Kevin Miyazaki on Flak Photo

January 17th, 2011

Kevin J. Miyazaki is featured today on Flak Photo as part of the WINTER PICTURES special. I’ve been following Kevin’s multifaceted contributions to the photography community over the last year and it was a pleasure to connect with him about this photograph.  While Kevin makes a living as an editorial photographer shooting portraits, travel and food assignments for magazines, I know him for his other work. Kevin is the genius behind collect.give. He teaches the Professional Practices class at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design with its accompanying resourceful blog MIAD-FA382, including the extensive list of interviews (699 and growing). His personal projects include Camp Home and Early Places and he has self-published the photobook(let) titled 38. This snowball photograph is not tied to a specific project but is part of work featured on his personal blog. He says “the blog has been really important to me in the past few years – it’s the platform onto which I can toss little visual thoughts. I come from an assignment-driven background, so I became used to passing up interesting images if there wasn’t a logical place for them. With the blog, they have a home.” I enjoy the journey that Kevin gives the viewer in his “visual thoughts.” I asked him to talk about his wonderful white on white study of a snowball and this is what he had to say:

“I made this picture last winter on Christmas eve, just after shoveling my walk. I packed the snowball and brought it inside to shoot, both on black and white pieces of paper. To me, this kind of picture is like a quick sketch (it only took about five minutes to shoot) – but is also a fully realized photograph. I like making pictures in a variety of ways, and not being limited by particular situations, conditions or equipment. I think we photographers all first began making pictures with a great deal of excitement and wonder, looking through the viewfinder with a really open mind. I hope to never stray too far away from that type of visual freedom and curiosity. It’s important to me to just always be making pictures, whether it’s part of a large scale project, or in fact, just a small, quickly melting snowball.” – Kevin J. Miyazaki

Christmas Eve snowball © Kevin J. Miyazaki

Christmas Eve snowball, 2009 © Kevin J. Miyazaki

Thank you Kevin!

Interview: Zwelethu Mthethwa

July 20th, 2010

FLAK PHOTO: WEEKEND series: Zwelethu Mthethwa

Throughout the month of July, Flak Photo, in its WEEKEND series, is featuring photographs by Zwelethu Mthethwa from his self-titled monograph recently published by Aperture. (Check out each weekend image: JULY 3, 10, 17, 24, & 31, 2010.) It has been my pleasure to team up with Andy Adams again and present this interview with Zwelethu Mthethwa. Mthethwa’s work is pivotal in broadening the discourse on the history of photography and I hope this interview adds to the conversations that have preceded this one; the insightful interview in Zwelethu Mthethwa between Isolde Brielmaier and Mthethwa and the conversation between Mthethwa and Okwui Enwezor at the Aperture Foundation in March 2010. They are essential reading and viewing. I recently corresponded with Zwelethu by email as he prepared to travel from South Africa to the U.S. for the opening of “Inner Views” at the Studio Museum in Harlem on July 15. We talked about his monograph, two specific images from his Sugar Cane series, the South African photography community, and briefly about the current show at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

book cover of "Zwelethu Mthethwa". Courtesy of Aperture.

Larissa Leclair: As an internationally acclaimed artist (photographer, painter, video artist) with over one-hundred solo and group exhibitions, I wonder why it has taken so long for a monograph of your work to be published. Thankfully and finally Aperture recently published the beautiful monograph Zwelethu Mthethwa (Aperture, 2010). While a traditional first monograph primarily includes one body of work, this book is almost like a retrospective exhibition, with work from many series. Can you talk about your journey of finding a publisher and producing this monograph?

Zwelethu Mthethwa: It has been a very long journey. This particular book has been in the making for at least 4 years, but the major reason why nothing like this has been published before is because I was waiting for the right publisher (who would be able to distribute the book internationally). A few people have approached me before, but because they did not have the qualities that I was looking for, I turned them down.

The book presented me with an opportunity to showcase most of my projects over the last 20 years. However, there are some projects that we haven’t included because we were limited in terms of the size of the book.

From the series Interiors, 1995-2005, and Empty Beds, 2002, pages 18-19 ©Zwelethu Mthethwa. Courtesy of Aperture.

From the series Gold Miners, 2006, and Quartz Miners, 2007-8, pages 66-67. Courtesy of Aperture.

LL: Your work as a whole addresses the economic and political reality of marginalized communities primarily in South Africa. Can you talk about your personal interest in these communities and professions (miners, sugarcane workers, etc.). Are you personally an outsider or is there more of a connection to these people and circumstances -politically, economically, culturally?

ZM: The work is about my personal history and personal observation. I grew up in contact with these different communities all the time. I was always interested in how the migrant workers would be ostracised from the main community, which was the community that I came from. The migrant workers were always seen as “the other” – they looked different, talked different, dressed different – they were just so different. As a kid I was curious to understand the dynamics of these differences, mainly because we were all black, I assumed we were all the same. Growing up as an artist I came to realise that I was also an outsider because with my views on life I probably didn’t belong to any of the communities, even the mainstream community.

Untitled (from the Brick Workers series), 2008; Chromogenic print ©Zwelethu Mthethwa. Courtesy of the artist and iArt Gallery, Cape Town.

In terms of my interest in these “professions” I have always been fascinated by the way that people make lives and livings for themselves. Despite economic hardship, political hardship, all kinds of hardship, including that of just trying to fit in, people continue to work and live even in the strangest circumstances. Through my years of experience in photographing these communities I have found out that the periphery after some time becomes the mainstream in the way that fashion follows them, the way that interior decorators decorate their houses and in the way that musicians have developed their sound too.

Untitled (from the Sugar Cane series), 2007; Chromogenic print (Image on page 111 of monograph) ©Zwelethu Mthethwa. Courtesy of the artist and iArt Gallery, Cape Town.

LL: Can you talk about two specific photographs from the Sugar Cane series – the image on page 39 that starts this series in the Aperture monograph, which is also the cover of Snap Judgments (ICP/Steidl 2006), and the photograph included in Enwezor’s essay on page 111. I am curious about how you approached photographing here and the dialog that occurred between you and the workers, and then your internal dialogue as you were photographing. I am struck by the attire, the landscape, and stance – very raw and powerful – and am curious why sugar cane workers wear skirts?

ZM: Approach – first of all, I explained my intentions to the farmers that owned the land. Once they had given me permission to photograph the people working on their land, I then further approached the individual farm workers and explained to them my intentions, so that I could get permission from them to take their photographs. Once they agreed, I then took the photographs; but this was a long process because I would have to fly back to Cape Town, process the photos and then go back to Durban to give the sitters their photographs. It was important to me that they had copies of the images. I would then, while in Durban, shoot some more, and start the whole process again. So this all happened over several months.

My first attraction to the sugar cane workers was that they were wearing skirts, and that they looked to me like Samurai worriers. I then found out that, not only were they wearing skirts, but also many other layers of clothing. This was odd to me because Durban is an incredibly hot and humid area. I thought they must be crazy to be wearing so many clothes and still doing manual labour. I discovered, through speaking with them, that the reason was to protect themselves from the burning ground and soot (sugar cane is burnt before harvested); from the very sharp leaves of the cane; and also from the many snakes that like to live in sugar cane fields. The most difficult part of taking these photographs was stopping them from working. These guys are paid according to the weight of sugar cane that they harvest; there is no hourly rate. I felt guilty that I was interrupting and taking their money away from them by asking them to pose for me. So this forced me to move in and out as quickly as possible, interrupting their flow of production as little as possible.

Untitled (from the Sugar Cane series), 2007, page 39 ©Zwelethu Mthethwa. Courtesy of Aperture.

With regard to the photograph on p.39, it was shot in the afternoon, the clothing that the worker is wearing is quite specific – his hood is obviously to protect him from the harsh sun. His crew neck shirt is there to stop insects from getting into his clothes. His rubber boots prevent snakebites to his feet. He has also tied some rope around his legs above the knee to stop snakes from crawling up his pants.

The other photograph – the reason why they wear skirts: they can’t wear tight clothing because it chafes against the skin, so a skirt is a good way to add another protective layer without the discomfort of the chafing. Underneath the skirt he is wearing loose pants.

Untitled (from the Interiors series), 1995 - 2005 ©Zwelethu Mthethwa. Courtesy of Aperture.

LL: Okwui Enwezor mentions in his essay in the book the environment surrounding your study at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town in the early 80′s. Was a history of photography class part of the curriculum there? And I am wondering which history of photography? Did you learn about South African photographers and photography?

