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42 minutes | Jul 22, 2021
Episode 10: Cog•nate Collective and Işıl Eğrikavuk
In this episode, MoCP Curatorial Fellow, Asha Iman Veal, is in conversation with artist Işıl Eğrikavuk and artist duo Cognate Collective (Amy Sanchez-Arteaga and Misael Diaz). Together they discuss their thoughts on nationality, identity, creative influences and their works included the MoCP exhibition, Beautiful Diaspora: You Are Not The Lesser Part. The artists also share their thoughts on other works in the museum’s collection by Laia Abril, Doretha Lange and David Taylor. To help stop the spread of Covid-19, this episode was recorded over Zoom and not in the WCRX studios.
44 minutes | Apr 2, 2021
Episode 9: Laia Abril and Elinor Carucci
MoCP Curator, Kristin Taylor, is in conversation with artists Laia Abril and Elinor Carucci. They discuss depictions of the female body and their works in the MoCP exhibition, Reproductive: Health, Fertility, Agency.
42 minutes | Dec 22, 2020
Episode 8: Jess T. Dugan and Rafael Solid
In this episode, MoCP Chief Curator and Deputy Director, Karen Irvine, sits down with artists Jess T. Dugan and Rafael Soldi of the Strange Fire Collective to discuss the founding of Strange Fire and its mission to showcase works made by women, people of color, and queer and trans artists. Dugan and Soldi also speak about their own practice as working artists, and their thoughts on the work of Harry Callahan and Diane Arbus in the museum’s collection.To help stop the spread of Covid-19, this episode was recorded live in front of an audience over Zoom and not in the WCRX studios. Hermaphrodite and a dog in a carnival trailer, Maryland, 1970, Diane Arbus Eleanor, Port Huron, 1954, Harry Callahan Interview TranscriptKaren Irvine:This is Focal Point, the podcast where we discuss the artists, themes, and processes that define and sometimes disrupt the world of contemporary photography. I'm Karen Irvine, chief curator and deputy director at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago, with guests Jess T. Dugan and Rafael Soldi. Jess T. Dugan is a St. Louis who is interested in representations of identity, particularly as they apply to LGBTQ+ communities, and specializing in portraiture. They received their MFA from Columbia College, Chicago in 2014, and has their work in the permanent collections of over 35 museums. Dugan's monographs include To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults, published by Kehrer Verlag in 2018, and Every Breath We Drew, published by Daylight Books in 2015. Currently, they are the 2020-2021 Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Teaching Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. Rafael Soldi is a Peruvian born Seattle based artist and curator. His practice centers on how queerness and masculinity intersect with topics such as immigration, memory, and loss. In addition to his extensive art practice, Soldi was part of the curatorial team at the Photographic Center, Northwest for five years, and has realized many curatorial projects since that time. He is currently co-curator of The High Wall, an outdoor video projection program dedicated to immigrant artists and artists working on themes of diaspora and borderlands. He has published two monographs this year: Imagined Futures with our friends Candor Arts here in Chicago, and Cargamontón, a self-published book. Dugan and Soldi are both co-founders of the Strange Fire collective, along with Zora J. Murff and Hamidah Glasgow. Strange Fire is a project that highlights work made by women, people of color, and queer and trans artists. Today we are discussing an artist they each have chosen from the MoCP's permanent collection as well as their own work and practice. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, we are recording this session live over Zoom and not in person at the WCRX FM radio studios. The full unedited interview will be made available on the museum's Vimeo page. Please visit mocp.org/focalpoint for more. So, welcome to both! Rafael is with us from Seattle this morning and Jess is in St. Louis. Normally when we record these podcasts, the first segment is recorded in our vault where we stand with the artists and we look at the objects that they've chosen to discuss. Today instead, I'm going to share my screen with everybody in our audience and show you the pictures that you both picked out. And I'm going to ask you, starting with Jess, to state your name, tell us the title and the maker of the work that you've chosen, and then could you briefly describe it to us so that the listeners who will be listening just to the podcast audio version have a sense of what we're all looking at right now?Jess. T. Dugan:Sure, yeah. And thank you so much, Karen. I'm really happy to be here today, especially with you and Rafael. And as you know, I have a lot of love for and a longer history with the MoCP, so it's especially sweet. My name is Jess T. Dugan, and I chose the collection work by Diane Arbus titled Hermaphrodite and a Dog in a Carnival Trailer, Maryland, 1970, which is a black and white photograph. It's a portrait. It depicts a person sitting in what we know from the title to be a carnival trailer. Their left hand is resting on the table in front of them and their right hand is resting on their hip, and they're in a kind of two piece sequined performative outfit wearing makeup. Their hair is fixed. They're wearing jewelry and earrings and a necklace. And they're looking right at Arbus, which is important to me and I think to the work.Karen Irvine:And then Rafael, can you please do the same?Rafael Soldi:Sure. Hi everybody. Thank you Karen and MoCP for inviting us to this conversation. My name is Rafael Soldi, and I chose an image by Harry Callahan titled Eleanor, Port Huron, 1954. As we know, Harry Callahan photographed his wife Eleanor expansively throughout his whole career. This is a black and white image. It's fairly square, I don't think it's quite a square. I think it's kind of a square rectangle. It's a black and white image. It is mostly foliage from top to bottom, and there is a nude Eleanor laying on the grass with her backside to us. And this sort of top third half of the image is very, very dark foliage, and then the foliage gets a little bit lighter toward the bottom. And I love how the grass is almost lace-like, and then Eleanor and the towel she's laying on seem to have almost been blown by the wind into the image. And there's quite a bit of contrast between the whiteness of the towel and her skin as well, she's fair-skinned, against the darkness of the foliage. I'm sure a lot of that was done also in the dark room, but it's just a very elegant, very simple, very beautiful form, this organic form of the body against the flatness of the foliage behind her and around her.Karen Irvine:Thank you. So can you explain to the audience how you made those picks out of 16,000 plus objects? Was it difficult to decide which image resonated with you? And also, how do those images relate to your own personal practice?Jess. T. Dugan:Sure. So Arbus was definitely an early influence for me. She was someone I discovered in college. I had discovered some other artists before that, but it wasn't until I got to college that I discovered Arbus. And as a young person, I found her work to be validating, and I always felt a sense of empathy in it, which I now understand so much more about it and that that's not the case for everyone. But as I've matured as an artist, I've thought more about representation and photographing the other and what these kind of interactions must have been like for her. So I thought this piece was interesting because it brings up all of those questions about picturing the other, about representation, about how images function for different people in different ways. My 18-year-old queer self was really excited by this work, and my 34-year-old queer self still really likes the work but I see it as just much more complicated. So that's why I chose it. There are so many amazing works in the collection and I could've chosen a lot of different ones for different reasons. But I thought this one is just kind of a complicated conversation around representation. And then also language, you know, thinking about the title. Hermaphrodite's not a word we use anymore, and so thinking about how language changes over time, particularly when it's speaking to identity which is also something I think about in my work.Karen Irvine:Absolutely. Thank you for that. Yeah, and the scholarship as well, right, around Arbus is very controversial actually in that regard. You know, was she exploiting these marginalized communities or was she actually kind of identifying with them and trying to elevate them and connect them to her pictures of more mainstream society? So that's a great point to make. Thanks, Jess. And Rafael, what was it about the Callahan piece that spoke to you?Rafael Soldi:You know, I went back and forth. I wasn't as familiar with the... I've been to the museum many times but I wasn't as familiar with the collection as Jess was. It's a huge collection, and when I first logged in I was like, okay, where do I begin? And I thought maybe of starting first looking for something that would speak to what's going on today. And then I realized that I wanted to speak to something maybe a little bit more personal. And I knew that Callahan has this huge connection to Chicago, and I assumed the museum would have a pretty extensive collection of his work, and you do. When I was in high school and I was already very interested in photography but not thinking yet that this is where my life was going to go, I walked into my high school library and I found a Callahan book and held it open and immediately just, my heart started beating so fast. There was such a connection right away for me with those pictures. There was a tidiness to the way he sees that really spoke to my personality and my interest I think. At the time, I was young and so excited about photography but didn't have any references, and it was so cool to find something and think like, I want to do that. And right at that time, the National Gallery in DC, I was in DC in Maryland at the time, and the National Gallery had a beautiful show, the Callahan Retrospective. And my dad took me to see it, and I just remember thinking and feeling like, that was a life-changing moment for me. Like this is it, you know? I remember also going out and trying to make pictures like him. I hadn't even found my own language yet. I just wanted to go and recreate the pictures that he had taken. This is not one of... This is a well-known image but it's not his most famous image, but I've always loved it and I've seen it in person several time, different prints of them. And yeah, it just brought me right back to being a really young photographer, much like what Jess was saying, and seeing myself in something.Karen Irvine:Aw, thank you. That's nice to hear those stories of inspiration from both of you. That's great. So you both are friends, and as I mention you're collaborators in Strange Fire. But how do you know each other? Where and when did you meet?Jess. T. Dugan:We were figuring out the details. But we got to know each