Wavepool – How would you describe your work? Do you consider yourself to be a documentary photographer?
Maggie Shannon – I’ve been asked this question before and always find it difficult to answer! I really don’t think that my work fits under any particular genre of photography. I would personally describe it as documentary but I think it’s a bit different than that. When I’m photographing, I want the moment to seem as real and intimate as possible but also convey a sense of strangeness or mystery. I think this mindset has translated to my portraits and what would be considered documentary work as well.
Wavepool – Can you talk more about the ways in which it might be different from traditional documentary photography?
Maggie Shannon – I think I’m too attached to my subject for it to be considered documentary and if there’s an opportunity to intervene or move something in the frame, I take it. Especially after the recent debate and drama with the World Press Photo contest, I don’t think my work fits under that definition.
Wavepool – Do you introduce mystery through the subject matter itself or the way in which you photograph? Do both play a part?
Maggie Shannon – I think the way I photograph plays the most important part. It’s hard to describe the act of shooting but I try to use light or catch off moments. Some of my favorite moments from portrait work have come from a person moving from one pose to another. I kind of love that first couple minutes of awkwardness when you first meet a person and you’re trying to make them feel at ease. The first photos of any person, even if they have experience, can feel so awkward. It’s kind of a weird dance of moving between making them feel comfortable in front of my camera but also getting a photograph I like or feel is unexpected.
Wavepool – Do you have any rules or advice that you remind yourself of when working?
Maggie Shannon – I’m a very shy person which is one of the reasons I started doing more portrait work and I really think it’s helping me break out of my shell. Despite this, however, I still get pretty terrified! So one thing I always remind myself before and during a shoot is that you as the photographer are responsible for making the person feel comfortable even if you aren’t. I think this pressure of being forced to act confident helps me feel more at ease.
Wavepool – Working in a new way, as you did with portraits, often seems highly intimidating and daunting but very valuable in the end. Why is failure important?
Maggie Shannon – I think that accepting failure is a really important part of my process. There are millions of ways things can go wrong when you’re shooting, both technically and emotionally too. Like the person isn’t in a good mood or just doesn’t like the images you’re making. That’s actually one thing I dislike about digital, that you can see the end product right away and the person you’re shooting can too! But I think that “failing” can also lead to beautiful images. Some of my favorite photographs have come dealing with an issue and being forced to make it work. I was recently photographing a musician for a project and she hated every photograph that had her face in the frame. So instead I shot her playing from behind and that image has become one of my favorites from that entire series.
I really believe that learning from you’re failures is what makes you a better photographer. I recently read a great interview with Karen Mullarkey who was a picture editor at Rolling Stone and Newsweek. She discussed how when she was meeting with photographers she always asked to see contact sheets so that she could see the mistakes along with successes. I really love that idea of seeing the whole process instead of just the images someone picks as the “best” ones.
Wavepool – What is the most memorable photograph you’ve seen? Why?
Maggie Shannon – This may sound kinda cheesy, but I think the most memorable photograph I’ve ever seen would have to be Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico by Ansel Adams. I remember going to see an exhibition of his work in Boston when I was in high school and being completely blown away. That show was really my first exposure to that type of work and I still treasure that moment and thank my high school teacher for giving us that experience. Even though I didn’t start to focus completely on photography until my second year in college, I think that seeing that photograph helped to start me down the path I’m on now.
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!
Wavepool – You often delve into personal territory in projects. Were you ever hesitant to do so? What is beneficial about being vulnerable?
Brendan George Ko – I am always hesitant about working with personal subjects because it is very easy to alienate an audience: either by the subject being so personal that only the artist and those involved are able to relate to it, or that it becomes excessively self-indulgent. The subject starts off personal but the real work is making it relatable to what it is to be human.
The benefits of working with a personal approach is that you work and speak about the work from an honest place. I find when you place yourself so deep into the work it is no longer about art, it is about sharing something intimate and meaningful with others. In addition, I find the only way a project could go on for years without losing its steam is that at the core of the work is the passion to share a message.
Wavepool – Do you have to make compromises so that viewers can access your experiences?
Brendan George Ko – What I see in a project is always going to be different from what others see. From each step in my process I am in dialogue with someone, that is either someone who is serving as a consultant or just having conversations with my peers. It is an entire process of removing myself from the work in order to (attempt to) see the work from the outside. Knowing what is working and what is distracting from the message I am trying to convey.
I remember in grad school every piece I had in a project had to come with a justification, a complete analysis of why it was important and what was its function to the other pieces. It goes beyond killing your darlings, it is about finding the balance between yourself (practice, intention, and sometimes ego) and the clarity of your message to the viewer. At the end of the day, it’s not killing your darlings, it is killing the author, you have to let go and let that baby grow on its own, the work has to speak on its own (no statement, just visual language and curation).
Wavepool – Can you talk about the relationship between fact and fiction and how they intersect in your work?
Brendan George Ko – We watch a movie and form a relationship to the character, we see his or her situation and our emotions are provoked. We are watching something that is a fabrication of fiction but the writer, director, and performers are all portraying a truth of being human. Life inspires art, and like the question Omer Fast often brings up in his work: what happens to creditability to actual events when they become a memory and what happens to memory when it is translated into a story. I think fictionalization could be used to serve the truth if its intent is telling the truth. People don’t like being lied to especially when they believe in a story, but when something is true that cannot find its way out on its own nature then fiction could be used as an aid. Storytelling dramatically changed when it went from an oral tradition to the written word because honesty in a voice was lost to the empirical nature of the document.
Wavepool – Photography is vital to your work but other mediums regularly come into play as well, such as video, installation, writing, etc. Can you talk about the importance of combining materials?
