Wavepool – When did you begin approaching photography in such an interdisciplinary fashion?
Daniel Hojnacki – I began altering and experimenting with photography while still attending Columbia College Chicago in attempts to overcome my frustrations with what was deemed ideal or correct ways of making a photograph. I began to incorporate materials into the postproduction and printing techniques of the photograph. Leading me to print on various surfaces, such as tape, spackle, and paint.
Wavepool – What about the medium keeps bringing you back? Do you anticipate abandoning it sometime in the future?
Daniel Hojnacki – The photograph continues to be an amazingly versatile subject and medium for its quality to represent both the real and fictional world all at once. I abandon and return to the medium almost on a daily basis inside the studio, working both on paintings and photographic based work simultaneously.
Wavepool – Tell me about the materials you use. What about them interests you and what do they add to the conversation?
Daniel Hojnacki – My materials become my obsessions, working with them for long periods of time until I feel I have exhausted them in a way. For past projects and pieces and I used a great deal of scotch and masking tape, this material had such deep resonance to me for its ability to bind, fade, and obscure. I could place photographs immediately to the wall, watch them become worn and disfigured overtime. Conceptually tape was my way of speaking about fragmented memory and the role time plays in the photographic process. Today I have been using a lot of window screening material and wall spackle. It’s coinciding from my continuing interest in domestic space and where that space meets the outside or “real” world, and windows, like photographs are how we see that world. Where it is leading me at this point, I can’t really say, but I feel it, and I am fascinated with it.
Wavepool – You have a few works that were created in public spaces. What is satisfying and exciting about that process?
Daniel Hojnacki – Public work has always been an interest of mine, because it leaves the confines of the studio and gives immediately to an accessible audience. How I might like to transform a gallery for an exhibition is how I may want to transform a public space or wall as well.
Wavepool – You recently had a residency in Argentina. Was it refreshing to work in new setting? What did you work on while there?
Daniel Hojnacki – My residency in Argentina was not only refreshing, but also reassuring. In the sense that artists should not rely solely on their comfort space and studio as a place to create work, and that taking risks outside of that is just as important. It gives you the time to let go and experiment with materials and collaborate with people you otherwise may never have discovered.
Wavepool – What artists have influenced the way you think about making? Do you cite any traditional photographers as major influences?
Daniel Hojnacki – Jon Houck, Andrew Wyeth, Uta Barth, Curtis Mann, Christian Patterson, Jonathon Pivovar, Daniel Shea, Justin Nalley, Annika von Hausswolff, Jeremy Everett, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Spencer Finch, Heidi Norton, Ed Ruscha, Philip Guston.
Some O.G. photographers I never stop looking at: Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, Gary Winnogrand, John Divola.
Wavepool – Why is the landscape a potent subject matter for you?
Wouter Van de Voorde – Landscape is a malleable substance when viewed through a viewfinder. Very sparse landscapes speak to me especially. Moving from Belgium to Australia has pushed me even more towards this subject. There is more landscape here than anything else. In remote places the isolation is really overwhelming, these feelings and atmospheres I try to translate in my pictures.
Wavepool – Having been a painter originally, I’m curious how the switch to photography happened for you. When did you realize a change was needed? Do you still paint?
Wouter Van de Voorde – I never felt like I needed to change from painting to photography, I don’t even think that there was even a switch. The photography stuff just started with moving to Australia, I was documenting my new life on the other side of the world and publishing images on my blog. Gradually the images became more autonomous. But in essence I’m just a painter with a camera. I never fully denounced painting.
In recent times I have picked up a paintbrush a few times and found it rather enjoyable. A couple of weeks ago I demolished an old wardrobe and recycled some of the wood which I have prepared to be painted on. Unsure what that will lead to at this point.
Wavepool – How does your background in painting influence your photographs? Do you think your understanding of the photographic process is different because of it?
Wouter Van de Voorde – I’m sure my background in painting has been a huge influence in my work. Color for starters is my main obsession, probably one of the reasons I rarely do any black and white photography. When I was painting ‘en plein air’: being outside with canvas and easel, I was really focused on reproducing colors as close as possible to what they appear in reality. This is still the case with my photography, although the oil paint has been swapped with digital scans of color negatives… I am not trying to make painterly images, I think I just do because it’s in my blood.
Wavepool – Who or what are some significant influences?
Wouter Van de Voorde – Living in Flanders and studying in Ghent, you get used to a never-ending exposure to centuries of amazing art. Especially early renaissance painting, the Flemish Primitives, Brueghel, Rubens, Van der Weyden, etc. The list doesn’t end there.
When I was 15 I went to a large Mondrian retrospective in the Hague. To this day Mondrian is a huge influence in my work, not as a reference in how he constructed his abstracts, but more so in the way his entire body of work flows like a living organism. The key thing for me is authenticity, Mondrian, who is most known for his abstracts with primary colors, did not just wake up one day and decided to paint a bunch of lines with colored squares. He started out as a landscape painter and slowly distillated his way into abstraction. I feel that as an artist you need to develop your own world and way of viewing things, the more organic this process the more valuable. It’s too easy to just jump on the latest hype and milk that for what it’s worth.
I am basically doing something very similar in my photographs now than what I was doing in painting more than 15 years ago.
Wavepool – Do you photograph with the intention of developing projects or are you more concerned with singular images?
Wouter Van de Voorde – I photograph with the intention to photograph. Photography is a goal in itself. That said I believe I work on images in a very singular way. I firmly believe that each image should be strong enough to stand on it’s own. This doesn’t mean that it can’t fit in a larger context like a series, an exhibition or a publication. Most series on my website are collections of data about some locations. I’m not trying to tell a carefully outlined story.
Wavepool – Do you have anything new currently in the works?
Wouter Van de Voorde – I’m currently working on two books, one book is bundling images made at the illustrious Wasteland, a stretch of no man’s land where a bunch of people regularly meet up to race beaten-up old cars in the dirt, while being dressed-up as characters from a Mad Max movie. This book will include besides images by yours truly, photographs from the hand of my mate Jamie Hladky and Melbourne photographer William James Broadhurst. This publication should be available for purchase towards the end of this year.
