phototalks

PHOTOTALK WITH SCOTT CONARROE

BY DAVID POLLOCK

1. You photograph within a tradition in which travel or a road trip becomes part of the process. How much do you prepare regarding locating sites. Also, since the photographs are made from an elevated position I am interested to know whether you sense photographic opportunities from the ground level.

 «Well, I arrived at art with a functional road trip practise already in place. Most of the decade between high school and my BFA was spent living out of a van… yes, The Nineties. I’d work seasonally in the mountain parks or bush, then I’d enjoy a few months skiing and farting around. Even my art school years were split between the van and apartments. The case could be made that my primary practise is vagrancy and photography helps me masquerade as a professional.

For By Rail and By Sea I didn’t plan the routes much. I set up a few artist talks and drifted between them. These were nice, expansive projects but structured concisely enough (railroads, coastline) to keep me on track. Sometimes I consult Google Earth to see the lay of the land, but usually I just go places I’d like to spend a day or three or twenty and ride my bike around looking for things to climb up . The things I photograph are often determined by their proximity to something I can get on top of. There’s a spiel about how/why the elevated perspective functions aesthetically, rhetorically and in the history of image making, but mostly I like the privacy it affords me.  Sometimes I make exposures at ground level (and sometimes I really like them), but generally I feel conspicuous and a little silly on the street. Up high, where I’m hard to notice or approach, it feels like watching the show rather than setting up a 4x5 spectacle.»

2. The By Rail pictures present the tracks as a constant within diverse landscapes. What interested you initially about the idea of rail transportation and how did it evolve into this series?

«In 2003 I went from Vancouver to Canada’s east coast for grad school. Two years later I moved halfway back. With each move, stuff got thrown out. I noticed a lot of the photos I kept keeping -pictures of various places and things- had train tracks in them. It struck me that most everywhere I went was defined at least in part by railways. At the time I was also trying to evolve beyond my station of thirty-something year-old labourer with an MFA. I’d gotten a little recognition in Atlantic Canada by living there and making work, and I was gaining traction in southwestern Ontario for similar reasons. I got it in my head that to be relevant beyond a regional context I should go make pictures in and about the larger world. From there it was easy to get excited about the project that became By Rail.

As a thread of continuity, railways could take me a lot of places. As a conceptual device, the constancy they inscribe on such a vast landscape is inspired. As a motif, train tracks are fairly charming. And as a subject, North America’s relationship with rail fascinates me. They were crucial in our journey from hinterland to industrial power; they opened up the interior and west for settlement, they dictated the fates of immigrants and industrialists and native populations, and many modern cities grew out of whistle-stops. In a sense railways defined this westernmost of Western civilizations, then somewhere along the way we became uniquely hostile to them. For decades we’ve insisted rail doesn’t work while every other developed nation refined their systems; this suggests something distinct in our psychology. Much of North America’s rise came along with the creation of a rail infrastructure, and I see its dismantlement as emblematic of that era’s conclusion.

It’s also telling that By Rail is kind of seen as a throwback project. While I shot it the term “peak oil” entered our vocabulary, and the same auto sector that revived musclecars also needed huge subsidies just to keep the lights on. China began a massive rail expansion that will transform it like Interstate highways redefined America in the last century. Obama, the newly-elected symbol-savvy multi-racial Leader Of The Free World, rode a train to his inauguration and named “Amtrak Joe” Biden his vice-president. By Rail is as much about the world we live in as it is about the past.»

3. The elevated viewpoint, the time of day and the subject matter of the By Rail and By Sea projects makes me reflect upon the transitory nature of things. Could you talk about Time in relation to your pictures?

«Maybe I’ll confess it was just a few years ago I began identifying my work as documentary. I suppose because of where and when and with whom I went to school I tended to have Conceptual Artconversations and think of my practise in those terms. I always made work about Time though; Photo is good for that.

I like beauty and have formalist tendencies. The scene I knew privileged concept and process-driven art. To make my pretty landscape pictures acceptable I built aspects of that photographic looking-at-one-moment-from-the-perspective-of-another logic into every stage of my work. On one hand, I like how twilight looks and the ways dimness can translate onto film; I can make exposures for several minutes or until a car is about to push its headlights into my frame, or I can accumulate intervals of stillness a few seconds at a time. On the other hand, the transition between day and night is symbolically rich for someone resolving contradictory values. I like when the sun’s afterglow plays off a few electric lamps, and how those different illuminations allude to tensions between a world that unfolds gradually and one with a binary on-off intelligence, and between  romantic and pragmatic ideals… I like that the sun is already shining somewhere else when I make a photograph and that the lights in the scene don’t do much but call attention to the fact of light. My pictures aren’t about the “decisive moment”; they’re about durations condensed into instants and how a camera abstracts Time and Space and Light into static image planes. Somehow these are the notions that led to my documentary practise.

The elevated viewpoint is useful in this conversation because it dislocates the usual vantage of five or six feet off the ground. By suspending perspective, Place becomes less an area we could hypothetically occupy and more a diagram of such a space. It is rendered somewhat placeless. I think these senses of being and being without are what you’re describing as transitory.

Over the past few years I’ve chosen seemingly basic topics that become ambivalent quickly. Rail lines are the subject of By Rail, but they function like extras rather than stars; they’re seldom the focus of scenes and often they’re barely even there. I see the tracks and camera as parallel apparatuses; they were born of the same period and revolutionized the world in similar ways, and now they both sit perfectly still while the world washes over them… so yes, By Rail is way more about Time than steel.

By Sea is a similar project, but it’s inverted somehow. It also follows a line, but rather than receding from certainty, the coastline is fluid and flexing. Where By Rail is vaguely elegiac, I think By Sea imagines the dawn of some new era where environmental phenomena dominate our psyches a little more. I read it as anticipating nostalgia for this time when we can still wonder if climate change is really a big deal.»

4. Hilda and Bernd Becher presented their subjects, which included disappearing blast furnaces and water towers, as typologies. The precise and distanced rendering of their subjects, I think, co existed with a romantic vision.  I see your work, in this sense, as sharing this attitude toward your subjects. Which artists, visual or otherwise have influenced the way you make pictures?

«I see the Bechers as romantic too. I think it’s called projection. Regardless, they’re definitely an influence. I used to think I was working in opposition to some excessive tightness -of vision, of thought, of method- but now I appreciate their frankness and fidelity. I’m not in love with the Bechers’ oeuvre, but I am indebted to them. Jeff Wall does something similar for me.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s movie theatres are pretty perfect though. They’re tight in the best way. I also imagine Simon Norfolk’s Afghanistan: Chronotopia as a sort of friend to my work; when I use to be a delivery guy I’d to go across the street to Duthie Books between orders and greasy up their copy with my restaurant fingers.

I think most of my photographic instincts stem from an early introduction to Impressionism though. When my brother came back from his semester in Europe I think he worried we were complete yokels. As remedy, he presented our family with a gigantic Impressionism book that sat on the living room table for years. There was nowhere else for it. I absorbed it throughout my adolescence, and I even remember reading chunks of the essay.  My palette, ideas on optical mixing, and the way I present space feel in keeping with that legacy.

Outside the visual… Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” and the Richard Ford Frank Bascombe Trilogy were perfect companions during my North America projects. Simon Winchester accomplishes what I’d like my work to do some day; his books are epic and tender and informative and casual and rigorous portraits of places and notions and events. He turns up over and over while I “research” my next project and one I’ve just started turning over.»

Interview by David Pollock

Project were made with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and Light Work. / By Rail catalog is now available from AGW or Stephen Bulger Gallery.  

© urbanautica | Scott Conarroe

PHOTOTALK WITH MATTHIAS HEIDERICH

BY MARCO RISTUCCIA

1. Colors! That’s what first caught my eye by seeing your works. Geometry was the second one. A series of architectural fragments which could even be joined together, like in a puzzle. Their juxtaposition seems to create a dance, a rhythm. Tell me more about your relationship with architecture and how you treat color in these works.

«Rhythm and geometry are good keywords here. These are definitely things I’m looking for when searching for subjects to photograph. Architecture has never been of big interest to me at all, but since my first steps as a photographer I realised buildings can even be beautiful and interesting. And if you keep your eyes open, you’ll find a lot of beauty and interesting details in the buildings that surround you, yes, even in the ugly ones. What I usually do when I’m out shooting is observing the subjects around me, looking for that detail I can take out of its context to create something new, an artificial contextless world isolated from the rest, ideally colorful and silent. That’s also why I try to keep people out of my photographs, people are loud and distracting, I don’t hate people, but I don’t want them to be in my photographs.

Colors are great, I love colors, whoever invented them must have been a genius :) They transport so much and look great in photographs. I very often miss them in black and white photography. Pictures often look incomplete without colors in my opinion. Sure, there are many cases in which photographs work perfectly without colors, you can play with contrasts and moods, but well, like I said I would miss the colors after a while and get bored. To get the best results here I prefer to shoot on sunny days, using color filters with my cameras and adjusting the colors later during processing. Over time the colors and color combinations I like most became a trademark, I guess».

2. How did you get involved into photography and who are your preferred photographers?

«Photography has never been of interest for me when I was younger. In 2008, I was 26 then, I bought my first digital camera, this was shortly after I had moved to Berlin to write my thesis in linguistics. After finishing the thesis, I spent much time exploring the city with my camera. I did that almost every day and enjoyed being out with the camera and my music a lot - a new and efficient way of escapism for me back then. After a while I wanted to learn more about different cameras, especially analogue / medium format ones, processing photographs, and other photographer’s work. The internet is really helpful if you’re of a do-it-yourself nature, so I basically learned everything through reading and trying out things myself. Photography luckily isn’t rocket science, you can learn to take pictures with almost every camera in a couple of weeks, if you really want to. More important, perhaps, finding out what you want to do with it and to develop your own signature. My biggest inspiration here has always been the music I listen to and the artwork that is coming with it. There are many photographers I really admire, I find new ones on a daily basis. All time favorites are Josef Schulz, Christoph Morlinghaus, Kurt Manley, Garmonique».

