All posts by Cary Benbow

Cary Benbow is a photographer, writer and contributor to a number of photography magazines. See his work at www.carybenbow.com or www.wobnebmagazine.com

Aurora PhotoCenter Brings Opportunities for Photography

L to R: Installation view of [hyphen] American, Self Portrait as a Ghost by Amelia Morris, Image from The Mall by Jay Turner Frey Seawell

2019 Photography Developments for Indy

This year a number of different things came together in a confluence of good for photography in Indianapolis. I was introduced to Mary Goodwin and the Aurora PhotoCenter (APC). In its inaugural year, the APC conducted a number of events, first of all being the workshop held at the Indianapolis gallery space, Tube Factory at Big Car. Keliy Anderson-Staley held a tintype workshop and individual portrait sessions. I sat to have my portrait made, and watched as other portraits were made and observed the process Anderson-Staley took to prepare the tintype plates, expose the plate with a person or small group of people sitting for exposures; commonly in the neighborhood of 10 seconds. This is an eternity compared to the ability of a person to snap and post a photo on Instagram in less time than it takes for Anderson-Staley to make one exposure. It is a beautiful process and resulting image transported me back to first time I ever saw a photographic image developing the darkroom. Pure magic.

I sat down that same morning with Mary Goodwin and had a discussion about how the APC came into being and she gave me a tour of the gallery. Mary has previously served as Associate Director at Light Work in Syracuse, NY, and she actively contributes to photo events and workshops around the country, and she is the founder and publisher of photo books at Waltz Books. She hopes to incorporate some of the same purpose in Indy that Light Work serves to its home community. We discussed the first exhibition the center hosted: [hyphen] American by Keliy Anderson-Staley. The exhibition was in tandem with a tintype workshop and portrait sessions. Keliy’s growing collection of tintype portraits in the project, mine included, would be exhibited along with historic tintype photos from the Indiana State Museum collection. The main focus of the exhibition showcased portraits made during her stop in Indianapolis in June 2019, as well as subjects photographed in other American cities from New York to Cleveland to San Francisco. 

After Mary and I spoke for a while, we were joined by another of the APC founders, Adam Reynolds and the discussion moved into the direction the center would take for exhibitions in the coming year.  The third founder of APC is Craig McCormick. Craig is an architect and photographer and is a Principal at Blackline Studio for Architecture, founder of procurement and maker company Co+Effect, and creator of MarshallStudios.net. Craig is active in the photography scene in Indianapolis, and boards for arts organizations including Harrison Center for the Arts, Big Car, and Pattern. 

The second exhibition hosted by the center was also held at Tube Factory from Nov 1st to Nov 22nd 2019.  Respecting POTUS & National Trust was an exhibition that featured work by Andrew Miller,  whose interiors, architecture, and portraiture explores the intersection of people and politics that is found in the urban environment. The other images in the show were by Jay Turner Frey Seawell who explores appearances and perceptions of historical structures to political spectacles and media culture, and they are all inextricably tied to superficial appearances and perceptions.

The third exhibition hosted by APC in 2019 was Is Everyday Extraordinary? A Photography Show. This exhibition was hosted in partnership with Indianapolis art venue, Gallery 924 for the month of November  as well. Is Everyday Extraordinary? was billed as an exhibition that celebrates photography’s power to extract the extraordinary from everyday moments. The show featured work by photographers based in central Indiana, and work from about three dozen photographers was shown. I’ve shown work in gallery exhibitions only a handful of times in the past ten years; as online exhibitions are the norm now. It was great to view the work in that setting and talk with other photographers in the show. One of my professors from college, Mark Sawrie, had several pieces in the show as well. It is always an honor to be included in an exhibition alongside work made by the people who I learned from.

