Cary Benbow (CB): What compels you to make the images you create, and why are you drawn to your subjects?
Bailey Dale (BD): At a young age I was drawn to photography and the many possibilities that came from the medium, however it wasn’t until I was exposed to the realm of photography as art that I began to understand how to use the camera as an investigative tool. For my 7 Shades of Yellow series, I use photography to reconnect myself with a location that I have grown apart from, yet am increasingly drawn to. I honestly can’t imagine using another medium that would capture the stillness of my hometown as well as the view camera, and photography has been my greatest resource for understanding the world around me.
CB: What is the idea behind your series ‘7 Shades of Yellow’?
BD: The images serve as a documentation of my hometown in Amarillo, TX. Amarillo has such a stagnant feeling to it, and although it’s one of the largest towns in the Texas Panhandle, it feels small in the way that it never seems to change much over the years. After I moved away for college, I really became aware of how distinct the towns across the Panhandle are in comparison to the rest of the state. Amarillo is right in the heart of the “Bible Belt” and this played a huge role in how I was raised. As I’ve evolved as person, especially now that I no longer live there, I’ve began to notice certain ideologies of the area that often contradict each other, something that I was never aware of as a young child. Photographing Amarillo has helped me see the town from an outsider’s perspective, and has allowed me to recreate my entire understanding of a town that I called home for nineteen years.
CB: Is this series different from other projects you’ve done?
BD: These images are fairly different from my previous projects. I never had a tendency to photograph still lives or locations until I started this series, so beforehand I was primarily photographing portraits. When I started ‘7 Shades’, I knew I wanted to steer clear of using any people in my images because I wanted each scene to feel somewhat abandoned or uninhabited; as I no longer live there. It’s been an interesting leap from what I was accustomed to shooting, however I think this project has helped me work through the tendency to only stick to what I’m comfortable with.
CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
BD: I’m most drawn to photographs that are subtle, or modest even, in their makeup yet the content behind them is strong. If an image is visually pleasing but lacks any real meaning or purpose in why it was made, I can’t really spend too much time on it. It’s really important to me to strive for work that is both well made and purposeful, because I think you really need both factors in order to have the drive to continue a project and allow it to expand. The photographs that stick around in my mind after I see them are always the ones that challenge me to see something from a new perspective.
CB: Where do you get the inspirations for your personal photography?
BD: Most of the inspirations for my photography, specifically with this series, comes from the town itself. Each time I visit home I spend hours driving around and pay a lot of attention to how the people there interact; and I try to forget anything that is too familiar to me from my childhood. However, I also spend time looking at other photographers who have worked on similar documentary projects, as well as those who have focused on religion as their subject.
CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why?
BD: My two greatest inspirations for this series have been Christian Patterson and Stephen Shore. Stephen Shore is a given as he photographed Amarillo as well for his series Uncommon Places and for his Amarillo Postcards, so I feel incredibly lucky to have such a great resource for inspiration. I’m really drawn to Shore’s Uncommon Places because he seemed to find so many perfectly subtle nuances of each town that a native would recognize, yet more than likely ignore if they weren’t frozen in a photograph. This idea has been a huge driving point for me in how I wanted to capture Amarillo. Christian Patterson’s series Bottom of the Lake, which is also a documentation of his hometown, really opened up my eyes to the different ways of how memories of an area can be expressed. His incorporation of still-lifes were so exciting to me when I first saw them. I think his telephone installation is so brilliant. I was so interested in how much I connected with Patterson’s photographs, even though I had no personal connection to his hometown.
CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
BD: I would describe my work as a documentary approach to rediscovering an old location. The images are meant to feel quiet while also conveying a feeling that there’s much more happening beyond the surface.
CB: How is the work in your portfolio significantly different (or similar) to any editorial or commercial photo work you do?
BD: All of the editorial and commercial work I do, minus a few portraits here and there, is all done digitally and feels much more contemporary than 7 Shades of Yellow. I always enjoy taking part in the fast-paced environment of the editorial world; however it’s really refreshing how much working with film requires you to stop and take your time while shooting. The end result is so much more rewarding when you’ve spent months just trying to get one shot perfectly captured.
CB: What does the label “emerging artist” mean to you?
BD: To me, an emerging artist fits well with the transition that happening in my life right now. As my career as a student comes to an end, I’m focusing more time on my personal work by completing projects and finally getting them out into the world.
Faces Of Our Times – Niall McDiarmid’s striking street portraits show off the best of London and all its diversity
The life of an artist is a long and difficult row to hoe. Niall McDiarmid has been working as a photographer for over 20 years, largely for print publications. Recently, McDiarmid published two booksVia Vauxhall (2015) and Crossing Paths (2013) that both feature portraits of people he has photographed on Britain’s streets.
McDiarmid seems to revel in capturing his subjects’ style, confidence and sartorial elegance. To coincide with Fashion Week in London, Vogue Magazine assigned McDiarmid to make portraits of young, dapper, diverse residents of London.
Publishing books and Vogue aren’t career moments that emerge overnight. It would be nice to say McDiarmid has gone from dungarees to Dolce & Gabbana; but the truth of the matter reads more like from dungarees to Dickies. Putting subjects as ease and making piercing portraits is a lot of hard work. Here, McDiarmid gives us the scoop on his methods, motives and thoughts as he pounds the pavement.
Cary Benbow (CB): Over your career, and as you’ve grown personally and professionally, have you tailored your work to seek out specific jobs or work — or has the work found you?
Niall McDiarmid (NM): In my teens and early twenties, I sent short news stories to local newspapers and free sheets in Scotland, where I grew up. After I left university, where I studied engineering, I got a full time job as a junior reporter working in trade magazines. I travelled around the UK writing stories, mostly on agriculture and the environment. After a year or so of this, I started to supply photographs to go with the stories. From there I returned to college to study photojournalism for a year.
I’ve worked freelance for magazines and book publishers, since then. I can’t speak for others but I’ve always found making a living from freelance photography tough, so generally I’ve taken whatever jobs I can get. I even photographed someone’s cat once as a commission. Oh, and a dog. It tried to bite me. It’s a long story.
CB: What do you feel makes a successful portrait?
NM: A connection between the viewer and the people in the photograph. If the photographer can add his or her own distinctive style that usually makes the photograph more memorable or successful.
CB: Why do you think people like to look at pictures of people?
NM: I think it’s a basic human trait, most people are interested in other people and a portrait is a way to explore that curiosity — the places we live, our cultural backgrounds, the clothes we wear, our family ties.
CB: Your career has bridged the age of analogue photography dominance into the expansion of digital photography being the current standard. How do you choose to shoot digitally or work with film and film cameras?
NM: Most of the photographs I take every day are digital — on my phone, screen grabs, DSLR etc. Film photography is not a medium that suits the modern commercial and editorial photographer any more. Photo labs are few and far between and when images are needed quickly on a limited budget, the old system of developing film and scanning seldom works.
NM: However, I chose to shoot most of my personal work on film. It’s what I started using as a photographer and what I still get most satisfaction from using. It’s a slower, more considered process. I can also achieve colours with film that I can’t replicate in digital. I also don’t think I’ve fully explored the world of analogue film use yet, so I’ll keep shooting with it till I have.
McDiarmid’s photographic style can be described as ‘straight’, ‘documentary’ or even ‘street photography’. But make no mistake, McDiarmid’s stylistic approach often plays upon subtle use of color or pattern that is never arbitrary; it functions in highly sophisticated ways to connect elements and patterns in his subject’s clothing with their surroundings. In this manner, the people in his portraits are woven into the scene they occupy — an integral part of their surroundings.
As to this aspect of his work, McDiarmid says, “When I started the recent batch of portraits back in 2011, I didn’t have the intention of using colours as a base for the work. However after a few weeks, I realized that it was something I had an eye for. I began to see the way people’s clothing often matched or clashed with the colours that I found on high street shops or billboards and I tried where I could to combine these.”
CB: The stereotypical “street photographer” aesthetic is often candid, brazen, and raw images. But your images are ones of inclusion, and not taken as if by a passive viewer. Many images have a connection that is perceived between you and your subjects… what do you feel makes your work stand apart?
NM: I’ve taken series of images that are not collaborative, ones that would be considered more conventional street photographs in the past, and I still shoot a lot of those. However, I like meeting people and if I can use that in a way to take portraits that are somewhat collaborative, so much the better.
NM: When I’m taking the images, I’ll make maybe 2 or 3 shots maximum of each person. It has to be quick. I don’t want people to pose; just be as they come. A little apprehension, a little awkwardness and tension in the portrait often works for me. On a very good day I might photograph, 7 or 8 people. On a bad day, none. None is a bad day.
As regards to photography and uniqueness, I suppose there are plenty of photographers who have done work like me and will do in the future. Whether it is possible to pick out my photographs from the thousands produced every day is hard to say — hopefully a few might might stick out.