Brendan George Ko – “Some travel into the mountains accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination. Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes. Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it. Once there they become more aware than any of the others that there’s no single or fixed number of routes. There are as many routes as there are individual souls.” – Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 1974)
The stories themselves are not fixed to any particular medium, and though photography is a great supplement to storytelling it has its limits. In 2009, I was creating work for these letters I had received from a crisis center. At first I photographed the rooms the letters were written in with their authors absent. I found the photographs and the letters were two separate entities, with one being cold and lifeless and the other being vibrant and painfully alive. It wasn’t until four years later that I figured out how to merge the two seamlessly and animate those letters from their tomb. The result is Rooms, a series of videos with models acting as stand-ins in the rooms the letters were written in. Accompanying the video are the letters being spoken via professional voice actors that added not only life to the stories but texture and believability.
Stories are not fixed in one particular medium and the challenge (what I call “visual strategy”) is finding a medium that is able to resonate best with the subject matter. Being able to work with other mediums is the similar to becoming technically proficient: the artist becomes less concerned with technique allowing him or her to focus on what it is they are trying to say with the work.
Wavepool – What are some of the limits of photography in storytelling?
Brendan George Ko – Photography is a monument: it arrest time and creates “moments”, it lacks voice and movement, and it gains its definition in its lack of change. There is an installation piece by Kerry Tribe called, H.M. where a loop of 16mm film runs through two projectors and over time the film is slowly being destroyed. It makes you realize that anything that moves, that holds the ability to change eventually dies, and dies in a speed that is reminiscent of life. When the frame stops (thus creating the photograph) it is haunting because it is a ghost, something that has passed, but is there before us and unable to interact or speak.
I find there are approaches in photography tell a story that work through a series of photographs. But the most effective storytelling with photography involves text which (in my opinion) always exists alongside and never emerged with photography. One ultimately diminishes the value for the other, never as equals to the viewer’s attention because we read text differently from images. Now I don’t want to make this sound like I completely lost faith in the medium, I find its indexical nature of photography its greatest aspect to storytelling. It grounds stories to the real in the same way that photographs are grounded by their referent (the very light that create them).
Wavepool – Who are some other artists that you think approach storytelling in exciting ways?
Brendan George Ko – There are three specific works by three different artists/film-makers that come to mind. The Casting (2007) by Omer Fast, Fast’s work is often about slippages of the truth and how the distinction between fact and fiction are lost to the subjective nature of memory. To quote Fast, “I’m more interested in how memories become mediated into stories”.
Following Fast is Thin Blue Line (1988) by Errol Morris, which recreates an event from multiple accounts. Out of any documentary it deploys the most amount of theatrical staging that coat the truth with fictional aesthetics. To spite the fictional treatment of facts Morris’ intent is to recreate a moment that has passed and the only document is eye-witness accounts with as much precision as possible.
And lastly, Sherman’s March (1986) by Ross McElwee. What can I say about this documentary, it is just about my favorite thing: it is about McElwee trying to make a documentary about a Civil War general who “brought the South to its knees”. What ends up happening is the viewer is taken on a very honest and intimate journey through McElwee’s life in the early 1980s (think Adaptation (2002) as a documentary). Going back to Pirsig, he said that it isn’t about the destination but how you arrive. The process is often absent from the finished work, but I find what someone went through to make the work more fascinating than the arrival.
Wavepool – Because you’re both an exhibiting artist and an editorial photographer, I’m curious about your background and how you came to work with photography. Did one facet come before the other?
Peter Hoffman – When I made my very first pictures, they came from a purely creative, exploratory place. But very soon after I picked up a camera I found work as a photojournalist, and followed that path for a few years. The approach, the aesthetic, the lifestyle, sort of took over. I eventually realized it wasn’t for me, but I learned a lot during that time and it helped prepare me for freelance. Since I left the constrictions of the newspaper world I’ve focused on taking a balance approached, making sure that I pay attention to personal work while trying to maintain the things I did love about being a working photographer – like meeting new people and going new places – through editorial work. I don’t exhibit much – I would like to change that eventually (who wouldn’t?), but for the time being as I make my living through assignment work, my personal work is mostly about just making it.
Wavepool – Are there any differences in your approach to each facet? In what ways do they blend together?
Peter Hoffman – I think the one thing that you can’t help is that the subject matter for editorial work will vary much more than what you pursue in your personal work, especially if what you are interested in has no real editorial potential. This will undoubtedly give some of your editorial work a different feel, and that’s a challenge. On my own time, I am photographing a lot of dense woods and dark streets these days. I don’t know what to do with this stuff yet, and I especially don’t know how I can use it to help my assignment work, but I do know it’s what I need to be photographing right now.
Although I often wish I could be, I am not the type of photographer that has a seamless transition between my personal and my editorial work – at least not yet. I am always trying to hone in on a more concise vision for my editorial work, and the more I work at it the more I feel like it starts to get in line with my personal work. That said, in editorial you get hired for the stories that editors feel you are well suited to. They’re usually hoping to build on the the kind of world that you have created through your previous work – and much of this is based off of the personal work. The best assignments and the best editors really help here. I am really happy to get any assignment because a day of photographing beats just about anything else in my eyes, but it’s really wonderful when the editor understands how you see the world and lets you just carry that 100% in to the shoot.
One specific way that the worlds collide – moreso than talking about the general notion of ‘vision’ – is through portraiture – I absolutely love making portraits. It’s actually the most rewarding part of being a photographer in many ways. But it is hard. I am a pretty reserved person so in general most of my portrait work is done on assignment. I’m actually making it a goal this year to start making as many portraits as I possibly can, of whoever will sit with me. Because I have specific ideas for how I want this to be I think it will be a good exercise. I shoot a lot of portraiture on assignment, it will help strengthen this skill, and it will also have a place in my heart as personal work.
Wavepool – What make portraits the most rewarding part of being a photographer?
Peter Hoffman – I feel like it’s better to be working out of your comfort zone whenever possible. On portrait shoots this is usually the case. It can be pretty tough for me to just meet and photograph someone I’ve never met, but in that situation you’ve just got to do it. There’s also the fact that life is ultimately about relationships and each portrait is an opportunity to begin a new one or deepen one with someone you already know. Pictures of people mean something, to someone, almost always. Work is always more rewarding when people besides yourself care about it. The rest of the stuff I photograph interests me and is important to me, but it is just, I don’t want to say easier to do well, but I am in an easier space personally when making it.