Simultaneously I’m working on another publication containing an eclectic range of pictures shot between 2011 and 2013. This book will contain writing by UK based writer/photographer Alexander Norton. This book should equally be available for pre-order early next year.
In February I have a solo exhibition of my (Hume) Sunrise series at the Color Factory in Melbourne as part of the Australian Photobook festival.
Ethan Aaro Jones – I’m primarily interested in photography because of its ability to elicit empathy, and as a photographer I’m most excited to make work that engages with that notion on some level. I’m also generally drawn to photography because it often gives me an opportunity to talk and learn about things besides photography, and that’s usually an exciting proposition.
Wavepool – Because your work seems to be very contemplative and observational, I’m curious about how you develop a project. Do you keep an idea in mind while shooting, or do you shoot instinctively and wait for the concept to emerge later?
Ethan Aaro Jones – I’m glad that the work reads as contemplative and observational because that is an important part of my process. When I start a project I usually know what I’m trying to do, but in the beginning I intentionally keep it conceptually vague while I photograph so I’m open to a variety of possibilities. By keeping my ideas less defined I’m hoping to refine my project through shooting and editing. Once I’ve decided on some more concrete terms for my work I then make pictures more purposely as a way of rounding out the project visually and conceptually.
This sort of process leads me to make pictures in different ways. Specifically with Last Summer, the majority of the pictures are more purely instinctive and documentary, but as the project has grown and changed new pictures are somewhat premeditated, directed, and partially created. Despite my evolving approach, I think the mix of working methods is important because it lets me talk about summer as an experience that can be documented and an idea that is created. In both cases I think my photographs play a role in embellishing summer, turning it into something greater than the sum of its parts.
Wavepool – Do you think geography has a direct impact on your work? Would you be doing things differently if you were living somewhere other than the midwest?
Ethan Aaro Jones – I think about geography a lot, but I don’t necessarily think about it in terms of the Midwest. For instance, sometimes I think of myself as a Northerner, and I consider how that had affected Last Summer. I’ve chosen to be a Northerner and Midwesterner (I grew up in Virginia), partly because I’m vastly more fond of an environment that has four full seasons. Wanting to live in a place that has a harsh winter directly affects how I make and think about my work. There is something about how a long cold winter makes you really appreciate the nice warm summer days, and that sentiment certainly plays into Last Summer. Living in the upper Midwest enhances summer through the stark contrast of winter, but I also see summer as a common denominator in America where everyone knows and cherishes the feeling of long warm sunny days.
Wavepool – There’s a clear interest in seasonal changes and the passage of time in your project Last Summer. Are these ideas referenced in the sequencing of the images? Is there any sort of underlying narrative present?
Ethan Aaro Jones – There isn’t really a direct narrative in the work, but the passage of time and changing seasons are a big part of Last Summer. I haven’t yet settled on a final sequence because I’m still making pictures for the project and figuring out how I want to present it, but I do think about time and seasons when I sequence and edit Last Summer. I have also noticed that it feels easier putting early summer pictures at the beginning of an edit, and leaving late summer photographs towards the end, but the pictures are not in chronological order and they aren’t attempting to convey a linear narrative about the season changing. My goal is to find an edit and sequence that hints more at the variety of emotions associated with summer, and approach finalizing the project with the idea of conveying a feeling of summer.
Wavepool – Are there images from Last Summer that are staged or structured in some way to reflect the fictional nature of summer as mentioned in your statement?
Ethan Aaro Jones – Some pictures are staged to an extent, but it isn’t really about staging versus observing or documenting. When I have staged or directed a picture I’m usually trying to do so in a manner that keeps with the tone of the work, so I’m not trying to show my hand in fabricating images.
What I meant by saying that summer is an elaborate fiction is that the different ways in which summer is remembered, romanticized, and ultimately embellished don’t line up with how it is experienced. And while I suppose you could say that about all sorts of things in our culture, there is something specific about how summer is the quintessential cultural experience to inflate with positivity. In Minnesota you know summer will end quickly, and because it’s so brief, I find people living with this idea of holding onto summer in a way that adds texture and understanding to how we think about summer and the passage of time.
Wavepool – What can you tell me about your other projects, which are mostly made up of portraits? What do you enjoy about that image making process?
Ethan Aaro Jones – A lot of my interest in making portraits has to do with empathy. I’m generally interested in portraits that seem to convey a part of the subject’s psychological makeup. As a part of that, there are certain expressions that I think lend themselves to being interpreted as psychological. I’m not always sure how this phenomenon happens, but there are portraits out there that don’t appear to be psychological at all, and then of course there are some portraits that seem to have a real intensity about them. I want to look at portraits (and I could probably do this all day) where some psychological or intense feeling appears to be revealed. I guess in its most basic sense, when I’m making portraits my priority is to convey feeling and emotion in a way that other people see or understand it too.
With the series Athletes, I was exploring how physical exercise relates to psychological intensity. I liked the context of calling the subjects athletes (each portrait was made after they had exercised) because it gave a reason for why these people appear psychologically engaged. By photographing athletes soon after they exercised I thought they would be more likely to yield the kind of emotional empathetic portrait that I’m interested in. Choosing to make this kind of portrait of athletes, instead of anyone, I thought would give context and a reason for why these people might all appear to be in thought.
For a while I was trying to experiment with what it takes to make an empathetic portrait of a person. I was working under the premise that the proximity and authenticity of my relationship with subjects didn’t really matter in terms of creating an empathetic portrait as long as there were certain expressions that seemed to suggest an intensity or gave a sense of inner contemplation. A large part of the Faces work is exploring ideas surrounding the process of reading and understanding facial expressions, and evaluating which images might give me or the viewer a sense of understanding how the subject feels.
Wavepool – What are some broad interests that span your entire practice as an artist?
Dana Stirling – As a photographer, and a person, I am interested in found footage. There is something unique in old images and videos. I enjoy the notion that these images were taken by someone in a different time and place than where I am. When I see an image that I like, it’s an immediate connection. I never have in mind an image that I am looking for, but once I see it, I know it is the one.