I suppose we all strive to have a unique style. Some photographers, artists… call it what you will… get there. Then I suppose editors and gallery owners call them up and say — ‘Oh, I love that thing you do, that ’style’ of work, that ’thing’. Can you do that for me?’ I’m sure plenty of those successful artists then say, ‘I’ve finished that style, can I do something different for you?’ But in the end, people want you to do what you got well known for — certainly for a period. I’m sure the smart ones know when to move on, carrying some of the old style with them and developing it into something new.
NM: So uniqueness and my work? — I wouldn’t really know. I guess that’s for others to judge, but it occurred to me that maybe the most successful photographers or artists were the ones who had one simple idea that they stuck to through their whole career and managed to maintain an audience, keep people interested in the work throughout without ever deviating too far from their original path. Maybe in an age where there are so many new images being made, the artists who maintain a steady unwavering course are the real pioneers, the real groundbreakers. Who knows?
McDiarmid’s list of photography influences includes names such as Diane Arbus, Joel Sternfeld, Vanessa Winship, and British photographer Daniel Meadows. Whether it is the documentary work of Arbus, Daniel Meadow’s work from Living Like This: Around Britain in the Seventies, Richard Avedon’sIn the American West, Robert Frank’s The Americans, or Joel Sternfeld’sStranger Passing — all of these books, all of these photographers, helped define how we remember the people and culture of the times and places they photographed. Niall McDiarmid is no different. His projects have consistently explored the possibility of a collective identity by documenting ordinary people and places throughout the UK.
Two of McDiarmid’s long-term projects, Crossing Paths: A Portrait of Britain, and Via Vauxhall, were published in book format; in addition to publishing the work online in dedicated websites. Both projects are series of portraits made by McDiarmid in his encounters with people throughout the UK over the past five years or so, and specifically for Via Vauxhall in the area surrounding the Vauxhall neighborhood of London.
The portraits in his projects largely have no mention of the person’s name, unless included in McDiarmid’s comments. The images are titled minimally by a descriptor of where the portrait was taken. Bodfor Street, Rhyl, or High Street, Poole gives the viewer a marker in McDiarmid’s travels, but also a feeling of the documentary undertow.
Wayne Ford, the British designer and creative director, said in his review of ‘Crossing Paths’:
“The portraits that form ‘Crossing Paths’ make a fascinating and engaging survey of contemporary society in the United Kingdom in the early 21st century, that reflects the cultural vibrancy and ethnic diversity of the nation; and like the work of Meadows in the early 1970s, ‘Crossing Paths’ is a social document that stands to be a significant cultural marker of the times in which we live, both now and in the historical context to follow.”
McDiarmid, albeit humbly, has garnered major awards, including a prize for portraiture in the 2012 International Photography Awards for his Crossing Paths portraiture project. He has been asked to speak at numerous academic and professional lectures, and his work has been acquired by significant photo collections both private and public. The compliments even include a mention from one of McDiarmid’s own influences. In an interview coinciding with a retrospective of Daniel Meadows work, he was asked whose work inspired him as a student, and who inspires him now. Meadows listed past influences of Bruce Davidson, Josef Koudelka, and Sir John Benjamin Stone — and the short list of current inspirations included Niall McDiarmid’s portraits.
CB: How do you personally process the wide-spread attention your work has garnered? Has it changed the dynamic in your day-to-day?
NM: It’s incredibly hard as a freelance photographer to sustain a career over many years and it’s only getting harder. The money is very tight and there are days when you question your sanity and ask yourself, “What am I doing this for?” But after 25 years as a photographer, I have come to realise, it’s a large part of my life and probably always will be.
NM: One of the positives of the recent changes in photography is that those coming into the industry know from the start that it’s a challenging way to earn a living. Many photographers now have to earn a living doing something unrelated to taking pictures. In a way, that can be liberating experience, particularly where personal projects are concerned. In the past, I think there was a tendency for photographers to create a series of personal work with a view to how it might be used commercially, maybe in a magazine. Now, although the money is much reduced, the internet has given us all the freedom to do as we like without worrying so much about where the images might be used.
NM: I am glad that people enjoy following my journey, but as regards to wide-spread attention, I wouldn’t know. I try to just keep going, keep getting out as often as I can. My life feels like a chaotic mix of chasing around after my children, shooting my personal work and trying to earn a living as best I can — mostly very badly. Professional is not a word I associate with myself too often, but I hope to be professional one day! With so much new photography out there and so many outlets: galleries, magazines, newspapers and online — it is increasingly hard to get your work recognised. That’s why I try hard to carve out a style that people can relate to. Hopefully, I’ve gone some way to achieving that. The next challenge for me is to sustain that work and continue to develop it.
CB: The people and the locales in your portrait work have the common aesthetic of your eye and your style, but the people you photograph are very diverse. Is there a shift in the types of people and communities you’ve encountered over the years?
NM: I’m interested in changing population, changing communities, and multiculturalism so, yes, the people in my work are diverse. I am very interested in the idea of a large body of work that covers the whole country in an uncomplicated, democratic look at people at this time. I’m very interested in colour and shape and how it is present in our everyday life even though we often don’t notice it. There are noticeable differences between towns across the country I visit; different ethnic groups and different economic situations, but I would rather not label them.
NM: I’m not specifically trying to create work that defines what it means to be British; or Scottish, Welsh, or Irish for that matter. I would rather people just look at the images and make their own minds up about Britain and how it is changing.
More people from different backgrounds are coming to live here than ever before. I try to show these changes in the people I meet. Whether those who view the photographs pick up on that, I wouldn’t know. But multiculturalism and shifting demographics are at the core of the work, particularly the portraits.
When looking at the sea of faces McDiarmid has captured in his work, it is easy to pick up on all the similarities across our global, and increasingly multicultural society. His growing collection of UK portraits has all the same types of people, whether you are in London, Chicago, Paris, or Indianapolis.
Certain motifs appear and reappear. White earbuds hang around necks, people of all different skin colors travel to and from work. Subjects gaze into phone screens of devices the same the world over, and they carry shopping bags or wear clothes with identical labels. We can point to common threads in McDiarmid’s growing “family album.” We live in a global village and these faces reflect the richness of the fabric of society in London, in the United Kingdom, and in some sense, the world.
Niall McDiarmid is a photographer based in London. His work is primarily about documenting Britain and has been published and exhibited widely. His work has received such recognition as one of Vogue’s Best Spring Photobooks 2015, a number of his prints featured in the Crossing Paths book have been acquired by the Sir Elton John Photography Collection in Atlanta Georgia, and his work has has been featured by Time Magazine, BBC, Vogue Magazine, and The Independent.
Cary Benbow (CB): How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
Kevin Faingnaert (KF): Social documentary combining portrait, landscapes and structures to tell in depth stories which are both analytical and emotional. I have a sensitive and aesthetic visual approach.
CB: Why do you photograph? What compels you to make the images you create?
KF: It’s quite simple honestly – it’s a way to share what I love. Making photo stories is the only way I’m able to share my ideas and feelings on a certain topic. When I’m traveling, I need friends around me to share moments with. It’s the first thing I miss when traveling alone. So making pictures is a way to fill this gap and share my moments.
CB: You spent one month photographing and living with the people in Matavenero, in the region of El Bierzo, Spain. What is the idea behind this project?
KF: In spring 2015 I ventured to Matavenero, a remote eco-village high up in the isolated mountainous region of North West Spain, to document the lives of its inhabitants. When I heard about Matavenero and their independent lifestyle, I was hooked immediately. They turn away from the way of modern life, based on efficiency and consumption, to live according to their beliefs. They built their own village in the middle of nowhere and are dependent only from their own gardens. I was extremely curious to see how they live, who they are, what they do, and why they abandoned their old life.
I consider myself a social documentary photographer, so this project relates to my other projects that it focuses on sub-culture and communities that are removed from the mainstream.
It’s a totally different story than Banger Days, my series on a merciless full-contact demolition sport where drivers use scrap cars to race, crash and destroy.
CB: Your projects include editorial style shots along with portraiture – Why do you think people are so interested in portraiture, and how do you feel your work meets that need?
KF: People can find feeling and connect on a human level to a portrait and what they see in the person in the picture. This is impossible with for example a landscape. People don’t relate as much to a landscape or a structure, than another person.
I like to make landscape photos to show the environment, to show where people live, but it in the end, it are the persons in the photos who make the story.
CB: Why do you present your work on your website without statements, or commentary about the project?
KF: I like to save the stories for interviews or to talk about it in real life. I also don’t like the make any big statements. I want to create a visual story where viewers can step into, explore and analyze without the need of commentary or statements.
CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why?
KF: There are so many and honestly, it chances every day. Alec Soth is a constant though, as well are Diane Arbus and Sally Mann. I love the work of Rob Hornstra and especially his Sochi Project. He’s a great documentary maker and storyteller.
