Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Artist Interview: Danielle Baudassi

Monday, October 4th, 2010

The tenth and final winner in our 2010 Portfolio Project is Danielle Baudassi. Her work draws inspiration from a variety of sources: landscapes, movies, and contemporary culture. Her winning image, Afternoon Fog, City Horizon, is a spectral landscape that tantalizes the viewer with hints of resolution, without ever giving in to the need for definition.
Afternoon Fog, City Horizon, by Danielle Baudassi

  • Alright first, let me thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk to me. I greatly appreciate it. I guess the best place to start is with the picture chosen in the Portfolio Project. Can you tell me a little bit about the story behind it?
  • As a sort of visionary artist I was particularly astounded by the fog that encapsulated the mountain town where I took the image. The 50 ISO film I had loaded in my 35 mm camera was perfect for this fog event. There is something spiritual about this photo and also something very un-natural. This fog was not eerie to me but it was proof of something that I could not put words to. It was proof that even someone like myself could come upon a great opportunity by chance. I was so lucky that the film turned out in the processing. I printed a series of about 5 photographs on fiber paper, the dust and particles were next to impossible to clean off the negatives and the prints have this vintage look to them. I cannot describe the feeling of being in the high country in the Rocky Mountains but there is an element of danger and an element of serenity that is so often captured by artists in that region. There is also something special about the fog in the mountains especially for someone who is not originally from that region. The darkest black in this print is a outcropping rock on the right of the image. The eye moves around the image the entire image and there is no way that I will ever let anyone tell me that this photograph is eerie or scary or anything like that.
  • I can see that. Your photographs tend to deal a lot with those sort of intangible feelings that are hard to put into words. Can you say something about how you find photos like that, and how you know when you see one?
  • It is really a performance trying to keep people invested in a sort of visionary scavenger hunt for that which appeals to the eye and or the perception of vision. There is an element of imagination where the photographer is pretending or believing that they can effect how the image is precieved or what in the photograph is outstanding. And the artists can do that in using the equipment that they have access to and also using the environment that they have access to nonetheless to actually hold an audience is much more difficult. I suppose where I am actually investing in the opportunities and then when I have the funds or access to a place where I know there is a particular profile I have a camera ready to go. So when I know I can cover my tracks I will go to someplace and that seems to be when the best pictures are taken. Is when I am on a sort of cloud nine and no one is telling me that I cannot perform as a gatekeeper or that I cannot have access to this or that part of the country. I guess it is a fine line that one can feel without being sentient. So there is a sense of risk involved. It is really important to embrace what life gives one without accepting that which is unforgiveable.
  • So the act of creating art is sort of passive receptivity, then? Leaving yourself open to what is presented?
  • I suppose in some way an artistic vision can be weathered and then expressed. I think a lot of people can be hurt by art unless the artist is really going to ground zero every time they are creating it. People interact with other people on a daily basis and the smallest perception can change how one views the world for the rest of their life. So as the artist who is taking ultimate responsibilty for their art financially and ethically it is important to be able to say with assurance that this is what the piece means and yes it is a righteous piece of art. Wouldn’t you like it hanging on your wall? I would have to understand the question further such as what is the opposite of passive and what is being received. No artist wants to be forced to live an inner life unless that is what they want to live. I think a lot of times artists are going to be call crazy or are going to be scapegoated unless they find a way to stand up for what they are producing. That is a challenge. My person can be both passive and aggressive and I think some of my art has been offensive in the past but no one has ever said this to me. I think people tend to use the word beauty and gentle and passive for a lot of my work but there are some innuendos expressed as well when art in general is discussed.
  • Interesting. Can you point to any other artists or styles that you think of as directly influencing your philosophy, aesthetic, and work?
  • I cannot really say all of my influences but one of my favorite artist of all time is Garbor Peterdi. Of more recent interests is Alan Lee, Peter Jackson, Takashi Murakami, Carrie Mae Weems, and I really find Michelangelo to be influencial. Some of the styles that I can identify are superflat, otaku, abstract, realism. Now that I am back on the East Coast I often find myself musing about Lady Gaga…
  • What about Lady Gaga?
  • I have heard this and that about Lady Gaga and her whole monster note is really questionable. The media and her fans are really giving her the benefit of doubt. I mean who doesn’t love monsters, I am just questioning that she has become the sort of queen of monsterous things. Is she not sort of living on the dole of monsterous things? Are not monsterous things the last place one wants to rest their head on? And who or what are these monsters? Are they people, are the frankensteins across the world, are they bad people, are they good people, are they demons or spiritual beings? Thoughts, ideas what are they? Because I am not sure that I know simply because I have no information to go off of other than the Internet videos, Youtube, TV interviews, and gossip.
  • Very interesting, and the first time Lady Gaga has made an appearance on our blog! So one more question. How do you see yourself carrying on from here? What are your goals with your art now, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
  • Well, I can say winning this contest really was exciting and motivating. I read my name on the list of winners and I raised my arms and said “Yes!”. So I think I will go back to nature and take some more photographs. I will carry on my best in any career. Hopefully some day I will win an Oscar like the concept artist for the Lord of the Rings. I would really like to see my art in more places online like Duckrabbit Digital. My art is very soon probably going to be captain of a very important ship.
  • Excellent. Well, thank you Danielle for taking the time to talk. Congratulations on being selected, and all the best luck for your future endeavors.
  • Thanks for chatting with me. And please say hello to New York for me. Thanks for your time.

