Morgan Ashcom was born and raised on a farm in Free Union, Virginia. From an early age he used a video camera to document his friends skateboarding, but over time his interest turned from the moving image to still photography. His series West of Megsico uses Skatopia, a small anarchist skateboarding community in rural Ohio, as a space to synthesize the natural world with his own imagination and experience.
Mossless: Do you skate?Morgan Ashcom: No, not anymore. I skated from the time I was about 12 years old until I was 26. I had broken a lot of bones and was starting to feel twice my age, so I stopped.
What did you make of the atmosphere at Skatopia?
I can’t really give a proper description of the atmosphere, and I am sure that my photographs don’t either. I was interested in making photographs at Skatopia not because of a cohesive atmosphere that existed, but because I felt free to take risks.
How is Skatopia perceived by its neighbors?
There appeared to be a general environment of live and let live.
You attended Hartford’s photography MFA program. Can you tell us how that works and what you thought of it?
The program is designed as a limited residency, meaning you have a great amount of freedom to choose where you want to live and make new work. My year was a particularly international group: there were students who lived in Iceland, Japan, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and all over the United States. Everyone got together three times a year. We met at the University of Hartford for two weeks in the summer, New York City or San Francisco in the fall, and Berlin, Germany during the spring. Wherever we met, the faculty would arrange studio visits or critiques with artists and curators in the area. Outside of the in-person sessions, we were shooting and working on our own while video conferencing online for critiques or meetings with our thesis advisers.
NEW on Paper Journal: Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa speaks to photographer Morgan Ashcom about his project and photobook, Leviathan.
‘Originally I was drawn to Skatopia because I saw two opposing scenes that I was familiar with. One was the urban skating culture I was part of for over thirteen years, and the second was the rural farmland surroundings of my youth. These two cultures had existed separately for most of my life but there I found them converging in harmony.’
“There is a magic made by melody: A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep To the subaqueous stillness of the sea, And floats forever in a moon-green pool, Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.”
Morgan Ashcom is 28 years old and is working on applications for grad school.
MOSSLESS: What’s Skatopia like and what’s your favourite photograph from the series you took there? MORGAN ASHCOM: Skatopia is home to a small anarchist skateboarding community in rural Ohio. To me, it is one of the closest things to a modern day frontier town in America. If you’re into metal and bluegrass music, concussion grenade wake-up-calls, hard work, skateboarding, camping and meeting fun people, then you should go. They have a “work party” in the Spring that’s a good introduction. They’re always working on something new, the land and the buildings are like a living art installation. This creative energy and their desire to live freely and deliberately is what drew me to make photographs there. My project, West of Meigsico, is still in progress so my favorite photograph is the one that I haven’t made yet.
ML: Tell me something about your commissioned series titled Last Time She Drove. MA: Last Time She Drove is a series I made this past summer while on a road trip with my grandfather. Michael Wichita at AARP heard that I was going to make this trip and commissioned me to photograph it. We traveled from my grandfather’s home in Charlottesville Virginia down to Asheville North Carolina. The actual trip only took a day but if you asked him, we may as well have been in a different country. He had been to Asheville quite a few times when he was younger, but the world is a much greater place to him now. He spent a lot of time in the car telling me about his life and marveling at the mountains and clouds around us.
ML: We met after the Alec Soth talk at FIT a few weeks ago. You said one of your favourite quotes from that night was: “Let’s face it: photography is really easy. It’s stupid really.” Do you have any quotes by other photographers that you cherish? MA: Sure, I have two: “I profoundly believe in - and teach - the proposition that photography is inherently a fiction-making process. Don’t speak to me of the document; I don’t really believe in it particularly now. A picture is not the world, but a new thing.” - Tod Papageorge “You have to realize you’re nothing before you can be free.” - Garry Winogrand
ML: Do you have any new projects you’re working on? MA: I have a couple that I’m researching and plan to start this Spring. They both build off the themes that are emerging in West of Meigsico. For me, project ideas are just threads that often lead in unexpected directions, or nowhere at all, so I will have to leave it at that for now.
Huge congrats to Morgan Ashcom for being awarded first place in this year’s Center Choice Awards for his project, What the Living Carry. This project is inspired by the pockets of inhabited woods around his family’s farm and a passage in Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Suttree:
“How surely are the dead beyond death. Death is what the living carry with them. A state of dread, like some uncanny foretaste of a bitter memory. But the dead do not remember and nothingness is not a curse. Far from it.”