ZM: There was no history of photography, but photography (practical) was an elective course. I remember people such as David Goldblatt and Omar Badsha visiting the school to talk about their work.

Untitled (from the Interiors series), 1995 - 2005 ©Zwelethu Mthethwa. Courtesy of Aperture.

LL: Can you talk about the photography community in South Africa – what was it like in the 80′s, then in the 90′s and now?

ZM: There was always photo-generalism and a rise of documentary photography in the ’80s, which was always black and white photography. Most of the photographers were commissioned by different newspapers or magazines for specific projects, rather than producing their own work in the fine art sense. We are now seeing a beginning of photography being accepted into the realms of fine art in this country, as “new media”. There are a few South African photographers who produce mainly for the galleries. The new photographers are using colour photography as a medium, as opposed to black and white. Their sizes have also changed from the standard 8×10, 16×20 to larger sizes, like 50×50 or even mural-size. There is an interest in presenting photography as limited editions in the most archival form, as opposed to producing photography for the magazine or the newspaper.

Untitled (from the Interiors series), 1995 - 2005 ©Zwelethu Mthethwa. Courtesy of Aperture.

LL: Currently you have a solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem (July 15-Oct 24, 2010). Which series will be on view?

ZM: The work on show at the Studio Museum has been selected by the curator, Naomi Beckwith, and will be presented under the title of “Inner Views.” The selection includes work from the “Interiors” series, “Common Ground” series and “Empty Beds” – all these projects were completed from the early 80s up to 4 years ago.

Untitled (from the Interiors series), 1995 - 2005; Chromogenic print ©Zwelethu Mthethwa. Courtesy of the artist and iArt Gallery, Cape Town.

LL: What projects are you working on now?

ZM: One project I have been busy with recently is shooting power lines in informal settlements  the lines have been illegally connected, hooked up to strange makeshift structures, big knots and tangles of cables. These power lines have changed the landscape within the informal settlement, which is a phenomenon that is interesting to me.

LL: Thank you very much Zwelethu!

Zwelethu Mthethwa installation ©Jack Shainman Gallery

Installation of Zwelethu Mthethwa's fifth solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York - April 23-May 23, 2009. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

Zwelethu Mthethwa is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; iArt Gallery, Cape Town; Everard Read, Johannesburg; Galeria Oliva Arauna, Madrid; Galerie Hengevoss-Duerkop, Hamburg; and Galerie Anne de Villepoix, Paris.

The monograph Zwelethu Mthethwa published by Aperture in 2010 can be purchased here.

For more on Zwelethu Mthethwa, see:

Also check out this list of books on African Photography/Photographers.

Images for this interview were provided by iArt Gallery, Cape Town; Aperture Foundation; and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Thank you.

Interview: Emily Shur

April 2nd, 2010

Morning in Shibuya ©Emily Shur

Morning in Shibuya, Tokyo ©Emily Shur

Issue 13 of Fraction Magazine included my interview with Los Angeles-based photographer Emily Shur. The issue, edited by David Bram, features photographs by Jessica Todd Harper, Emily Shur, Tom Leininger, Dalton Rooney, William Greiner, and an exhibition review of “Unmarked” by Mary Goodwin.

Here is an excerpt:

LL: I am drawn to what you choose to include in the photographic frame. For example, “Morning in Shibuya” – in what seems to be a chaotic urban landscape you have created a certain spatial order that I pick up on in all your photographs. Can you talk about this in your work and your thoughts about composition for this photograph?
ES: Composition is very, very important to me. In this photograph, “Morning in Shibuya”, I would say it’s calculated luck that I caught everything where it is. When taking a photo like this one, I usually try to move my eye around the frame and shoot when I think would be a good moment, but it doesn’t always work out. I rarely take more than two or three pictures at a time…meaning, I don’t shoot a whole roll trying to get a certain shot. I shoot what looks good at the time, and I’ll go as far as to wait until a street gets more or less cluttered, for someone to walk into frame, for someone to get out of the way, etc. If the picture doesn’t look how I envisioned it once I get my film back, then that’s unfortunate, but just how things go sometimes. I am also not afraid to crop images or remove small items from the photo that are corrupting an otherwise very nice composition.

LL: That spatial order, composition, and attention to detail seems to be inherent in Japanese culture especially in traditional Japanese landscape gardens. Do you find calm in this meticulousness both photographically and in your own life?
ES: Yes. I have been toying around with the idea of a project or edit revolving around traditional landscape gardens. Every time I go to Japan, I always visit multiple gardens. There is something very comforting to me about Japanese culture, and the landscape gardens are a perfect encapsulation of so many aspects of Japanese life. The respect and attention paid to the vegetation is wonderful. Even insects and spiders are respected enough to be left alone. I love going to a garden and watching the workers tend to the trees and plants. It’s a bit of a fantasy world where everything is important and in it’s place. It’s quiet and peaceful, and there are always older Japanese men with very serious cameras taking photographs. I love that they are out on a weekday morning or afternoon with their cameras; quietly, patiently taking photographs. I’ve even seen some 4×5 view cameras out there, and I always smile and give a thumbs up. To me, this seems like such a lovely way to spend a day…in a beautiful place, with nowhere to be…just looking and seeing and appreciating.

Read the entire interview in Fraction Magazine.

Two Trees ©Emily Shur

Two Trees, Ise-Shima ©Emily Shur

Interview: Joni Sternbach

March 20th, 2010

Flak Photo March 20 Joni Sternbach

FLAK PHOTO: WEEKEND series: SurfLand by Joni Sternbach

Throughout the month of March, Flak Photo, in its WEEKEND series, is featuring photographs by Joni Sternbach from her monograph SurfLand. (Check out each weekend image: MARCH 6, 13, 20, & 27, 2010.) Joni embraces the difficulties of using a large format camera and the wet-plate collodion process in a windy and sandy ocean environment to create these one-of-a-kind stunning portraits of surfers. In the midst of AIPAD, I talked with Joni and asked her what impact being a Critical Mass winner has had on her as a photographer, her audience for this work, and about her connection to water and historical photographers.

07.07.02 #7 ©Joni Sternbach

07.07.02 #7 Lily. 8" x 10" unique tintype. Ditch Plains ©Joni Sternbach

Larissa Leclair: In 2007 you were a Critical Mass winner along with Peter van Agtmael. What kind of impact did that award and the resulting monograph SurfLand, published by photolucida in 2009, have on you and your work?
Joni Sternbach: Winning the Critical Mass book award had a huge impact on me, and really changed my life as a photographer. I think it grounded me in the world of photography and gave me a place that I didn’t have prior to it. Also, having the book showcased my work and gave it more visibility, which I believe opened the door to the solo show at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. Books are circulated in a completely different kind of way than artwork is in a gallery or on a website, or in any of the other ways photographs travel around the web these days. The book is a tangible object and the work is interpreted through that format. I think books are a beautiful medium. They lend a certain narrative to the work that my individual plates might not convey. Not only did the book add to my marketability as an artist, it gave me a forum for my work that it didn’t have before.

Lakey ©Joni Sternbach

09.02.12 #8 Lakey. 8" x 10" unique tintype. Rincon ©Joni Sternbach

LL: The exhibition “SurfLand” at the Peabody Essex Museum in 2009 launched a regular schedule of photography exhibitions at the museum. Phillip Prodger is the first curator of photography at PEM and also the essayist for your book. How did you come to know Phillip and how did this harbinger exhibition come about? What an honor!
JS: I first got to know Phillip Prodger when he was Assistant Curator of Photography at the St. Louis Art Museum. I sent him a show  announcement and he liked the work and wanted to consider it for an exhibition he was curating on landscape photography. This led to a period of communications that spanned many years. He later left the museum, curated independently, but his successor ended up using my work in that landscape show. When Phillip went to the Peabody Essex Museum, we connected again and I brought him some of my surfer tintypes. Seeing the actual plates was the decisive moment in his suggestion to propose a solo show. By this time, I had won the photolucida book prize and because I admired his work I had already asked him to write the essay. So it all came together in this very perfect way. The book then acted as a catalog to the exhibition even though it was not produced for that specifically.