Acquiesce by Mark Sawrie

It’s difficult to stop myself from coming up with some optimistic statement on the outlook for photography in the coming year. What does 2020 hold for Indianapolis and the midwest in general? I have felt for a while that serious events and meaningful work gets created somewhere else; and if it starts out in the squishy areas of the midwest, it quickly heads for someplace like Chicago, Cincinnati, Madison, Detroit, or Kansas City. If the author John Green can develop an affection, dare I say pride, for Indy, then who am I to argue? Great work can come from here and maybe it just takes enough people to speak it into recognition. I will write more soon about the work of Keliy Anderson-Staley and her book, On a Wet Bough.  Let’s all start talking more about photography. Let’s have meaningful dialog and share the work we create.

New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography by Grant Scott

© Grant Scott. From New Ways of Seeing

The strength of New Ways of Seeing is in the discussion of where we are today. The discourse and investigation of photography and learning the craft of fluently speaking a visual language is at the forefront. The book feels perfectly positioned to appeal to both students and educators of visual arts, or anyone wanting to better understand the importance of applying practiced skills and knowledge to the visual language of photography.

The ‘democratic language of photography’ couldn’t be more appropriate as a guide or theme throughout Grant Scott’s new book New Ways of Seeing. In a very agreeable tone set in the text, Scott presents his opinion about how we got to the current position of the billions of people worldwide who carry a camera each day. However, he makes the point that this fact does not necessarily make us all well versed in a photographic, or visual language.

I’d like to make a short comment at the start of this review. Aside from the single image chosen from the book and the cover image, this review largely focuses on subject matter and not images. It’s a significant departure from my normal reviews, but one that I’ve tried to make in an effort to highlight the significance of how we all can write and talk about photography without the narrative crutch of photos to illustrate the ideas.

In the book, Scott easily recognizes the importance of pre-smartphone photography and visual storytelling, while also giving credit to the importance of the ease and ability of photographers to create without the burden of expense, or perhaps ironically, without the burden of a traditional photography education. Thus giving rise to photographers being able to proliferate personal projects and elevate the democratization of photography.

The book is laid out in chapters, but as Scott mentions in his introduction, it is not necessary to read them in order. His chapters cover a broad spectrum of topics and they are presented with the sentiment of embracing change. Scott liberally references photographers of prominence and notes the significance of their work – historically and contextually. He gives them ample credit for the influence they have made for contemporary photographers, even if it is without their awareness. The importance of internet sites like Instagram are given credit, due to the role they have played in the process of forming and informing the lives of people studying photography. Scott says in the chapter Speaking in a Digital Environment:

“For a photographer to ignore the impact of Instagram on lens-based image creation could be an act of informed decision making. For a teacher involved in photographic education to ignore Instagram’s impact on the next generation of photographers would be an act of denial and negligence”.

I enjoyed reading through the range of topics, and embraced Scott’s attitude toward a general inclusion of all the advances in smartphone, digital, and computational photography, rather than adopting a stance of being firmly grounded in traditional analog photography and scoffing the present state. The role of narrative and telling a meaningful story through the visual language of images is a primary theme throughout. Scott mentions that many people currently studying photography more readily identify themselves as visual storytellers, rather than as photographers. Very little attention is paid to gear or kit as it applies to how to make meaningful work, but the technological advances of photographic equipment are chronicled for the purpose of better understanding how we’ve gotten to this point. This is one of the most meaningful books about photography that I’ve read. It is highly informed, but not over my head, and ultimately invites the reader to thoughtfully inspect and challenge their own practices of being an image creator.


New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography by Grant Scott
240 pages, 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches, 60 color photos
Published by Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019
ISBN-10: 135004931X
ISBN-13: 978-1350049314


Grant Scott is the founder of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Photography at Oxford Brookes University, UK, a working photographer, and the author of several previously published books.

His documentary film, Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay has been screened across the UK, Canada, and the United States, and was ultimately posted for free via YouTube in the spirit of sharing knowledge.

Grant Scott is the founder of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Photography at Oxford Brookes University, UK, a working photographer, and the author of several previously published books. He can be found on Twitter at @UNofPhoto

His documentary film, Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay has been screened across the UK, Canada, and the United States, and was ultimately posted for free via YouTube in the spirit of sharing knowledge.

