Studio Visit: Maureen Drennan

Posted by on Oct 1, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments
Yesterday, as the sun set over my studio by Cooper Park and my time as guest blogger for Camera Club also came to an end, I spent a few hours talking about photography, love, and the pleasures of getting lost with one of my favorite photographers Maureen Drennan. During our visit, Maureen shared with me her artist-produced book of the project “Meet Me in the Green Glen” that is currently seeking a publisher and gave me a sneak peek at her latest work made this summer in Portland.
"Meet Me in the Green Glen" book by Maureen Drennan

“Meet Me in the Green Glen” book by Maureen Drennan

SM: As you know, I’m a huge fan of your work.  Your projects tend to follow the theme of exploring small worlds or communities and asking questions like: who are the people that inhabit this space and what is their connection both to each other and to the land?  What draws you to your subjects?  And how does your status as an outsider change (if at all) over the course of working on a project?
MD: I am a big fan of your work as well! In a word, or two words, you are a bad-ass.

I am intrigued with exploring small worlds and communities and I’m curious about the people who live there and their connection to the environment. All sorts of things draw me to my subjects, its an intuitive feeling of attraction. Usually its people’s vulnerability as well as resilience that really resonates with me. I’m attracted to that and want to talk and photograph them. Its funny you ask that about being an outsider, I am in the beginning for sure but then it quickly changes. I feel fortunate because almost everyone I photograph lets me into their life in some intimate way. They will literally invite me into their home or we will have a deep, intimate discussion and then connection right away. Some of my subjects lead such inspiring lives. Of course the reality is that I will always be an outsider but photography allows me to enter the community a little and get close to people.
From "Meet Me in the Green Glen" by Maureen Drennan

From “Meet Me in the Green Glen” by Maureen Drennan

I used to do a lot of hitchhiking around the United States and Europe with my boyfriend at the time and part of the “code” is that in return for the driver giving you a ride you chat with them, keep them awake during long stretches. But often this thing would happen, particularly at night, with the road feeling rhythmic and meditative, after talking and me asking lots of questions, where the driver would be so open and honest, brutally truthful, about some experiences in their life. I felt so fortunate to be having  this encounter with this perfect stranger. The fact that this person was opening up to me, as though I were a priest, was remarkable. And then, we would reach our destination, the driver would let us out and you never saw them again. But for a brief moment there was this very intimate connection. I love that. And now, as a photographer I’m able to continue having these amazing encounters with strangers. People are naturally guarded and I like recreating that experience of getting people to open up.
The people I seek out and photograph are not polished, they are outsiders and are usually existing in out of the way places. The outsider status resonates with my own feelings of alienation and though photography I am able to satisfy my need to connect with others.

SM: You are one of my favorite people to talk about photography with, and we have had many conversations about our work so, I know a lot of the stories behind some of your photographs.  On your website, I noticed that you don’t have any artist statements or text other than image titles accompanying your projects- was that a conscious choice?
MD: Absolutely, I don’t want the viewer to get caught up in the text. Ideally, I want the viewer to understand the story without a text explanation. Of course, that could change depending on what project I’m working on. Not all photographic projects can be text free.
SM: As much as your work revolves around communities, there’s an overriding sense of loneliness to your work.  Or maybe quiet solitude is a better description for it.  I know when I’m out making pictures, it can be a very meditative experience.  What are your thoughts on that?
MD: It’s true, there is definitely a pervading sense of isolation in my work and it stems from a few ideas. The people and communities I’m drawn to tend to be remote and vulnerable, either economically, socially, or environmentally. My own feelings of alienation and solitude also come through in the imagery, though so that sense of isolation may have more to do with me and less about the subject matter.  For example, with “Broad Channel,” that is a community that is legitimately vulnerable as we saw with Hurricane Sandy, but the people there have a lot of love and pride in their community.
Photo by Maureen Drennan

Photo by Maureen Drennan

Photo by Maureen Drennan

Photo by Maureen Drennan

SM: And to follow that same thread, how does being born and raised in New York City, a place steeped in photographic tradition and also a place where you can feel alone even when surrounded by people, factor into your process as a photographer?  I personally have a hard time making pictures in the city- what are you?
MD: I’m from Manhattan, born and raised here in New York. I’m really attracted to and curious about remote places and communities because it’s so different from what I’m accustomed to. I also find it hard to make images here because a huge part of my process is relying on serendipity and the kindness of strangers. New Yorkers (for good reason) are more guarded and I feel it’s harder for them to open up and for us to make a connection while I’m photographing them. But, of course there are exceptions, I have met some wonderful people on the subway and took this man’s portrait this summer on the subway.
SM: We both still shoot film for our personal work.  What is it that keeps you shooting film despite the cost and time-consuming process of scanning negs?
MD: I love the rich color and grain of film but mostly its the medium format that I can’t imagine life without! When I started photographing, I was making images with a large format camera (4×5) and as wonderful as that process of image making is, to come off the tripod was liberating. I really enjoy scanning negatives, I listen to music and take my shoes off, I feel like a kid.
SM: Your most recent body of work, “The Sea That Surrounds Us,” is a contemplative look at your husband that combines portraits of him with images from Block Island.  What is the metaphorical connection between the two?  I love that you took the same sensibility of your previous work in exploring a community and turned it inward on some level to explore the tiniest and most intimate of communities: your own marriage.  Have you always photographed him?  Is this still a work in progress?  And how has working on this project together affected your relationship?
MD: The title comes from a love poem by Pablo Neruda and suggests the remoteness one can experience, island-like, but also feeling surrounded and protected within a relationship. We are surrounded but separated as well.The idea that we can never comprehend ourselves fully or loved ones as much as we might want is humbling. There are vast, never ending portals contained within us. In trying to comprehend my husband’s vulnerability due to a severe depression, I made images of him and a landscape familiar to me, Block Island, RI. I felt untethered watching him and trying to comprehend his inner turmoil, I used the island as a metaphor to describe my feelings of isolation. I was an outsider to his experience. Block Island is a place I lived for one year when I was seven with my father during my parent’s divorce. During that winter I felt particularly cut off and alienated from people. I have always photographed my husband, but this feels different, like I’m watching him more carefully, trying to understand him, the impenetrable other. We are particularly connected, even through his depression, we both worked so hard to understand it and grow from it, so working on this with him has been recuperative.
Photo by Maureen Drennan