Wavepool – Do you generally start a project with thinking and researching, or with experimenting and doing?
Peter Hoffman – It depends on the project. I sort of go back and forth between doing straight photographic projects, and doing experimental projects.
The experimental projects don’t really start with research – they just start with a need to create and a need for catharsis – followed by a lot of time doing things that don’t work to hone in on an idea. I don’t really know what I’m going for when I begin them – I just know that I have a notion of some type of conflict that I want to play with – thematically the work is usually about human/environment interaction in some way. The more straightforward photographic projects I do usually start with some research to help me define the constructs in my own head. That research, lately, doesn’t have any real place in the end work though. In Again and Again – which was photographed during a 10 week stay in New Zealand – I researched a lot about the Christchurch earthquakes, was alerted about every tremor going, and reached out to newspapers and university faculty in the area with lots of questions all before I set foot in Christchurch. All of this information helped to frame my initial approach and helped me build relationships while I was there, but doesn’t play an obvious role in what is ultimately a more impressionistic, first-person type body of work.
Wavepool – Was Again and Again intended to be a more research heavy project? How did the work develop when you got to New Zealand and started photographing?
Peter Hoffman – I never really intended for the research to be on display in the final project. I had spent time in New Zealand before and really fell in love with it. I was already familiar with the city (well, pre-earthquakes) – but because I went there with the intent of photographing people who were affected by it I just wanted to make sure I was as familiar as I could be about the general situation – including how it was being portrayed in the media – which was a hurdle I had to get past. I just wanted people to know that I was interested in their particular situation and that I cared enough to educate myself on the issue. People were open and gracious and wanting to tell me their stories, but they were wary (rightfully so) of someone coming and taking a bunch of pictures of broken buildings again. When I was there I actually asked almost everyone I photographed to write in a journal a response to the prompt ‘how has life changed since the earthquake’ – something very open ended. I had thought about using those journal entries in the book but it just was too much material. I used those journals though – I let them guide me to spaces that I photographed and let them dictate to an extent how I photographed the people and the space. Some entries were about finding strength in tragedy, some were about confusion, hardship, frustration, some were ambivalent and some had a sense of freedom or relief. I tried to take all of that and incorporate it into the images I was looking for. I also, invariably was reacting to the scene around me and my own rediscovery of a place that meant very much to me, but had been significantly altered.
Wavepool – What are you working on at the moment?
Peter Hoffman – Last year was a pretty big year for me outside of my personal work. I got married and was quite busy with commissions, and was also busy with the production of the book. Things have slowed down a little so I’m taking this time reevaluate where I want to be (with my work) in like 7-10 years and try to make necessary adjustments. It’s been a little while since I tried to step outside of myself like that.
I’m currently in the editing phase of another book project that is photographed looking through the same window over the course of a winter. It’s more of a study than a big project or anything, but it’s important to me. I made the pictures last winter while I was working on the edit of Again and Again. Aside from that, I’m not totally sure what I’m working on which is a little terrifying. I’ve got a few ideas, but nothing I can talk about yet really. Not because I don’t want to be but because any ideas I have are just in their infancy right now and I am working on making sense of them for myself first.
Wavepool – In broad terms, how would you describe your interests as an artist to someone encountering your work for the first time?
Emily Mason – My interests have always stemmed from the multifaceted nature of experience. After an experience there is a memory, and the way these two interact and are interpreted has always interested me. I magnify the nuances that occur while trying to remember the details. Specifics often fade in and out of focus, gaining and losing significance simultaneously, similarly to my work. That being said, my work moves in and out of reality, often times, creating a type of spatial ambivalence.
Wavepool – Can you tell me a little bit about your approach to making and your use of photographic images as a material?
Emily Mason – I spend a lot of my time gathering information. This information can come in the form of collecting physical objects, photographing, or extracting the visceral imprint a stone left in my palm. I want to create familiarity in a way the viewer could never experience in actual time. My method of working involves a lot of trial and error; I am constantly rearranging components in my images to properly display what I remember or don’t. It’s really a combination of experiments in the studio with the physical print and various reincarnations.
Using photographic images is a process that I have been developing for three years now. Rephotographing photographic prints allows me to create unrealistic compressed perspectives that confuses the assumed monocular view the camera lens offers. Inconsistencies can be found from piece to piece that provoke the viewer to search for more.
Wavepool – Where and when does the material come from? What do you look for?
Emily Mason – My materials don’t really come from a specific process in place or time; I collect intuitively. I keep my perimeters open and pick up things that interest me or remind me of something. I find objects in stores and on the ground. You should probably know, I have a rock collection that weighs over 100 pounds.
Wavepool – With time being an essential component to both experience and memory, I’m curious about the role time plays in your process. How soon do you begin working with the information you gather?
Emily Mason – Time has become a very strong component in my work over the last few years. I work with photos taken in different places after the fact. It’s important for me to remove myself to fully reflect. In the moment I am too engaged with the qualities that surround me. Time is the mechanism that cultivates the visceral into the enigmatic that ultimately brings a work to life. During my series LIMBO I had no access to prints or studio space for three months. I think the time apart from the experience let me work in the studio in new ways that I am very excited about.
Wavepool – How do you identify when something is complete? Do you ever revisit ideas that you once considered to be complete?
Emily Mason – It really varies from piece to piece for me. Sometimes I want to work with an image as a background, sometimes I physically manipulate with cutting, drawing, or reconstructing, while other times I am happy with just the original image as the finished piece. Once there is a plan with the imagery, and it’s been executed it’s usually clear whether or not I’ve achieved what I’m looking for. It’s the moment that I am familiarized with my intention that I know I have completed a work.
Wavepool – Who or what has been the most influential in the development of your practice?
Emily Mason – Recently my most influential development was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I lived next door to nine cloistered nuns in a monastery. 7,000 feet closer to the sun and landlocked, I grasped my reality just as it had dissipated. My newest series LIMBO functions similarly.
