John Chiara Interview: Photography in the Internet Age, Looking Back to See Ahead

John Chiara

Once exclusive to those with access and money, photography is now in the hands of anybody with a phone. To communicate today is to know how to Instagram your meal in the right light or how to picture yourself in the right pose. Literacy in the language of photography fast approaches a necessary education. Nearly everywhere you go an ever-present camera may do what it pleases with your image. Has there ever been a time when knowing how your image is viewed has mattered so much?

Yet a flood of images—from memory, from painting, from poetry—has always been with us. What hasn’t been witnessed before is an availability of image-seizing tools. The freedom to shoot is now everybody’s. Perhaps in response to this flood of picture-making, some photographers, including a stable featured this past May at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, have stepped back to older tools with a forward thrust. Labeled by the New Yorker as “photo-materialists,” they’ve taken an older language to direct contemporary eyes to what’s still possible in the frame.

Some like John Chiara have gone back to the very beginning and reclaimed the camera obscura. On the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Coahoma, Mississippi, he drives around with one as big as a small shed. In this retro-wormhole of a camera, a new view can be revitalized with an old physicality. Chiara’s images are objects. In his language, those objects can then become pictures of memory and space. “I feel photography has a long and complicated relationship with memory and the madness of the self-encounter,” he says. Mystery, a purposely darkened insight, is part of his process, and so is chance and intuition. But it can all be as simple as doing what has always been done, too. “People approach me all the time when I am out shooting and ask what I’m doing. I answer simply: this is a large camera and I am taking a color photograph.”

I spoke to Chiara over email about his work and his approach to photography.

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Mark Alor Powell Interview: What’s Hidden in the Darkrooms of Picture Making?

Mark Alor Powell

The interview that follows has been edited for readability. The editing has been limited to concerns of form. Mark Alor Powell’s answers and my questions have in no way been abridged. The opposite is true, in fact. Where story and metaphor required refining or expanding, story and metaphor have been refined or expanded.

The result is an honest attempt to imagine how two strangers, strangers who have never heard each other’s voice or seen each other’s face, and who live thousands of miles apart, would have spoken to each other if they had met one day. This interview may in fact be considered a true conversation. The conversation may in turn be considered a true fiction.

Mark Alor Powell lives and works in Mexico City. His newest photobook, Open at Noon, is out now.

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Andrea Margaret Interview: Does a Photograph Ever Truly Capture Who You Are?

Andrea Margaret

There are three people in the above photograph, and it would also be true to say that there are none. What starts as a familiar scene—a young beautiful woman staring into her reflection—has been complicated. Questions peek out. You begin to wonder why her unreflected body is obscured. Who exactly is she hiding? The photograph no longer looks like a self-portrait but one taken by a friend or a partner in a quiet hurry. You can imagine this friend wondering the same questions: “What is she thinking? Why is she making that face?” This friend, or lover, would stand just behind her shoulder, his or her head resting weightlessly on her floral wallpaper. He’s close enough to her, yes. He can almost hear her breathing, but his questions have no answers.

Andrea Margaret is a model and emerging photographer based in California. In this short interview, she talks to me about her recent work in photography, her modeling, and her thoughts on vulnerability.*

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Charlotte Colbert Interview: Using Timelapses to Capture Psychological Landscapes

Charlotte Colbert

The physical boundaries of a photograph are clear: without edges, a photograph would expand forever until light washed out all else. The frame bordering a photograph, the limits of its scope, both bounds and protects it. The boundaries of the mind are less clear. Where do you find imagination’s limits? Where’s the edge between dream and reality? Or, better, where and when does reality begin?

In her latest work, Charlotte Colbert draws from questions like these to explore what the inner states of the mind might look like. Using timelapses and medium-format film, as well as roughly emulsified homemade photographic paper, she materializes images of disconnect and ambiguity. Sticking to no reality other than their own, the photos in Studies and A Day at Home bring to mind our own uncharted inner depths, and point to reality’s tenuous hold.

I briefly spoke to Charlotte over email about her work.

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Andre D. Wagner Interview: New York Portraits That Give Face to Connection

Andre D. Wagner

A city can be hard to love. At times it may even seem maddeningly distant. As the sights go by, some streets will melt into others, as faces do in a crowd. Love spread too thin barely loves at all. When hoping to confront this largeness of presence, an artist often hunts for the stories and lives that form a city’s spirit, the material that shapes its core.

Andre D. Wagner, a portrait and street photographer based in New York, is one such artist. Eschewing a panoramic view of New York, one that collapses its dizzying heights into a plane of frenetic movement, Wagner instead looks for the sparks of feeling tucked within a gaze. He looks for moments that sing above the rush.

While he doesn’t consider himself creative, saying that the photographs he captures are “far more creative than I ever could be,” he has an undeniable eye for foreseeing where life will pop up. And that foresight, the anticipating of what will be before it’s there, requires him to go near and observe up close. He creates, preferably in film, his own special prints of the world, giving face to all that has moved him.

Wagner’s first solo exhibition, open to July 5th, is on view at the Papillion, Los Angeles. I spoke to Andre over email about his work.

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Guy Martin Interview: Turkey’s Popular Soap Operas Seen Through the Eyes of A Photojournalist

Guy Martin

“A prisoner exchange, outskirts of Istanbul”—reads one photo’s caption. “A man approaches a murder scene,” says another. “Murder of the mistress.” If you suspect that these captions seem inspired by the plots of a crime novel or a soap opera, you’re not mistaken. They are. Many of the photographs found in City of Dreams, Guy Martin’s Emergency Fund–awarded project, were taken on the sets of Turkish soap operas.