Artist Interview: Arlo Valera and Hyeyoung Kim

Monday, September 27th, 2010

This week’s image in the 2010 Portfolio Project comes from the duo of Arlo Valera and Hyeyoung Kim. Birdhouse is a menacingly whimsical picture that is by turns inviting and psychologically terrifying. The created scene is photographed with a cinematic eye, leaving the door of narrative possibility wide open for the viewer to walk through.
Birdhouse, by Arlo Valera and Hyeyoung Kim

  • First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to answer some questions for us. I’d like to start with the image selected, entitled Birdhouse. Can you talk a bit about the story behind this image?
  • Arlo: A lot of the work Hyeyoung and I do for this series plays with the idea that you as the viewer have been led into a private moment, or entering an atmosphere where something is about to happen. In this case I think I wanted something to do with a guy running away from birds (kind of like the Hitchcock movie). I felt running figure needed a reason to be running away, so I gave him a birdhouse head. I can speak from personal experience to say that there is something both scary and funny about being attacked by birds.

    Hyeyoung: Also birds in this image are metaphor of anyone’s peril or fear from which they want to run away.

  • Your created images are composed of fictional scenery, composed very dramatically. The sets themselves obviously take a lot of craft and time to make. I’m wondering, do you consider the work you do primarily photography, or primarily sculpture/3D craft, or something in between? Does the distinction even matter?
  • We found that photography was a good tool for story telling and allowed us to incorporate our other loves, like drawing and sculpture. We like to think of the final photograph as a souvenir of the process or journey. There is always a bit of a “grey area” when we try to explain the series to someone in terms of how to categorize it in photographic terms. We sometimes say mixed media or photo-illustration. Making the distinction about the particular type of media we are working in is not that important to us, but we understand that it is often needed when explaining our work to others (especially if they have not yet seen it). We just think of the whole series as an ongoing experiment.
  • Your scenes strike a tantalizing balance between whimsy and horror that I find compelling. In a way, it reminds me of David Lynch’s movies, that sense that things are absurd, terrifying, and funny, all at the same time. Can you talk about any specific influences on your art, whether it be other artists, films, or whatever?
  • Arlo: I saw Calder’s Circus by Alexander Calder it on a film reel in class when I was a kid. It was a miniature circus world he created where the characters were made entirely out of ordinary household materials. It has had a lasting effect on me even after all these years. At the time (around mid 1990′s) I began working on this series, I was being inspired by artists like Paul Klee, Hieronymus Bosch and Goya. I was very interested in anything labeled outsider art, films by the Brothers Quay, Terry Gilliam (yeah, David Lynch must be in there too). I was into Photographers like Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Joan Fontcuberta and Joel Peter Witkin, I was reading stuff like Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, Kenzaburo Oe, and Oliver Sacks. I am sure there were many more, but these artists were the ones that came to mind when I think about influences that began this particular body of work.

    Hyeyoung: I adore many of works from the people Arlo mentioned above. Surely, their works I read, saw, or watched must have been staying somewhere in my subconsciousness and influenced on my art. However, my great influence comes from my everyday life experiences and the provoked emotions from them. I find life is the most “absurd, terrifying, and funny” thing.

Artist Interview: Yu-Chen Chiu

Monday, September 20th, 2010

This week’s winner in the 2010 Portfolio Project is Yu-Chen Chiu, a New York-based photographer. Her winning photo, Map is an interesting play of light that gives the viewer the jolt of a chance encounter of the eyes.
Map, by Yu-Chen Chiu

  • For the first question, I guess I’d just ask you to tell me the story behind the photo you submitted. Can you talk about it a bit?
  • Sure. “Map” is one of my favorite reflection images I took. It was taken around the Union Square while I was strolling in the city. I really drown into reflections because for me, it serves as symbols of the known and unknown; the lost and found, and the shifting nature of identity, which are the things I am very interested in. It was originally shot in 35 mm color film and I decided to experiment with it and converted into black and white. And it came out really nice because the black and white gives the depth of the subject.
  • Could you say something more about your interest in reflections? Have you been shooting them for long? Has your conceptual appreciation of them adapted itself smoothly to different subject matters?
  • I didn’t realized I was into reflections until one day when I started to edit my photos, and I found there’s one thing that appears on my images often, which is reflections. I would say it is a subconscious choice and I didn’t force myself to envision the images that has the reflection elements in them. It’s funny, for some reason I always can find something that triggers me to capture through the reflections and it just comes naturally to be part of the elements in my projects.
  • That’s interesting, that a prominent theme can develop without your conscious engineering. Now that you’ve sort of grabbed onto it as a working concept, what do you look for for your new shots? Do you have an idea of what the image will look like reflected, or do you just wander until one strikes you in the right way?
  • I seldom set up idea for the subject I want to capture. One thing is because my subject is mainly candid street photos, and you never know what’s gonna to get today. Of course I will have some broad ideas, like where I want to explore, what will be cool to capture, but they are not the guildline. The other important thing is I treat every photoshoot opportunity as a journey and I enjoy the unexpected happenings because these are the inspirations and triggers for me to capture the moments. And even though I didn’t think about reflections but there’s always a few images that contains reflection elements in one trip shooting.
  • That makes sense. Now, is there a certain mindset you have to get yourself into to be receptive to these unexpected happenings and inspirations? Do you have a “zone” you get into?
  • Well I guess I have a build-in trigger in my head so I don’t really have to switch myself into a different mode when it comes to unexpected happenings and inspirations. I am a curious person and I love adventures. I am always ready.
  • You said earlier that ‘Map’ was originally taken on 35mm film. Do you always shoot on film, or do you shoot digital as well?
  • I always shoot in film. I tried to switch to digital but it seldom came out the way I expected it to be. I would say 90% of the time I shoot in film, black and white. Except when it’s a editorial or wedding occasions that I need to see the results right away. And recently I started to explore iPhonegraphy. So it will be the other exception. The texture of film is just different. And even some people say Photoshop can do anything, even make the digital image look like film, like make it grainy like or other film-like effects, but it still looks different.
  • I agree. Do you have any initial impressions of your explorations of iPhone photography? How does that sort of point-and-click method jive with your normal, film-centered way of doing things?
  • I was suspicious about it at the beginning. But because I mainly do street candid shots, so there’s certain occasion that I don’t feel comfortable to pull out my camera. I don’t want them to aware of it and became unnatural. I started to find other solutions, and iPhone is one of my new findings. It gives me more flexibility for certain demanding occasion or lighting conditions, and there are many apps that can capture the way I want it to be, and the new iPhone finally upgrade its camera, which is a good news. And of course its focus feature, which is a way to give an image depth. But I still carry my camera with me most of the time.
  • Right, not a replacement so much as a different thing altogether. Alright, well I think that wraps it up from my side. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
  • Not really I think you covered them all. But it would be nice if you could let the viewers know that my website will come to live this weekend that would be great! (Website here)
  • Alright, well thank you very much Yu-Chen, I really appreciate you taking the time.
  • It was really pleasant to talk with you, and thanks again for providing this opportunity and making it happen!
  • Our pleasure. Take care.

