Miguel Vasconcelos

www.MiguelVasconcelos.com

Autopista (Freeway) is an ongoing project, the result of travel by road networks of the Iberian Peninsula from 2009 to the present.
Images are captured while traveling, shooting from inside the car. There is some noise in the pictures — blurriness which is purposeful and provides a record of ephemera.
This is a series of images that leads us to reflect on the passage of time and the boundary between memory and oblivion, the rural and urban, moments and events, figures, objects and places.

— Miguel Vasconcelos, Fafe, Portugal

Favorite Five Books Found in 2011

I’m sharing five books that I came across in the past year that I found inspirational. I’ll review them in alphabetical order of the authors’s names.

Robert Adams, Tree Line
Photos of trees in eastern Oregon. Loose compositions that feel conversational in tone. Somehow in Adams’s hands an image of trees, a road and telephone wires becomes a lovely form that invites repeated viewings. Adams includes shots that were taken within minutes of each other at the same scene, thus creating what seem like still shots from a movie. Much of Adams’s work shows humankind’s destruction of nature, but this project often includes purely “natural” scenes. Adams writes that his images “recall a consolation always and everywhere the same: the promise inherent in nature’s beauty.” What follows from the recognition of that beauty is the great sadness at its loss, which Adams has eloquently explored in earlier projects.

William Eggleston, The Democratic Forest
Eggleston finds beauty in the most mundane scenes. His images include trees, fields, intersections, telephone poles, signs and decaying buildings, but his true subject is color and form. He appears to have used a 35mm camera (he’s holding one in the author photo), in an interesting change from the work of Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld and others who have used 8×10 cameras to photograph similar subjects. One of my favorite images is untitled (p. 59) and shows a parking area behind a few buildings. On the left is a dark green structure. To the center is a brick and cinderblock building and on the right is a blue car, dazzling in the direct sunlight. Starting at the bottom right and wending their way toward the upper left are sets of lime-green footsteps stenciled onto the blacktop. So mysterious and beautiful. Another memorable image is a photo of mud, a chain, and two mud-stained boots and jean legs — photographed at an oil rig. The yellow-orange of the mud spreads over the chain and clothing — as if the earth were swallowing up the person foolish enough to try to extract nature’s riches. The book includes an introduction by Eudora Welty and an afterword by Eggleston.

Andy Grundberg, Crisis of the Real
Intellectual criticism that makes sense and is fairly easy to follow. Grundberg presents an insightful discussion of postmodernism, comparing the meaning of that movement in various artistic genres. A chilling conclusion: “There is no place in the postmodern world for a belief in the authenticity of experience, in the sanctity of the individual artist’s vision, in genius, or originality.” (p. 18) That’s why I continue to struggle with postmodernism. Grundberg includes illuminating essays about the work of Walker Evans, Robert Adams, Joel Sternfeld, Richard Prince and Sophie Calle, among many others.

Ken Schles, Oculus
Part philosophical text, part photobook, Oculus is a tantalizing publication. Schles includes references to many sources, touching on Plato, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. The book includes gorgeous images from three very different projects: portraiture of children sleeping, nighttime beach photography and a varied series of images gathered under the title “Mnemosyne,” for the Greek goddess of memory and the inventor of reason and language. Schles includes lengthy notes, which give the reader multiple access points to the book. His mysterious chapter titles, like “Seeing Is Not Knowing,” challenge the viewer to connect Schles’s philosophical musings to the images.

Dale Schreiner, Thereafter
Meditations after the shooting death of his father. Stunning tones, interesting subjects. Very well sequenced, with logical connections between all the shots. Schreiner opens the project with an image of a road and a four-sided sign that we see from behind. He photographed from a tangled scrub land off the road, with a short fence between him and road. The path toward the future, Schreiner seems to be saying, is not easily found or followed. Even road signs, placed there for guidance, may be worthless. Trees are a recurring element in Schreiner’s images, and they are at times bent in half, wrapped with small ropes or set behind fences. In one image a tree stands behind a ribbon that warns “danger.” The consolation that Robert Adams wrote about is simply not present in Schreiner’s work, though the subject matter is similar. Thereafter was published by Vela Noche Press in an edition of 20 books.