I first started collecting old family images from my parents living in London. Looking over the images I realized that many of the faces and people are unfamiliar to me, strangers. I was intrigued by the idea that I can create a new history and album out of images that are on the one hand truly my family album, but are so detached from me that I can recreate the story behind them. I started to appropriate them to my own work, and treat them as if they are my images that I myself photographed. The images become objects that I use in order to create a new history and memory of my own people and places, as I would like to remember and understand them.
Wavepool – In your project Cache, is there any sort of hierarchy or are all images treated equally?
Dana Stirling – When I created Cache I started with photographing almost anything that made me stop and think about my history, home and family. After a year of shooting and collecting old images, I started to think of the end result – my undergraduate show. I decided to create, in addition to the selected printed images, a book. In the book, as well as in the exhibition, there were no captions or titles and all of the images stood together. There was no real way to know if an image was mine, or a family photo I appropriated; so in that regards all of the images stand together, they all are important as they are all needed to tell the story.
Wavepool – I like the idea of a storage system that is always being updated, as hinted at in the dictionary definition of ‘cache’. Is this a project that will ever be complete?
Dana Stirling – My family roots back to London, but I was born in Israel. I was a child on the fence; struggling with a family that never really became a part of the Israeli culture, which I myself felt I only half belonged to. I used to hear stories from London and my parents’ memories. The stories held onto a time and culture that I wasn’t apart of.
When I started my BA in photography, I started to search my history and the idea of those lost “Happier Days”. As I searched I realized that this is not my past. Cache is a place to store and contain. The project is my treasure; my way to reclaim what was lost or hidden by creating my own memories based on what is real. This project may never be solved, as it is a part of my life, my work today and the way I look at photography.
Wavepool – On your website, you display Cache and Anonymous Family as separate sections, but the two series also mix in a book. How do they fit together? Do you prefer that they function individually or that they coexist?
Dana Stirling – Anonymous Family was a project I made in the second year of school. This project was the first time I actually started to work with found footage of my family, and the first time that I realized that all I do in life and the reasons I photograph still life the way I do, is based on my family and my upbringing. That project was hard to create as I manipulated the images, broke them down and in a way violated their “ora”. As I worked on that project I started to feel more and more removed from the images, which made it even harder. As I progressed in my work, I started to create Cache. Cache is in some way a continuation of Anonymous Family, only that in Cache I started combining found images and my own photographs. The combination created a new tension in the work. I felt that some images could pass through the projects such as Happier Days diptych, because they where a direct extension and they added to the general idea that I tried to create in Cache. I believe that these projects may meet every once in a while. Since all of my work is based on the idea of family albums and memories, images can be relevant if the context allows it.
Wavepool – Is your new work a continuation of existing projects or are you moving toward something else?
Dana Stirling – My new work now in my MFA at the School of Visual Arts is a continuation of Cache in some way. My new project is taking a step forward in my search and investigation of imagery and family. In my new work, I am working on creating a history that is made up. I try to investigate a place that doesn’t exist and a family that I create. Using found footage from flea markets, found footage of my family, documents, 8mm videos and photographs I shoot; I am inventing my history, life and memories. By recreating a history, that is not bound to any truth, I am liberated to be who I want to be, and create memories truly in the way I believe they should look like.
Wavepool – What artists have influenced your work?
Dana Stirling – A great inspiration to me is the photographer Takashi Yasumura. In his work Domestic Scandals he captured objects and still life at his parents’ home, where traditional decorations and aesthetics are juxtaposed with the modern western world. Yasumura is able to capture a delicate moment, sometimes people will see it as an unimportant moment or object, and make it represent a history, culture, and family. His images were a great inspiration for me when I was photographing my old grandparents’ home. The house started to empty, and all that was left was an odd object that didn’t necessarily mean anything specific, but with photography I was able to experience my childhood and recreate the feeling of this home.
Wavepool – I see that your aunt and uncle helped you while working on Record of Cherry Road. How exactly were they involved? Did they influence any decisions related to the visual outcome?
Elizabeth Moran – My aunt and uncle were the first to introduce me to the work of contemporary paranormal investigators. Years ago, when they were first starting out, my aunt showed me this tiny spy camera that she bought specifically for ghost hunting, and I was fascinated that there were specific tools made for such research. This thought stayed in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until a few years passed that I thought this was something I should explore in my next long-term project. But it was only after my initial research phase, working with paranormal investigators in the Bay Area and in New York, that I began working with my family. Already knowing the tools and investigation process allowed me to arrive in Memphis and immediately begin to work with them as a team member. We were able to spend more time discussing and researching the history of the house, the original plantation, Memphis, and our family – stories that I could never have come upon on my own that became important to the project, like my collection of family grave sites and Cary’s original Record of Cherry Road from the 1960s.
Wavepool – In your statement for the project, you ask the question “Do we simply see what we believe or do we believe what we see?” Do you have an answer to the question?
Elizabeth Moran – No. And I believe this is a question that has existed since the dawn of the medium. When I was just beginning to research the paranormal, I reached out to and began learning from paranormal investigators in the Bay Area and in New York, who shared with me their tools, pseudo-scientific theories, and tricks of the trade. This is when I was first introduced to laser grids, EMF meters, and thermal imaging. In exchange for this education, I began working as a photo analyst for a paranormal investigator in New York. I looked at lots of photographs that, to my eyes, only appeared strange due to long exposures, lens flare, reflected camera flash, etc., but people submitting these photographs from all around the country were seeing something entirely different – orbs, mists… classic evidence of paranormal. It was really through that experience that I began to read artifacts of the camera as having possible meanings beyond what I had been trained to see.
Wavepool – While Record of Cherry Road entertains the possibility of a paranormal presence, the accompanying publication, Correspondence 1, seems to disprove this potential occurrence. How do they inform each other?
