Justin Thomas Leonard is a photographer based out of Bowling-Green, Ohio where he currently teaches. He received his MFA from Yale in 2009.
Is weather an act of God?No.What do you fear most?This question?Do you…
AnnieLaurie Erickson received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently resides in New Orleans where she is assistant professor in Photography at Tulane University.
Do [the Oil Refinery images] have a relationship with fantasy or mysticism?
Juan Madrid recently received his BFA from Rochester Institute of Technology and currently resides in New York.
Where do we/you find the hope for these people? Do they need it? How does religion play into this?
For me at least, it’s not as much about having hope for the…
John Vigg received his MFA from Montclair State University in 2013 and is currently living and working New Jersey.
How does the landscape work fit into the more conceptual projects? Are they all pieces to something larger or is their a trajectory?
Monique Atherton recieved her post-baccalaureate degree in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute and is currently living in Brooklyn, NY and Washington State.
How do you decide what to photograph? How do you decide what not to photograph? What is your personal understanding of a ‘good’ photograph?
I used to photograph everything - I carried a camera at all times and went around shooting strangers at fairs, flowers, trees, sidewalks and stuff. As I matured in my process and found my voice I stopped carrying around the camera unless I was specifically working on a project. My projects for the past two years have involved exploring my relationship to specific places and the people in those places. When I make pictures, I look for two things, I look for images that will complement other images that make up a part of a larger series and I also look for moments that evoke a particular feeling - so it’s not the subject that is as important to me as finding the right elements to create a mood.
I try not to photograph the obvious, the one-liners, and photography that promotes the idea of the other. I try to draw from my own experiences to create a photographic world that can’t be experienced without me. I want to represent an undiscovered place where the secret languages and the tensions that exist on a subconscious level are revealed.
For me, a good photograph makes you stop and look, it makes you question and it stays with you. Getting all three of these things in one image is super challenging.
Can you talk about motion blurs? What effect do they have on a photograph? On the senses?
Ooooh! I love motion blurs. Years ago, when I first began making pictures, I saw the work of Nikola Tamindzic, who at the time, was making these amazing nightlife photographs of the NYC party scene. He combined a slow shutter with a flash which added another dimension to his work. Those images had a big impact on me and I’ve since incorporated the technique into my own practice. Since photographs are just fractions of seconds I use blurs to add a little extra time to the image. I also feel like motion blurs help to create a dreamlike and/or intoxicated feeling to the viewer - there is something very fun about that to me. To be able to feel intoxicated just by looking at something.
How far removed from daily life is your photography? A lot, not at all…?
A lot. My photography portrays a daily life that I wish I had but don’t.
Do you feel stifled by the limits of photography?
Yes, but as with all relationships, there are ups and downs. My relationship with photography is quite tense at times but I’m constantly working on ways to ‘spice things up’ and to push myself to capture scenes that are less likely to happen in everyday life. For the first part of this year, I was feeling particularly stifled. At this time, I was also an artist-in-residence at the Wassaic Project in upstate New York and I think something happened up there that was super inspiring and helped me work around some of these limits. I made a conscious effort to move away from the usual documentary approach and I began staging photographs using mostly inanimate objects or people that acted as inanimate objects. I would create specific scenes or sculptures and incorporate that into my narratives. Photography is a very stifling medium but I think that’s part of the pleasure of it - the challenge to push yourself to work harder and create better images.
How much of the content of your work is random? If none or very little, why does it feel random?
The work is not random at all. Each of the different series I have presents my version of incidents in specific places with people that I am very close with. Going back to my first answer, the photographs appear random because I’m looking for more of a feeling rather that a common subject matter. Also, I’m documenting the various microcosms that I exist in and those are all very different from each other. For example, in my series ‘Holding Pattern’ I had this corporate job where I documented the relationship I had with one of my co-workers. She and I were completely in sync on a professional and personal level and we both did not quite fit into the corporate mold. During this same period, I was travelling to Tacoma on a regular basis to see my partner where I worked on making pictures about that relationship in that space. So, while my pictures can seem random, the images and the series that I work in have a unifying thread - me and my relationship to the people and places in the images.
Are the people you photograph still themselves in your photographs? What do their bodies take on for you?