other in 2013 at the Society for Photographic Education Conference, which was in Chicago that year just down the street from MoCP. And we were on a panel together. I think that's when we really became friends. I think we had crossed paths a little bit before that, but that's when we really got to know each other. We've been good friends since then and we've also worked together in a bunch of different ways that we can delve into.Karen Irvine:Great. Yeah, we can get into that. So I was wondering, Rafael, what is it like to be a model for photographer Jess T. Dugan?Rafael Soldi:That is a great question. Every time we've done a portrait, it has been at the end of having spent several days together doing things, hanging out. And it's such a different energy. I think something that Jess is really good at in their work is bringing this moment of intimacy and this moment of quietness that creates a real connection with the subject. And I think that for me, those moments have always been really special. And as a photographer as well, as an artist as well, I think being on the other side of the lens is a little strange, but it's also this really cool opportunity to see somebody else work. So there's something nice about laying back and just being like, I'm not working right now. Somebody else is working and I can just focus on having this nice experience with someone I care about.Karen Irvine:And Jess, do you feel a difference when you're photographing people that you care about and know intimately versus people that you've met, for example, on the road doing other projects?Jess. T. Dugan:Yeah. That's a good question. I think definitely. Everyone I photographed for Every Breath We Drew is someone that I have met somehow and have a connection to. So they're not strangers to me, which was the case often with To Survive on This Shore. So there's always some connection. But I think with people I know well, it's inherently different. And also even with someone I know well, I think the first time I photograph them is different from the second or the third. So I was noticing when I was looking at the pictures of Rafael, it seems that we've made one a year recently, probably because that's when we end up at conferences or see each other. But there's something about the passage of time that really affects the process as well as my relationship with the person.Karen Irvine:Great, great. I want to talk a little bit about your very different approaches to your work. So Jess, with Every Breath We Drew, even though it was kind of personally motivated and you included some self portraits, it quickly expanded as I mentioned into a wide group of people. And then in the project To Survive on This Shore that you collaborated with Dr. Vanessa Fabbre on which is photographs of trans people over 50 that includes interviews by Vanessa, you really traveled throughout the country finding people from various states, and it became a very politically and socially engaged project that has kind of a very strong foundation in documentary work and sociology. And in contrast, Rafael, your work seems to be much more kind of inward-looking. I'm thinking about your recent project Imagined Futures, which was a very personal exploration where you entered photo booths and took self portraits or allowed the machine to take the self portraits of you with your eyes closed as kind of a meditation on immigration and your experience as an immigrant. And I'm curious to hear more about that kind of private ritual itself. But I read an interview with you where you said, "I've never known how to make work that is not deeply connected to my own story. I've never been able to work in an objective documentary way." So thinking about your two, kind of your works to date, although your works seem different kind of at face value, I'm curious about where you see affinities and connections in your practices. And maybe you can reflect on your very different approaches to communicating issues that are sometimes very similar to one another and they're often also innately private and visceral.Rafael Soldi:Yeah. I think what you said is right. I've always made work that's very connected to my own story and at the same time being very concerned about how it then connects to the rest of the world. I think a lot about Szarkowski's famous quote of photographers being mirrors or windows. And while I think that's a very broad categorization of a swath of artists, I do think there's a grain of truth in that. And for me, I've always identified as a mirror, always kind of reflecting back what's in my own experience. It does not come naturally to me to go out and just kind of make a project about something outside of myself, and for better or for worse, you know. It is something that I think of on practical terms as well. In my practice I think about that, about the challenges of that. I do spend a lot of time thinking about how to make work about the self that is not narcissistic, and that's why I spend a lot of time trying to connect my work to larger issues or to other people. Because I do think that the more personal something is, the more universal it becomes. So if you can tell a personal story, people can connect to it. But if you leave it at that then it just becomes like, "Hey everybody, look at my life." But if you can then bring in other voices and have conversations around those topics then I think it can be a really powerful way to connect with the rest of the world.Jess. T. Dugan:That's great, Rafael. I love that. I think for me, Karen, my work has always centered around identity. From the very beginning that's what I was interested in. I've always been interested in making portraits and really understanding myself and my place in the world through that work. And I think part of that for me was my own identity and queerness. But I find now that while those interests are the same and are consistent, I tend to swing back and forth pretty heavily between a highly personal and subjective approach to those ideas and a more outward, more documentary approach. So for me, Every Breath We Drew and To Survive on This Shore feel like really different projects. Even though formally they're environmental portraits made in a similar style, they come from very different places for me. And I think in some ways I share that with Rafael in pulling work that... or that our work comes from ourselves and our own experiences in the world, but also wanting to connect it to broader issues like he mentions.Karen Irvine:Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). And of course the video work you've done is also kind of highly personal. So really in some sense in your overall practice, you have kind of taken both approaches, more kind of autobiographical and then also kind of more documentary as you said. Yeah, thank you.Jess. T. Dugan:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Karen Irvine:Rafael, I know you've experimented in a lot of different mediums. What do you think are the limitations of photography in trying to address issues of identity? Where has that frustrated you or opened up opportunity?Rafael Soldi:I personally find that for me as an artist who works in an expanded way a little bit in photography, I'm still very image-focused, for me the limitations are not with photography but with how we've been taught to understand photography and use photography. I get very frustrated that you go to art schools and photography will always be separated from all the other fine arts medium. You know, sculptors, painters, illustrators, they all tend to do critiques together, work together, take classes together. And we're always like in the basement by ourselves. We have our own magazines, our own museums, our own conferences, our own festivals. Everything we do is siloed. And I think we've been robbed of an opportunity to be a part of a larger conversation. I think that's why you see now more and more artists expanding what it means to do photography. There's a really interesting connection between photography and sculpture. Many photographers started as painters, just making photographs as reference and then turned into photographers. I think that we should have a more expanded way of teaching and understanding photography so that we can really sort of exploit the image in a way that's more interesting and exciting and has more possibilities.Jess. T. Dugan:Mm-hmm (affirmative). For me, the limitations become when I'm trying to tell a specific story or when I'm trying to speak about a specific issue or a specific person's life. So in my project To Survive on This Shore, I felt that the text was really necessary. Because that project wasn't about me and my internal state. That project was about a very broad and diverse group of people, and I wanted specifics about their lives and their narratives in that project. I felt like text brought that in in a way that you just can't include that kind of information in a photograph. So that certainly felt like one limitation. And then I'm thinking also, Karen, you mentioned the video piece. I made a video piece about my estranged relationship with my father, and really wanted to tell a story. In that particular piece, I actually feel like the text is sometimes at odds with the images. The images themselves don't tell the story that I needed to tell. Yeah, so for me that's where the limitation comes in, when I have something very specific I want to communicate. But I also love the openness of photographs on their own for different reasons.Karen Irvine:Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Thank you. Rafael, I want to go back to the point that you made about us being, like people approaching photographs in a very particular way with a set of expectations. Because I think that must really impact your Imaged Futures work, which for those who haven't seen it is a set of 50 self portraits that I mentioned earlier taken in photo booths where your eyes are closed. In some ways, it seems that that project is maybe photographically less about being a self portrait of you, but the generic nature of the image and maybe even the process I think invites kind of an openness and a chance maybe for identification from the viewer that maybe is calling for a letting go of what we want from pictures, which is often narrative.Rafael Soldi:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I mean I think around the time that that project came together, I had lost my interest in operating a camera. And I have never lost my interest in photographs and in pictures. I love working with images. I've never loved using a camera. And when that project came about or the concept sort of crept in and I was trying to figure out how I could execute it, I was at a loss as to what to take a picture of or how to make that picture. The year prior, it had been 2016, the election, I was in Berlin at a residency. And it was just a really strange night and we were all really confused as to what happened, and were really mad. I remember being super emotional and walking back to my studio and just needing some peace and quiet. Like I just wanted to step away from the street for a moment and take a moment to breathe. So I stepped into a photo booth, which was kind of there in the