Elizabeth Moran – I decided to make Correspondence 1 as a response to my work as a photo analyst. My instructions were to find any rational explanation for what appeared in the photographs, for this investigator was only interested in evidence that could not be explained by a trained photographer. As paranormal investigators say in their version of the scientific method, if a result can be replicated, then it cannot be paranormal – a total reversal of traditional scientific practice. However, my opinion is no better than those who submitted these photographs for analysis – I just happen to have a different belief system when viewing photographs. In my side of the correspondence, I often begin my notes with “I believe…”. This was the important learning for me prior to traveling to Memphis for Record of Cherry Road. I couldn’t just make photographs about contemporary paranormal investigators and paranormal photography without embracing this other way of seeing photographs and photographic evidence. In Correspondence 1, I chose only to include our written exchanges, in place of the photographs, to point to these different belief systems at work and to show that the photographs themselves don’t really matter when what we believe changes how we see.
Wavepool – In addition to those written exchanges, you seem to use existing, non-photographic material regularly. Do you think it’s important to introduce variety or is it based out of necessity when photographs fail to reveal something?
Elizabeth Moran – As an artist, it’s always important to ask, “Why this medium?” I think photographically, so it is most often my medium of choice. But I also recognize its limits and what viewers expect from photographs as opposed to text or sound. I love that text and sound, especially in the case of Record of Cherry Road, allow the viewer to create an image in their mind’s eye that is wholly their own. I hadn’t considered it before your question, but I suspect I work with found text and audio because the process is quite similar to how I make photographs: editing together moments that already exist in the world.
Wavepool – For Christopher Fife depicts common office spaces and The Armory depicts production sets of Kink.com, both work environments. How did your interest in these spaces come about? what are some conceptual intersections between the two projects?
Elizabeth Moran – For Christopher Fife came out of my personal experience of working a white collar job throughout the recent recession. I had earned my BFA and got the “good” job with a 401k like any recent college graduate would want. Then suddenly, everything became unstable and coworker after coworker was laid-off. I felt like I was receiving a new “good-bye” email every day, while simultaneously, a smaller and smaller group of people took on more and more work. The thought to focus on the space came naturally as a stand-in for those who were recently gone and to depict what was left for those who remained.
The Armory was my primary project during my time at California College of the Arts. Following For Christopher Fife, I was still interested in how we perform for our jobs and what happens when our job, becomes an extension of ourselves. I had also recently relocated from New York to San Francisco and was fascinated by the (re)emerging tech industry. Pornography, arguably, is the most successful industry on the internet despite providing really only one product that is infinitely repackaged as something new. Employees are to appear as if they’re not working at all, and their place of work, these sets, take on the role of packaging this work/life fantasy.
Wavepool – Were there any memorable moments of development while studying at California College of the Arts, or in your development as an artist in general?
Elizabeth Moran – CCA definitely pushed me to question every choice I make as an artist beginning with “Why this medium?” I spent a good part of my first year of graduate school questioning, really for the first time since picking up a camera at age 14, why I use photography at all. I love photography, but I no longer feel reliant on it as my only mode of investigation. I had already been working with found text in Work Space 1: For Christopher Fife, but CCA helped me realize that this text wasn’t just supportive of the photographs but equal in weight and meaning. (I have since exhibited the emails independent of the photographs.) Working with paranormal investigators gave me a reason to start experimenting with audio, and it has been a really exciting process. I suspect audio will be coming into my work more and more in the future… but we’ll see.
Wavepool – You have a background in areas of art such as drawing and illustration, but photography is a fairly recent addition to your practice. How does your background inform the way you approach the medium?
Corbett Toomsen – When I first began to draw, I looked at something and tried to copy it. As the drawings began to evolve, the copying became more complicated. I would take parts of several images and copy them to create my own image. I think that is a fairly common evolution for a lot of people that draw. I did that for a long time, from when I was very young until I began the undergrad program at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design when I was twenty-seven years old.
As I went through the illustration program at MIAD, I became interested in learning how to use traditional media. At first it was oil painting. I saw school as a fleeting opportunity, and in my mind I wanted to finish with the ability to make a great painting. Later, I spent a lot of time working with intaglio printmaking processes. I learned these mediums independently, but I was also curious to see how they would change my drawings and illustrations. At that time I became a mixed-media artist. As a result of incorporating these traditional mediums, my illustrations became somewhat non-traditional. They were large collages, and most often incorporated the time-consuming processes of oil painting and printmaking.
Although there are many formal aspects between drawing/illustration and photography that overlap, as two-dimensional work, how I thought about creating an image was something that was ingrained; it has never really changed regardless of media. I have always constructed images, whether drawing, painting, printmaking, digital or a combination of them all. When I became interested in photography, the only thing that changed was the tool I was using to make the image. I had no interest in approaching it in any way other than as a drawing.
Wavepool – What does the process to create an image for Trophies look like? How much time is spent on research and fabrication prior to making a photograph?
Corbett Toomsen – As my MFA thesis work, there were many types of research conducted. Of course there was a great deal of reading and writing research to develop and support the concepts embedded in the work. This began long before Trophies was an idea. I was introduced to many art concepts early in the MFA program. The first two years were spent exploring them in my studio, narrowing in on a few that interested me, and conducting independent research that eventually led to the idea for this project. I really enjoyed this time leading up to Trophies. I was making good work, but I was uncomfortable with my early concepts. It was fun to work them out. Anyway, it took a long time and a lot of research to get to Trophies. Once I got there, the project began.
To summarize the artist statement, Trophies is a series of constructed snapshots of a journey through the American West, specifically of places I have not visited. The project relies on mass media imagery, both in print and digital formats, to inform me of the way these places appear and are experienced. Therefore, there was an incredible amount of visual research conducted.
I looked at maps of the western US, maps of our federal lands, our national and state parks, forests, and historical sites, maps where certain animals live at various times of the year and so on. Based on these, I created a rough map of the journey – of where I wanted to go, and what I hoped to see, and of what I had no idea that I would see. It began where one of my actual vacations ended, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The map was a 5,000 mile loop that took me southwest to the destination of Yosemite National Park, and north back through Montana and North Dakota before returning to Milwaukee.
