Wavepool – What qualities of everyday, household objects drive your interest in them?
Nick Albertson – I have two answers for this question. The first tackles how I choose my materials conceptually. Photography has historically been considered a lesser artistic medium. The fact that it is “easy” to make a photograph, coupled with the fact that photography has a multitude of practical uses (advertising, evidentiary, documentary, etc.) makes for a cultural understanding of photography as less of an art than say sculpture or painting. This belief still exists today, but not as pervasively. I find that pointing my camera at materials that are considered to be commonplace or utilitarian rather than elegant in some way reflects the medium. Further, the objects, themselves mass produced, relate to photography and the fact that it’s easily and endlessly reproducible.
My compositions are intended to relate to abstraction and specifically abstract painting. Abstract expressionists, for example, were seen as artistic geniuses, their hands (through the act of painting) communicating something almost spiritual. My photographs lightly poke fun at that notion, as I use mass produced objects to simulate brush strokes, removing the physical gesture from the equation in my works. It is important to note that I don’t consider my photographs to be abstract. Yes, they borrow from the language of abstraction, but they are photographs, and my camera is rendering real objects in space. My photographs represent physical, tangible things. They are pictures of straws and rubber bands, not of painterly gestures that may or may not have some connection to the something in the real world in the mind of the artist.
As for how I choose what to photograph practically, it is a combination of visually what I think will make for a good photograph mixed with how it might fit in conceptually for me. I search for objects that do not have logos visible, that have interesting shapes while not being over complicated or identifiable (like a fork, which would be difficult to photograph and not immediately announce to the viewer that it is a fork). Color palette is also important to me. I tend to have subtle (or no) color. But I also search for things that one, generally speaking, has to buy in bulk. I want the products to be mass produced, inexpensive and utilitarian; throw aways.
Wavepool – When did you begin working with them? Have they always been vital to your practice?
Nick Albertson – I didn’t always work in a studio – I started out as a landscape photographer. But once I moved indoors and started working with lighting, the materials came pretty quickly to me. It took a bit of time to come to the work I’m making now but the objects came before the concept. I liked the uniformity and the (some would say tedious) work involved in arranging the objects. The hands on approach to making my photographs really appealed to me. I have always definitely been interested in formal considerations in photography, so I think the transition from landscape photography to studio work was an easy one.
Wavepool – Did anything specific prompt the transition from the landscape to the studio? Was there any sort of intersection between the two?
Nick Albertson – I lived in Portland, Oregon for four years before moving to Chicago for graduate school. Portland is about an hour from the mountains and the ocean and the weather was mild year round. Being outdoors and active was a large part of my life there. When I moved to Chicago I had a hard time adjusting. I missed the mountains and the woods and the ocean. And I didn’t even own a car to get me out of the city. I started a photographic project about yearning for nature, photographing depictions of nature that I found in city life – Coors beer cans, which have the Rocky Mountains on them), for instance. From there I started recreating landscapes for myself in my apartment out of manufactured products, exploring the intersection of human constructions and the natural world and the sometimes fuzzy line between the two.
Wavepool – Tell me more about finding the concept after the objects. How do you break through that period of uncertainty?
Nick Albertson – As I got used to living in a city and starting missing the west less I realized that the process I had developed was what I wanted to continue with, but that I could strip the initial concept behind the work. It freed me up to explore my process without holding me down to a subject matter. It’s true that at first I didn’t know why I was making what I was making, but I knew that I enjoyed doing it, and knew that if I kept at it the meaning would come. The amazing thing about being an artist is that you can allow yourself to really investigate things and see where they lead.
Wavepool – I’m interested in the few works of video and sculpture of yours that I’ve seen. Are you actively working with these mediums in addition to your photographs?
Nick Albertson – I started out at a young age specializing in photography. My first year of high school I signed up for a photo class on a whim and found that I really enjoyed it. Then in college, I was specifically a photo major, and was not required to take any other art classes. My graduate program, too, was photo specific. All this is to say that I don’t have a background in any of these other media. For instance, I approach video very much from a photography background. In the videos that I have made that I consider successful, I set up the camera and try to make something formally considered happen inside the frame. Of course I try to make use of video’s specific strengths relative to photography, but I still look at it primarily from a photographic eye.
I often think that my work should translate to installation or sculpture easily, but I find that the fixed point of view that photography offers is a large part of my work. A viewer can’t see past the edges of the frame, and doing so would ruin the illusion. The light is captured exactly as I want it, which is clearly important to my work. Toilet Paper Cube, which is on my website, was successful in my mind because the light is controlled from every angle of view and the object itself is self contained with clear boundaries. So to answer your question, yes, I am actively working with these mediums. But I am a very self-critical novice, so works in these mediums are released to the world less frequently.
Wavepool – Do you see your work changing in any ways as you move forward?
Nick Albertson – For now I am still exploring this mode of working and really focusing on subtle and small changes. The nuances still hold a great deal of interest and excitement for me but I feel confident that eventually my continued investigation into my process and materials will lead to something substantially different. I’m excited to see what that will be!
To see more, please visit Nick’s website.