Featured Photographer at PhotoRequest (October, 1997) (no longer online)

Mr. Chambers, at what age did you know you were going to be a photojournalist/documentary photographer?

This is a difficult question to answer, since we really don't know until we either experience a particular situation or have some kind of revelation through exposure. I suppose I had a reasonably good idea or feeling when a friend of mine placed a camera in my hand in 1972. At that moment, the hardware (a Pentax, by the way) seemed to beckon me. It was as if I was six years old holding a shiny, red ball, and I had to play, play, play! And twenty-five years later, I'm still playing. As far as photojournalism or documentary photography, this didn't take effect until a couple of years later when I started immersing myself in photography books and attending exhibitions. This increased exposure turned my head or view towards making documentary portraits and street coverage. Since that time, I've done a great deal of this which has culminated in numerous exhibitions in the United States ('Dyer Street Portraiture', 'Descendants/350', 'Hot City', 'In Black and White', 'Hometown', etc.), Zimbabwe (Africa)('Southwest of Rusape: The Mucharambeyi Connection' and 'Variations on the Dan Mask') and South Korea ('People to People'). From time-to-time, however, I've combined the medium of photography with other media to offer a conceptual study ('Mother's 45s', 'Variations on the Dan Mask', 'VP90/Release' and 'CYSX2'), and I think I may now be heading this direction, more and more ... towards interactive and installation pieces.

Were you self-taught? What schooling did you have?

Yes, I was self-taught with the exception of my friend back in 1972. I've had no formal photography schooling, but what's ironic, maybe, is the fact that I've taught numerous workshops at the professional level. I suppose this is due to my aptitude, desire to continue my exploration of the medium and willingness to share my accumulated knowledge and experiences with others.

What camera type do you work with the most?

I use only two cameras, which I've had it seems, for an eternity. They are Nikon FE2's. This is all I've ever needed ... with an assortment of lenses (mainly the 20mm) ... to do what I've done and still do. They're old and battered like a well-used Teddy bear, but they get the job done for me, at least.

Do you work for a company? Or are you the owner/principal?

No, I don't work for a company. I'm my own person and travel to and fro to make my images. In the past, however, I did work at the university (Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas and University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island) and city government (Executive Office of the Mayor, City of Providence, Providence, Rhode Island) levels as a staff photographer.

Is this type of subject matter, what you specialize in, or are there others?

As I've mentioned, I specialize in documentary portraiture, but I've also generated mixed-media, interactive and installation pieces.

Do you model your style after someone?

Maybe or maybe not. I do know that Dianne Arbus' work has influenced me greatly. I continuely page through her photo books for inspiration and a connection. Her ability to capture reality or surreality in a photograph is unmatched.

Was this style of yours present through your early years as a photo journalist, or was it a gradual sort of process?

This is another difficult question to answer, but I think that I've always approached my subjects and situations in the same manner, and probably always will, since this connection seems to be innate or a particular feeling I have when I release the shutter.

What are some factors that make your style different from the average photographer?

I don't know if my style is really different from other documentary portraiture photographers, but what is paramount for me is that I made the photograph, not them. A lot of photographers hesitate to shoot, because they don't want to duplicate. I disagree with this feeling. What's important is that the image was made, and it belongs to the creator. Regardless of duplication, self-satisfaction is all important.

You seem to capture the feeling of the people you take a picture of. Does this come naturally, or is it a painstaking routine that you always have to go through?

I suppose it comes naturally. I have no difficulty in interacting and releasing the shutter.

What is it like on one of your shoots?

It's a pleasure to be able to make the connection with usually, a stranger. The camera is the thread I use to sew or make a relationship, albeit momentarily. My subjects seem to be comfortable with the situation and realize that the interaction will be frozen or documented for an eternity. This point is important as it relates to the establishment of the relationship in order to make the photograph.

Do you interact with some of these people you have taken a picture of, or do you pretty much keep your distance?

As I've mentioned, I interact fully with the subject to be able to obtain the 'look' I want. What's interesting I think, is this 'look' seems natural in the image, but it's acquired through constant encouragement of posture and expression.

What are some publications that would be interested in your work?

It would be nice if all publications were interested in my images ... money? ... but the ones that might target my work would probably be National Geographic, Life, Newsweek and Time.

What publications have you had your photos in?

I really haven't concentrated too much on pushing my work towards publications. I push towards exhibition. But, numerous images have appeared in city magazines (El Paso, Texas/Providence, Rhode Island), city tabloids (Providence, Rhode Island), city newspapers (El Paso, Texas/Lubbock, Texas/Providence, Rhode Island/Austin, Texas), university publications (Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas/University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island/Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island), organization publications and exhibition catalogues.

Do you find photography something that is with you 24 hours a day?

Definitely. I'm always thinking about the next documentary project and mixed-media pieces. And the Internet has added another dimension to this process.

How do you separate photography from your daily life? Or is it one and the same?

This is a very good question, and my answer has created problems for me as I pursue personal relationships from time-to-time. Your guess is probably as good as mine, but I do know that I can't seem to find or draw a line between the two. Our destinies take us down troubled roads, but those roads (or road) lead to a self-satisfaction that's worth the pain and sorrow.

What other interests do you have besides photography?

I have no other interests, except for expanding my view and work in new directions ... the Internet, maybe, but this tool is just a means for me to continue my desire for the medium.

What are some of the most memorable photo experiences you have had?

My most memorable photo experience would have to be the time spent with an African family in Zimbabwe to be able to generate the project, 'Southwest of Rusape: The Mucharambeyi Connection'. Their willingness to accept me as a part of their community means as much to me as the product.