Once that was established, I began researching places specifically for the project. This was a really fun part of making Trophies. I have always loved looking at images, and this project revolved around the types of images I have always enjoyed – photographs of animals, people and culture, landscapes of various geographies, the west, the old west, etc. I used every resource I could imagine, old books and magazines, Google Street View, postcards were an important contribution, the internet, other peoples snapshots, maps, documentaries on television, movies, travel advertisements, and so on. I gathered as much as I could with the specificity of each place in mind. I wanted it to feel authentic. For a few images this went quickly, taking only a couple of days of visual research. For most projects though it was exhausting, taking several days touring the back roads and dusty trails of an image-flooded world.
Although at any given point there may have been several images in various stages of construction filling my studio, I generally focused on them one at a time. After the visual research was complete for a specific image, I developed the composition for the image by building the environment. I used a cheap printer to print key components of my findings. These selected images were used either as reference to construct the environment, or cut up to be placed within it. The most involved environments were roughly carved forms of expanding foam on a styrofoam base. The foam was then covered in plaster cloth and plaster, which would be carved to the exact contours, painted and covered with artificial materials (trees, grasses, etc.). Some were small, only one square foot, while others were several feet in each direction, and the time spent on each varied quite a bit.
Once the environment was complete, I began to photograph. I worked in the dark, using long exposures with techniques such as painting with light, incorporating the use of colored gels, and placing the environment in front of a projected backdrop. This was sort of an imperfect process, which I really enjoyed. Each image took a great deal of problem-solving through the lens. Each one is unique, with it’s own challenges, and I quickly learned that the camera is not very forgiving for someone being so particular. I took hundreds of photographs of each image in the series to get it right, meticulously re-evaluating and fidgeting with the compositions. I moved things a fraction of inch here or there, and repeated the painting with light process for hours. During this, my days went by in painstaking intervals of a few seconds at a time, and I really enjoyed it.
Trophies, in all, took about two years of research to arrive at the project. Once it formally began, the thirty-two images took seven months to make, and about another two weeks to custom-build each frame. Some images happened in a couple of days and some took a couple of weeks, some took a month, some lingered and changed during the entire span of the project, while others have yet to be realized.
Wavepool – The images possess varying levels of believability. Do viewers ever believe what they are seeing in the photographs to be a real occurrence? What is the ideal reaction?
Corbett Toomsen – I have had an opportunity to observe some people reacting to this work with varying levels of ‘belief’. Of them, some have believed at least some of the images to be a photograph of an actual, or real, place. But honestly, for the most part, I really don’t know what people think when they see this work. I have been curious about what the viewer reaction might be since I began the project.
I certainly went to great lengths to try to blur the line between the image as a construction and that as a captured instance of a real occurrence. I wanted the photographs to look ‘real’, to portray a sense of authenticity, but to retain something subtly odd, or off, about them. With some images, I made the construction of the image more apparent to reinforce that it exists in the entire body of work. In others I tried to make it disappear altogether. I always thought about the believability of each image in context of the entire series. I was concerned with this because I did not want the work to seem like a trick or prank, so to speak. I was thinking about the long history and powerful ability of imagery to urge us to experience, and to form our expectations of that experience. I was thinking about the act of looking as a common cultural practice, and the relationship between looking at imagery of places and the formation of expectations of experiencing those places, and what that means to me. I suppose, ideally, it was my hope that the viewer would consider their own experiences and how their expectations of them were formed.
Wavepool – In addition to inkjet prints, you include a number of instant photographs in the project. What do they add to the work?
Corbett Toomsen – The instant photographs are very important to this project. For a long time, as the work was being made, I considered the instants (or snapshots) to be the only format I would include in the exhibition. For some time, it felt that creating the snapshot was the work. The digital photograph was simply a necessary means to arrive at the snapshot (the digital photograph, the image I created, was digitally projected and re-photographed with a 4×5 camera using instant Fuji film to create an instant photograph of the digital image). It wasn’t until late in the project that I definitively decided each image would be documented as both a digital photograph and an instant photograph. To me, it wasn’t difficult to justify the inclusion of snapshots, rather to justify the inclusion and determine the presentation of both formats.
My research had taken me through the evolution of travel photography, which has ties to the early photographs of Yosemite National Park by Carleton Watkins, among others, and other early landscape photographers such as William Henry Jackson, but is rooted in the late 19th century when George Eastman introduced the first film camera, the Kodak No. 1. Kodak’s early strategic advertising campaigns, which lasted well into the 20th century, did a great deal to forever link travel and photography. I was very interested in this evolution and felt that it was important to mimic, or at least make reference to, this intertwined aspect of photographic and cultural history.
As far as what the instants add to the work, I can’t imagine this project without them. The genre of snapshots has a very specific and identifiable context in which they’re read, which the inkjet prints cannot fully achieve. They help to frame the entire exhibit for the viewer.
Wavepool – Are there any contemporary photographers that were influential when working on the project?
Corbett Toomsen – As I mentioned, I was really interested in learning the history of photography when I began making photographs. I took an art history course called The History of Photography and became really interested in its evolution in and relationship to culture. After that, I took an art history course called Post-1970’s Art. In that course, my research focused more specifically on vernacular photography and its own evolution within the history of photography and further investigated connections between mass media imagery and culture, which eventually led to tourist snapshots. My research in both of these courses, among others, was instrumental to the development of this project. The evolution of photography, and its relationship to culture, were more influential to this project than any specific artists.
However, in studying photography I could not help but to study photographers. I looked at numerous photographers within many genres, both historical and contemporary, for various reasons. No single photographer dominated my influence. I enjoyed the work of many photographers that were doing very different things. Work ranging from Jacques Henri Lartigue to Robert Adams, for example. I studied those that were constructing photographs, although not exactly the same way I was constructing them. I was interested in the various strategies of representation and staging being done in photography by Jeff Wall, Philip-Lorca diCoricia, and Larry Sutlan, to name a few. And I became very interested in street documentary photographers of the mid-twentieth century. I liked going back-and-forth between genres, not so much comparing them against one another as much as learning from them independently. I also deeply appreciated William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, and Martin Parr for many reasons, but I was particularly drawn to their use of color. As I think back, I would say I was looking at a lot of different things in photography, sort of gathering as I went.