Wavepool – Your activity as an artist seems to be similar to that of a scientist. In what ways do you find science and art to be connected?
Paula McCartney – I don’t have a background in science, but am intrigued by it. The activities of science that I bring to my art are the acts of collecting, recording, and organizing subjects for further consideration. I also often remove subjects from their natural environment and present them as specimens to be examined.
Wavepool – While being based in science, a factual field of study, there’s also an intentional manipulation of truth in your work. Can you tell me about the significance of this?
Paula McCartney – In my series Bird Watching, I made a collection of photographs that documented my form of bird watching, which involved placing craft store songbirds in various landscapes and photographing them. I’m not a bird watcher nor was I interested in photographing actual birds. What I wanted to do was to create idealized scenes, where songbirds perched in pleasing compositions as I moved through the landscape. The birds act as jewels, decorating the landscape, making it (at least to me) more interesting than it is on its own. To play with the authenticity of the images, I carefully recorded and presented information about the birds in specimen labels with the photographs. The labels are a mix of truth and fiction, just like the images they are describing. While the labels attempt to authenticate the images, the wires that hold many of the birds to the tree branches and the haphazard paint jobs are not hidden in any way, and clue in the careful viewer that they are looking at a created scene.
I am inspired by the natural world, but in my work either add or subtract elements to more closely match the scenes I create in my mind.
In A Field Guide to Snow and Ice, the subjects are abstracted from their wider environments. Many were photographed at night, or placed against a black background to isolate and accentuate their forms. I categorized subjects by pattern, shape, and line rather than merely by substance. I was intrigued by how the icicles that appeared overnight along my roof shared a similar form with the stalagmites that grew over millions of years in Carlsbad Caverns. I was not at all interested in what the side of my house looked like or the railed paths in the caverns. By isolating the subjects the similarity of forms was accentuated and can be considered without distraction.
The manipulation of truth in this work comes from the project’s title, and juxtaposition of images. All of the elements in the series are of natural subjects, they just aren’t all of snow and ice. The statement that accompanies an exhibition and the essay in the book all speak to this. Individual images are not specifically identified, but like in Bird Watching, I want the viewer to come to a slow realization that the images they are looking at are not what they at first appeared to be. I want my work to address truth in photography, as well as suggesting and encouraging a wider and more open way of looking at landscape.
I used to teach History of Photography and one of my favorite stories from the beginning of the medium is about the faked suicide self-portrait by Hippolyte Bayard that he made to show his disappointment that the French government gave credit for the invention of photography to Daguerre. From the start, photographs did not always tell the truth. I use photography as a tool to illustrate the ideas in my head, rather than to document the world as it exists.
I recently read the Aperture book, Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and The Nude, and in it he writes, “You can create a fiction, but maybe you’re telling a story that’s real in the end.”
Wavepool – How do you develop a project? Do you set out with a ‘hypothesis’ of some kind?
Paula McCartney – With Bird Watching I had a specific conceptual idea that I went out into different landscapes to visualize. For A Field Guide to Snow and Ice, I knew I wanted to illustrate the winter of my imagination rather than make a documentary study of winter. I witnessed the snow and ice that surrounded me during previous winters, and knew what places like Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Monument looked like, so my goal was to photograph these elements and places in a way that illustrated how disparate elements could fit together to illustrate an idea of winter.
Wavepool – All the work you make seems to end up in an artist book. What role does the book serve? Are you using the book format to change the viewing process from what a viewer might encounter online or in a gallery space?
Paula McCartney – I began making handmade, photo-based artist books in grad school. I made seven books in editions ranging from 5-10 and the photographs for those books were made just to exist in each book. About half way through making the photographs for Bird Watching, I had the idea to use the photographs in a nature journal inspired artist book, to expand on the theme of the images. I combined the photographs with the specimen labels and wrote text describing my experiences, as I would if I were an actual bird watcher, photographically recording my bird sightings and recording information and my thoughts. This book was also handmade, but since I received a grant from the Women’s Studio Workshop to produce the book, I had to make an edition of 40-which at the time felt huge. A year later I was lucky enough to show the book I had made to an editor at Princeton Architectural Press, who wanted to turn it into a trade edition. By that time, I had finished making the photographs for the series, so I spent several months expanding the 26 page artist book into a 120 page book.
The trade publication of Bird Watching was the first time my book work reached a substantial audience. My artist books are in good museum and university collections, but I don’t think many people actually see them. Books are an important part of my practice, and I appreciated the expanded audience, so for the next two books I made (On Thin Ice, In a Blizzard and Book of Trees) I decided to make press printed editions that were larger and more affordable. I want my books to get out into the world.
I will admit that I initially felt like I was cheating a bit, using images from Bird Watching in a book and in exhibitions. But I have now decided, that if the work makes sense in both formats, I am okay using it that way. I am not interested in exhibiting the photographs from Book of Trees, as they feel incomplete without Andy Sturdevant’s narrative, but the photographs in A Field Guide to Snow and Ice work as an exhibition and as a book. What I am so excited about in the book of this project is that the accordion book acts both like a traditional book that can be viewed page by page, but also expands into a 34 foot long installation piece, and like the exhibition prints, all of the images are the same height, but are three different widths. I was very lucky that Silas Finch, who published this book, was willing to create such a complicated structure. It is a published book that feels like a hand made artist book.
The things that are most important to me about books is that they are not reliant on the time or location of an exhibition, and thus have a much more expanded audience. I rarely see a show more than once, but there are many books that I own that I return to again and again throughout the years. With the press printed books, I am also very interested in the (relative) accessibility of books, the democratic multiple, so to speak. Beyond works that I have traded with friends who are artists, I have a pretty small art collection, but I have a large book collection. In the books that I make, the format of the book feels true to the content of my work. The ideas of the work have been enhanced, rather than lost, in the book format.
Wavepool – What are some important influences on your practice?