Artist Interview: Allan Ayres

Monday, September 13th, 2010

This week’s winner in our 2010 Portfolio Project is Allan Ayres, a photographer based in the Bay Area. Allan’s winning photograph was entitled, End of the City, Sunset District, San Francisco, and used composited layers to capture a fleet-yet-dense impression of the streets of San Francisco.
End of the City, by Allan Ayres

  • Alright, well firstly, I’d like to ask about the photo that we selected for the Portfolio Project. Can you tell me a little bit about it? What’s the story behind it?
  • That photo is from my Composited Neighborhoods project. It’s a layered-up combination of the end street signs from every street in the Sunset District in San Francisco, where they all dead end at the Great Highway at Ocean Beach. There are 15 source images, one for every street from Irving to Wawona, all aligned on the word “End.”
  • This creates a very interesting visual effect, a sort of pluralistic perception that I think is unsettling but also engaging. Can you talk a bit about how you landed on using this method?
  • Yes, I like that phrase “pluralistic perception.” I tend to notice patterns and recurrences when I’m out and about, so I’d been interested in exploring this method of emphasizing a pattern element while also revealing something of the texture of its surroundings. I’d seen some examples of this sort of method before (Idris Khan’s work, in particular), but most people who were doing it seemed to be using appropriated images. I thought I could do some interesting work using original photos, taken in a short timeframe within a single neighborhood or district.

    Something I like about these images on a personal level is that they’re documents of a walk or a drive I took, in a particular location, on a particular day. So they have all sorts of resonances for me personally — patterns of details I noticed, experiences I had — sort of a standard theme of photography, I guess, but put together in a different way than in what I had been doing before.

  • That seems fitting, because one of the things that I thought when I first saw your images was that they feel sort of like memory. And I mean this in the way that there is the central, or focal point that is clear, but around that there is this sort of swirling multiplicity, or ambiguity that admits of any number of interpretations. I also like the idea of reappropriating the reappropriationist method, with original material.

    It seems that your work relies very heavily on this sense of place, but not as an objective location, more as a space in the mind. Can you talk about how your environments and surroundings have influenced your development as a photographer and artist?

  • I lived in San Francisco for a number of years without a car, and walked and took public transit everywhere. I feel like that was a great way to be immersed in the urban fabric, both in terms of the literal physical experience of walking the streets, and also in terms of seeing “the passing parade” from innumerable bus windows. I’m by no means a documentary photographer, but the things I’m interested in seem to have a documentary quality to them, in the sense that I’m motivated by intensely seeing real things in my environment.

    I wonder if that makes any sense. What I’m trying to say is that it’s the things in my environment that motivate me to explore, abstract, capture, which is why photography is such a fertile ground for me. I suppose that’s obvious, though? I’m not sure I’m actually saying anything useful.

  • No, that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s always interesting to hear where a photographer places him- or herself along the spectrum of documentary-fine art.
  • Your comment about “a space in the mind” is very keen, I think. Particularly in this series, the images are about iconic features and/or spatial patterns that define my experience of a piece of the urban fabric. Less a picture of a street, and more a picture of the experience of the street, or the idea of the street, or what it feels like to move through the street.
  • You mentioned earlier that you’ve seen some Idris Kahn work that has similarities to your own. Can you talk about any other major or minor influences that you see impacting your work?
  • In terms of contemporary photographers, I’m a big fan of Richard Misrach, Edward Burtynski, and Andreas Gursky. They seem to have interesting things to say about what you might call iconic texture, or alternatively the tension between icon and texture. I’m inspired by some earlier creators of icons, too, like Tina Modotti and Alexander Rodchenko. And Diebenkorn and Gerhard Richter have always wowed me with the way they work texture — overpainting, erasure, scraping, etc.
  • Very interesting group. Alright, well I think that’s about it from my end. Is there anything else you want to add?
  • I’d just like to say how much I’m enjoying seeing the variety of work that was chosen for this project. Very inspiring. Thanks so much for making this opportunity happen!

Artist Interview: Michael Knapstein

Monday, September 6th, 2010

The sixth winning image in our 2010 Portfolio Project is Before the Storm, by Michael Knapstein. Michael’s work seeks to bring fresh eyes to his surroundings in the Midwest, and Before the Storm succeeds in capturing the intangible Midwestern feel. Before the Storm was also recently selected for a show entitled PhotoMidwest, along with another of Michael’s shots.
Before the Storm, by Michael Knapstein

  • Well, first, thanks for taking to the time for this talk. We really appreciate it.
  • You’re welcome.
  • So, let’s start with the image we chose. Can you tell us the story behind it? Where was it taken, and what were the circumstances?
  • It was taken very recently — in June of this year. It was taken in Stoughton, Wisconsin — about 30 minutes from where I live. I was heading to a State Park to take some photos when I passed this farm on the way. When I saw the farm and the clouds behind it, I knew I had to capture it. So I turned the car around and went back. The light was amazing — it really made the white farmhouse stand out against the grey clouds.
  • The image does a great job of capturing that. It seems almost archetypically “Midwestern” to me. Flat land, huge skies. Farms, et al.
  • Yes, it is an archetypcal Midwestern scene. In fact, this image is one of two of my images that was just selected for a juried exhibition called PhotoMidwest.
  • That sounds fitting. Where will that be held?
  • The exhibition will be at the Porter Butts Gallery in the Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin campus. It begins in late September and runs through November. The show was juried by the editor of Shots Magazine.
  • Very cool. Congratulations on that.
  • Thanks! This is the first time I have had more than one image selected for this exhibition. They do a show every two years.