Chris Dan. ©Joni Sternbach

10.02.17 #5 Chris & Dan. 8" x 10" unique tintype. Refugio ©Joni Sternbach

LL: I would imagine that your audience for tintype photographs would be completely different than the audience for photographs of surfers. This work has appeared on the cover of PDN in the context of historical techniques (October 2009) and also in surfing magazines. I’m not sure what my question is… I find the juxtaposition of these audiences interesting. The broad audience that this work resonates with is great. I wonder if you have any stories related to this audience mixing.

JS: Although they do seem like disparate audiences, strangely enough, I think these two groups connect. On one hand there are the people interested in 19th century photography who collect tintypes and daguerreotypes, and then there are the surfers. Photographing on the beach is a performance of sorts and many people are drawn to the large format wooden camera and then to the photographs as I am making them on location. Being able to see the finished product right there on the beach is central to my project. The reason these two groups mix is because many surfers are photographers and some are artists or they are involved in creative fields. One surfer that I met on the beach and photographed, was also a designer. A few years later he opened up a hotel in Montauk called Surf Lodge, and he wanted all varieties of surf photography for decoration. He bought 4 of my photographs, depicting some of the local people in Montauk who are well-known as surfers and who also have a reputation in the art world. So there is this mix between the art world and surfing.

Hannah. ©Joni Sternbach

10.02.08 #5 Hannah. 8" x 10" unique tintype. Malibu ©Joni Sternbach

LL: Do you continue to add to the “Surfers” body of work or is it a finished project?
JS: I am still working on it. I was just in California for two weeks in February continuing the project. There is a certain magic that gets generated by being out there on the beach and making these pictures – connecting with people in a very random way. Often times I just go to a beach where I don’t know anybody, introduce myself, and take pictures of people who happen to be surfing there. Other times I have a planned meeting with one person or a group of people. Sometimes, they are complete strangers. What I want to convey to you is this incredible encounter that happens when I meet these people and make pictures on the beach that transcends photography. It’s about chance and it’s about spontaneity. It’s not about control, but rather letting go of it. It’s about intuition and allowing the interaction to develop solely because you are in a certain place at a certain time. That is something that I love. I am working on other projects as well now but I don’t feel like I have finished with this project.

©Joni Sternbach, from "The Salt Effect" series

08.04.13 #7 Pilot Peak 8x10 unique tintype ©Joni Sternbach, from "The Salt Effect" series

LL: Everyone asks you this question, “Why tintype?” I’m going to you ask you a bit differently. I’m wondering if you are interested just as much in the process and ritual and the physical art of making the tintype as in the final feel and quality of the finished photograph. Does it connect you personally with certain historical photographers and methods of the past?
JS: It’s true, I get asked this question all the time. One of the things I am trying to do, is to use the medium of collodion (tintype, ambrotrype, negative) as a valid contemporary tool. I relate to it as a choice in photographic medium the same way that large format represents a valid choice over 35mm or even film versus digital. To me it is yet another tool in the history of photography that people are paying more attention to now because photography has taken a digital turn. Making hand-made objects is a way for me to be self-reliant from the marketplace and is a really satisfying photographic process. My tintypes are one-of-kind and made in-camera. So that is one of the reasons. As I’ve described, the act of making the photograph on location is something that involves my subjects as well as myself. So when I am out there taking the picture and processing it and then fixing it in daylight, my subjects are watching as I am doing this and they are just as excited and thrilled by the result as I am. And that engages them and it also encourages other people to participate in the project. It is live performance: I am making art in public. It involves camera work, chemicals, and people.

19th century photography has had a huge influence on me, though in the “SurfLand” series, I am using a 20th century camera and 20th century lens. I have opted out of using antique brass lenses without a shutter. I am not trying to recreate a 19th century aesthetic. But I am interested in the way 19th century aesthetics inform photography and inform my work.

©Joni Sternbach, from "Abandoned" series

05.10.31 #5 6.5" x 8.5" tintype. Broken Bridge, Shelter Island ©Joni Sternbach, from "Abandoned" series

LL: I have recently been researching Muybridge for the major retrospective at the Corcoran and I keep thinking of Muybridge when I look at “The Salt Effect” and “Abandoned.” He photographed the expansion of the railroad in Utah, an example of progress that in the modern day has effected the landscape there. And in “Abandoned” you are photographing the antithesis of “new-world progress.” Can you talk about these two bodies of work in relation to history?
JS: It’s really interesting that you mention Muybridge whose work has been very influential. In a previous body of work, not on my website, is the series “Untitled Silhouettes” from the early 90’s. It is a group of silhouette portraits of women modeled after Muybridge’s study of the human figure in motion. The prints are made in platinum-palladium from Polaroid negatives in two sections that are pieced together. I was completely interested in the way Muybridge used the figure in scientific study. His models are naked and the women are holding objects associated with domesticity while the men are holding things related to masculinity or sports. I made this entire body of work in dialogue with Muybridge, so it is interesting that you mention him.

The series “Abandoned” was my first body of work using collodion. My foremost concern was scouting locations close to or directly on the water, searching for the mystery of an abandoned past. Structures and places that have lost their functionality are now emblematic of a more primitive time. They represent the last stand, the human effort most poignantly seen through decay and the return to nature. So I like your phrase “the anti-thesis of new world progress.” Westward expansion and the birth of photography happened simultaneously. As an Easterner I did not have the same physical connection to the west as people who live there. Going to Utah was my first Western landscape experience. I didn’t believe the literature that said this was not the “romantic west.” They even warned me the weather was on steroids. When I got there, it was cold. It was windy and it was really difficult to make pictures in those conditions. I had brought along film as well, so I did a combination of wet-plate and film shooting that was an investigation into understanding the implications and effect of salt on the environment. What I didn’t know when I got to Utah was that I was going to be surrounded by an invisible body of water, with all the salt beds there, so it was the opposite of where I had been photographing along the coast line. Of course there are contemporary artists, such as Mark Ruwedel’s Westward the Course of Empire and Mark Klett, who have this connection and who have been working on the West for years. But for me, it was all completely new.

©Joni Sternbach, from "Abandoned"

05.10.07 #1A. 6.5" x 8.5" ambrotype. Deer Isle ©Joni Sternbach, from "Abandoned"

LL: With the longer exposure time for the wet-plate process, water is captured as a magical surface, an element in your photographs that I absolutely love. You focus on it in “Ocean” and “Sea/Sky;” it grounds your surfers; takes on its own life in “Abandoned;” and then is referenced in “The Salt Effect.” What is your connection to water?
JS: There is an intuitive pull for me. I grew up around the ocean, and had the ocean as a destination. I spent time as a kid with my grandmother in places like Rockaway and Long Beach. That is my early connection. It is a place I feel I must be close to. I love to swim in the ocean. I feel it is a primal source. I love its cyclical nature and its timelessness. The beach is a place where we can exist in some other time frame and for me, it is a complete escape from the “dressed-up” lifestyle required in the city or at work. I do think that photographing water allows us to think about time and time passing. The photographs capture time or slow it down, giving the water a quality that’s hard to imagine without the medium of photography.

LL: Thank you Joni.

©Joni Sternbach, from Sea/Sky series

02.02.17 #1A ©Joni Sternbach, from "Sea/Sky" series (silver gelatin)

©Joni Sternbach, from Sea/Sky series

01.11.22 #1 ©Joni Sternbach, from "Sea/Sky" series (silver gelatin)

Learn more about Joni Sternbach on her website. Joni Sternbach is represented by Joseph Bellows Gallery, Edward Cella Art + Architecture, and Kenise Barnes Fine Art.

Her monograph Surfland, published by photolucida in 2009, can be purchased here.

Additional interviews with Joni Sternbach:

Interview: Tucker Walsh

March 12th, 2010

Flood, ©Tucker Walsh

Flood, ©Tucker Walsh

Out of all the events and images in a recent Corcoran Gallery of Art e-newsletter, there was one photograph (shown above) that just totally engaged me. I had to know more about the image and the photographer. So I caught up with Tucker Walsh, a photojournalism student at the Corcoran College of Art & Design, currently in his sophomore year, to find out more about Flood and what it’s like to be a student these days. Walsh won first place in the amateur category for FotoWeekDC/Newseum’s FOTOBAMA Contest and his work was recently included in the Corcoran Undergraduate Juried Exhibition by Jose Dominguez. He is definitely someone to watch.

from Becoming a Man, ©Tucker Walsh

from Becoming a Man, ©Tucker Walsh

Larissa Leclair: How did you get into photography?
Tucker Walsh: I took a few basic photography classes in high school and a couple workshops during my summer breaks. When I was sixteen, I spent a month in Asia with Rustic Pathways on a trip that was geared towards young photographers. I would say that was when I first found my voice as a photographer.