3. I noticed a difference in terms of photographic language between your color works, as in the “Studies”, and monochromatic (or rather so) projects like “White noise”. It’s quite like formalism versus expressionism, a cold eye in respect to a more romantic glance. What’s your real nature?

«People are complex and love all kinds of stuff, I’m happy to be no exception here. All I can say is I like different kinds of photography and trying out different things is important to me. Exploring new places is exciting, no matter if they are in the city or outside of it. My natural habitat is the countryside, I love being in the woods and getting up early to see the fog over the fields. Capturing that with a camera is one of the loveliest things in the world to me. But I also enjoy creeping around the city a lot, you can find so many strange and alien places there and feel like a big explorer with a bike as your spaceship».

4. Tell me about the project “Ostseebad Binz”. What’s the idea behind this work? Do you have a particular relationship with that place?

«This series was shot during a camping trip to Binz, which is situated on the island of Rügen. It’s a private project. The weather was absolutely great that week, fog + beach is a fantastic combination, the atmosphere was so ghostly».

5. I saw you live in Berlin. A lot of people talk about it as a dream city, especially for artists. In your opinion what is the truth about this and what are the career prospects for an art photographer in Berlin?

«Berlin still is a great city, especially for artists. But It’s changing a lot at the moment. Attractive places attract mean rich people, too. People try to earn money here, that’s the way it goes. This also means rents are not as low any more as they used to be. I’m sure less and less artists will come to Berlin in the future, and life as an artist will become harder. It’s pretty obvious other cities will become more attractive to artists in the near future. However, so far I have enjoyed living and working in Berlin. It’s easy to find people to work with. Berlin is full of galleries run by young and talented people. It has all been very good for me in the last two years and I’m happy moving to Berlin was the right decision. Thanks Berlin!»

6. In the project “ISO Berlin” what the term ‘ISO’ stands for?

«ISO stands for isolation or isolated. The series focuses mainly on being alone in an overpopulated area, a subject present in most of my photographies. Isolation feels so much stranger in the middle of the city and I wanted to conserve this feeling. Some people said it feels post-apocalyptic, which might be true and not the worst effect, in my opinion. Here again the music I listen to during my trips becomes visible, I love dark ambient, drone, experimental electronic music, music that feels post-apocalyptic, too».

7. By working with galleries you are used to manage print editions. There is a lively discussion about the fact whether an edition should or shouldn’t encompass all print formats of the same photograph. Collectors often complain that if an artist is able to introduce a new print size (and edition) whenever he wants, the value of a purchased work is not preserved in time. What do you think about this?

«Yes, that’s a problem and it will be almost impossible to change that. Digital work can be copied within seconds, you can print it over and over again, nobody can control that. The only way to change it is to develop new systems of handling editions. However, I’m absolutely serious about the editions I offer and I control sales as good as I can and everybody else should take it serious, too. Otherwise it will do harm to all of us photographers».

8. Some words about the future: any new upcoming project in mind?

«Upcoming: Exhibitions in San Francisco, Taipei and Berlin plus hopefully finishing my book, which is kind of an offline overview of the projects I have done plus unreleased pictures and some personal comments - a project I wanted to do for the longest time. However it’s much more complicated then I thought and it might take a while to finish it. Thanks to everyone who helped me so far, it means a lot!»

© urbanauticaMatthias Heiderich

PHOTOTALK WITH BETH DOW

BY GREGORY E. JONES

1. First off, tell us about your history with photography. How did you get started, and what are the wells from which you draw your inspiration?

«My dad was an industrial photographer and filmmaker, so I grew up around cameras and darkroom equipment, and learned pretty early on to see the world through the viewfinder’s rectangular frame. My preferred medium, however, was graphite, and I drew obsessively. I don’t draw very often now, but graphite’s soft gray mid-tones are still evident in my photographs. 

I’ve always been interested in the peculiar ways we shape and experience the land, and this also goes back to my childhood. We lived on a dead-end road that led to a wide, wild field. This field held all the secrets of the suburban neighborhood’s mythology, and was punctuated dead-center by an old black (yes, it really was black) farm house just a little too far away to venture alone. We rode our bikes, spied on smoking teens and roosting herons, caught snakes, and filled buckets with wild strawberries. Here, I learned that the landscape is a messy, dangerous, wonderful place, and that sometimes the most magical things happen on a small, subtle level».

2. The images you make are done through a hybrid of contemporary and vintage photographic processes, could you elaborate on the methods you use to create your work? 

«My work includes technology from the three centuries touched by photography. I shoot 20th century medium-format roll film with a hand-held camera, edit and convert the images to large-format inkjet negatives with 21st century digital technology, and then Keith Taylor, my husband and printer, makes hand-coated platinum prints with 19th century processes. I adore film. Film. FILM. Say it. Use it. Love it.

3. I’m interested in your “Ruins” series because the nature of the subject matter goes hand in hand with your process. You photograph scenes of faux antiquity, contemporary contraptions designed to immerse viewers in the illusion of the true history that these places try to invoke.  Is the irony intended, in that your subject matter mirrors the conceptual stance of you process? Is so, what’s the bottom line?

«The fake ruins are perfect metaphors for me. I briefly considered going the whole route of view camera, wet plate collodion, albumen, etc., but nixed that idea on the next blink. “Ruins” is modeled on the work of Francis Frith and other Victorian expedition photographers. They used the materials and processes they were most comfortable with, so I took the same strategy and shot it with my Fuji 6x7. I kept the tonality rather similar, and cars and power lines are my stand-ins for their two-men-and-camel. I also like how the rich platinum process emphasizes a tension between the high-brow and low-brow. These photographs make me laugh, but it’s a laugh of recognition rather than derision. While these appropriations and approximations of antiquity may be peculiar, they also signal a kind of unspoken agreement that these forms mean something to us. They are follies of pre-crumbled ruins that seem to suggest our mortality, but I prefer to think of them in a different way. I recently photographed genuine antiquities in Greece, and was struck by the tenacity of those structures. Sure, they are cracking, tipping over, wearing away, but they are still there! They persist in the landscape, and their forms persist in our architecture today. Ruins can be markers of endurance».

4. Another series of yours, “In the Garden” gives us images of, from your statement: “formal English and Italian gardens.” These shots, for me, conjure up the work done by Atget near the Palace of Versailles. The tones in these photos are full and dynamic, and give a certain ethereal quality to these places. The garden itself is an oft used motif throughout the history of art, as a symbol of both lavishness and prosperity; your pictures however disregard the warmth and color of the gardens for the sake of something more mysterious. Could you elaborate on this a bit, and perhaps provide some insight into your motivations going into this project?

«I lived in London for years, so these places are familiar. An intelligently designed garden is a magical place, and color, for me, has absolutely nothing to do with it. One of our earliest creative urges as humans was to arrange our environment. This urge evolved into the long, rich history of garden-making that most American probably don’t know exists. Reading about garden history and design touches on all the great themes of life, certainly things like power, sex, and religion. Flowers don’t interest me in any way, and I can’t enjoy gardens that are only pretty, because they completely miss the point and betray an ignorance of landscape history.

The Atget thing is a hard one to shake because he is often mentioned. Maybe because most garden photographs are in color? Color garden photographs are too specific for me, drawing my attention to horticultural and botanical details when I’d rather think of near/far, liquid/solid/vapor, hard/soft/rough, up/down. I can illustrate it this way: the idea of a rose garden sounds rather wonderful, right? Have you ever been to one? Ugh. Chest-high plant after chest-high plant, plenty of color yet about as interesting as a seed catalog. I’m more concerned with why and how we continue to interfere with our environment, especially when there is no immediately discernible practical reason. A well-considered garden is a perfect example of this.

5. What’s coming up for you in 2012, photographically or otherwise?

«I was fortunate to be awarded a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and a fantastic fellowship from the McKnight Foundation this year and I’m using those big boosts to look more deeply at ruins. I’m fabricating a classical history of the Twin Cities, merging images of Greek and Roman ruins with their local architectural echoes. This will include artist books, photographs, and hopefully some experimental forms. I’m also digging deeper into books, playing with letterpress and different binding systems. I’m having fun!

© urbanauticaBeth Dow

PHOTOTALK WITH PETER BAKER

BY MARCO RISTUCCIA

1. Tell me about your introduction into photography. I see you’re also a designer. How did you get started with photography and what’s the relationship (if any) with your work as a designer?

«I have degrees in both photography and graphic design. Graphic design was always my fallback, commercial art career, while photography had always been purely a creative pursuit. Rather than assisting photographers, which probably would’ve been a good idea, I made the rent by designing logos, magazines, and websites. And I think designing for print for so long absolutely informed my photography, especially compositionally. I saw things in terms of form and color, almost like I was conscious of where I was going to have to later place the type».

2. In your works I can see a delicate and well balanced mix between social and environmental documentation. You often depict open breathing spaces, where few standing people appear calm, happy and stress-free. Not exactly the images that usually comes to us from the States. What are your methodological approach and intent? Who are the artists that most inspired you?

«I’m originally from a very small town in the midwest, and grew up in the countryside outside of that town. It was calm, to say the least. And after college when I was first shooting without structured university assignments, I was living in Chicago, where it’s not exactly easy to find yourself alone with your thoughts, and I was seeking out places that had a touch of the solitude I had been used to. And I think, sometimes unconsciously, I keep trying to depict that feeling elsewhere, especially in places where you’d never think you could find that sense of calm. 

As for inspiring photographers, there’re too many to name them all, but off hand; Bryan Schutmaat is a big favorite, I wish his Western Frieze project was mine. If Noah Kalina wasn’t a friend, I’d hate him, the guy’s so prolific. Mark Wickens has an amazing eye and Hin Chua has really got it all figured out. And I’ve said it before, but Alec Soth haunts my dreams».

3. In your projects “Blissfield” and “The Great Lakes” I notice a contrast between beautiful landscapes, perfectly integrated wooden houses and simple people life in respect to the harsh iron matter of imposing industrial structures. Indeed I often see this in your works. Are you complaining of an environmental disaster or do you think that the two realities can coexist without problems? How do you see the future of your country?

