Debbie Carlos Takes Over Chicago

Chicago has a lot of great things happening lately. Alinea for high end gastronomy.  Pitchfork for your summer time music fest cravings.  Half Acre Brewery for well…duh, beer and Hot Doug’s for basically any type of encased meat you probably never even thought of.

Lucky for us, we also have Debbie Carlos calling Chicago home. Her modern photography is some of the quietest and simplest (simple in a good way) photography I have seen and I have been obsessed with her photos since 2005.  Her photos are actually the only pieces of art up in my apartment other than a few Jay Ryan prints and her Antlers photo has been blogged and re-blogged and blogged again throughout the interwebs.

I was lucky enough to sit with Debbie over some pho where we talked about her work and the following questions came from that discussion, our general friendship, and heavy duty emailing back and forth.

Photo of Debbie by Devin Higgins other photos by Debbie Carlos


GR: 1. You were born in Manila, grew up in LA, lived on the East Coast and have also spent a lot of time in Tapei. How did you make your way to Chicago and what do you dig about this city?

DC: I moved to Chicago from Massachusetts in the spring of ‘04 to study photo at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Of the cities I’ve lived in, I think Chicago was the first one I felt a real connection with. There is such a great sense of history, that you can feel everywhere. You get a lot of culture, and the hustle and bustle of a large city, but there is also a really nice Midwestern relaxed attitude. There is also a diverse set of neighborhoods surrounding downtown, and I think it’s these communities that make the city really interesting.  Also, the eating is pretty excellent.

GR: 2.  You got a bachelor’s in psychology and then made the bold decision to attend School of the Art Institute for a second degree in photography.  How did you make that leap and how did your family react?  Was your mom a “tiger mom”?

DC: Even from the moment I finished my first degree, I really wanted to pursue photography, but was held back because I thought I needed a ‘real job.’ And I thought that was what my family wanted for me. When I got laid off from my office job, though, my hope to study art kind of slipped out over the phone to my mom. She told me to go for it.

I think I have the advantage of having a mom that studied piano and fashion design during her years in college, so I think she is actually really open to me having a non-conventional job. My dad is supportive, too, but I think he leans more to the side of wanting me to have a real and steady job. They both wish that I lived closer to home, of course.

GR: 3. You’re ETSY store features your black and white prints on large-scale architectural stock paper.  I actually have one up in my living room and absolutely love it! How did you move towards that size and do you consider it part of your “signature” now?

DC:My brother first introduced me to this kind of printing a number of years ago, and I loved how much image you could get for a really low price. Photographic prints of this size usually cost hundreds of dollars, whereas I could just print these stock-paper prints out in my school’s architectural department for so much less. I also really just loved the aesthetic of it, and it was kind of an epiphany. Color images come out beautifully muted, and the black and white is rough and textural, which is eventually what I returned to with my posters. I love the idea of art for everybody, so that’s what I wanted to make.

The black and white posters are by far the biggest sellers in my shop, and what brings people to my work…so, yeah, I guess it could be what I’m known for. I love my color prints, too. As much as I do love the posters, I am very much a color girl.

GR: 4. Can you tell us about the relationship between your photography and food?  And what have you been cooking lately?

DC:I love photography, and I love cooking and eating food. I think it was a really natural step for me to photograph it. I think I first started to think about food photography as a valid area of interest for me when I picked up Donna Hay magazine. I loved how her images were soft, clean and dreamy, unlike a lot of the slick and modern food photography back then. I saw the images in her magazine and thought, I want to do that! Also, it gives me an excuse to photograph, cook and eat. WIN WIN WIN

I’m not sure if I’m cooking anything very special these days. My go-to meal is any kind of thing with a  fried, runny egg on top. I’ve been asked to make the cake and sweets spread for the wedding of two of my closest friends in a couple weeks, so I’m totally excited about that.

GR: 5.  If you could only grab one camera to shoot with, which one would it be?

DC: It will always be my old trusty Pentax p30 35mm SLR.

GR: 6. A lot of your photos feature your bunny and cat as models.  So who would win in a fight? Bunny vs. Cat?

DC: Cat! She’s got smarts. Bunny only knows her constant need to eat food. Bunny wins for softness though.

You can visit Debbie here or shop her Etsy store!

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