Probably the single biggest influence, in regard to photographers, was looking at snaphsots – photos made by anyone – the Photographer Unknown, as Catherine Zuromskis put it. I scoured tumblr and blogs and google searches looking for travel photographs and family photos. I studied the conventions of snapshot photography in search of what made them interesting to me, and searched for ways to incorporate them into this project. In the end, that was one of the biggest challenges in making Trophies, to find resolution in the digital photographs that borrowed from the less-than-perfect, highly recognizable conventions of snapshot photography.
Wavepool – What’s next for you? Are you working on any new ideas?
Corbett Toomsen – I learned a great deal making Trophies, but there are still some things in photography that I’ve been thinking about that came from that project and the experience of developing it. I’m very interested in continuing to construct photographs, and I’m still in the process of exploring those interests and ideas in studio. Right now, the new ideas are in a very preliminary stage. I am not completely starting over, but I’m exploring a shift that will take some time to develop. In the mean time, I am continuing to make more studies for Trophies.
Wavepool – The Midwest, and southern Illinois in particular, has a strong presence in all of your work. Have you worked on projects outside of the region? Do you currently have any interest in doing so?
Nathan Pearce – I have worked outside of the Midwest on occasion but as far as a fully formed project goes I am currently finishing the shooting portion of my first project that is based entirely away from my home. My first photobook was called Midwest Dirt and it was about home but referenced life away from home. The new work sort of does the opposite. The pictures are from road trips but still reference home.
Wavepool – Midwest Dirt has a very personal narrative and is specific to one place, but there seems to be a lot of relatable themes and emotions. Did you think about the audience at all while working? How do you hope to connect with viewers?
Nathan Pearce – I don’t think that I was really considering the audience when I was shooting. It was later when putting the work together as a book that I realized that even though the Midwestern setting is very unfamiliar to some the themes that I explore including the tension of home and away during your mid twenties are very relatable for people everywhere.
Wavepool – You recently published the work in a book and have shown it in some notable book exhibitions. Can you run me through the timeline of the project, from start to finish? How much time was spent photographing, and how much time was spent thinking and fleshing out the book?
Nathan Pearce – The project includes some photos that were made years before the project was formed or had a name. I finally started putting photos together in 2012 in a way that made sense as a project. Once I had an idea of where the project was going I continued to shoot for another 6 months before it was published online for the first time on Burn Magazine. The project didn’t even have an official name until I had to send the work to Burn. I started working with Matt Johnston who is a founder of The Photobook Club a month or so after that to turn the work into a photobook. We worked on it for over a year before it was finally printed and designed by Akina Factory and published on Same Coin Press.
Wavepool – Can you tell me more about Same Coin Press, a publishing project that you’re a part of? How did that start and what are you up to with the project?
Nathan Pearce – I started Same Coin Press with a fellow photographer named Claire Cushing. We started by publishing a split zine together and decided to continue making zines and photobooks featuring our work and the work of other photographers. We will be releasing several new publications in the next few months including a few more split zines. I think the best part of the project is people who would of had no chance to see our work have had a chance to see it and own it through our books and zines. The books and zines have gone all over the world. I think I have almost shipped more internationally that I have domestically.
Wavepool – What is most exciting about the photobook? Any favorites?
Nathan Pearce – There are many exciting things about the photobook but lately I am especially excited about all of the events based on the photobook that have occurred this year. As you mentioned in an earlier question my book Midwest Dirt has been included in some photobook exhibitions and I was able to travel to a few of them. I think these type of events can really expand the public knowledge of the photobook which I think will lead to more good photobooks and more collectors and other folks interested in the photobook. Expanding the knowledge of what is possible in book making to emerging photobook makers is the most exciting part to me. I am very excited to see where the photobook will be taken next. Some of my favorites that I have seen this year are Mary by Tammy Mercure, Mommy Cooks Dinner by Gwynne Johnson, The Last Road North by Ben Huff and Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long by Tara Wray.
Wavepool – As an artist residing in rural Illinois, how do you situate yourself within the larger art community?
Nathan Pearce – Though I live hours away from my closest photographer friend I still feel connected to the art and photography community. Luckily the internet has given me a chance to connect with a lot of fellow photographers and expose me to a ton of great bodies of work and photobooks. Living in a rural area I rarely get to see an exhibition of photographs but I can pick up a photobook and see great work. I learn about almost all of those photobooks through my involvement in the photography and photobook communities on the internet.
Wavepool – There seems to be a recurring interest in domestic space in your work. What do you find to be visually and conceptually appealing about these settings?
Sara J. Winston – What I find appealing about domestic spaces are the common household items found there. I believe objects offer a discrete and distinct comfort and poetry that is lived with and available to our senses, but so assimilated into daily life that they become nearly invisible. I love the way used or inanimate objects have the ability to change a room. Objects punctuate, enliven, and evidence life – especially in kitchens and bathrooms. I like dissecting the rhythm and world of ordinary things strewn about, their forms, placements, uses, and colors to consider their varied cultural roles.
I’m learning that I hardly notice when a place is clean and only see it when it’s messy and disorganized. I like analyzing objects and this analysis usually takes place inside, but when it doesn’t, the pictures nod to the domesticated and interior life that humans and objects share.
Wavepool – Your projects all suggest some kind of narrative to me. Can you elaborate on this interpretation and what you would like your work to convey?
Sara J. Winston – I aim for my work to convey an inquisitive mood and evolving perspective on the world of objects. I rely on titles to activate an emotion more than a narrative but this varies per project.
Worn Out Joy is a showcase of photographs made in a variety of living spaces I frequented over a 9 month period, my final 9 months living in Washington, DC. At that time I believed that the documentation of my interior life would construct a fluid narrative of a life set to expire, metered and punctuated by the emotive objects I shared my personal space with. The project concluded as a small edition of books and an exhibition of 8 framed pieces at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
In Possessions there is no narrative found in the sequential ordering of pictures, but maybe a narrative within each individual photograph. I want the viewer to consider the strangeness of each found trash-object and the way it’s transformed and manipulated in the photograph. For this work, my concerns are the formal structure of the individual images with no interest in an overarching narrative. I’m not sure if the title insists that these objects are my possessions or suggests that I might be possessed by the process of acquiring and playing with the objects. I enjoy the idea of both.