Photo by Maureen Drennan

Photo by Maureen Drennan

Photo by Maureen Drennan

SM: You recently completed an artist residency in Portland – can you talk about that experience?
MD: I felt exceedingly fortunate to do an artist residency at Newspace Center of Photography for one month. It was an incredible experience to only work on my photography for such an extended period of time with no other obligations or distractions. I felt spoiled rotten actually. On the advice of my good friend Matt Baum, I read “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” by Rebecca Solnit and it provided the backdrop for my time there, I tried to “get lost” in Oregon. I wandered a lot and made imagery responding to the idea of being lost.
Contact Sheets of photographs by Maureen Drennan

Contact Sheets of photographs by Maureen Drennan

SM: You are also an adjunct photo professor.  What are your thoughts on teaching photography?  What’s the best advice you’ve received as a photographer?
MD: My life has changed in such a positive way due to photography. It allows me to interact with the world in such a serendipitous, stimulating way. I love sharing my excitement for the medium with my students and they teach me a lot as well. One of the most important ideas I try and teach my students is how to be visually literate.
To see more of Maureen Drennan’s work, please visit her website http://www.maureendrennan.net

Photo Book: “All the Queens Men” by Katie Murray

Posted by on Sep 19, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments
Photo by Katie Murray

“All the Queens Men” – Daylight Books, Photo by Katie Murray

Katie Murray is a Queens native and photographer / video artist / photo professor that I had the wonderful experience of meeting over cocktails at Noorman’s Kil in Williamsburg earlier this summer.  Katie and I are both publishing our first books this month with Daylight Books and taking part in a panel discussion this Saturday night at 6:00pm at Photoville in DUMBO Brooklyn. Our talk, moderated by Michael Itkoff and Taj Forer of Daylight Books, is titled “Family Matters” and will also feature Henry Jacobson and Sarah Christianson along with Katie and myself to discuss our new books and the different ways we all tackled themes of family and connection to the land in our work.  With her new book titled “All the Queens Men,” Katie Murray explores her Queens, NY neighborhood as a paradise lost in the decade following September 11th as seen through the eyes of the men who surround her and the streets on which they live.

SM: “All the Queens Men” is such a great title for a book about men and masculinity set in Queens, NY.  And I love how it also references your role as a woman who holds some authority over these men, in this case as the person taking their portrait.  How did that title come about and what made you decide to run the title only on the book cover with no image?

KM: From the onset of this project I knew I wanted to play off of the word Queens because I think it’s such an interesting word as it calls to mind that which is majestic or mythological. It is also a powerful word as it relates to women, and I always thought it was interesting to be a woman photographing men in a place named Queens. I began to think about these men and this place as a mythological kingdom albeit a fictitious one, but this idea altered the way in which I approached the subject matter and allowed me to play with fiction and non fiction and be free to make work that existed somewhere between the two. Additionally, All The Queens Men is a play on a line from the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. A line, which I think is filled with pathos and hints at one of the themes of the book.

In terms of the all text cover, it came about because after numerous tries, no one image from the book actually worked with the title, but the title worked by itself as a mysterious entrée into this world. There have been many all text cover photo books but the most well known or referential as it relates to my work is Walker Evans’ American Photographs-and with this also in mind I went with the all text cover.

"Daniel and Danny (Father and Son), Queens, NY 1999" Photo by: Katie Murray

“Daniel and Danny (Father and Son), Queens, NY 1999″ Photo by: Katie Murray

SM: In the book’s beautiful essay by Maria Antonella Pelizzari, she quotes you as describing the landscape of Queens as “both tragic and beautiful” and how that reflects the duality in the men you photograph. The way you photograph these men is straightforward and shows their flaws but there’s a nurturing quality like you love them not in spite of those flaws but because of them.  How much of that would you attribute to being a mother of boys?  How much of it is being a Queens native yourself in feeling this kinship with your subjects?

KM: I would say that the nurturing aspect you are picking up on has more to do with being a Queens native than a mother of boys. I am by no means photographing the other.

My children were born in 2006 and 2009 well after the work was already in progress. That being said though, having children and becoming a parent did make me aware of the shifting roles that take place when one transitions from being a child to having a child, and this is an idea that is present in the book as it relates to the men.

SM: These photographs span from 1999 to 2013.  Obviously, the most significant cultural event that happened in New York during that time was September 11th.  Pelizzari goes on in her essay to speak about 9/11 and how that monumental trauma and loss acts as the backdrop to the story of this place and the men that inhabit it.  There was a photograph from 9/11 that I saw on your website.  Am I right that at a certain stage of the project this image was included in your edit?  What made you edit it out of the book?

KM: The picture you reference was made on September 11 2001, and while it was never in any of the many edits I wrestled with, it was a consideration. In the end I decided that it was too referential; it was a one to one relationship, one that swayed the ambiguous narrative in a direction that was inauthentic. The book is not about 9/11 per se but instead is a reflection on the residue of that traumatic event. I felt it was more powerful to speak about that event in symbolic terms rather than be so obvious, and thus the picture was edited out.

SM: Daniel is the subject of many of the photographs and acts almost as a protagonist to the series.  What is your relation to him and what were your experiences photographing him?  Did it change over the course of the project?