LL: How is it being a student at the Corcoran?
TW: The Corcoran College of Art & Design, in the same building as the Corcoran Gallery of Art, is very small – around 400 students – which allows for lots of one-on-one attention with your professor. The best part is just living and learning in D.C.. I ride my bike past the White House every day to get to class. Talk about some good motivation!

©Tucker Walsh

©Tucker Walsh

LL: I wonder if websites and blogs are integrated into your curriculum. Are there some that are required reading? Do professors encourage students to have a blog?
TW: This semester we were actually all assigned to create a Twitter account, so we could use social media’s power to communicate outside of class. I have come to really appreciate what something like Twitter can do. But overall, our professors mainly assign books and news articles to read. I would highly recommend  Photojournalism by Ken Kobre. It’s basically the textbook for photojournalists. I have a blog. It is a lot of fun but also a lot more time consuming and stressful than I anticipated. I started it thinking I would put up photographs and work that wasn’t strong enough to be on my website but was still worth sharing with friends, family, or classmates. It’s now turned into basically a second website. I’m thinking about scrapping my website and just using the blog format as a work showcase. This would allow for much more viewer interaction, with commenting, social media, photo rating, etc.

LL: What blogs do you read?
TW: NYTimes Lens, NPPA’s Visual Student, Prof. Kobre’s Guide to Video Journalism, Multimedia Muse,, Burn Magazine, MediaStorm, Huffington Post, and NPR’s Picture Show.

© Tucker Walsh

LL: On your website you call yourself a visual journalist. Why the distinction from photojournalist?
TW: Ultimately, I hope to produce long-term, web-based documentary projects that use still images, video, web design, graphics, text, audio, etc. to tell the story. When I think of photojournalism, I think of a single image on the front of a newspaper, or perhaps a six image picture story in a magazine, or even a two-minute audio slideshow on a newspaper website. My goal is to take a step back from the 24-hour news cycle and combine the visual brilliance of Ron Fricke with the quality storytelling and journalism of NPR. A good example of this is”Ian Fisher: American Solider.” Another example is Scott Strazzante’s “Common Ground”  on MediaStorm. I find it is a more in-depth and rounded look at a story that we often only hear about in small pieces. So to answer your question, I think the name “visual journalist” is more open-ended and mindful of the changes that need to take place in the industry. But hey, it’s just a name!

LL: Okay, so tell me about the flood photo that made me track you down?
TW: I took the flood photo last summer while I was doing an internship at The New London Day newspaper in Connecticut. I talk about it on my blog. (Read the entry here.) I submitted that photo and two others to the annual Corcoran College Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, and I was honored to receive “First Place” for the flood image. Another photo of mine, from a Barack Obama rally, was also in the exhibit, along with some truly amazing work from other Corcoran students.

©Tucker Walsh, FOTOBAMA Contest winning image

©Tucker Walsh, FOTOBAMA Contest winning image

LL: And tell me about the FotoWeek DC winning photograph (shown above).
TW: The photograph that won first place in the amateur/student category of FotoWeek DC’s “FOTOBAMA Contest” was taken on election night in front of the White House. My friends and I were all watching the numbers come in on CNN, and when the news broke that Senator Obama would become President Obama, we immediately jumped up, grabbed our cameras, and dashed down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. There was only about one hundred other college students there when we arrived. However, within half and hour’s time, there was well over a thousand people right in front of the White House, all of whom were going absolutely crazy, jumping up and down, dancing, singing, and screaming. It was also raining, which added to the insanity! I ended up staying down there till 4:30 am, snapping photos and taking in the pure joy that seemed to unite all of DC for a short period of time. The shot that won the FotoWeek contest was of an African-American man crowd surfing with two peace signs in the air directly in front of the White House. I was shooting with a wide angle lens at 3200 ISO with a Canon 20D, so the final image was very noisy, blurry, and cropped to correct a heavy tilt (I was taking photos while dancing). In a way, however, the quality of the image reflected my memory of the event. The whole night was a giant blur of craziness and celebration. I converted the image to black&white to give a sense of memory and timelessness. The winning images from the contest are currently up for display above the Crystal City metro stop.

©Tucker Walsh

©Tucker Walsh

LL: What are you working on now?
TW: I am in the process of applying to Salt Institute For Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. If accepted, I will spend my next fall semester there. Salt is a small, private institution that has three tracks: photography, radio, and writing. Students spend the entire semester documenting one photo story, as well as one story in collaboration with a writing student. I was born in Portland and consider myself a “Maineiac” at heart, so the idea of spending an entire semester documenting stories there really excites me!

LL: Last question, what photojournalists do you admire/follow?
TW: The bodies of work that inspire and motivate me on a daily basis are David Burnett’s “44 Days In Iran,” Pam Spalding’s “An American Family,” Edward Burtynksy’s “Oil,” Ed Kashi’s “Oil in Niger Delta,” Ernesto Bazan’s “Cuba,” and Jenn Ackerman’s “Trapt.” The list could go on and on…Ami Vitale, Adam Ferguson, Charles Ommanney, Jonas Bendiksen…Then there is Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sebastiao Salgado and James Nachtwey who are just magicians at what they do. Documentary films have also influenced me just as much still images have. Some that I would recommend to photographers are Grizzly Man, Baraka, Born Into Brothels, The Cove, War Photographer, Cry of the Snow Lion, and War Dance.

©Tucker Walsh

©Tucker Walsh

LL: Thank you Tucker.

Check out Tucker Walsh’s website and blog.
Follow Tucker on Twitter @PJ_Tucker.

Interview: Christopher Colville

February 24th, 2010

Arizona-based photographer, Christopher Colville is an up-and-coming star. Colville is redefining landscape photography and pushes the boundaries of the medium by embracing traditional and experimental processes. Through his imagery he explores the cycle of life, the passage of time, history, and our relationship to the landscape. Back in November 2009, I interviewed Chris right before his show opened at FotoWeekDC. The exhibition included work from three of Colville’s series – “Emanations,” “Iceland Trilogy” and “Sonoran Project.” Since the exhibition Chris has received the New Photographers Grant from the Humble Arts Foundation and was recently selected for Graphic Intersections v. 02 by The Exposure Project. And today, work from the series “Instar” is the featured photo on Flak Photo.

Chris Colville Flak Photo

As mentioned in photographer Elizabeth Fleming’s blog, I have known Chris for a long time. He is a talented photographer flying under the radar. I’m glad his work is getting out there.

(This intro and interview were originally published in ArtVoices Magazine, December 2009.)

In his first solo show in Washington, D.C., Christopher Colville, photographer and teacher at Arizona State University, explores the themes of time as manifested in death and memory in a selection of work from his series “Emanations,” “Iceland Trilogy” and “Sonoran Project.”

Emanation #1, Edition of 7, 42.5"x9.5" © Christopher Colville

Emanation #1, Edition of 7, 42.5"x9.5" © Christopher Colville

Colville pushes the boundaries of the medium, embracing traditional and experimental processes. Included in his contemporary photographic work are photograms, ambrotypes, and decay-generated images. In “Emanations,” it is the energy given off from a decaying squid that exposes the photographic paper. Colville records this journey of life, of self, of death, in a myriad of colors that conjures up cosmic matter, unknown worlds, micro and macro ecosystems. It is ephemeral and magical.

7/19/06, unfixed P.O.P photogram, 7"x5.6" ©Christopher Coville

7/19/06, unfixed P.O.P photogram, 7"x5.6" ©Christopher Colville from Small Tragedies

“Iceland Trilogy” is an interconnected body of work of ritual and connection to the landscape. Two series within “Iceland Trilogy,” Cairns and Small Tragedies, are intimately tied together in terms of the artist’s ritual of creating one photograph each day in the Icelandic landscape of his ancestors. Cairns themselves are stones used to mark pathways, as well as markers placed as memorials to the dead. Colville reflects on his own intersection with the path of others – now and of the past.

7/23/06, Wet-Plate Ambrotype, 7"x5.6" ©Christopher Colville

7/23/06, Wet-Plate Ambrotype, 7"x5.6" ©Christopher Colville from Cairns

“Sonoran Project” is one of Colville’s latest body of work. Life in the Arizona desert is both miraculous and tenuous. In the vast landscape there are traces of life in all stages. His photograms capture a mythical spirituality of the natural world.