— Willson Cummer

Kerim Aytac

www.Kerim.co.uk

The commute is a relatively recent form of travel. Suburbia and exurbia ever-expanding into spaces designed to accommodate this transfer, the journey has become a formality. This project seeks to see through the eyes of the commuter and engage with the sense of loss his or her daily predicament engenders.

The commute is time lost; an ellipsis. No memoir, no matter how encyclopedic, would dare to record the minutiae of such a journey. By virtue of repetition, it ceases to register. The project approaches this concept in two ways: First, the images are still, absent in time, even when there is movement to record. Second, the spaces are timeless, from within the period of the commuter’s existence. All photographs were taken in “New Towns” around the M25 (the ring road surrounding greater London) — built in the 1950’s and 60’s to be autonomous, but eventually subsumed by the city’s overspill. Since the decline of modernity, this type of space has lost its historical specificity. It could be any time within the recent past; not old but not new. Frozen and timeless, therefore, the images resemble any memories we can hold onto from an experience so familiar.

The commute now takes place in spaces designed for its continued existence. They support its nature. In their aesthetic they encourage the journey’s seamless fall into non-memory. The project takes this aesthetic as the subject for its images.

— Kerim Aytac, London, United Kingdom

Peter Dixie

www.PeterDixie.com

These photographs, from the project Hinterland, show landscapes from the outskirts of Shanghai — the areas beyond the outer-terminal metro stations.

In each image there is some centrally-placed object, a space being constructed around this, and by drawing an ordinary object out of the landscape and elevating its status compositionally, it is given a significance that in passing perhaps it would not have. As an identified and preserved object, it is enshrined, withdrawn from its mundane original context, and recreated as an object of contemplation. Hence each image presents a site of contemplation.

The series deals with one city, Shanghai, but has relevance to the idea of the city in general — as event, as a complete historical entity with a finite life, as a bounded space. As with any event, its existence is discreet. This does not mean that limits exist in a clear sense. The boundaries of an event shift and break upon examination. This series looks beyond the city at what will be city, the becoming-city, the future-city.

It is a landscape of possibility.

— Peter Dixie, Shanghai, China

Interview with Liese Ricketts

www.DeadPhoto.com

Fallen Giants seems to be the most intimate of your projects. How did it start ?? When will it be completed ?? How will you know ??
Fallen Giants is the most intimate series that others can see. I have made very personal work in the past, so personal indeed that I don’t choose to show it to anyone. Sometimes work can be therapeutic, or the only outlet when going through a difficult time. During my mother’s cancer, I made a lot of written and visual pieces to help me deal with that nightmare.
Fallen Giants began in my head with some words my mother said before she died. She had gone to Florida to rest, after the grueling chemo, and when she came back home, she noted, very sadly, that things seemed to be falling apart on the farm, and that it looked rather ramshackle. “I always thought it was perfect here, but things look so shabby.” She was seeing her mortality in her intimate surroundings, I thought.
It has been twenty years since then and the old outbuildings are as fragile as my 96-year-old Dad. I want to image the relationship between his physicality and the structures bending with age about him. It has been noted that people become like their pets; I think people also become like the spaces they inhabit or vice versa.
I will photograph there throughout the seasons and the time I have left with him. These days I make plans to go there to make more images but something pulls me back. I allow the internal feelings on this one to lead me to continue, to tell me when to go, and when to stop.

What photographers inspire you ??
The photographers I love the most have a quality in common with me, although their images are not like mine at all. There is a subtle intimacy between the personal and the subject; I feel I am looking through their eyes. I can feel the photographer ‘s intelligence, behind the camera’s back.  It is that moment when the camera disappears and one is face to face, engaged, with the subject.
I melt before the work of Robert Frank, Robert Doisneau, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Martin Chambi, Hiroshi Watanabe, Diane Arbus, Eugene Richards, and, most recently, Vivian Maier. What an eclectic bunch!
I feel the same way every time I stand before a Van Gogh.

Your projects usually involve portraiture. For Fallen Giants you mixed in landscape and still life images. How did you decide on that mix ??
I didn’t make the distinction between those genres as I made the images. They are parts of a whole, as one would photograph the whole body or a close up of one part, an eye, a hand.