CB: How do you approach your personal work differently than editorial or commercial photography?
KF: I wish I had more experience in editorial photography to answer this question. Lately I’ve been putting a lot of effort and time in personal work. I do it slowly on my own pace. For example, when light conditions are not good enough to make the picture I want, I can just try again the next day, and the next day after,… This is not possible in editorial photography. It’s more fast-paced and you only get one chance to do it right.
To view the Matavenero project, and other projects by Kevin Faingnaert, visit hiswebsite or view his Tumblr
This is an edited version of the interview originally published in F-Stop Magazine
Cary Benbow (CB): What is your approach to photography or image-making as a visual artist?
Laura Konttinen (LK): What drew me to photography was realizing what a clever double agent it is; a photograph pretends to be an invisible window into an objective past, but is of course a deliberate point of view and often not that different from, say, a painting. I have this deeply rooted desire to reveal photography’s ‘fakeness’, somehow catch it in the act. At the same time, I can’t escape photography’s comforting link to the past.
My work process is a sort of ritual that quenches my thirst to preserve the past but at the same time cleanses me of its burden. The creation of each image involves multiple stages: browsing pictures I have taken on my travels, printing them, cutting, and making miniature arrangements. Photographing these staged landscapes gives a comforting finality to the vague experiences they are based on. They are now meaningful and they have a shape.
CB: What is the concept behind your portfolio images in this issue? How do they relate to your other projects, or how are they significantly different?
LK: Early on I realized that all of my artwork is somehow connected to nostalgia and memories. The portfolio I submitted features work from ”The Memory Project” (2010-2013) and ”Islands” (2014-ongoing). The images in ”The Memory Project” are based on my actual memories. I wanted to try and visualize the vagueness, the mutations and incoherencies that are a central part of memories. The series originated from my simultaneous frustration and fascination with photography’s connection to reality. It is easy for a photograph from a long gone place to replace the actual memory from that same place. I wanted to explore the visual possibilities to challenge that connection – to break apart the photograph and rebuild it as a more accurate representation of the surreal aspects of memories.
With ”Islands”, I have gone further, to the realm of imaginary. Each island is only loosely based on real places, and most of their character and story stems from mythologies, folk tales and symbols. In a way, the islands depict archetypes – they are places of fear, dreams, denial, isolation or sorrow. In history, literature and everyday life islands often become representations for different parts of the human psyche, as is demonstrated by their role as prisons, holiday paradises or untamed and harsh tests of survival.
CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
LK: I am drawn to pictures that seem to be rich in symbolic meaning and melancholic undertones. In my own work I tend to be obsessively attracted to symmetry, overly saturated colours and a shallow depth of field, but in general I enjoy seeing work that is visually different from mine. I am in awe of the ”capture the moment” kind of photographers. My own work is very staged and there is little space for happy accidents, so an eye for fleeting moments is something that I admire.
CB: What are you inspired by?
LK: I am inspired by places, but only after they have started to fade in my mind. I only like to look at pictures I take on trips after I have started to forget the exact places and situations. The past is veiled in a new kind of glory when it’s affected by imagination and even fallacies.
I enjoy creating handcrafted illusions where an element does resemble a slice of a possible landscape, but is still obviously just a set-up. I feel this approach is similar to theatrical set design. In a theatre, set pieces can be just subtle symbols of real spaces, and the inherent fakeness is still accepted by the audience by default. I like playing with this same idea of things looking like something else, but still obviously looking like what they are – sugar is sea foam, but still just sugar.
CB: What or who are your photography inspirations?
LK: Rather than photographers, I feel more inspired by conceptual artists. Even though my own work has a very different approach, themes and medium, I am fascinated by work like Yoko Ono’s instruction pieces, Joseph Beuys’s performance with a coyote and Sophie Calle’s journey secretly following a stranger from Paris to Venice. To me, the most interesting art gives a shape to the invisible oddities of human experience.
CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
LK: I would invite them to explore the strange and the familiar in my work; to look beyond the softness and the bright colours.
William Olmsted’s work does not hit you over the head, or scream at you for attention. It is smarter than that. He shoots mainly with film and film cameras; opting for the approach of selective shooting. His approach toward taking photos involves long walks around his local area once a week or so with his camera, but it is common that he does not take a picture. Olmsted is thoughtful and patient. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
“Sometimes I see something in the backyard, or the store parking lot. Shooting isn’t really a regular thing for me, it is more like something that might happen…Something that catches my eye for a reason that is hidden from me at the time, something that can potentially fit in a body of work, something that I can’t imagine as a photograph, something I want to record for seventy year old me.”
His work includes images of birds and other animals native to his area. Some of the animals are trapped – both literally or figuratively in their environment. There are also images of discarded or broken objects – found by the roadside, or inside homes that appear to have sections that are not used, or the entire home may be abandoned. These thematic elements, his visual interplay with color or witty juxtaposed views, are well thought out. His recurring images with birds might leave the viewer with the metaphoric idea of flight or escape, in a physical or possibly spiritual way. His use of elements common to his particular area of the country could seem surreal to people who live in very different places. Olmsted’s images that include guns, knives, and the intrinsic artifacts of hunting exposes a distinct difference between people who live in rural areas versus urban environments.
When asked to give a statement or overall description about his work, Olmsted wrote, “All my photographs are from the same small town on the coast of Maine where I have lived my entire life. They are a result of my desire for my hometown’s demystification and a consequence of my liminal place here, a looking-back, to say goodbye before I pack things up and leave for good. While not an authoritative view on what is often portrayed as a beautiful vacation place, I hope my photographs stand as an alternative one, because I find Maine’s marginal landscapes more compelling and important than it’s beautiful ones.”
Wobneb Magazine (WM):Why do you photograph? What compels you to make the images you create?
William Olmsted (WO): I like the process, the wandering. I wouldn’t have discovered the kind of perambulatory exploration I now enjoy so much were it not for photography and carrying a camera goes well with that.
I feel photography is something I can do and I enjoy its limitations and lessons.
There is also the little excitement of looking at my pictures for the first time weeks or months after I take them. That never gets old.
WM:There are so many ways to express oneself in a 21st-century world; What makes still photography your choice of expression? Do you create work in other mediums?
WO: I drew a lot as a young kid, then in high school I found photography and have mostly had a monogamous relationship with it. For a couple years, 2011 and 2012 I think, I didn’t take pictures at all. I dedicated myself to writing for hours a day, but it drove me nuts. A fundamental thing I learned from it was that I’m not a studio artist. I like being out in the world too much, and photography is a good compliment to that desire.
WM:In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
WO: It would depend on the photograph. I don’t know if any general rule is applicable. Reasons for liking something can often be more ambiguous than not. I can tell you what makes a bad photograph, or why I don’t like something, but when something clicks and jives with my sensibilities, justifications often feel like hollow rationalization.
Maybe the one thing I could say is, something (is) hinted at. There is usually a sense of a thing left unsaid that I like about quality photographs and projects.
WM:What/who are your photography inspirations – and why?
WO: My inspirations are people who work seriously at something over long periods of time. That drive is compelling to me, even when it flies in the face of convenience or even good judgement.
WM:You’ve cited photographers such as Gregory Halpern, Stacy Kranitz, and Lars Tunbjork as influences. In a way, do you see your work being stylistically similar and/or making a statement in a similar fashion as some of your influences? What is your intent for the viewer?
WO: Jeez, I dunno. Those are pretty big names who create really stellar work. To some degree, sure. Between equipment and environment I am probably treading similar path, so I guess it’s only natural that we might share something in common. Their work has influenced me, but so has the work of others across disparate mediums. Maybe there is some relationship between me and them, but that is probably best for the viewer to decide.
I know that a viewer will likely derive meaning from the work, so I might use that as a starting point, but any intent I have for a viewer is mostly non-existent. I guess it’s easy because there really aren’t any that I know of! On some level, I do want people to see my work and I like interacting with other photographers, so I throw my stuff on the internet, but another’s reading of my work isn’t a primary concern right now. Don’t hold me to it though, my feelings about an audience could change from project to project. I could see myself playing with the idea of viewership at some point.
WM:Do you feel your work makes a comment on a universal level, as well as the personal level? Your work is specific to a certain place – is it more about your experience, or do you feel it translates well to other people’s experiences or lives?
WO: My work is related to, and is a product of, my experience; but I don’t know how universal that is. Through the cadence of the photographs perhaps the viewer can enter the landscape and gain or feel something, even if their experience is distant from mine. Maybe that’s using the personal to access something less specific, more universal, I don’t know.
WM: Would you please explain the idea behind the ‘Void Fraction’ series on your website? Why did you select these image to work together/against each other in a multipart series? WO: Within photography’s coupling of vagueness and specificity I try to explore memory, sense of place and time as well as create as kind of clouded autobiography. I think these pictures ultimately reduce useful information about the places they were taken and create a kind of fictive alternate dimension which I enjoy adding to. I wanted to create something that was inspired by a year here while playing with the sense of the seasons and day/night cycles. I also found myself photographing many of the same subjects at different times of the year and I noticed patterns emerging that I thought might coalesce into an interesting project.