In my most recent work, Flowers For Ruth, a book of 36 photographs, I created a sequence of pictures that all have organic or inorganic floral elements, shapes, and patterns. This book is a chronicle of my transition from graduate school in Chicago to living in Hamtramck, MI, made for my deceased grandmother, Ruth Golub.
Wavepool – How do you generate titles?
Sara J. Winston – I keep a number of notebooks mostly for lists and freewriting, I record anecdotes heard in passing, and borrow fragments from books and essays. Typically selecting the title has been the final component in the process of completing a project. I recently broke that structure and have chosen a title for the next idea I’d like to focus on — If We Spoke Yiddish in the House.
You can see some title drafts on my twitter account – @jwwwinston – which has become a growing archive of potential titles.
Wavepool – Do you typically bounce back and forth between projects simultaneously or focus on finishing one idea?
Sara J. Winston – I bounce around a lot, more between ideas than between projects. Currently my primary goal is to enjoy making pictures everyday and figure the rest out later. Typically I won’t divide my work into individual projects until I need to complete something. Developing the ideas and making the work for If We Spoke Yiddish in the House is occupying a lot of my mind, but I am simultaneously pursuing a walking Hamtramck, MI street idea, considering what to do with the trove of casual instax snapshots I’ve amassed, and refining my drawing skills sketching household objects.
Wavepool – I’m really intrigued by the way your project Possessions existed in the gallery space for your MFA thesis exhibition at Columbia College Chicago. What was happening in the installation?
Sara J. Winston – The eight Possessions in my MFA thesis installation are printed on a glossy adhesive vinyl surface and fixed directly to the gallery wall. Each print is a different size so that the objects I’ve collected and photographed can be represented at or near life-like scale. The way I designed the work to fold around and into corners emphasizes the compression and flattening of space that occurs in each image. I wanted to obscure the object photographically by careful and considered use of shape and color, and then use an installation technique that highlighted the formal arrangement of space to make pieces of trash attractive and appealing.
The print that made its way out onto the floor is my favorite of the installation. I loved watching people, especially people in heels and dirty shoes, walk on the print as they passed through the gallery.
Wavepool – How does the rest of your work exist in physical space? What is the ideal setting for viewing?
Sara J. Winston – Recently I had some adhesives prints in Thesis, a group exhibition at Woman Made Gallery curated by Emanuel Aguilar and Ruby Thorkelson in Chicago.
This installation is the iteration playing with prints bending and interacting with the gallery space, presented similarly to Possessions. I’m not sure about the ideal setting for viewing. I don’t feel any pressure to choose between prints adhered directly to the wall or the book form. I am exploring a variety of display techniques, ranging from adhesive mural prints, handmade custom furniture covered in small prints, and a small edition of handmade books.
Wavepool – When looking at your work, I immediately start to think about themes such as mortality, superstition, and ritual. Are you referencing any specifc beliefs or experiences related to these ideas?
Alexandra Forsyth – Exploring aspects of the human condition – the meaning of life, the transient nature of time, the inevitability of death – is the drive behind my artistic practice. I was born in Puerto Rico into a Roman Catholic family with Santería infuences, so was raised with ritualistic and spiritual sensibilities. I didn’t truly tap into these, however, until I began my artistic practice. In fact, my desire to understand my own mortality lead me to realize my vocation as an artist and what themes I wanted to explore in my work.
I was visiting Vrindavan, India and noticed I had some sort of uncanny, that is, foreign and familiar, connection to it. At this point, I had just completed That There Then, a year-long series of self-portraits documenting the accumulation of bodily residues I collected from rituals of self-maintenance. This project highlighted the impossibility of creating a complete portrait of a person if one is relying solely on their physicality. This fact made me question the ultimate signifcance of the activities I repeatedly spend time on. My experience in Vrindavan made me ask myself, “What is my connection to a place, or anything physical, based on? If there is a diference between what I am and who I am, then how and why do these relate?”
I’ve returned to India each following year to live in ashrams in different holy cities and study Hinduism’s philosophical expounding of the body-soul relationship. The main purpose in their connection is to mediate with materiality in order to develop the soul by engaging in meaningful activities. I see this understanding as comparable to the artist’s act of using and transforming particular materials to access, develop, and communicate concepts. Making this connection essentially substantiated my vocation as an artist, while correlating my external art practice with my internal spiritual practice.
Wavepool – Your background is in photography, but you regularly work in installation, sculpture, and video. Has this always been the case? Are you typically aware of the form that an idea will take on when you begin thinking about it?
Alexandra Forsyth – It’s hard to pin-point exactly which comes first – the idea or what I want the idea to finally look like – as it is neither always one or the other. It wasn’t until I was about to complete my undergraduate studies in photography that I began making work in other mediums. I produced a number of pieces with glass, sand, fire, gold, and wax. Each of these materials is historically significant in its associations to ideas about mortality, time, vanity, frailty, purity, and so forth. After collecting my own detritus for a year I wanted to get rid of all that stuff. I needed to destroy it all, but I also wanted to create something from that destruction. So, I cremated my own remnants and recorded the process for a video titled Ashes. I later inserted a portion of those ashes into a sealed hourglass (Instance 03) and added the remaining ashes to a self-portrait in the form of a gilded candle effigy molded from my bust (Self Portrait in Gold). If anything, one piece informs and inspires another both formally and conceptually.
Wavepool – You’ve used yourself as both a subject and a material in your work. What do you find to be significant and interesting about this gesture?
Alexandra Forsyth – I have a relatively minimal aesthetic, so bringing my body into my work makes it personal and messy in a way that breaks it up and adds complexity. Mainly, though, this move is both practical and necessary. A lot of my inspiration stems from my fear of and fascination with being embodied, so it only makes sense that I include my body in my work as both subject and material. The most significant aspect of this gesture is that my body’s decay was given purpose when I began to employ it in my artwork, as it allowed me to access issues about and beyond my own corporeal reality.