corner. I remember thinking, "The world is going to change from now forward. It's going to be very different for the people I care about, for women, for people of color, for queer people. And I feel like I want to make a picture of this moment." Right now I'm explaining it so rationally. I think in the moment it was kind of visceral and a little more emotional. And I stepped in and I closed my eyes and I tried to imagine a world that might be different for the people I care about. And I made those four portraits, and I just carried that with me for a while. And around that time, I think that event really got me thinking about what my life would've been like if I had stayed behind, and really all these what I call imagined futures started to flood in. These ideas of what life could've been like. And I found that strip one day, and I realized that that could be this great strategy to approach the work, where I could make the work as I travel. Wherever I am, I can find a photo booth. I can make the pictures. And that there were a lot of parallels there, that the photo booth would allow me to focus on creating the work and make the pictures without me having to operate anything, and it would also set a lot of the parameters for the formal qualities of the work. So it would also check a lot of boxes and solve a lot of problems. I think we don't often talk about the practical elements of how we make work, but you have to make those decisions. So I did set some parameters myself. I decided that they would only be analog photo booths. They would be black and white, so they would be gelatin silver prints. And then the booth kind of took care of the rest in terms of what the picture might look like. And that was also really exciting to not know and let go of that control. Was really freeing to say, "You take the picture and I'll be surprised as to what comes out on the other side."Karen Irvine:So do you make them at any sort of interval or it's just kind of when you feel like it? And is there significance to the number 50? I'm also just curious about actually what you're thinking about when you take the pictures. I'm intrigued by the aspect of ritual, and I forget how you put it but kind of saying farewell to an idea.Rafael Soldi:Yeah. So I didn't make them at random. What would happen was that over the course of two years, I would have what I call these visits from these imagined futures. And they sound very esoteric, but I'm talking about just random moments of wondering or thinking what my life would've been like. Or even I've been going back home more often recently and visiting my family and meeting people who remind me of myself, meeting people who are artists, who are queer people my age down there who have a life there. And I'm starting to see myself reflected in them and thinking, could that have been me? Could that have been my life? Maybe it would've been okay. So whenever one of these thoughts creeps in or one of these imagined lives that I imagine for myself that never happened, that's when I could go seek a photo booth and step into it and imagine that future. And then I would say "Thank you" to it and I would give it permission to go find someone else to live it. So that was happening in the booth while making the picture so I can really focus on that process. And 50 was just a number I chose because it had to end. It was one of those things that could go on forever. I pulled a lot of them out, I looked at them, I sequenced them, and 50 felt, it had a nice ring to it. You know, these 50 imagined futures. They spanned two years, and they held up the kind of space that I wanted physically as an installation.Karen Irvine:Thank you for sharing.Rafael Soldi:Thank you.Karen Irvine:One thing that both of your works have in common is that you both speak about your work as relating to the concept of masculinity. Jess, in Every Breath We Drew, you state that you're working from your actively constructed sense of masculinity. And Rafael, in your artist statement that I read as part of your introduction, you state that your practice centers on how queerness and masculinity intersect with larger topics of our time such as immigration, memory, and loss. Can you both speak about masculinity and how it functions as a social construct in addition to how it informs your practice?Jess. T. Dugan:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that's a big question and a great question. You know, a lot of the people that I'm drawn to photograph exist in this space of gentle masculinity. They exist in a kind of androgynous space. And similar to what Rafael said about making the work on a more visceral level and understanding it later, I was certainly drawn to certain people just innately. But as the project has gone on and I've come to understand what it is, a lot of the people that I'm drawn to embody a kind of quality that I see in myself or want to see in myself. And a lot of my personal interest in masculinity comes from having to define my own masculinity in the world. As someone who was born female, I identify as non-binary. So I'm not transitioning to male, but I'm very masculine presenting. And so from a very early age I had to negotiate the ways that masculinity fit me and the ways that I reject in society. And the space that I have settled into personally is one that is more fluid, but the ways in which I'm masculine are a different kind of masculine. It's a more gentle version of masculinity, a more vulnerable version of masculinity, as opposed to the version that we're often taught in society. So a lot of what I'm looking at in Every Breath We Drew is how to be masculine in this world in a different way, in a more expansive way.Rafael Soldi:It's interesting. I love these questions because I was just thinking last night too that there are so many parallels between Jess's work and my work that I hadn't noticed before because formally they're so different. But maybe that's why we get along. For me, masculinity is a fairly new topic in my work that I've been exploring the last couple of years. I'm interested in specifically how Latin American culture creates a concept of masculinity, how it influences the way we think about gender. So I've been trying to parse out or take apart the events in my life that led me to believe that I had to be a certain kind of man and what that means for other boys and other kids that are growing up there now. And what are some of these rituals or some of these everyday life things? So I talk about, you mentioned Cargamontón which is a newish body of work that looks at playground brawling and... you could say bullying but really it's just this sort of rough play that happens amongst boys. And for me, it was one of the first things that told me like, "You're not a normal boy. Why don't you like that? Why don't you want to play rough? Why don't you want to be suffocated under a pile of bodies?" And then slowly through that process coming into my early teens and understanding my own queerness, I started to realize that these moments of violence were my only outlet to touch another man in a way that was acceptable. So these brawls, things like sports and anything that made it okay for us to touch one another in any kind of way that was remotely, maybe not gentle but intimate, became my access to intimacy with other men. And not necessarily in a sexual way, just intimacy, closeness. So I began to sort of equate intimacy with violence. I think for me that ended up not creating much of an issue long-term, but I could definitely see how that relationship between intimacy and violence could lead to a very dangerous situation in the future.Karen Irvine:Thank you. Can you both tell me about the Strange Fire collective? That's got to be an interesting story.Jess. T. Dugan:Sure. We founded the Strange Fire collective as you mentioned along with Zora J. Murff and Hamidah Glasgow in the fall of 2015. And we founded to promote work by women, people of color, and queer and trans artist, and we focus specifically on work that is socially and politically engaged. You know, I think for me personally around the time of founding Strange Fire, I had recently finished my MFA as you know, Karen, in Chicago, and I relocated from my partner's job. And I was finding myself in a new city. I was missing a sense of community. And I really wanted to start something and be part of something that would build community both for myself and for other people. And I had also been in and around the art world long enough to be very aware of the inequities in terms of whose work was being shown and presented and who was getting space. And so these were my personal inklings for Strange Fire. It took a little while to figure out what the group would be, but once we settled on the four of us and we settled on a topic, we decided that we wanted to make something that was both accessible to other people and sustainable to us individually.Karen Irvine:Right. And then the name of the collective did come from The Indigo Girls song. We've established that.Jess. T. Dugan:It did.Rafael Soldi:It did.Jess. T. Dugan:They have an album called Strange Fire and a song called Strange Fire. And when we were trying to name the collective, that was one of several contenders that we all really liked. But it's funny because I don't... I think I'm speaking correctly. I don't think any of us are that religious, and we realized after we named it that it obviously has a much longer religious connotation. So that's always, you have to be careful what you Google.Rafael Soldi:But I love the idea of someone googling it in a religious context and landing on a...Jess. T. Dugan:Right, right.Rafael Soldi:... on our collective.Karen Irvine:Exactly. That's called poetic justice, right?Rafael Soldi:Yeah.Karen Irvine:But to get back to the mission of Strange Fire, and when we think about institutions who are under very long overdue scrutiny in terms of racial justice and fighting against white supremacy and the patriarchy and all of this, how do you feel about where institutions are and other arts organizations potentially? And do you see any glimmers of hope on the horizon here? Or do you have any ideas of how that, like where really urgent and long-term change are needed?Rafael Soldi:Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's a big question. But I think I do see a glimmer of hope. I think we always have to see hope if we want to move forward in some ways. And we, for better or for worse, we need institutions in some way or another. And I think that it's really great, it's really heartening to see people kind of step out and not be afraid anymore to challenge institutions to do better. So that's really exciting. One of the reasons Strange Fire has worked so successfully I think is because we've been able to be really nimble, and because we sit right in between the institution and the commercial gallery space, and we can respond to our times pretty quickly. And I think that more collectives and groups coming through the arena and creating projects I think can make a really big difference. And then these projects and these groups can also be brought into institutions to work with them. So I think only in the last couple of years, we've started to receive more