To buy a copy of New Ways of Seeing, it can be found on Amazon here, or at the publisher site here. Check out the website for  United Nations of Photography and to find out more about Grant Scott or see his work, please see his website: https://www.grantscott.com/

Featured photographer – Parker Reinecker

Parker James Reinecker is a Street / Documentary Photographer, Writer and Educator based in North Carolina. He is currently working in Northern Georgia, Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the American Southwest. Growing up in coal country, Scranton Pennsylvania, with a bar and a church on every corner, his work touches on the experience and struggle of growing up in the blue-collar United States. Drawing inspiration from his own struggles with personal identity, crime and homelessness which can be conceptually suggested within the compositions of heavy highlight and deep shadows. Parker’s images and series develop symbolic narratives while immersed in his relationship to the broken landscape of “Small Town America” and the conflict of poverty and beliefs, values and traditions, hope within the broken dreams and some touches of humor within it all.

Reinecker’s work has been exhibited in various galleries and museums in the United States including the Colorado Photographic Art Center, the Academy Art Museum and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. His work has also been featured in various national and international publications/platforms including C41 and Eyeshot Magazines, Dodho Magazine and The Photo Review. Parker is an MFA recipient from Savannah College of Art and Design and is a full-time Visual Arts Professor at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in Salisbury, North Carolina.

To see more work by Parker Reinecker, please visit his website at http://parkerreineckerphoto.com or on Instagram @in_the_park_

 

We Shared this Time by Jeffery C. Johnson

Artist’s Snack Shop – Chicago, 2008. © Jeffery C. Johnson

Chicago-based photographer Jeffery C. Johnson’s photography has been prominently featured on the WGN-TV News, ABC-TV’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, BBC Travel.com, CNN Travel.com, Chicago Reader, Chicagoist, Gapers Block, and at ChicagoPublicRadio.com.

Johnson has worked as a dedicated photographer for the Scottish pop band Aberfeldy, captured the scene at the capitol building in Springfield, Illinois in 2007 when then Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States. He also exclusively followed the Four Star Anarchist Organization during the Anti-NATO protests in Chicago in 2012. 

Johnson has primarily photographed across the United States, but says his favorite subject has always been Chicago. Johnson grew up there and both his grandfather & father were photojournalists in Chicago. “And, of course”, he says on his website, “because the city is amazingly energetic, beautiful and bewitching, rough and raw, full of history, mystery, and punch. While I would have loved to photograph Churchill, I was given Blagojevich; but a photographer can only capture those within their time. I enjoy taking pieces and putting them together to represent a whole – whether it’s a city, a specific place, an event, or a person. I feel I am making portraits of whatever I photograph”.

We Shared this Time is a self-published collection of photos from Johnson’s work that spans different themes across his broader collection of reportage style photography. Whether it is a street image of a particular location, specific event being covered, or lucky happenstance – the direct style of Johnson’s work makes you feel like you were there. The unpretentious nature of some of his portraits transcend straight reportage, and speak to larger issues like gun violence, celebrity, and poverty. We see a teenager standing up in a crowd of people, pantomiming holding a rifle and taking aim. We see street musicians playing for tips in downtown Chicago, contrasted against professional actor and musician Steve Martin candidly playing his banjo in front of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Naperville, IL. Johnson’s image of a Cubs fan hoping to catch a stray home-run ball, dressed in full catcher’s gear behind Wrigley Field, is in stark contrast to his candid portrait of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich – sporting a Cubs baseball cap while dressed in a business suit and tie.

Much like fellow Chicagoan Studs Terkel, Jeffery Johnson shared a moment or two with folks from all walks of life, and shared them with us. Rather, Johnson’s subjects are all of us. We Shared this Time shows different aspects of the larger picture and reveals that these disparate actors in the play of life are not so different in the end. We are all part of the play.


