An Interview with Charles Bergquist
This summer we shared some highlights from the Everyday Project, a series of daily experiments from San Diego-based director, designer, photographer, and Ghostly collaborator, Charles Bergquist. After discussing the work further with Charles, we became obsessed with the project and soon realized that it would make the ideal starting point for his participation in Ghostly International Editions, our expanding “label” of artwork and artists.
To coincide with our release of four limited edition works from the Everyday Project, we asked Charles some getting-to-know-you questions about his introduction to design and his current state of mind. Read below and follow the linked images to see the new works in further detail.
Detail from Voyager, part of the Everyday Project. July 26, 2012.
[GI] Let’s start with the obvious: Why are you a designer?
[CB] Design, photography, and motion work sort of pushed their way to the surface when I entered college. I became obsessed with them, but on a secret level. I’d study for classes, bounce from major to major, but at night and on weekends, I’d be in front of the computer, messing around with a digital camera or reading books on design and photography. At that time, I didn’t realize that this is what I was going to do for a living, just that I enjoyed it immensely. A lot of my initial influence and curiosity came from contemporary designers, artists, and filmmakers. Finishing school was a big turning point in my life, it’s where I gave up the degrees that I earned and dedicated all my time to design and motion.
I’ve always enjoyed jumping from one thing to another, from design to photography to video work. To me it feels like they’re almost all the same thing. When I feel like I’m getting burned out on moving images, I switch to photography; when I feel like I want to do more to an image than just a photo, I start to get into design work; and then back and forth.
It’s been a relatively solo journey for me as far as what I do now—meaning, I didn’t go to school for it explicitly, and it came from my desire to do it. Looking back, there’s a part of me that wishes I would have gone to school for photography or design, it would have saved me a couple years of trial and error. Then again, I think that’s part of why I’m doing what I do now, I kept working at it. When I started, I had a handful of people telling me that I should specialize in one thing or I was working too hard on one little detail of something and those concepts just never made sense to me. A lot of what interests me is that an image can exist as moving, still or constructed. Also, I feel it’s the subtle details that make something finished.
I think I’m a designer because I love imagery and creating imagery, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Also, I’m constantly in awe of the work of other designers, and that’s a component that inspires me to create.
[GI] What was your first introduction to Ghostly?
[CB] The first exposure to Ghostly was back when WWFT (We Work For Them) put out a teaser for a DVD called Myra. It had a track that I obsessed over but couldn’t find. This was before you could easily find everything on the internet, so a few emails later I found the song, Midwest Product‘s “Duckpond.” I ordered the CD and Idol Tryouts Vol. 1—from there I’ve been a Ghostly fan, from their artist selections to their artwork and design. Ghostly was always doing something different, something innovative and had not only their music curation as a high priority, but their design as well. A lot of my favorite album artwork has been released by Ghostly.
Still from “Slowdance,” 2011
[GI] How did the video for Matthew Dear’s ‘Slowdance’ come about?
[CB] I usually check my email on my phone while I’m waking up and Sam V [Ghostly’s founder] had emailed me asking if I’d do a treatment for “Slowdance” and I jumped at it. I had been listening to Black City a lot leading up to that email and knew “Slowdance” really well already. Since I was pitching it, I just would listen to the song over and over with my eyes closed and write down what I saw. One of the main things that stuck out to me was that I had to get everything moving to the beat in the song, that was really important in the video, the movement of the textures with a female as the focus. I sent that over, a little bit later I got an email back saying that they wanted me on board for it, and I began work.
It took awhile to finish because of the layering and getting it to move how I wanted all together in harmony, which had its own feeling of a slowdance. Every layer I wanted to be its own piece, so I shot liquids, rolls of film for animation, building timelapses and the main section with the actress. That was my first official project with Ghostly and Matthew Dear, and I see it as a really important beginning for me in music video / visuals.
Treatment for Tycho live visuals, Charles Bergquist
[GI] Tell us about working with Scott Hansen (aka Tycho).
[CB] About 3 years ago, Jakub [Alexander, aka Heathered Pearls] and Scott had posted some of my video work on their blog and that’s how communication first opened with them. After they had a post about my work, and after the Matthew Dear video, Scott emailed me about working on a teaser video for the Dive album. That gave way to collaborating with him on the visuals for his current tour. He’s always had an incredible visual element in his shows, so my task has been to shoot and edit new sections for the tour. Scott still adds layers and edits during his shows so they feel alive and different for changing venues.
Working on the visuals has been huge for me because the goal was to have something that felt different for each song. I really think we pulled it off, but we’re keeping it open ended. If I shoot something, I’ll either send him the footage or cut it into something that we can use for the shows. The project is ongoing and hopefully we’ll be working on some new stuff in the next year. He’s great to work with because I think we have similar aesthetics… or they’re far enough apart [for mine] to add a new element to the visual side of his music while still allowing him to mold it.