KM: I think the book has more than one protagonist, but if the book has a main protagonist than it would be Daniel. He is the father figure, and is also my father. Making portraits of people you are so connected to and intimate with is always challenging for countless reasons, but perhaps he appears so often in the book because it is always a pleasant experience photographing him. He has never refused to let me make a picture of him; he is always a willing participant and is difficult to work with only because I have to scold him to be serious. Portraits of my father/Daniel are made in-between fits of laughter on both our parts, and that has been consistent throughout.

"Daniel, Long Beach Island, NJ 2012" Photo by: Katie Murray

“Daniel, Long Beach Island, NJ 2012″ Photo by: Katie Murray

SM: Towards the end of the book, there’s a spread I want to talk about.  On the left is a photograph of an uprooted tree on a suburban street. Because of the perspective of the image, the tree is almost as tall as the house and there is a dark shadow in the middle of the tree that creates the appearance of a cave. Accompanying this image is a photograph on the right titled “11 Boys, Queens, New York 2003″ that depicts a group of teenage boys standing in a circle on gravel, many shirtless, with one blindfolded in the center and another boy behind swinging something toward him in what looks like some kind of hazing ritual. The overgrown grass and shrubs surrounding them give a “Lord of the Flies” vibe to the proceedings.  The fallen tree and the bullying amplify a feeling I get throughout the book of innocence lost. What is the story behind these images and what was your thought process in pairing them together?

KM: The ways in which images relate to each other and inform each other is one of the amazing things about being a photographer. Often times I would be making a picture while thinking about how it would relate to a previous image and how you can build upon ideas in multiple pictures. The entire book was edited with this thought in mind. So that you would have a book of images that tell a story, and then with more time spent, another deeper story would be revealed. So yes, one of the themes of the book is innocence lost. The pairing you describe is an uprooted tree and a fictitious rite of passage. In this pairing an act of violence has been experienced or is being experienced; so at its base level it’s about violence, but it’s also about not being grounded or rooted and the attempt to find meaning in a ritual that may or may not grant you a sense of belonging.

"Uprooted, Queens, NY, 2010" Photo by: Katie Murray

“Uprooted, Queens, NY 2010″ Photo by: Katie Murray

"11 Boys, Queens, NY 2003" Photo by: Katie Murray

“11 Boys, Queens, NY 2003″ Photo by: Katie Murray

 

SM: We are both publishing books with Daylight in the fall.  How did you come about working with them?

KM: I was fortunate enough to have applied to a book-publishing grant when one of the publishers at Daylight (Taj Forer) was a judge. As a result, Daylight reached out to me with interest in publishing my book, and the rest as they say is history.

SM: What was the best advice you received in preparing to publish your book?  What advice would you give to another artist who was embarking on their first publishing experience?

KM: The best advice I received was to make the book that I wanted to make, and to keep in mind that it will not be the only book I publish. I’m not sure if the second part of that will be true, but it was invaluable because it allowed for me to be free to take risks and to not be safe. (ie the text cover)It’s important to know what you want from the onset, to ensure that you’ll end up with the book that’s in your head.

SM: What are you working on these days?

KM: I’ve just completed a video piece entitled “Gazelle” that reflects upon the struggles one faces as an artist, mother, and wife. It is the first time that I appear in my work, and it’s also the first piece I’ve made that is humorous. “Gazelle” will be shown in October at The Photographer’s Gallery in London in a show entitled Home Truths: Motherhood and Photography curated by Susan Bright.

SM: You teach photography at Hunter, SVA, and Sarah Lawrence.  What is your philosophy on teaching photography and what words of wisdom do you try to impart on your students?

KM: Teaching photography is challenging especially since it is a common practice amongst my students in the sense that they are all using pictures in their daily lives with Facebook, Instagram, and the like, so my approach is to try to get them to realize the potential of the medium as a meaningful tool.

"88th Street, Queens, NY 2001" Photo by: Katie Murray

“88th Street, Queens, NY 2001″ Photo by: Katie Murray

SM: As we say goodbye to summer and enter into fall, what’s your idea of a perfect late summer day?

KM: Enjoying a lazy morning with my husband and boys, and a late afternoon trip to Rockaway Beach where we hang out until the sun sets.

For more from Katie Murray and to pre-order her book “All the Queens Men,” please visit her website: http://katiemurray.com/

DIY Camera Obscura

Posted by on Sep 6, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments

Apologies for the lack of posts last week. I was on a road trip from Brooklyn to North Carolina to attend the opening of my solo show “May the Road Rise to Meet You” at Daylight and drop off framed pieces for a group exhibition called “Road Trip” at the Hickory Museum of Art next month.

The summer sun has just about set. The AC is back in the closet, and next week begins another semester teaching photography courses at SUNY Rockland upstate. This semester, I’ll be adding History of Photography to my course-load. As I’ve been planning the class, I’ve asked my fellow photo teacher friends for advice. The amazingly talented Maureen Drennan, who is just wrapping up a summer artist residency in Portland, once told me that she likes to do a camera obscura demo to get her students excited about learning the history of “painting with light.” And so, I decided it would be a good idea to try this out before I show it off to a room full of students. After a quick trip to the dollar store for black gaffers tape and a black vinyl shower curtain, I was good to go. After an hour of making sure the room was completely devoid of light, I cut a small round hole in the back curtain about the size of a dime and as I turned to see the results, fully expecting my living room transformed into an Abelardo Morell photograph, I was disappointed to only see the vague outlines of my backyard projected on the walls. But after setting up my tripod and taking a test image at 5000 ISO at f/4 for 30 secs, success!

Photo by Sara Macel

Photo by Sara Macel

I can’t wait to meet my students and turn our classroom into a camera obscura.  And for a couple bucks and an hour of your time, you can turn your room into one too following these simple steps:

http://www.photographyblogger.net/how-to-do-big-room-camera-obscura/

Studio Visit: Rachel Styer

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments

Recently, I spent the afternoon with one of my favorite humans on the planet, the talented artist Rachel Styer, in her studio talking about the therapeutic quality to making art, levitation, and falling in love. Rachel and I recorded our conversation, and despite the quality not being awesome thanks to the hum of the AC and my shoddy equipment, we wanted to share parts of that conversation.

