An Interview with Ivan Reiff
Ivan Reiff took some time to explain his addiction to taking countless pictures and hoarding them forever. We also learned about his propensity to filter and edit in a way that brings out the best in the scenes he captures. Read on to discover more about Ivan!
You started on Instagram pretty early on and your art instantly took off. How did you do it?
In the beginning I learned really quickly what would be good if you want to generate any kind of interest. I did a bunch of hashtags to what were popular sites, and also started to peruse different artists. That was something I really enjoyed doing.
Something definitely changed with Instagram. The pictures that I'm taking now are better than the ones I was doing three years ago, and the old ones would get 200-300 hits. I've been using the same hashtags, and I have three thousand followers, but I’m lucky if I get 100 to 150 likes.
What do you think that could be?
I honestly feel like it is something within Instagram. There's got to be a server the size of a house to store all the pictures they have. In the beginning, the idea was that they advertised really hard for you to "sell" pictures and get them (Instagram) to do screen prints and other printed things. That's where Instagram came from, I believe. Now, for them to try to turn that into money, there's an awful lot of ads, and I just don't see where the money is in it for them. To answer your question, I think that some of the popular hashtags filled up, and there's just so much content that it's hard to stand out.
You are now trying to compete with so much more!
Yes. Cell phones can take incredible pictures now, and for a lot of people, a good picture might be a circumstantial incident. The next guy can create a good picture with a mediocre subject, but with so many out there, there's a growing number of people that get that fantastic shot, and it probably has desensitized everyone.
The technology has improved a lot in those three years, so people are able to take incredible pictures.
Also, there are very few times when I don’t filter a picture, but some of them are over blown crazy. I look at it from a different point of view - if you walked in somewhere, and saw a picture that caught your eye, you would be like, "Wow! That's a pretty crazy looking picture!"
You don’t really look at it in terms of whether it was a purist, or what did they do to it, you just simply look at it, and think it's a great picture.
So for you it's not really about the technical detail?
No, and I do go for the "wow" factor. I bend colors as far as I can. When I edit, after a filter, I'll tweak brightness, contrast, warmth, saturation, highlights, shadow, and darkness (and sometimes I do it twice)! I do come up with some interesting creations. I know it will be a great composition when my eyes literally cross, and then refocus on the image. And some of them do come out to be pretty interesting. Saying that makes me sound like a have a pretty positive opinion of my work. Some don't care for it, but I know that some of the pictures that I edit have pretty vibrant colors! I don't even know how I get there sometimes. It may not be for everyone.
Of all the comments, most of them are positive, but sometimes you'll get a guy who's like, "Dude, calm down on the edits!" As a side note, on most of my widely-published, spectacular cloud shots, sunsets, etc., many of the comments bring praise to our (theological) creator, and I'm thanked for conveying "His" work for all to enjoy.
Everyone has different rules for their art. Some people would think it's crazy that you are shooting from a phone.
Well, I'm no stranger to a camera. When I was fifteen, I bought a Kodak 4000 disc film camera that allowed you to take a shot every second. It was a circular film camera, with a disc that looked like a View-Master, but it gave you split-second multiple picture capability, which in 1982 was just unheard of.
You started playing around with that?
Yes. In my life I must have taken a million pictures. I'm in the construction industry, and we develop our own line of products, so there was a lot of promotional shooting. I've always been the big camera guy! I have a closet out here in my garage with thousands of 35mm pictures that I haven't looked at in twenty or thirty years.
I've always taken a lot of pictures, but I never considered myself a photographer, and would have zero interest in being hired as one. A lot of you guys do photowalks, and I really wish I had the time to be doing that, but it's kind of not really how I prefer to shoot. But, I would love to meet all these great people who I see posting every day! My M.O. (if I have one) is just to have my phone/camera in my hand, and whenever I see something, I shoot it.
You are more of an in-the-moment photographer, but do you ever plan on going out and shooting a specific subject?
That's a little surprising to me! Where did this Instagram start? What did you use it for?
My daughter, Peyton, started my account, and uploaded a few of my business pictures. I put a few on there, and I saw how easily it worked. That weekend, we may have gone over to Landis Valley during one of the Fall Days, and I grabbed a few shots over there. I ran them through the filters, and I'd never been able to get pictures to look like that before.
So, you really enjoy the editing process afterwards?
That's almost all of what I do is edit. During the day, I call it my "collecting". If I see something unique, I'll take a picture, and then at night, I'll flip through, and edit. I read somewhere once, that a photographer for National Geographic said that you take five thousand pictures, and edit it down to a five hundred, and you probably only keep five.
I have almost thirty thousand pictures on that phone, and that phone isn't even a year old.
That is an iPhone 6? Do you have them backed up at all?
Yeah. I believe they are all on iCloud.
That's a lot of pictures, and with all your 35mm! You're quite the photo hoarder!
I would like to go through them all one day!
Imagine scanning those 35mm into digital, and running those through Instagram filters!
That would be something! Over the years, I've had great cameras. When digital first hit, I had the very latest Sony. I found the other media storage was very cumbersome, so when Sony came out with that mini-DVR disc, I was all over it. You could put fifty to seventy-five pictures on them. It depended on the resolution. There were numerous settings on those cameras, but in the end, I would always end up pointing and clicking. I never really took the time to learn how they worked. I had a few settings that I did know. I had wide angle lenses for large project sites.
And you were happy with your shots?
Yeah. I do find it interesting that twenty-five years ago, a 24 exposure roll of film was mostly usable pictures. Now, I go back through and find 95% of them are unusable because they're grainy, etc. This would be a good time to point out the difference between film and digital is almost maddening. Digital is incredibly hard in the area of lighting, backlighting, etc.