«I think two competing aspects of the great lakes area – abundant natural and recreational resources amongst a once immeasurable industrial economy – has left the region with a really interesting juxtaposed visual aesthetic. The two realities have been coexisting for so long that people stop seeing it as anything but normal, so rather than just taking pictures of the parts we all agree are nice, I’d rather allow people to see it all».

4. The use of the square format makes everything quite static, helping the viewer to slow down and spend more time on every single shot. I often notice that putting the subject on the center of a square frame works, aesthetically and purposefully, better than doing so with a rectangular one. Would you comment on this? Is your adoption of this format coming from love, habit or language choice?

«I’m not sure what originally drew me to square format. Some combination of the symmetry and order it allows, as well as just being different. There are interesting compositions that work well in a square that just don’t feel right in a rectangle of any shape. I didn’t really feel like I was doing anything right until I started seeing things through a waist-level Hasselblad, and then scenes just started clicking, and they were looking like how I had envisioned them. And now even when shooting other formats, I see the scene first as square. So I suppose it went from love, to language choice, and now habit. Shooting large format is helping me kick that habit a bit, but I still get the itch to crop them».

5. The work “Quietude” seems to relate to the previous argument. And this is a mood I feel in all your photographs. Is quietude something you are looking for or is it part of your personality? Does quietude necessarily imply human absence for you?

«I don’t think it necessarily has to require human absence, but it does imply an awareness of our surroundings. We tend to feel like something is only happening is something is REALLY happening, but even at it’s most still, our world is buzzing around us. Being bored is underrated, and being quiet is healthy».

6. Did you see “The Straight Story” by David Lynch? Your photos remind me of the images on that film: a slow and quiet trip of an elderly man across a country street riding a lawnmower, with the aim to rejoin with his brother. Is this the essence of your country, and maybe even of your photography?

«I watched it recently as a result of you asking. I loved it. I don’t know about it being the essence of my country, but is sure did evoke some of the same emotions I feel when I’m photographing. Especially the scene where he sees a storm coming for miles and can’t do anything about it – the lawn mower can’t go any faster – but just as the rain starts to come down he manages to find an open barn to pull in to, which turns out to be the perfect place to watch the thunderstorm roll through».

7. You are also an Art Director, let’s talk about exhibitions. How important is the editing and printing phase for your works? How much time and care you invest on this? Do you prefer small or large print sizes for your photos?

«I don’t spend enough time thinking about exhibiting, printing or displaying. I’m trying to get better at it, but once I’m done with a project in my mind, I immediately start thinking about the next one».

8. What’s coming up for the future? Any new project in mind?

«I’ll be in Alaska for a while this summer, shooting the inner passage between the islands of the southern part of the state. And would like to continue working on what I’ve been shooting around Las Vegas and other southwestern US boom towns. But, like I said above, I need to do more with what I’ve already shot too».

© urbanauticaPeter Baker

PHOTOTALK WITH CHRIS ROUND

BY STEVE BISSON

1. Firstly tell us about how you came to photography? 

My main artistic interests when I was younger was painting but I became increasingly impatient and wanted more ‘instant results’. I began to take a keen interest in photography while travelling (I travelled around Australia in the mid 90’s). When I look through those shots some still hold a certain aesthetic value today, though some art quite cheesy if I’m honest! This interest developed further and I ended up studying at Sydney College of The Arts. I always wanted to take a 'fine art’ approach to my work though and this required me working as a creative in Advertising to help pay the bills, so to speak. Having eased off the advertising side of things these past couple of years have become my most prolific, photography-wise.

2. What kind of research are developing today and how this is linked to your past?

My research of late continues down two main areas. 

Firstly I am always observing the surreal relationship humans have with their surroundings. Subject matter can be from local scenes in my neighbourhood to scenes more further afield in Australia or overseas. This strand of research has also evolved in to analysis of our relationship with nature, not so much from an environmental perspective but from a study of the definition. With my recent exhibition 'Evidence’ I was discussing with the curator (Sandy Edwards) about a hard-line definition of nature expanding to include almost everything that we humans create. We are after all natural beings and have been manipulating our surroundings for millennia, as do many animals.  It is in our nature to do so. What is natural then? Is a mining pit natural? Is a playground natural? I can’t possibly answer this, and don’t adhere to this train of thought, but it’s something I enjoy theorising about (without condoning some of man’s ways). As well as going out and finding new places to document I am interested in constructing my own subject matter both in the field and perhaps in a studio environment - bringing the outside indoors. Hopefully this is something I can begin to work this year. I have a feeling this may evolve in to a whole new strand of thinking, but will take time.

I can see a link to my past for some of my images for sure. Living in the Midlands (in the UK) as a boy I remember painting a landscape that included a power station along the River Trent - at once a pretty scene with trees, fields and animals, but with the footprint of man there for all to see. It’s a scene I should go back and shoot. I was also fascinated, at that time, with the work of John Constable. His English landscapes seemed to me to be the documentary images of their time portraying the landscape as it was, not an imaginary place. This quite different from the Romantic school he is associated with. Perhaps subconsciously this early interest has remained with me.

The other, ongoing and ever-evolving strand of research is my dual British and Australian nationality. These are places that are culturally very similar, yet geographically very different. Having spent a similar time in each country I find myself being both a local and a foreigner in each country. This is covered in my series 'Comfortable Displacement’ which we will discuss later.

3. There are many recognizable references in your work. Tell us what are your major influences and what photographers you particularly enjoy. Besides photography what are the artists, books, works of art that impressed you the most?

There are a number of influences I have had over the years. They can arise from a simply observation in the street, from reading books, and more artistic and obvious influences. Photographically I remember seeing Joel Sternfeld’s photograph ‘Mclean, Virginia’ when I was young and have admired his work ever since. In the list of photographic influences photography influences are also Jeff Wall, Joel Mayerwitz, Andreas Gursky, Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, Robert Frank, Edward Burtynsky, Thomas Struth, Geert Glorisand, Frank Breuer, I could go on and on.  

Some of my favourite works of art include the paintings of Constable and Turner through to the likes of the abstract expressionists Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman and Franz Kline. I love the engagement and challenging nature of more contemporary and conceptual art of people like Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Thomas Locher to name a few. I also think my career in advertising has influenced my thinking - I have always believed in communicating with great ideas (where possible!!) and I think this filters through in to the way I structure my work. 

4. Some of your series are works in progress, to which you add new images regularly. We really like this open attitude. Let’s talk for example of the series 'Comfortable Displacement’ that deals with a very important issue for us at Urbanautica - the emotional bond between the individual and a place. Years ago, in an interview, I wrote that landscape photography, while maintaining geographic representation, is moving towards an introspective dimension, almost psychological. In this way you can also tie together different countries as you did. Did you find the meaning of identity? Tell us about this project, the difficulties you encountered and its prospects.

This project has helped me answer some of the questions that arose when I asked myself “why am I drawn to the subjects I photograph?” ie: living in Australia but being drawn to overcast light and somewhat gloomy conditions (maybe it’s because I’m by the beach on the nice days!) and photographing the kind of landscapes one might find in any developed country.

Not sure I found the meaning of identity yet, but I’m perhaps closer. I love both countries (hence 'comfortable displacement’) but during my questioning I found that I was maybe a little too dismissive of my English heritage, but now I realise it drives a lot of my aesthetic choices when making photographs. There are a difficulties with a project like this. Firstly a practical problem: it requires photographs from both countries and some hefty travel expenses! The main issues though were to do with the subject matter. Did I want to show surroundings I was familiar with in order to convey a bond (or broken bond perhaps)? I thought about this a lot but my thinking was that I didn’t want to be too literal. I concluded that to be true to the idea I needed to be unfamiliar with my surroundings, in essence dramatising the concept and creating fictional representations of displacement. Hopefully this accentuates the feeling of displacement to the viewer. 

I am quite sure that this project will continue for many years, at least subconsciously; I will always have a close association with each country and, so as long as I am creatively active, this background story will most likely influence my work to some degree.

5. In the series 'Fragile beast’ you put out a recurring theme in the documentary landscape. The fragility of the soil and the environment. All this invites us to reflect on the value of photography in witnessing the transformation of the territories. Do you think from your experience as a photographer that the post-modern society has understood this need to document the time through its signs?

Interesting question Steve. Hey I’m no philosopher but I think that individuals and small groups (artists, writers, photographer, activists etc) understand this need and can use it to powerful effect in post-modern society, but governments and big business don’t (or choose not to). Today, with such an interconnected society, with so many image making tools available to people, modern life (in all it’s forms) is being documented more comprehensively than ever by individuals across the globe and this continual scrutiny is hard to avoid.

Perhaps this documentation has also become more diverse and fragmented, replicating the post-modern, globalised society - from introspective, self-conscious documentation to broader themed documentation like environmental and societal issues. From my perspective the process of documenting through photography is still hugely important and will continue to be - even if the subject matter is a chair that was sitting by the side of a road one day (and is gone the next) to a pristine environment that is gradually quarried for its resources. Perhaps now though, more than ever it’s imperative that we record and document because the rate of change is increasing exponentially, in all walks of life from innovation in technology to transformation of the environment. 

What interested me in the Cornish China Clay mines, though, was also that the area was once so economically vibrant simply because of what was found lying under the soil, much like the boom we’re experiencing in Australia at the moment. The Cornish mines have now been hit by global competition from developing nations offering cheaper ore prices, cheaper labour prices. 

This has left the landscape and also the community (now with high unemployment levels) scarred for life. I wonder if this is prescient as we are already seeing Australian mining companies struggle to compete with cheaper labour costs from other nations. History repeats so I wonder if photographers will be telling stories about the demise of mining in Australia, in Brazil, China etc  in 50 years time when the world either runs out of demand, or supply (or both).  

6. Landscape photography by definition owes much to painting. With the project '21st century settler’ you inspire a dialogue with painting. Today we observe instead that the painting is taking a lot from photography, thinking of hyper realism. What is your relationship with the arts in general and the history of art. And how was created and developed the idea for this project?