From "The Weekenders," photo by Rachel Styer

From “The Weekenders,” photo by Rachel Styer

Rachel started out as a writer before realizing that visual art, and specifically photography, better expressed her thoughts and ideas. In this audio clip, Rachel explains why she found writing to be limiting:

on-writing

Her love of writing led her to start a blog, and that led to taking pictures for the blog and buying her first camera, the Canon AE-1, and learning how to process and print black-and-white film at the Harvey Milk Recreation Center in San Francisco. Here Rachel describes printing at the Center’s darkroom amongst other beginning photographers and her shift into working with color:

starting-the-shift-to-photography

From "The Weekenders," photo by Rachel Styer

From “The Weekenders,” photo by Rachel Styer

Around the time she made the shift to digital color images, Rachel met her now husband Dave Richard (who is also a super talented artist) and began shooting s series of staged self-portraits with Dave out in nature on their weekend day trips around California. “The Weekenders” feels like a grimy tattered paperback copy of Pablo Neruda’s love poems that you’d find at a garage sale. The photographs are beautifully composed and the sometimes blurry focus and lens flare act as a metaphor for the blinding drunkness of falling in love. In this audio clip, Rachel and I discuss “The Weekenders,” photographing long-term relationships, and how grad school can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to our own engagement with our work:

the-weekenders-part1

From "The Weekenders," photo by Rachel Styer

From “The Weekenders,” photo by Rachel Styer

Rachel and I both started grad school in 2009 at SVA’s Photography, Video, & Related Media MFA program. A year into the experience, Rachel was diagnosed with lymphoma and spent the last two years of her three years in that program going through cancer treatment and recovery while also working on her thesis body of work, appropriately titled “Treatment.” For anyone who has been through the physical and emotional trauma of cancer or the obviously far less intense but still stressful rigors of a masters program, the fact that Rachel did both at the same time is an impressive feat in and of itself. The fact that Rachel made this beautifully inventive project that not only comments on her own treatment, but that also helped her heal and come to terms with this experience, thereby becoming its own form of treatment, is why she is one of my favorite artists around. In this clip, we discuss the theme of flight and levitation in “Treatment”:

treatment-part1

From "Treatment," photo by Rachel Styer

From “Treatment,” photo by Rachel Styer

“Treatment” explores the paradoxical relationship between the physical body and the self through self-portraits in nature, photographic records of organic sculptures that represent both the body and a state of mind, as well as light-exposed damaged negatives that resemble blood cells seen through a microscope. There’s a performative and physical element to the work that Styer has describes as her attempt to visually represent the biological battle raging through her body and her emotional state during that time:

treatment-part2

From "Treatment," photo by Rachel Styer

From “Treatment,” photo by Rachel Styer

Now in good health and cancer-free, Rachel’s art process really helped her put that experience into perspective. While talking about the crumpled film images and pantyhose-as-muscle fiber sculpture images, Rachel talks about her anger post-treatment and sympathizes with Martin Short’s character from the movie “Innerspace“:

treatment-part3

Two images from "Treatment," photos by Rachel Styer

Two images from “Treatment,” photos by Rachel Styer

Rachel and Dave were recent artists-in-residence at C-Scape where they lived in a shack on the beach and made art. During that time, Rachel began making artist books, including a handmade book documenting her treatment with a page to represent each day. Similarly, her latest work continues her exploration of the physical nature of photographic film. Through a camera-less process, she crumpled and damages negative film and exposes it to light to see what results. As a finalist in CCNY’s Darkroom Residency, she was given access to their darkroom facilities to continue this work. In our final clip, she offers that rare glimpse into the trials of making new work:

new-work-in-progress

Photo by Rachel Styer

Photo by Rachel Styer

For more by Rachel Styer, please visit rachelstyer.com. You can also follow her on Tumblr & Twitter.

“A Different Kind of Order” – The ICP Triennial

Posted by on Aug 9, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments

 

Last weekend, after visiting CCNY’s Zine and Self-Published Photo Book Fair, I wandered over to ICP for a visit to their bookstore.  I walked over with the intention of picking up a signed copy of Todd Hido’s new book “Excerpts from Silver Meadows,” which I did, along with the new 3rd edition of Taryn Simon’s new classic “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” that had been on my photo book wish list for a while. But as I walked there, I remembered that the fourth triennial was on display and decided to see what it was all about.

The exhibition features 28 artists working in photography, video, sculpture, collage, and related media.  The show’s curators Kristen Lubben, Christopher Phillips, Carol Squiers, and Joanna Lehan have crafted a collection of work that captures the instability and violence of our time, as well as the way we consume the gluttony of images around us.

Elliott Hundley's "Pentheus"

Elliott Hundley’s “Pentheus”

In Elliott Hundley’s “Pentheus” that avalanche of images takes the form of an immense photo collage / sculpture that really must be seen in person to be appreciated. Gideon Mendel tackles issues of destruction and flood quite literally with his portraits of people standing in flood waters from locations all over his “Drowning World.”

Gideon Mendel's "Drowning World"

Gideon Mendel’s “Drowning World”

Other highlights for me included the deceptively gorgeous and sublime drone photographs of Trevor Paglen, Michael Schmelling’s photographs of hoarders’ nests, and Mikhael Subotzy and Patrick Waterhouse’s three towering lightboxes made up of tiny photographs that resemble the South African residential tower and depict all the television sets, front doors, and windows of each unit of the tower.