What’s really full circle about this project is that I was, and still am, a huge fan of Scott’s work, both graphically and musically. This project for me has been a lot of fun from the standpoint that I always had listened to Tycho when I was first designing and had visual ideas about certain songs. It’s been an opportunity to collaborate with someone I admire so it’s been a lot of fun.
Odyssey, part of the Everyday Project. July 30, 2012.
[GI] Take us behind the curtain. What’s a typical day in the life of Charles Bergquist?
[CB] Right now, I’m working as a freelance director, photographer, and designer. I’m just now about to hit my first 18 months of going solo and being able to design my own schedule. A typical day is: wake up around 9 or 10, walk my dog Bear, get some coffee, and head into the studio for a decent chunk of the day. Usually during the beginning of the day I’ll get a lot of scheduling and email done. I spend at least an hour every day browsing the design and video portals. Depending on the day I’ll either be at the computer working on a project or out shooting. I get a framework of things I’m working on done during the day.
Then I usually head home for a few hours, do the standard life things, and head back into the studio again around 9 until 2 or 3, sometimes later if I’m on a roll. Those hours it’s usually lights out working on something. I’ve been on this cycle for years now. I take breaks from it at least once or twice a week, but I enjoy working on my own hours. Working during the night is usually purely creative, the day can be too, but I’d say the day has a more technical element to it. I’ve always felt like day is the time to shoot and night is the time to process.
In regards to the commercial / personal work balance, I usually try to have about 2 days a week to work on personal things or experiment. Part of the reason I switched to freelance is so I could spend a few days in a row on a tangent and either end up developing it or abandoning it.
Photo of Big Sur, Charles Bergquist
[GI] City or country?
[CB] City. I’ve always lived in an relatively dense urban environment after leaving the Midwest in my early 20s. I’ve lived in a residential neighborhood twice since then and moved out of both places within 6 months. When I’m in a place like New York or Chicago, I feel really comfortable. I sort of need that hum of life around in some way for my day to day. That said, a lot of my work is heavily influenced by nature and one of my favorite places on Earth so far is Big Sur, so I think it’s me balancing environments. I have to live in a city but be able to reach the country, coast or nature quickly.
[GI] Mountains or coast?
[CB] Coast. Ever since I moved to California I’ve been drawn to shooting and being around the coast. There’s something really interesting about how the California coast and even the Oregon coast looks to me. Coastline that’s undeveloped is the best: secret paths to hidden beaches, huge cliffs that drop hundreds of feet, it’s just intense. There’s always a sound on the coast, too—movement—so that might be why I’m drawn to that as I’m drawn to the city.
In Time, part of the Everyday Project. July 29, 2012.
[GI] Tell us about the Everyday Project. What got you started on it?
[CB] The Everyday Project started out as a place for work that I didn’t really have an outlet for. It wasn’t client work nor was it a piece that I had a clear vision or idea for. I’d usually experiment or tinker with ideas everyday but then I’d just shove it into my “Experimenting” folder. A lot of them aren’t a series, they’re one off ideas or pieces that I’d work on in a single day or multiple days.
If I had to relate it to music, I felt like I was making a lot of “demos” but needed to spend a little more time on completing them. That’s what the Everyday Project became for me, a place where I had to finish pieces that I started or bring pieces to completion. Some still have a “rough” or “demo” feel to them and I like that component.
Timing wise, I kept it up “everyday” for a while, then the publishing everyday started to slip but I’d always work on something everyday, I just didn’t always get it finished how I wanted. So literally it’s not a piece everyday, but it’s sort of the chronicle of the experimenting that I do everyday, and it’s for the most part chronological.
The other component or motivation behind it was to keep my experimenting alive. I wanted to keep a publishable place looming so that I never lose that “experimenting” mentality. I don’t always have a clear goal of what I’m going to make when I sit down, I’d say maybe 15% of the time I know what I’m going to do. The biggest thing about the Everyday Project to me is that it’s mainly random paths becoming refined into something that I eventually see as finished.
Detail from Shore, part of the Everyday Project. November 16, 2011.
[GI] What music do you listen to while you work?
[CB] This is always a tough one, it varies. A lot of what I love is electronic at its core. I think that’s why I gravitated toward Ghostly. I’m looking at my “Recently Played” on iTunes and it’s Four Tet, Tycho, Purity Ring, Radio Dept., Prefuse 73, Boards of Canada, Matthew Dear, Little Dragon, John Maus, Writer, and Animal Collective… that’s the snapshot of right now.
[GI] What do you like to do when you’re not behind the camera or at the computer?
[CB] A lot of my time is spent doing that right now, because I absolutely love doing it. However, if I’m not, I’m usually at shows, surfing, or watching X-Files or The Twilight Zone.
[GI] What do you want people to take away from your work?
[CB] Well, I just want people to enjoy it and maybe feel like it takes them out of their own world for a little bit.
Mainly, I want to thank everyone that has supported me and most importantly continues to support me. Also, all the people that I’ve gotten a chance to work with, I’ve had a lot of fun so far and I hope it’s just the start.