I mentioned earlier my interest in Constable - I was always very interested in art when I was young and painted but was always frustrated with the time it took, hence my interest in photography (not an un-common reason to switch I believe!). However I also had a keen interest in modern art and my tastes and my reading clearly followed a chronology from The Renaissance to Constable and Turner, then Fauvism, Cubsim, then Abstract Expressionism and through to conceptual art and the contemporary art of the past 20 years or so. I love experiencing great new ideas and so my main interests today generally lie in what’s happening 'now’. 

The idea for 21st Century Settler came during a visit to the Kangaroo Valley (country NSW, Australia) in the winter of 2011. It was a damp and misty weekend and the scenes reminded me very much of some of the paintings made by early Australian artists - of their surroundings and of settlers making a new life for themselves. Of course with my English background the overcast and damp weather was conducive to me taking pictures! I began to ask: how would some of these painters tackle this scenery today, and with a camera? The scenery reminded me most of the ones Frederick Mccubbin painted and some his most famous works like Down On His Luck, Lost , Bush Burial and The Pioneer were tonal and processing reference points for me. It’s also interesting for me consider this idea in the context of my later series 'Comfortable Displacement’ - many of McCubbin’s paintings deal with the emotional difficulties of settling in a new country in the 1800’s. Perhaps it could be seen as a precursor, though my life is far easier than theirs ever was!

7. Plans for the future?

This year my show 'Evidence’ will be travelling to Melbourne to be shown at at Edmund Pearce Gallery, a great gallery dedicated to showcasing contemporary photography. I have also been invited to participate in the Ballarat International Foto Biennale and I am also trying to organise a couple of group shows. I will also keep shooting more ideas and adding to existing ones, and this year I plan to experiment some more both in the field and with some studio based work. I will also enter some more awards (budget permitting) - it’s good to aim for some recognition here and there. Long term plans will evolve, as hopefully my work will, so I will take it year by year but I think my next major long-term step is to really push myself conceptually.

© urbanauticaChris Round

PHOTOTALK WITH LOUIS PORTER

BY STEVE BISSON

1. How did you get into photography, what schools did you attend and what drives you and motivates you to continue this research.

I can’t remember exactly when I developed an interest in photography, but by the time I was 18, I was taking photographs with increasing frequency and had setup the first of many darkrooms. I began and left two university courses and although one of them was in photography, I think it’s probably more accurate to say I am self-educated. I began making a living from photography in my mid twenties and in 2003 I embarked on a series of long-term photographic projects.

© Louis Porter, ‘Cheap Flights’ from Fun

I am an inveterate wanderer, both in my interests and movements and I believe this tendency instigated my involvement with photography. Like many, I am motivated by a desire to describe the world, how it works and why. In order to do this, some form of mediation is required: language, science, faith and so on. Any act of encapsulation, ultimately envelops the subject in its own representation, a kind of metaphysical bait and switch. What began as a simple act, the desire to “collect” fragments of the world, has evolved into a fascination in the effect the process of collecting and collating has on reality. Therefore, much of my drive to photograph has been generated from the photographs I have already made.

2. Let’s talk about landscape or human geography. A recurring theme, that crosses many of your works. What attracts us is the curiosity with which you deal with this research. The series, or rather the archive, 'The Small Conflict Archive’, is a collection of practices and urban behavior from which emerge several aspects of everyday life both social and anthropological. A project that also masks a desire to realize and enhance what is 'already there’ but not seeing anymore (Rupture and Repair, Crap Paint Jobs, Men Up Ladders…) Tell us a bit more of it and also what are the plans for this archive that we hope you will keep growing in the future.

There is a common assumption that in the performance of the everyday, the expected and ordinary, there exists a natural equilibrium, a normality that we consider to be the correct state of being. It is this framework of normality that we see broken or shattered by acts of violence, such as assault and murder. The Small Conflict Archive proposes that acts of violence are not simply deviations from a stable norm, but part of an arrangement of varying shades of conflict, of which normality makes up the majority.

© Louis Porter, 'Rupture and Repair’ from The Small Conflict Archive

To the Archive, the surface of a city is made up of vast networks of signification, but because of the sheer quantity of information we are confronted with, our minds treat this visual cacophony as a form of optical “elevator music”. Much as a scientist uses a prism to diffract light, I’m trying to use photography to break down the surface of the city, to reveal the hidden connections.

© Louis Porter, 'Men Up Ladders’ from The Small Conflict Archive

I very much see the project as ongoing and a selection of the work is being published early next year under my imprint Twenty Shelves, with the support of the Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission.

© Louis Porter, 'Bodge’ from The Small Conflict Archive

3. Some of your projects use the memory, for example through the use of historical images, or archive. As in the series 'The Anatomy of Business’ or 'Record and Analysis’ for instance. Tell us briefly about these works, and above all, how important is the size of time in your narrative. 

Both “The Anatomy of Business” and “Record and Analysis” involve the appropriation of a pre-existing archive and the addition of photographs produced by myself, in response. The final projects are presented in such a way, that the context and authorship of the images are brought into question.

© Louis Porter from The Anatomy of Business

The writer Jorge Luis Borges, suggested that the history of literature could be told without referring to individual authors and that what we see in literature are metaphors and ideas that thread in and out of history. I think this can also be said of photography and my archival projects forgo the: who, why, what and when, to attempt an examination of the structure of the message, to look for continuity in the photographic act, in its gestures and motifs. Time is fundamental to photography, but it is always the present that mediates our understanding of the past, so that any historical record, such as a photograph, is hermetically sealed the moment we look at it. With these projects, I have attempted to break this seal by fracturing the very things that make these photographs unique, their context and in particular with the “Anatomy of Business”, their source.

© Louis Porter from The Anatomy of Business

4. Going back to the urban landscape, we find that you often have recourse to a vernacular attention to highlight what you call 'cracks’, as in the series 'Unknown Land’. Why is it important to tell the country in this way, and what draws you to it?

Australia could be viewed as an example of the “transportation of place”, the imposition of the social, cultural and physical characteristics of one place (Europe) onto another (Australia). Although the continent was made up of hundreds of socially and linguistically distinct nations, forged over many millennia, it was considered by the British government to be Terra Nullius (land belonging to no-one) and treated as such.

In light of this, it becomes difficult to view the urban landscape, without addressing a process of colonial erasure. The “cracks” I am interested in, could be equated to the “tell” of the poker player, the twitch or curled lip that gives the game away. These, like the poker player’s involuntary tic, do not show what is being concealed, but demonstrate that an act of concealment is taking place. My intent with “Unknown Land”, is to produce a series of images that illuminate a sense of disquiet in the Australian Landscape, without directly revealing the source of the sensation.

© Louis Porter from Unknown Land

There is a very mysterious quality to the Australian urban landscape; at times it can feel like being on a film set before the actors arrive for work. I find this feeling, from an artistic perspective, deeply compelling.

5. Some series tell us about Chinese and China. Recently, the Chinese landscape photography is becoming a little cliché. In your images instead we find more curiosity (100 Flowers, Wires at Night) and less willing to judge. Images that raise questions rather than answers. What attracts you to this country, what has struck you in particular and what would you like to see again?

China is a remarkably complicated country and one that for the most part, is very easy to photograph in. I have worked in China as both a professional photographer and an artist and the more I see of the country, the more complicated it appears to me. The temptation to photograph China in an exotic, industrial-picturesque fashion is understandable.

© Louis Porter '100 Flowers’ from I love China

However, although the massive factories and imposing concrete skylines certainly exist, they tell us no more about the country, than photographs of the Statue of Liberty and the Whitehouse tell us about America. It is in fact almost impossible to really get to grips with a country as a visitor, and all we can ever engage with is the surface of a place.

© Louis Porter '100 Flowers’ from I love China

To counter this, the projects I have produced in China, all engage directly with the engineered surface itself, be it the Olympic flowerbed decorations of 100 Flowers or the theme parks, shopping centres and museums of I Love China So Do You. What attracts me most to China, is it that it is simultaneously a society that appears to be in constant flux and yet almost without flinching, bears the weight of thousands of years of history. As with most of my work, I have tried in China to produce projects that have several layers. The title 100 Flowers for example, is a reference to a campaign initiated by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1956, where he called for the opinions of the Chinese intelligentsia on the revolution’s achievements. The far from glowing report led to a crackdown, that in turn germinated the Cultural Revolution.

© Louis Porter 'Wires at Night’ from I love China

6. Finally, can you suggest to our readers a recent show, artist, book, movie that you particularly loved?

Walid Raad’s exhibition/performance at Documenta 13, Scratching on Things I Could Disavow - A History of Art in the Arab World blew me away. Also the exhibition at the V&A of work by Arthur Bispo do Rosário, a Brazilian psychiatric patient and “outsider artist” was some of the best work I’ve seen.

© urbanauticaLouis Porter

PHOTOTALK WITH ERIC TABUCHI

BY MARCO RISTUCCIA

1. You mention that you studied sociology. In which way do you think these studies influenced your photography? Don’t you find it somewhat strange that a sociologist completely avoids people in his works?

Through sociology I discovered the work of Augustus Sanders and the photographers of the “New Objectivity”, particularly the Becher and Lewis Baltz. At that moment, it appeared to me that showing the infinite diversity of what men build was a good way to describe the men themselves, with the particular distance that belongs to sociology. Each building or object that I photograph - they are always very humble in nature - is in my view a counter-field of the humanity as such. I always try to photograph the “things” as they “are” because it seems to me that the sense of the landscape environment described those who live there very well.

2. Being born from Japanese father and Danish mother, and living in Paris, how did you get in touch and love with American photography? Tell me more about your photographic and artistic growth path.