Subotzy & Waterhouse "Windows, Pont City (detail)"

Subotzy & Waterhouse “Windows, Pont City (detail)”

But the piece that really got under my skin was Thomas Hirschhorn’s “Touching Reality.” Set in the back corner of the ground floor behind a heavy semi-opaque plastic curtain, this video plays in a dark room and feel like a secret. When I first walked in not knowing what the piece was about, I was met by the furtive glance of the only other person in the room, who left as soon as I entered. The video is a single-shot of an ipad that displays a slideshow of horrific images of death and mutilated bodies from sources that seem to range from war zones to terrorist bombings to crime scenes and car crashes. The images flash before the viewer’s eyes with the flick of the female finger operating the ipad. Her finger flies by some images, scrolls back to others, and zooms in on particularly gruesome details of some images. I stayed watching these images for longer than I thought I would, which is part of Hirschhorn’s intention. He wants us to look at the effects of violence and confront the very scenes the media hides for fear of upsetting viewers and think about our methods of image consumption since the only place I’ve seen images this violent is online. We live in upsetting times, and “Touching Reality” jarred me out of my pleasant Saturday reality to remind me of that.

Thomas Hirschhorn's "Touching Reality"

Thomas Hirschhorn’s “Touching Reality”

CCNY’s Zine & Self-Published Photo Book Fair

Posted by on Aug 3, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments

This weekend at CCNY is The Americas: CCNY’s 4th Annual Zine & Self-Published Photo Book Fair.  Stop by this Sat. and Sun. 8/3-4/13 from 12-6pm to browse tons of titles and support DIY art books. As stated on the CCNY site: “The curators – Jade Berreau, Lindsey Castillo, Victoria Gondra and Erik van der Weijde – each have backgrounds in publishing, with close ties to artists from all over the Americas. They have curated a wide range of work that reflects the region’s great diversity in art and culture. As in past years, all proceeds from the sale of zines and photo books will go directly to the artists or small publishers.”

Photo by Sara Macel

Photo by Sara Macel

I stopped by the fair this afternoon to check out this year’s featured work.  Personal favorites included Alyse Emdur‘s “Prison Landscapes” and Carl Gunhouse‘s “Falling Apart” road trip photo book. Both books are for sale and there were still copies left as of late Saturday afternoon, so be sure to check it out tomorrow if you missed it today.

Photo by Sara Macel

Photo by Sara Macel

I love that CCNY has been doing this fair for 4 years now and hope that it continues as a venue for self-published works on paper to be seen and supported. It was great to see such a wide range of different examples of binding and publishing represented. In a time where it is so easy and affordable to make your own books from places like Blurb or Lulu, I really appreciated the variety of physical objects on display.

Photo by Sara Macel

Photo by Sara Macel

That said, I singled out Gunhouse and Emdur’s books because beyond appreciating their design, the content of the work stood out for me in its cohesiveness and execution.  It is easy to fall in love with a book on a pure design level, especially when the artist is making something in a small edition made by hand that pushes the boundary of what a photo book can be, but personally I want to be as drawn to the images themselves and the story told through sequencing to get excited about any photo book. I saw some great examples of this at the fair that made it worth the trip to midtown on a weekend, but not as many as I’d hoped. I remember once hearing a photographer at a photo book club meeting in San Francisco say that he often makes artist books as a means to essentially package outtakes and random images into some kind of tangible art object.  His implication being that if he didn’t make a book out of those images, however disparate those images might be, they may never see the light of day. As a photographer, there’s something great about this idea.  It takes the pressure off a bit to be able to work on an idea and make a book out of it quickly and move on to the next idea. But I guess the critic in me questions: sure you can take a group of okay photos and make a little book out of them, but should you? I think there’s a case to be made for both sides of that discussion and plenty of examples to argue both sides on display at CCNY this weekend.

Photo by Sara Macel

Photo by Sara Macel

Artist Spotlight: Andrew Miksys

Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments

Recently, I was checking in with the great online blog Ignant, and I ran across a series called “Bingo” by photographer and artist Andrew Miksys. The bingo halls and eccentric cast of characters in Miksys’s images struck a familiar chord with me having spent time every summer as a kid in the bingo halls of Jupiter, FL with my Grandma Macel. I caught up with Andrew to ask him about the project and what he’s working on now.

Photo by Andrew Miksys

Photo by Andrew Miksys

SM: First off, I just recently came across your “Bingo” series and felt an instant connection both to the subject matter and your style of shooting.  My grammy takes no prisoners when it comes to bingo or poker, and it was a big part of her social life when she lived in Florida.  What first brought you to the bingo table and when did you decide to start this project?

AM: I started the project in Seattle.  For 25 years my father had a bingo newspaper there (Bingo Today).  When I was in high school, I delivered the newspaper to all the bingo halls in Western Washington.  Later I came back and began photographing in the same halls.

Photo by Andrew Miksys

Photo by Andrew Miksys

SM: To be a bit of a tech nerd for a minute, what camera did you shoot this series with and what lighting did you use?

AM: I use 6×7 medium format cameras, the Mamiya 7 and the Pentax 6×7.  The lighting is mostly with a battery powered flash (400ws) on a stand with an umbrella or bounced.  
Photo by Andrew Miksys

Photo by Andrew Miksys

SM: The people portrayed in your photographs are quite a cast of characters.  How did you approach your subjects and how many different bingo joints did you photograph?  Did you have a favorite subject or interaction?
AM: I knew all the regulars and managers so it was very easy to gain access.  I was also living in New Orleans at the time and did a lot of photographing all over Louisiana.  Then I started taking trips around the US to different parts of the country.
My favorite place to photograph was at the St. Stevens Catholic Church in New Orleans.  Really great people there with fantastic style. Some of the women wore Mardi Gras beads year round.  The best person to photograph is the woman wearing the pink hair curlers.  I photographed her several times.  In this pictures she’s getting ready for bingo, drinking a beer and fixing her makeup.
Photo by Andrew Miksys

Photo by Andrew Miksys

SM: Tell me about The Tulips Project.
AM: TULIPS is a project I’ve been doing in Belarus (White Russia) the last 4 years.  Super interesting place.  On the TULIPS website (www.thetulipsproject.com) I’m starting to post videos, photographs and text from the project.  It’s kinda a “making of” site.  Hoping to make a book of this work next year.
Photo by Andrew Miksys

Photo by Andrew Miksys

SM: Lastly, what is your idea of a perfect summer day?

