Public transportation can seem a bit like a traveling theater. Periodically the scene changes from one part of the city or country to another, or from day to night as the train cars travel from above-ground to below-ground, and the cast of characters can be varied throughout the play. Doors open and shut like the curtains on stage with each new scene. Tranquility can give rise to energetic vibes in just a few stops when new members of the cast come on board; and while viewing Stan Raucher’s images, one is immediately drawn into these vignettes of life.
In his project statement for Metro, Stan Raucher speaks to the metaphor of theater. “Whenever I step into a subway station it feels as though I have entered a magnificent theater with a diverse cast of characters performing in an unscripted play on an ever-changing stage. My series Metro documents the behavior of ordinary people in mass transit systems in various countries and cultures. As individuals interact with one another in these tightly-packed public spaces, occasionally extraordinary situations that are unexpected, mysterious, humorous or poignant unfold. A strange or wonderful juxtaposition, a spontaneous gesture, a concealed mood or a hidden emotion may materialize and then vanish in a split-second. Such ephemeral events are often overlooked or quickly forgotten. My intent is to capture these fleeting moments as evocative, richly-layered images that allow each viewer to generate a unique personal narrative, and that these candid photographs will prompt us to pause and reflect on our modern lives.”
Photographers are generally voyeurs, observers, people-watchers. Metro: Scenes from an Urban Stage allows the reader to catch glimpses of these improvised plays as Raucher saw them. He took the photographs in Metrobetween 2007 and 2014 during numerous trips he made to fifteen cities on four continents. He captured scenes in the metro systems of New York City, Mexico City, San Francisco, Paris, Budapest, Naples, London, Warsaw, Rome, Prague, Vienna, São Paulo, Lima, Delhi, and Shanghai. Raucher’s images are like the work of other masters like Walker Evans, or Robert Frank, who shot clandestine images of people and public places. “Using available light and a bit of serendipity,” Raucher says, ” I endeavor to create compelling photographs that provide a glimpse into aspects of the human condition.”
The hardbound book contains 50 duotone images on matte paper stock which beautifully gives depth to the scenes. The intimate views of people in their own worlds lead us to guess what they are thinking, where they are going, or deduce what their day has been like. Raucher’s masterful images are rich with details and emotions, which allows the viewer to decipher body language, soak in the details of these fleeting moments in their travels, and mentally craft a script to narrate their lives based on our own sense of the world around us and the people we know. As Marlaine Glicksman sums up the book in her essay, “Raucher’s images explore and magnify a self-contained world. Yet rather than contain ours, they enable us to see farther, both into the metro and into ourselves.”
Stan Raucher is an award-winning photographer who has been documenting aspects of the human condition around the world for over a decade. His photographs have been featured in 20 solo exhibitions and included in over 60 juried group shows. His work has been published in Slate, LensWork,Black & White Magazine, The Daily Mail, The Independent, Lenscratch, F-Stop Magazine, Shots and The Havana Times. He was a 2012, 2013 and 2015 Critical Mass finalist, a 2012 CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography finalist, a 2015 PX3 Bronze Award winner, and he received a 2015 Artists Trust GAP Award. His prints are held by museums, institutions, and private collectors.
Ed Kashi is an award-winning photojournalist, filmmaker, educator, and member of VII Photo Agency. He has authored numerous books detailing the social and political issues that define our times, and he is known for his complex imagery and its compelling rendering of the human condition.
Marlaine Glicksman is a visual storyteller: an award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, photographer, and writer who creates dramatic character-driven stories set in multicultural contexts both narrative and documentary and in moving images and stills.
Metro: Scenes from an Urban Stage
Foreword by Ed Kashi and Essay by Marlaine Glicksman
8″ x 10″ inches
88 Pages; 50 Duotone
This article was originally published in F-Stop Magazine in May 2016
Cary Benbow (CB): Why do you photograph, or what compels you to make the images you create?
Robert Herrmann (RH): I am naturally driven to shape and light. I originally trained as an architect. Besides I have been taking photographs for my own pleasure for a long time. Since a couple of years, though, I more and more found myself using photography as a conceptual medium. I think the way I was trained in design thinking, first analyze, try to fully grasp a subject and then put an idea to work, has a huge impact on how I think and work photographically.
In his book “The Nature of Photographs” Stephen Shore writes “Photography is inherently an analytic discipline. Where a painter starts with a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and selects a picture […] imposes an order on the scene – simplifies the jumble by giving it structure.” I like this idea of establishing order in chaos. It is an urge, that is profoundly human, I think.
CB: Can you please explain the idea behind your portfolio images submitted to this issue? How do they relate to your other projects, or how is it significantly different?
RH: I am interested in how human action influences our environment which is something all my works revolve around. The images I submitted belong to my longest (and still running) project “60-second slices of present”. This project is specifically about my fascination for cities. Every time I visit a new city I try to understand its patterns and underlying principles.
The aspect I always find myself coming back to is the human scale, a term mostly associated with discourses in architecture and urbanism. It relates to our physical proportion to the built environment. But I think there is also a temporal aspect about it. As the title suggests “60-second slices of present” is about visualizing time, too. Technically speaking, I expose each frame for a period of one minute, so then what I get is not a capture of a moment but rather a frame charged with a scene of action.