invitations to work with and interact with institutions. And I really like that because we're able to come in and present some challenges, bring our own perspective to the institution as well.Jess. T. Dugan:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, and also adding on that Rafael, I think one thing we always try to share when we speak about Strange Fire specifically with a student audience or a younger artist audience is that you can really make whatever space you need for yourself. Like we started with a simple idea and it's grown into something meaningful. And it doesn't take, as Rafael mentioned, it doesn't take much money. It's not something that's becoming a business in any way. But it's possible to grow a community that you need. I think for me with institutions, I'm really interested in institutions. I love museums and I view them as the ideal home for my work. I want to be in dialogue with institutions. And obviously there are a lot of important conversations going on right now. But that's one thing I try to bring into the collective is talking to a lot of curators and people who work in institutions. And I'm often reminded that a lot of people even within institutions are pushing for the change that we so desperately need, and they're not always getting the support that they need or they're not getting the funding that they need. So I guess I just think it's important when we talk about institutions to remember that they're these often massive organizations and a lot of change needs to happen and a lot of growth can happen, but I think there are also some people pushing for that from within in really important ways.Karen Irvine:Well we're kind of getting close to the end of the hour so I think I'll just ask one more question and then we'll open it up for our audience. And that was I wanted to ask you about the impact of COVID-19, because it really has turned everybody's life upside-down. I'm sure that that's affected your practice and your personal life in some ways, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts or reflections about your experience this year.Rafael Soldi:Yeah. Well, I'll speak briefly both to Strange Fire and my own practice. But I think for Strange Fire, it's been interesting because a lot of the processes and a lot of the way we were operating before very much mirrors the way the rest of the world is operating today. You know, the four of us speak every month, and we've always been able to do that from far away for the last five years, and we've always been able to do all of our programs virtually. So it's really interesting to see the rest of the world catch up to a different way of doing things. For my own practice, I won't say much because I think it's the same than most people. But you know, it's been really tough. One of the challenges that I've experienced has been that I've been feeling a lot of pressure from the outside to perform as an artist in order to entertain people during this time. So I think there were times where I was seeing a lot of language around like, "We need to see artists putting content out." And I was just like, no, we're just people. We feel it the same way as everybody else. And if we just want to go away for a year and disappear, we can do that.Jess. T. Dugan:Yeah. I think for me, my reaction has shifted as we've gotten further into the pandemic. In March when it hit, there was an element of the slowdown that I came to appreciate even though there were a lot of challenges. I had been on the road a lot for several years before that, and I suddenly was at home. I feel like my professional life completely stopped. I do a lot of work with universities and museums, and everything I do was shut down, which has its challenges but I also suddenly had free month, free calendar, which has just never happened to me. So I made a lot of work in those early months at home. I was making self portraits. I was making still life images. I also, like Rafael said, was feeling some pressure to make work. But I found those restrictions of me not being able to go out and make portraits of other people, while frustrating, had an unanticipated benefit which was that I returned to making really internal work and personal work. I will say as the fall hit, I've been struggling with feeling that my professional life and my world is moving along, but it's just in this online, distant way. And I really get a lot of feedback and energy from being in space with other people. I'm really missing that now at this point in the pandemic. I am making portraits of other people now but in a kind of distant, more limited capacity. And like Rafael said, I'm really missing other people. I miss lectures in person and I miss seeing friends. I actually really miss making portraits without this kind of fear of getting too close to somebody. It's sort of contrary to what I do most of the time.Karen Irvine:Great. Well thanks for sharing that. I understand the rethinking of priorities for sure. I think we all do, right? It's been a very traumatic year, so thanks for sharing those thoughts. So nice to see you both. I miss seeing people in person too, but I'm glad we got to connect today.Rafael Soldi:Thank you, Karen.Jess. T. Dugan:Thanks so much, Karen.Rafael Soldi:And thank you Marissa.Karen Irvine:Thanks. Thanks everybody. Thanks for listening to Focal Point. Focal Point is presented by the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago under the direction of Kristin Taylor, curator of academic programs and collections, in partnership with WCRX with help from [Matt Cunningham 00:41:02], [Wesley Reno 00:41:03] and Zach Cunning. Music by [Zavey 00:41:06]. Research assistance provided by MoCP curatorial fellow Asha Iman Veal. To see the images we discussed today, please visit mocp.org/focalpoint. You can also follow the Museum of Contemporary Photography on Facebook and Instagram @mocpchi, that's M-O-C-P-C-H-I and on twitter @MoCP_Chicago. If you enjoyed our show, be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to Focal Point anywhere you get your podcasts.
36 minutes | Jun 20, 2020
Episode 7: Kenneth Josephson and Marilyn Zimmerwoman
In this episode, renowned photographers Kenneth Josephson and Marilyn Zimmerwoman are in conversation with Museum of Contemporary Photography’s curator of academic programs and collections, Kristin Taylor. The artists discuss several works made over Josephson’s decades-long career as well as topics ranging from composition and perspective to the male gaze and Marilyn Monroe. Chicago Josephson, Ken 1964 Matthew Josephson, Ken 1965 Chicago Josephson, Ken 1973 Chicago Josephson, Ken 2009 MZ Josephson, Ken 2008 Interview TranscriptKristin Taylor:This is Focal Point, the podcast where we discuss the, artists, themes, and processes that define and sometimes disrupt the world of contemporary photography. I'm Kristin Taylor, Curator of Academic Programs and Collections, with guest Kenneth Josephson and Marilyn Zimmerwoman. Kenneth Josephson is one of the first artists to work with photography conceptually. He began making pictures about photography itself in the 1960s. At that time, the medium was just becoming accepted as an art form worthy of exhibiting and collecting. Josephson was one of the few artists willing to think critically about the limitations of the camera. Many of his images playfully push the boundaries of the viewfinder and the borders of a print, often placing photographs within photographs or showing his own hand within the frame. He lives in Chicago with his camera in tow, where he continues to make gelatin silver prints in his own dark room.Kristin Taylor:Marilyn Zimmerwoman is an artist and educator who's dedicated to teaching where the arts and social justice intersect. She is currently an artist-in-residence at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she also taught photography for 40 years. Her work centers on issues of gender, race, class, and economic disparities and pushes her people to become citizen artists, participating in global actions around justice. she often collaborates with their partner Ken to create images that playfully pushed expectations of a photographic portrait.Kristin Taylor:Ken and Marilyn are both artists included in that museum's permanent collection. And normally, we discuss a work they have each chosen from the museum's collection, but to help stop the spread of COVID-19 we are recording the session over Zoom and not in person. So, they'll be talking about several works that they have in their home that have been made by Josephson over his multi-decade career. These images will be posted to the museum's website at mocp.org/focalpoint so you can always go and see them there. Also, because we're recording over Zoom, the quality of this sound might not be as good as if we normally record in the WCRX FM radio station.Kristin Taylor:Well, welcome and thank you for joining us today. I was looking up to meet both of you a few times before now, and we talked a lot about the normal questions that I think you get about conceptual photography and your immense background in photography. But, I wanted this conversation to be a little bit more relaxed and to focus on your collaboration together and how you're fairing right now as image makers in this time of social isolation because it's just a very unique time to be speaking with one another. so, hopefully, we touch upon some of the things in your background that everyone, I'm sure, wants to know about with you studying at Institute of Design and how you arrived at conceptual photography. But, my questions are going to be a little bit more about your collaboration, and your relationship, and your partnership as artists.Kristin Taylor:To start, I hoped you guys could talk about the pieces you chose because normally, we meet in the museum's vault, and we look at prints together that are in the museum's collection. But since we're separated, you have a print now that I hope you can describe verbally to people since if they're not looking at it and they're just listening to headphones so they can imagine it. what it looks like and what stood out to you about this image of all the images you've made or that you have in your home right now why you chose to talk about this one?Kenneth Josephson:All right. First of all, I feel like I'm maybe trapped in a Mr. Roger's Neighborhood episode because this is coming from my living room, and I'm casually dressed. Anyhow, boys and girls, this particular image I made in 1964, and basically, I wanted to create a sequence of images that would end up within one image, rather than stringing out from left to right three images or four images. As you can see, I photographed Polaroid the image from a distance, so it is a short journey as I moved toward this tree. Then, I placed the first image onto the bark of the tree and made a second image on Polaroid, and then place that to the bark for the final 2 1/4 inch film image.Kenneth Josephson:And I thought that as a contained sequence was more interesting than stringing them out. And I think I was probably influenced by some of the work of Edgerton, perhaps, who did a lot of motion studies of athletes, and which the sequential time was recorded within one image through electronic flash. So I think Marilyn wants to add...Marilyn Zimmerwoman:I think, then, when you talk about your logic class and how that led you to be the most expedient about how to get somewhere in the most direct way, informed your decision to, "How can I make a sequence within one image?" And that expediency of kind of a Swedish sense of design and aesthetic, also. And you have a clarity in your thinking that it is essentialized often. And you can just cut through in one sentence a very perceptive description of what's going on of what we're seeing of everywhere.