AM: Making pickles and drinking vodka.

Don’t Look Back: The CCNY Staff Show

Posted by on Jul 23, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments
Photo courtesy of CCNY

Photo courtesy of CCNY

Last week, I attended the opening reception of the CCNY staff group show titled Don’t Look Back that was co-curated by I-Hsuen Chen and Alexander Perrelli. The show is up through this Saturday, July 27th.

It is always interesting to me with group shows where each artist is only showing 1-2 pieces to see how curators weave a story out of the show’s theme. In this case, Chen and Perrelli open their show with three images that instantly set a melancholic tone and place the viewer in limbo. First, we see Car Pelleteri’s Heather & I, Brighton Beach 16×20 print of an old snapshot of the photographer and her friend in bikinis with their backs to the camera looking over their shoulder at us. The time code on the snapshot says “91 6 28″. The next piece by John Stanley of his In a Hidden Place series shows a clearing in a wooded area with ropes or ties between tree branches. It is clear someone was here, but there is an ominous ambiguity about what we are looking at that is only amplified by the snapshot as evidence we just saw. With the third image, we meet our witness. In Michael J. Dalton II’s Untitled #13 a teenage girl lounges on a tree branch looking us in the eye with a bored expression like she knows what we’re thinking. We can have the past, because all she cares about is the future.

Photo by Car Pelleteri

Photo by John Stanley

Photo by Michael J. Dalton II

As the show progresses, Chen and Perrelli play with their title Don’t Look Back in a variety of interpretations that feels fun and ambitious. Ryan Foerster’s Hurricane is listed as a “unique chromogenic print with debris” – essentially a photo damaged by a storm, if we are to believe the title, creating a one-of-a-kind piece. Chen’s contribution to the show was also my personal favorite. His artist book In Between challenges the viewer in its placement of photos in the book where the central point of our attention is lost in the gutter creating a sense of frustration on the viewer’s part. It feels like Chen wants to share these moments with us, but is holding back hiding the best parts to keep for himself. Don’t Look Back also takes itself literally where we see our subjects from behind, including in Perrelli’s own work, or looking back as in Christina Thurston’s Untitled image of a young girl posing for the camera, trying to be present in the moment, but can’t help herself from turning back to see what’s been left behind.

Photo by Christina Thurston

 

 

Photo Book: “Road Ends in Water” by Eliot Dudik

Posted by on Jul 10, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments
Photo by Sara Macel

Photo by Sara Macel

 

I first came across Eliot Dudik’s incredible self-published photo book Road Ends in Water at Carte Blanche Gallery in San Francisco where both our books were featured in a show curated by Larissa Leclair of the Indie Photobook Library and Darius Himes of Radius Books.  And thanks to a suggestion by Jennifer Schwartz of Jennifer Schwartz Gallery, Crusade for Art, and Flash Powder Projects fame, we were recently reconnected to discuss our adventures in the world of first-time book publishing.

Having grown up on the outskirts of suburban Texas where the strip malls meet the farmlands and having spent my entire adult life living in New York City and Brooklyn, I tend to gravitate towards work dealing with the American landscape.  In this body of work, Eliot Dudik chronicles the spirit of the South Carolina Lowcountry: its swamps and dirt roads, its weathered porches and ramshackle churches, and the people that are as much a part of this landscape as the giant oak trees that tower over it all.  There is an ebb and flow to the sequence of images that rolls along like currents in the deep waters it portrays.  This book feels like a baptism.  I spoke with Eliot about the two years he spent working on this project while traveling from Charleston to Savannah, Georgia where he was a graduate student at the Savannah College of Art and Design and his experiences turning this project into a beautiful book.

Bud, Russell Creek Road,  Photo by Eliot Dudik

Bud, Russell Creek Road, Photo by Eliot Dudik

 

SM: First of all, it was such a pleasure sitting alone in our apartment today for about an hour slowly going through the book and then re-reading and re-looking a couple times.  It’s a really great meditation on a certain place and time and on large format photography as a medium.  Large format photography is a long tradition that is becoming increasingly difficult for photographers of our generation to afford or even have access to processing. To that end, I’m going to kind of get ahead of myself and ask: how much does the slow, somewhat antiquated nature of large format photography factor into your process documenting a place steeped in its own deep traditions and slower pace?  Was that something you thought about during the making of the work?

ED: The use of a view camera factors into my work quite extensively.  It is the effects of the view camera on the land, my subjects, and myself that dictates my using this type of camera.  Above all else, I enjoy the slow, contemplative and methodical steps associated with camera.  It helps me to remain within the landscape.  I see it as penetrating into a bubble, whereas I sometimes have difficulty piercing the surface tension with other formats.  When making portraits, I enjoy the interaction between the subject and the view camera.  They often have a look of pride and confidence in their expression and the way they carry themselves that is sometimes lost when looking down the barrel of an SLR.

 

SM: Road Ends in Water is such a great title.  I know it comes from the road sign you photographed that appears in the beginning of the book.  Did you take that photo knowing it would become the title or was that a decision you made once you were in the editing process?

ED: I took the photo for its symbolism and because I thought the sign was funny.  It didn’t become the title of the series until the final editing stages.  A professor and mentor, Jenny Kulah, suggested it as a title, and it made perfect sense.

