Tag Archives: photography

Book Review: The Last Stop by Ryann Ford

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What started out as a humble Kickstarter project, has since grown to be a fully-realized photobook from powerHouse books. The Last Stop by Ryann Ford is a fantastic collection of parts of America that are disappearing: the humble highway rest stop. Ford set out to document these places before they were gone, much like a documentary historian who is frantically trying to preserve history; the fabric of what makes us who we are. This couldn’t be more true of the great American car culture of the mid-twentieth century, and who better to do it than a person named Ford.

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Ford laid out her project summary in late 2014, and her case was this: “Literally, before our eyes, rest stops are vanishing from the landscapes of America. All over the country, rest areas are losing the fight to commercial alternatives: drive-thrus at every exit and mega-sized travel centers offering car washes, wi-fi, grilled paninis and bladder-busting sized fountain drinks. They’re on the chopping block for many states, their upkeep giving way with tight highway budgets. And they’re not just being closed, they’re being demolished. “They’re just toilets and tables” you might say. But if you take a closer look, you will see that they are much more. They have been an oasis of green to walk your dog, have a picnic, study the map. For some, what was seen and read at rest stops could be all that was known of a region’s historical, archeological, geological, or cultural significance. Many people these days only know of rest stops as a blur from the car window. Many don’t know the historical significance of these quirky little roadside relics.”

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Raised in a Southern California mountain town so small it didn’t even have a stoplight, Ford had the freedom to explore and observe from a young age. At age 12, she took her first photo using her father’s old Pentax Spotmatic; at age 18 she enrolled in the renowned Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Photography.

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“When I moved from Southern California to Austin,” Ford recalls, “I had to move all of my belongings, so I drove. I had always wanted to make that Route 66 trip, so I tried to drive on it as much as I could from LA to Texas, which is actually kind of tough because so many sections of the road are gone now and at some points you’ll be driving on the pavement or have to go off on the dirt. I hadn’t really thought of the project at that point, but I think I saw a couple of the rest stops and that planted the seed. Then I got to Austin and became a commercial photographer. I shot a lot for Texas Monthly magazine and they would send me on assignments all over Texas, so I really got to see everything from Dallas to Houston, and San Antonio to all the small towns. I drove on a lot of the backroads, and that’s when I think I really started noticing them. There were just these cute little pull-offs, some of them don’t even have restrooms, it’s just a covered picnic table nestled back in the trees or out on this gorgeous prairie. A lot of them looked like they were from the 50s and 60s and I just love mid-century architecture and vintage design. I thought they could make for a really cool photo project.”

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The book’s design is well executed and the 10″ x 12″ trim size of the book gives ample space for the photos. Each rest stop shown in the book has a corresponding geo-tag location and a dot on an adjacent map of where it is located along her journey. In this collection of sites, Ford has created her own visual language, her own typography of this aspect of American culture. Much like projects that document and capture disappearing languages, iconic styles of architecture, and culture – With The Last Stop, Ford does far more than capture the remarkable, effective design of our nation’s road stops; she preserves a moment in the American travel experience when the journey was just as important as the destination itself.

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“The rest stops are more than just a place providing service to the public, they represent uniqueness in a world headed toward commercialization. While rest areas were originally designed to provide only the basic amenities of parking, bathroom, and picnic table, developers soon found within them the opportunity to reconnect people with the places they were traveling though, to add some humanity back to interstate travel. We can all relate to rest stops and what they represent as social and architectural icons of Americana. To me though, they are disappearing waysides of memories, anticipation and mystery of what the next one down the road will look like, and lastly they are a relevant benchmark in an era of bygone leisure travel.”


 

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The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside By Ryann Ford
Hardcover, 10 x 12 inches, 176 pages
ISBN: 978-1-57687-791-3

All images are reproduced with permission and are from The Last Stop by Ryann Ford, published by powerHouse Books.

You can purchase the book “The Last Stop” here, or see more of her work at her website here.


Interview with photographer Nathan Pearce

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Cary Benbow (CB): Can you please explain the idea behind your portfolio images submitted to the Family exhibition in this issue? How do they relate to your other projects, or how is it significantly different?

Nathan Pearce (NP): The photographs of family that I submitted for this issue are all part of my major projects. Mostly my main project Midwest Dirt. Family is important in my life and it’s something that I see as a major theme when I am photographing the Midwest.

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

NP: I love making photographs and zines that include my photographs. It is the most satisfying  and important thing in my life. I am constantly compelled to make images. It’s probably because it is so satisfying and rewarding that I do it so often. I simply love making photographs. I’m not sure what originally compelled me to start but I do remember that it was a really long time ago.

 

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CB: Where do you get the ideas for your personal photography?

NP: Everywhere. I usually shoot in Southern Illinois and the Midwest acts as both the backdrop and subject of my work. Where I am from is very inspiring to me.

CB: What or who are your photography inspirations – and why?