There's one thing that I believe that I do, that not a lot of others do. A lot of people look for picture opportunities, and I don't do that at all. I just take a bunch of pictures! A lot of the time, I don't look at my photos while I'm taking them. I just take them as fast as possible, and then later that day, I look through, and pick the good ones. Some people must think I'm a little crazy, or something. Like, "How does he think of all those angles that these shots come from?" I don't really. I just shoot everything, and at night, I laugh with everyone else at what I've captured.
What's your editing process like?
At night, I take a few hours to go through them. I don’t even watch television anymore, I just fool around editing pictures. Pretty lame.
Does that bring you a peacefulness?
When you're sitting down to do this, how are you choosing which photos make the cut, and which do not? What catches your eye?
A lot of my pictures don’t look the way they do when I start. I can tell by now what's worth fooling around with. I've gravitated towards these super-blinding, colorful shots. I can drive through Amish country and get seventy shots of the most beautiful Amish farms, and Amish men working in the fields.
There are a couple of Amish websites that not many people know about where I post a lot of Amish farm and horse pictures. As much as people love those, I do that, sort of as knowing what people want, but I don't really have a feeling for it. I grew up in that lifestyle, so it's not quite as charming to me as it is for outsiders. It's really, very demanding.
You need those dynamic colors!
I'd prefer that, but at the same time, I believe that after someone looked at thirty to forty of my pictures, their eyes would just glaze over.
In a way, you're freezing time.
I go through my iCloud, and into my computer, and I find myself never deleting pictures, because they're your life right there! I find that with pictures being digital, and easily accessible like this, that at night, after I am done checking my email, I'll go back and enjoy pictures from five to fifteen years ago. This newer accessibility is making all the different. I'll literally have my whole life documented, not in movie format, but if you flipped through my pictures in movie speed, you could see my days going by.
Do you share on any other forms of social media?
I did Twenty20, and they have a really nice format too. I'd decided to add my favorites, which are interestingly not always everyone’s favorites on there.
Do you find that that affects your art?
I definitely will do something that I know is going to appeal to people more than it appeals to me. I still do my own thing, but I just don’t share those.
You said that you would never like to be hired as a photographer, but what if someone wanted to fill their office with your work? What would you think of that?
Oh, I would love that! That's something that I have a lot of interest in. The dynamics of color are really, really something. A picture that looks amazing on an iPhone may not look that good wall-sized unless you had a fantastic amount of resolution.
A buddy of mine and I had talked about getting a canvas printer, and maybe taking some portraits to local art shows. I haven't had the time yet to do so. What I'd really like to see is what some of these pictures turn into on a bigger scale. They may not be as attractive as they are on the iPhone.
Your photos are very artistic, and I think they would transfer over to a larger print
I've always been interested in mills, covered bridges, hotels, etc., and I do try to capture those at different times in the year. You can take one building, and get fifty interesting pictures out of it.
Do you find that to be a problem? That you can’t think of new ideas on how to shoot subjects?
I do, but then I don’t. I know that I can take a different picture of an object every single day, and come up with different beautiful pictures of it, and I don’t think anyone would look at it and say, “He did that one last week!” I go back to this little road named Creek Road. Every time you go there, you're taking pictures of the same thing, but every time it's different. It is a little rustic road, and it is my favorite spot around here. I've got to be honest with you, some days I drive myself crazy! I just wish I could drive home, and not be pestered with this notion that I have to stop!
So you won’t go out and try to find the perfect sunset, but you will alter your travel plans to find one?
I’ve done that many times, and I've ended up miles out of my way trying to chase one around. You can tell when the lighting is changing quickly, too. You need to get the perfect shot before it goes away. Or, you'll take a bunch of pictures before you go inside, and come out a minute later, and it will be completely different. You can just drive yourself crazy! I don’t know what that compulsion is…just wanting to capture beauty? People say you have to stop and smell the roses, well I think I spend too much time doing that!
Well that's what life's all about!
True! That's one thing I'm coming to grips with, how incredibly short this life is. I'm already fifty, and thinking of "end-of-life" scenarios. My mother died when she was just fifteen years older than I am now. Fifteen years! That's like two minutes. That's almost damaging to me to believe that I have, what I think to be, so little time left. I feel like I have to do more now.
When you're younger, you look forward to season changes, but now I'm like, "Whoa! Let's not get crazy. The summer shouldn't be over!" Meanwhile, all my friends are happily buying pumpkins, and starting to wear hoodies. Thank goodness they aren't plagued with my thoughts. It reminds me of the idea that we look to the future so much, and the perception of happiness then, that we never really enjoy the present. And, the perfect future is just that, a perception.
Looking into the future, what can we expect from you and your photography?
I would love to do a few photowalks, and I have a brand new iPhone 7 waiting up in my office to try out! From what I understand, the camera's supposed to be even better.
Also, I do believe that when I have more time, I'll buy an actual camera again. I see a million pictures out there that I can’t get with my phone. I'd like to buy a camera that's actually capable of taking pictures of things the way I actually see them.
Many people have been asking me for years to put like a hundred of my photos into a book and offer it. I don’t know how that would turn out, but at some point, I would like to do that too. I would hope if I do put a book together, and someone had it on their coffee table, anyone who flipped through it would be mildly entertained.
I would also very much like to print some of my better pictures, and exhibit them at art shows. I think it would be a nice environment.
As a note from myself, I would like to thank Chad Harnish for his time and dedication to Lancaster County Instagrammers and photography. His catalog is very impressive.