WM:There are elements of nature, wildlife, landscape, man’s inclusion/interaction with nature in your work – will you comment on why you choose to depict these elements in the way you do?
WO: Maybe I feel my photos of this place are more honest in some way, even though I feel they are lying too. That desire to portray this landscape a little differently gets filtered through various limitations and comes out as whatever it is.
Mostly its just intuition.
WM:Who are the people that appear in your photographs? Do they have significance beyond the role of a”Figure” in your scenes?
WO: The people in these photographs are all immediate family. I wanted to approach this project from everywhere. Landscapes, portraits, still life, whatever. If it’s lacking one thing at this point it’s more pictures of people, but I still have a years worth of film to develop so we’ll see how things go.
WM:Besides throwing your images out on the Internet, do you see other avenues for your work at this time? Photobook? A gallery exhibition? Have you looked for a gallery to represent you, or do you feel that is an antiquated idea?
WO: I like the idea of a book. I’ve made some PDFs that are on a hard drive somewhere around here that function as a kind of ersatz book. I’ve made some small zines and prints on request, but that is about it.
I’ve never looked for a gallery to represent me and wouldn’t know how to go about being represented. I don’t think I’ve ever even been inside a gallery, so my ignorance is great enough that I have no reason to feel the idea is antiquated either.
WM:Your statement that you are ready to pack up and leave your hometown for good leaves the impression that you possibly are at odds with the idea of your sense of place, and somewhat the idea of Beauty. Are not ‘marginal’ landscapes ones of Beauty as well? You could make strong work wherever you end up, but why leave Maine?
WO: I guess there is beauty, and then there is Beauty, and there is everything between. Perhaps conventional beauty is a better descriptor, or maybe I need to reword something.
Why leave? I’m finding other places more interesting, and this one less so.
Cary Benbow: Why do you photograph? What compels you to make the images you create?
J.M. Golding: For me, the answer lies in both the process of creating, and in the images that result from that process. In terms of process, making photographs invites me into what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state, which he describes as ‘‘an almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness,’’ a state of deep absorption in the moment. For me, since I most often photograph in natural settings (an intentional choice based on both where I enjoy being and what I generally most want to see in photos), the flow state carries with it an experience of connecting with nature, what Ruth Bernhard referred to as “knowing what it feels like to be a leaf.” Not only is the experience of photographing wonderful (in the full sense of the word) for me, but then I get photographs, too! As much as I know intellectually that there are solid reasons in physics and chemistry that those pictures exist, I still experience photographs as a form of magic, as alchemy. And not just because they reproduce reality – to me, they’re all the more magical because they transform reality, sometimes in ways that can be quite surprising to my conscious self. I get to use these alterations in reality to create and/or discover metaphors that explore and transform subjective experience. Not only that, but when another person finds resonance in my work, that’s a form of connection between that person and me. It’s a pretty amazing experience all around.
CB: What is the idea behind your images submitted to F-Stop’s issue, Wonder-Full? Are they part of a project, or why did you select these images?
JG: I chose the images I submitted from among my best work that seemed to express or contain a sense of wonder – something that is integral to photography for me. Some of the photos are part of various projects; others (including “At the frontier of the known world”) aren’t – or at least, for now, no project has cohered around those particular images for me.
The untitled piece is from a project called “Before there were words,” which is about preverbal experience that we retain, perhaps in our unconscious minds, long after it’s become possible, expected, and maybe typical for us to relate to the world largely through words. The photographs speak of pure actuality, that moment before verbal labels rush in to change experience.
“The land transforming” is part of the series, “From destruction grows a garden of the soul,” I made these photographs in the year and a half after a 2013 fire ravaged over 3,000 acres of mountain wilderness in northern California. I couldn’t resist the metaphor of beauty – and, visually, joy – coming into existence after, and as a direct result of, disastrous loss.
“This moment always” is from the series, “Where you are,” which explores integration of closeness and distance using double exposure. The photographs contain elements of each of two exposures, one focused close and one focused far away, fusing them to create an image that couldn’t have been anticipated by either one alone. In joining near and far, they also join solid and ethereal, objective and subjective, sharp and blurred, literal and metaphorical, real and imagined.
CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
JG: I think a good photograph is one that moves us, that feels meaningful, that has emotional resonance. Of course, that will differ to some extent from one person to another.
CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why?
JG: As you can probably tell from what I said earlier, feeling a connection with nature is a basic inspiration for me. And I’m inspired by light and shadow … by openness to what lies beneath the surface of things … by the emotional resonance of a moment. In my experience, photography is where all of these inspirations meet.
Seeing other artists’ work, and conversation with other artists, are also important sources of inspiration for me. I’d like to mention just a few of those other artists. It probably sounds trite, but I can’t not mention the work of Ansel Adams. I was absolutely stunned from the first time I saw his work, which happened in my late childhood, around the time I took my first darkroom class at summer camp. His books The Camera, The Negative, and The Printwere an important foundation for me, both technically and esthetically.
I’ve also been very much influenced by Ruth Bernhard’s Gift of the Commonplace project. She said that “there is nothing unimportant in the universe” – which takes the emphasis away from the “subject” of the photograph, the thing in front of the lens, to the way it’s photographed, the light, the meaning, the artist’s subjective experience.
Jim Rohan’s photographs are a wonderful source of inspiration for me. In front of his lens, a rock becomes a mysterious symbol, magical light sifts through the trees or meanders along a coastline, a path becomes a gateway into another world, and reflections disclose meaning in their depths. I’m inspired by the ways he sees nature and light, and it’s clear to me that my sense of composition has changed as a result of looking as his photographs.
Amy Nicolazzo makes intensely subjective photographs, full of emotional resonance, inviting me to see deeply and to discover meaning, and frequently leaving me breathless. Often as I try to describe my experience of these photographs, I find the words slipping from my grasp, and I suspect that’s because the feeling is in the picture, not in words … an important aspect of what I hope to do in my own work.
Al Brydon makes otherworldly landscapes that hold a palpable sense of presence, of subjective reality. They’re truly evocative, often dreamlike and mysterious, and they engage me through their subtle qualities of darkness. Each moment in these images carries significance.
CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
JG: I usually say something like they’re primarily analogue, mostly black and white, soft, blurry, not entirely literal images of landscapes and landscape elements. But I’d rather just show the photos to the person.
Cary Benbow: Why do you photograph? What compels you to make the images you create?
Will Ellis: It starts with a feeling of being intensely fascinated by a topic to the point where I have to externalize it. There’s an urge to capture it and show everyone else why it’s so amazing. I try to stay motivated with concrete goals, like completing a body of work for a book or exhibition. I like to have a plan, stick to a subject, and really delve into it.
CB: What is the idea behind your images submitted to F-Stop’s issue, Wonder-Full? Are they part of a project, or why did you select these images?
WE: These are from a series I’m working on called ‘Arthur Kill Road’, which examines the remote edges of Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of New York City. Staten Island is often called “the forgotten borough” and has a decidedly different character than what people often associate with the city. It’s more suburban in nature, and not much of a tourist destination. But in certain areas, it has this really unique sense of place, with wild, open spaces, pockets of historic architecture, and all of these odd relics and ruins that have just been sitting there for decades. There’s a quiet atmosphere and a “haunted” quality to these areas that is unlike anywhere else in the city. And that feeling of “wonder” is definitely something I’m looking to evoke with this project.
CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
WE: There are so many approaches to photography; but I think the most important element of a good photograph is a clear and compelling subject. Beyond that, I like when a picture has an energy or mood that hits you immediately. And then it gives you something to chew on — details to pore over, or some element of surprise that invites you to study an image before you scroll down or move on to the next one. There’s also basic technical things to consider. As an architectural photographer, I like very precise framing and straight lines–but I envy photographers whose images have that very subtle, effortless quality.
CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why?
WE: I love looking at the work of other photographers, Walker Evans is one that I always come back to, but in general, I tend to draw more inspiration from other mediums. For this project, I used gothic literature as a reference for the atmosphere I was trying to create. I’m playing with a lot of those tropes of the haunted house and the fog-ridden wilderness. Visually, I looked at paintings by Andrew Wyeth and the German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich. But the style and color palette really comes through spending the time to get to know a place, figuring out what time of year or under what weather conditions to shoot, and slowly developing a cohesive look and tone throughout the project. It’s so important to look at a lot of work and appreciate what others are creating, but I think the best inspiration comes directly from the world around you.
CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
WE: Context is pretty important for my work. People want to know what they’re looking at, and that information can enrich the experience of the pictures. So I like to give a bit of historical background on the places I shoot. With this project, I would say I’m looking for landscapes or settings that have an expressive quality, convey a mood, and tell a story. The mood I’m drawn to again and again is eerie, dark, and mysterious. “Hauntingly beautiful” is a phrase I hear a lot. But ultimately, I’m much more interested in hearing what the viewer has to say than explaining my own intentions.
Suicide Machine – Living in the Town with No Hope?
The work of Dan Wood is probably not what you might expect from the stereotypical assumption based on the title of his project. Don’t judge a book by its cover. The title stems from a regionally publicized statistic that Bridgend, Wales was experiencing a high rate of suicides in the early 2000s. Wood’s decision in 2013 to document his hometown of Bridgend was different from the skate culture he had been photographing earlier in his photo career. He started to see his town through a different sort of lens; that of a husband, father, and ultimately as a person coming to terms with the love-hate relationship many people have with the place where they grew up. Through his photos, Wood is asking the big question of ‘What does my community mean to me, what impact does it have on myself, my family, and my own child?’
“The simple truth is that you can understand a town. You can know and love and hate it. You can blame it, resent it, and nothing changes. In the end, you’re just another part of it.” ― Brenna Yovanoff from ‘The Replacement’
The resulting landscape of Wood’s beautiful, somewhat melancholy images depict a place where the social fabric is woven with views of a community persevering in the current economic downturn, and people working hard to make a living. One has to wonder if Bridgend’s residents are also coming to terms with the question of whether it is better to tough it out despite the odds, or seek out greener pastures elsewhere. ‘What should we do?’ is a tough question to answer unless it’s done in hindsight. But by then, it may be too late, or the confirmation so desperately desired at the onset feels hollow.
The wait is a bittersweet limbo.
Q & A
Cary Benbow: What is the idea behind your Suicide Machine series? Dan Wood: It all started with my audition of an old Hasselblad 500cm. From somewhere I had the epiphany that I’d make a project about my hometown; and in colour. Originally the project was going to be skateboard culture related, with long exposure night shots of the street spots that the local skaters frequent. The title, ‘Suicide Machine’ was there from the beginning, and when thinking more about the project I realised that I’d already covered the skate scene in enough depth already. The idea was then stored at the back of my mind whilst I worked on another series. Then my wife became pregnant with our first child and something clicked in my brain which made me start to think very differently about things – mainly being, shall we bring up our daughter here or shall we move away – probably overseas. So I started forming a synopsis (which has evolved somewhat) and photographing different parts of the town and also shooting some portraits. It felt so refreshing and new to be using the Hasselblad and colour film, but I was also contemplating our own destiny at the same time – should we stay or go? – this is what the project is ultimately about.
CB: How long have you been working on Suicide Machine, and are you still adding images to it? Why did you decide to shoot color for this project? What has been the reaction to it from people from that area? DW: I’ve been working on the project for 3 years and I shot the last roll of film for the series last week. It’s time to move on to something new – which I’ve already started. The work has been exhibited at three venues in the last year: Including Bridgend itself – thankfully the reaction was nothing but positive. I did receive some challenging remarks on Twitter about the title suggesting I was being ‘insensitive and glamourising suicide’. Their attacks and attempts to drag me into an argument were totally ignorant as it was obvious that they hadn’t ever read the synopsis, only the title, which I refused to change. Colour was fundamental to the project, I just knew it had to be in colour. After shooting black and white exclusively for 10 years and had become incredibly bored with it the time felt right to switch and conveniently coincided with the start of a new project. I still enjoy making black and white prints in the darkroom every now and again.
CB: Do you feel the increasing expansion and widespread use/display of images through social media outlets like Instagram has watered down the impact that medium format photography has/used to have?
DW: Definitely. The majority of people view pictures on their phones these days, so for instance, if you’re posting medium format photos on instagram they’re basically looking at a version of the photo that’s smaller than the actual negative, so the impact is undeniably affected and can’t be fully appreciated.
Medium format photography seems very popular once again, which is fantastic, considering the fact that film/development, etc. is expensive.
CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
DW: For me personally, a good photograph should ask questions and/or tell a story – aesthetics/intelligent composition has to be in there too. I have an eclectic taste when it comes to photography, I love raw/gritty right through to fine art/minimalistic. It’s all subjective of course, and everyone is entitled to like whatever they want.
CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why? DW: I find that just being outdoors is great inspiration. I like to shoot street and road trip photography, too, when taking breaks from projects. My main source of inspiration comes from photo books, and I’m completely addicted to collecting them – it’s becoming a pleasant problem. Visiting photo exhibitions is something I find enriching and really enjoyable, too. I truly admire photographers that can make the mundane, interesting – it’s just so clever. That kind of gift can open up a whole new world, and i’ve been fascinated with unlocking it for a long time. Some of the photographers whose work I admire would be: Trent Parke, Stacy Kranitz, Alec Soth, Joel Sternfeld and Todd Hido.
CB: Do you see your work being stylistically similar and making a statement in a similar fashion as those whom you call your influences? What is your intent for the viewer?
DW: There’s no doubt that there is some influence in my work from these photographers, after all, they have a lot to do with what drives me. I don’t want to seem like I’m imitating them, as I take great pride in the fact that I have developed my own style and approach over the years.
To me, these photographers are ‘real life’ photographers (in the broadest sense) – they tell stories about real life, and they all have their own styles and methods in which they do it. That’s all I’m interested in when it comes to photography, it is real life and real people, that’s what I want the viewer to understand.
CB: What do you feel are the obligations of a documentary photographer?
DW: The obligations would definitely include Honesty, sensitivity and non-exploitative. I see some styles of street photography these days that I find really intrusive and/or crudely voyeuristic. There are unwritten rules to Documentary photography and a certain etiquette to follow. Most successful documentary photographers adhere to the etiquette, and I like to see that.
CB: In a recent interview you did with ffoton, you had a great quip: “With a digital camera, you’re always looking at the last shot, but with film you are looking for the next shot”. What importance has film photography had for you?
DW: Film is what drew me to serious photography in the first place. I was totally fascinated by the idea that a split second in time could be frozen onto a piece of celluloid and become a physical thing. It’s something that you can actually hold in your hand – this obviously comes from my materialistic nature. But it’s always been about film: shooting, developing, printing, scanning, the cameras, I love it all, especially the pace in which you work. For some reason, digital has never interested me, it’s incredible for certain, and I do own a Nikon D90, but there’s no allure there for me to fully switch from film.
CB: Your work is specific to Wales, but do you feel your work makes a comment on a universal level, as well as the personal level? DW: To me, Wales feels kind of neglected by the outside world, like we get the raw deal every time – the ‘nearly’ nation that’s living in the shadow of England and Scotland. Everyone is just plodding along with their lives. Art and Culture are something not to be taken for granted either, and we have to grab onto any hint of that as possible. In regards to the ‘Suicide Machine’ series, I’ve looked at many ‘small town’ projects over the last few years and it’s the same story everywhere. Small towns are suffering a dark depression at the moment – especially evident here in the UK, and probably even globally. Conclusively, Wales is much like so many other places in the world, and I do think it will translate. I really want people from all over to look at my Welsh projects and be able to identify with something in there.
CB: Do you feel comfortable categorizing your work as documentary, or using that label?
DW: I met somebody a couple of weeks ago that I hadn’t seen for a long time and when he asked what I was doing I said ‘documentary photography’ which resulted in a confused, perplexed look on his face (I’m almost certain that most folk are only aware of fashion/sport/wedding photographers) So I tried to explain that I tell stories through pictures and that there is such a thing. I think he got it, unless he was just being polite. So Yeah, I’m happy being called a documentary photographer – I’m completely self-taught and still learning all the time. These days, documentary photography incorporates fine art photography. Great documentary photographers are really taking time to research and engage with their subjects, working slowly and carefully to achieve high quality photos that are technically, visually and intellectually perfect. CB: What’s your opinion on the role of a photographer as publisher and what you think about the recent increased push for photographers to publish photo books? DW: We’re in a golden age of the self-publishing photographer, which is wonderful, and I’m sure will be looked back on fondly if the trend ever dies out. There are so many admirable photographers creating beautiful photo books, which are pieces of art themselves. The only downside is the flooding of poor quality photo books by mediocre photographers, which can sometimes make it difficult to discover the good ones. There’s lots of fantastic little independent publishing houses popping up all over the place too, which is definitely another good thing. I made a few dummy books over the last few years and really like the fact that the photographer has full control over how their book will look at the end result – there’s also absolutely no stigma attached to self publishing these days.
CB: What aspects of Bridgend do you wish to show to viewers through your portraits of residents?
DW:I always knew that I wanted to include portraits, in fact it was fundamental to the project. I wanted to show what the people of Bridgend looked like. At first, I focused on folk that were kind of stuck here for life, but as the project developed I became interested with the people who had left for a better life somewhere else. Bridgend is quite a small town so everybody knows each other in some way.
