One of the first things I notice about your work is an overall darkness and sense of ambiguity, sporadically mixed in with images referencing the image maker (you) and the analog photographic process.
I think I get this response about the analog process a lot, so I’m going to try to explain what I think is causing it. When I make a grainy photograph, I am not doing so in order to reveal the photographic-ness of the image. I think the objectness of the photograph is self-evident, and I shouldn’t need to push that. So, my reasoning would fall much more in line with the work of Douglas Gordon, such as 24 Hour Psycho. I don’t believe Gordon is attempting to remove veil from the film to tell the audience “No! Look! See! Don’t fall through the window! It’s all a sham!”. Or another example from contemporary film and video work would be the use of the flicker. In a lot of ways it is mainly about violence. Aesthetic violence. That is the concept I am most interested in. So when I make a grainy photograph, it is to evoke a sense of violence, not to evoke a sense of my technique or medium. Obviously I think I can achieve this sense of violence best through film because I am able to physically interact with it, but those techniques are only important in relation to the concepts they evoke. Otherwise we’re just talking about process, and as artists process can be interesting. But when it’s all said and done, there are only (at best) traces of that process in the finished product. In terms of the image referencing me: Yeah, I guess it can reference me. I think that reference to being is more open ended than that though. If you want to step inside, I’ll let you give that a shot.
To get us started, can you talk a little bit about some of the things that influence how you make your images.
I’m a pretty fucked up person. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve said to myself “I’m satisfied with my life”. So ultimately, the weight of my depression plays a huge role in my artistic output (be it music or images). I think that all speaks for itself though, the products we make are the products of our own psychologies. Other than that, I guess I could talk about specific influences. For photography, I often turn to Daido Moriyama, Dirk Braeckman, Bertrand Fleuret, Roger Ballen, John Gossage, and sometimes Michael Schmidt. Obviously there is a lot of heaviness with most of those artists. And for music that has influenced my visual work, I would name Sonic Youth, Cult Ritual, Black Flag, Earth, Bill Callahan/Smog, Big Black, GAS, Pissed Jeans… There’s a lot. All of those groups have evoked different visual notions for me, but it really comes down to rhythm and dynamics. Lately I have been very interested in drones, but at other times I have been very interested in the speed and dynamics of hardcore-punk entering my work. Of course the dissonance/melody relationship is also a very interesting thing to think about visually. I tend to think of that being very similar to the pleasure/pain principle. These groups are also representational of particular cultures, which can influence my particular ways of thinking. Like John Fahey or Bill Callahan have American Primitive qualities to them, which can lead me in a particular direction of thinking about landscapes, for example. Or there is a distinctly anti-intellectual or anti-talent notion to punk and hardcore that I want to employ. I make mistakes, and I embrace the results of those mistakes. I don’t care if people think I’m stupid, or that I don’t try hard enough, or that I’m amateur.
Is the analog process important to you, and if so, why?
I probably covered most of this earlier. I think analog used to matter a lot to me for some pretty ignorant reasons, mainly some idea of “photographic purity” and elitism. While I still print almost entirely in the darkroom, I think the important part is not whether it is analog printed, or scanned, or fully digital, but instead the conceptual qualities of those media. Like how does the fact that the image is recorded as an object and printed “by hand” contribute to the ideas at hand? Or what does it mean for that “organic” object to be converted/transformed into a completely non-tactile form? I end up thinking about those types of questions in regards to the medium a lot and these concepts are generally important to my work.
You have been involved with a couple music projects, such as the band “White Guilt”. Do you find parallels between the music you are involved in making and the photographs you make?
White Guilt definitely operates parallel to my ideas about art and photography, but that seems appropriate to me since it’s just another avenue of artistic output. Basically 100% of the time, my work is manifested in opposition to being too “dainty” or too careful, and White Guilt was started basically as a means to make some raw, aggressive fucked up noise. When we play live, its really more about performance and expenditure of energy than actually playing the music properly. So to translate that to photography: I am not concerned about technique or equipment, but instead energy and emotion. There is also a concept of transformation in playing music that I have a tendency towards in photography. When I play music, I become something else. My work tend to examine narratives of transformation, generally in terms of downward regression.The aesthetic decisions in my music and art are somewhat ironic in that they attempt to be raw and uncomfortable (and those ideas are often extrapolated as being aggressive towards the viewer), while I also see them as being empowering and nurturing a more sincere response. This leads into my fundamental problem with pleasure: it is too manipulative. Things that call too much attention to their pleasantness ultimately are making you agree with them before you can examine the content. Nice light, colors and tones ultimately draw you in and evoke a positive response before there is any opportunity to determine whether you actually like what the image is saying. Now, I understand that my work is manipulative in that it can make people feel like shit, but the distance that the “ugliness” causes provides the viewer with a heightened position. The viewer is addressing the work, the work is not seducing the viewer.