“The Odditorium”, Carnival, Berwyn, IL., 2011. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Couple, Brookfield Zoo – Brookfield, IL., 2010 © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Nik Wallenda, Skyscraper Highwire Walk, Chicago, 2014. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Homecoming Queen, Franklin County High School – Brookville, IN., 2011. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Fan, High School Football Game – Brookville, IN., 2011. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Waiting for a Home Run Ball, Waveland Ave., Wrigley Field – Chicago, 2007. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Street Musician – Chicago, 2011. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Woman on Street Corner – Chicago. © Jeffery C. Johnson


To learn more about Jeffery C. Johnson, please visit his website at https://jefferycjohnson.smugmug.com/. Links to purchase a copy of We Shared this Time can also be found there, or at Blub: https://www.blurb.com/b/9414851-we-shared-this-time

Easton Nights at the Susquehanna Art Museum – Peter Ydeen

© Peter Ydeen

A selection of Peter Ydeen’s photographs from the series “Easton Nights” will be shown at the Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania from November 1st through January 10th.

Dreams features a selection of works from the Easton Nights series. Peter Ydeen has been photographing the Easton, Pennsylvania area at night since 2015. He takes inspiration from the work of noted American photographer George Tice, who captured images of American life and landscape.

Ydeen explores the Easton area at night, discovering the ethereal presence of contrasts and colors. As if lighting a classical still life or stage set, Ydeen takes advantage of the lights in the city which highlight his subjects. Coupled with the pink light emitted by the sodium vapor streetlights, Easton at night becomes a silent city of lit stages bathed in unreal color and shadows.

These scenes share a familiarity with countless American cities during the quiet of night. The temporarily abandoned spaces reflect the citizens who built and occupy them during daylight. The remnants of decades of development offers a portrait of a community in absentia. For Ydeen, creating the series was both addictive and cathartic. What started as a photographic exercise became an intimate interaction with the quiet shapes and exotic lights of a sometimes-forgotten American city.

November 1, 2019 – January 12th, 2020

Havana Youth by Greg Kahn

Greg Kahn says he wants Havana Youth to break the stereotype of what it means to be Cuban. The country’s current identity by and large was formed on a sense of collectivism: the idea of the benefit of a large group of people versus the individual. The youth of Cuba today are striving to break that stereotype and form new ideas based on how their counterculture reflects their own identity. This is somewhat challenging due to the lack of pop culture influences they allowed in Cuba for most of their lives. They’ve not been inundated with tons of commercials, tons of magazine advertisements, etc. due to the lack of these sources in Cuba. Their fashion sense and the zeitgeist of the youth Kahn photographed in Cuba are born from their own unbound expression of how they wish to be seen as a generation, and a culture.

An interesting cultural evolution is taking place in Cuba, especially with the millennial generation. Technologically they skipped straight past pagers and cell phones and went from landlines to iPhones. They are now soaking up popular culture via the internet, mimicking what they see, and re-inventing themselves – and Cuban culture – in the process. Kahn says he fell into the trap of photographing stereotypical architecture and old Cuba versus new Cuba images at first. After two initial trips to Cuba, he realized he was making the wrong type of work for what he wanted to capture. A lucky encounter with discovering an outdoor rave concert thriving with thousands of young Cubans, helped him realize that this is the driving force behind the change in Cuba’s economy and its future. Their energy, their drive and their sense of music and fashion were a key part of their identity.

Young Cubans’ sense of fashion is a conscious decision be a counterculture – their clothing is a middle finger to authority. This attitude is similar to one in another photo book I’ve seen about gang youth in 1980s New York City who were wearing designer clothing as an expression of the ultimate luxury living experience. Their desire to achieve their own version of the American Dream was presented to the world through apparel designed to declare: I have made it. For Cuban youth, their newly acquired iPhones, international magazines, smuggled underground movies and internet hotspots have become a way to raise their status. It is also the way for them to resist the government. A fashion blogger Kahn met in Cuban said clothes are communication. Every day there is a really conscious choice about what he is going to wear. Clothes have a strong connotation; they can be like a journalist writing against the government. It’s what it means to be free.