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:And what I find about your way of articulation is that it's been very inspiring for students who may be less verbal or more quiet to see how you can have such an expediency of words in a moment where we're have such a hyper theoretical framework. But in your expedience, you have words, it also speaks to your expediency of composition and the accessibility through formalism. So clarifying the theory that has evolved to become such a mega theory and kind of about hyper articulation that MFA programs have become.Kenneth Josephson:It's a way of being very economical, is the way way I kind of think about it.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:There's a saying about writing, that writing should be so essential so that every word is gold. And when you're writing, if you have to make a short essay, you need longer to write it because it has to be so clear that every word is structural to that meaning.Kenneth Josephson:There's a study made to find out the very basic use of objects. And one study was the use of a pencil, and pencils were given to a group of children, and they were asked what they were made for using. And people would say "draw" or "write words." And then, finally, one person said, "To make marks." And that's very basic thing about the use of a pencil, they can make holes and things, but it makes the best use of it is making marks of some sort. And I always admired that kind of way of getting down to the very pure use of something, or have an idea, or whatever. And I always had that in mind.Kristin Taylor:Have you ever tried other mediums? Because when I look at this image that you have up right now, I think of music, and I think of the notes repeating. And I studied painting in my background, and I've never tried to be limited to the camera because I find it frustrating that you can only do so much. Of course, you can do so much more. You have to be very inventive and creative like yourself. But with your interest in rhythm and repetition, have you ever tried other materials? Or has it always been about the camera?Kenneth Josephson:Only use of found objects, some sculptural ideas. I'm very fond of music. I listened to it a great deal, and I enjoy it very much. I'm sure it's influenced my work in some way. I'm not sure exactly how, but maybe you observing can understand, maybe, some kind of connection more than I would.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:I think the limitation of the frame is helpful because the limitation is what helps to have such a clarity of composition so the creation couldn't go deeper within that limitation of the framing. Because, in my undergraduate degree in painting, I never knew when a painting was done. But somehow, there was more of an aesthetic click in a photograph. And that was made so much more clear in the process and so, that's what made me choose photography. And there's a sense that Ken and I both read a lot, and Ken read a lot as a boy. And you talk about his excitement going into a library.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:So we're both readers. Our time here is spent during this moment of being confined in our space together. This quarantine is that our days are like a library. And we're very quiet, and that we're going into our interiority, and there's big expanses of silence. And two hours of silence, by the way, builds brain cells. But, it also is a sense of a deepening of that own dialogue. And I think that sense of questioning, and that sense of excitement, and that sense of going deeper, is what was mind for both of us in our sense of our reading, and our solitude, and a strong sense of self-reliance and agency.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:And this was made by Ken in a time when that kind of reference of the photograph was being displaced from being the equivalence of the landscape and a sense of an experiential reality equivalent to the vastness of the mountains or truth itself. And forensics, that interruption of the frame or that the image about the image making it self-referential was made at a time where it was violating the previous rules.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:So it was a violation, and that introduction of the hand was a violation, and he felt a gut response. But as this photograph was made at Chicago in 1964, it's an image of a tree within the tree closer, within an image of a tree closer. And so, it speaks to the recursive patterning of representation, which speaks to fractals, and fractals was first used by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in 1975. So, this was made before fractal was named and brought to the public awareness. But it's so about that. And so, that's interesting about, has artists intuitively absorb in this kind of collective consciousness? What's evolving? Because we are a verb. We are a verb. We also are evolving with it. So I find that for this photograph representing that, and a fractal is a never ending pattern, they're self-referential. They're created being a repeating of a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:And so, Ken's images speak to that clearly with an accessibility of formalism and a sense of clarity. So fractals are a sense of an infrastructure all around us. They're modeling structures from eroding coastlines to snowflakes. And examples include clouds, snowflakes, mountains, river networks, cauliflower, broccoli, our systems of our own blood vessels. And then, they're in the physical realm limited by space and form, but they're also, in theory, fractals repeat to infinity. And so, this is a duality in terms of an object that's a flat image, and it speaks to the flat image of the photograph, but it also speaks to that sense of fractals being that infinity of experience. That the trees represent in terms of their own mimicking of the blood vessels, from the top of the tree equal to the bottom of the root system.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:And that they're systems that reflect how we are created. So, it's like fractals speak to the holographic universe. That what's in the one is in the whole, and the systems of the tree are related to our inner system. And so, as fractals relate to a sense of the holographic universe, it also speaks to that sense of in the reference to the photograph, what's in the one is in the whole to our sense of being human. So this is interesting about what we make as images are also where we're at in terms of this being human. And the idea of a holograph, what's one in the whole, is like what Rumi said when he wrote to us. Rumi's a 13th century Islamic poet, mystic lover of humanity. And he wrote, "You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop."Kristin Taylor:That's great. And I love that you chose this example to talk about your work. And then, the other that I understand you're going to talk about is of your son holding a photograph. And thinking about a lot of things you both were just saying, I feel like that image now has new meaning for me too, about family and this idea of your children being part of your own fractal. I've never thought of parenthood in that way. But, is that something you were thinking about when making that image? Or should we switch to that one and talk about it a little bit?Kenneth Josephson:This image of my son, Matthew, he was two years old at the time. And I was out with him making some Polaroid images. And I also had my 35mm camera with Marilyn. I was showing him the images. He would pick them up and look at them. And then, he suddenly put that one up to his face, so I made a 35mm image of him doing that. And he was mimicking the way I was holding the camera, with his finger on what would be the shutter release. Because the image on the paper is translucent, he could see through it. Of course, not when it was right up to his face, but I think he was making an image with the camera or using the image as a camera. So it came together, I thought. Unexpectedly, I didn't plan this out or anything. It just happened. Happily, I was able to record that. It speaks to the child's curiosity and playfulness, all the things that little children are made. Also, there's this image.Kristin Taylor:I love it. This is the one you told me about yesterday when we talk. So in case anyone's listening only on radio, we need to describe this one visually.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:Would you like to describe it?Kristin Taylor:Sure. Yeah. So we see, just from the neck down, a woman's shirt and her cleavage is poking out with four photo corners attached to her body around the cleavage framing. It great, I love it. I've never seen this one, but you told me about it earlier. So did you make this just recently or tell us about it?Marilyn Zimmerwoman:Well, this is more a while ago that the one that we...Kenneth Josephson:This is 2008. The last one was more recent.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:Last year.Kenneth Josephson:Last year, yeah.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:So we've been together 13 years, but we've been friends. We met at the Art Institute, so we've known each other since 1976. So we stayed friends all this time. It's really good to be friends for decades before you become partners [crosstalk 00:19:43] everybody's life.Kristin Taylor:Especially right now, as we're all stuck in doors with one another. This reminds me, though, of an older piece that you made that we have in our collection where it's more just on her underwear region. I don't know how to describe it so much, but like you have a photograph on top of a woman's body where she's clothed and then nude in the photograph laying on top of her body.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:Isn't that the Sally one with the Polaroid looking through her clothes?Kristin Taylor:Yeah, I can't remember the title.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:[crosstalk 00:20:21] shot of her bush over her miniskirt, and that's one of his biggest sale items. Everybody wants that one because it's actually looking through one's clothing, like how men unconsciously dress women, or there's just that. And so, when Ken got corrective lens surgery, wasn't it? And Ken's very modest, so I'm all about letting them know who he is as a photographer and look at his images, and this is who he is. Everybody loves the image of Sally with her miniskirt and then the Polaroid. So when we came back to get the overview of how successful the operation was, Ken thanked the surgeon for also conducting the surgery so that he could now see through women's clothing, like he always wanted to. And the doctor was right there on the joke and said, "I'm glad you are giving me that gratitude, but keep it a secret."