    A quick comment on the power of black and white…at first I explored this image in color. And it is quite striking with vibrant green grass. I worked on it quite a bit and thought it was a very nice image. But then I converted it to black and white and it took on a whole new dimension. I used Adobe Lightroom software for processing the image and love the control it gives me over black and white images. I would have spent many hours in my old wet darkroom to achieve the same level of control over the image. You’ve got to love digital black and white!

  • It is very interesting the freedom is bestows on photographers to see how the photo looks “both ways”. Can you maybe say something about how this has changed your process, and how you go about finding images? Is there anything you miss about film?
  • Yes, it sure beats carrying two camera bodies or extra backs to switch back and forth. I do miss certain aspects of film — something about the ritual of it. I used to spend a lot of time in the darkroom and it is such a magical process. I started converting to digital in the late 90s and haven’t shot any film in years. I find myself shooting much more freely with digital. I get out more and shoot a lot more. But I find that if I apply the same sense of discipline to digital that I did with film the results can be exceptional.

    About finding images — I used to travel a lot and really enjoyed shooting photos in new places. Europe. Asia. West Coast. Desert. Then one day I realized that there are so many photographers shooting the same things. Everyone does the desert. Everyone does doors in Santa Fe. But the Midwest has a unique look. So a few years ago I gave up the long-distance travel to concentrate more on the Midwest — prospecting in my own backyard as they say. It has been really fun rediscovering the beauty of my surroundings. Because I see them every day they can blend into the background. It is nice to look at the local surroundings with fresh eyes.

  • I can readily appreciate that. I’m from the Midwest, and these photos definitely bring out something buried deep in my consciousness. A familiarity, maybe, that’s tough to put my finger on precisely.

    Can you say something more about that enhanced perspective this approach gives you? About how it makes fresh those things you might otherwise take for granted?

  • Yes, it is almost like a visual metaphor for the Midwest. It is a challenge to take the ordinary and make it look extraordinary. Small details can be brought out in a photograph –especially a great black and white photography. I really think black and white photography is photography in its most pure form.

    A quick comment on your printing process — it helps bring out subtle details that really give a photograph extra depth and interest. I am a good printer…but in comparison, my prints of this image have blocked-up shadows and look crude in comparison. Your prints have a luminescant quality. They really help lift digital black and white to a new level as an art form.

  • Thanks. We got started in this vein because of our interest in really shadow-heavy black-and-white photography and, I agree, there’s no process that even comes close to the way the K7 ink-set handles those dark spots.
  • It is amazing how far digital printing has evolved in the last ten years. It will be fun to see where it keeps going.
  • So you mentioned that you took this photo when you were on your way to somewhere else. Do you generally keep your camera on-hand, and take pictures as inspiration strikes? Or do you have more specific “missions” generally?
  • I try to have a camera with me whenever I can. When I don’t feel like carrying a lot of gear I usually have a small Leica digital camera with me. Even though this camera doesn’t generate images that are as high in quality as my main Nikon gear, it is amazing how many photos I have taken with the Leica that have been included in exhibitions. So it does to show that the best camera is always the one you have with you.

    I do also go out on “photo missions” — which may include long lenses if I am going to shoot wildlife. But many of my best images have just appeared as I have been headed somewhere else. I just had two galleries and a book pick up a photo I took while eating lunch in a small cafe in Mineral Point Wisconsin while I was on my way farther south of there to take pictures. Sometimes you go out to find and image. And sometimes the image finds you.

    The image you selected certainly “found me” — I saw it out of the corner of my eye and it literally stopped me in my tracks and made me turn around and got back to get it.

    Interestingly enough, I went back to the same farm recently to see if it might hold another image. The trees were all leafed in, and the fields around it are now high with corn. It just wasn’t the same.

  • You also said that shooting digital lets you shoot more, and be freer with your shots. Can you talk about how you pick the ones that “work”? Is there something you look for among what you bring back from an outing?

    Does the question make sense?

  • Yes, but that’s a tough question.

    I usually review all my images at a fairly small size to see how they hit me. The ones with a strong graphic quality will usually stand out even at a small size. Now that everything is captured in full color, I usually try to “think in black and white” while I am reviewing images. I usually shoot fairly tight from a composition standpoint. And I don’t do a lot of heavy image manipulation. In most cases I am not doing anything to a digital image that I wouldn’t have been able to do in a traditional darkroom.

  • Do you find that having that background in darkroom work helps your digital art, then?
  • Yes, I really do. You have to been able to look at a negative — or a RAW file — and be able to see the potential it has. Bringing all that potential out through cropping, contrast, dodging, burning, etc. is an art form unto itself.

    I find the new digital tools to be so much fun to work with. It is like having taken every photograph with every BW filter possible. And having every type of developer available. And every grade of paper. It is just amazing the range of possibilities photographers have to work with today.

    I have met quite a few younger photographers who have grown up with digital. They understand the tools — but they don’t always have a context in which to know how to use them. They know how to do just about anything that can be done with a visual — but they don’t always know what to do — just how to do it.

    Black and white is a great medium in which to learn. Color can be a distraction at times. It is like when a graphic designer creates a logo. They always do the initial designs in BW first before adding color. A great image — even a color image — will almost always work in BW.

  • That makes sense. Well, that pretty much wraps it up for me. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
  • No — you’ve asked some great questions. Please let me know if there is anything you need later.
  • Will do. One more thing: when you look at the Duckrabbit logo, do you see a rabbit first, or a duck?
  • A duck.
  • Alright, thanks a lot Michael. We really appreciate your taking time for this.
  • Thank you!