It is important for me to engage with matter in a mindful way in order to transform the art object, an environment, myself, and ultimately the viewer as they experience my work. Whether I’m working with insects, gold, or my own skin, they are all treated equally. They are simply materials I’m using to communicate some idea through an object or within a space, so their materiality becomes meaningful when placed into an art context in relation to that idea.
Wavepool – I’m curious about your ongoing project Place of Birth/Place of Rest. The photographs, when considered on their own, are fairly vague, but the title quickly makes them highly charged. Can you explain the project?
Alexandra Forsyth – The way a title can affect the reading of a piece is really interesting, especially when it creates a particular atmosphere or quality which the piece might otherwise not instantly reveal. The project consists of one diptych of the same patch of grass documented at different moments. In one photograph, the grass is dry, dead, and uprooted. In the second, the grass is fresh and overgrown. When the photos are placed together, the diptych reveals the effects of time. It is unclear which photograph was taken first, pointing towards the ongoing and cyclical nature of time. The title Place of Birth/Place of Rest refers to the idea that we are, atomically speaking, made up of the material world we inhabit. When we die and are disposed of, our bodies return to the earth from which they are made. I believe titling this piece Place of Birth/Place of Rest reveals that funerary aura I saw in the photographs as I made and paired them.
Wavepool – Have you been exploring any new concepts in your recent photographs?
Alexandra Forsyth – In my recent photographs I am focusing on the material qualities of traditional still-life symbols and exploring how these qualities reveal the idea(s) each object symbolizes. For example, a bubble represents the brevity of life or the suddenness of death. With reason: it is beautiful and mesmerizing, while it is fragile and short-lived. By photographing it before it disappears, I’m materializing (or reincarnating) the idea it symbolizes in my photograph. My intention is to use the photographic medium to document, and thus extend the life of, these symbols for mortality. In doing this I want to establish a tangible connection between seemingly polar but actually codependent dualities – life and death, spirit and matter, impermanence and immortality. Although they are antonymous, one cannot exist without the other. The photographs, in turn, become symbolic objects themselves directly reminding the viewer of their own mortality. This is particularly true in Photograph of a Mirror Reflecting Dust. The mirror faces the viewer as if one could see their own refection, but only shows specs of dust and their refections. It’s a still-life, but I would also consider it a portrait as soon as the viewer steps in front of the photograph and sees their own slight refection in the frame’s glass.
Wavepool – What are your plans for the future? Any exciting things coming up?
Alexandra Forsyth – I’m currently living in West Bengal, India. Over the next few months, I’ll be studying Sanskrit and classic Vaishnav philosophical scriptures based on the Vedas.
I’m very excited to have a piece in Botanica, a group show curated by AA Bronson and Michael Bühler-Rose. The show will present a range of affordable works by artists engaging with spirituality, magic, ritualism, and superstition in their practice, for which I’ve produced a series of votive kits. Each Kit Votivo consists of a custom solid gold candle and gold matchbox, which can be lit and offered in fulfillment of a vow or at the end of someone’s life.
Botanica is currently on view at Carroll and Sons in Boston, and will open at Invisible-Exports in NYC on November 30th.
Wavepool – How would you describe your work to someone who is being introduced to it for the first time? What are some common threads running through everything?
Collin Avery – I would describe my work as quiet mediations of the everyday. I have always had a fascination with my immediate environment and unlike many photographers who travel extensively to find subject matter, most of my work is derived from familiar situations that are taken out of context. A large part of my work deals with nostalgia, perception, and memory. I see photography as a puzzle that can influence or change perceptions of the artist’s true intentions depending on how one interacts with certain arrangements of work.
Wavepool – What are some factors that you think have influenced your aesthetic?
Collin Avery – I find that my aesthetic often mirrors my personality. As a child I was shy and introverted; and as a way to avoid confrontation, I would often disappear into a room and lose myself in my surroundings. This tranquility eased my anxiety as well as heightened my senses. I would describe it as a state of reflection and introspection.
Wavepool – Your compositions are very smart, and I’m interested in learning more about your decisions on what should be included in the frame. Some of your choices make the scenes depicted appear as simultaneously beautiful and slightly awkward to me. Can you describe your image making process?
Collin Avery – My process is very informal and I try not to give myself any clear rules or regulations. I am always looking and observing much more than actually making photographs. When composing a photograph in the field, I try to give the viewer the least amount of information in the frame to allow for their own associations and interpretations. By grouping certain images together and leaving captions vague, I hope to inspire different ways of viewing common objects and spaces.
Wavepool – It seems like you take a few different approaches when photographing. For example, images in Remain Calm are observational while those in Artifacts are constructed. Do you have a preferred method for working?
Collin Avery – I enjoy mixing it up to keep things fresh and exciting. Working solely in one area becomes very repetitive, so I am constantly experimenting with methods to evoke different feelings or emotions. Right now I am getting back into an observational approach that is more instinct driven and less fabricated in the studio.
Wavepool – I’m intrigued by your image titles in Artifacts. Many are simple descriptions of the subjects within the photographs, while others insert some emotional and narrative elements. Can you share some thoughts on this observation?
Collin Avery – All of the objects and fabrics used in this series are from my grandmother’s house where I spent much of my childhood. When I traveled back east to visit my family for the first time since spending a year in Los Angeles, I was confronted with these inanimate objects that had little to no value but provided me with an immediate sense of home. I became interested in the idea that I could use these objects as historical artifacts that would create a dialogue between my own memories and the objects themselves.
Wavepool – How has your practice evolved as you’ve continued making work? Do you find yourself working differently than you used to?
Collin Avery – I believe artists are always evolving in their practice. With that being said, the past couple of years have been somewhat experimental in my process. I have gone through my ups and downs trying to figure out the best method of producing new work as well as staying excited with what I am photographing. I think the biggest lesson I have learned is to always stay true to yourself and your intentions as an artist.