Interview with Brian Kaplan

You are represented by the Panopticon Gallery, in Boston. How did you build that relationship ?? How long have you been represented by Panopticon ??
The short answer is: I got lucky. One day I got an email from Jason Landry, the owner and director of the gallery. We had never met. He contacted me because he saw several images from my Blank Billboards series in a juried show at the Danforth Museum and loved them. In addition, one of the photographs had been purchased by a collector and board member of the Photographic Resource Center, whom Jason knew and respected. Jason had also spoken with the director of the museum, Katherine French, who had good things to say about my work. Everything seemed to converge and point Jason in my direction.    

What is the fine-arts photography community like in Boston ?? What are the centers you find important ?? Who are the local photographers you admire most ??
There are a lot of great photographers in Boston. My favorites include Laura McPhee, Shelburne Thurber and Neal Rantoul, but really there are so many. Three local institutions stand out as especially supportive of emerging photographers: the Griffin Museum, which is a small museum of photography just outside of Boston; the Photographic Resource Center, which is affiliated with Boston University; and the Danforth Museum. They all have juried shows offering an opportunity to exhibit, and they take part in portfolio reviews. As I mentioned above, the Danforth and its director, Katherine French, have been especially important to me.    

How did you start working on I’m Not on Your Vacation ?? When did you begin the project ?? How will you know when it’s complete ??
My wife and I live in Boston. Six years ago, we bought a small cottage on Cape Cod. We go there most weekends year-round, plus a few full weeks here and there. For most, the Cape is a place to go for a summer vacation at the beach. The more time I spent there, the more I became fascinated with the other side of the Cape — what happens in the off season, when the population plummets and it’s quiet, lonely and raw. There are interesting characters who are drawn to “end-of-the-road” places like the outermost part of the Cape. The thousands of Jamaicans and eastern Europeans who come each summer, not for vacation but to work long hours at multiple jobs – and for a chance to see America. Tensions between man and nature, which are particularly stark on the Cape – it is, after all, just a narrow sand bar that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. I decided to bring these themes and narratives together into one project. As for how I’ll know when the project is complete, I’m not quite sure. I’ve been working on it for a year. I think I’ve probably got another year or so to go. I’ll probably be done when I’m no longer excited about working on the project – which is something that’s hard to imagine ever happening right now, but which seems inevitable. One final point:  I didn’t grow up on the Cape and I don’t really live there. So, I’m not really the one saying, “I’m Not On Your Vacation.”  It’s a somewhat obnoxious phrase on bumper stickers I’ve seen on the Cape. If anyone, it’s the subjects of my photos who are “saying” that. 

With its mix of portrait, landscape and still life photos, I’m Not on Your Vacation reminds me of the work of Alec Soth and Stephen Shore. Are they conscious influences ?? How do you deal with those influences without feeling overwhelmed by them ??
Alec Soth and Stephen Shore are two of my favorite photographers. So yes, they’re influences. But when I’m out looking for people, places and things to photograph, I’m not thinking about them or their work. I’m just trying to make the most interesting and compelling images that I can.

How is your camera equipment important to the project ?? What do you shoot with, and why ??
I use a 4×5 camera and Kodak Portra film. I have three lenses:  a Rodenstock 90 mm, a Nikon 150 mm, and a Schneider 210 mm. I love the camera and lenses because they’re extremely sharp, they give me the option of making big prints, and they give me maximum control over the plane of focus and depth of field. A view camera also forces me to think more about my pictures, because it requires more time and effort to take each picture. I can’t just fire off 20 frames. But that can also be a limitation. And, the camera can be a real pain to use when it’s cold and windy and my fingers are numb.    

For your Blank Billboards project you decided to render the images in B&W. Why did you make that choice ??  
For the first few billboard photos I took, I used color film. But I didn’t like the results. There were too many different colors in the various sources of light: red tail lights from cars that drove by, and street lamps and security lights that sometimes had a yellow cast — sometimes a blue cast. It was distracting. It stole attention from the billboards themselves. I wanted a look that was more simple and stark. So I switched to black and white film for the rest of the project. And I re-shot those first few billboards that I had taken in color.    

— Interview conducted and edited by Willson Cummer

Martijn Oostra

I work as a graphic designer, photographer, artist and publicist. My projects vary from video art to type design. There’s a continuous thread in all my activities, whether it’s a graphic design or an article that I wrote: It’s made with the tools by which I communicate. I find my tools in the media or in public areas (the street). They show how daily life is coded. What is banal in one context becomes meaningful in another. I am always looking for the beauty in triviality, but my work does have meaning. It’s about what surrounds us. I look for the details that say as much as the whole — and sometimes more.

— Martijn Oostra, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Denis Tarasov

For more than a century, Mare Island was a United States naval shipyard, located in California, USA.
I, a person born in the Soviet Union at the height of cold war, having appeared on the territory of a US naval base, felt like a spy.
In the James Bond movies and other similar films, Hollywood has created a gallery of grotesque Soviet spies. My series, The Spy’s Collection, is inspired by these mass-culture stereotypes. A military base in California is photographed from behind the corner, while I was hidden in a pipe, peeping through a torn mesh fence. The photographer’s eye becomes that of a spy stepping out of a cheap blockbuster — or that of a gamer playing computer shooters. 
All photos made on Mare Island are the views of a spy: from around the corner, from a shelter, from bushes, or through an aperture in a wall.