Paula McCartney – I always find inspiration looking at other artists’ work-especially in installation or book form. I am continually inspired by the installations of Tara Donovan and Roxy Paine. In the past year, two shows that are cemented in my mind for the fantastical and complex worlds they created were those of Wanguchi Mutu and Marcel Dzama.
August Strindberg’s misinterpreted Celestographs are also images that I think about often. In the mid 1890s, he placed photographic plates outside so that, as he truly believed, the celestial bodies could create their own image. While the small dots in the resulting images were merely recordings of dew or dust, I find something wonderfully romantic that Strindberg didn’t allow himself to be disappointed by the reality of the situation. He was however disappointed that his work was disregarded by astronomers. (For further information, check out Issue 3 of Cabinet magazine)
I’ll also admit to a new addiction to Instagram. I use my phone camera as a visual notebook, and will make tests of photographs I might want to make. Photographing with my phone and having a place to share the images, has made me look more closely at my surroundings than I ever did before. I am the kind of photographer who never carries a camera around, unless I am going out to make a preconceived image. Since I always have my phone, I now make photographs of some kind every day, especially of light, shadows and other fleeting moments. I also love seeing photographs by other artists I admire, getting a peek into their daily creative practice.
Wavepool – What are you working on these days?
Paula McCartney – I am in the middle of working on a new series of photographs, titled Hide the Sun. I began the project by making images that responded to both my summer garden and trees that were destroyed in a storm, exploring the growth and destruction that occurred at a single point in time. This series continues to explore my previous concerns with the landscape, investigating both the physical landscape that is a part of my daily life, but also an emotional landscape of personal experiences through directed portraits and constructed still lifes.
Wavepool – Can you identify some recurring themes in your practice?
Ryan Oskin – Domesticity and nature continue to run throughout my practice. I used to think that these two realms of experience were separate, but there becomes less distinction as time passes. This is evident in my approach to my previous projects, Natural Wonders and Home Sweet Home. Home Sweet Home consists of plants and objects that occupied the spaces that I lived in for long and short periods of time. I was working on this project during the same year as my thesis work, Natural Wonders. For my thesis, I focused on the landscapes of New York and New Jersey that I felt were at odds with each other. It was only until completing these projects that I realized that our experience of the immediate environment is all constructed whether I was arranging objects indoors or walking around Brooklyn. By coming to terms with this duality, I am now able to focus on aspects of these themes I once ignored.
Wavepool – As you continue to make work, do you find it easier to make connections between what you’ve done? How valuable is time in understanding what you’re working on?
Ryan Oskin – It is only when I look back that my practice seems linear. I can see how each project breaks off and is re-examined in the next. It is difficult for me to admit this fact as I don’t relate as much to work I made two years ago. But I think it is really important to reflect on past work as well as current work. As I am working with new materials and methods that I am not always comfortable with, I am constantly looking back on new works to reconfigure them.
Wavepool – I’m really curious about your project Under Construction and the way in which photographs are used as both an end result and as a material for further development. What is the project about?
Ryan Oskin – My overall approach to my practice has become more reflexive. While I am still interested in creating still lives, the “straight” photograph has lost much of its appeal. By transforming photographs through sculpture or installation, I can address the materiality of the image. In Under Construction, sites and details are photographed and transposed into my studio. These images act as catalysts for sculptures that incorporate industrial, commercial, and photographic materials. In my studio, I am able to question the difference of freehand gestures and impromptu solutions used by both artists and workers. By exposing and expanding upon this process, I conflate my practice with a layman’s knowledge of building and marking to construct new objects.
Wavepool – Why do you think the straight photograph has lost its impact? Is this something that you believe in relation to the medium in general or is it more specific to your personal practice?
Ryan Oskin – This is definitely more relevant to my own practice as someone who studied photography in an academic setting. I am interested in keeping my practice captivating for myself and viewers. People expect photographs to be displayed and presented in fairly conventional ways. Many contemporary artists are expanding on these traditional ideas in interesting ways that expose photography to more interesting possibilities.
Wavepool – What are you currently working on?
Ryan Oskin – Under Construction will be featured in a two-week online installation with Violet Strays in May. I recently finished a project called Dreams Catalog that I will be distributing and selling. I will also be releasing an artist book with Common Satisfactory Studio that will be coming out this year. This book will be produced using a risograph printer that focuses on experimenting with the inherent flatness of the photographic image. By using various paper stocks and manipulation of the multilayer printing process, this book investigates the conceptual underpinnings of photography as both an idea and medium.
Wavepool – I’m excited to see the work up on Violet Strays. Without giving anything away, how do you plan to translate interventions that are often sculptural to a screen based viewing platform?
Ryan Oskin – I will use both still and moving images to expose my process in a multilayer way. I will be creating a new way to present these works online as not just installation shots or final pieces. I hope by doing this that I will provide another access point to the work that discusses the lives of artwork today that exist online and off simultaneously.
Wavepool – A lot of your photographic work documents interiors. What do you find to be interesting about these spaces as subjects?
Brett Suemnicht – The interiors I gravitate towards speak about human presence and a sense of time passed. Growing up with divorced parents and living in 22 different places in my life have had a direct influence on why I’ve become so interested in multiplicity of how space can exist. I’ve always found a sense of truth when photographing interiors, knowing that the spaces can’t hold back anything. A place one occupies on a personal level tells a lot about the individual, the residual interactions of bodies effecting environments. The spaces I focus on include alternative interiors such as DIY musical venues, punk/show houses, queer spaces; basically any space that de-romanticizes the ideal of heteronormative domestic comfort. My work tries to catalog spaces that resist normative culture by expanding on notions of how comfort, community and space can manifest.