Definitely, when I am shooting, the people are themselves. However, after my intense editing process (I will probably take around 4,000 photographs for one project and then I lock myself in my room for days/weeks/months and edit down sometimes reshooting if needed) the people begin to become more abstract to me. I guess that’s because rather than trying to tell a story about a specific person, I’m trying to make it more relatable and so I tend to choose photographs that are not necessarily representational of the people I photographed but more of a stand in for a particular emotion or feeling. In my most recent body of work, “The Excitement of Something New” I avoided faces altogether. To me, obscuring the faces makes the work relatable to a wider audience. I want the viewer to not be distracted by the particulars of a person and for them to be able to insert their own experiences into the photograph.
Ask yourself a question and respond.
What do you love about being a photographer?
I love pressing buttons. Physical buttons. Elevator and camera buttons to be specific. In regard to the camera, I love the sound the shutter makes. I notice how the sound a shutter makes differs among cameras. If I could sit around and push buttons all day I would.
Bryson Rand is a photographer who received his BFA from University of Colorado in Boulder and will begin pursuing his MFA at Yale this year.
Describe the event in your life that left the biggest impression on your art making practice?
That is a hard question to answer and I don’t know that I can pin it down to one thing. I use photography to investigate and react to my place in the world, therefore what is impacting my work is always shifting. When I look back at older pictures I can see the connection between what was happening in my life at the time and the pictures I was making. But that connection isn’t always apparent while I am making the work, which can be a source of frustration at the time.I’ll find myself unsure of why I made one picture or another, and it is not until I have had some distance from the work that it starts to make more sense. I used to fight this and my work ended up becoming one dimensional as I tried to make it about a specific thing or idea. Lately I’ve given in to the ambiguity of this process andit has allowed me to open up the scope of my photographs.
There are a few events that have changed the course of my life, and in turn lead to shifts in my approach to making photographs. Seeing The Americans for the first time as a teenager, coming out to my parents, and the death of my grandfather are events that continue to inform the images regardless of whatever else is going on in my life at the time.
If you stripped off layers of your pictures one at a time, what is the final thing that remains?
My primary motivations for taking pictures are to gain a better understanding of my interactions with other people and places, and to do so in a visually compelling way. Regardless of what I am photographing, I am always aware of the potential beauty of the subject. I think it is important that the work is first and foremost pleasing to look at, and that the meaning(s) of each image will emerge as you spend time with them. If the concept or idea behind a photograph is strong but there isn’t that visual hook, I consider it a failure. So, I think if you took everything else away from the work you’d be left with a visually seductive description of the interactions that take place between myself and my surroundings.
How do your photographs without people reinforce the photographs of people and vice versa?
I try to edit my photos in a way that the pictures communicate with one another and begin to create a photographic world. The images without people serve to establish a setting, but also to build a mood or atmosphere that runs throughout a group of pictures. Photographs of places can possess a psychological weight that is equal to those that are inhabited by people, and I try to keep that in mind as I’m shooting and editing. Since I don’t want the work to be about an actual, specific place, the ‘landscapes‘ function on a symbolic level, giving insight into the emotional state of the people in my photographs. In the same way, there are visual cues in the images of people that change and add to the meaning of the pictures of places. Sequencing the images plays an important role in how the images inform one another, and I am always surprised and confounded by how much the meaning of a picture can change depending on what comes before and after it in a sequence. As much as I hope that the pictures can stand on their own, I think the work has more impact when seen in a group.
Has your work ever revealed something to you that you didn’t know about yourself?
All the time. One of the ways I judge whether or not an image is successful is if I feel surprised by it. If I am startled and excited by the images, then hopefully other people will be as well. The uncertainty in a photo is what keeps me engaged as I try to figure out what i’m looking at and what it’s meaning is.
About a year ago, I went to Colorado for my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary and had the opportunity to photograph my family, which is something I had not really done before. I went in with no expectations of producing any real work and the results were kind of a shock. The photos revealed and articulated a lot of the turmoil that exists between the expectations my family and I have for each other and the reality of our lives. Coming from a conservative, military background has made me question my role as an artist and gay man for most of my adult life, and has been a source of turmoil for me and my family. I thought I had dealt with a lot of these issues and moved past it, but when I saw those images I realized I still felt a lot of inner conflict about my identity and how my family and I view and understand one another. While I have not had the chance to photograph my family again, those few pictures have served as a jumping off point to take my work in a new, more complexdirection, and has challenged me to figure out how to make work about these issues without directly showing my family.