I’d never plan the portraits, it was always a spur of the moment thing if I felt the time was right. My camera was always with me so it was just a matter of getting that feeling and then asking the person if it was okay.
Over the three years, I inevitably ended up re-shooting the same person, either hoping for a better picture or because I had learned more about their circumstances and needed a fresh shot that consciously included the new knowledge I had acquired of them.
CB: Was your approach making images for this project organic, or did you have a brief of what you wanted to show?
DW: The project was around 90% organic. There was a brief but that kept changing slightly as time went by and the project matured. A project like this was a first for me , so I really wanted to see what would happen and where it would take me – I guess that was why the brief kept evolving too. But the main brief remained – what did the future hold for Bridgend, and would I want to bring up my daughter here?
Dan Wood’s project, Suicide Machine is being published as a photo book by Another Place Press – a small independent publisher interested in contemporary photography that explores landscape in the widest sense, covering themes which include land, place, journey, city and environment – from the remotest corners of the globe to the centre of the largest cities.
To order the book, visit the Another Place Press product page here.
Dan Wood is from Bridgend, South Wales, UK. Wood’s work has been featured in many publications including CCQ and Ernest Journal. He has participated in over 40 exhibitions both nationally and internationally; including four solo shows. Wood is also a member of the artist collective: Document Britain
The bonds we make in life will always have a hold on us. No matter how insulated one might feel from others, we are all inextricably connected and interconnected in some manner or another. Such is the cycle of life.
Tytia Habing has lived a somewhat cyclical life thus far — having been born in rural Illinois, living most of her adult life in the Cayman Islands, and now returning to where she grew up with her husband and son. Her photo series and resulting book,This is Boy, is the product of seeing the world through her son’s eyes; a world like her own childhood of living in a rural area on a working farm and experiencing the natural world around her.
Nature plays an important role in Habing’s work, whether is it front and center, or as the tableau background for her subjects. Her philosophy toward life and photography incorporate getting outdoors. She shoots her commercial/portrait work and her fine art work outdoors in natural light if at all possible. To that end, Habing states, “Plants and beautiful Mother Nature is, and will always be, a great inspiration to me. If at all possible, I prefer to shoot outdoors and somehow incorporate nature into the scene.”
Habing’s scenes are woven together with a visual language that uses her strengths, and speaks to the viewer directly – not over their head – with universal themes that make her images very accessible.
Wobneb Magazine (WM):Can you speak to one of the strong themes in your work — of how we all fit into the world around us, or our sense of place in the environment?
Tytia Habing (TH):Well, my feeling is we need to live with the environment instead of being at odds with it. We are literally part of nature, but it’s as if humans have forgotten this teeny tiny fact somehow. We’re animals. We’re part of the animal kingdom, so that’s pretty good evidence in case anyone is skeptical. I think it’s our responsibly to be good stewards to the earth. Thus far, we’ve done a horrible job at it. Having said that, it feels like the tide is slowly starting to turn the right way. Whether that’s because we’re all starting to grow a conscience or whether it’s fear that we’ll end up killing ourselves and our children if we don’t change, I don’t know and I don’t care as long as there’s a change for the better.
WM:You’ve talked about the theme of nostalgia as it pertains to your work — can you also speak to the idea, or the power of nostalgia, in your work?
TH:I didn’t even realize how nostalgic the series felt until I got several emails from people from my parent’s generation. These are people in their sixties and seventies contacting me. They all said it reminded them of their own and their children’s childhoods, but not their grand-kids. They all indicated they felt sad for the way their grandchildren are growing up. That made me realize I’ve basically been photographing my own childhood in a way. I grew up in the very same spot, doing similar things: playing in the river, hiking through the woods, digging in the dirt. Nostalgia is a powerful thing indeed. It brings you back to simpler, happier times. In this case, it makes me realize most kids won’t have that affection or nostalgia for nature like older generations, and that makes me pretty darn sad.
Habing has had the good fortune to collaborate with one of her inspirations, Kristianne Koch-Riddle. The two produced a book project, The Sixth Sense.The two photographers work similarly, and have documented their sons as they have grown.
WM:Please talk about the role of the photographer as “publisher” and what you think about the recent increased push for photographers to publish photo books; whereas in the past, gallery exhibitions were the pinnacle for a fine art photographer.
TH:I think it’s great that photographers are publishing their own books. I’m a big fan of photo books. It’s an expensive, hard thing to do though and I applaud anyone that’s done it or is trying to do it. From what I understand from photographers that have done it already and my own limited experience, it’s not at all a money maker, but it helps get your work out there in front of eyes.
WM:Your collaborative project book ‘The Sixth Sense’ was named one of the top 35 photo books of the year by Andy Adams in 2014. Tell us what it was like to work on a collaborative book project such as that.
TH:I did the book with my good friend Kristianne Koch-Riddle and she came up with the idea. Our boys lead similar lives in that they both embrace the natural world unlike a lot of their peers. We thought a book showing this would be a great idea. In all honesty, she did all of the work and I really can’t take much credit for it. I love collaborating on projects with friends though and hope to do similar projects in the future.
WM:You’ve listed some of your photo influences for their various strengths, and/or their use of nature and incorporating their subjects in nature, among other strengths. Have you seen the work of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and specifically the photos he made of his children and his wife? What kind of comments do you think other photographers make when they include their own family in their “fine art” images?
TH:I am familiar with him and like him very much. I tend to gravitate towards artists that are a little different or odd, but most artists are that way aren’t they? I’m sure a lot of photographers are trying to say specific things by using their own families in their work but a lot also use their own family because that’s what they have to work with. It’s convenient. I think I’m a little of both. I tend to photograph things and people I love. I don’t get the same excitement shooting something I’m not close to or that I don’t care about. I have to care or it’s of no interest to me.
When looking at the work of Tytia Habing, it is understandable to recall the work of Sally Mann. Although Mann is one of her inspirations, that influence does not define Habing’s work as derivative. There is an immediacy and honesty to Habing’s images, especially her work focused on her son. Whether he is in a costume, bare-chested among the vegetation of their mid-western home, or gazing directly into his mother’s lens for a portrait — Habing’s son (and thus Habings work) rings true. Mann frequently set up her shots in her project/book, ‘Immediate Family’, staging and restaging scenes to depict the concepts Mann was trying to evoke — the photos are unabashed fiction told to reveal truths primarily about complexity of childhood. But Habing seems to pull it off easily with her documentary approach of capturing the world around her, especially when it comes to her son. Habing has said about her approach and preparation for photographing her son, “I don’t think I prepare at all except to make sure my camera batteries are charged and to steel my nerves at whatever dangerous thing he may be doing next. You have to have patience, though. I do bring patience along. Well, most of the time. I never set up a scene. It’s not that I haven’t tried a few times in the past. For me, or my son, it just doesn’t work. The images look forced and awkward. It’s all natural.”
WM:Do you feel there is a significant difference between “documentary” style photography versus “portrait” photography as a label? How do you define those genres?
TH:Oh, this one’s tough. I know what the official, ‘formal’ definition of the two, but here’s my take on it. I feel like I combine the two when I photograph. I can go out with my camera to document my son and get a great portrait while doing it. In general, I think labels are restrictive.
WM:But do you feel your work falls into either of those categories? Or do you feel comfortable categorizing your work in that way? How do you describe your photography to someone who’s not familiar with it?
TH:I feel like my photographs fall into both categories, but I’m not sure things always have to be categorized, you know? Generally, I tell people I photograph my own little slice of life. It’s a minuscule slice of the world at large. Describing my photography on my website and social media sites is a completely different story and not easy for me. You have to describe yourself in such a way that people looking for your type of work can find you, so that’s always tough for me.
WM:You’ve cited both Susan Burnstine and Angela Bacon Kidwell as inspirations of yours. Their work is similar to yours in some respects and different in others. In particular, their images tend to be constructed, layered and visually & symbolically narrative. Your work seems to carry many of these same strengths, but done in a style closer to documentary or straight shooting. In terms of approach or execution of your ideas, could you speak to the similarities and differences of your work to some of your influences?
TH:To be completely honest, I don’t know how a lot of my influences approach or execute their ideas, so I find it hard to compare. I like a vast array of other photographers but I do tend to gravitate mostly to black and white shooters. Each and every photographer I love has a quality that I desire. That’s why I love them, I think. Emmet Gowin is so very honest with all his images, Sally Mann’s work is so very beautiful it’s almost otherworldly, Diane Arbus was bizarre and wonderful, Susan Burnstine’s photos are from a dream world, and so are Tami Bone’s — but hers also have these fascinating animals and magical qualities to them.
WM:So, if these photographers have qualities that you admire/desire — how does that ‘inform’ your own creative process? Is it a conscious act, or something that (as all artists do at some point) add your ‘voice’ to the aesthetics that other photographers have?