`Kristin Taylor:You were knocking down his door. That's what I love about this photograph, and the other one that we were just talking about, is you're, sort of calling out, I think, a very common pattern with male photographers photographing women, and maybe using the camera as an excuse to get them undressed for the camera. So, I love that [sly 00:21:50] humor, again, but it's also a sort of dark humor because we know how real these types of photographs are, and we've seen them so much. I love it, it's great. And Marilyn, it seems like you're kind of prompting the joke forward and being a very willing model, which I love.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:Yeah. I love it also because it's the male gaze, but it's double coded because there's the reference to the body, the figural form, which men are so enamored by. And then, with the photo corners, right? Like the snapshot that is so the sense of in family albums, and everybody's images of their family, and that context of the everyday use of the camera. So it collapses that and makes it a photograph about photography, about the history of photography, not only in terms of how it's used in that large social sphere but also about that in terms of the larger look at the progressive art forms when minimalism was so much a part of art for art's sake. And to such a degree that it blew people away because that was a huge shift for a lot of artists that were working so representationally.Kenneth Josephson:Yeah and this isn't Polaroid. I'm not sure if Dr. Land really intended this, but it was very useful for pornography because you could bypass the process in houses.Kristin Taylor:Yeah, you're, you're not having another set of eyes on the things you're making. Yeah, that's so interesting.Kenneth Josephson:Processing houses used to confiscate pornography.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:And people at camera stores used to talk about happy couples behind the SX-70, and he knew what their intent was.Kristin Taylor:When you're photographing together, how do you work out your two personality types? If Marilyn's more of an extrovert, and Ken, your more of the introvert, and you're both artists, and you're making images together, is there a long negotiation process, or is it pretty natural?Kenneth Josephson:That seems to be pretty natural, pretty much flows. Marilyn will come up with an idea, especially through her clothing, and I'll have an idea of how the image should be posed. and we work together on it usually.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:Actually, Jennifer Norback put this together. The gallery owner, Jennifer Norback. At her gallery we had a show, and it was about the photographs that we collaborated on and then the sense of referencing Marilyn. So, as Ken makes photographs about photographs, he was meta before meta was meta, as Chris Borrelli coined when he wrote about him. So I'm like meta-Marilyn.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:My dad said that he named us all after movie stars, and I have an older brother named John Wayne Zimmerman. And when Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, I was nine and all day, I was teased. I was a majorette. I went to majorette practice, and all of the little girls, when I came to practice, they all ran away saying, "She's a ghost. She's a ghost." So, everybody was projecting Marilyn onto me. So my peer group was, and then, I came home, and my dad, who adored me and was a workaholic, alcoholic is every 1960s, white collar worker was, largely. Wild boy trying to be in that sense of that constrictive workforce to a wild man and a wild boy inside. So he greeted me. And then, first words he said was, "Don't you ever do what she did. Don't you ever give up. You're just like her. You're just like her. You're beautiful. You're talented. Don't you ever, ever give up."Marilyn Zimmerwoman:And Marilyn, the iconic Marilyn, is the one that we all love because she was vulnerable, because she was also a lot of fun, because she brought humor and her vulnerability into sexuality. And so, that sense of child-likeness hooked all of us in terms of us all feeling our own insecurities and vulnerability. But that's also where you're most authentic.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:So, that's that sense of why she's been so enduring, but that sense of I feel like I carry her hope consciously, in terms of owning that download culturally because all of us, energetically, my peer group was the "me" generation that was the first to download the television our own sense of our own peer group, of music, and the media, and then, increasingly media's so influential to us in terms of who we are as a human being. That energy. And then, we're evolving with this so that we have inherited family. So this my inherited sense of identity that I had to incorporate. And I could own it, and work with it, and move it beyond, and carry her with me into my own evolution of being a radical, [anti-sedition 00:27:53] feminist. We all have different paths. But, this was another photograph. This was bigger.Kristin Taylor:Yeah. And I've seen this one online. I love it. It really reminds me of this artist, Natalie Krick. I don't know if you've seen her work, but I'll send you her link. It's fantastic. She plays a lot with photographing her mother and herself and...Marilyn Zimmerwoman:Yes. And so, this is another one that I go, "here I am." This is our backyard, and it was all of that. And I placed myself there, and I have my sunglasses that have that pattern. and there's Ken's shadow. So there's a sense that because we both...Kenneth Josephson:The stalker.Kristin Taylor:It's always the shadow going in the [crosstalk 00:28:43].Marilyn Zimmerwoman:We can just confluence and find that third way so easily. It's always about humor and fun, and that sense of visual pleasure and celebration of our pure delight in each other. And then loving the same things, loving photography, and loving the same sense of aesthetic click. There is a very harmonious sense of being together. And I also invest a lot in wildly patterned pantyhose. I do create a wardrobe in order to be out there in the world in a performative way. And my extroversion, wow, we balance each other because Ken is very clear about his boundaries, and in the best sense of the male entitlement. But he's like, "No, I'm not going there." Every beautiful woman has had her boundaries invaded because there's something about that culturally, that men think of beautiful woman is theirs too.Kenneth Josephson:Okay, what else?Kristin Taylor:There's one picture we have in our collection too, of Chicago, of the lakefront, where you've woven sea prints and gelatin silver prints, and playing with our perceptions of color and black and white. Can you tell us a little bit about that picture and your thoughts on color? Since mostly, it seems like you photograph in black and white.Kenneth Josephson:Which image is that?Kristin Taylor:There's one, it's of the Chicago lakefront and the skylines in the background. It's woven black and white, and color.Kenneth Josephson:Postcard images.Kristin Taylor:Right.Kenneth Josephson:I wanted to show the architectural changes in the city, but also to show the difference between color photography and black and white photography. A different set of information is given, whether it's black and white or color. And black and white is pretty much confined to total values, where color is mainly concerned with the color of the objects and the color of the light. I just wanted to show differences in two mediums.Kristin Taylor:We talk about it with students a lot when we're talking about color theory that... Oh, no, this is another... I love this one. I can send it to you. It's like horizontal strips, yeah.Kristin Taylor:But thinking too about the ideas of photographic truth, your work is always so great to talk with students about that. Of all the different ways you could tell a story and the choices that artist makes and even just size or color, these things that seem so basic or not interesting. Then you talk about just all the different ways. Then the person reads that image after you've made that choice and how it changes their idea of what that moment was. It's interesting to me too, because you don't have a lot of color work. Not necessarily a critique, but sort of declaring a preference that you want to stay in black and white.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:We just discovered that he's colorblind to a degree. All of us may have different nuances of perceiving color. It was when we were painting a fence, and I can match color, but I let him make the decision so that when he painted it, I thought it would be obvious, but it wasn't. But then, I read about colorblindness. And in some colorblindness, you see pattern more than other people. So in a way, in terms of perceiving in black and white, he has a unique perception of that through his colorblindness.Kristin Taylor:But you never knew it until just recently?Kenneth Josephson:I don't think it's severe. But for certain colors, I don't interpret correctly.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:That's like the challenge of having hypervigilant partners that we have in each other, you're made more aware and alert, and you discover things about you. And women have more connective tissue between the right and left hemisphere, so we tap more areas of our brain when we talk and speak, and that's why we can recover better from strokes. But I find that no matter where I go in my interiority, and I speak from it, that Ken's always there.Kristin Taylor:It's beautiful. I think we're getting close to being out of time for the regular podcast. But, you guys have sort of answered this, has the pandemic changed the way you've been making? Or have you been trying to photograph through this together in your home?Kenneth Josephson:It's okay. We are very interesting lighting that changes depending on the weather. And I augment it sometimes with artificial light. But we've been able to photograph. Especially Marilyn, during this time.Kristin Taylor:Well, I've loved talking with you. I'm sure you probably want to get on with your day. Okay. Well, have a good rest of your day and thank you again.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:Yeah. We look forward to meeting your family sometime to learn more about [crosstalk 00:34:57].Kristin Taylor:Definitely. Okay. All right, bye.Kenneth Josephson:Bye-bye.Marilyn Zimmerwoman:Bye-bye.Kristin Taylor:Thank you for listening to Focal Point. Focal Point is presented by the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago in partnership with WCRX FM radio. Thanks to Matt Cunningham, Wesley Reno, Sam White, and Zach Cunning. Music is by [Zabey 00:35:19]. To see the images we discussed today, please visit mocp.org/focalpoint. You can also follow the Museum of Contemporary Photography on Facebook and Instagram @ MOCPCHI, that's M-OC-P-C-H-I, and on Twitter at MOCP_Chicago. If you enjoyed our show, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to Focal Point anywhere you get your podcasts.