Bat, 2009, Edition of 12, 18.4" x 23", P.O.P. photogram ©Christopher Colville

Bat, 2009, Edition of 12, 18.4" x 23", P.O.P. photogram ©Christopher Colville from the Sonoran Project

This selection of work seen together for FotoWeek DC, explores the cycle of life, the passage of time, history, and the landscape that embodies us all. The exhibition “Christopher Colville” is on view November 4 – December 11, 2009.

Larissa Leclair: Your process behind the “Emanations” series is absolutely amazing. This is an older series of work, but I am always drawn back to it. Who or what was your inspiration for that?
Christopher Colville: I wanted to make images that hinted at our connection to a more organic reality and the transformative nature of life. At the time I was thinking about how to do that photographically I was reading “The Beauty of the Husband” by Ann Carson and was struck by the passage, “[a] wound gives off its own light surgeons say. If all the lamps in the house were turned out you could dress this wound by what shines from it.” Carson’s quote brought to life a beautiful image of the power of healing and the suggestion that through pain we grow stronger and more full. That same week I learned from a friend that squid glow as they decompose and I couldn’t let go of the vision of an organism giving off energy in death. I think we all want to feel connected to something greater than ourselves, whether that is a religious spiritual connection or just an organic redistribution of our bodies providing nutrients for life after we die.

©Christopher Colville from Emanations

©Christopher Colville from Emanations

LL: I see that mythical spirituality of the natural world in all your series. Do you have any other contemporary influences?
CC: I have been thinking a lot about the work of Fredrick Sommer, Richard Long, Gabriel Orozco. Most recently I found the work of Cai Guo-Qiang extremely inspiring. I have also recently been influenced by the writing of David James Duncan and Cormac McCarthy.

LL: In William Jenkins’ essay in “Michael Lundgren: Transfigurations” (Radius Books, 2008) he begins, “[n]ot long ago Mike Lundgren, two others and I were camping in one of the most beautiful Sonoran desert landscapes I have ever encountered.” I know you have been camping many times with Mike Lundgren. Might Bill Jenkins be referring to you as well in this sentence?
CC: Probably not, but as it happens I am heading into the desert with Bill Jenkins, Mark Klett and many other ASU photo faculty and graduate students this weekend. Last week I spent four days in the Pinacate with Mike Lundgren and Richard Lagharn. We have a great community of artists living in the Phoenix area, many of whom seek refuge or solitude in the Sonoran Desert. One of the best things about living in Phoenix is the ability to leave the city quickly. For those people that are tuned in, the desert’s calling is hard to resist and sometimes it calls us out in packs.

©Christopher Colville from the Sonoran Project

©Christopher Colville from the Sonoran Project

LL: One of your latest series is the “Sonoran Project.” Can you describe the terrain of the Sonoran desert and how it is to photograph there?
CC: I don’t know if I will ever fully be able to describe the Sonoran desert and that is part of the reason I am compelled to spend time there and make work there. The terrain varies so greatly from seemingly barren flats to lush riparian areas as well as unforgiving mountain ranges. In the summer you hide from the sun by day and work through the night and in the winter the days are luminous and the nights are frigid. The terrain challenges you but at the same time I feel more at peace out there than anywhere else. In addition, the rich cultural history embedded in the landscape reveals itself in a way that resonates with my desires in art-making and enable me to feel connected to this greater history.

LL: Creating each one of your bodies of work seems to incorporate a prolonged period of time in the environment that you are photographing in–a journey if you will–and an exploration of self both physically and mentally. Do you agree?
CC: Yes. I am not interested in just documenting space. Instead my desires are more internal. They lay in an arena of sharing experience through the transformative process of image making. Life in the desert is both miraculous and tenuous. The harsh reality of the desert and the complex transitions speak to the evolution of life. The shifts in extremes–in the Sonoran Desert, in Iceland, and in life–resonate with the extremes of human emotion. In these spaces there is no insulation, yet life erupts from the most unexpected places. Spending time in the desert brings me closer to an experience that can escape the confines of language. It is an experience that is more essential, more tied to the immediacy of life. I feel that these more essential experiences reveal a lot about an individual. My work has always been about learning who I am–an internal dialogue that resonates on a broader level. How do we connect to this world? There is always a journey.

©Christopher Colville from Instar

©Christopher Colville from Instar

Colville’s series Instar is also from the Sonoran Desert. About this work he says:

“Instar” describes the periods between successive molts of a caterpillar as it sheds its exoskeleton before reaching sexual maturity. Each molt leaves marks and scars on the body of the organism as evidence of its previous existence, similar to the marks left on the earth from natural events as well as the scars left on the landscape as we manipulate it for our needs.

I am interested in making images that translate the wonder and horror embedded in our landscape by these manipulations. The images in this portfolio represent one sequence from a growing body of work that uses the transformative power of photography to speak to our fears of life, death, and regeneration. These images reveal visions both apocalyptic and miraculous while searching for the possibility of redemption and beauty.

©Christopher Colville from Instar

©Christopher Colville from Instar

To see more of Christopher Colville’s work, visit his website.

Lisa M. Robinson interview reaches China!

February 5th, 2010

Thinking on Photography

Take one great photographer, Lisa M. Robinson, and one great social network, Andy Adams’ Flak Photo, (plus retweets by @flakphoto, @KLOMPCHING, @IsaLeshko, @FractionMag, @revoldrib, and @RossRawlings) and what do you get? A global audience. Soon after Lisa’s interview went live, Revol Drib of Thinking on Photography contacted me to translate it into Chinese for both his blog and for Chinese Photography Magazine, the leading photography magazine in China. To quote Lisa M. Robinson about the news; “How cool is THAT?!!” Read the original Lisa M. Robinson interview here.

Chinese Photography Magazine

(Please contact me if I missed your retweet.)

Interview: Kate MacDonnell

February 2nd, 2010

Hummingbird, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Hummingbird, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Kate MacDonnell is inspired by literature, poetry, music, and family in her often diaristic photographic work. “100 ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” the title of her ongoing series, is borrowed from a poem by the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi. MacDonnell finds wonder in the everyday. She meditates on the moments that make the common not so common–a hummingbird against the backdrop of a fluorescent office light; blue sky with a parhelion phenomenon. Her photographs rarely include people, but she sees the arrangement of personal space as a portrait of a person. MacDonnell highlights the particular while at the same time referencing the commonality in the individual and in doing so speaks to a larger shared existence.

Fire Rainbow and Flare, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Fire Rainbow and Flare, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Larissa Leclair: How did you get into photography?
Kate MacDonnell: I started in Painting and Drawing at the Corcoran. In my third year, I was frustrated with painting. I had the impulse to paint and to record little moments that I saw in the world, but wasn’t really attached to any subject. It was the act of looking that I was interested in doing. I spent a lot of time in the library and gathered books to take back to my studio to have a lot of visual resources to work with. I was doing paintings from death portraits and from other photographs. I came across William Eggleston’s Guide and was like, “Oh, I could take pictures!” In high school I had done black-and-white photography and my teacher had graduated from the Corcoran and was able to convince the photo department that I didn’t need to take the black-and-white classes and that I just needed to get into a color class. I ended up staying in the Fine Art Department, the Photography Department was separate, and just did color photography before there was much crossover between the two departments. I got to maintain my studio space that I had as a painter and hang all my color prints that I was working on. It was a beautiful situation.

Zach's Menorah, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Zach's Menorah, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

LL: Are you still shooting color film and printing traditional c-prints?
KM: No, I do all digital now, but I consider going back.

LL: Did you begin your series “100 ways to kneel and kiss the ground” at the Corcoran? Tell me about that body of work.
KM: “100 ways” is post-Corcoran. I see myself doing a marathon–one thing morphs into another. I don’t know when it started. It is all digital and I started doing digital work in 2004. So I guess that would be a rough start date. David Lynch uses transcendental meditation as a source for creativity. He uses meditation every day and gets to a subconscious plane that we are all on and then uses that to create something. What I am doing is not that. I am thinking about that in a different way entirely. I am looking at the world for those things, those bits of visual evidence of ideas–that are relatable on a deeper subconscious level–and gathering bits of that. The creative part is in the editing–putting these disparate little moments together that hopefully resonate with anyone viewing the images.