Artist Interview: Guillermo Martin

Monday, August 30th, 2010

The fifth winner in the 2010 Portfolio Project is Guillermo Martin. Guillermo was born in Buenos Aires, grew up in Madrid, and now lives and works in Dallas. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, his art is also cosmopolitan in its concentrations, presenting beautifully composed images of lands remote and exotic from what most of us are used to. Fishermen of Hue is a wonderfully dramatic, densely detailed document of the daily life of fishermen in the Vietnamese town of Hue.
Fishermen of Hue, by Guillermo Martin

  • Can you please tell me about the winning image you submitted, Fishermen of Hue? What’s the story behind it?
  • This image was taken on one of my trips to Southeast Asia; in Hue, Vietnam. I was taking pictures of a fishing market in the village, and walked towards the back of the market, close to the water. I observed how there was a constant activity of fishermen coming and going bringing their fish in their baskets and it caught my attention. Vietnam is one of those places where you see beauty everywhere you look. It is an incredible place for black-and-white photography!
  • What brought you to Vietnam? Was it specifically a photo-hunting trip, or were you there for other reasons?
  • It was a photo-hunting trip. For the last few years I’ve been totally mesmerized by Southeast Asia, and have traveled to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, India, etc. It’s been several years and I just can’t get enough of that part of the world; the people, the culture and the places are just incredible… In fact, I am planning another Vietnam trip in early 2011 as, in my last one, I was unable to reach the Sapa region due to landslides affecting the trains.
  • Travel seems a constant in your work. How do you conceive of “place” in your work? Is it something that you think of as paramount, or are these simply the locations where the best photos “leap” to your eye?
  • I don’t think of places first, rather the pictures jump to me in these particular places. Travel is in fact a constant in my work, because these remote places and remote cultures are fascinating to me. I am always trying to find a way to embed in my photos the feelings I am experiencing when in a particular place or scene. I almost never plan the “place” or “scene” in advance. In fact, most of my trips lack a planned itinerary or schedule the day I arrive.
  • One of the things that struck me about this image was the density of detail, the amount of interesting visual data that is packed into the scene. In a way, it reminds me of the old nineteenth-century European etchings which captured whole spreads of intricate scenes in iconic black-and-white. Can you talk a little about any artists or art styles that you think are particularly influential on your own? Do you consciously adapt things you learn from other work?
  • I think mostly I adapt from other work I see in a subconscious way. When it comes to black-and-white, my favorite images have been all taken with a Rolleiflex. Nothing beats the Rollei…there is a feel to those images that is unique, and they transmit an air of nostalgia and romanticism that I have not seen replicated exactly in any other way… I like using medium format because I see a square as a much better area to compose on. I like to focus on grain, dodge & burn style (William Eugene Smith comes to mind) and composition. But most importantly, the photo needs to transmit what I am feeling and experiencing… If it does, then that’s a good image.
  • On your website, you mention that you shoot in both film and digital. Can you talk about the differences between the two and how it affects your work?
  • I love both film and digital, and while I shoot a lot more digital than film now, film will always be there, because nothing beats it in rough conditions. I started years ago with pinhole cameras made out of small boxes, and that’s how I plan to explain and teach photography to my kids.

    There is also the matter of ruggedness. In Thailand, my digital Nikon died from extensive exposure to humidity, but my F5 kept going without a problem, even in heavy rain.

    With that said, the immediacy of seeing results in digital can’t be beat, and it allows you to be somewhat certain you are getting the results you want, rather than waiting days to see. I started in photography by doing underwater photography with film, and there were good days and bad days, but you never knew until you developed. I think we are all more used to seeing immediate results today. With that said, Medium format digital is a fantastic experience, with unbeatable qualities; especially now that digital backs are getting cheaper and better (it’s my format of choice today). Still, nothing beats an old Rollei.

  • Especially given your interest in travel, your work sometimes straddles that line between composition and documentary. Can you comment on this? Do you have a “mission” when you take photos, a sort of compelling urge or purpose to be fulfilled?
  • I absolutely have a “mission”. I love understanding and being exposed to different cultures, different ways of thinking, different ways of understanding the world we live in. Something that is constantly in my thoughts is how the Western world is exporting its culture everywhere and how key cultural aspects of different places in the world are disappearing rapidly. McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc. are everywhere now, and that happens at the expense of local cultures.>

    One image that stuck in my head was what I saw a few years ago when I spent a few days with a Thai tribe in the jungle, with little or no electricity, one shower for the village, house fire for cooking, etc. yet the kids played soccer and some even had t-shirts with the colors and emblems of the Brazilian national team. I couldn’t help but think that, in a few years, they might all be skateboarding, and I don’t necessarily consider that a good thing. I want to see as much of the world as possible before it all turns into “the same everywhere,” and I want to show people how beautiful it is, how incredible the people that inhabit this planet really are.

  • Thanks, Guillermo. We really appreciate your time.
  • Thank you Alex, and thank you for noticing my work!

Artist Interview: Vivienne Maricevic

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

The fourth winner in the 2010 Portfolio Project is Vivienne Maricevic. Vivienne is a New York-based artist who has been shooting for over thirty years. Her work takes on reignant double-standard regarding male and female nudes in fine-art photography. Carlos stood out for its deployment of a graceful humor in this pursuit.