Can you talk about the eyes in your photographs?
It’s funny you should ask about eyes because I have a tendency to obscure or hide people’s faces in my photographs. Eyes can reveal a lot about a person’s inner state, but they are also quite mysterious, and can be deceptive. Frequently the people in my pictures are gazing at something/someone that is outside the frame, lending an air of mystery to the image and allowing the work to remain open to interpretation.
Part of the reason I often hide my subjects’ eyes is because I’m interested in the ways gesture and posture can reveal something about the subject. Hands play an increasingly important role in establishing tension in my photos, and I want to see how far I can push the idea of communicating primarily with gesture.
The lines created in your photographs have a tendency to direct the viewer and also obscure the view, why is that?
Lines in the work function in a similar way that gestures do. While they direct or reveal something about the image, they also work to make the pictures more layered and therefore require more time to understand. To me a successful photograph is one that leaves you asking more questions than it answers, while still being engaging enough for you to want to spend time trying to figure it out. Also, by obscuring parts of the picture the viewer is forced to place himself within the frame to try and see around the obstruction, and engage with the image in a more physical way.
Ask yourself a question and respond.
What Simpsons character are you?
Ms. Krabappel. But you can call me Edna.
Thomson Dryjanski is a Chicago based artist who received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011.
What are the forces at work in your photographs? Do you relate to them?
My work focuses on the marks people leave, usually unintentional ones, and how those are altered by time or inadvertent use. I’m also concerned with the drastic inwardness of urban living. I have this theory about the planar levels at which people in cities look. The dweller looks down, navigating by habit. The visitor looks up, navigating by signs. My work finds itself at street level, navigating by conscious bodily sensations.
We live in a time where anyone can be anywhere as anything (a drastic overstatement not concerned with the digital divide). I want to use my photographs to offer those same decontextualized, universalized experiences while instead grounding them in an attempt at tactility. We often forget how ocularcentric we are. I strive to make images you want to touch. I’m concerned that when we do create a fully sensual virtual experience, we will only partake through an apparatus of common denomination. I’m no different than anyone else. I’m not a Luddite- love my Internet, video games and smartphone. A deep world immersion in my practice offers me an escape, almost like the opposite of the isolation chamber.
Are you photographing what the world has to offer or what you have to offer?
It is a combination of both. I think through specificity you can create a greater universality. I don’t want to be of a place or time. I look, I wander, I take in. It’s always a gut reaction when I am photographing. I used to make this sexual metaphor about my camera and the world, with the world on the receiving end of my camera’s insertion. It was a large format bravado thing. Some time later, I think I am the one who is taking it.
I’ve started to feel that something is missing in my photographs, a 360-degree peripheral sensory experience. I think taking people on field trips might be a better way.
What do our ruins say about us? About our future? How are they unique?
For me, in the ruin lies an unrequited story. I love actions that are undertaken without the specified end being gratification. I was taking a walk by the lake and underneath a bush sat a nicely wrapped square present with a sparkling ribbon. I picked it up and it was just a brick with wrapping paper and a bow. I had to put it back for the sake of the next person to discover it. Absurdity for absurdity’s sake is wonderful. In that sense I find ruins and photographs to function similarly. An action undertaken with immediate consequence but an indeterminate outcome once you place it into the world. You let go of control.
I don’t think ruins are a prediction. They function more like a road map, ending at where you are standing. The ruin is going to keep changing and my photographs are simply encounters with a changing record at a specific moment.
They are unique in two ways. One, in their erosion they bear marks of all that affected them. Secondly, they are unique in experience, aura if you will. However, returning to my proposed field trips, the photograph attempts to stop that erosion momentarily. You can’t give that aura with our current technologies.
Where are all the people?
People usually misinterpret my camera as making a movie so they decidedly refuse to walk in front of it. More truthfully, I just find photographing people difficult on a multitude of levels. I can talk to anyone but have never felt that a translation of what I learned from them entered into the photograph. I struggle with gesture. Instead I would rather create an anonymous viewing form that the viewer can embody. People are great though. Never turn down a conversation.
What endures? What is one thing that does not endure that you wish could?
What a question. Diamonds. They endure. Cats don’t. I think about when my cat will die a lot. It is a ways off but I already feel the trauma.
Do you photograph with your brain or your heart?
Neither. I use my body. I photograph through habit and repeated encounter most of the time. Other times I will go searching. I grew up skating and one of my favorite parts of that was going hunting for new spots. It is this aimless activity where you are searching for something that you have no idea what it is, hoping to make something out of nothing. My practice is very much like that where I will spend hours searching and experiencing without ever making a single picture.
I start by choosing a zone, a region that I am attracted to. I then work to narrow down the reasons I feel seduced by this place. When I find that reason, I usually won’t photograph it immediately. I walk around it, not looking for an angle but trying to feel something. I’m the world’s worst divining rod.
Sometimes people talk about feeling bad about not making work over a period of time. I used to feel that but I came to a realization that I was always working. That skating mind, that way of looking at the world you will never turn off- my working mind is the same.
You photograph many traces or ghosts of activity and events, can you talk about that in relation to the photographs themselves?
I have this altruistic desire that I can bring you there with me. However, I have no belief that I can make the viewer DO anything. All that I have is this raw material I can offer to be fashioned into a pingback, a call and response song.
I love water, (I am a Cancer) and more specifically the feeling of being immersed in a large body of water. You are so out of control that you must simply submit to the larger flow. The ghost in the image is submitted to that larger flow and I recognize that there is nothing I can do to stop it. It will be far more attractive the next time I visit it and the time after that.
Ask yourself a question and respond.
What is your favorite personal ritual?
Before I can do any kind of stationary work, I have to clean and order my space. To answer these questions, I made the bed, swept the floor and reorganized the many library books I have for both research and a class I teach. I find that doing so brings me a sense of calm. If I don’t I am constantly finding a distraction to deal with, something I feel needs to be done. I still make my bed before I go to sleep, even if I am just going to get in right after.
Wendy Given is an artist living and working in Portland, Oregon.
Are your pictures closer to documents or myths?
My pictures are a type of becoming—past and future combined, both chronicle and tradition. What has happened and what can be. Photography is quite mythical, and always has been so. All picture production has potential to be perfidious and misleading. I do not produce pictures to communicate a specific thread of verity or to try to trick the viewer. I construct images to shift and open thoughts, to alter and propagate potential belief.
Do you believe in the iconography that your photographs represent and deal with?
I do have a cat, yet, my cat is not black.
Are you exploring your relationship to nature or mankind’s relationship to nature?
Nature, in my work, is a foundation of power, irrefutable and mystifying, both intelligible and arcane. I think animals, rocks, and plants hold keys to the known, the unknown and the essential. They are the true ancients and hold innate unspoken cues—cues that inform the way I believe that art can ultimately function effectively. It is a yearning to tap into awareness, an unspoken understanding that we are all and always will be (as humans) a very important part of nature. A call to be cognizant, to be present.
Your photographs are based in stories, folklore and mythology, can you talk about how they are translated into reality? Are they real to you?
Folklore and mythology translate through the lens of my images via constructed visual abstraction—truth with a honed bend. Reality is changeable, malleable—the eternal morph. The only reality I can possibly know is time and gravity. All else is ebb and flow, wonder and dark matter.
What experience do you want the viewer to have with your work?
I want the work to occupy a place or feeling of familiarity with the viewer, it can be unsettling and at the same time comforting, a humorous position and intense recognition or premonition.
Ask yourself a question and respond.
What is of relevance in this life, this place I exist?
It is vital for me to remember to look up and to listen carefully to the natural sounds enveloping me, acknowledge all the sentient souls, what is familiar—familial. I will follow the animal tracks.
I am trying to pinpoint what scares me most when I am alone in the woods or swimming by myself in the ocean. This is relevant to me, this can and should be my reality.
Adrian Samson is a photographer who is currently living and working in London, England.
