I’m interested in knowing more about the Family Dig. How did you develop the project with your family members? Did you specifically stage some of the photographs, or were they all spontaneously photographed?
The birth of The Family Dig was born out of the death of my grandfather. Shortly after his passing, I (somewhat subconsciously) began rooting through my grandmother’s basement in search of objects, documents and photographs that possessed some form of vitality, however ephemeral, to my grandfather’s existence. This impulse was at first merely a means of trying to reconcile his absence; the desire to make visual this loss came later. I was fascinated by the idea of traces – I wanted to examine whether the material artifacts that remain in our stead when we die are capable of disclosing any vestige of the person who possessed them. In hindsight, the inclination of my investigation was quite personally existential. It had less to do with my grandfather’s death and more to do with an overwhelming grappling with my own mortality. The moment when the nature this inquiry became photographic was at the discovery of a contact sheet of studio portraits of my grandfather. There was nothing particularly remarkable about them; in many ways they are the kind of vernacular images that permeate the archive of domestic photography. On closer inspection, however, I became deeply affected by the subtle, but pronounced fluctuation in facial expression, gesture and body language from image to image. Additionally, a few of the photographs had been removed from the sheet, presumably for dissemination as wallet keepsakes. The convergence of his simultaneous presence and absence in this one document galvanized a much broader exploration of familial heritage. With the archeological process as a model of sorts, I began photographing my familial ephemera. This undertaking elicited a multitude of emotions. My grandparents bankrupted stock spoke to the regret of an American Dream unrealized; certain family photographs conversely distilled moments of happiness and hope. Particular brochures and trade journals addressed the importance of a professional identity, while other artifacts underscored a more private, domestic experience. Other things simply remained mysterious and unknowable. Documents inscribed with enigmatic notes emphasized the fact that history is often fractured and idiosyncratic.
I have come to learn that for as many questions as this project has answered, it has raised just as many. My family’s direct involvement in the project has been rather limited. This work has served as a personal means of reconciling my place amidst a lineage that is far greater than myself. Despite the intimateness of my exploration, however, I was ultimately searching for a certain domestic universality – one prevalent and recognizable to many. The search for a balance that oscillates between the personal and the ubiquitous has been one of the most challenging aspects in the construction of this work. Ultimately, I think The Family Dig dispelled for me the notion that there is any underlying, or inherent, truth in photographs. The photographic image is always and inextricably filtered through the desire of the imagemaker, and concurrently through the unique set of inclinations of the viewer.
Erasure seems to be the natural follow-up of the Family Dig as both projects seem to explore the notion of one’s family photographic memory. In what are both projects linked, according to you? And how did you develop Erasure?
The link between The Family Dig and Erasure is rooted in, and dependent upon the archive. Unlike The Family Dig, however, which explored a specific familial history (my history) Erasure investigates the loss of cultural memory through the negation of societal tradition – the preservation of images in family photo albums. There are definitely some overlapping ideas (or methodologies perhaps) though the tenor of the projects is quite disparate. With The Family Dig, I was arguably trying to resist the loss of memory through a direct utilization of a domestic archive available to me, while Erasure simply highlights, and perhaps accepts, that the hand of digital technology has fundamentally altered our archive of cultural imagery. The tactility of documents and objects that make up traditional archives, which is arguably what gives them their cultural omnipotence, has been supplanted by a more transient and fragmented system. With these ideas in mind, Erasure examines the physical impressions and deterioration left behind by photographs that have been removed from family albums. Also included is a series of text pieces fabricated from catch phrases found on photo lab envelopes. Together, these two approaches explore the implications of a less personal, more mechanized relationship to the photograph in contemporary society.
How did the Exposure Project influence your own work?
The Exposure Project has been more of an outlet for nurturing a community-based environment. My own work has certainly come along way in the time since its formation, but for different reasons. Really what the project has reinforced for me is how I want to operate as an artist in the world. Collaboration, engaging discourse and mutual supportiveness have all been important and sustaining aspects of the work we’ve done – or tried to do anyway. These are the things that have influenced my work the most in regard to The Exposure Project.
As someone who regularly writes about photography on the internet, who do you actively follow online?
If I’m being honest, I haven’t blogged that much in recent months. Life has gotten incredibly busy and my focus has been more on my own work than on actively writing about contemporary photography. That being said, I do still keep up with VVORK, I Heart Photograph, Horses Think, E-Flux and a few others. I find inspiration in so many people’s work that it feels daunting to try and list them here. Some recent stuff that I’ve seen and enjoyed: Mariah Robertson’s installation at “Greater New York at PS1, the Sol LeWitt wall drawing retrospective at Mass MoCa, Petah Coyne and Mike Disfarmer (also at Mass Moca), Danny Jauregui at Leslie Tonkonow and “The Space Between Reference and Regret” at Friedrich Petzel.