— Denis Tarasov, Ekaterinburg, Russia

Aubrey R. Hays

I was raised in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and a Navajo reservation in rural Arizona — a varied array of settings that have contributed to my aptitude for solo treks and a remote creative process. Through photographic documentation I examine the ways in which the figure relates to the natural world around it. In negotiating my own surroundings, a process of performance and endurance is defined.

This work came from a month-long residency in Siglufjördur, Iceland. By grappling with the uncomfortable, the disquiet, the cold and unknown, I lay gesture to an overwhelming need to overcome isolation within these rural spaces as well as within myself. This riff in a seemingly picturesque space is informed by a personal coalition of nature and its aptitude for interference.

Aubrey R. Hays, Brooklyn, NY, USA

Rachel Wolfe


A study in the interest of using outward scenes to turn inward. Liminal refers to the threshold of a physiological or psychological response. Metanoia originates as a Greek word to describe a change of mind, more specifically to a profound, spiritual transformation. These works are a visual interpretation of the threshold of a transformation — the wild, untamed ether space within all things living especially in relation to nature and my own human nature.

The images are an attempt to visualize this internal place I find in myself and reflected in all living beings. Joining together in this threshold are great potentials for new ideologies of society, art and life.

— Rachel Wolfe, Johnsburg, Illinois

Juan Margolles

Casinos is a small village 38 km from the city of Valencia, Spain. There, the typical handmade nougat and almonds have been marketed over decades on the main road which goes through the village. Probably no one went to Casinos, but all of us went through it.
Nowadays, there is a modern and secure road which bypasses the town and eases the access to planned industrial and residential areas. These images document the beginning of the urbanization process in one of these future industrial areas near Casinos.
This project reflects how changes in the landscape can influence the collective imagination by altering our memories.

— Juan Margolles, Valencia, Spain & Berlin, Germany

Liese Ricketts

My father, now very, very old, near ancient, lives alone on his farm.
Thick, insistent vegetation shrouds the buildings around his house. Giant trees fall and are left to rest. Structures, once useful, slump and collapse, succumbing to a lush profusion.
A mourning dove coos behind me as I step on to his porch. She sounds three deep round notes, monotone prophecies. Implacable mosquitoes swarm in the dry August heat; frenzied, I swat to keep from being eaten.
My father greets me, smiling widely, and declares, “The robins have gone.” He has said that at this time all my life. Then he always says, “They were here yesterday and today they are all gone. They know when to go.”
I know he is right. I have inherited his keenness for subtle changes in our Midwestern seasons. That morning, as I stepped outside of my home, I had smelled a hint of something, a coolness, maybe a dryness, something different. Fall is coming, I thought.
In February near its end, over the phone, because wicked weather sometimes keeps us apart, he declares each year, “The back of winter is broken. Oh sure, we may get some storms and more snow, but the worst has passed.” I know that, too.
Today the robins, prophets of spring and fall, have gone. I see he has left a bowl of bones on the porch for the raccoons.
Death blooms wildly in a weedy chaos.

— Liese Ricketts, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Trevor Powers

These images come from a sincere, insatiable need to photograph. My work is a reaction to my explorations and experiences. This diaristic way of working is an attempt to understand the world in which I live, and share what I have learned and seen. Photography is my way of knowing. It’s my way to replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity.

— Trevor Powers, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Valeri Nistratov

The idea of my project Documents of Nature is to create a series of photographs that reflect peculiarities of modern Russian landscape and nature transformations made by man. This idea then develops into visual reflections on a new era in the redivision of human habitat in Russia.  
Most of the photographs in this project I made while walking through large Russian territories around Moscow and other big cities. Working on this project I’ve studied my object by walking and reopened the place I live in, and therefore society and man.
In the Russian language there are no correct words for the notions of “landscape,” “landschaft,” and “paysage.” In Russian the closest meaning for them rests with the word “mestnost” (local area) in its poetical, philosophical and cultural meaning.
Looking at the modern Russian landscape I’m thinking about landscape that has been changed by man, land changes, and its gradual transformation into the absurdity of consuming boom. I’m also thinking about fragility and the purity of nature that is still preserved near huge trading centers and big cities.

— Valeri Nistratov, Moscow, Russia

Eiffel Chong

An article by Josie Appleton, titled Towards Human Species Consciousness, asked if a world shaped by humanity was necessarily a bad thing. She went on to suggest that a broadening of perspectives of our current relationship with nature is needed if we want to live in harmony with nature. To her, art would be able to provide the gravity of future possibilities to explore, both the euphoria and grandeur of acting consciously as a species, and the awesome sadness of messing up and losing.

These photographs document the existence of human actions and natural processes in ever-changing combinations. They were taken in a neglected empty space that exists between public and private land. It is a celebration of humanity as a producer of nature, that we are a part of nature, not apart from her. It is also an investigation into the sublime attraction we have for nature, an attraction that requires a nuanced understanding of our human relationship with nature and at the same time an understanding that the relationship is highly ironic in these turbulent times. These spaces also offer a constant reminder of the resilience of nature.

— Eiffel Chong, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia