Peter Dixie

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 As an identified and preserved object, it is enshrined, withdrawn from its mundane original context, and recreated as an object of contemplation.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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