With hindsight, and to be very honest, the influence of American culture on exercising my imagination is probably due -precisely- to my lack of imagination.By this  I mean that the enormous power of American art, be it literature, cinema, music, art or even propaganda made it difficult in the 70s not to be undergoing this force of attraction. Having said that, I first “entered” in American photography with Lee Friedlander, especially the pictures of the roadside. I think at that time I was a lonely young man and I identified with this melancholic universe, which was reminiscent of Hopper’s paintings. However, the real turning point, the one that really drew me into photography is the discovery of the work of Lewis Baltz. His thoroughness, the silence of the suspended world, which he described in “Park City” for example. Parallel to this, and in a much more “lighter” spirit, I’m passionate for Californian artists using photography like Douglas Huebler, John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha and many others. For completeness, the way Robert Smithson used photography to document his work has also played an important role in that it realized the connection between the “pure” photography of Baltz and the conceptual approach of the “Californians”. In fact, my relationship to photography is the result of the blending between this objective rigor and pop flippancy.

3. Have you ever been in America? Which country do you love the most: France or America?

I went shortly twice, in New York and Los Angeles, that’s just to say that I haven’t traveled in the United States. As I hinted in the previous question, my fascination for America dried up over time to the point that today I no longer feel attraction for this country. If my eyes had to go elsewhere it would be much more to Europe or Central Asia, on the other side of the Atlantic. Anyway, when I started taking photos there, it was soon clear in my mind that I will not do those images of France just because I was somehow indifferent. I refuse still now to take pictures outside my familiar territory. I’m often saying something that is certainly not appealing to everyone but I have some difficulty with images taken in spectacular places of the planet and returned, as if we were still in the nineteenth century, to be exhibited in galleries or museums. So yes, definitely, I prefer photographing France.

4. As you have confirmed, your works are also clearly influenced by the Becher’s series. What is your intent in creating series? Is it a mode to classify reality? Or a way to document and save things from oblivion? Or is it rather a method to strengthen the message you want to communicate by using repetition? Please highlight the mindset behind this language choice.

The ambition of bringing together the totality in a serial work has always fascinated me because of course it is a mirage: the more we have the feeling of approaching a very readable and coherent sense of it, the more indeed it moves away. In this sense the work of the Bechers is absolutely exemplary. What makes this work so compelling is, in my opinion, the absolute failure of their ambitious intent because, in the end, what we absorb from their photographs is that they consist of pure forms, interlacing materials that with the force of precision and obstinacy become abstract design and,sculpture. For me the photographic series constitute the beginning of a research doomed to failure, an attitude that has much more of the pathological rather than of the rational, even if it uses the objective argument for concealing this truth. For a long time, because I owned nothing, I thought I could not be a collector. It is only relatively recently - after the death of my father - that I deeply realized that I was so non materialistic because all my work is reduced to a few megabytes on a hard drive, so after all it is the same.

5. It is often said that the use of black-and-white contributes in highlighting forms, volumes and graphics more than color does. How important is color in your photography? Which value does it add to the message and atmosphere you produce?

My visual culture comes for a large part from the Painting, but also from advertising - I quickly found that I saw the world as I dreamed it, that is with colors. Certainly there was more in my choice of color, a desire to not to place myself in the great tradition of black and white. Today I put a little black and white and mostly gray in my colors. To be even clearer, I’m saying I’ve never much appreciated black and white, and after some time, namely since I searched on the Internet in the attic of photography, that is true for all photographs.

6. You prefer to think of yourself as an artist rather than a photographer. Do you make or plan the use other media or artistic languages beside photography?

It’s not just that. I do not define myself as entirely belonging to the photography side because, indeed, I use other media, including sculpture. But, and this is important, I make no hierarchies between these different practices, and often find quite absurd the distinction between being a “photographer” or an “artist”. Regarding the future, I began working on hybrids of photo and video, more precisely on the idea of the projection of static images but with the potential that video gives today.

7. In some works you make use of images coming from Google Earth and Street View. Do you think this might reinforce your attitude of distance and neutrality leading it to extremes?

Internet recently, has become a second world, a sort of replica through which we have condensed the notion of distance. Beijing, Moscow and Lima are equidistant in the virtual space. With new means of transport like Google Earth and Street View we can be “tele-transported” with one click from one point to almost any other in this parallel dimension that is the Web. Being capable of exploring this huge library is a significant innovation and I would find the idea very strange that a great curiosity would not grow for this new “world”. Whatever opinion one may have with respect to this company, over the last ten years Google has realized that in terms of storage and construction and finally conquered our planet. No man, no army, no civilization has ever realized even a tenth of this and I believe artists should concern themselves with this unparalleled change in history.

8. Could these new digital worlds, born from a systematic and objective sampling of reality, constitute by contrast a new field of subjective expression for a modern artist? Is it worth re-exploring what was already “fixed” by someone else’s eye?

I don’t know if a world viewed from three meters in height, in which all the faces are blurred and where the route is ultimately the only horizon, can seen as an objective representation. It is true that by assembling the infinite number of available images differently from Google the photographer or artist can for example make the information hidden inside the monotonous or anecdotal flow of Street View become more accessible.

9. Can you explain the meaning of the “Memory Machine/notes” work section in your site?

Initially the idea was to have a kind of notebook in which I would have noted the different sources, references or documents which inspired my work but after several months this section took such importance that I decided to do a parallel site dedicated to archiving images from all origins. For this reason I removed the “Memory Machine” from my site.

10. I saw some photo-documentation of your exhibitions. Most of them have quite original and interesting settings. Very beautiful indeed. Do you arrange them by yourself? How important is the exhibition phase and how much time do you invest on it?

Yes, this point is very important to me. For my works exhibitions are a bit like reconstructing a landscape with elements collected during the real shooting. An exhibition does not consist so much in showing singular images as these produce only other images that would then be exhibited as a meta-construction. I have much pleasure in doing so that the exhibition (modestly) “remakes the world” as we say in French. It seems to me that too many photographers consider the space of the gallery or museum as a simple surface on which to hang their photographs, this could be great but it can also be interesting to consider the space and not only the surface as essential.

© urbanauticaEric Tabuchi
PHOTOTALK WITH LUDWIG DANNER

BY GREGORY E. JONES

1. First off Ludwig, tell us about how you became interested in photography, and who are some other photographers who influence your work?

«Its a mystery to myself how I became interested in photography. There was  never someone in my direct enviroment who was making photos or even interested in photography. But I think there is a key moment when I was about 11 years old and my dad lent a polaroid camera from his office and I had the chance to make some shots at home».

«I began intensely making photos around the year 2000. At that time I was one of the first in my surroundings  who possessed a digitalcamera but with the increasingly inflation of this technology and its obvious handicaps compared to the analog philosophy, I rediscovered analog photography and started to experiment with differnt kinds of medium format, instant and 35mm cameras. In 2006 I discovered a site called Altphotos , a small but very fine community for photography (unfortunately its gone). This was the first time that other photographers gave me a feedback about my work and this was the first time I recognized myself as a photographer». 

«Of course there are many big names in the current and past history of photography which inspired me like William Eggleston, Stephen Shore or Wolfgang Tillmans  to name a few but they have not the importance, inspiration and influence to my work like Brent Bennett, Jadranka Cergar, Katalin Levai, Levi Wedel or Stephane Degros (just to name a few). I know them all from Altphotos and I can truly recommend to have a look at their works».

2. What are your intentions when you walk outside with your camera?

«When I go out to make photos I never have a particular theme but always a clear attitude. I totally go against to subordinate my photos a specific topic but at the same time i know that this is important to get recognized at all. I think I often use photography like others use a punching bag.   Anger is a big source of inspiration to me and photography works like some kind of valve.  In Munich / Bavaria where I come from, this sort of anger is part of a characteristic way of living. We call that “grantler”.  Its a constant mental state of disaffection with the situation in which you live in».

«Sometimes its quite enough for me to watch some bad tv news, senseless nihilistic fashion or poptrash magazines to go outside and walk through the city, seeking and searching for any kind of aesthetic and mental healing that helps me to stay alive.  As an idealist I am always interested to create an alternate draft to the world I live in.  Its somehow the act of resistance against common conceptions of beauty and relevance which I am interested in. The paradox thing is that most of my pictures seem to have a very calm and balanced expression.  I practise this now for a long time and  I think I am really good in transforming negative energies into productive creativity».

3. Most of your pictures of urban environments, and your focus seems to be in sparse and empty city areas, devoid of people. What draws you to photograph in cities, and what are you looking for when you’re prowling the streets?

«I have a passionated preference for the aesthetic and beauty of the (i call it) “weak” which expresses in trying to retrieve spaces, situations, plants or things from their apparent irrelevance and banality to give them the brilliance of the extraordinary. Therefore I am especially gravitated by places and areas which anyone else would consider as extremely trivial and boring . Almost all my photos were made in Munich, a city which could be called the antithesis of spectacular citys like London, New York or Tokio».

«To me this kind of deadlock and neutrality is very magnetic and productive. It ensures that its not the subject but rather primarily your vision which creates an interesting picture. Munich was often somehow like a psychological matrix for radical ideas in the past if you think about Lenin, Hitler or Duchamp to mention a few popular names who spent some time in this city.  I think there is something like a dangerous indescribable core within this city behind that surface of peace and security and that still really fascinates me. There is a song by a band called Gustav which describes this feeling very well, its called “Sehnsucht nach der nächsten Katastrophe” (Desire for the next disaster) .

«My photographic  vision is deeply enrooted in my hometown Munich and this kind of emotional connection is very essential to me.  You rarely will see people in my pictures which doesnt mean that I am a misanthrope. Its quite the contrary. Before I studied architecture i worked in many differnt social institutions with elderly people, handicapped persons and also difficult children and this deeply changed my philosophy of life. But I dont think that humans are something special or chosen, so there is no justification in my opinion to down and destroy other creatures on this planet».

«I am really sick of that kind of ignorance and egocentric and this also someway comes out in my work altough Iam not explicitly pointing that out. Therefore I mostly take shots without any kind of people but sometimes i cannot avoid it».   

4. You seem mostly interested in making very  clean formal pictures in a way that you try to create a type of poetry from mundane subject matter. Do you think this is accurate?