Carlos, by Vivienne Maricevic

  • Alright, well firstly let me thank you for taking the time to chat with me. We really appreciate it. And I’d like to start by just asking you about the story behind the picture we’ve chosen. Can you tell me about how it came to be?
  • “Carlos” is from my Naked Men series and he anwered an ad that I had placed in the back of the Village Voice. So, I called him told him what I was doing and made set up a day/time for me to arrive at his apartment to do his shoot. I prefer to photograph the guy in his home environment, where he is most comfortable and where the setting is always different for me. I like that challenge and for me to make it work as a photograph.
  • Comparing this particular photo to the others in the series, I see a bit more levity, and I think it succeeds in giving voice to a real sense of humor. Was this intentional, or does it reflect his personality in any particular way?
  • I recall that photographing him, inside his apartment wasn’t working for me, so, I saw his deck, asked him to step outside and on my way outside, too, I saw a bunch of bananas that were on a table and brought them outside with me and immediately placed them on the table, in front of him and it immediately made him smile. I remember that we both joked about it afterwards and I knew that I had captured the photograph that I knew would be good.
  • Now, backing out a step, can you tell me about what started you on the project of photographing naked men in the first place?
  • Back in 1976, I was working at a photographic magazine in the city, reviewing portfolios and very rarely seeing photographs of male nudes that were published or submitted to us. So, I decided to do them myself.
  • And this has passed through multiple series now. At this point, do you think your subject matter and your aesthetics are divorceable at all? Or do you conceive of your projects as continuations on this theme?
  • My lifetime mission is to continue to photograph the male nude and it is a continuation from my Naked Men series that began it all, with different named series as I go along. I keep photographing him different, so I am not jaded or bored by photographing him. If so, I would not be enthusiastic each time I photograph a guy. For instance I have a number of different series of male nudes that I work on, Me & Men is a series where there is a part of me in the photo with the male nude. Homage to Muybridge, is where I photographed the guy, first fully dressed, then strip him with my camera, while he takes off a piece of clothing, til fully nude. I am always photographing him differently and still have fun doing so.
  • The images that you’ve produced are very bold, and I assume that you mean them to be so. Was it difficult at first getting the hang of your process? I mean, from the point of finding models and then getting them comfortable with you and the camera, and then figuring out exactly which shots worked?
  • I am interested in photographing subject matter that offers many challenges and obstacles. I really did not find it difficult at all, I just went with it, it’s very natural. To begin with I am open-minded, non-judgmental, and I think that when I talk to a guy over the phone that is conveyed very quickly and they mention it to me. Even when they say they never had the experience of being photographed by a female. I size up the situation very quickly when I go to photograph a guy and see it immediately, no matter the size of the apt. or if I am photographing him outdoors.
  • Very interesting. Can you point to any specific artists that influenced your work when you were starting out? Any that do so now?
  • I have to be honest with you and can say that I was not influenced by any specific artist. I am self-taught and just went about my own way, creating my own style and learned as I went along. I like to look at other artists work, but am not influenced by any. I feel it is very important for me to be that way, so I keep being creative.
  • That’s very surprising, because your portraiture has a very polished feel. I am impressed that yours is a self-taught craft.
  • Thank you.
  • Did you have interests in photography in general prior to your Naked Men series, or did you have to learn all about film, developing, and shooting to tackle the project? As opposed to fine-art photography, I mean.
  • As a child, I was very artistic with painting, but never took a photograph until my brother gave me a camera, and then I just went with it. Taking it outdoors in the streets of NYC and started shooting the homeless men “On The Bowery”. I for some reason always veered towards the underbelly characters of our society and knew that they would have time for me to photograph them, while they slept on the street on the Bowery.

    I always loved photographing people. I basically read up about film, which ones to use and asked other photographer friends. The only course I took was a b/w darkroom course to learn printing and shooting, I just did. I was always very disciplined about always photographing. I have other series that I photographed while photographing male nudes, which is like a thread going through my different series. My specialization is exploring erotica, sexuality and gender, with the emphasis on the male nude, where it all began.

  • It’s interesting to hear that you got your start photographing homeless men, because I think that your photographs share an aesthetic with a lot of socially conscious artists, many of which focus on the homeless. Do you see your work as having a broader social “mission” like that, or do you see it as political at all?
  • I dislike the word political when it comes to art, I would prefer a social mission, meaning to enlighten others and challenge the social construction of the male nude image, to transform the imbalance that still exists with the pervasiveness of the double-standard in nude photography. Not much has changed with the acceptance of the male nude image since I have been photographing him.

    I see my continuation of photographing the male nude as an integral part of making changes in the recepton of the male nude. It’s been my motivation, from the beginning, to make my own little dent in breaking that double-standard and it’s still my motivation.

  • I like “social mission” better than “political” too. Alright, well that sums it up for me. Do you have anything else that you’d like to say?
  • Thank you, Alex.
  • Thank you very much, Vivienne. We really appreciate you taking the time for the talk.
  • It was my pleasure. Have a wonderful night.

Artist Interview: Lucas Cotterman

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The third winner in our 2010 Portfolio Project is Lucas Cotterman. Lucas’ winning shot was High Desert, a hazy, eery depiction of the Northern California desert.

