“That is right on the mark. Subtlety plays an increasingly role in my work I think, especially in more recent landscape work, which tends to be fairly quiet, yet addresses similar ideas as my other work. I’m interested in this distance between natural features such as a river, and the built environment around it, especially where rivers run through towns. When spending time along rivers there is a strong sense of the surrounding built environment fading away, the riverine sounds and foliage reduce its presence to a barely audible murmur. So in these images there is attention paid to this dual ignorance between a river and its surroundings. Standing on a bridge looking at a river, there is little to see of that complex environment, you have to surround yourself in it and walk the banks to know it a little. The same goes when looking out from the river environment to the surrounding area, it’s a distant world, remote, with the occasional traffic noise the only thing to be heard.
I like to think of rivers as memory paths through the landscape, where the early structures of a town or city are found. The way we use the landscape has changed as we moved away from a manufacturing economy. So these old riverside structures, humped over with vines and weeds, are fading into the undergrowth, they still shape the landscape in subtle ways, but they are diminishing.
Another interesting thing about rivers is that they are very changeable environments. So you have this contrast of early settlement structures, factories, canals, dams, early worker housing etc., alongside this unstable environment that is subject to flooding, ice dams, erosion, course changes etc. I find this an interesting contrast between what we take as stable and long term, our built heritage, and the potential destructive force of nature.”
Q. Housatonic River #53 (below) is a compelling image and one that I feel illustrates the depth of feeling you are able to generate with ordinary subject matter. It is a compelling, beautiful, somewhat haunting image that to me feels as if the present is suspended and the future somehow uncertain… a tension…. that the present has not yet fully emerged from the past. What were your feelings when you took this photograph?
“I remember that I returned to this location twice that day, I was at the site earlier, had made a similar shot and moved on to another location. Later, while looking through the images on the camera I spotted the shot, but wanted a slightly different composition, so returned. The light was a soft overcast rainy light, a light I like for B&W work especially. Light seems to emerge from objects, rather than being cast on them. The scene and lack of foliage was perfect for partially revealing the distant house and wires, and wrapping it with the river and surrounding landscape.”
Q. How is your personal photography affected or motivated by your mental/emotional state? Can this be related to why you take photographs in the first place?
“The greatest pleasure in photography for me is the act of taking photographs. Being out in the world and looking at and exploring a subject is a great pleasure. I tend to go out whatever my mood might be, and I find that by going out, I usually will find something interesting, even if it is just one shot. I often shoot early Sunday mornings, it’s a great time to be out, the rest of the world is sleeping in, so photographing streets, buildings, neighborhoods and houses can be done without drawing too much attention.”
Q. How do you approach the subject of inspiration? Are you someone who needs to feel it, before embarking on a task, or do you go out hoping to find it?
“I usually work on long term projects, so the inspiration is usually there to continue that work. I’m always looking for new projects and often work on several projects at a time. I’ve been actively photographing for nearly 30 years, so looking for photographs has become part of how I think and see. The biggest challenge is finding the time to work on projects.”
Q. Are there any particular photographers that have inspired you?
“Atget for sure, I have the three volume The Work of Atget which is excellent. Eugene Smith also, particularly his Pittsburgh work. I saw a show of his Pittsburgh work at ICP, and I’ve never seen such dark moody prints before. Walker Evans American Photographs certainly. Josef Sudek’s work, except for the eyeball surrealist stuff. Some of Robert Adams and John Gossage’s work. Lynch’s earlier films, Eraserhead, Elephant Man and Blue Velvet. Love the industrial setting of the B&W films. Also from reading, architecture and music as much as from other photographers.”
Q. I have no knowledge of how you are shooting. Some of your images have a large format feel to them, but in composition and approach, as well as processing. Can you tell me a little about what equipment you use from capture to print and why?
“I started my photography work in the darkroom and had a darkroom for many years. What I took away from film photography is a love of B&W. I used to bulk load cheap surplus movie film stock, and shoot that. Super grainy. I went digital in 2000. About 60-70% my digital work is B&W. I would say that B&W is my default way of seeing, I have to have a good reason to go with color – the color has to really be working hard in the image for me to go that way.
I occasionally use large format, I have a 4×5 camera, but I find the process too slow for a lot of my work. Although I’m looking forward to the New55 instant film which should be shipping sometime this year. This is an instant film which gives a positive print and a 4×5 B&W negative, like the original polaroid type 55 film. I like the idea of having a unique print, as well as a negative to work with, and will use this film for one of my projects. I have been experimenting with old polaroid cameras and Fuji instant film this past year.
I shoot architectural subjects as part of my day job, and tend to correct keystoning vertical lines in my personal work, so that may add to the large format look.
I currently shoot with Sony A7 cameras and a mix of Canon EF lenses and Sony FE lenses. From 2000 until recently I was a canon shooter but became impatient waiting for canon to innovate with their sensor technology. I use Photoshop and Lightroom for editing images. I print on an Epson 3880 printer.”
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