This culture is not only evolution, it is revolution. It is revolution without the need to fire single shot; it is revolution with a capital R, through the guise of fashion, communication, and expression via counterculture. The Cuban government will not allow for protests out in the public eye. The youth of Cuba are protesting through this subversive process of accessing the internet, and accessing a way to make money and gain upward mobility in an oppressive environment. Kahn’s images show us an avant-garde way of life within the world of youth and fashion in Cuba, and also how a new socio-political way of life is forming as well.


Havana Youth
Photographs by Greg Kahn
Introduction by Ariana Hernandez-Reguant
Hardcover, 11.25 x 8.5 inches
144 pages + additional softcover zine
Edition of 500
ISBN: 978-1-943948-12-3


To find out more about the work of Greg Kahn, and Havana Youth, please visit his website https://www.gregkahn.com/. To purchase the book, please visit Yoffy Press at http://www.yoffypress.com/havana-youth

All images shown are © Greg Kahn, used by permission of the publisher.

Top 10 Ways to Become a Better Photographer…

With so many resources at our disposal, it’s easy to get lost in all the noise and chatter on the internet. You know where to go for your favorite news, music, or entertainment app. Wobneb Magazine wishes to be a place for specific types of photographic information. We don’t focus on gear or kit. We don’t strive to post every gallery opening or call for entries that is known and available, and we will not list the top 10 ways to become a better photographer.

Wobneb Magazine stands by our original mission to highlight the work of contemporary photographers through periodic interviews, book reviews, and features. It is our mission to provide a space for exposure, learning, promotion and visual exploration of photographers’ work.

If you are a photographer who has a long-term project worth mentioning – we want to hear from you. If you are a publisher of photo books or zines – drop us a line. Whether you recently finished a photo program at college or university and want to present your portfolio to a wider audience, or have been making meaningful work for decades – You found the right place.

I will continue to seek the input of other photographers, writers, and educators to meet the goals of our mission. It is my hope that this effort will create a place for people to view and interact with strong photographic work that has something meaningful to add to the larger discussion.

Please feel free to comment or give your feedback wherever you are online. Wobneb Mag is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Medium, and this website.

Thank you, Cary Benbow

Publisher | Wobneb Magazine

No Idea – Project and Zine by Allan Lewis

There’s something about a chronicle that can make it extremely personal. Don’t get me wrong, it can also be something that is a record of an event or thing that is widely shared among many people. But in particular, I’m speaking about a photo project or publication that is a chronicle of not just a slice of one second, but the slice of someone’s life. Allen Lewis sent me his zine No Idea a couple months ago. No Idea reflects upon the road trips he took in his twenties. One could interpret this zine as a visual journey, or a travelogue of scenes witnessed along the way (current day) to points unknown. His color images were shot in a contemporary documentary style with a variety of analogue and digital cameras. He has captured landscapes, scenes both inside and outside buildings and homes, and a person or two – one of which might be a self-portrait. I am firmly middle-aged, and the idea of a road trip lasting more than a couple days is only something I’d do tons of advance notice. Allan includes text at the back of this zine with comments much along the same lines. When I look at his project with this in mind, a different frame of reference is applied to the images within. It’s like wanderlust with the promise of a comfortable bed you know is waiting at the end of the journey. Some crazed experience like going to summer camp with Hunter S. Thompson is not in the cards. Let’s leave it to someone else to create work based on that premise. No Idea is poignant for me – and that’s perfect. It’s a personal project that has found form in print, and in some sense, this is a great entry for me writing about a photo zine. I made little books on Xerox machines in the ‘90s and they had all the wistful reflection of a dumpster fire. Lewis takes careful consideration of what is going on right here, right now – and contrasts it with his younger self. The work is well crafted and presented. This zine is far more than a snapshot or quick vignette of a singular theme. Ultimately Lewis takes the opportunity to chronicle and explore concepts and ideas reflecting on what one might not understand in the reckless abandon of youth. As he says in the zine, “I wish I’d had a camera back then. When you were younger you have no idea what you’re witnessing. But does that change as you get older?” No Idea Photos and text by Allan Lewis Copyright 2018, Allan Lewis www.allanl.com

Sarah Belclaire – Ophelia Risen from the Lake

Unmending, 2017-Present, © Sarah Belclaire

Sarah Belclaire is a photographer and writer based in Boston, Massachusetts, Her writing is mainly focused on women artists, and she recently launched a social media campaign called #1woman1review to encourage more women writers to review the work of women artists.

