New York City, USA.
q: Give a short introduction of yourself:
a: Although I just did completed the MFA program at ICP-Bard, I actually come from a very science-heavy academic background. I majored in Psycholinguistics, a branch of Cognitive Science, in my undergrad at NYU. My entire family is made up of scientists of one sort or another, from biologists and veterinarians to physicists and archaeologists. Growing up surrounded by these very academic, extraordinarily curious people had a major impact on my own interests.
q: Does photography change the way you look at things?
a: Having a rich art historical knowledge base certainly changes the way you look at the world around you; you have so much to draw from, references to bring into your understanding of the world around you. That is empowering. I also know that my attention changes when I go from observing the space around me to making an image. Form, color and light start to stand out and that catalog of art historical knowledge comes into the fore.
q: Your thesis book “Fata Morgana" is about exploration and the "pursuit of the unknown". What inspired it and can you elaborate briefly about the publication?
a: I think the ambitions of so many of these men who went north to explore were complicated and compelling; what drove them to embark, what kindled the hope that kept them alive, and what they give credit to for their success once they return are all completely different things. The North Pole itself is elusive and misleading; there’s a geographic north pole, a magnetic north pole, the celestial North Pole, and a northern pole of inaccessibility. The Arctic, unlike the Antarctic, is a frozen ocean, not a continent; there’s no land mass, just sea ice. The mythic explorer hero is also a foggy, misleading concept; these men were egotistical, driven by ambition, and many of them died miserable, needless deaths alone. All of my interests and works come out of this deep respect for the Human; I see it so clearly in these fevered moments of triumph-cum-horror, like the World Wars or the Golden Age(s) of exploration. There’s a lot to be said about the exploration of scientists, philosophers and academics, too, and along the same lines.
q: Expounding on the idea of “Fata Morgana” and illusions, I think photography itself is a form of illusion in that it imitates visual reality and past events but does not actually reproduce the captured moments. Would you consider photography closer to fiction or reality in this context?
a: This is a very complicated question with a dense cloud of conversation around it in our field. Photography’s earliest days were heavily rooted in the scientific, establishing an association between it and Truth. Shortly the pictorialists started using it to create rather than capture and thus began the great tension between reality and supposed-reality in photography. Even the most revered photojournalists have been known to construct or stage an image, like Capa’s Falling Soldier. Different photographers use both capture of the seen world and construction or manipulation in the image in different measures. I tend to be more hands off when it comes to altering images, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be suggestive of an altered reality. Take my photograms for instance; they’re all made of water, sand and cotton balls, but they look like interstellar swarms and murky auroras.
q: How do you feel your education in photography has influenced you?
a: I started the MFA program at ICP-Bard without any formal photography training. I was anxious about my technical abilities, and spent a lot of time trying to make my work fit into a theme or line of inquiry that I thought was worthy of capital-a Art. I realized after the first year that this was just not working; my work was stagnating, I was getting frustrated, and my classmates and teachers were really bored with my work. I realized that making work on a subject that you are obsessed by (in my case Polar exploration, early aviation, manned spaceflight etc.) automatically takes you halfway there. Sure, not everyone is going to get jazzed about the technicalities of man-hauled sledging, but you have to trust that there is something beautiful and compelling in what you are passionate about and that as an artist you have the abilities to communicate that to others. I learned not to worry if what I’m interested in most is super esoteric, or seemingly mundane, because excitement will carry you through your art making and will shine in your work.
q: Photographic equipment?
a: Most of my work during grad school was made with a Mamiya 7, but prior to that my go-to camera was a Minolta that my father gave me when I was eleven. I just inherited a Leica M2 as well as a Rolliflex, which are turning out to be immense fun. I’m a big fan of Foma’s paper, too. It’s cheaper than Ilford, though the emulsions scratch really easily, but you can get matte graded paper there. That’s just spectacular.
q: Upcoming projects or ideas?
a: I have been selected to participate in the Arctic Circle artist residency in October 2015. I am over-the-moon excited and have a lot of planning to do, from gathering equipment and gear to grant writing and fundraising. I’ve also been working on a body of work around World War One, given it’s the centennial of the war for the next few years. Doing background research and preliminary sketches for that has been both horizon widening and intensely depressing.
q: Any new music to recommend?
a: I may be late to the game, but I’ve been all about Stromae for the past few weeks.
Thanks so much to Lee over at Nopefun for the interview.