«I agree that this is some kind of poetry which I create with my work but I wouldnt call my pictures clean because that sounds like the opposite of what I want to achieve.  It is very important to me that my pictures adhere some kind of failure , doubt and taint. Technical perfection is definetely not my aim but on the other hand I am not trying to create a trashy look. Professionality is absolutely contrary to me. to say it in the words of Egon Friedell: “only the dilettante, which is  also rightly called amateur, has a humanely relationship to his objects. only with the dilettante, human being coincides with profession and therefore the whole human being streams into his action and saturates it with his total character while in the opposite all things which are done professionaly adheres something within the meaning of dilettantish, any kind of onesidedness, ignorance and narrow mindedness”.»

5. Where do you hope that photography will take you five years from now?

«I really dont know. I hope to have some more options for exhibitions in the future to show my work».

 

6. Last but not least, what’s coming up for you over the next year, photographically or otherwise? And what are some of your goals in regards to image-making?

«Scanning. scanning. scanning….. . I am drowning in tons of negatives and ive just seen about 20% of my work that I have done over the last years. as long as Iam faster in shooting than scanning there is no end in sight.»

© urbanauticaLudwig Danner

PHOTOTALK WITH ALNIS STAKLE

BY STEVE BISSON

1. I think that most images come from other images. When you make pictures, do you keep certain images or styles in mind during a project?

«I don’t like to compare photography with literature, but in this context it fits right. I agree that pictures just like words in a language acquire meaning and sense in a context of other words and meanings. While working on any of my projects, I surely follow some certain aesthetical qualities. Though, I want to emphasize that each work series’ aesthetical qualities are primarily defined by the idea.

I can’t mention any particular photography school whose tradition would be the basis for my works. The reason is Latvia does not have any united photography school. Until 1990 we were under the rule of Soviet Union and at that time critical thinking about media messages was prohibited. After 1990 the visual culture of Latvia encountered unregulated flow of media messages from Western countries, which included both historical images and testimonies of contemporary culture. I assume that American and Japanese photographer works influenced me the most, but I get my inspiration from day-to-day life and all sorts of the little nothings of life…»

2. In  “Not Even Something” the snow hides the details yet reveals the shape of the landscape. What roles do these snowscapes play in our/your experience of this Land?

«Cold and chilly weather in Latvia is a relatively common phenomenon – approximately 6 to 7 months in a year. Snowy landscapes are annual phenomenon in winter months. I think that a nationality’s mentality to a great extent is defined by geographical context. I think that the way people comprehend themselves in the environment and society, the way they move around in a landscape, the way they explore landscape and which things and processes they attach importance to are influenced by the features of the landscape. Though I have to admit, that for me as an artist who takes photos of interspaces between districts of the city in the landscape at night, the snowscapes look completely different than to someone who passes there in daylight or looks at my photos. Almost nothing can be seen in the places where I take photos at night. And thanks to long exposure these landscapes appear very light and friendly. In my turn, photography often becomes an extreme movement experience in the city environment.»

3. In “ Not Even Something” the viewer is complicit in these pictures because of the deep perspective. Do you use perspective to create tension?

«Of course I take into consideration the rules of composition while constructing an image. Though I pay more attention to the idea and place, when I take a photo and this is what defines basic principles of the images’ structure. To understand works from this series it is necessary to know Post Soviet city features. The city I live in is not very big and during Soviet time (till 1990) the territory of the city was usually divided into districts and as often as not these districts differ not only with different names but also different functions within the city environment.

For example industrial factory districts, garage districts, residential districts, allotments etc. After the fall of Soviet Union many of these districts lost their function. For instance factories were closed, fences were partly dismantled, everything grew over with bushes and people started to use these factory territories as shortcuts to get to certain destinations in the city. Surely there is public transportation in the city that connects city districts, but in the evening and at night it is easier to pass through these territories on foot. Thus new pathways and roads appeared though they are not on the official map of the city. In its turn some areas appeared on the map of the city, which are never the destination for residents’ journeys, but are always an intermediate section between the important parts of the city. In this series’ works I explored these “ghost areas” at night, which stereotypically is the most dangerous time to stay there. Pedestrian beaten tracks as often as not defined the aesthetical basic principles of the structure of work.» 

4. Although very different, “Ilgas” seems to refer to Roger Ballen and his interest in drawing and gesture. Please comment. 

«I know works of Roger Ballen, however works from “Ilgas” series are more associated with documentary photography tradition, because I did not construct anything to take these pictures. All that is seen in the images was found there. All the drawings, inscriptions and objects were made or brought by the residents. The moment when I in that half-destroyed palace saw 45 young girls, who lived there in extreme conditions, all that seemed visually impossible and unexplainable to me – combination of young women and crumbled interior seemed artificially constructed… That is one of the reasons why I wrote about these works and mentioned the constructed and surreal nature of documentary photography. In spite of the traditional documentary origin of these works, for me they function more as an irony and sarcasm about documentary narrative.»

5. ”L.S.D “ is essentially monochromatic. We are asked to first look at the center of the square where we often find a splash of color. The color in this project and a few others is subdued and contrasts with the surrounding somber tones. Please comment

«This is one of my long-term work series. I deliberately used color photography aesthetics to impart additional layers of meaning to the documentary photography message. Although I have to admit that images came into being as a result of a natural and long-term observations of the city environment. Post Soviet cities’ architecture is grey and mostly dispiritingly homogenous. It can especially be felt during autumn and winter months. Then each colourful object or a passer-by dressed in bright clothes fixes the eye. This perceptual experience is the basis of L.S.D. series.»

6. Tell  us about the man making the  fire in “L.S.D.. It looks methodically composed yet the fire says something else.

«Actually, this work is traditionally documentary. That is the view from my former apartment’s window. There were some garages and a man was doing something with a blowlamp. This work fitted in well with the collective message of L.S.D. works. In my opinion, secret photography from the window is the nearest method to the voyeuristic nature of photography. I have several work series which are taken only from my apartment’s window.»

7. A very different approach is found in “ Nothing Personal”  I see the similarities of interest between this work and Ralph Gibson, Ralph Eugene Meatyard  and that other  American southerner  Clarence John Laughlin. All were interested and used the idea of the mask within a photographic context. Please comment.

«Works from “Nothing Personal” series are one of the most long-term and characteristic works. It is not exactly right to call them series of work or project, because these works were created more as personal diary in the period of time between 1996 and 2006. I really did take some of my self-portraits using African masks, though the biggest amount of the images is just self-portraits in my living-space. Psychologically of course any posture and gesture can be interpreted as a mask, especially related to a photographic image.»

8. You have recently been using the square format . Could you tell us something about how this affects your way of seeing?

«I have been using medium format camera since the beginnings of my creative activity. For instance some works in “Nothing Personal” series have been taken in 1996. Each camera has its own “rhythm”. Medium format cameras usually slow down the process of photography and it becomes more meditative, and in its turn the aesthetics of the image become more estranged.»

9. Please tell us about what influences your work and particularly what are some of your literary interests.

«To me there are many artists whose works are inspirational. I will mention – Boris Mikhailov, Antoine d’Agata, Larry Clark, Daido Moriyama, Saul Leiter. I don’t think that in my works you could find visual evidences for my inspiration from their works, their works inspired me with their particular approach to the world and themselves, looking, thinking and engaging in photography. 

I teach photo journalism and creative photography courses in Rīga Stradiņš University (Latvia) and I am forced to read different kinds of books on visual culture. That most likely is my basic literature. Now on my desk lays a book that I have started to read – What Is Philosophy? by Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari.»

© urbanauticaAlnis Stakle

PHOTOTALKS #48: JUDY NATAL

BY DAVID POLLOCK

1. Marshall McLuhan stated that we use “the rear view mirror “ (the past) to make sense of the present. It can also be said that our images and hopes for the future reflect our present experience. Please comment.

There are many roles artists play- soothsayer, trickster, chronicler- I inhabit visual fortune teller, time traveler and archaeologist, creating acts of interpretation that portray our hopes and fears about life on earth. At first blush, my work looks like traditional landscape photography. Upon closer inspection, it represents an ongoing dialogue between nature and culture, and going deeper still, at its core, is a realization that nature and culture are inseparable, affording a long, deep, abiding contemplation of human nature.

© Judy Natal ‘Astro Turf’ from the series 'Future Perfect’

2. Could you describe your interest in language and its relationship to landscape imagery.

There is a fascinating, inextricable, relationship between image and language. We usually think in words, and see images. In EarthWordsspecifically, but throughout my practice, I invert the way we read text and see image, to see text and read image. As a lover of language and image, I champion the continuous, sympathetic, infinite cycle between them. While teaching a written thesis seminar every year for graduate students, I am particularly intrigued to notice that the difficulty a student has in writing is often the same obstacles that they have in their photographs. 

© Judy Natal 'Language of Smithson’ from the series 'Earth Words’

Robert Smithson is one of my more significant inspirations. Over the three years that I photographed EarthWordswhile in residence in Joshua Tree National Park, I would read Smithson’s writings every evening, then go out everyday to create an ongoing dialogue with his work.  This quote early on influenced my relationship to language and landscape:

«The strata of the Earth is a jumbled museum, Embedded in the sediment is a text […]» 

- Robert Smithson: 'A sedimentation of Mind: Earth Projects’.

Smithson continues to inspire. The quote below describes, far better than I can, my ongoing artistic concerns:

«On the illusory babels of language, an artist might advance specifically to get lost, and to intoxicate himself in dizzying syntaxes, seeking odd intersections of meaning, strange corridors of history, unexpected echoes, unknown humours, or voids of knowledge…but this quest is risky, full of bottomless dictions, and endless architectures, and counter architectures […]»

© Judy Natal 'Steam Portrait, Emergency Worker’ from the series 'Future Perfect’

3. In the series titled 'Eaarth’ we see geometric arrangement of atoms that create a crystal structure. I presume the title refers to Bill McKibben’s recent book, 'Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet’. How does this connect to your interests?

One only needs to go to geothermal sites of Iceland or Yellowstone National Park, or caving in Craters of the Moon National Park, to realize that there is a whole other world beneath our feet. There is nothing like having the soles of your shoes melted while hiking due to the heat of the earth in volcanic regions in Iceland, to be reminded that the earth is a living, breathing, organism that more often than not, is invisible to us in our world of cement walkways and asphalt parking lots.    

© Judy Natal from the series 'Eaarth’

As an artist with environmental, socially engaged concerns, Bill McKibben and his organization 350.org, represents our authorial conscience.  My reading of McKibben’s Eaarth coincided with my attendance at the Gem and Mineral show in Tucson, Arizona, while in residence at Biosphere 2. For those who have not attended this spectacle, it is the largest gem show in the United States, taking over Tucson in February each year. I was equally awed, shocked, dismayed, and implicated, by the palettes upon palettes of barrels containing raw stones, minerals, and crystals, reaped from the earth on monumental display. My work-in-progress entitled Eaarth reminds me that, like McKibben’s tipping point of no return, the gems and minerals gouged out of the earth, cannot be replaced with the same speed of extraction. 

© Judy Natal from the series 'Eaarth’

4. Here is a quote from Robert Smithson that I think  describes an aspect of your work. «I am talking about a dialectic of nature that interacts with the physical contradictions inherent in natural forces as they are - nature as both sunny and stormy. Parks are idealizations of nature, but nature in fact is not a condition of the ideal. Nature does not proceed in a straight line, it is rather a sprawling development. Nature is never finished».  Please comment.

The “conserve and protect while facilitating enjoyment for future generations” mandate of our National Parks, while “managing” (read exploiting) and ranching our natural resources, creates contradictions that drives the Park System in two different directions. If nature is managed, is it still nature? One only has to go to Yellowstone Park during the height of summer tourism, watch a tourist walk up to an elk or a buffalo in order to “pet” it (which I have seen on a number of occasions with my own eyes!), to understand how we truly are loving our parks to death, while harbouring an incredibly deep and willful lack of knowledge of nature, forged by our education (?) by such beloved cultural institutions as zoos, Disneyland, and T.V. 

© Judy Natal 'Tyvek Suits’ from the series 'Future Perfect’

Pristine wilderness and wildness while discovering human’s place in nature, seems for me, to hinge on ditching manifest destiny, which I swear still rules the roost, and substituting a belief that we are of nature, not separate from it. Something the beloved biologist E.O. Wilson, and the equally beloved poet Gary Snyder write eloquently about.

5. There is of course a strong documentary element in these pictures but I think their strength lies in your narrative of our idealizations and anxieties about what the future might look like. Please talk about your process from image creation to sequencing.

My work does take on the trappings of traditional documentary photography with the assumption that intent is the who, what, where, why, when of the present moment. What distinguishes my work from documentary practice is my insistence of creating distinct acts of interpretation - leaps and twists of imagination - utilizing the formal language of photography- light, angle of view, distance of subject to camera - (with the images un-manipulated in post-production), to depict the world as we don’t know it, but can imagine. I deeply subscribe to the belief that life is indeed stranger than fiction. I seek out sites that invite acts of interpretation, sites that transcend the here and now, to portray our hopes and fears about life on earth, like the best kind of science fiction that builds upon the known world. 

© Judy Natal 'A from the series 'Joshua Tree from A to Z’

Clearly, I am drawn to extreme environments. Most of the sites I utilize are other-worldly, to greater or lesser degree: geothermal sites in Iceland, Biosphere 2, Las Vegas, Joshua Tree National Park, New Orleans, post-Katrina, the Robotics Institute. The duration of most of my projects are 3-5 years, since I have come to understand that these repeated trips allows opportunities to get to know a place, go beneath and beyond the superficial experiences of a tourist, with planning time in between making the images to return to my studio, live with the work, and conduct further research in order to understand how to move the work forward. For instance, I must admit I was quite flummoxed by the “National Geographic-ness” of Iceland, and wondered how on earth I would be able to move beyond the spectacular beauty of place. I was able to do this only through repeated trips and study of the geological forces that continue to shape this unique landscape, while developing a deeper understanding of how people live, their traditions and culture.

© Judy Natal 'J from the series 'Joshua Tree from A to Z’

Image sequencing is as crucial a part of my creative process as knowledge and exploitation of the formal language of image making. One of the things I love about photography is how malleable it is. The longer I make images, the more profoundly I understand how image sequence shapes both the visual and emotional tenor of the body of work as a whole, regardless of format of presentation. 

© Judy Natal ’S from the series 'Joshua Tree from A to Z’

This is a difficult and arduous task, spending months making proof prints of everything (!), putting the images up on the wall next to each other, moving them around, before doing it all again. This is best accomplished while in an artist residency, removed from the demands of daily life, that affords me the singular focus of 24/7, occupied with only this activity. I was privileged with the opportunity, for example, to spend four months at Biosphere 2, creating the first open studio at this incredible site, where hundreds of tourists wandered in and out over a four-month period, forcing me to explain the work and the choices I was making on a daily basis.

6. I would like to know how you present the work in the gallery space. Do you prefer a book or a wall to show your work?

Book and wall are completely different experiences. One is intimate and uniquely, individually, time-based, the other invites more spatial, bodily, activities. Book and wall present distinct advantages and limitations. For example, I’ve not a fan of showing a book in a group, and in that situation rather show prints. I think we are loosing these distinctions as art is more often experienced on a monitor, where issues of scale becomes nonexistent. It is one thing to read that a work of art is 5’ x 5’ while viewing it on a 12" monitor, and quite another standing in front of it, larger than life itself. 

© Judy Natal 'Buried White Car’ from the series 'Future Perfect’

Every solo- and group show when I am able- exhibition offers new possibilities in direct response to gallery space and installation opportunities. This seems to drive curators and gallerists a little mad, since for me, there is no singular answer to their question “what size are your prints”, because my answer is always “well…it depends”. 

Books live on, in libraries; on personal bookshelves to be re-lived and re-experienced…they seem to have an immortality that wall exhibitions do not, unless there is a catalogue that accompanies the exhibition. Don’t we love when that happens! They also offer wonderful opportunities to invite writers of all disciplines to interact, respond, and contextualize my work in a variety of directions. For example, I am hoping my book Future Perfect will include a scientist, science fiction writer (Bruce Sterling is a personal favourite), an environmental writer, and a poet to be included in the book, when it eventually gets published. 

© Judy Natal 'Sun’ from the series 'Future Perfect’

Wall exhibitions afford a more expansive vision of projects however. For example, when I exhibit Future Perfect, along with large-scale wall prints, (clipped to the wall, without frame or mat), I usually exhibit a selection of companion videos and sound work, as well as sculpture. A library of books and artefacts visualizes the breadth and depth of my research that forms and contextualizes the work in many different directions, and invites viewers to sit down and explore the collection while basking in the wall pieces, sound, video, and sculpture. The library instills a place of contemplation within the exhibition and is becoming an increasingly significant component of my practice.

7.  I’m interested to learn how you expose your students to the practice of photography and challenge their understanding of process.

It is always about asking questions and never (I hardly ever say never!) presuming to know the answer. The most profound art is made from a position of not knowing and wanting to find out something. Asking questions are the bedrock of both my artistic practice and my teaching. Questions open up doors and conversation, instead of shutting the door like periods do at end of sentences. Teaching my students how to engage in a dialogue with their work helps them move away from assumptions of what they think the work is about, but rather embrace the difficulty of finding out what the work demands…to find out how to grow their ideas through exploring what the logical next step might be. 

© Judy Natal 'Through The Window’ from the series 'Future Perfect’

Art schools seem to encourage a binary opposition between process and product. My interest as artist and educator is decidedly invested in the creative process. The product is the last conversation I have with my students, after extensive, full -throttled investigations of myriad possibilities.  I have built quite a teaching library through reviewing photography books - history, contemporary and criticism - for the past 35 years, and am able to expose my students, graduate and undergraduate, to a wide variety of artists. Obviously, I am a confessed, unabashed book-aholic, and books are a passion.

8. Please talk about artists and writers that have influenced your work.

It is important that my work thinks, acts, and sees. This is inspired by Roland Barthes’ famous quote “Ultimately, photography is subversive, not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.”  I aspire to have my work subversionary, rather than visionary, to invite viewers to imagine, which I believe is one of the most subversive acts of human existence.

© Judy Natal 'Diving Into The Wreck (Homage to Adrian Rich)’ from the series 'Earth Words’

My practice invites acts of contemplation rather than creating dogmatisms, with the artist assuming more the role of weaver of tapestry than singular thread, weaving together a variety of genres of photography and video - landscape, portrait, still life - to allude to the complexities of subject and content, like the illustrations of ecosystems I poured over in National Geographic as a child. These cross sections depicted slices of life systems that become perfect metaphors for my work, as I aspire to reveal both the forces that shape the surface of the earth that we can’t see, while beautifully depicting what it is that we can see with human eyes. 

Since my practice is research based, many artists and writers have influenced my work while intersecting diverse disciplines. Utopians, scientists, designers, geologists, archaeologists, cartographers, roboticists, writers. scholars, artists, poets, historians, climatologists, critics, dreamers, I have particularly enjoyed the White Chapel Documents of Contemporary Art series that collects suites of essays around contemporary themes like The Sublime, Utopias, Chance, Beauty, Nature, Participation, and Ruins

© Judy Natal 'Dust to Dust’ from the series 'Earth Words’


A dizzyingly list of diverse artists- Robert Smithson, Mark Klett, Frank Gohlke, Vik Muniz, Ai Wei Wei, Paul Graham, Donald Judd, Georgia O'Keefe, Joan Mitchell, poets Adrian Rich and Alison Deming, writer and activist Rebecca Solnit (always inspirational!), author Lucy Lippard and William Fox, all with their insistence on art and life lived as inseparable and intertwined, to name just a few. The list could go on and on…

© Urbanautica | Judy Natal

PHOTOTALK WITH EMILY SHUR

BY RACHEL WOLFE

1. Finding creative flow in collaboration and consistency has led Emily Shur down some pretty interesting paths. Her flexibility between digital and film mediums might not have come easily, but her ability to communicate nonverbally and find a home in a foreign land has lent itself to building trust in new relationships and an impressive body of photographic works. Here, Shur speaks to the necessity in allowing for good days, bad days and everything in between. 

Your photographs have a fluid, conversational appeal to them. In particular, your portrait work highlights this quality. How much does the final image come from you or from the person you’re photographing?

«It’s very much a collaboration.  As a portrait photographer, you really need to be able to talk to all different types of people and create a bond where there is none.  Sometimes that’s easy, and sometimes it’s not.  The most successful images come out of shoots where that bond, trust, and interaction flowed easily.  I depend on the subject quite a bit to bring something to the table, and if it becomes apparent that they won’t be doing that I resort to just making sure they look good».

2. The range of your portfolio, from celebrity, to commercial and your personal work is quite astounding. As a professional and an artist, do you treat each type as a separate entity or does the intention originate from relatively the same place? And what kind of advice would you have told yourself before you were more established? 

«The intention, which is making interesting pictures that I’m proud of, is always consistent.  The method and approach are a little different between my personal and commercial work, but everything comes from the same brain and point of view.  In terms of advice I would give to a younger me, it would probably be not to get too discouraged or too cocky at any one point in my career.  I have had good years and bad years, good shoots and bad ones.  I’ve booked jobs and won awards and then lost jobs and received absolutely no recognition at other times.  Being a photographer (for me) is a practice and a journey.  When I was younger, I just wanted to win the race, but now I’m a little more understanding about my role». 

3. From a technical standpoint, there is a seamless level of cohesion in both your commercial and personal works. Can you explain your approach and execution of each including and similarities or dissimilarities? Does film play any role in your work, or have you fully embraced the digital medium? 

«Composition and framing are very important to me in all of my work.  With my personal work, I still shoot film – either medium or large format – and the majority of my process is wandering around on foot or by car.  This work is as much about the process of shooting as it is about the images.  It’s cathartic for me to take trips and make time specifically for shooting my personal work.  It’s very quiet and introspective which brings me back to the fundamentals of what I love about photography.  My personal work also is rooted in the technical fundamentals of photography, light and composition, which is good exercise for my mind.  In terms of my commercial work, I now pretty much exclusively shoot digital.  It took me a very long time to make the full transition and feel as though I was taking “my pictures” without shooting film. Some people are of the opinion that a camera is a camera, but for me it was as if I was being forced to learn how to play a completely new instrument.  It was very difficult to adjust to the process of shooting digital, but after a few years I’m finally comfortable with it.  With my portrait work, I also am very concerned about the technical fundamentals, but there is an added element of the subject’s personality.  So, a portrait then becomes a combination of composition, light, and human interaction instead of my interaction with a place alone».

4. Does your commercial or personal work influence one more than the other? For example, your personal project Instant Gratification can be seen as a melding of worlds. 

«Neither really takes precedence in terms of influence.  I treat every shoot individually and try hard to focus on what I’m doing at that moment and not get distracted.  You are totally right that the Polaroid project, Instant Gratification, is a melding of the two worlds.  Those Polaroids are mostly from commercial and portrait shoots with a few exceptions.  My favorite image from a shoot would sometimes be the test Polaroid so I started scanning them and grouping them together».

5. The reoccurring relationship between East and West appears in your work, perhaps more directly in your personal projects. Images from Japan came up on your blog earlier this year. Are these photographs related to your personal project, Shizenkan? What brings you literally or introspectively to the East, and how has that evolved over time? 

«Yes, those images are part of what is currently an untitled project, which I’ve been working on for about seven years.  I’ve been traveling to Japan a couple times a year since my first trip in 2004 specifically to photograph.  From my very first visit, I felt oddly at home there.  I relate visually and personally to Japanese life.  Photographing there is as much about being there as it is about the pictures I come away with.  When I go there to shoot, it’s a very quiet time for me.  I spend days wandering, usually silently, just observing and seeing what I come across.  This project is very much about the experience for me, and that’s why it has continued to interest me over time.  There is no beginning, middle, and end.  I will continue this work as long as I can or as long as it remains fulfilling to me».  

6. As an experienced and recognized photographer, can you explain your choice to self-publish and what the experience was like for you?

«I am a huge photo book nerd so I have been sequencing my pictures and editing them in book form for a while.  When Blurb came along it was such an easy and accessible way to play around with book design.  I never intended for my Blurb books to replace a book that might be published by an actual publisher.  That is still very much a goal of mine.  However, I think self-publishing is a great way to get a book out there if you don’t want to wait around for someone to publish it for you.  I suppose there are pros and cons to both scenarios».

7. How do you feel self-publishing in the transformative digital age and what that does for you personally, professionally and how the role of the artist and the photographer, commercial or traditional, is shifting? And, what role would you say transparency plays in your expression? 

«As of now I only have one public book on Blurb.  I’ve removed the books I’ve made of my Japan work because I do intend for that project to be published when completed, whenever that may be.  I don’t really want what I think are incomplete edits of that project floating around.  I’m fine putting work-in-progress images on my blog because there are lots of images I take that will never end up anywhere but there.  At least this way they can be seen somehow.  

I think the role of the photographer or artist today has shifted a bit.  You can find out so much about people online, and things in general seem to be way more up close and personal than when I started out.  Everyone wants to see behind the scenes, read the story behind the shoot, and our personalities have become more front and center.  I think this works well for some people and not so well for others who enjoyed their privacy way back when.  Most photographers want notoriety, and it seems easier than ever to achieve that in some way, shape, or form today.  The true test is making solid images».

8. Finally, what are your primary goals or desires for accomplishment in your work as a photographer? 

«In the most basic terms, I’d like to be one of the greats.  That would be my ultimate desire».

© urbanauticaEmily Shur 
PHOTOTALK WITH JULIA KATER

BY STEVE BISSON

1. How does your artistic career starts, and through what changes you been?

I believe that my interest in making art came from my work in photojournalism, especially after a trip I made to Togo, in Africa. I began to develop my collages in 2005 using the waste from the photos I had. They came from other contexts and were taken without the objective to become part of my artistic work, contrary to what happens today. So, in a way, this beginning was very intuitive. I realized that a photograph could be easily decontextualized through collage, in such a way that the narratives that could be built from there have proven to be an extensive field for a more personal and subjective discourse. I believe that it was from the perception of these possibilities that I started making art.

© The useless dream of being, 2011

2. Tell us about your interest in photography and what kind of research are you carrying out.

Photography is a support that interests me immensely. To experiment with photography and hence converse with its own elements, with the framing, the bidimensionality, for example, to be able to break these ‘rules’ providing materiality to the photography through the collage, to invert its plans and hence change perspective.

© Didn’t say with words, Silence series, 2010

To rebuild the frontiers between these elements, change the direction in which we formally see the image, like in the video ‘O Tempo do Branco’ [The Time of White], to provoke encounters that only exist due to framing, to establish relations between distinct elements to me are ways to approach the limits of the image, and my research goes in that direction.

© Tempo do Branco, 2011 Still video, color, 56’’

3. We have seen that your images have been used to promote the Festival of MOVECINEART of Sao Paulo. What can you tell us of this initiative? Tell us also how do you see the Brazilian art scene and if there are any artists that you particularly appreciate.

I was invited by filmmaker friends who are organizing this festival, to make the poster. I was happy with the invitation, because this is the first festival in Brazil with films dedicated to the arts in general, and I believe that it will be very interesting. And one of my main references is cinema. I really like movies, especially European productions; Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, etc., and more recently the Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos. I really like how they build a more subjective narrative and how they approach questions like silence, frontier, emptiness, death, and human relations. I try to bring these questions to photography.

In regards to the arts scene in Brazil, I believe that it is in a very live and active moment right now, and we can see that it is growing and maturing daily.

4. Digital manipulation of iconographic representation is a recurring theme in your art work. No longer content to watch or contemplate a landscape, but the artist intervenes to change the perception, as if to awaken the view, and seek one’s own reality rather than submit to it.

When I displace the sky from the background to the foreground, when figure becomes background and background becomes figure, a movement is established that implies an organicity between these elements. I have a series called 'Papel Parede’ [Wall Paper], which I believe also relates to this inversion, but this time not between figure and background, but between inside and outside. The wallpaper from the interior of the houses that I have photographed has been displaced to the façade of the house.

© Untitled, Wall Paper series, 2009

In regards to manipulation, every collage is made manually, never digitally, with tools like Photoshop, etc. To me it is important to have this manual contact with the image, to be able to intervene directly in the surface of the photograph.

5. The sky appears to us in some of your projects as a liquid blanket that goes beyond space and surrounding it. Undoubtedly there is a break with a normal perspective. We find, as in other seasons of the history of art, the desire to get rid of the classical canons of interpretation. 

I’ve always photographed the sky. The impermanence, the transitoriness, its omnipresence, this impossibility of present fixation of it, this has always fascinated me. I always try to photograph images that inhabit my memory, where time seems suspended, like these images of indoor ambient of the series 'Et moi je vous dis’ [And I say to you] (2010). I see these spaces as scenery, where there is no indication of time. With the cutting, I decharacterize the ambient, take away all that is personal, the portraits, the framed pictures, I leave only the frames, replacing the pictures with the image of the sky that evokes movement, transformation.

In other works, like 'Julliet’, for example, the sky is no longer the sky. It is white, grey, something that plummets, that falls, that moves, overflows, and invades. 

© Juillet, 2011

6. What are you working on now and what are your plans for the future?

I am currently working on two new series that I began during my residency in Lisbon, Portugal, in July. 'The series Horizons’ (2012) is composed by works that formally represent people partially covered by straight and angular lines of architecture. In these works, two images of the same place are juxtaposed, but in one of them there is a human figure that is absent from the other image. The background, the architecture removes the protagonism of the character, occupying its physical place. Through cutting, this order between figure and background is inverted, and the character then exists underneath the architecture.

© Untitled, Horizons series, 2012

The series 'At the same time’ (2012) presents images with more than two layers. Here, these cuttings are more organic and may remit to reliefs and landscapes. In this series, the human figure is in the foreground, walking; the cutting brings from the background shapes and layers that seem to fall over and to overlap the character. Differently from the previous series, here the architecture is emptied. It is lost due to the character being photographed in front of a white wall, without information of the existing architecture.

© Untitled, At de same time series, 2012 © urbanauticaJulia Kater