Belclaire’s photographic work also focuses on women’s issues, both personally and broadly. Her current/ongoing series “Unmending” is an attempt to relate her own story about disability and chronic illness to healing as a universal and varied experience. She uses large pieces of fabric to create in-studio scenes and costumes embodying the dichotomy of covering up or hiding one’s self, as compared to emerging from trauma.

This featured photographer comes from a blind submission to Wobneb Magazine. Like many things in life, a blind leap of faith is called for. In this particular case, it means the curtain is pulled aside and Sarah Belclaire’s work comes to the front of the stage. Her work is presented with a dignified grace rather than a clanging gong. Her cathartic work in ‘Unmending’ uses her own body, and her own life experience to explore meaning of her own recovery from illness; and in the larger sense, what it truly means to heal.   


Artist Statement for ‘Unmending’

“These self-portraits began with one year of photographing myself as I experienced chronic illness and, primarily, recovered from surgery. I photographed my healing scars and my life with those scars and presented these images to friends through Instagram and Facebook. As my healing progressed, the reactions of those who took my scars at face value drove me towards a different narrative: one of healing as a lifelong and universally relatable process, less tied to scars than to identity.

 I began to explore the body language and inadvertent messages that remain when I photograph my healing body without explicitly including the physical wounds. In covering my scars I uncovered themes of affectation, evasion, and discomfort as well as self-awareness, poise, and resilience. Recognizing that I am neither sickly nor immune to damage, I experiment with draped cloth costumes, which when molded, re-folded, and altered, can transform me into any state of mind: exposed, invincible, or somewhere in between. I see myself as a soul-searching woman, hiding, concealing, revealing and adorning herself with fabric: first a curtain drawn, then a twisted rope; a hospital gown or a ballgown; sheath or shaper. This work is intended to address recovery as a self-aware and sometimes painful process through which we mend, unmend, hide, emerge, lean upon others, evolve, and reinvent ourselves in search of a narrative for our healing experience.”

“At the age of twenty-six I opted for surgery to potentially, one day, save my heart. All at once it was comforting, terrifying, scarring, and curative. I addressed the complexity of this journey by photographing myself every day, starting the day after my surgery. Even when I could barely walk I was taking photos, not because it was a challenge but because it was a relief.”

 “My wardrobe and backdrops made from draped fabric are inspired by traditions of European painting from the Baroque era to early Impressionism. Fabric backdrops allow me to create a diorama of sorts in which to install my human still-lifes. Inspired by the elaborate use of costume and gesture in an exhibit of the Pre-Raphaelites at the National Gallery of Art in London, I have transformed myself into the heroine of my own anti-tragedy: an Ophelia risen from the lake.”


Sarah Belclaire is a photographer, writer, and researcher from Boston, Massachusetts. She has been writing about the arts and music and shooting portraits for 10 years. Her writing has been featured on BobDylan.com, Folk Radio UK, and No Depression. Her photos have appeared in international print and online publications such as Vogue Italia, PH Magazine, F-Stop Magazine, Photographer’s Forum, and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. To see more of her work from ‘Unmending’ and other photography projects, please visit her website at https://www.sarahbelclaire.com/ — to read Belclaire’s interviews, features and editorials, visit https://www.sarahbelclaire.com/redshoes

All images shown are from the series ‘Unmending, 2017-Present’ © Sarah Belclaire

Featured photographer Rachael Banks

© Rachael Banks, Grady after Benson, 2016

Rachael Banks is a photographer from Louisville, Kentucky, and is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Northern Kentucky University. In a recent issue of F-Stop Magazine, I was fortunate to interview her and feature her work in the thematic context of animals  – while acknowledging her work focuses primarily on family dynamics, relationships, and nostalgia. She is also especially interested in social subcultures and identity informed by place. Banks’ creates work about her family and the uneasiness of those relationships that are strained but also incredibly involved. The inclusion of numerous pets or animals in her family’s life conveys the importance animals play in our lives as she explores feelings of loss, identity, and meaning in the context of family, love and acceptance. It is immediately apparent that she cares deeply for her family – a tough subject to be subjective with, and also intimately close to. 