What is the Cult?
The Cult is an inscription of masochistic desires, and the force of sadism that washes over. I want to be controlled. I want to be fucked and drowned in a warm bath of fucking ignorance and hedonism. The Cult is what drags you there. When you are inside, you are no one, and being no one is the only true freedom left. There is a lot of dark irony in my work, and of course this is quite all an ironic idea: that the easiest life to live is the life with no choices, no personality, no freedom, and no humanity. I more than often want to be this submissive. The content of the images of this particular project shouldn’t be taken at face value, but should be considered as the inside of a massive black cocoon with descriptions of power, desolation, Modernism, and the desires to completely resign to that sea of nothingness.
"Long White Fingers" is a collaborative zine made by yourself, Ben Cort, Neilson Tam, Jake Wolf Miller. How did you four come up with the name?
I came up with the name. It is from the title of a song by the Gothic Archies called “Your Long White Fingers”. Close contenders were “barbecue truck” and “garbage can”. We are not intelligent people.
"Inverted Mountain" is a project you made while you were in Australia this past year. To me, the images in that series feel much like the other work you have made in Upstate New York. As exciting as it is to travel to new places, I often get distracted by surface details and have to force myself to focus on what makes that place "real" to me. How was it working in a new and presumably quite different place from Upstate New York?
I completely treated the Australian urban landscape as though I were within the photographic tradition of the American urban environment. Honestly, Melbourne was not nearly edgy enough by comparison, which was both a problem and a blessing. It was problematic because early on, I realized that I was the sketchiest person on the street, which completely removes the excitement of walking around a city in the middle of the night by yourself. However, of course that was a blessing because I could pretty much do whatever I wanted. I don’t ever really get caught up in placed being “real” when I photograph because my intentions have nothing to do with reality. I suppose I have taken the Winograndian sentiments on the window-ness of the image to the extreme in that I do not believe a photograph has anything to do with its original context of capture. A photograph cannot transmit information to the viewer other than what something looked like. Obviously we make cultural assumptions based upon these descriptions, but those assumptions are incorporeal. A photograph cannot tell what is happening in reality. This is my problem with photojournalism and documentary photography. They do not consider the medium as anything more but a conduit or a window by which a real life experience is transmitted to the viewer. A photograph makes the object or experience present and preserves it. But someone who actually considers the medium would realize that a photograph of the president is not the president, it is a description of light on a surface. So instead I think strictly in fictional narratives, and in turn I transformed the safest, most pleasant city I have lived in into a paranoid labyrinth towards a goal of anonymous, impersonal manhood. The connection between Inverted Mountain and the Cult is intentional, these projects make up the bookends of a tetralogy with part two being Blind//Death, and the third part being worked on now. In general, the connecting overarching narrative is that of the aforementioned sado/masochistic desires. The Cult drives the machine that pulls the narrator/viewer through each narrative.
Do you remember how you first became interested in photography?
I’ve always been a very visual person and art has been all around me as I’ve grown up, so I think I’ve been interested in photography longer than I’ve actually been shooting. I picked up a few old analogue cameras about two years ago while travelling through the Czech Republic, shot a few rolls of film, and was like “Wow, look at what I can make with these things”. Since then I haven’t really stopped taking photos.
Much of your work seems to focus on landscapes. Would you describe yourself as a landscape photographer?
I do take a lot of photos of delicious trees and sexy mountains but I don’t really feel I’d like to give myself a label just yet, or ever for that matter. I’m taking photos of different things everyday as my environment changes around me. I want to evolve and learn. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m fine with that.
What do your Dreaming series mean to you? Do you see a connection between dreaming and picture-taking?
When I decided to make a website, my favorite shots, the ones that I wanted to put on there all seemed to have a sort of surreal/dream like aesthetic. I feel like they could be scenes from dreams I’ve had or will possibly have in the future. I continue to end up with photos that make me feel this way and this is why I created and continue to add to the Dreaming series. As for a connection between picture taking and dreaming, I’d like to think so, but I have no idea. Interesting concept.
It looks like you have been to some pretty breathtaking places. How important is travel?
It’s important. Keeping the senses alert with fresh sights/smells/sounds.
Would you say you are drawn more towards outdoor rather than indoor space?
In general, outdoor space.
How much of a role does Flickr play in your photography practice?
Flickr has definitely played a big role for me establishing myself as a photographer. It, along with many other things, keeps me inspired and is a great way for me to share what I create. It’s also put me in contact with some amazing people and has helped make numerous printed and online collaborations possible. There are obviously some down-points to using it too, but overall, thanks Flickr.
Do you have plans for the future?
My next two months are Sweden and Turkey. The plans end after that. Anyone have a couch I can sleep on?’