Why do you care about lighting?
I think light makes the picture and it evokes emotions. People usually credit an image for its subject matter not consciously knowing that without the quality of the light any scene could be quite mundane. We all get inspired by a beautiful light. Today it was one of the first sunny spring days in London. You should have seen all those faces.
Do you think your pictures can tell stories? Do you care?
I hope they have some story telling qualities or at least they give some sense of reflection. For me it’s like an album showing how I felt at the time, even if it’s not very obvious. I’m not very good with beginnings and ends so my stories look more just like some fragments of an unfolding situation.
What is the relationship between cinema and photography? Can one complete the other? Does one start where the other one ends? Does one fail where the other succeeds?
I always thought that you could take any good movie, cut a random frame out of it and that frame will most likely be more interesting than most photographs we see. But then again we know how much that one frame can do so we have the photographers. Movie sets are masterfully complicated while most photography is not. I like to use the aesthetics of the movies but I prefer to make stills. Does one fail where the other succeeds? All photographic disciplines are thriving, not less than before youtube. Pictures are a very different form of reading information. They have no length, it’s your choice how much time you spend looking at it. You never say no to a picture.
How much of the photograph is understood through the emotions of the subjects rather than the composition?
I think we are very expressive beings, we show, hide and act on our emotions. Our bodies and faces are constantly expressing our state of mind like small signals for someone who is watching. Fashion photography can be especially dull because of the lack of emotions. They are great in composition though just as still lives, which I love. Photographers who see the emotions and compositions as painters do are usually great photographers.
Photographs are only fractions of a seconds- yours some how feel shorter, why is that?
When I’m shooting I take a huge amount of pictures of the same subject until I reach some kind of a peek and there is no point to continue. Then it’s tough to edit when you can see all the subtle differences and you are making decisions on which moments you pick. You can change the whole meaning of the work by this selection. Maybe I just always pick the ones with the shorter fraction of a second ;)
Ask yourself a question and respond.
Any interesting project you are working on?
Yes and it’s something that I’m really looking forward to but I need another photographer to shoot it with. Please let me know if you know someone in London who could be interested. Thank you.
Gregg Evans is an artist based in Chicago who is currently working towards his MFA in photography from Columbia College.
Your series title “We Only See the Sky as It Was” casts an objective field over the perception of the work. Do you see your models in a subjective or objective manner? How do you think the audience perceives them?
It’s weird, as I’ve been making the work within this series, my relationship to my models has evolved pretty dramatically. Initially, the men I was photographing were essentially cast to play the role of my ex, so my relationship to them as the photographer was very much subjective. Many of the men I photograph come from the internet, and are people I meet on gay cruising sites or through online dating sites. I was less interested in creating a portrait of the person in front of the camera, and more interested in the sense that, by recreating memories and snapshots of my past relationships I was creating a new relationship to my own past. I approached the portraits within the project as if I were actually photographing someone who wasn’t physically present, but somehow lingered in the background of the image. Within the first stages of the work, I would try to strip my subjects of their own identity, making them wear my ex’s clothing, or simply asking them to wear nondescript clothing to reinforce the idea that they were functioning almost anonymously.
As the project moved away from my own memories, I found myself becoming more and more interested in the awkward interactions that are often a part of meeting a stranger for the first time off the internet. The sensations of tension and expectation that come along with meeting someone in person for the first time became increasingly important. I began to think a lot more about cruising, and how the dynamics of cruising sites related to portraiture. For me, this started to complicate the interactions - I wasn’t interested in my subjects as actors any longer, which in some ways makes the photographs more objective as they become more about the interaction between myself and the person in front of the camera. At the same time though, the images aren’t about making a document of that person, and are highly directed. I often interrupt the objective veneer of an image by inserting myself into the photograph either physically, or through titling, drawing into question the nature of my interaction with my subjects. In essence, the images are of both my subjects and myself, even when I am not in the frame. So to bring my long winded rambling to a close, highly subjective subjective, all the way.
What does sexuality have to do with being an artist?
