- Your work blends the historical component with a contemporary approach, which feels intuitive in execution as well as constructive and planned. How important are the historical and contemporary practices to your work?.
Because I teach the history of photography, from the early conception to contemporary practice, the places I draw inspiration from run the gamut and may explain why the work seems to reference both the historical and the contemporary at once. I do more than just acknowledge historical practices and ideas. I revel in them. I am captivated by the darkly romantic Victorian era in particular. But beyond that, these old processes and references can become a foil for dealing with a whole range of contemporary concerns in a subversive way.
- You work with alternative processes and at times the images feel layered. Can you talk about this decision and what you have learned from this intricate way of working? Additionally, is there any digital application to finalize the image?
I think the layering or handwork involved in the making of many of these images is an approach I developed pretty early on. I couldn't help but to be physically involved in the process of making an image from altering negatives, to building little sets, to hand coating chemistry on paper etc. The more intricate images, such as the silhouettes in Small Animal, evolved over time to incorporate human figures, animals, insects, foliage and flowers that are both real and paper replicas. They are meant to feel like self-contained worlds or dioramas suggesting little dramas of the natural world.
I have begun to incorporate digital negatives that can be combined with non-silver printing techniques into my work. However, I feel it’s important that the technique should be married to the subject matter and, for now, I haven’t found a meaningful role yet for the digital component.
- Looking at your work, there is a very personal and poetic motif and although each project is different, they feel organically connected and psychologically enforced. What is your process and concept in shaping these works?
Many of these projects have begun with a single image, formed in my head, that I sit with for a while until it becomes like an irritant. Then I have to make the image and then more images like it. For example, the small salt prints in To a Stranger evolved from the idea to photograph a figure with a head that was like a loaf of bread. It was so strange that I just had to make it. I did, and then others followed. Once a few images are made I try to figure out what a project might be about and how to describe it. The common threads in many of these projects are home and the natural world; two bookends that I use to investigate what, in large measure, shapes me as an individual.
- When you are thinking about a new project, are you interested in working within a familiar space that derives from life experiences and events, or from external influences? How important this is in delivering a seminal body of work?
My approach has certainly changed as I have grown. I have three young children and spend a great deal of time with them, so naturally I am impacted by my circumstances. I have made work at home for the last 10 years. I find the limitation, for lack of a better word, comforting because it's a given. I am creative in that I can always make work that references another time or even place. I always try to deal with new questions that may be disquieting or unfamiliar even in this predictable environment.
- Besides working on personal projects you are also an educator; how do you find balance between the two?
Its fascinating to be teaching photography right now, even though the field is changing; maybe because the field is changing so rapidly. I teach historical practices, history and theory and even in those areas I am constantly updating my approach and what I teach. I find the balance between teaching and art making to be grueling at times, maybe because I have kids, but it’s also invigorating. My students really inspire me to be at my best and to be constantly looking at the world with the aim of discovering something new.
- Who is the photographer/s that have influenced you the most from the history of photography, and why?
One constant source of inspiration for me has been 19th century American portraiture and the studio as site of performance. Studio portraiture evolved with a growing middle class in the U.S. and consumers of these portraits found inventive ways to define their values photographically. What one wore, how one did their hair, what objects were brought to a sitting all were matters to be deliberated. Details that feel somewhat mysterious or symbolic to us as we view these in a contemporary context make these images bewitching.
- Amidst a noisy and dense visual community, how do you promote your work, and do you think it’s productive for an artist to participate in the constant and frantic upload of imagery on social media?
I try to promote my work currently through local connections with curators and colleagues and through juried exhibitions. I have not found a good use yet for promoting my work via social media and don't really feel the pressure to constantly update my work on those forums.
- There is suspension and departure from the sole representation of subject matter in your work. Your images are highly aesthetic, but at the same time extend the conversation beyond the confines of the frame, making them more universal. Overall, how essential are these qualities for a photograph to be successful? Despite the genre one works in, there is a tendency of photographs becoming the mere collector of things.
For me it’s important that the work add up to something in the end. I try to make images that are beautiful and that, if I’ve done my job, people will want to look at, but there is always a larger motivation that I hope is accessible to those same viewers. In the work that deals with family there are questions about love, loss and legacy and what we pass down to our children. In the work that deals with nature I am always interested in what I see as a kind of contemporary ambivalence towards nature. The silhouettes are meant to talk about a relationship between humans and nature that is both symbiotic and embattled.
- What advice would you give to students and emerging photographers in order to create a successful body of work?
Hard work is a given, but beyond that I try to encourage students to look at a lot of work, to know what's been done already and to hone the craft. When I get stuck on a project, I keep working through it – I work even harder and try to look at that project from an oblique angle in my mind’s eye – what am I missing and how might my subject be approached differently?
- What is your opinion on the current state of American Photography?
The thing that I find exciting is how fluid and accessible images are in the digital realm. The sheer wealth of images can be overwhelming, but if your investigation is purposeful, the access to other great images is incredible. The thing that I find disconcerting is that the condition of photographs as physical objects out in the world is becoming more fragile with each passing year. I am still trying to make the thing that can’t be duplicated and that only lives as an object with physical presence in the world.