  • Alright, so then thank you very much for taking the time. We really appreciate it. For the first question, I’d like to ask you about the story behind the photograph in question. Can you tell me about when it was taken?
  • Sure. It was taken in January of this year.
  • Can you tell me something about the situation? Where were you? Were you looking for photos? What drew you to this shot in particular?
  • I was in the north end of Joshua Tree Park. The incredible storm rolled in and it was just raining sideways. I was out to take photos, but was expecting it to be hot, as it’s the desert, but it was freezing. My dog refused to get out of the car, so I wandered around the park a bit. I got some really amazing, fogged over, spooky-looking photos that day.
  • I would say that that fogged over, eerie look is definitely a defining characteristic of this shot. Do concerns of mood, or theme, or feeling enter your mind when you’re out shooting, or do you just leave yourself open to whatever comes?
  • I suppose so. I like to take a pretty Zen approach to photography. Someone once taught me to stop and take several deep breaths before you photograph something. It somehow helps you connect to your subject in a different way. It sounded pretty new-agey at the time, but it really works for me. I like to wander when I take pictures instead of sitting around waiting for the right light. I figure the light will be right somewhere. I am pretty open, but I definitely am drawn to mood, and generally darker, more eerie scenes. I like to shoot black and white, and I think that lends itself to that.
  • Definitely. Another sort of constant in your photos is a very palpable sense of place. They all seem to evoke, not so much specific, highlighted subject-matter, but the feeling or overall environment. Do you find yourself to be a place-based individual, intellectually, habitually, emotionally, et cetera? That is, do you feel some important connection to the California settings you depict?
  • I certainly do. I am pretty bound to urban environments for work and social activities, but I feel pretty free out in the desert to take pictures of what I want, and how I want. The California desert has also always been a really incredible place for me. The mix of high versus low desert, where you get the heat and occasionally a freezing rain storm is unreal. I really admire people who are able to work with models, but I’m not at a place where I can relate my ideas to another person and have them be a good subject for me, so I guess I find landscapes to be more malleable in a sense. Somehow a photo means more to me to not have a person in it, or maybe it’s just less complicated to convey a mood.
  • Well, or maybe you’re just working with extra-human moods. Are you originally from California?
  • I like that. No, I grew up in Chapel Hill, NC, then spent a number of years in New York (Brooklyn specifically), then San Francisco. I’ve been in LA for six months or so now.
  • Ahh, ok. We’re in Brooklyn now, and I can see where a strong interest in extra-human nature after living here might come from. So, you say you like to wander when you shoot. Do you make determined ventures to do this? Or do you keep a camera with you while you go about daily life?
  • I do both. I traveled for work for about 10 years (internationally mostly) and I always have a camera with me. Usually a small digital. Recently though I’ve been using a beast of a film camera so I make an effort to set aside some time to go out and take pictures. It’s a bit of a meditation, I guess, and it often gets me out of the city.
  • What kind of film camera are you using?
  • I’ve got a Pentax 645. It feels like toting an ammo box full of cement around sometimes, but I love the feel of it.
  • Can you talk about the difference between shooting in film and shooting digital? Do you prefer one or the other overall, or is it a matter of context? Do you find you can get the same “feel” in photos on one or the other?
  • I have never been able to recreate the feeling of film with a digital camera. There are just too many variables involved in the process. I of course like the instant gratification of digital, and it’s nice to have something super small if you’re on the move, but film cameras always surprise me. The way that the film reacts to the light, and the texture is something that can’t be ‘faked’ with digital. There’s something really genuine about it. Not that digital is fake, per se, but film has a pretty distinct personality, and it always allows for happy accidents.
  • I like the way you put that, “happy accidents”. Now, looking at your résumé, I see that you’ve done a lot of lighting and stage work for various rock and roll bands. Do you think that your experience with lighting and ambiance in that domain transfers over into your art at all?
  • Absolutely….photography is pretty much just capturing light, so I’d say that it’s given me a better understanding of the medium. the two just sort of came together naturally….
  • Excellent. Well, that pretty much wraps things up from me. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
  • No, that’s great. thanks for that.
  • My pleasure, thanks for taking the time.

Artist Interview: Craig Blankenhorn

Monday, August 9th, 2010

The second winner in our 2010 Portfolio Project is Craig Blankenhorn. Craig’s untitled winning shot is a beautifully composed summer scene from his Coney Island series.
Untitled, by Craig Blankenhorn

  • Could you please start by telling me about the picture selected for the Portfolio Project? What’s the story behind it?
  • The photo selected to the Portfolio Project is one image of a much larger portfolio shot over the course of a summer: Two Blocks, a Beach and A Boardwalk – Coney Island.
  • You have an extensive résumé of work in commercial photography. Being successful as a photographer, do you still “do amateur photography”? That is, do you go out and shoot other than when you have assignments or commissions?
  • Though I am actively working in the realm of commercial photography, I am consistently working on personal projects — at the moment I am working on a series involving the NYC subway system. I have never considered my personal work to be less important than my commercial work, so I wouldn’t call it my “amateur photography.”
  • You’ve done a lot of work with the television industry. How does this affect your other work, like what you submitted to the Project? I see a definite sense of dramatic composition, but I’m wondering if you draw a connection there as well.
  • Like I said, I don’t treat the process any differently when shooting personal work. My sense of composition is not something I can turn on or off, and it really is a second nature to me. The only real difference is the subject matter, but there’s no conscious effort to make my personal work formally different than my commercial photography. I am passionate about both.
  • Do you shoot on film or in digital? If you have experience in both, can you talk some about the difference between the two as you perceive it?
  • I shoot all of my commercial work digitally. For my personal work I shoot both film and digital, but I am more partial to film. I use an assortment of cameras — from 35mm to 4×5. Film definitely allows for more control over the shot and the final look of the image, whereas everything that’s shot in digital looks a bit too uniform.
  • You mentioned that you are working on a new series about the New York subways. Can you tell me more about that?
  • In some ways it’s a continuation of the Coney Island project in that it is still in and about New York City. It’s more of a new chapter than a new project in a sense, because I’m just constantly shooting what sparks my interest in transit.
  • Do you always work in series? Do the themes “come out” fully formed, or do you take a few pictures before seeing what the common thread you’re exploring is?
  • Like anything, it’s more of an expression of my interest at the time — I know when I reach the end of a project when my obsession with it fades. But I never stop working because I become transfixed with documenting something else, and I move on to the next phase. It has always been more about being aware and always looking for compositions, people, opportunities to capture a shot, rather than fulfilling a certain amount of images. There is no definite beginning or end to my work.

Artist Interview: Erin Goldberger

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Today we have an interview with Erin Goldberger, the first of our 2010 Portfolio Project contest winners. Erin’s winning entry was a beautiful, meditative shot taken in the South of France. Erin is a freelance photographer and writer living in New York City.
South of France, by Erin Goldberger

  • So, firstly, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. Your entry into the contest was one of my favorites.
  • Thank you!
  • Could you tell me about the picture? It was taken, I believe, in southern France, right?
  • Yes it was taken in Collioure, France. I was on a trip with my two best friends from college to Barcelona, and we rented a car for the day and drove there. It was a great little local beach town with virtually no tourists in sight.

