Welcome to Classics, introduce yourself to our readers. Where are you from originally, where is home now?

Thanks for having me. I am from the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC and have mostly lived here all my life.

Who or what inspired you to shoot?

I am still surprised by how much I like to shoot because as of a few years ago, I had never had a desire to shoot anything, even vacation and family pics. But I had moved back to my hometown after living in DC and NYC and I think the houses with yards and cars out front just brought back a lot of memories, and I wanted to capture it. Around that time, I came upon a William Eggleston photo of a fast food restaurant that captured this really great light, and I was floored by it and wanted to try it myself.

I do remember my dad being into photography and my mom’s family had a portrait studio in the Philippines before they came to the States. My grandfather shot and my grandmother developed. And I guess back then in the Philippines, it was still popular to shoot in black and white and then paint over in color later which is what my grandfather did. I’m not sure how this related to my desire to shoot, but I’m still in love with those painted over B&W photos.

What was your first camera and can you recall your earliest pictures?

Well, I don’t really remember my first cameras when I was younger but they were film cameras as that’s what he had growing up in the 80s. I later had a digital camera of course. My first photos would have been in a high school photography class, and I don’t remember them.

Since I started taking photos in the past years, It’s been with my phone and only in the past year have I transitioned to a Canon G7X which a photojournalist friend recommended to me. I like it because I can put it in my pocket. I like to be streamlined without a lot of gear because most of what I shoot is just what I see on walks, and I try to be sort of surreptitious about shooting. I have recently decided I should try to shoot film because of the nostalgic look I often go for and just got a super cheap Minolta SRT-200 so I can use all my dad’s old lenses and accessories with it. I’m really frugal.

Tell us about your journey into photography.

This is actually an Instagram story. I started an account a few years back and had no idea what to post on it as I’m pretty private, and I consider my life pretty boring. But I posted a couple selfies, and the only likes I got were from photographers, not because I’m a great model, most likely from bot activity on their accounts. But I looked through their galleries and thought maybe my Instagram account could be a photography account too. So that coupled with the Eggleston inspiration really started me.

How would you describe your style and aesthetic?

Somewhat minimal and nostalgic. Like I said before, I really like Eggleston photos, but I realize that his subjects did not look nostalgic at the time but of the moment. I would like to someday do something similar and not just have vintage subjects.

Do you have a favorite photograph?

Ones of my family.

Who are your favorite cinematographers and photographers?

I have always been a big fashion person so fashion photographers were my earliest and favorite. Juergen Teller definitely and Peter Lindbergh who I’m so grateful to because he photographs women to look like such strong and interesting individuals and is really aspirational in just trying to be beautiful without just being an object. This is the power of photography I think.

I have also liked for a long time Luigi Ghirri and Nobuyoshi Araki because I’m a huge art fan and I kind of group them in with that. For what I do, I’m inspired by Eggleston of course and also Martin Parr. And for more current photography, the late Ren Hang and also Deanna Lawson.

I’ve only recently begun paying attention to cinematography so recent shows I’ve really looked at and enjoyed are Yves Bellanger’s work on Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies and also Woo-hyung Kim on the Park Chan-wook directed Little Drummer Girl.

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What is your favorite camera?

Canon G7X because I can put it in my pocket.

What inspires & influences you today?

Everything: Art, music, dance choreography, movies. And anything that inspires a story in my mind which could be watching a televangelist sermon on TV or reading a very funny, bad review of a motel on TripAdviser.

Where in the world would be your dream location to shoot?

I find it best to shoot in places I’ve already been where I have memories and vaguely already know the lay of the land. The Philippines would be a big one. I also lived in the Virgin Islands for a year and would like to revisit it, there are so many underlying stories and different moods I’d like to pull out. And because I like Americana, a road trip across the American south, Midwest, and western Texas would be a dream come true.

What is your creative process?

I’m not sure I really have one. I usually see something that catches my eye, and I shoot it if I can get the right composition. I often crop later and edit to add mood. Color is big for me. Sometimes I don’t get what I want, and then it’s a problem to solve to maybe salvage it in editing especially if I like the subject. If it works, I’m really happy.

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What are your favorite publications/websites?

I mainly read about finance, politics, celebrity gossip, etc.  But as for a print publication, I have always been a huge fan of Interview magazine. I even have a few copies from the 80s. The magazine recently folded, but I was happy that it has been resurrected. Something about artists interviewing other artists is wonderful. And the photos are great too.

Who is you favorite filmmaker?

Pedro Almodovar: I just love his whole sensibility.

What is your Favorite Book, Feature Film and Music Album?

I have always been a bookworm so I could name a lot of books, but anything by Haruki Murakami is great. I also really like poetry. I’ve never been able to read Li-Young Lee’s “Persimmons” without tears in my eyes. It’s so tender and speaks of loss, memory and seeing something dear to you from your culture shared with the wider world and it being misunderstood. It really resonates with me.

I can’t pick a favorite film either though I’ve always really liked Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together for whatever reason. I also love Wes Anderson movies and of course, Almodovar.

Music is also a grab bag. What I like changes constantly. I’m listening to Joji, Billie Eilish and XXXTentacion right now. I guess my favorite ever is Johnny Cash, and I like a lot a classic country, classic gospel hymns and dancehall - music made in what I think of small towns to listen to while on road trips.

Any upcoming projects we can look forward to?

I’ve been working on a project shooting Chinese takeaways that have bulletproof plexiglass between the owner and customers. But I’ve had a hard time articulating what my intent behind it is. Besides that, I’m just always trying to learn more and get better. I still have a lot to learn.

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  • Darien Henson said:

    Its always a good day to see someone that lives in the same city as you speak about their art in interview form. Well done!

    April 25, 2021

  • Jane Hipkins Sonie said:

    Wonderful interview Bethel! Really like your Instagram account, and it was fun learning more about you and your work here. Fascinating about your grandfather painting over his black and white photos.

    August 25, 2019

  • Gershon Peaks said:

    I very much enjoyed your interview with Classic Talk. Though I know you it has been many years since we have talked, what I learned from the interview has floored me in a good way. You were always an interesting and much more complex person than some might think,

    I’m glad I took the time to read this story. I miss you.

    You and your family are always in my prayers, peace to you always.

    August 25, 2019

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