And although a soap opera—with its ever effusive acting, outlandish drama, and tantalizing resolutions—might seem as antithetical a visual medium to photojournalism as can be imagined, what Martin found was that in one sense the two worlds weren’t really that much different. In both worlds, when the camera’s on, life takes its stage and performs.

The late photojournalist Tim Hetherington coined the term “feedback loop” to illustrate a self-perpetuating relationship between those who fight in a conflict and those who capture images of them. He suggested that the movies, television, and photography that people ingest might influence not only their appearance but also their actions on a battlefield. “It’s the fact that there could be a revolution fought by young university students, teachers, and normal working people when they have had no training or knowledge of battlefield tactics or military planning,” says Martin about the feedback loop. “How are you supposed to dress, behave, act, or be a soldier? Where does that knowledge come from?”

Martin was with Tim Hetherington and fellow photojournalist Chris Hondros when they were hit, in Misrata, Libya, by a rocket-propelled grenade. Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed. Martin suffered a severe pelvic wound and underwent surgery at a triage center held by rebels. City of Dreams was his first project after taking a year off shooting. “I felt that there was something that I wanted to say, on a very basic level, that dealt with the way we (as western, foreign photographers) were documenting the region” he says. “I wanted to talk about notions of power and how countries exercise power . . . and as weird as it might sound—Turkish TV was one of those tools.”

I spoke to Guy Martin over email about his thoughts on photography and City of Dreams.

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Karen Miranda Rivadeneira Interview: Does Photography Preserve the Past or Give It Form?

Karen Miranda Rivadeneira

How much of your life has already been forgotten? Which moments would you have remembered instead? Questions of this sort, ones about memory, sparked the Ecuadorian photographer Karen Miranda Rivadeneira to start Other Stories, a project that pulls together her attempts at recreating memories of her childhood, ones that she considers “inaccessible” to her conscious mind or ones already ransacked by the years of time.

Each photograph has a line of words written into its bottom edge. These words give hints of the memory, or invention of one, that has been ciphered within. There’s a pliancy in memory. And Rivadeneira, questioning what it means to remember, stages and directs her family to help her recreate events that might have happened, if only because they’ve happened before (to her family, to others), but may have not actually happened, or happened only theoretically. “Other Stories is, if anything, the antithesis of childhood memories,” she says. Unadorned and softened in natural light, the photos exercise a mental juggling of her past. What’s remembered may only be a clever summary—and a photograph, the dress rehearsal of that remembering.

I spoke to Rivadeneira over email about Other Stories and her ideas on photography.

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Santiago Forero Interview: What Does It Mean to Shoot in the Wrong Way?

Santiago Forero

Of all Santiago Forero’s playfully mischievous photographs, only one can be said to have gone viral, having appeared, in 2013, on a much-shared Buzzfeed article that grouped together classic works of Western art re-imagined to include people of color. Forero’s contribution was a staging of Grant Wood’s masterwork, “American Gothic,” which he shot with a Latino couple (shown above).

The Colombian photographer didn’t suspect that a photograph in his series Mexican-American Gothic would go viral. “I thought that they were just going to be hung in [my boss’s] office,” he says. But the photograph’s popularity wasn’t a surprise either. Forero has spent a career making work that probes into the cosmopolitan landscape of photography, upending styles and perspectives that attach themselves to what’s most popular now. He prefers a slight swerve in “the wrong way.” And he just as well dishes out upright irony as he plays with sly humor.

I spoke to Forero over email about his thoughts on photography and his work.

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Marianna Rothen Interview: Photos that Look Right at Home in 70s Art Cinema

Marianna-Rothen-Desertofjune-8

At the heart of every photograph is a dilemma of conscience. From the very first to the last, each artistic choice that you make is another step farther from what’s in front of the camera and one step closer to you. Imagine if all the photos in your phone were projected at your wake one by one. Which story would this private series of photos tell? A story describing the world? Or one describing you?

Plump with retro-tinged colors and burnished with big wigs, big drama, and even bigger design, the photos in Marianna Rothen’s most recent projects use as many folds of narrative as it takes to step outside a one-off reading. Trusting your impulse to tease out meaning from an assemblage of symbols, she offers a chance to not simply look at the women, who are shot in various states of distress or liberation, but to understand their story. It’s in the fiction, the series of artistic choices that pull reality from artifice, that Rothen shows you where to look. “My approach is to create something that’s original and truthful,” she says. “If something is not labeled, it forces people to look at it innocently.”

I spoke to Rothen over email about her photobook Snow Rose and Other Tales and her approach to photography.

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Elena Perlino Interview: Incisive Portraits of the World’s Dark Economy

Elena Perlino

Each year, according to the I.L.O., nearly 21 million women, men, and children are trapped into an economy of forced labor. These victims of coercion — whether facing overt physical threats or subtle manipulations of illiteracy and debt — provide $150 billion to the world’s economy. About half of the victims are migrants. And an estimated $99 billion, from the $150 billion total, is the result of sexual exploitation, or prostitution.

Starting in 2005, for her project Pipeline, Elena Perlino, who was awarded a Magnum Emergency Fund this year, has been documenting the lives of women trafficked into Italy, one of the world’s main destinations for sexual exploitation. The photos in Pipeline capture, with sharp clarity, the bearing of deep privation, while also recording evidence of bonding, endurance, and self that rises through the catastrophe of human slavery.

In this interview, Perlino talks about the human trafficking in Italy, her project Pipeline, and one of my favorite series of hers Sea of Light.

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