I’m not sure I really know how to answer this question, but here goes… Sexuality is an inseparable part of who I am, so it ‘s sort of infused in every aspect of my identity, art included. It’s hard to separate. Even when I’m not making work that directly relates to identity or desire, I always view the world through the lens of queer culture. And to be honest, I think we all do that - queer and heteronormative alike, we all filter the world through our own identities. I mean, what does eating and breathing have to do with being an artist? Absolutely nothing and absolutely everything.
What do you think your subjects gain from the experience of being photographed that an audience cannot? Who has the more important experience?
There’s sort of an odd back and forth that goes on between my subjects and I - on one level, it’s not really their experience I’m after, but ours. I’m just as much a part of the image as they are, even though I’m behind the camera. On the other hand, I can’t control their reactions, so in some way some of the potency of an image does rest on their shoulders. Inherently there is an interaction present at the time of making a picture that is only experienced by my subjects and I the breeze against their skin, the conversation we’re having, perhaps the possibility of someone stumbling onto us while I’m photographing. Sometimes there might even be a hope that something romantic or physical might come out of the photographs on the part of my models and sometimes even myself. That’s not really the point, though I do think it adds an interesting tension to the work and to our interactions. For me, that’s something that will never be in the photograph, our actual physical interactions, even if they imbue the images with tension.
As for what my subjects gain from the experience, I’ve always been interested in the idea that I’m allowing these people to look back, to confront the viewer and the public with their own expression of desire. Traditionally, cruising has been seen as something that one should be ashamed of, and by having my subjects approach the camera with a confrontational gaze, I’m asking the viewer to participate in this interplay between the viewer/photographer catching someone in the act of something explicit, and the subject wanting to be caught, or wanting to engage. We’re all in this together, experiencing something in different ways.
What do you personally confront when taking pictures?
That has changed alot over time. Initially the work was alot about confronting my own relationship to a traumatic breakup, and trying to own and confront feelings of loss head on. As the project has gone on, I think I’ve been attempting to confront my own relationship to these kinds of clean, anesthetized images of gay culture that we commonly see in the mainstream media, while providing a more complicated depiction of desire. On another level, I’m confronting my own relationship to the power dynamics of portraiture within the murky waters of online desire.
Can you talk about the intimacy of a photograph?
Photographing has always been an intimate experience for me, whether in terms of portraiture, or photographing the intimate details of my own identity through mundane objects. I think even when I first started becoming interested in photography I was initially attracted to photographers who worked with intimate subject matter - Larry Sultan’s Pictures From Home, for example, was the first photography book I remember really being overwhelmed and engulfed by. There was an intimacy in that work both in the spaces and people he was photographing, and in the way he approached the work itself. I remember borrowing that book from the Purchase College library and pouring over it one spring break, completely floored by the way the work was equally about the intimate details of his parents lives as they transitioned into retirement, and his own uneasiness with the process of watching them age. The work was just as much about him as it was about them, and you can really feel his hand and presence in those images. That sense of intimacy, the feeling that the photographs are a contract between the photographer and subject to knowingly engage in a private interaction for public display, is something I have always been interested in and have strived towards within my own work.
Is your work produced by a sexual drive?
Yes and no. Sexuality, cruising, and desire definitely play strong roles within my work, so I can’t fully say no to that. But to be honest, I’m more interested in the examination of the awkward dynamics of those ideas than in the fantasy of them. I’m not looking to get laid by way of my camera (though for the sake of full disclosure, I have dated a few people after photographing them), and I have no desire to follow in the footsteps of Terry Richardson, et al. In a way, I’m more interested in creating images full of tension and awkwardness. At the end of the day, I’m more looking to create images that operate with a duality of meaning than I am in making sexy and attractive photographs of my subjects.
Ask yourself a question and respond.
Q: What’s the best embarrassing photograph you’ve found of yourself while searching through your parent’s attic?
A: I found one of me and two friends of mine that was taken at my parents “summer house” in New Hampshire (which was essentially a shack) the summer I was in the fourth grade. I was wearing a neon pink hypercolor t-shirt, black and neon pink bike shorts, and matching neon pink LA Gear hi-tops. I’m sitting on the steps of the house, which are literally broken in half, and smirking at the camera while striking a “broken doll” pose that I clearly got from one of my mom’s fashion magazines. I was fabulous.