 

I am the oldest of three, but more like a mother than a sister.

I constructed a family of siblings, both real and assumed.
‘Between Home and Here’ addresses deeply internalized
guilt and the essence of loved ones.

There is a history of pain and an apparent inwardness in my family.

My brother has a rage inside of him that I know others can see. 

But, I can’t help noticing the way he delicately handles a small rabbit in his arms, gently stroking its ears and shielding its eyes from the fear of the unfamiliar.

I am a witness to their sensitivity and empathy in how they revere animal life, despite human failure.

This is a story about hating and loving where you are from.
It comes from doing anything to go back to a place that you left.

I left my heart in Kentucky and came back to find it.
The photographs are artifacts from my search.

Rachael Banks – ‘Between Home and Here’

Cary Benbow (CB): Your project Between Home and Here explores very powerful tropes of Family and inclusion. Let’s talk about the level of trust and intimacy in your work, and I’d like to ask about the project in terms of portraiture versus straight documentary style photography.

Rachael Banks (RB): While I am extroverted at work (I have to be), I am actually pretty shy and slow in how I go about making work, so it isn’t always as viable for me to photograph strangers. There is definitely a level of intimacy I have to achieve with a person to make work about them extensively. I really like to invest in whoever I am making work about. I go back and forth about my work being more portraiture based vs. documentary. In the beginning, I was interested in the concept of aesthetic beauty and portraiture allowed me to explore that. However, as the work has continued, I’ve thought more about my relationships with people and the place I feel I have in the world. I never considered myself a documentary photographer because I wasn’t sure if photographing my family fit within the scope but as the work expands, I definitely feel like the work is more heavily influenced by documentary photography. Portraiture is something I naturally gravitate towards in respect to my working methodology but my intent goes beyond the mode in which I present my images.

CB: Let’s discuss the role animals play in your work; how much of a role do they play in the lives of your subjects, or in your own life?

RB: I’m not sure if this is a regional or family influence (maybe a little bit of both) but I grew up surrounded by animals. My family members have always had a wide array of pets and my dad lives on a farm. I was definitely raised in an environment that placed a heavy emphasis on respect for animals and to treat pets as family. Because my work is so centrally focused on my relationships with immediate family, it is inevitable that animals become a part of that. Additionally, I see that animals often serve as an extension of the subject I am photographing and that they can help inform the viewer with more insight into the personality traits of the individual. On a personal note, I spend a lot of time driving to make work and I bring my dog Ghost with me as much as possible. If there isn’t an animal in the photograph I’m making, there is most likely one sitting next to me while I’m shooting.

CB: With regard to your earlier statement about your portraits documenting your family, what do you feel are the “obligations” of a photographer, or what obligation do you have to the people, your family, in your photos?

RB: I think it is important to have the ability to stand behind every image that you make. I understand that anything I put out into the world for others to see is coming from my own specific gaze and that I am actively selecting how the subject is framed and presented. I feel that I have a responsibility to myself and others to be able to understand that not everyone will see my images the same way that I do and that I have the ability to contribute (both negatively and positively) to how an individual/region/situation is represented. There is always the possibility that something I make can be misunderstood or that I can even cause harm, so with that in mind, I try to make sure that I don’t share anything that I can’t live with later on in life.

CB: What compels you to make the images you create? Why do you photograph?

RB: My mom photographed my entire childhood – and I mean she photographed everything constantly. While she has never identified as being creative/artistic, I feel that her compulsions have influenced me greatly and my need to document as much of my life/surroundings as possible. I have a lot of anxiety about forgetting defining moments or losing sight of what informs my identity. Photography has always provided a way for me to stay connected to who I am and what matters to me.