CB: Please say a bit more about the concept of human scale – how do you feel it is important for the viewer to understand when looking at your work?
RH: I don’t think it is important that the viewer understand about this aspect immediately by looking at these images. At first it is important to me while producing them. I have to be able to connect to the space of the city I am in. I find it easier to connect to places that have a human scale, that means, where buildings stand close to each other, but still leave enough space for public activities in between. I think the size and shape of the space in between and how it is used is what defines the character of a city. Still, many places I visit are far from transmitting this comfortable ambiance I am speaking of. In some cities the streets are so wide that you cannot even clearly see the other side, because they were build for cars and not for humans.
CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
RH: A photograph I consider a good one makes me think about something I do not necessarily see in the picture itself. A good photo contains a trigger for a possible train of thought.
CB: Where do you get the inspirations for your personal photography?
RH: I read books, I love to travel, go to see exhibitions, talk to other artists and exchange ideas. But when I work, I like to work alone, because it helps me to stay focused.
CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why? The Bechers immediately come to mind for me – especially for your project EFH
RH: I love the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto. Especially the “Theaters”, but also the “Dioramas”. His conceptual strength is a huge inspiration to me.
I am also very inspired by Stephen Shore’s “Uncommon Places”, in which he illustrates the extraordinary beauty of the mundane. I am fond of Joel Sternfeld’s “American Prospects”, mostly for his enriching the seemingly banal with a tad of quirky humour.
I also like the works of Julius Shulman, Hertha Hurnaus, Iwan Baan, Hélène Binet, Bas Princen, Gisela Erlacher, Nadav Kander, Martin Kollar and Peter Bialobrzeski
As to the pictorial grammar I used in the EFH series, yes, it is a quote of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s typologies, but an ironic quote I did to find out how it feels to speak their language. It was fun, but I don’t take it too seriously.
CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
RH: On the surface it is, at its best, an aesthetic play with shapes, light and composition, at its worst, it’s merely boring. But if you take your time, look and think, you might get an idea.
CB: How do you approach a project that takes years to complete, and multiple cities around the world?
RH: With patience, passion and spending every extra money just for that. It is hard to say, when or even if I ever will complete it, because I don’t know yet how this completion would look like. I have been asked a couple of times, when the first photo book will be published and I am happy to know that there are people who would buy it. Still, I think, I need way more time to travel to many more cities around the globe and I want to collect more image material.
In the end, maybe I don’t care much about finishing it in a hurry, because I enjoy the journey so much.
For more information, and to view other projects by Robert Herrmann, visit his website: www.robertherrmann.com
This interview was originally published in F-Stop Magazine in April 2016
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.
To see more work by Bailey Dale, visit her website – www.baileydale.com
This interview was originally published in April 2016 in F-Stop Magazine
Mad Max cruises Alligator Alley
At the heart of Mile O’Mud is the thrilling sport of swamp buggy racing. For the uninitiated, swamp buggy racing consists of custom buggies that are part boat and part love-child of NASCAR and high octane drag racing. The buggies and their driver/pilot tear through swampy, muddy terrain that is more like the lake in the center of Daytona International Speedway than the track surrounding it. And much like the famed rowdy crowds who inhabit the infield of NASCAR races, swamp buggy fans do not disappoint.
Fans pile meat in baking pans, cans of Budweiser in boxes, and stack themselves in bleachers, truck beds, and on top of homemade platforms to cheer for the Swamp Buggy Queen and pray for drivers’ quick recoveries when the track proves too treacherous, because the drivers literally risk life and limb.
Malcolm Lightner grew up down the street from the original “Mile O’ Mud” swamp buggy track off of Radio Road in Collier County, Florida. His own family has roots in the beginning of swamp buggy racing. Lightner’s great-uncle R.L. Walker was one of the first swamp-buggy drivers back in the late 1940s and 50s. Lightner, after getting college degrees, including his MFA, moved to New York in 1999, and he returned at least once a year to the Florida Sports Park from 2002 to 2013 to document the races — missing only 2005 due to a hurricane forced cancellation.
Lightner’s images include portraits of the racers, the fans, the vehicles both on and off the track, as well as traditional events of the sport — including the crowning and subsequent dunking of the Swamp Buggy Queen. There is the thrill of speed and danger at the races, and a palpable rush of energy. “On my first visit to the track, I drove into the parking lot, heard the engines of the buggies roar, and witnessed the great plumes of water trailing behind the boat-dragster hybrids,” Lightner says. “I could feel the vibrations from the raw horsepower pound against my chest, and it almost took my breath away. I thought to myself, ‘this is going to be fun!’”
Lightner’s superb images of this sport and frank depiction of its culture make me feel much the same. I was drawn into the world he has photographed, felt like a voyeur at some southern bacchanalia, and ultimately I wanted to start over at the beginning of the book and view it again. And again.