35 minutes | Apr 3, 2020
Episode 6: Kelli Connell and Kiba Jacobson
In this episode, Chicago-based photographer Kelli Connell is in conversation with her long-term model and muse, Kiba Jacobson, along with Museum of Contemporary Photography’s curator of academic programs and collections, Kristin Taylor. Connell and Jacobson discuss topics of portraiture, relationships, and the performance of gender and identity within Connell’s series, Double Life (2002-ongoing). Additionally, they discuss works in the MoCP’s collection by Peter Cochrane, Zackary Drucker, and Rhys Ernst.
35 minutes | Feb 3, 2020
Episode 5: Joanne Leonard and Melissa Ann Pinney
In this episode, mixed media artist Joanne Leonard and photographer Melissa Pinney are in conversation with MoCP’s curator of academic programs and collections, Kristin Taylor. Leonard and Pinney discuss works in the MoCP’s permanent collection by Elinor Carucci and Ruth Thorne-Thomsen as well as their thoughts on photographing the lives of their daughters, feminism, and how they navigate depicting both personal and political subjects.
38 minutes | Dec 6, 2019
Episode 4: Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa and Leslie Wilson
In this episode, photographer and writer Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa joins scholar and curator Leslie Wilson in conversation with MoCP’s Curatorial Assistant, Lindley Warren Mickunas. Wolukau-Wanambwa and Wilson discuss works in the MoCP’s permanent collection by Rosalind Fox Solomon and LaToya Ruby Frazier as well as their thoughts on photographers’ relationships to the places they photograph, and distinctions between color and black and white photography. Rosalind Solomon, Pillarama, Indonesia, 1987 Latoya Ruby Frazier, Fifth Street Tavern and Braddock Hospital from the "Notion of Family" Interview TranscriptKristin:This is Focal Point, the podcast where we discuss the artists themes and processes that define and sometimes disrupt the world of contemporary photography. I'm Kristin Taylor, curator of academic programs and collections at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago. Today, curatorial assistant and current Columbia MFA student, Lindley Warren Mickunas, is in conversation with guests Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa and Leslie Wilson. Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa is a photographer writer and educator. His book One Wall a Web was published in 2018 and weaves historical and contemporary sources of text and photography. His photographs are made throughout various American states and are evenly presented alongside historical imagery pulled from four by five negatives the artist carefully culls from eBay. Text components include samples of stanzas of poetry by Marie Albright Kaiser intermixed with quotes from Breitbart News or the current American president. Collectively the book and his work looks at the everyday moments that occur within American cities as evidence of larger structures that enable economic and social disparities in a culture of violence. Originally from the UK, he relocated to the United States in 2012 and has resided here since. Leslie Wilson is an educator, curator and scholar, who is interested in how photographic approaches and advancements over time have changed the ways images are perceived. She particularly focuses on the documentations of political activism and change, and the blurred distinction between photo journalism and documentary photography. Leslie is working on a book about the shift from black and white to color photography and depictions of South Africa throughout apartheid and how this shift has moved our understanding of the nation's political transformation and the 20th and 21st centuries. She is currently the curatorial fellow for diversity in arts at the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago, and is on leave from her position as assistant professor of art history at Purchase College, where she teaches curatorial studies and museum studies. Today they are discussing an artist they've each chosen from the museum's permanent collection, as well as their own work and practice.Stanley:My name is Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa and I've chosen a print by Rosalind Fox Solomon from pillar [inaudible 00:02:13] in Indonesia in 1986. So the photograph is a square format picture made with a twin lens reflex camera. The picture's fairly close up to its kind of nominal subjects. It shows, what I take to be the backyard of, or the courtyard maybe, sort of joining together some dwellings in Indonesia. There's a brick wall that sort of runs diagonally from the left frame line through the center of the picture, toward the right and abuts the back of a structure, which I take to be the rear of a house. The house is kept by this corrugated iron roof. And on top of it, there's this small either earthenware pot or maybe plastic pot, could be serving as a chimney, or it might just be catching rain or it might've been left behind. I'm not quite sure. And in the center of the frame, there are five pillars. They look to have been made from a combination of poured concrete with steel rebar or some kind of rebar in them, and then a molding to their faces. There are three in the front row and then two in behind, and cutting all the way down from left or right in the back of the picture is a clothesline on which six or seven pieces of clothing are drying. And then in the foreground, just in front of the pillars, there's a set of saplings that were strapped together into some kind of pot that's tilted at an odd angle, but driven into the ground. And all the way swimming up the back of the wall in the back of the frame of the picture, there's just a kind of profusion of leaves from various different kinds of trees. There's banana frons I can see in the back of the frame there, and there's a lot of debris covering the foreground of the picture, disguising the fact that off to one side on the right there's a couple of wicker baskets and some more clothes drying. So it looks to be the backyard of some kind of a domestic dwelling.Leslie:My name is Leslie Wilson, and I've chosen a photograph by Latoya Ruby Frazier from the over decade long series that she worked on in her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. This is a view of, you're not quite sure if it's a town or a city. What you'd want to say about scale of the place, where we're positioned to look down into the town is from the place of some rubble, something that is being clearly unmade. And so in the foreground, you see really an earth mover of a type of building equipment, along with a couple of workers, one who is seated inside of the vehicle, another who is standing amidst the rubble, looking out from the foreground and into the middle ground. We're seeing parts of the town where cars, small buildings, and then the center, a tavern. And yet it's unclear, especially with this building that is near the center of the work, if it's something that's still occupied or not. And then we look out into the distance and we see hills, which you can see dotted by cars and homes. With the time of year, the brush looking a little scant, and so maybe we're kind of coming out of winter or about to head into it. This is a landscape that offers you the span of bits. It's a work that compresses the town and lets you see across it from kind of the wreckage of a large building out into the city scape and then out into the distance.Lindley:This is Lindley Warren Mickunas. Stanley and Leslie, thank you both for joining me today and welcome to the studio. Stanley, let's start with you. You chose a photograph by Rosalind Fox Solomon. In 2018, you wrote a stunning essay for her book, Liberty Theater. However, the photograph that you chose today is from a different body of work. Can you tell us a bit about why you chose this photograph?Stanley:I mean, I had an agenda when I went into the MSTP collection to look to see if they held Rosalind's work and what they held. I knew that there'd been a show in 1990 and this photograph was acquired in the same year as that exhibition. And I knew that I was coming to Chicago to give a reading of that essay. So I was also just interested to see, to look at other pieces of her work. And I might not have, depending on what was there, I may or may not have chosen one of Rosalind's prints, but this one was too good to pass up. I think that I'm interested in Rosalind's work from a variety of points of view. I'm interested in her keen awareness of her own differentiated subject position as against those of the people that she photographs, both people who I take to be within her environment, within her community, and people who are very much not part of her community. But I'm compelled to deal with the fact that this is a photographer who's willing to look at everyone and everything critically, including herself, and who doesn't necessarily make pictures that force a certain kind of definitive judgment upon the reader of the image, and that ethos, I think, really informs the work that she's made in lots of other parts of the world. She takes the things that she doesn't know seriously, as much as she takes the surface of the world seriously, which is really all we have ever have to work with us photographers. And I think she has an incredibly agile and incisive eye. And in this particular picture that I selected from the NACP collection, there's a conjunction of sort of seemingly diametrically opposed or at least disjunct factors that I find really engaging. So, I mean, I've described the photograph already, but this collection of five pillars that are sort of listing at attention, they're not stood properly upright. This isn't the kind of ground in which they can ever really regain whatever one might construe to be their intended symbolic vigor. We can see the rebar poking up through the tops of the pillars. If they're a group, the two in the back and not conforming with the three in the front, and they're being undercut in this fantastic way, not just by this clothesline, which sort of injects a level of, not just banality, but kind of necessary function and care, an immediacy, an immediate concern into a space that's sort of otherwise being transformed into a one of a certain kind of lapsed glory, but it's also the saplings and the trees behind all disrupt the pillars' capacity to take center stage. I mean, that's what, that's how these objects are arrayed in this space. But I think at a deeper level, something that I sense a lot in Rosalind's practice is a capacity to, and a commitment to refuse hegemonic power, it's absolute right to assert the parameters within which we make value judgments about what matters and what doesn't. And in this instance it's happening in