan Greenspan, Michelle Obama and Bill Gates).
Somehow he decided to set time aside in his busy schedule to do a Bonsai book, an idea we of course applaud. We decided to find out what he is about to do, and did an interview with him.
When I found out about your plan to do a Bonsai book I was excited, as not many top photographers (at least that I know of) tried their skills at photographing Bonsai trees. It is very hard to capture the age, beauty and emotion of these trees on screen, right?
Bonsai are a very challenging subject. At times I worried about what I could bring to each tree in terms of my viewpoint, about how to make a photo that could exist on its own as worthwhile and not just as derivative work. Frankly, I haven't photographed every tree in the collection since there are some that, to my eye, don't lend themselves to photos and are best appreciated by just viewing them firsthand.
When I look at these trees, I see the empathy and care of Bonsai masters, sometimes many of them who have worked on the trees over the years. I see so many parallels to photography in how the Bonsai masters work. The way they’re able to visualize an inner harmony to a tree and train it to reveal its essence. Obviously one of the big differences is that photography is a 2D medium - a photograph is flat so other techniques must be used to communicate a sense of depth and character.
As a photographer, I'm obsessed with form and composition and I want to use my own training and viewpoint as a photographer to express what I see as the spirit of the tree.
How would you describe your style then?
I'm interested in capturing the spirit of each tree, the intangible thing that draws me to the tree. Often, my style is minimalistic, but I try to let the tree dictate the photo, not the other way around.
So you decided to do a Bonsai book. What gave you the idea to do that?
I love Bonsai and I wanted to share my respect for the Bonsai masters who had worked on these trees. After looking at dozens of Bonsai books, I also thought there was perhaps a little room for photographing them in a different way.
What can we expect from it?
I hope the book allows viewers to experience some of the peace I feel when I'm around these trees. I also hope honors the work of the Bonsai masters who have worked on the trees.
How will it be different from other Bonsai photo books?
I hope this book will offer a somewhat different take on how Bonsai are portrayed. I understand why most Bonsai books show the trees in a straight-forward manner and I think that these photos serve a very valuable purpose in helping people understand a tree's overall form. My book will offer no instruction on Bonsai. it will exist primarily as a highly subjective take on what I find interesting and beautiful about these trees.
The book is not yet for sale, but you offer pre-sales through your kickstarter campaign. Can you explain why you decided to crowdfund it?
I spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to sell this book. In the end, I think Kickstarter offers some financial security in finding interested supporters while also being an excellent promotional tool for getting the word out about the book.
How has the crowdfunding campaign done so fare? Are you positive you’ll make your target?
I'm very thankful for how the campaign has gone so far. But there's no guarantee that we'll hit the target. Fingers crossed.
We thank Stephen for his time doing this interview with us! Did you know we have a book available for sale at Amazon as well? Check out our Bonsai, the beginner guide.