Writing is very important to your projects. How did you develop your writing skills over the years ?? Does it help your shooting to be able to write so clearly about what you are doing ??
To my mind, photographs are like jumbled sentences, with parts that can be diagrammed to make sense. One mentally assembles the meaning based on one’s personal experience and culture.
I don’t think about what I mean while I am doing it. I click the shutter, experiencing a moment of engagement. It is in the editing that I can start to write about what I have made and what it means to me. Words help the viewer, and me, assemble the meaning.
I really have done nothing to develop my writing, other than doing it. I am drawn to words in images, and the complex play between thought, text shapes, and meaning.

You teach professionally. How do you like that ?? How does it affect your photography ??
Without teaching, I don’t believe I would have remained as passionate about photography as I am. My young students inspire me with their passion and excitement. I found exactly what I am meant to do in this world. It is a joy.

You usually shoot film. How does that affect your work ??
Sometimes I shoot film. Sometimes I work with found images and work digitally. I tend to work digitally in the months when Chicago weather keeps me inside. I have to work on something every day. So I have about five projects going on simultaneously in order to pick and choose.
I really love black-and-white film, as much as I love objects. I have six houses in Capricorn (no eye-rolling, please) so that explains my attachment to physical things. I am on the verge of becoming a hoarder.
My favorite part is developing the film itself. Agitating the canisters, being accurate in the science of it, thinking about how the film is changing inside, and waiting to see the magic. I love film cameras as well, beautiful and functional objects. Medium format is what I prefer; the square is so perfect, so orderly.

— Interview conducted and edited by Willson Cummer

Thomas Locke Hobbs

www.ThomasLockeHobbs.com

Buenos Aires was founded, twice, on a small bluff not far from where the Paraná and Uruguay rivers enter into a broad estuary called the Rio de la Plata. Hundreds of miles of flat pampas give way, rather undramatically, to a small slope, about 30 feet in height, below which sits the river. After living in Buenos Aires for about two years, the flatness of the city, the impossibility of having a vista or a perspective from which to orient oneself, began to feel oppressive. I started taking pictures around the one, small topographical feature present in the city: the brief slant of the barely perceptible riverbank, or barranca.
Residents of Buenos Aires say the city turns its back on the river. Indeed, centuries of landfill have pushed the present-day edge of the river so far from its original banks that standing at any point on the riverbank, the river itself is never visible. What is visible are the markings of Argentina’s history: the lavish parks built in the 19th century, the seat of government, the bullet-scared façade of a government ministry, the site of a clandestine torture center run during the last military dictatorship, murals for candidates, a monument to a lost war, graffiti for recently a deceased ex-president, an elevated highway constructed for the World Cup and so on.
The photos in this work are ordered by their geographical location, from north to south, starting with the Avenida General Paz, which marks the northern limit of the Federal Capital district of Buenos Aires and then continuing southward until Parque Lezama, in the southern part of the city.

— Thomas Locke Hobbs, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Marna Bell

www.MarnaBell.com

My many trips back home to New York City on the train have helped me to remember lost pieces of time where life seemed simpler and less veiled. By revisiting the same landscapes in different seasons and under different weather conditions I was able to capture the past before it disappeared. As a painter and now as a photographer I have been drawn to the meditative quality of the Hudson River and the sacred aspects of the natural environment. This series is reminiscent of a more romantic era, when God and Nature were viewed as one.

— Marna Bell, Syracuse, NY, USA

Interview with Vaughn Wascovich

www.Wascovich.com

How did you start the Tar Creek project ??  What first drew your attention to it ?? 
A former student at Columbia College was from the region and doing a project down there. I was intrigued as I’d never heard of it and had never seen anything remotely like that particular landscape. I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio during the death of the steel industry. The sky was always orange, the river orange, and while I was in school there you could write your name on your notebook in soot after you left it open on the ground for five minutes. So I suppose I’ve always been drawn to marginalized, polluted places. In a lot of ways it’s home for me. 

