Portage Magazine: What type of camera do you use?
Charles Nevsimal: Honestly, the camera I use most often is the one inside my iPhone 5s. It’s the most convenient method of capturing and sharing pictures in this day and age. The VSCO app is my favorite photo app. But when I’m being serious I use a Canon Rebel T3i with a Canon EF-S 17-55mm lens f/2.8 IS USM that my good buddy, Darrell Boeck, gave me. And for the times I’m feeling nostalgic and shooting with film—you know, that ancient tech that’s gone the way of the cassette tape—I use my dad’s old Minolta with a Minolta 50mm f/1.7 MD lens.
PM: What is your editing process?
CN: I use Adobe Lightroom to edit the pictures I make, and I shoot in raw, which makes editing easy. I don’t do a lot of editing in post, really. Just basic stuff like color correction and that sort of thing. And I have no shame admitting I still have a lot to learn in this department. Truth be told, it’s not my strong suit. But I don’t let that get in my way. The love I have for the process is in pointing my camera at something I see and releasing the shutter.
PM: How did you go about choosing the subjects for your images?
CN: I live in a secluded house out in the country, on a wooded lot surrounded by nature. There’s a deer trail that runs through our yard. We’re bordered by a cornfield. It’s very rural. Yet, I spend a lot of time in downtown Milwaukee on business. So there’s this nice juxtaposition that exists between the bucolic and the urban in my life. And rather than compartmentalize the two, I’m fascinated by the subtle, nuanced ways in which they overlap. So a lot of my photography is an exploration of the relationship between country life and city life. But, the truth is, there’s not a lot of thought that goes into making my pictures. Often, I see something that strikes me and I do my best to capture it in a way that will convey that vision to an audience. I love street photography, wandering New York till 3am. There’s beauty around every corner. In fact, that’s how I captured the couple on the subway platform. I was on an underground platform in Midtown one night filling up a memory card, and I saw this lovely couple walk in and sit down, waiting for their train. There was just something beautiful and intriguing and unique about them that caught my attention, and I asked them if they’d allow me to take a picture of them. There was a kinetic energy in their love, and I wanted to do my best to capture the moment. That’s how most of my pictures happen. Only, I rarely ask permission.
PM: What is your connection to the Upper Midwest?
CN: I’ve lived in Wisconsin all my life, and I love it here. I’ve done a fair share of traveling, and when I return home from wherever I’ve been, I always do so with fresh eyes that allow me to see all the things I fell in love with on the road in the place of my home. Things I’ve, for one reason or another, taken for granted about the place where I live. Funny how traveling reminds me of how beautiful home is. The architecture, the people, the art, the culture. There’s so much to be proud of in Milwaukee specifically—but on a larger scale, in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest. There’s so much beauty and uniqueness to be revered here. You need only open your eyes, and it’s right there in front of you, begging for your attention.
PM: What do you feel is the essence of the Upper Midwest and how do you try to capture that in your photography?
CN: There’s an honesty here that isn’t found everywhere else. A genuineness, almost completely devoid of pretension. A lot of that, I feel, is born of our blue-collar roots. In factories, in farm fields. It’s a product of our immigrant heritage, surely. But more than that, it’s the fruits of a love affair we’ve forged with simplicity that’s unfettered by ornament or embellishment. We were wearing flannel before Seattle. We grew beards before Brooklyn. But it was never in the name of style or fashion. It was a way of arming ourselves for winter. And as for my attempt to capture these things in the pictures I make? I guess I just aspire to be as truthful as I can with my art. But it’s never anything I ever really think about. Again, for me, it’s simply about seeing a moment and capturing it as best I can.
PM: Who are some photographers, artists, or authors that have influenced you and shaped your work?
CN: I have a particular love for Milwaukee photographer Mark Brautigam. His pictures are beautiful and strange, like poems without words. He’s taught me more than anyone else I know to trust myself with a camera. “It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have about the process or the elements of a craft,” he told me when I was just starting out, “what matters is your eye.” I’ve never forgotten that. Because really, anyone can pick up a camera. What makes a photograph unique is the eye behind the camera. Additionally, I really love the pictures of another Milwaukee photographer, Kevin Miyazaki. William Eggleston has been a major influence. I love the pictures Robin May Fleming makes with her iPhone and shares on Instagram. Honestly, I can’t speak highly enough of her photography, and you should do yourself a favor and follow her at “robinmay”. But probably the greatest moment in my life as a photographer was the unfathomable opportunity I had to assist Peter Turnley on a weekend-long shoot in Virginia in 2004. He taught me that the pictures you make are like gifts given to you by the world. Every moment is an opportunity for a picture. You merely have to look for it. You can’t wait for it to come to you. Keep your eyes open at all times. And be ready for what you are shown.