Today, we have en interview with Shaun O’Boyle, who resides in Berkshire County in western Massachusetts. He received his BFA in architecture, industrial and environmental design from Parsons School of Design in NYC in 1987. In addition to working as an architectural designer, he also works as a professional photographer and his work has appeared in numerous magazines. As well as self-publishing eight others, his book ‘Modern Ruins: Portraits of Place in the Mid-Atlantic Region‘ was published by Penn State University Press in 2010. I’d like to thank him for the time he has given to this interview and encourage readers to ask questions or provide feedback via the blog’s comments feature. Without further ado….
Q. In looking over your photographs, I have come away with a strong sense of purpose; a driving force if you will. You hold a BFA in architecture, industrial and environmental design, yet I see no modern architectural photography on your personal site. All of your work, to me, has a common thread – the passage of time – and this is something you touch upon in a number of places on your website. It also feels incredibly personal. Can you tell me more about the role of ‘time’ in your photography?
“I’ve had an interest in old places, old houses, ruined buildings since sometime in my teen years. I’m not sure where that comes from. I explored a ruined house with friends back in my high school years, and that may have been the spark that started the interest. Also from an early age I worked with my father who was a carpenter, and even at age 10 I was going out working with him on weekend carpentry jobs. So there has been this fascination with the built environment since I was young.
I photographed a series of farm houses with my first camera back in 1977. These houses were owned by the same family, and over the generations they had abandoned one house in place, and built another next to it, leaving the old house to weather away at it’s own pace. There were three house next to each other, one a cellar hole with a jumble of weathered wood sticking out of it, next to that a structure that was still standing, just, the roof was caving in, clapboards blown off, not safe to enter. Next to this was the house the family was living in. I thought this was a beautiful way to acknowledge the passage of time within a family, to let the family structures fade away at a natural rate. The houses we live are an integral part of who we are, our memories and dreams of childhood houses are strong core memories (check out Poetics of Space for an interesting read on houses and memory).
The perception of the passage of time and how that is registered on the landscape is interesting to me. Old things and places carry weight from the past with them into the present. One way of seeing the present world is to see it as a precise result of everything that has happened in the past. Without that precise past, things would be different. I’m continually reminded of the weight of history when I am out making photographs, so this is an important aspect of my work.
Curiosity is another aspect, wanting to know what different worlds were like. I like David Lynch’s quote “I just like going into strange worlds”. That hits on it in a big way for me too. Some of my early projects, like The Boatyard, or Asylums were entered precisely to see what those strange worlds were like.
Another aspect is that we have such precious little time in this life. Much of my work is a conscious effort to acknowledge the missing element in the work – people and the way they have lived. The places I tend to photograph were built and occupied by people who are gone now. So the human figure plays an important part in my work, although it may not be obvious at first glance.”
Q. It feels to me that you are experimenting with the connection between past and present here (see next three images below). The human landscape is being reclaimed by nature and the physical evidence of the past is increasingly subtle as one progresses through these images, until it’s almost entirely absent. I feel it’s as if you are trying to see how far you can expunge these marks of ‘time’ from the scene and still retain a visceral connection to the past… to still keep it, or its ghost, ‘alive’. Does this make any sense to you?
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