In addition to the excitement and thrills, Lightner also says “I’ve come to understand Swamp Buggy Racing as a metaphor for life’s daily struggles and the innate drive to overcome obstacles against great odds while trying to maintain a sense of humor and grace. The races demonstrated to me the all-American desire to compete to win, as well as the power of family and community.”
This book documents the people and the culture Lightner is from, but of course this is more than an immersive documentary project. He has shown us his own clan, and paid homage to his family and community. Many of us yearn to escape the world we grew up in, to prove to ourselves and the world that we are greater than small beginnings. Yet for many people, their roots call them back. ‘Mile O’Mud’ not only called Lightner back, but it brought along a cooler of beer, some good tunes, and the thrill of the sport that helped shape him.
MALCOLM LIGHTNER is a photographer who works and resides in New York. Born in 1969 in Naples, Florida, he is a fourth generation native Floridian. Malcolm has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants and his work has been featured in a range of exhibitions including Art + Commerce Emerging Photographers and NYPH (New York Photo Festival). Malcolm’s photography is included in the permanent photography collections at the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Florida. His work has appeared in Dear Dave, The Oxford American, VICE, Aint-Bad and Life among other publications. Malcolm is a member of the photography faculty at the School of Visual Arts in New York City since 2002.
All images are from Mile O’ Mud by Malcolm Lightner, published by powerHouse Books., and used by permission.
Mile O’ Mud: The Culture of Swamp Buggy Racing
By Malcolm Lightner, Introduction by Padgett Powell
Hardcover, 12–1/2 x 11–7/8 inches, 144 pages
For more information about Malcolm Lightner, please see his website:http://www.malcolmlightner.com/
To purchase the book, visit powerHouse Books here
Published originally in F-Stop Magazine – http://www.fstopmagazine.com
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 books Via 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.
Originally published in January 2016 in Wobneb Magazine and Vantage
All photographs © Niall McDiarmid, used with permission.
Malcolm Lightner’s work, as seen here from his new book, Mile O’Mud, will be shown at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery through the end of May.
Watch for my upcoming review of Mile O’ Mud – as I slog through his images of Florida mud racing culture and portraits of the people connected to it.
Malcolm Lightner: Mile O’ Mud Through May 29, 2016 Churning the buttery muddy water at the Florida Sports Park, swamp buggy races keep Florida’s frontier heritage alive. With Mile O’ Mud, 4th generation native Floridian Lightner shows us his home’s beauty; scarred and raw, surrounded by lush blue sky and restorative greens and we witness…
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.
All photographs used by permission. Photos © William Olmsted. Originally published September 2015 by Cary Benbow in Wobneb Magazine.
Mandy Williams is a visual artist working primarily in photography and video. Her work covers range of subjects, but centers around the theme of the social dynamics arising from contemporary culture – particularly how personal identity is affected by environment and how our social and affective lives interconnect. This interest in the psychology of place has been a catalyst for both autobiographical and voyeuristic projects, documentary approaches to more conceptual ones. Much of her photographic and video works highlight the domestic environment, although some refer more broadly to place and sites in transition.
Her recent series share an underlying narrative about human interaction or presence. Some of these include Unseen Landscapes (2012-15), which use Google Street View as a starting point to create somewhere otherworldly, and Riverbed Stories (2012-15), photography and video documenting polluted river beds in South East London.
Both ‘Unseen Landscapes’ and ‘Riverbed Stories’ stem from the idea of contemporary landscape. The detachment is undeniable in how people interact with the landscape, whether it is by remote observation, or utter disregard. A roadside natural setting is disrupted by castoff personal items such as mattresses, chairs, gloves, floating shoes and discarded baby carriages. The images point to the pollution of the natural setting, and also to a sense of detachment to nature by the people who thoughtlessly threw these items away. Williams depicts these items in the water and weeds with a sensibility toward the loss of both the intimate history of the items, as well as the lost natural beauty of the English landscape she documents.
In the same sense, the detachment from nature in ‘Unseen Landscapes’ starts right at the moment the images are made. These landscape images captured by Google Street view are made without bias, without thoughtful intent. The images are made by an unblinking eye traveling the land. Williams presents her versions of these images as soft, monochromatic toned views. She has used images from this archive to present scenes that she herself has never seen in person, nor visited. Visually, the presentation of the images in a circular format references (intentionally or not) the early photographic prints made by the Kodak No. 1 camera. This makes for an interesting visual homage to one of the earliest commercial photo products (You press the button, and we do the rest) while appropriating images from one of the largest publicly available digital image databases in the world. So much of the world we experience online is via digital captures made half a world away; one has to wonder if ‘Unseen Landscapes’ is a commentary on the subject, or a reflection of it. Either way, Williams has created beautifully crafted portraits of the land which also prompt the viewer to think about their own interaction and connection with the world around them.
To view the projects, or see Mandy Williams’ work, click here. Images shown are © Mandy Williams.
Mandy Williams is a photographer living in London, UK. She previously lived in Vancouver, Canada, but has since returned to her home country of England in 2002 and has been contributing to different exhibitions and publications in the UK, and internationally in exhibits and in publications.
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
See more of Dan Wood’s work at his website: www.danwoodphoto.com, or on Instagram: @danwoodphoto