Snuffy in Salkehatchie Swamp, Broxton Bridge Road, Photo by Eliot Dudik

Snuffy in Salkehatchie Swamp, Broxton Bridge Road, Photo by Eliot Dudik

 

SM: What I love about the title is the symbolism of “road” and “water” that appear throughout the book.  Both are metaphors for the cyclical nature of life and death.  All of the titles of the images refer to their location as being either a river or a road.  There’s a definite sense of a journey or being in between things.  It feels to me that this body of work operates on many levels: it is a documentary of a little seen pocket of America that is disappearing in the wake of government projects and economics, it is a metaphor for your life being in a somewhat transitional stage being a grad student during the project’s making and this new focus of your life in photography, and it has far broader themes of death and lost traditions.  That’s where my head is at, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

ED: You pretty much hit upon everything.  The landscape in this region of the country is renewed, flushed, and emptied by a multitude of rivers and tributaries heading toward the ocean.  The rivers bring folks together here as much as the roads do.  Generations of families have persevered here, living off of the land and rivers.

The Word, Ivenia Brown Road, Photo by Eliot Dudik

The Word, Ivenia Brown Road, Photo by Eliot Dudik

 

SM: Your portraits have a lived-in quality.  Yet, having grown up in rural Pennsylvania, you are an outsider to this community.  How did you approach the subjects of your photographs?  “Tom & Tommy, Prices Bridge Road” and “Rob & Ricky, Near Martins Landing” in particular feel like people you know or were mid-conversation with when you set up your camera.

ED: I had lived in the Lowcountry for about six years at the point that I made these images.  The landscape and the way of life had initially drawn me to the South.  I felt very comfortable with it, yet at the same time, in a constant state of awe.  Focusing on this series, I allowed myself the time and solitary peace to traverse the roads and waterways throughout this region for hours on end.  I often met folks by happenstance and we would often converse for long periods of time.  In the example of Tom and Tommy, I had passed Tom’s house three or four times very slowly, taking in the landscape, and eventually he stopped me and asked if he could help.  I explained who I was and what I was doing, and he invited me in to see his framed photo within a newspaper clipping about a local barbeque chicken cook-off.  We talked for a while with a couple of his friends, including Tommy, and they asked me to take a photo of them with their barbeque cooker and confederate flags, which I did.  We later made the image down on the dock that is in the book.

Rob and Ricky came flying into a river landing in their pick-up truck, spitting gravel everywhere, and came to a halt about 15 yards from where I was set up to make a photograph.  They jumped out of the truck and proceeded directly into the swamp near by.  I continued about my business, and soon looked up to see Ricky calling to me to let me know that they were going to fire off some guns.  I waved to him, packed up my things, and headed into the swamp.  They were shooting at tree stumps.  We talked for a little while, and they agreed to make the photo that’s in the book.

I sometimes had longer relationships with some of the folks I photographed, seeing them on different occasions as I drove through the area.

Rob & Ricky, Near Martins Landing, Photo by Eliot Dudik

Rob & Ricky, Near Martins Landing, Photo by Eliot Dudik

 

SM: The book contains 3 poems, one of which was written by your father.  What is your relation to the other 2 authors and why did you decide to include these throughout the book?

ED: Brianna Stello is a friend of mine from Charleston, South Carolina, who is also a photographer.  I had read some of her poetry years prior to making the book, and when the time came, I sent her some of my images and asked her if she would be interested in writing something to pair with them.

Dr. E. Moore Quinn wrote an essay that is included in the book.  She was one of my Anthropology professors when I was an undergraduate, and continues to be a great friend.  She had shared my work with her friend, poet Jerri Chaplin, and Jerri wrote a piece to accompany my photographs as well.

I found the writings to help expand the reading of the photographs.

 

SM: I definitely see the Alec Soth and Joel Sternfeld influences in your work.  They are big influences of mine as well.  What other artists were you looking at in relation to this specific body of work?  The South is so steeped in incredible writers and musicians- did that offer inspiration?

ED: William Christenberry, Richard Misrach, and Stephen Shore were a few other photographers I was interested in at the time, and still am.  I would have to say photobooks were my biggest inspiration during the time I was making this work.  All sorts of photobooks, I just gobble them up.  I am a big music fan as well, and my taste in music is much like my taste in photobooks, it runs the gamut.  Although it would have been a great time to draw inspiration from music while in the car, traveling through the landscape, but I chose to instead mostly listen to NPR and chew sunflower seeds.

Carew Rice Painting,  Back of Old Drive-In Screen, Highway 63, Photo by Eliot Dudik

Carew Rice Painting, Back of Old Drive-In Screen, Highway 63, Photo by Eliot Dudik

 

SM: Let’s talk about photo book publishing.  Roads Ends in Water is self-published, right?  And what influenced the decision to make a book?  Did you always envision this project as a book?

ED: Yes, it is self-published.  I find photobooks to provide a viewing experience much different from a gallery setting.  Often a photobook is enjoyed in a quiet, private, and comfortable space, giving the reader the capacity to fully engage with the work.  It also lends to the narrative nicely, which can help endow the work with new meaning.  I did always envision this work as a book, even before I knew how the work was going to turn out.  The self-publishing process was something I was researching during the entire time I was photographing the area.  Not only does the photobook provide a more intimate viewing experience, but it also helps me to get the work out to  a larger audience than I can solely through exhibition.

 

SM: Is Saga Publishing your own brand, like Alec Soth’s Little Brown Mushroom?

ED: Yes, Saga Publishing is my own brand.  I came up with it at about two in the morning when I was trying to finish a mock-up in time to take to a photo conference.  It seemed fitting at the time.

Marietta & Jim, Wimbee Creek Road, Photo by Eliot Dudik

Marietta & Jim, Wimbee Creek Road, Photo by Eliot Dudik

 

SM: How did you raise the funds to publish 1000 copies?

ED: My Grandmother helped me to fund the printing of the book.  This is only one of many reasons the book is dedicated to her.  She is a great woman.

 

SM: In our past conversations, we talked a bit about the inevitable mishaps that seem to occur with every printing experience.  The advice is always to be on-press, but for me it was so expensive to make the book at all that the additional cost to travel to press wasn’t affordable.  What was your experience with printing with a press in Iceland?

