Get to Know the Photographer: Isaac Tannenbaum

Get to Know the Photographer: Isaac Tannenbaum

My name is Isaac Tannenbaum, and I’m a third year double-majoring in Cinema and Media Studies and Environmental and Urban Studies, also with a minor in Architectural Studies. I’m involved with MODA, Fire Escape Films, and contribute every so often to the Maroon Arts section. Outside of classes and RSOs, I love watching movies at Doc, taking pictures (obviously, haha) developing film in the darkroom, cooking, and hanging out with my dogs when I’m home.

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Why did you pick up photography?
I’ve always been interested in photography—I remember fighting with my siblings over our family’s DSLR on every vacation we would take until we started getting our own cameras. I guess what I’ve always been drawn to is that photography captures and makes permanent instantaneous moments; when everything is so temporary and fleeting, I feel like I just want to capture anything and everything. I fell out of photography for a while towards the end of high school and my first year here, but as I started to notice how I was photographing everything on my phone—and I really mean everything, as evident by the 15,000 pictures I have on my iPhone right now—I realized how much I missed it, and this led me back to the art and medium and I’ve stuck to it since.

Where do you draw inspiration? 

My interests mainly lie in documentary photography, in capturing the stories in individual moments. I draw a lot of inspiration from photographers like Alec Soth and Rachel Boillot, Vivian Maier and Bill Cunningham, as well as Annie Leibovitz.  

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What do you like to shoot with?
I shoot mainly on 35mm film. I tend to use black-and-white film because I can develop it myself with the resources on campus here, and because I love how it forces me to play with shadow and grayscale contrast. I’m attracted to film as a medium because I really think it has a photographic quality that digital simply doesn’t achieve. It’s sort of like the grain itself creates a depth and texture by actually capturing the moment instead of trying to digitally reproduce it. There’s also something about the materiality and physicality of it, of being able to work with your hands on a photo from start to finish. And when you have something like a dusty negative or water marks, you’re reminded of that materiality and that it really is working with materials and a physical element that digital just doesn’t have, even if the blemish impairs the clearness of the image. It’s like the imperfections are part of the art itself… I just think that analog photography and film as a medium is just really cool and more interesting than digital.

[With film photography] it’s sort of like the grain itself creates a depth and texture by actually capturing the moment instead of trying to digitally reproduce it.
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What are some of your favorite subject matter?

My first draw towards photography (and film production, for that matter) was to eventually work on crews for projects like Planet Earth, so wildlife photography is definitely one of my favorite subject matters. It’s great when I have the opportunity to travel and see the animals in person, but that’s a rarer, special occasion. I also enjoy portraiture, especially when I get to capture a really genuine, candid emotion. I like to talk with the people I’m photographing when shooting, hopefully getting them to laugh while I take the pictures, because I think that nothing posed comes close to that unaffected happiness that comes with laughing, and I love making a transient feeling like that permanent in photography.

What’s your favorite shoot you’ve ever done?

I think my favorite shoot so far was my entire trip to the Okavango Delta in Botswana because it gave me the chance to shoot wildlife photography like I’ve never done before. Like, you can’t compare the squirrels of Hyde Park (which I absolutely love shooting, and you can often see me running after squirrels with my camera) to lions on the plains and elephants by the watering holes.
Do you have a favorite location to shoot in Chicago?

I don’t really have a favorite location to shoot, but I do enjoy getting to use photography as a way of exploring different and unique areas of the city.

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All images courtesy of Isaac Tannenbaum. View more of his work on his website or Instagram.

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