In each space I photograph, I look for a persona that is unlike most domestic spaces I’ve come across in my life. A series I have been working on since 2012, DIY:MKE, documents the various house venues that come and go in the Riverwest Neighborhood of Milwaukee, WI. Each space I photograph has its own individual name and most don’t exist longer than one or two years. Another project that came out of that series, The Piss Place, was a documentation of a punk house I was living in at the time. The series was actually used by my landlord as evidence she was gathering to sue us. We ended up settling out of court, mainly because of how bad the title sounded, knowing the photos didn’t show much damage. I did use some of the correspondence as part of the final artist book that added an extra dynamic to the project. In addition, I just completed a photographic book, Domestics, documenting the houses, music venues, and punk houses I stayed at while going on an east coast tour with some musician friends of mine. It was interesting to turn the camera away from the musicians and focus more on the various environments we encountered. During that entire series I don’t think I took a single photo of the musicians I went with. I wonder if that bothered them or not.
Wavepool – What do you look for when photographing?
Brett Suemnicht – I look for oddities within spaces. Most of what I look for is naturally occurring still lifes. Composition is important to my practice because I photograph a lot of interior spaces that are often cluttered and busy. I think of photography less as a fine arts medium and more as a process of documentation and curation of space. I am constantly thinking of how each photograph I take will fit with the rest of the series I am shooting for. Most of the photography work I make usually rests as a zine or artist book. I spend a lot of time cataloging, filing and editing. The whole process can be very tedious. Through my photographs, I try to make sense of space, reframe culture and re-imagine the alternative.
Wavepool – In addition to the photographs of interiors, architectural structures pop up in your work. How are these structures used conceptually?
Brett Suemnicht – In my practice, I’m interested in reclaiming ready-made information such as capitalist structures, gay identity, and domesticity. The opportunity to subvert culture and reshape meanings becomes an important tool to reimagine the world in relation to my own desires. Some of my non-photographic work deals with looking at common structures such as malls, parking lots, luxury apartment buildings and the rural domestic landscape. By focusing on these structures, I question the most fundamental aspects of the mundane by looking closely at scale, simplicity and multiplicity attributes associated with the decay of capitalist structures.
Wavepool – Your body of work 7/10 borrows imagery from Google Earth to be collaged. In that project specifically, and in your practice as a whole, what is gained from using outside sources in the production of the work?
Brett Suemnicht – I think Google Earth is an interesting tool. It lends so much information about the geography of the world, but I also find a sense of derealization between my interaction with it. I feel this sense of falseness with my interactions between Google Earth and the screen, the screen and myself. This interplay creates a vastness that lends to the complexity of the interaction. The digital textures in Google Earth create this almost unrealistic lens of the world with all the blurring of street views, the unmatched angles of perspectives, to the oddities that exist in the world. I find this sense of falseness matches how I’m trying to interrupt oddities with my own view of society.
For my series 7/10, I expanded on this notion of oddity through perception, continuing this divide between articulation and falseness. I think using Google Earth was a way to introduce a dialog that the average viewer had some form of ownership over. I wanted to go in and out of these perspectives, playing with visual space, abstraction and creating an unidealized version of something cherished. I’m obviously not the only artist working with Google Earth as there is a series of contemporary artists using the platform in really interesting ways: Clement Valla’s Postcards from Google Earth, Doug Rickard’s A New American Picture, and my favorite Jenny Odell’s Satellite Collections.
Wavepool – What artists do you consider to be major influences?
Brett Suemnicht – I’m inspired by other photographers who work almost exclusively with interior space by creating so much agency without the use of the human subject. For example, the beautifully lighted photographs of Kate Greenes in her surreal series Anomalous Phenomena. Dave Jordano’s Articles of Faith is a series of interiors documenting some small town churches in the south and selected neighborhoods in Chicago. The composition and color scheme in this series sets a mood putting the idea of religious worship into a different connotation. Another major influence, Anne Hardy, constructs interior spaces to photographs working in-between the lines of surreal, sculptural, photographic fabrication.
Wavepool – What are some significant influences outside of art?
Brett Suemnicht – A lot of my recent works have been in direct relation to readings I have been doing focused on queer theory. I’ve been looking closely at the works of Judith Butler, Jack Halberstam, Kate Boristen, Jeffery Weeks and others questioning sexuality, identity, and hetero-normality. My recent photographic series Fluid Identity documents individuals who don’t describe their sexual orientation as either homosexual or heterosexual. The photographs of each individual in their personal spaces are accompanied by quotes letting each person describe their own sexuality. By showcasing a series of individuals who fall in-between, outside, and against established notions of a solidified personhood, identity becomes fluid. Letting the idea of a queer life permeate. I really enjoy the ambiguousness that lends itself to a queer identity. I feel I can let myself grow emotionally, mentally, and sexually without needing to defend my personal identity.
Wavepool – Can you tell me about the title for your book, Trying to Find the Ocean? How does it help frame the project?
Michael Ast – The title comes from a lyric in the first verse of Randy Newman’s song “Baltimore”. If you ever heard Nina Simone’s version, you’ll know it to be an unshakeable experience. She performs her rendition with such a fragile, tattered longing in her voice. It’s an immersive performance that speaks directly to the gut. Obviously, the “ocean” is a metaphor for hope, human spirit, faith, salvation – all signs you see carved into any city’s grain, faces and our own selves. The photographs in the book were all shot in Baltimore, with the exception of three images. It was only later that I thought about the lyric, but undoubtedly that same emotive longing and alluding was stirring in me when I made the photos. I was a bit interiorly starved during the time I visited Baltimore between 2010 and 2013. Creativity has always been my go-to resource for reconciling ills. The book is as much a look internally as it is externally at a city. There is a lot of black spaces and shadows in the photographs, all rendered instinctually and intentionally. To look deep is to peer into darkness, into the intangible. Photographing is a fine means for cracking the surface. Nothing is as it appears, especially in our cities.
That said, I am one of those who believe creativity and its materializations are essentially forms of self-portraiture. I knew early on in the project that I wasn’t setting out to capture and report about a specific place. Baltimore is a quintessential American city that I found enormously hospitable, despite its widely known systemic social problems. Its deep rootedness in historic urban ideals is one which I found extremely inviting. In essence, its landscape pulled me outwards at a time when I felt enclosed, anxious, and insular.
A few have told me the book is very Baltimore. It’s exciting to get that reaction.