ED: I wanted to travel to Iceland to see the book coming off the press more than anything.  I tried to come up with a way I could make it over there, but alas, I was in my last quarter of graduate school, and had several things to pull together in addition to the book.  Oddi, the Icelandic printing company I worked with, was terrific.  They sent me a physical proof to study, and after that was signed off on, they then sent me a digital proof just to make sure everything was laid out and ordered the way it was supposed to be.  Typically, they would send two physical proofs, but because of my time restraints, they sent one physical, and one digital.  They sent me some advanced copies in time for my book release and thesis exhibition, and the rest showed up on a pallet a few weeks later.  They have a representative here in the States that helps to translate the job to the printing house in Iceland.  Everything went smoothly.

Rouse, Bennetts Point Road, Photo by Eliot Dudik

Rouse, Bennetts Point Road, Photo by Eliot Dudik

 

SM: We’re both adjunct photo professors.  I remember being an undergrad photo students and always wishing there was more real-world advice for how to get your foot in the door in any area of the photo world.  It’s the same thing I hear from my students now, which I make a point of devoting at least a whole class to answering those kinds of questions.  What is the best advice you give your students?

ED: I treat all of my students as artists, and hold them to the same expectations they will encounter after graduating.  I discuss marketing strategies with them in every class.  I encourage, and sometimes require submissions to publications, calls for entry, juried and solo exhibitions, internships and apprenticeships.  Most importantly, in my opinion, I encourage them to, and mentor them through attending events and conferences like the Society for Photographic Education.  I find these kinds of events to be invaluable for emerging artists for a number of reasons, but especially for the networking possibilities.  I think we had 12 students or so attend the SPE conference in Chicago last year, and I think they would agree that the experience was remarkable.

 

SM: What are you working on now and do you see it as a continuation of or departure from the themes or methods of working that you established for yourself in Road Ends in Water?

ED: I recently began working on a new project that explores the American Civil War, especially as it exists in our consciousness today.  Fortunately, this work is coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.  There are a few different components to this project so far.  I am creating landscapes of battlefields, both well known and obscure, with an 8×20 inch view camera.  However, instead of using black and white film within this camera, I am using two sheets of color 8×10 inch film.  This creates a separation in the image, which I am quite fond of, and lends to all sorts of symbolism.  I am also traveling to reenactments to capture the essence of war among some of these battlefields.  Additionally, I have begun the portrait component of this project this past weekend at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  I am very excited about these.  They are quite unique in their construction, and I think they will lend nicely toward my interests in the cyclical nature of repeatedly reproducing such a bloody war.  I am also collecting sounds as I move through these landscapes and episodes that will permeate the photographs.

I would think this new project is somewhat of a departure from Road Ends in Water in technique and construction, but in many ways its also a continuation.  I think it retains the sense of a journey, an investigation into life, death, conflict, and varying perspectives on an important subject.  Although the equipment I am currently using to interact with the landscape is different, I am still working by the same principals: see, feel, think, create.

 

Battle of Antietam, Maryland, 2013, Photo by Eliot Dudik

Battle of Antietam, Maryland, 2013, Photo by Eliot Dudik

SM: And lastly, what’s your ideal summer day?

ED: Ideally:  Air conditioning, coffee, images, music, ham and cheese on rye, loved one/s, cards or darts.

 

To purchase a copy of “Road Ends in Water” please visit http://eliotdudik.com/ and click on “Book.”

In Tribute: Sarah Charlesworth (1947-2013)

Posted by on Jul 2, 2013 in Sara Macel | No Comments
Photo by Matthew C. Lange and Nick Shepard

Photo by Matthew C. Lange and Nick Shepard

Sarah Charlesworth left us a week ago today. I didn’t plan on beginning my run as CCNY’s guest blogger on such an unexpectedly sad note, but here we are. I guess I should start by saying that I had the great honor of having Sarah as my thesis crit teacher at SVA’s MFA Photography, Video, & Related Media program from Fall 2010 till graduation in May 2011. Over the past seven days, I’ve shared a lot of somber and loving texts with my fellow crit members and read every tribute to Ms. Charlesworth that I can find online. These articles tell of Sarah’s amazing accomplishments as an artist and speak of her as a loving mom and good friend. What also get mentioned, but not nearly given as much attention as I think it deserves, is Sarah’s role as a teacher and mentor and her devotion to her students. Matthew C. Lange, my friend and former classmate and Sarah’s assistant, said it best: “I think that the influence she had on younger artists was not only a large part of the legacy she always wanted to leave behind, but also an important part of her practice.”

As a teacher, Sarah had a reputation among the students for being tough, and she was. Like a mama bird in a pencil skirt that pushed her babies out of the nest whether they thought they were ready or not. The work being made in our class was all over the map, but somehow she was able to lead us each down our own path. Before grad school, I had trouble finishing projects. I was a terrible editor of my own work. While working in Sarah’s class on my project that would become “May the Road Rise to Meet You,” Sarah once met privately with me and we laid out over 250 small 3×5” photos along the edge 4 big tables. She circled the table a few times, pushing certain photos up into the center of the table, while I followed behind her arguing for certain images that didn’t make the cut. It took us over an hour, but eventually we had a final edit and sequence for the book. Watching her edit and seeing my project come together through her eyes taught me how to tell a story through sequencing. Then, she sat with me helping me tape them together and fold them like an accordion while explaining that she saw this project wherein I followed my dad on his travels as a telephone pole salesman as “eulogizing and celebrating something.” That phrase struck me so much that I wrote it down. I’m looking at it in my notebook now. Boy, she was good. I could go on with more stories, but I’d like to open up the discussion. If you are a former student of Sarah Charlesworth and have something to share, your comments and stories are welcome.

Thank you, Sarah, for giving me and all your students something to eulogize and celebrate.