Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interview on GRAYPIGEON

Maria and Yasmine
Austin, Texas
December 2009

A short set of interview questions I answered over the course of a few winter nights in January 2010 for GRAYPIGEON was recently published on their site. GRAYPIGEON describes itself as a social networking site whose sole purpose is to bring together a collective of artists. The site is under transition and will be relaunched with a new name at some point in the near future.


Why do you do what you do?

I write and take photographs in order to search for a meaningful understanding and expression of life experiences and to participate in a dialogue with a community of peers who share similar passions and values. Being wired for a creative path often feels like a condition or affliction – it is inescapable. I can’t imagine a life for myself outside of the arts.

What are the works you are most happy with? Why?

If I were to choose one image that best represents my photographs of American spaces, it would be the White Horse. I spent a week in the winter of 2007 driving around Florida swamplands chasing an elusive dream and felt like I actually captured it in that image. I think some of the qualities that exist in much of my work – the quiet tension, melancholy, mystery and beauty – come through vividly in this photograph.

More recently, I have primarily been shooting portraits – the young men in Binghamton in the fall of 2008 and other subjects I have found since in Texas, Michigan and New Jersey. I’m specifically interested in searching for people whose lives exist on an edge and exploring their expressions, emotions and stories.

What themes are hot on your mind right now?

Love, loneliness, vulnerability, uncertainty, sexuality, dreams, broken dreams, internal and external struggles.

You seem to have your hands in just about everything. Highlight some of the things you are up to besides making photographs.

I teach photography courses at William Paterson University in New Jersey and The School of the International Center of Photography in New York. In addition to teaching, I work as a curator for an arts website called culturehall founded by artist and curator, David Andrew Frey. culturehall is a curated online resource for contemporary art where selected artists can share their work with curators, gallerists, collectors and other artists. My role has been to invite artists, feature and write about their work, and build our list of resources that includes international blogs, websites and organizations devoted to the arts. The goal of the site is to build a sense of community amongst artists, promote their exhibitions and events, and provide greater exposure for their work. It’s a great job for me because I thrive on developing relationships with other artists and supporting work that I think merits attention. I also participate in online discussion of the arts and share personal work-in-progress through my own blog, PalmAire.

Why do you teach? Does it help you as an artist?

Teaching is one of the most rewarding ways I can make a living in the arts. I love teaching. Teaching is about communicating ideas and forming relationships with students. It gives my life more structure and purpose. It motivates me to be more informed, organized and articulate. I like the kind of conversations that transpire in critiques, and it is satisfying to watch students develop an enthusiasm for photography and grow in their work.

How would you describe the process through which a talented young artist achieves professional and financial success? Is that even the goal?

Professional success, understood as visibility and accomplishment in the art world, doesn’t necessarily lead to financial success. Most of my peers, even those who have achieved some substantial recognition for their work, are still struggling to make a living as artists. As far as I can tell, professional success comes from a combination of talent, hard work, commitment, perseverance and a supportive community. Financial success is exceptional. Artists who recognize and utilize the power of the Internet as a forum for networking, promotion and creative expression are probably more likely to receive exposure and succeed in their careers.

I recently finished reading the biography and journals of John Cheever which describe the financial challenges of one of America’s great writers even while his stories were regularly being published by The New Yorker. Making art tends to cost more than writing, and many visual artists whose work is shown in respected galleries often spend more on the expenses of producing work than they receive from sales of the work, especially during the current economic climate.

Developing a career in the arts is a tough path and one that requires a great deal of sacrifice and endurance. The majority of artists I know support themselves through teaching or other jobs related to the arts – and those jobs are competitive as well.

Any gallery shows or events you’d like to talk about?

I will be exhibiting thirteen photographs – made from 1997 thru 2008 – in a group show called Whatever was Splendid at the Houston Fotofest Biennial opening in March 2010. The show, curated by Aaron Schuman, explores the influence of Walker Evans on contemporary American photographers. Walker Evans has been a significant figure in shaping my understanding of who and what is worth photographing, and it will be interesting to have my work viewed in that context. Other participating photographers include Will Steacy, Michael Schmelling, Greg Stimac, Jason Lazarus, Jane Tam, Richard Mosse, Craig Mammano, Todd Hido, Hank Willis Thomas and RJ Shaughnessy.

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