Wavepool – Though the specific location isn’t important, why is that an exciting reaction? Do you think the project would have changed if you worked somewhere else?
Michael Ast – It’s exciting to know, after all my years photographing, that an innate understanding of place might be possible. I do feel the camera grants photographers some sort of power when you’re deeply vested in the act of looking. Did the locale matter with this body of work? Given another city, absolutely, the outcome would’ve been different, for better, or worse, I don’t know. Everything seemed to align there in Baltimore.
I should give a little background on choosing Baltimore. The project initially began with a commission to take part in an exhibition at the Institut d’Estudis Ilerdencs in Lleida, Catalonia (Spain). Seven international photographers were asked by photographer/curator Llorenç Rosanes to photograph lesser known, less traveled areas of a local city for the group show. I chose to visit Baltimore, a three-hour distance from my home in Pennsylvania. Having only ever briefly visited the city once before, I knew I could approach it with a virgin eye, photographing viscerally, without any preconceptions. I prefer to work instinctively. It’s something I learned early on during my studies and work as a photojournalist.
Stepping on a new turf is always exciting for me, photographically. In Baltimore, I hit the ground running. Honestly, it seemed every corner, alley, face, glint of noise, stray cat, building, struck a chord in me. That might be attributed to the lust for expressiveness that I needed at the time. However, I have to say, there is this neighborhood-like aura that is definitive to the city. It seems to spill inland right from the historic harbor. I also feel an overriding ease with the locals. There is a hostility I’ve sensed in Philadelphia, near my home. It’s a subjective notion, but it’s something I’ve admitted to. When I photograph, I try to immerse myself entirely into my surroundings. If I’m successful, I wander curiously in an almost transcendental, solitary state. Distractions are a real disturbance to me. Baltimore personally gave me none of that. I was able to return resolute, repeatedly for long weekends to photograph.
Wavepool – This is your first book. What did you enjoy about the process? Why did you want to make a book?
Michael Ast – All that black ink smells delicious. Honestly, that was part of my decision in going with offset printing. I’ve been dabbling with printmaking during the last 6 years. I like hands-on materials. Ink is unforgiving stuff. It’s tough. It’s raw. It’s real. It’s expensive. I must be crazy to self-publish for the first time using the lithographic process, but I wanted to present that density, which I sought both visually and metaphorically.
I prefer books to exhibition. Each medium has its place in regards to how an artist wants their work viewed. But again, hands-on material is crucial for me with any given experience, or immersion. Books are beautiful objects, period. Well-crafted ones are treasures. I’m an avid fan and collector of photobooks. You open one and you escape. They lead and mislead you. They provide a unique adventure. I can think of few better experiences spent in solitude than with a good book. You feel the paper, you smell that ink, you see things you’ve never been privy to, and you hear the pages turning. Those are affective elements when experiencing artwork.
Wavepool – What were you thinking about when sequencing the images?
Michael Ast – With Trying to Find the Ocean, once I knew I had amassed a large body of cohesive photographs, I began mapping the images together in a linear way, much like a day-long jaunt through the city. Of course, I didn’t want to be too literal, so there are a few bumps and diversions in the road. Books simply allow for a definitive start and finish. You start in the beginning with a feeling, or mood, and end up hopefully somewhere else when you close the back cover. That was important for the collection of images at hand. Ultimately, my aim was for the book to unfold much like a figurative poem of sorts.
Wavepool – Did you set out with an outline of how things should unfold? Were you piecing ideas together from the beginning or did that come later?
Michael Ast – I was pleased stylistically and tonally with the original images I made and edited in late 2010/early 2011 for the exhibit and corresponding catalogue. I returned to Baltimore after the opening of the show to continue shooting much in the same visceral vein. Maybe after the 3rd visit I was working quite consciously towards a narrative, for lack of a better word. I began seeing an exact correlation between urban entrapment and internal distress, and the notion of escape. As I was wrapping up shooting in early 2013, it became clear to me that the very act of photographing manifests escape. Hope, faith, salvation all work similarly through the act of believing. We all go at it ultimately alone. That concept is embedded subliminally in the book.
Wavepool – How did the photographic portion of the project come to an end? Was there a detectable concluding moment when you decided you had all of the images that you needed?
Michael Ast – It might sound silly, but I felt closure during my last visit to specifically photograph the sharks at the National Aquarium. I needed a good foreboding image, with a lot of black. I got it. I stood over an hour with my lens pressed against the tank, waiting with an off-camera flash. How “Baltimore” that no visitors or staff ever interrupted me. The image falls in the middle of the book.
I then got rather drunk at Mount Royal Tavern with an amiable stranger at the bar. He passed out on me about 4 rounds in. I fixated my camera on the tunnel of his ear. You can find that scene in the book, as well.
Wavepool – Can you give me a brief introduction to your background in photography? Why is it an appealing medium for you to work with?
Yoav Friedlander – There are two parts to my background in photography – the passive phase and the active phase. Ever since I was a little boy I was obsessed with cameras, photographs as well but my obsession was cameras. As a child I adored professional made photographs that I found in postcards, magazines and posters, and my obsession was with the cameras. I imagined that the equipment, the tool, was magical and had the capabilities of creating this hyper reality that I saw in photographs. I remember directing my father (at the age of 8) to capture a staged photograph of me jumping over a small water stream. I had a certain idea of how the image should have looked, a fantasy based on other photographs that I saw, yet the attempt resulted with an image that was far from my expectations. The first camera I owned was digital, again I believed in a magic that transforms the reality into fantastical images. At the age of 18 I joined the Israeli Army for a mandatory service of 3 years. I started my service as a combat warrior in the paratroopers, and I sneaked in my camera and a phone capable of capturing images (that was very new at the time) hoping to capture images of places and situations I had no access to outside of the army. That was my passive phase, although I was taking pictures I could have not seen through the matrix of the medium. Immediately after my army service ended I started my studies for a BA at Hadassah Academic College Jerusalem and through my MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York and until now I am in my active phase. I am making conscious photographs, by being aware to the influence photography has on our perception of reality.
Wavepool – What is your project Unquestioned about? What is important about the spaces that are photographed?
Yoav Friedlander – Unquestioned, as the name of the project implies, was my attempt to stop and put a question mark on certain aspects of Israel, the place I grew up and lived in for 26 years. Israel was built fast, a new country with an old history. There was a need to pour content into the empty desert landscapes. We came back from a diaspora around the world and in an act of copy and paste we’ve rapidly filled the missing. I was interested in human engagement with nature and urban environment. I photographed the landscape of Israel, which was hastily urbanized within a span of a century. I photographed in places or environments infused by collective dreams of an aspired reality, yet baring traces of a temporary or transitory reality, sense of deterioration and human signs of atrophy. I constructed and staged each frame, often applying technical processes in post-production as a means to accentuate a state where symbols replace what they represent.
The importance of the spaces I photographed was the surreal or mysterious question mark they create. In Israel question marks are dangerous; they might affect the legitimacy of having a Jewish state in the Middle East. If you doubt one aspect of the country you might as well doubt it all. My main interest wasn’t political, but cultural. I photographed places and spaces that seemed like someone is trying to recreate a reality in a new place by copying it from an existing realty in another. The tennis/basketball court in the desert, or the multiplicity of plants in pots, it seemed to me as if we are cloning the appearance but lacking the sensitivity to adjust to the place we are applying the process to.
As a photographer I suspected that the origin of many of these unfitted spaces and places are in photographs. It seemed to me that photographs carry partial instructions of how to recreate a reality, yet they carry mainly the facade with them, and the facade is what I found mismatching Israel as a place in the Middle East. Therefore I’ve used photographs to put a question mark.
Wavepool – In what ways did your move from Israel to the United States change your conceptual interests or aesthetic as an artist?
Yoav Friedlander – My move to the States has flipped my perception over. Israel is Americanized hence a big portion of my cultural structure is based on American media. I grew up with American concepts; I’ve studied photography learning mainly about the American history of photography and about American photographers. Moving over to the United States had me facing and comparing the actual place and the actual culture with the one that was mediated to me through television, cinema and photographs. It made me wonder what is Americanization? What actually is being transferred and imported through image based media? I’ve since taken a unique strategy – my photographs are a result of accumulation of all other photographs that came before. My experiences of places are a response to the comparison I make of how their predecessors (the images of the place itself and places similar to the one I am photographing) were perceived through their images. I am not sure I am capable of seeing a place in America without referencing images as the origin of their familiarity to me. For me, as an Americanized foreigner, The United States of America originated in photographs, and only second comes the place itself. That I understood only by moving from Israel to the United States.
Wavepool – Your project A Form of View includes constructed images, something that isn’t present in your previous work. Why was it important to introduce a new way of photographing? What do these constructed images add to the conversation?
Yoav Friedlander – I started making models only when I had no access to Israel. After I moved to the United States, I started being aware of how integral war is in Israel and how surreal it appears to be. I wanted to share my provisions with my American friends, but I couldn’t go at the time back to Israel. The idea of making a model based on memories and images that will represent Israel from a surreal point of view came to mind. Only after starting making these models and perfecting different methods and levels of construction I started figuring out how essential this process is to my practice. My models are made in reflection and in reaction to photography in itself. Using models I can access places I don’t have access to using every photograph ever taken as the instructions for constructing an inaccessible space and then photographing it, or by recreating a place I cannot visit by building a model of it according to photographs and photographing it after from my perspective so I can deliver my message. These models act much like photographs. They miniaturize a reality, space or an object; they share an indexical relation to the origin. Both enable external observation of a reality’s proxy.
My models range from the very simple and symbolic to ones that are detailed and seamless. They have different functions intended for them, from inviting the viewer to recognize the scene by using other images he or she has a vocabulary, or by deceiving the viewer where he or she is unable to tell if what they see is a straight photograph or a constructed image. What I want to achieve is the awareness of the viewer to the influence photography has on his or hers perception of reality.
Wavepool – Is a photograph ever a truthful document?
Yoav Friedlander – A photograph’s truth is based on belief. If it is a testimony to a moment we were absent from; if it is an evidence of a place we haven’t been to, and couldn’t have reached to, we need to believe in its truth. Our eyes can see clearly what appears in a photograph, and we must believe our eyes in order to survive, yet the question remains is what is the context?
I had this idea once to give a false caption to an image, to see what would be the reaction of a person to the false context the image is presented in. The result is quite obvious, the image visually reflects what seems to be real (as long as we can, in some way, compare it with a reality we’ve seen outside of photographs) and the argument is less of the visual integrity but the content it allegedly shares with us. Almost anything could have happened, and may have been photographs, it is the implications and the future reaction or belief as a result of us believing in the truth of a certain image that makes images a complicated form of document. When we send a photographer to a war front we are putting him on to missions at once, see for us what we cannot see where we cannot be, share with us your perspective, and may it be loyal to truth. Images are the best and worst vehicles for transporting reality, as they are the closest we have to the real visually therefore they are the most deceptive. Is a photograph ever a truthful document? Yes, if you believe in what it bears and the context it is presented with.
Wavepool – You’re a recent graduate of the School of Visual Art’s MFA program. What was the most significant thing you learned while in graduate school?
Yoav Friedlander – Not to be afraid of failure. The fear of failure makes us take less chances, prevents us from facing our demons, and stops us from asking questions about our own practice and our own work. Failure puts in bold what is successful, and explains why a thing was successful in the first place. The best lesson I’ve learned, from the School of Visual Arts, is that you may have failed in what you’ve wished to achieve but you’ve ended with a better result than you could had consciously imagined or hoped for.
I only started making miniatures by failing (and knowing that I am going to fail) in my first attempt at making them. My inability, and lack of skills, taught me more about photography than I could ever have dreamed of through the simplicity of the structures I could have made. They were so simple, that you could suddenly see the skeleton of the medium.