TH:It’s not a conscious act. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a photo and consciously tried to make it look like or emulate another photographers work. The brain is an amazing and mysterious thing though, so I’m certain I probably do it in a subconscious way. I’m not sure anyone is original anymore. It’s probably all been done before, and like you said, we’re all just adding our voices to things we’ve seen already.
WM:You’ve been listed as a finalist for the Photolucia Critical Mass Competition this year, and you’ve received a lot of recognition for your work in the photo community. As we speak, you are prepping for yourfirst solo showto be held November 7 through mid-December; How do you strike a balance with your personal photography projects, and your photography you shoot for clients/customers?
TH:I’m not going to lie. I find it very difficult. Even though you would think they’d be similar, they’re not. They’re completely different beasts. If I’m in the midst of working on my own personal work I have to put client work aside and when I’m working on client work, I need to put my personal work aside. I have yet to find a balance that works for me.
WM:Is it relatively easy, or do you find it a struggle to be an artist where you live in the Midwest, or in Illinois? Do you feel isolated in the larger artistic community?
TH: I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s not hard either. Just different I guess. The internet and social media make the world a much smaller place and it’s easier to get your work out there by using it. I think anyone near a large artistic community definitely has a leg up on me, and maybe I have to work a little harder at it, but that’s life. Do I wish I was near an artistic community? Absolutely I do, but it just so happens I live out in the middle of nowhere so that’s not going to happen anytime soon. If I didn’t live here, I wouldn’t be able to make the work that I do. I’m definitely envious when I see photographers I’m friends with get together to attend lectures and workshops that I’m not able to go to, but again, such is life.
WM:Can you speak about what drew you to participate in the Filter Photo Festival this year? What other parts of the festival did you enjoy most?
TH:It seemed like it was time for me to put my work out there in a real way, not just through social media. I also wanted to meet some of the many people I had met online. It’s always nice to put a real face to a profile photo. To be honest, the number one reason I went was because I had been wanting to take a course byAline Smithson for a very long time, and she had a one-day course there. It was an amazing class, and helped me immensely. Oh what I could learn, if I could make it to a week long workshop of hers!Elizabeth Avedon’s class was just as informative. While I’m not planning on making a book anytime in the near future, I love photo books and thought it would be a great class, and it was. Elizabeth is very down to earth, and honest, and she was able to give me a much better understanding of what goes into the whole process. I really enjoyed the reviews as well. The reviews were a wonderful way to get a lot of different viewpoints about my work – whether it was positive or negative, it was definitely a learning experience.
One cannot help but be impacted by the images Habing creates. Her frank honesty leaves us feeling as if we’ve been allowed to view a family album of sorts. Habing’s images form a strong connection between herself, her family and her surrounding world. Much like growing vines that twist and grow upward to form fantastic garden structures, our children grow, change, and shape themselves into independent people who we see ourselves within. These are the ties that bind.
Tytia Habinglives and works in Watson, Illinois very near where she grew up on a working farm. She holds degrees in both horticulture and landscape architecture and is a self taught photographer. Habing’s work has been published in publications such as Lenscratch, Fraction Magazine, Shots Magazine and National Geographic. Her work has been featured in joint exhibitions nationally and internationally, and she has two upcoming solo shows in the works. Most notably, her work has been shortlisted for both the Black and White Photographer of the Year 2015 sponsored by Leica and Critical Mass 2015.
Originally published by Wobneb Magazine, November 2015
Amelia Morris is a photographer and mixed media artist working with themes including identity, memory, and self-perception. Her imagery’s autobiographical content is expressed through both literal and symbolic self-portraiture, and what she lovingly calls “low-grade performance art.”
This is art driven by deeply personal experiences, divulged like a confession to the viewer. Amelia Morris’ work is often raw – but not in the sense of being brazen or brash. It is intimate and raw due in part to the autobiographical nature of the themes she addresses. We, the viewers, are privy to these confessions – often presented with either melancholy, or dark-humored wit. One can’t help but snicker at her image of someone (presumably Morris herself) hanging out the back end of a car, when the image is titled “I love my ‘lil deathtrap”.
But Morris’ work goes far beyond witty images and titles. Through her staged self-portraits and documentation of provocative pennant banners, the ‘An Honest Assessment’ series explores anxiety, inadequacy, anger, disappointment, and other feelings that are often socially avoided in open discussion. The photographs serve as both private confessions and public declarations of living through these emotional states.
In Morris’ statement about her work, she says, “I have trouble maintaining my own psychological well-being and acknowledge the ridiculous paradox of feeling miserable when everything else in life seems to be fine. In that spirit, the elements of handmade whimsy in these photographs intentionally mock these heavier emotions. This is a light-hearted portrayal of serious concerns.”
Years ago, during a time of artist’s block, Morris was dealing with several personal disappointments and found it impossible to force herself to make something happy. During this time, Morris says, “I researched an assignment/project by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher: Learning to Love You More. Participants were encouraged to take a personal positive mantra, translate it into a colorful display, and hang it where someone who might need to read those words could see it.I decided my banners could retain the outward cheeriness of the original assignment juxtaposed with the less optimistic statements floating through my subconscious. Each piece of the banners are hand-cut and sewn, a labor-intensive but meditative process, and the finished object is photographed in a meaningful setting. Completing each piece offers the catharsis of expressing troubled thoughts and emotions.”
But if the viewer is expecting overly dramatic, cliché “tortured soul” images, there are none to be found. Morris presents her well-conceived and thoughtful images in a way that transforms allegorical vignettes of her life into examples of coping, and hopefully healing, with the intangible troubles many people face at some point in their lives.
Wobneb Magazine (WM): Why do you photograph? What makes still photography your main choice of expression?
Amelia Morris (AM): Growing up, I was lucky to have a few really great teachers who nurtured my interest in art and exposed me to as many techniques as an inner-city public school could. I always enjoyed standard art class exercises like drawing and painting, but would become frustrated when I couldn’t accurately translate my subject or ideas. My first real experience with photography came as part of an eighth grade mentorship program which matched students at my experimental middle school with people working in our areas of interest. I remember saying I wanted to work with a photographer because I had never tried anything like that before, but I didn’t expect my choice would have such a far reaching effect on my life.
When I first started taking photographs, I considered it a means to further explore my world and share it with whomever might be interested. I remember being drawn to photograph the grittier parts of my near Eastside Indianapolis neighborhood. While learning photography I went through a strong phase of documenting trash and blight with the intent of finding something inherently beautiful in it. Looking back, I think I was also trying to express another, more-rounded side of my life, “Even though I appear to be the usual middle-class white kid, this is where I grew up, so don’t think you have me figured out.”
These days I’m still drawn to photography because it implies an element of definitive truth (the idea of “pics or it didn’t happen”) combined with the fact that, like any creative outlet, photography can produce fiction. Since my photos are based on autobiographical experiences, I’m interested in how memory or perception can skew how I express my ideas and how an audience then interprets the information by taking it as face value or questioning its authenticity.
WM: What or who are your main photography inspirations – and why?
AM: I feel like I’m constantly discovering new image makers (not just photographers), powerful artwork or hearing a new philosophy that lends some inspiration, but here are a few artists I enjoy:
I think I discovered Francesca Woodman in my junior year of college and immediately felt drawn to her work due to her performative use of the self portrait. Looking at her work, I always feel like I’m witnessing some private and mysterious ritual where the artist is both vulnerable and self-possessed in her control of the situation. There’s something about how her actions make relatively ordinary spaces (an empty corner, a dusty floor) feel so… dreamy. Her self portrait behind pieces of wallpaper stops me in my tracks every time I see it.
I really enjoy Lorna Simpson’s work, especially those pieces utilizing text. I remember spending lots of time in front of her untitled piece at the Indianapolis Museum of Art trying to decipher her message. I think we’re used to text being joined to photographs to give some clarifying information or add to the narrative. I’m inspired Simpson’s use of text because it can raise more questions than answers. The ambiguity is intriguing. I don’t want everything to be spelled out.
I’m drawn to Joel Peter Witkin’s photographs in the same way that people have trouble looking away from car crashes. It’s disturbing and gross and sometimes nightmare-ish – and yet so strangely beautiful and sensitive and well-composed that I can’t stop studying them. I love that dichotomy.
My teachers are definitely an inspiration. Again and again, I’m drawn to the surreal, and Mark Sawrie’s provocative use of the figure in this photographs, including his own, fits into that category. Jacinda Russell’s exploration of her own life and family history has helped me pause to consider my own inner monologue might be worth expressing.
WM: Do you feel your work makes a comment best on a universal level, or on the personal level? Your work is very specific to your life experience and emotions… Do you feel it translates well to other people’s experiences or lives?
AM: I don’t make work with the direct intention of addressing some universal theme. The images are meant to illustrate a particular thought or emotion or situation I’ve found myself in. But with that being said, even though at the time we may feel that we are alone in our experiences, we really aren’t that unique. I think that given a little life experience, we can relate to someone else’s creative expression, and I’ve seen that in people’s reactions to the work.
WM: Can you please go into detail to explain the idea behind the ‘An Honest Assessment’ series? How many different images did you start out with in his series? Is it an ongoing project?
AM: I graduated from college with several accolades and couldn’t help but feel optimistic that I’d be able to go out and do interesting things in my field. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons I entered a dry spell, creatively, professionally, and socially. Like many people entering the world as the financial crisis hit, I felt stuck. Meanwhile, my younger sister continued to experience success in her creative life as thespian and stand up comedian which was constantly celebrated by my family (as it should be!). I began to feel that no one really cared about me or what I had worked so hard to accomplish. I was being eclipsed.
At some point, I realized I could illustrate this feeling through a double portrait of my sister and me. In the photo, everything seems to be going as planned, except a mysterious breeze has caused my sister’s hair to fly up and obscure my face. It felt like a great metaphor for how I was feeling. The title from the piece comes from a comment a relative made at family gathering. Things people say, especially hurtful things, stay with me, but it feels cathartic to use in the piece.
The series continued to develop by exploring the weird emotions and situations in my “post-graduate” life. I remember talking to someone about some of the early images and acknowledging that while they were sad or even disturbing, I was just trying to be honest with myself and the audience about how I was feeling. And thus the title – An Honest Assessment.
The series is ongoing but purposely slow-going. I don’t want to force the photos, so sometimes months go by without producing anything connected to the series. There’s a pressure to explore an idea and then wrap up the project, but I’d like to keep moving along at my own pace. I’m really inspired by Kelli Connell’s Double Life, a series that began in 2002 that continues to grow as she and her model move through their lives. If the work is good and relevant, I want to stick with it.
WM: Your photos sometimes include hand-made objects (Banners, specifically) – do you see these as being more props/elements to the photo work, or as separate artworks that you are documenting? Why did you decide to include these objects rather than use the sayings as titles, for example?
AM: I’ve gone back and forth on whether the banner photos should become its own series, but the sentiment behind them feels like an appropriate part of An Honest Assessment, and for now they’ll remain in that series.
The banners live somewhere between being props and being separate artworks. When I first started making banners, I intended to hang them in their specific locations, photograph them, and then leave them wherever they were. I thought they could be ephemeral and photographing them would be like documenting a piece of performance art. I’ve followed through on that plan with a couple banners, but I’ve taken many down after the shoot to bring back home (probably with the thought that I want to photograph them differently later). I’m not opposed to sharing those particular banners as artwork separate from the photograph. Even though they were made specifically to be props, the thought and craft invested in making them transforms them into art objects.
WM: How do you approach creating an image to express your concepts? Do you take many different ideas and whittle down, or is it very focused on one specific idea you wish to execute?
AM: I’d like to say I have a designated studio time to work on my projects, but due to erratic work schedules and bouts of general laziness, I don’t. Fortunately, I’ve realized that ruminating on an idea for a while is a huge part of my process. While I’m at work or doing some repetitive task, I think about where I want my concept to go. Sometimes ideas become clear quickly. Sometimes this pondering process takes months. However, by the time I realize that I MUST MAKE THIS PHOTOGRAPH the main part of the idea is tight enough that I can move forward without feeling like I’ll be wasting precious time on a half-baked idea.
Little details (which I’ve realized often make a big difference in the final image) may change over the course of shooting. If I’m working on a self portrait, I tend to shoot much more than I need with small adjustments to pose or expression. If I’ve constructed something for a photograph, whether it is stacks of canning jars or a banner, I try not to take it down immediately so that I can shoot again with variables like different lighting at a different time of day or camera positioning.
Most of the time this method works and I can get the shooting process done in one session, but I’ve had my share of duds. When that happens, I go back, consider what went wrong, and if the idea still seems to have some promise, try it again.
WM: You participate in projects like the Postcard Collective, and Crusade for Art’s program ‘Crusade Supported Art’ for print collectors, as well as involvement with the Society for Photographic Education — How important is it for yourself, and photographers in general, to seek out recognition; to market or self-promote their work? How much self-promotion do you do?
AM: I think photographers are in a unique position in that so much of our work has a digital element which makes it easy to throw work on the internet for the world to see. If you’re trying to make a living with your creative/skilled work, you should probably be out there letting people know what you can do. But of course, there’s a certain delicacy to promoting yourself without appearing to be an egomaniac, a certain turn-off of mine that seems to arise again and again among artists.
For me…well… it’s complicated. I used to tell myself that it didn’t matter if anyone cared about my artwork as long as I could make it. Maybe that thought came from the idealism of youth, but I know I’ll always have a drive to create, even if no one has anything to say about it. However, I’ve realized that it’s quite human to want positive recognition once in awhile. It’s nice to know that people like or respect or are simply curious about what you’re doing. In college, I remember telling a professor that I won an award in a juried show. His response was something like, “Congrats! Now don’t get a big head.” That’s really stuck with me. For better or worse, I tend to downplay my achievements more than celebrate them.
Selections from Postcard Collective
I participate in The Postcard Collective as a way to force myself to make new work (often with subject prompts I wouldn’t have considered on my own) and to be exposed to other people and their work. If sharing my work through avenues like The Postcard Collective leads to other opportunities, that’s great but not expected – I’m just happy to be involved in a great artist community project. As for promoting gallery shows or Crusade for Art’s programs that I’ve been involved with, I spread the word (on social media particularly) to promote the event and the other people involved. I want these ventures to succeed, and if I can help by getting a few more people interested, game on.
WM: Artists over time have addressed the human feelings of anxiety, depression, fears, etc — Since your work is dealing with very personal issues, what type of reaction do you get most often to your work, and what is your response? What inspired you to express these issues in the ‘self-portrait’ technique?
AM: I usually get a couple different reactions. People have said that the work is really funny, “hilarious” even, which I didn’t really understand. There are elements of dark humor in the photos, especially in the self-deprecating elements of “I love my lil’ deathtrap” and “His advice: Fake it til you make it,” but it makes me wonder how much they’re actually looking at/absorbing from the photos. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a friend’s father was struck by “She asked what I’d do when my sister is famous…” and said, “She’s so sad!” I’m not sure if his reaction to the work came from his age and experience or if he could just relate to what he thought I was conveying, but I was happy to hear that someone had a charged response to the work. And some people have said that what they get from the work is a sense of truthfulness. It’s hard to acknowledge tough feelings in a world where we’re not allowed to be sad, and this pushes those moments into the light. I think I appreciate that interpretation the most.
WM: One might think it would be ‘safer’ to use a model and have a buffer of emotional distance – why not play it safe?
AM: There are several reasons why I use myself instead of models. One of my drawing professors at Ball State liked to say that when we are in need of a subject, we can always turn to ourselves. I’ve held on to that advice by using myself as both subject and model. I’ve worked as an model for drawing classes and artists for about 10 years. After being so closely analyzed for other people’s work, using myself as a subject has been a way to reclaim my body. And, well, I can be shy, especially when it comes to asking for help with projects, and even more so when they can be so personal. If the photo is about me and my experiences, maybe it’s best to use my physical self in the image. I don’t have to explain motivation or feelings associated with a concept. The photo is just a natural expression.
WM: What gives you more satisfaction in the creative process – making something handcrafted, the process of image making, or option C (something else, or both of these)? AM: They’re both satisfying in different ways, but my greatest satisfaction comes from simply getting something done and having something to show for my efforts. I spend a long time working out the logistics of a photograph before the urge to get out and shoot becomes overwhelming. After all that planning, it feels pretty good to flip through the camera’s playback and know I have exactly what I envisioned. Working on banners or other objects is satisfying in a different way, probably because I get immediate tangible results. With every step in the process (choosing the fabric, cutting out letters, sewing), I see the progress I’m making toward my end goal. I feel best when I can marry the handcrafted and image making process. I’ll think of a phrase to put on a banner, contemplate the perfect place to hang it, consider lighting and other ambient factors that would contribute to the atmosphere of the final image, adjust my banner components accordingly, go out on location to hang the banner, take a few photos, and hopefully like what I see. I’ve reshot several of the banner photos because one of those elements didn’t quite align with everything else, and I’ve had to put a few photos indefinitely on hold because I haven’t found the right conditions to get what I want. But when everything comes together it makes the whole process worthwhile.
Amelia Morris is a photographer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Morris’ photographs are included in collections at Ball State University and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. She is an active member of the Postcard Collective, an international artist postcard exchange group. Morris was a 2013 Robert D. Beckmann, Jr. Emerging Artist Fellow through the Arts Council of Indianapolis. She won a “golden ticket” scholarship to attend the Photolucida portfolio review festival in 2013 and was a 2014 Critical Mass finalist.