Weston, Campion Center, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Weston, Campion Center, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

LL: Your work is very meditative and poetic and I do see those little moments–personal spaces, personal arrangements, and personal things–which speak to a universal commonness. Let’s talk about the titles of your photographs–they are very specific. There is a lot more that you can read into the image when you take into account the title.
KM: I didn’t title my images for a long time. That was the idea: the communication is the image itself, to have that direct relationship with the image without being told some other little piece of information. I liked the directness of it. But then titling work, especially when things are more abstract, acknowledges your connection with the image that you’ve made, and it can help convey the image to the viewer in that they see there is some sincerity to it, some other way in. Language is another way to help it be more accessible. I want the images to be accessible. I don’t want to shut the viewer off.

Sky Cartography for, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Sky Cartography for Common's Father, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

LL: Can you explain the title “Sky Cartography for Common’s Father?
KM: Do you know the rapper Common Sense? His father is a poet, Lonnie Lynn. He is always on Common’s records doing spoken work. Poetry and literature are very important to my work. It could be Milan Kundera; it could be Rumi; it could be Lonnie Lynn. I’m interested in the human thread. So the album is “Be.” Lonnie Lynn does a spoken word piece on the last track and he can’t say the word cartography. He says, “Be a car … topographer,” and then laughs a bit, “Be a maker of maps … ” He owns the way he just goes right over it. It’s awesome. He also says, “Be the author of your own horoscope.” I like that too. The image reminded me of a crude map of the U.S. and I thought about this poem and the kids that are all saying what they want to be at the beginning of it. And I thought that I would want to be a maker of maps, but of the sky.

LL: I also see a spiritual and metaphysical dimension to your work. Is that a conscious decision?
KM: [It is] as conscious as the spiritual or metaphysical is in my life, in my interaction with the world.

LL: Which it is.
KM: Yeah definitely. That’s there.

The Fountainhead, Ocean City, MD, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

The Fountainhead, Ocean City, MD, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

LL: Are there 100 images in “100 ways to kneel and kiss the ground?”
KM: No, and on purpose, 100 is not what Rumi meant. What Rumi means is there are infinite ways. The body of work has an infinite number of images that can be added to it in the future, or images that I already made, in a “negative notebook” somewhere that might be part of it but that I just don’t have in the series yet.

LL: You are represented by Civilian Art Projects (DC). How did you come to work with Jayme McLellan? And what role does working with such an influential curator have on you as an artist?
KM: Jayme is amazing. She is like a force of nature. I have great respect for what she is doing and has done for the DC art scene. She gets work that might not be as commercially viable in this town out there and on view to challenge us in DC as viewers. I met her when I was in a group show that Colby Caldwell curated at DCAC back in 2001. She was working there at the time. Fastforward several years to when Jayme had gotten a (semi) permanent space in DC for Civilian Art Projects which, in the first several months of its existence had been utilizing alternative spaces, collaborating with other galleries, etc in order for Jayme to show work that she cared about and wanted to get on view. Jayme invited me to be represented sometime in late 2007 after the gallery had landed at the 7th and D location. And I had my first solo show at Civilian Art Projects in spring of 2008. Jayme is great to work with because it doesn’t feel like work. She allows for me to have my own autonomy, but has an understanding of my work and a photographer’s eye and an analytical yet idiosyncratic mind. I trust her editing and sequencing and was really pleased with the 17 images that she curated into the show from the 100+ that she had seen. The ideas and major themes of the body of work were accentuated through her edit. What makes her such a joy to work with is that she allows for true collaboration. For example when our opinions on the layout of the show differed, Jayme listened to my rationale and accommodated my concerns while keeping her vision for the show clear and concise.  I was really pleased with the show.

Joe's Grave, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Joe's Grave, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

LL: Your work would do well in book format.
KM: I have done a couple of self-published books. There are a million companies out there. I have done Blurb, Snapfish, Lulu, ibook. I’ve done a bunch. They are functional, a great way to work out editing and sequencing. To me they are a taste but not very satisfying. The not satisfying part is the print quality. For instance, for the 100 ways show, I worked with Soung Wiser of DC’s General Design Company and Jayme to create a book that would go along with the  show. Jayme, Soung and I all worked together to edit and sequence the images. Soung worked on the layout within the confines of the Blurb software at the time. Now both the layout options 100 Ways Bookand the paper quality have improved, but at the time the quality of the paper and printing didn’t warrant the price of production. But, yeah, I love photo books as a medium. It is such a nice intimate way to view a collection of images. I would love to have a nicely published short-run trade edition eventually.

LL: As an artist, why choose Washington, D.C.?
KM: It’s home. I’ve never lived anywhere else. I grew up right outside of D.C. and came to school in D.C. and then just stayed here. We have this idea or ideal in the U.S. that you should move around and I’ve kind of had the impulse now and then but I also like the idea to be close to where I am from. I have family in the area. I like having deep roots.

Blank, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Blank, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

LL: Do you photograph every day?
KM: Yeah, pretty much. I carry the camera with me, street photographer style.

LL: How was it photographing every day for “SAMETIME 7:15”?
KM: That was really awesome. It was a fun project to work on. As much of a pain as it was to have to commit every Sunday night to uploading and captioning the images, it was always fun to see on Monday what had come together from everyone. As a photographer doing a solitary pursuit, it is nice to have that feeling of connection with other people in the community on a daily basis. It is rare that that’s the situation, and daily for a year. That connection is really bolstering to the creative process. Michael Lease, one of the artists that started the SAMETIME project, insists on community.

Reflection and Cloud, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Reflection and Cloud, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

LL: When you write about your own work you mention the new topographics movement, which coincidentally the original exhibition has been restaged at LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art]. How are those photographers–Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, etc.–influential to you?
KM: They were part of my impetus to do photography. I was born in 1975 when that show happened. I was born into the world that they were making images of. I was born into one of those cookie-cutter houses, in a cookie-cutter community. Here they are from the outside saying, “This is house, house, house, house.” They were speaking to these places being devoid of aesthetic value because they were these manufactured environments–man’s imposition on the landscape. But I am like, “Well, no, because I live inside it, and this house faces this way and that one faces the woods. It is the same box but it faces the woods. Their stairs face that way and on their stairs they have a fake tree.” There are lives being lived here. Growing up in that environment was a bit surreal but the similarity was comforting. It was like a David Lynch type normalcy. Every house is the same, but the stuff in it is different and its orientation to the street shifts. It is interesting to see how people treat the same thing differently and make it their own. I’m interested in these little intricate details. Along with wanting to make images that denote the humanity of these places, I was keenly drawn to their seemingly simplistic but in fact, very subtle and sometimes sublime use of composition. I like the feeling of looking at images that are like still waters.

Leaves Fall, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

Leaves Fall, from "100 Ways..." ©Kate MacDonnell

LL: You are still continuing on with “100 Ways”. Are you working on any other series?
KM: The 100 ways work is morphing into something more ethereal. They’ll need more space. I’ll be printing them larger. The working title is either “Elements” or “What We Got.” And I have started to photograph on Florida Avenue in DC, the hand-painted address signage. That is just starting to take shape. Florida used to be Boundary Street. That was it. That was DC. So, I am photographing the old edge of the city -like in European towns that have the concentric walls of the expanding outer edge of the city. I like the layering that happens over the course of time as well as recording a moment in the history of the evolution of the city. This collection of intimate indicators of place are in that same vein of celebrating DC’s unique look as Ken Ashton‘s DC Theaters  and his DC neighborhoods projects as well as Lely Constantinople‘s Georgia Avenue project. So, the work will be in good company.

Fireworks ©Kate MacDonnell

Fireworks ©Kate MacDonnell

Looking for Constellations ©Kate MacDonnell

Looking for Constellations ©Kate MacDonnell

Snow ©Kate MacDonnell

Snow ©Kate MacDonnell

Painted over peep street art ©Kate MacDonnell

Painted over peep street art ©Kate MacDonnell

600 T Street ©Kate MacDonnell

600 T Street ©Kate MacDonnell

LL: Thank you Kate.

Kate MacDonnell is represented by Civilian Art Projects (DC). Read an interview (2008) with director Jayme McLellan.
MacDonnell’s Blurb book can be viewed here.
MacDonnell’s work is part of “Empty Time” curated by Trevor Young at the Fridge (DC). Opening February 6, 8-11PM.

This interview was also published in a shorter form in ArtVoices Magazine, January 2010.