Who do you consider to be influences on your photography ??  How do you go beyond their work ??
Certainly Robert Adams was and continues to be a big influence. Emmet Gowin is huge. Lee Friedlander, Harry Callahan. I saw the work of Lewis Baltz early on and I didn’t think you could take pictures like that. I also had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with Frederick Sommer in Prescott, and I’ll remember him, his integrity and his work forever. I’ve also been a huge fan of Josef Sudek. Of course that’s just a few photographers. I’m also influenced greatly by music, painting, and poetry. I have a rather large ceramic collection. One of my good friends, Tim Wright, is arguably the best custom knifemaker in the country. His dedication to his principles scares me to death. How do I go beyond their work? That would be for someone else to say. I just hope I don’t embarrass them. 

Why did you use a digital SLR instead of the often-used 4×5 for this landscape project ?? How did your tools support your artistic goals ??
I had built and shot with 8×20″ and 12×20″ view cameras, but a good friend of mine, Henry Domke, has been shooting digital landscapes for years, and making ridiculously large prints. He talked me into it just from seeing the work. I’d been shooting landscapes with a Hasselblad for a while, so the jump wasn’t that big a deal. And once I did, I never looked back. As with all things photographic, I think it was and still is a trade-off. But no coolers of film, and no scanning? I think one of the big differences is that I edit at the computer now, and shoot more in the field. For a long time and with the majority of the images from Tar Creek, I was always on the tripod. In the past year or so though, I’ve decided to loosen up some, and have been shooting with the 85 f1.2, wide-open, handheld. 

You have an interest in the indigenous people of this polluted area, but you do not use portraits in this project. How do you explore the identity of the indigenous people ??
I always try to imply people in the photographs without photographing a specific person. I’ll look at a finished print and can’t help but see the people that “belong” in that landscape without them being there. Of course I do have many images of the people from the region, and those (and the people themselves) are probably among my best memories of the place, but are also the least successful images. I’ve photographed the annual powwow that’s held there (the oldest in the country) for a number of years. I also had the opportunity to photograph in Hoppy’s pool hall. It was unchanged forever, and filled with old photographs of miners and the mines. Every monday night a group of musicians would gather to sing songs. They shared one microphone and everybody got a chance to pick their favorite song. Often I’d be the only person in the audience. The best part of that experience was when I took the photos back to Hoppy, and he included them alongside the great old photographs on the wall. I finally felt as though I was a part of that place.

Is this project complete ??  If not, how will you know when it’s complete ??
I’m planning on going back again sometime in the next few months to do a little shooting and see what’s left of the place. I think it’s often hard to know when a project is finished, but in this case, it’s really leaving me. A few years ago, the government decided to move everyone out of the area, so three towns have been completely razed. Then a few years back a tornado came through and destroyed much of the largest town, Picher. There are a few holdouts, and oddly I’ve heard that some people are actually moving back into the area, but yes, I think I’ve pretty much stopped photographing Tar Creek. 

What is your goal for the project (to make a book, have shows, sell prints, raise awareness) ??
I’ve had several shows with the work, and my goal in the next few months is to get a proposal off to a few publishers. It’s a fascinating place with a remarkable history that should be recorded. The challenge, of course, is in tying it all together and having it make some sort of sense, and to make it worthy of the people and place whose story you’re trying to tell. 

— Interview conducted and edited by Willson Cummer

Koichi Nishiyama

www.KoichiNishiyama.com

There was a forest near the house where I lived when I was a child. When the forest existed, I felt a connection with a deep part of the world there. However, the forest was destroyed a long time ago, and only the process of the loss and its memory were kept in my mind.

I am now living in a place which is a little distant from there. When I look at the scenery in the periphery of the city where I live, I can see a new contemporary scenery which overlaps with the past scenery.

I keep walking and roaming around the place until it leads me to my destination. And the subdued light is shining on the space which illuminates my memory in the past. At that time I realize that I can regain the connection with the world.

— Koichi Nishiyama, Tokyo, Japan

Neal Johnson

www.NealParkerJohnson.com

My body of work, entitled Please Pay Here, is a project documenting the landscape and design of urban parking infrastructure — from a single layer of yellow-striped asphalt to multi-level concrete enclosures.  It’s about the domination of urban space — a necessity of design and planning.

My photographs are taken mainly at night or after hours, when the working commuters abandon their parking stations and leave behind an empty and hollowed garage. It’s at this time that the cubed stacks of concrete layers begin to come alive. The loneliness of the empty spaces exposes the ambient entrails and cast shadows of the memories of the workday.

— Neal Johnson, Louisville, Kentucky, USA