NP: Aside from the inspiration that the Midwest gives me, I often look at the work that my friends are making and at my collection of zines and photobooks. I am often collaborating with friends on projects, and that is pretty inspiring as well. I most often make work with Rachael Banks and also frequently collaborate with Jake Reinhart and Matthew David Crowther. Most of those collaborations involve zines created and are released on Same Coin Press; which is a project I co-founded with Claire Cushing.

 

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CB: How are these images different (or similar) to the majority of work you do?

NP: Much of the work that I submitted for this issue is part of my main project Midwest Dirt. Family plays a big part in my work. Family is one of the main reasons I returned to the Midwest and I explore it a lot in my photographs.

Almost all of the pictures I submitted, with the exception of one or two, are of my own family. Several photos are of my nephew Journey. I have photographed him his entire life. I photographed him when he was less than an hour old, and I photographed him yesterday on his 6th birthday and hundreds of times in between. We even worked on a split zine together recently.

CB: Tell a little more about your project, Midwest Dirt.

NP: In the statement for Midwest Dirt I mention a beauty in having nothing to do. I am often photographing the stillness and the slow pace of life here offers a lot of material and inspiration for photographs. I felt like street photographers in New York often photograph people in a rush on the street, and the constant busy feeling in the city. I try to photograph the opposite here. Midwest Dirt is a project that I started upon returning to the Midwest after years of being away. I photograph the stillness of my native rural Midwest and the restlessness of people in it.

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For more information about Nathan Pearce, and to see more of his work, visit his website – http://www.nathanpearcephoto.com


 

This article was originally published in F-Stop Magazine in June 2016

Lenscratch | The States Project: Indiana – Jacinda Russell


©Jacinda Russell, A Chair Recognized 18 Years Later, Boise State University 2014

Lenscratch is featuring photographers from Indiana in their States project this week – and Indiana photographer Jacinda Russell has started out with a couple of photographers known to Wobneb Magazine. Amelia Morris did an interview and was featured in a Wobneb Magazine, and F-Stop Magazine earlier this year. Mark Sawrie is a common link between us as a professor and mentor. It is nice to see the state so well represented.

Check out Jacinda’s posts to find out about more photographers in/from Indiana.

http://lenscratch.com/2016/06/jacinda-russell-the-states-project-indiana/

Book review :  Metro: Scenes from an Urban Stage by Stan Raucher

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.


 

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Metro: Scenes from an Urban Stage
Foreword by Ed Kashi and Essay by Marlaine Glicksman

ISBN: 9781942084150
8″ x 10″ inches
88 Pages; 50 Duotone

To order Metro, visit Daylight Books site. For more information about Stan Raucher and his work, visit his website here.


 

This article was originally published in F-Stop Magazine in May 2016

Interview with photographer Robert Herrmann

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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

Interview with photographer Bailey Dale

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Mile O’Mud by Malcolm Lightner

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.

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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!’”

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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.”

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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.

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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
ISBN: 978–1–57687–794–4

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 – Photographer Niall McDiarmid’s striking street portraits

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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.

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Hertford Street, Coventry — March 2012. From Crossing Paths © Niall McDiarmid

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.

 

Via Vauxhall, London - 2013/2014
From Via Vauxhall © Niall McDiarmid

Q&A

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.

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From Via Vauxhall © Niall McDiarmid

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.

Walthamstow Town Square, East London - Dec' 2015
Walthamstow Town Square, East London – Dec’ 2015

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.

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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.

Niall McDiarmid
From Via Vauxhall © Niall McDiarmid

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.”

Brushfield Street, London - April 2012
Brushfield Street, London — April 2012. © Niall McDiarmid

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.

Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea - June 2014
Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London — June 2014

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.

Church Alley, Liverpool - May 2013
Church Alley, Liverpool — May 2013. From Crossing Paths © Niall McDiarmid

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?

Couple, Peckham - 2013
Sumner Avenue, Peckham, South London — May 2013. © Niall McDiarmid

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.

Rufus, Fitzrovia - Sept 2015
Rufus, From the series ‘A London Weekend’ — Fitzrovia © Niall McDiarmid

 


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.

Via Vauxhall, London - 2013/2014
From Via Vauxhall © Niall McDiarmid

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.

Via Vauxhall, London - 2013/2014
From Via Vauxhall © Niall McDiarmid

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.

Jamie, Southbank, Waterloo - Sept 2015
Jamie, Southbank, Waterloo – Sept 2015

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.

Jessica Road, London - April 2011
Jessica Road, London — April 2011. From Crossing Paths © Niall McDiarmid

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.

Niall McDiarmid
Boys by Three Kings Pond, Mitcham, South London — Dec. 2014 © Niall McDiarmid

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.

Via Vauxhall, London - 2013/2014
From Via Vauxhall © Niall McDiarmid

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.

English Street, Carlisle, Cumbria - Oct 2015
English Street, Carlisle, Cumbria — Oct 2015 © Niall McDiarmid

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.

Follow Niall’s activities on Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram.


Originally published in January 2016 in Wobneb Magazine and Vantage

All photographs © Niall McDiarmid, used with permission.

Photographer Malcolm Lightner

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…

via Malcolm Lightner @ New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery — F-Stop Magazine