Interview: Lisa M. Robinson

January 15th, 2010

Flak Photo WINTER PICTURES: Lisa M. Robinson

Flak Photo WINTER PICTURES: Lisa M. Robinson

When Andy Adams of Flak Photo first put out a call to the online photography community looking for images of winter, the first photographer that came to mind was Lisa M. Robinson and her Snowbound series. I first came to know Lisa’s work from the Winter 2007 issue of the Photo-eye Booklist.

I was transfixed by the frozen natural ice sculptures of “Valhalla” on the cover, the interview with her by Patrick Amsellem (page 16), and one photograph that looked to be of tiny colored dots on a white background that almost blended into the white of the magazine page (page 19). I could barely decipher the image, but could not stop looking at it. Sadly to say, that was the last printed issue of the Photo-eye Booklist with Darius Himes as Editor, but that horizon-less photograph of fishing huts started my photograph collection. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to see more of her work in person with Debra Klomp Ching of KlompChing Gallery in DUMBO.

Invisible City ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound
Invisible City ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound

Her inclusion in Flak Photo’s weekday series WINTER PICTURES presented a perfect opportunity to ask Lisa more about her work. I corresponded with Lisa from my snowed-in home in Virginia, while she soaked up the sun in mild Arizona. We talked about her Fulbright to Argentina, the reality of photographing in snow, and the new body of work selected by Andy Adams for his online exhibition.

Larissa Leclair: What was your Fulbright proposal that took you to Argentina? Did you go as a photographer?
Lisa M. Robinson: I fell in love with Argentina in 1994, when I lived there for a year. I admired the Argentine spirit that seemed to be optimistic and pure, no matter the circumstance. Interestingly, I had proposed a photographic portrait of the people, in an effort to better understand such complexities. But in the span of time between my proposal and my arrival, my photographic interests had shifted, and I found myself drawn to the private and public spaces that still reverberated with a human presence. I could not experience these spaces without recognizing some hint of the past, and made photographs that investigated light and darkness as metaphors for deeply layered lives. The resulting images are quiet, poetic ruminations on the significance of seemingly familiar moments.

El Arbolito ©Lisa M. Robinson
El Arbolito ©Lisa M. Robinson
Sunday Morning, 6 am ©Lisa M. Robinson
Sunday Morning, 6 am ©Lisa M. Robinson
Victory to Perón ©Lisa M. Robinson
Victory to Perón ©Lisa M. Robinson
Blank Walls ©Lisa M. Robinson
Blank Walls ©Lisa M. Robinson
La Cama ©Lisa M. Robinson
La Cama ©Lisa M. Robinson

LL: How have you tapped into very international and diverse venues for showing your work — the International Photography Gathering in Aleppo, Syria; the Museo Tambo Quirquincho in La Paz, Bolivia; and Kaunas Photo Days in Kaunas, Lithuania? And the U.S. Embassy in Kazakstan has your work in it’s collection. Which ones?
LMR: I began showing the Snowbound series in 2005, while still in the midst of the project.  I was living in New York, and took advantage of every opportunity to get my work in front of people. I think the international opportunities arose primarily from various portfolio review events – FotoFest, PhotoLucida, Rhubarb-Rhubarb. These meeting grounds allowed me to share my work with a broad spectrum of curators, gallerists and editors.

I was surprised to find how profoundly these images seemed to resonate for people from such different cultures. I thought the work to be distinctly American, emerging from a suburban sensibility and rooted in a combined tradition of the New Color photographers and the New Topographics. While I appreciated how many more concepts informed the imagery, I didn’t fully expect others to see or feel what I did. It’s kind of like believing that your own baby is beautiful, while recognizing that you can’t help but have a particular bias. The international receptivity to the images reminds me of the universal language and power of photography to evoke the specific and the immense simultaneously.

Solo ©Lisa M. Robinson
Solo ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound

“Solo” and “Harmony” are prints in the collection of the U.S. Embassy in Kazakstan. One is an image depicting a lone basketball hoop in snow; the other, a baseball backstop. These sports are iconic representations of American culture, but the stillness of these playing fields under a blanket of snow suggests a more introspective moment.

Harmony ©Lisa M. Robinson
Harmony ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound

LL: Tell me about the photograph “Wish” — which is the cover image of your monograph by Kehrer Verlag.
LMR: From the beginning of the Snowbound work, I recognized that I was drawn to elements in the landscape that provided a point of human reference, perhaps as a source of comfort and familiarity in an otherwise unfamiliar world. But as the project deepened, I began to read my images in a different way, on a more metaphorical plane. I began to see the connections that had slowly emerged… not only was I drawn to human elements isolated in the snowy landscape, but also to spaces that suggested a time of year that had passed, or an activity that was now suspended.

Wish ©Lisa M. Robinson
Wish ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound

“Wish” was one such image. The very discovery of it functioned like the work itself. I was  traveling through Utah, looking for frozen lakes in hopes of discovering more ice fishing shacks. I had called a local outfitter store to find out which lakes might freeze over, and had been directed to this summer location. Driving across the snow and ice toward this designated space on the map, I was a bit skeptical. Eventually, though, the road opened up and I could see a lake in the distance, across a mile or two of snow. I parked my car, and as I was lacing up my bunny boots, preparing for the long trek ahead, a pick-up truck stopped and a local resident asked with grave concern if everything was okay. “Sure is,” I said. “I’m headed out there to photograph.” He was perplexed, and didn’t quite understand why I would be tromping off into nothing… “In the summer, this place is full of people,” he said. “But there’s nothing there now. It’s all covered in snow.” “Precisely my interest,” I thought.  I had encountered a Rothko-esque landscape, and was going to approach the horizon in order to capture this painterly reality. And as I trekked through the snow, which was up to my knees, approaching the waterline, I could see a black dot in the distance, a dot that grew larger and larger. I thought that it might be a trashcan, and was speechless when I realized that I was standing before a sunken picnic table. It was a perfect moment, the top of the table pristine from previous sunny days, but its legs submerged in snow. My Rothko painting had been punctuated by a memory. Time and space, form and color were all suspended here, in this moment. I feel privileged to have been a witness, and to have made this resulting image.

Solstice ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound
Solstice ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound

LL: The images are peaceful and calm – probably not at all adjectives you would use to describe the winter conditions you were photographing in. What was it like to work in the snow physically and mentally?
LMR: I don’t think I chose to photograph snow and ice, as much as I recognized that it lured me with its understated beauty. I remember late one Sunday afternoon, walking across a frozen lake in Maine, heading toward an isolated fishing shack. A cloud passed over the sun, and in an instant, the gently falling snow began to be driven horizontally. The wind had come from nowhere, and the snow stung like icy pellets. The scene before me was sublime –  a hand-crafted shelter silently acquiescing to the storm, like a patient sage. At the same time I was being beckoned by this scene, I was confronted by its physical difficulties. I gave up trying to make a photograph that day, my fingers numb from immediate exposure to the wind and cold. I remember defrosting in my car, frustrated but compelled by the challenges ahead. I knew that I must confront the storm, and its attendant challenges and difficulties, in order to find that still center. Learning to embrace the physicality of the work — finding the proper clothing and gear, learning how to read the atmosphere, developing a methodical ritual with my 4×5 view camera, learning the rhythm of my breath in pace with my steps as I walked through snow — all of this was essential to my understanding of this quest.

Old Soul ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound
Old Soul ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound

It is no accident, then, that I became deeply meditative through the act of photography. Often, I would wake an hour before sunrise, in order to light a candle and write in my journal, as a way of finding an internal equilibrium that could be maintained throughout my external experience. I began to practice yoga, and developed an awareness of my body and its connectedness to an outer world that, I believe, manifests in the images themselves.  Walking that edge, where the tension between the physical reality and the internal peace, can co-exist, has resulted in images that can sustain such seeming contradictions. Somehow, the blizzard is manageable, when you are inside your own head and inside the storm at the same time.

Blizzard ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound
Blizzard ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound

Such cold, such seeming emptiness, the unknown space before me… I went into it alone, without a guide.  No one knew where I was, often times not even myself. That was part of this journey, to confront the unknown, to confront myself, and to glean something from the experience.

