I’ve admired and have been a huge fan of Nate Kaiser’s film work for quite a few years now. It brings me great pleasure to be featuring his personal work today on Childhood Unplugged.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
I’m Nate, husband to Jaclyn, father to Grace (12) and Jasper (8). Jaclyn and I got married when we were 18 and 21, and 12 days before our one year anniversary we welcomed our daughter Grace into the world. We’ve been married for 13 years and have run our wedding and portrait photography business, The Image Is Found together for the past 14 years. We do photography full time, while balancing homeschooling our children, and travel much of the year to wherever our wedding schedule happens to take us.
I know you shoot both digital and film, but it is very apparent that film is where your heart is. Do you only shoot film for your personal work?
I learned photography on film 16 years ago and have had a relationship of varied intensity with it ever since. When we started our photography business 14 years ago we made the decision to shoot our professional work digitally. Digital was the new frontier at that point and it was fun and exciting to be right on the cusp of this new technology. During that initial honeymoon period with digital, film fell by the wayside for me for a while. We were on again off again lovers until 2010. In 2010, after 8 years of trying to make digital cameras pull double duty as my “work” and “life” cameras, it became apparent that I just couldn’t separate the “work-ness” that I felt when I lugged out my digital cameras to shoot things going on in our life, which led to less and less documentation of our personal life. Around that time I purchased a Hasselblad 500cm again…the camera that I had learned photography on back in the early 2000’s and had stupidly sold at some point to help fund some digital gear. In hindsight, that purchase was a turning point for well, everything for me. It taught me how to see again, how to be in love with creating images again, and spurned a flurry of other new film cameras being added to my stable. In 2012, I made the commitment to document our personal lives only on film. Four years and thousands of rolls of film that I personally processed and scanned myself later, I can wholeheartedly say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my photography, my eyes, my heart, and for the visual record of our family.
It’s obvious in your photographs that you are a family that loves to play together. What are some of your favorite ways to spend unplugged time as a family?
Riding bikes, hiking, kayaking, playing board games, road tripping, going to museums, driving through farm country looking for animals, eating out, exploring new places…just getting out of the house in whatever way we can.
I have to tell you, I spent well over an hour on your website the other night, catching up. It had been awhile. Your images just breath life onto the screen. Seriously, one after the other, each one unique and completely different from the next. I truly mean that. What is your approach to capturing images, especially your personal photographs? They all seem so spontaneous. Each compels a different emotion to the viewer. At least for me it did. I love that in a photograph.
Wow, thank you so much for such kind words! What you’re perceiving is exactly what I’m hoping to achieve with the images I take, so it’s very encouraging to hear that’s coming across to someone; a personal/emotional connection to our little family. My approach to capturing these images? Honestly, I’m not sure I have a well thought out approach beyond this: “I don’t try too hard.” Seriously, I actually put very little effort into actually making the images, I suppose that’s the secret sauce. I very rarely ask anyone to do anything they aren’t doing already, and if I do see an image I want to help “create” then I ask, and if my kids or my wife just aren’t having it, I quickly move on. This keeps shooting easy and stress free for me. I’m just there watching and when something happens I want to remember, I try to take a picture of it. Since all the film cameras I shoot with are slow, manual focus cameras I’ve also had to become very ok with missing photos because my kids are fast and crazy. Actually, missing photos is actually one of my favorite things about shooting film. In this day and age of the most amazing-whiz-bang-lightning-fast-one-billion-ISO-see-in-the-night-focus-on-anything-and-take-40-frames-of-it-in-a-second digital cameras you really don’t have a technical excuse to miss shots with a camera like that. That ability comes with an unspoken pressure (at least for me) to always capture everything. Shooting slow manual focus cameras means I’ll miss some stuff, but it makes the stuff I get all the more precious to me.
Do you pretty much always have a camera at your disposal? If so what is your go to camera of choice?
Yes, absolutely! That ole’ saying “the best camera is the one you have with you” is a good ole’ saying because it’s so true! Unfortunately that’s left a whole generation of photographer parents who only document their lives and families on their iPhones. Shooting film of everyday family life sure takes a bit more effort and forethought before heading out, but it’s pretty much second nature for me now. If we’re going out, 9 times out of 10 I’ll have my Leica M6 with Voigtlander 35mm F1.4 Nokton locked and loaded along with spare batteries and a few rolls of Kodak Tri-X film.
It’s Saturday morning with no obligations. You have the entire day to spend with your family. What does that day look like? Go!
Does it make me a bad parent to say that usually after being around our kids all day, all week (we homeschool) that a free Saturday would ideally be spent out riding my bike for a few hours through the country roads that surround where we live? If not that (or after that) we’ll usually try to plan out a whole day exploring our new hometown of Nashville and the surrounding areas.
Do you have an all time favorite image? If so, share it with us and tell us why you hold the memory so near and dear.
This image is always the one that comes to mind whenever I’m asked that question. There really isn’t a memory it’s tied to which is rare considering the vast majority of my work is very intimately tied to a time and place. This image however has a very distinct lack of moment or place and I suppose that’s what I love most about it. It’s just, them.
Last year you and your family made the move from the coast of California to Nashville, Tennessee. Two totally different landscapes. Are you all still adjusting or does it already feel like home?
Already feels like home! We were born and raised in Southern California and while our life there was so formative and something we’ll always hold dear, we decided to leave because we were ready to be done with that environment. The first time we visited the south and midwest, something just clicked for us, it felt like it held everything we had been growing towards our whole lives.
Do you have any rules for the kids when it comes to screen time (television, computer, video games)? There is no wrong or right answer. Just always curious how other families are balancing it all out.
Back when “screen time” first became an issue, we made “tokens” that were good for 15 minutes of screen time per day. Each child got 4 per day and had to turn one over to us in exchange for screen time. They could earn more per day for good deeds, or lose them when they sucked. The tokens were really just quarters we spray painted different colors, but after Jasper (then a toddler) ate two of them (long story), the tokens no longer were a physical thing, but even to this day we still call 15 minutes of screen time a token.
It’s a new year. Any new personal projects on the horizon?
Is surviving another year while not doing anything worse, keeping most things similar, and perhaps even doing a few things better considered a personal project?
What do you most want your children to look back on and remember from their childhood?
Two things. First a love of travel and a respect for a life lived outside the normal formula for family/work/life/balance. Secondly, I want them to look back on this truly giant archive of images of my memories of them to help fill in the gaps of and illuminate their memories.