CB: Who are your photography inspirations or how to they influence your work?

RB: This is a question where I can go overboard so I will attempt to be as concise as possible. I really love Doug Dubois and the way he documents youth in addition to integrating a graphic novel in his series My Last Day at Seventeen. When I think about the muse in the photograph, I always look at Emmet Gowin; because who wouldn’t want to be loved the way that Edith is? I’m really inspired by Nathan Pearce and the way he photographs his life in the Midwest – he also has an incredible work ethic that always pushes me to be better. Jake Reinhart is another big inspiration for me because of his extensive approach to research and his ability to articulate his work in such a thoughtful way. I am also currently excited about Amy Powell, Caiti Borruso, Susan Worsham, and Dylan Hausthor.

CB: Do you feel there is a significant difference between “documentary” style photography versus “portrait” photography as a label? Or are those labels significant as a category to your work?

RB: I think that there is crossover between portraiture and documentary in my work. In terms of there being a difference, I believe the intent of the photographer is significant in making distinctions between the two. I’ve seen documentary work that is mainly consistent of portraiture so there isn’t much a difference between the two in that situation but I have also seen a lot of portraiture work that is more about visual aesthetics than it is about being documentary. I feel that my work falls in both categories in that I work primarily in portraiture but I am approaching my subject matter as a documentarian. Portraiture is a natural habit for me but I am more interested in the research and document component of making work. I don’t want to be the person that says I don’t fall into a category because I definitely fall into a few! If I had to describe my work in one sentence to a stranger I would summarize it as a documentary approach to family (assumed and biological) portraiture.

CB: Please talk about the role of a photographer as “publisher” and what you think about the recent increased push for photographers to publish photo books and/or zines. I know you are a strong advocate for publishing work.

RB: I am 100% supportive of photographers working in self-publishing and its one of my favorite components of photography. I think there is a lot that self-publishing/zines allow for a photographer in regard to the opportunity for exposure that it provides. While I feel it is still important to show work in galleries, a zine allows a photographer to share work without being weighed down by so many financial burdens. Accessible art is really important to me and I feel that self-publishing allows for photography to be more readily distributed and shared which fosters such a dynamic community that I value being a part of. On another note, I think that there is an over saturation of photobooks in the world right now, but I’m not terribly upset about having more books to collect. If there is a project that isn’t ready to be presented to the work as a traveling solo exhibition or a monograph, it can still be shared/distributed as a zine. Publishing also allows for photographers/viewers to see work as a physical object as opposed to looking at everything through a screen. I definitely appreciate the photograph more as a physical object and publishing encourages this.

 

© Rachael Banks, Ghost in the Snow, 2017

© Rachael Banks, The See Him in You, 2018

© Rachael Banks, Dad Holding Mabel, 2017

© Rachael Banks, In the Garden, 2015

© Rachael Banks, from Between Home and Here

© Rachael Banks, Ghost, 2017

© Rachael Banks, My Dream of a White Horse, 2018

© Rachael Banks, Basil, 2015

© Rachael Banks, from Between Home and Here

© Rachael Banks, from Between Home and Here

© Rachael Banks, Bo Jackson, 2015

© Rachael Banks, from Between Home and Here

© Rachael Banks, from Between Home and Here

© Rachael Banks, from Between Home and Here

© Rachael Banks, from Between Home and Here

© Rachael Banks, from Between Home and Here


Rachael Banks (b. Louisville, KY) is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Northern Kentucky University and is based in Covington, KY. She received an MFA in photography from Texas Woman’s University (Denton, TX). Banks is an avid supporter of self-publishing, accessible art, zines, and collecting. Her work has been shown at The Center for Fine Art Photography, The Kinsey Institute, Black Box Gallery, Darkroom Gallery, and several other institutions. She has also been featured in a number of online photography publications and frequently participates in panel discussions and invited speaker presentations.

To see more work by Rachael Banks, please visit her website at www.rachaelbanksphoto.com


An edited version of this article was first published in F-Stop Magazine in April 2019.