    I originally took the photo in color with my digital camera, and then realized I had to take a second copy with my 35mm in black and white.

    I think this photo perfectly represents the town itself. It had such an ominous feel to it, like it had hundreds of secrets.

  • It’s definitely very evocative. It feels sort of like a final outpost of the human soul.
  • Haha yea, like one of the edges of the earth.
  • When you see a scene like that, does it strike you right away as something you need to photograph? Or, did it take seeing it on your digital camera to recognize the aesthetic that you described?
  • I remember as soon as we climbed over some rocks, I saw that scene perfectly and knew I had to capture it. Sometimes, however, I like to experiment with both color and black and white to find out which would be the more successful photograph.
  • I see that in your website, which has lots of images both in color and black and white. It’s cool to see your ability to distill the quality of the scene and make it carry from one to the other.

    Can you talk about the differences, something like the “pros and cons”, you’ve found in working with digital versus working with film? And how does that affect your overall project?

  • I think film trumps digital 95% of the time, for me. Film gives off more of the emotion I felt when I took the photograph. Whether it’s the contrast or the slight graininess of the photograph, I think film is able to recreate the moment more realistically.

    With digital, I find myself looking at the photo and criticizing myself three minutes after I took it. You don’t have to trust yourself as much, you can just click and click. I don’t put in as much consideration or care for my subjects. I like picking my rolls up and having only 24 or 36 to choose from. Seems more romantic.

    I do appreciate digital for those head shots or concert photographs I take, however. That’s when it’s more realistic. I just don’t have the same relationship with my digital camera as I do with my film cameras. Like, they are small people or something, haha.

  • Yeah, and the 35mm is just a more authentic small person.
  • Oh and Polaroid is a whole other trip, I use that sometimes too.

    Yea the 35mm is like a good friend who you stay up late with. Digital is someone you go out to drinks with and bail early.

  • Ha, I like that.

    One thing I really like about your pictures is that they seem to all have interesting composition. That is, they don’t really partake in the standard, rule-of-thirds framing rituals that a lot of aesthetically pleasing photography uses. It’s almost like they’re offset in a strange way, but work really well that way. Can you talk about how you know a shot is a “good one” when you’re looking at them? How do you judge?

  • I guess I like to create my own sense of balance in a photograph. The photographs I like best are usually the ones that replicate what a scene looked like to me with my naked eye. I want to capture what exists, not what would be aesthetically pleasing. A lot of times there may just be one part of the photograph that initially caught my eye (like the color of something, or an expression). The most successful photos are when the thing I wanted to capture works well with everything else in the photograph, as if everything else had a purpose for being there as well.

    Does that make sense? It’s hard to verbalize honestly. Half of the reasons only my eye understands.

  • Yeah, makes sense to me. And we’re talking about something that probably pre-linguistic, so it makes sense that it’s tough to explain.
  • Exactly. I was taking these photographs long before I actually had a camera in my hand.
  • Do you take your camera with you in your day-to-day life, or do you go out on photo-hunts?
  • Sometimes I have specific objectives. Like right now I’m working on this series where I’m taking photographs of tourists. It’s coming out quite quirky and cool so far. So, for that, I plan out a place to go and have a mission. Most of the other days I just try to have it on me and if something catches my eye, I shoot it. The days I don’t have my camera are the ones when I see the greatest shots. I still remember a few photographs I wasn’t able to take and it drives me mad.
  • Ha, the one that got away.
  • Yea. These cows in some muck in Vermont. Ugh, I still think about them.
  • Awesome. You mentioned to me earlier that you are thinking about maybe pursuing photojournalism as a vocation. Do you think of this as continuous with your current work? Or how does it relate, generally, to your current concerns and projects?
  • Well, I think a lot of what I photograph could be used, in one way or another, in a journalistic way. I seem to have a story about most of my photographs, and when I look back at my older ones I still remember vivid details about that day and how I was feeling. I would love to be able to take what I photograph and extend it into more social commentary with written word.

    Some photographs of mine, if put into a different context, could create great stories I think. For example, taking the photograph you chose, putting the others I took that day in there with it, and making a photo essay on small European sea towns. Interesting stories people would want to read and look at.

  • That sounds like a good idea. Are there any photographers or photojournalists/writers that you consider especially important influences?
  • Mary Ellen Mark, Stephen Shore and Henry Horenstein are some of my favorites. They are all very different from each other, but there are things about each of them I aspire to.

    Mary Ellen Mark, especially. She has these great series that just pull you in. I remember spending hours reading about this one specific family she had followed around and photographed. She really cares about the story behind her photos. This is my favorite of all time.

  • Wow, that’s great. Is that girl smoking a cigarette?
  • Yea and she seems to be about twelve. Not only is the photograph great, but I could sit and think about the naivete of that girl and her chubby companion for a long time. I also wonder where they are now. It’s hard to imagine they aren’t just stuck in that photo.
  • Yeah, and what’s the story with the person taking it? That’s great.
  • Yea, like how did she find these people. What did she say in order to grab this photo. I think she’s just mastered it.
  • Well, I think I can see the influence of something like that in your work. Because you seem to capture these shots in which the viewer’s relation to the scene is ambiguous, and often leaves questions of context unanswered. And are thusly engaging.

    Does that make sense?

  • Yes!! I love the feeling of being intrigued by photographs or other types of art, but not knowing exactly why. So, if my photographs can evoke that type of feeling as well, I’d consider it a success.
  • Very cool.

    Alright, well I think that wraps it up nicely from my angle. Anything else you’d like to add?

  • Nope. Thanks for this great opportunity!
  • You’re welcome, and thanks again for taking the time.

    One more question I like to ask: when you look at the Duckrabbit logo, which do you see first, a duck or a rabbit?

  • A duck. But it also kind of looks like a chicken wing.