LL: You are now in Arizona. Do you miss that kind of snow and winter?
LMR: I never realized how much the winter experience had become a part of me until I no longer had it in my life. You don’t miss your water ‘til your well runs dry… I have spent the last year and a half re-calibrating my inner compass in order to learn from this new landscape and spaciousness. Living far from the sea, from natural bodies of water, has certainly been challenging, and 70 degree winters confound me (though I can’t complain about the long bike rides through the Sonoran mountains). My yearning has compelled me to travel a bit, seeking out the places and atmospheres that I miss.

Trace ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound
Trace ©Lisa M. Robinson, from Snowbound

LL: What brought you to the southwest?
LMR: Love… I fell in love with a man from Tucson who couldn’t relocate, so I moved to his world.

LL: The work selected by Andy Adams for WINTER PICTURES featured on Flak Photo is from a new series. Can you tell me a little about it?
LMR: During the last two winters of the Snowbound work, I was especially drawn to areas of water, where this primary element existed in multiple states, often simultaneously. This new series has taken water as its starting point, perhaps because I have yearned for the vastness of the sea at the same time that I am trying to embrace the mystery of the desert. There is a deep history embedded in the land here, a past that is characterized by oceans and water, but only suggested by the traces left behind. Walking through the Sonoran desert, one can almost sense being on the floor of an immense sea, where cacti are like anemone. I am seeking a connection between the water and the land, trying to understand a larger arc.  This search is taking me from tumultuous water to the frozen edges, from desert tundra to underground formations. The image in WINTER PICTURES is one of transition, illustrating stillness and movement, that nearly imperceptible shift in time and space that underlies every passing moment.

Etching ©Lisa M. Robinson
Etching ©Lisa M. Robinson

Shift ©Lisa M. Robinson
Shift ©Lisa M. Robinson

LL: Thank you Lisa very much.

Lisa M. Robinson is represented by KlompChing Gallery (NY) and Etherton Gallery (AZ).
Her monograph is Snowbound (Kehrer Verlag, 2007).
Click here to visit Lisa’s website and also check out the interview by NYMPHOTO.

Interview: Elizabeth Fleming

January 8th, 2010

An interview with Elizabeth Fleming about using MagCloud and Blurb to publish her own magazine and book.

Elizabeth Fleming MagCloud Blurb

Life is a Series of Small Moments

by Elizabeth Fleming
MagCloud, 2009
8.25″ × 10.75″
32 pages

Life is a Series of Small Moments

by Elizabeth Fleming
Blurb, 2009
13″ x 11″
50 pages

Inspired by Harlan Erskine’s and Todd Walker’s first Tweetchat about the Future of Photobooks in conjunction with the ongoing discussion prompted by Miki Johnson of Resolve, the livebooks blog, and Andy Adams of Flak Photo, I wanted to continue the conversation with Elizabeth Fleming, a photographer who has published with both MagCloud and Blurb. (Highlights from the Tweetchat can be seen here.)

Part of the TweetChat, as summarized by Miki Johnson, focused on

“How often are photobooks purchased from print-on-demand storefronts like Blurb? Are they mostly photographers printing their own portfolios? People agreed they are more likely to buy books when they can touch them. If they’re buying them online, they need to be more of a “known quantity,” either a photographer or publisher they know, like, and trust to put out a quality product.”

I fully agree with Miki and the “people” about being hesitant to buy an expensive print-on-demand book without having seen it in person first. Aside from the Blurb Photography.Book.Now Meet-Ups and FotoWeek DC, there is nowhere to hold and flip through these books.

I asked Elizabeth about her experiences publishing with MagCloud and Blurb, her audience for both formats, and if there is a limited edition artist book in her photobook future.

LL: Which came first – the MagCloud magazine or the Blurb book?
Elizabeth Fleming: I made the magazine about a year before I made the book.

LL: What was your motivation behind each of these forms?
EF: With the magazine it was primarily a desire to see physically how my images would relate to each other in print format. It felt like a freeing way to experiment: because it was a magazine, and cost nothing to produce, I was able to play around without the pressure of trying to make it “perfect.” (With Blurb you have to buy a copy of your book in order for it to be listed for sale on their website.) As a result I found that creating the magazine was a very fulfilling process.

The book was the next step; I had kept the magazine under a certain amount of pages because I thought allowing it to become too “thick” would detract from the sense of the medium, in that it’s not as precious (even if my perfectionistic tendencies came into play in its making). With the book I was able to hone what I’d done with the magazine–I made it longer, a bit slower in the pacing, and included a dedication and statement. The size is bigger, and the format (vertical for the magazine, horizontal for the book) made it feel more polished to me as well. Obviously the hardbound cover turns the book into a more hefty object, which gives it a certain “mental” weight too, in my opinion.

© Elizabeth Fleming

spread from the magazine ©Elizabeth Fleming

© Elizabeth Fleming

spread from the book ©Elizabeth Fleming

LL: Do you have the same audience for both?
EF: I think the magazine is more accessible in general. It certainly is much cheaper to purchase. I believe people might be more inclined to browse Magcloud and potentially come across my publication by accident, as opposed to Blurb, which seems to attract a fine art-oriented base. The price of the Blurb book makes it more of a collector’s item in a sense; the magazine, at $12, is something anyone can purchase, which seems more democratic.

LL: Do you use them for marketing your work?
EF: I do. When I attend portfolio reviews I always bring a stack of magazines and offer one of them as a leave-behind, and I bring the book as well–particularly if I have a review with a publisher–to show as a mock-up. There are also links on the sidebar of my blog to direct people to the sales sites in the hopes of generating interest and potential income. And if I’ve met someone in the industry in a more informal setting I’ll often send a magazine along as a way to keep in touch and place a physical reminder of my images in someone’s hands.

LL: Is one selling faster than the other?
EF: The magazine by far, it’s not even a contest. I’ve had many conversations with fellow photographers who have also used Blurb, and the general consensus seems to be that we’ve all employed the service as a means for creating a template. In essence, when we show the book around it’s with a bit of a disclaimer: this is what my book would look like if an actual publishing house were to produce a more high-end version. Blurb is good for what it is, but the quality isn’t impeccable, I have to admit–plus the prices for purchase are extremely high. My book is over $80 and I think it’s a deterrent–if someone can buy an art book for that much from Steidl or Schilt Publishing, I don’t think they’re going to spend that kind of money on a self-published piece. Again, at $12 for the magazine, there’s no “risk”–it’s a nice way for someone to have a look at my photographs in print, but because it’s affordable I think there’s an understanding that the color isn’t going to be 100% perfect, and that the paper quality is going to be like any typical magazine for sale out there.

Elizabeth Fleming

spread from the magazine ©Elizabeth Fleming


spread from the book ©Elizabeth Fleming

LL: I read about the final moments of finishing and perfecting your Blurb book on your blog. Can you talk about the pros and cons of each process?
EF: For some reason, despite the fact that both Magcloud and Blurb have you upload PDFs and I used the same program (Adobe InDesign) for each, I had a much more difficult time with the template for Blurb. When my PDF was uploaded I ran into a number of technical difficulties with image distortion on the cover. Admittedly, I was down to the wire because I was trying to meet the submission deadline for the Photography.Book.Now competition and therefore didn’t have much time to contact customer service, so the problems I had may have been able to be resolved more easily if I had had some wiggle room. Instead I ended up changing my cover in order to get around the glitches. Regardless, I also felt Blurb’s templates weren’t entirely accurate, whereas Magcloud’s matched up well.

Otherwise, it’s not so much a pro/con situation as a different way of working. As I mentioned before, making the magazine felt freeing and enjoyable. With the book I was more emotional–I spent much more time with every aspect of its creation, and so putting it out into the world was a bigger deal for my psyche than with the magazine.

LL: Have you considered making a limited edition artist book?
EF: Yes, quite seriously. I think there’s a lot of room for new types of creativity to emerge through limited edition books. They have the potential to become artworks in and of themselves, with many options for being hand-bound, multilayered, or handwritten in sections, in addition to the images. One could even have a single edition for a unique one-of-a-kind piece, or a small run with some sort of maker’s mark. I think a more overt sense of the photographer’s hand is where the significance of the artist book lies, and will be what sets limited editions apart from the formalized self publishing industry.

LL: Thank you Elizabeth.

To purchase the magazine from MagCloud click here.
Elizabeth’s Blurb book was selected as an Honorable Mention in the 2009 Photography.Book.Now competition. To purchase the book from the Blurb bookstore click here.
Both can be purchased from Elizabeth’s blog.

© Elizabeth Fleming

spread from the magazine ©Elizabeth Fleming

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