the relation between the saplings and the banana fronds and the leaves and all of these scattered leaves on the ground and the wicker baskets and the laundry and these pillars. And I'm enormously enamored of that aspect of her work, of the way that it sort of moves in these incredibly agile and articulate ways between disjunct registers of photographic meaning and speaks to the human experience of the immediate and the grandiose or the systemic. Yeah. So that's why I chose it.Lindley:Leslie, you also chose an artist that pushes the boundaries and definitions of documentary photography. What brought you to select this image by Latoya Ruby Frazier?Leslie:I had the benefit of a couple of things, which was that Stanley had selected the work by Rosalind Fox Solomon. And I had that as something to think with about kind of the discussion we could have. And it also might be that that photograph also includes rebar. And in that sense, these things that are broken, that seem to belong in one place and have found themselves somewhere else. But pillars, that which holds things up. And so, I was looking through the museum's collection, this jumped out at me and the way in which it's a photograph that says everything inside of it is important. Just every single element inside of this photograph is significant. And you might look at this quickly at a glance and not see that they're actually human subjects in this photograph. There are people who are here and it's precisely because you're standing in the ruins of something, I think, and you assume, looking out from that vantage point, that it's unpeopled. But that starts to open up to you, and you can start to see that there are actually a few figures within this. And the way that that builds a rhythm for looking at everything else and asking questions about who's here? Who's still here? What has just been pulled apart? What kinds of things are being made new? Are things being made new here? There's also this dynamic, I think, in the town itself and the story that Latoya tells through this, which is which collar of worker is in this community, as the factories left and certain industries moved in, like the health industry. You had a new body of workers who were coming into the community. And then as that leaves, again, what are the cycles of the people who have come through here and who've left, but also that throughout that body of work and in the notion of family, that there's a real affection for this place also. There's real care throughout her work. And in terms of traditions of that which we would call documentary, this question of care is central. How does the photographer relate to the place? And this is a photograph that I want to ping out to Robert Frank, and think about kind of that window in Montana that he's looking out of, that announces his own subjectivity and the ways in which we don't get that kind of vantage point. And yet the story that Latoya is telling is so personal. But then also to jump across, and this is why I was thinking about Walker Evans just looking at this, to Allentown, to the other side of Pennsylvania and think about the graveyard photograph and the way that it compresses space so intensely. We're at the crux of life and death and work, and that's here too, but there's this added layer of the way that Latoya is of this place that I find to be so compelling. And I think to what Stanley was just saying, in both of these photographs, you're looking at photographers who have a very sensitive relationship to their subjects, to the ways in which they are either deeply connected to them, or maybe quite distant from them, and that take on different balances in the works that I think are fruitful to think about together.Lindley:Leslie, you've done extensive research on documentary photography for your upcoming book, which will address the intersections of art, reportage and documentary practice. I would love to hear you elaborate on the term documentary, as I know it's a very loaded word for you.Leslie:Oh yeah. It is a loaded word, but it's a word we can't do away with, or we haven't yet. And I am, in my own right, deeply indebted to the work of Joel Snyder, the University of Chicago, who I worked with in writing my dissertation. Also Sarah Miller, who's another scholar who came out of that program, who is writing precisely about this issue of the origins of the term, who was using it when? And her work has looked so thoroughly at the fact that from its initial application to photography specifically, even though it really has its origins in talking about film, it is contested. People mean different things when they're using it. They may want to say things like truthiness or authenticity, but there's a politics to it. Every time it's deployed, it is a shorthand for something. And then we can look at it and say, "Ooh, but those practices, you were making this in this kind of place and you were asking people to perform this for you when you were doing it. And so that's not documentary." Maybe, it is. It definitely has been at different stages. And so I'm interested in unpacking it as people deploy it. What do they mean? What do they think they mean? And actually some of the people who are most associated with the term, like Walker Evans, he's going to say that kind of famous thing about documentary style. Really talking about documentary style, but he's going to start that off even before then saying you have to have a really sensitive ear to hear the word. And I think that's part of, again, the question of being critical about what we think photographs are doing. These categories are certainly with us of things we would put under the broader heading of reportage, photojournalism. Broadly speaking, I think usually when documentary is used, someone's trying to say, "I spent some time here. I didn't helicopter in and take off. I've done more research than that thing that we associate with photojournalism. I've spent more time here," a certain kinds of embeddedness that is different. The relationship to art though, this is also the tricky stuff. It's both at the same time, somehow different. My work specifically, looking in photography in South Africa, it's that in the 1990s in particular, as more space was made in museums for photography as art, the work that was moving into those museums were by a lot of photographers who had very strong commitments to something like documentary practice. I don't think there's a contradiction at all, but I think there are quite a few people looking at it and saying, "Okay, is South African photography documentary? Is this what we do? And what else would we be making? How would we want to deal with these categories?" And I'm interested in unpacking those kinds of ideas around what we think a certain set of photographs are and what they're doing.Stanley:There's also the question, I guess, the distinction of the temporal horizon. The idea that in photojournalism, what you produce is meant to be seen really as soon as it can possibly be distributed, and that where in a kind of documentary project, what you select to display and when you display it will invariably sort of occur at some remove from the moment of the exposure and will not be addressing itself so much to the kind of froth of the instant event. I mean, I say froth and it seems derisory as though a protest in Hong Kong is somehow not important, which it clearly is, but that even in that context, if we sort of pick it up as an example that a documentary photographer say like Matt Conners' work in Egypt, might make pictures in the midst of Tahari Square, but with absolutely no intention of distributing that work in news media. So the gestation or the incubation period is extended. And then the way in which the image figures actual impossible meaning is shifted by the nature of that suspension. And yeah, I think that stress or that emphasis, sort of the remove of the picture from its instant, can productively call into question how we understand the building blocks of history. Part of what makes Latoya's notion of family projects so a thunderously compelling is the accumulation of histories that it condenses and the way that it describes a particular inevitable characteristically American trajectory of depredation within that history. So yeah, and what's intriguing to me is the extent to which a lot of people in contemporary practice refuse the term while hewing to all of those same logics and processes in the making of their work.Lindley:Stanley, in 2018, you released a book titled One Wall a Web in which you place your own photographs alongside four by five archival negatives, which you purchased from eBay, text collages, and an essay that you wrote. Can you speak about what this does for your images to present them in a publication with these other components?Stanley:I should be ready for that question. Somehow, I always feel like I'm not. Yeah. I mean, I suppose for me, the easiest way to talk about the interrelations between the various elements in the book is to talk about the book first as a form, as a platform, because in other sort of public scenarios in an exhibition format, differing elements would be combined and a lot of things would have to be left behind. The book isn't something to be transcribed onto exhibition walls, or to be transposed sort of spread for spread into a magazine or any other kind of format. So for me, the possibilities, the expressive symbolic discussive possibilities of the book really organized my thinking around which differing elements could be braided together in the sort of articulation of the work. But so yeah, the interactions in the pictures between the elements and the pictures arose, first of all, because the publisher, my publisher, who's also the designer, Aroja Williams from Rainbow Publications. When we first met and he saw my work, said that he was eager to produce a book that would share the variety of ways in which I interact with photography. And he'd read my writing long before he'd seen my photographs. So from his perspective, I was a writer first and then I was a photographer second in the kind of sequence of his encounter with me. And that was where the possibility of some kind of text interacting with the pictures arose. Although it took a long time for the two text collages that you mentioned to kind of surface and to make their way into the book. I mean, I hope there are multiple ways in which these different elements speak to one another. So the text collage contain appropriated speech, and it's important to be clear that it's people speaking, it's not prose description of any sort. Every single word in those two pieces are utterances made by either characters in the case of fragments that are appropriated from Ginsburg's poem Howl, or in the case of actual comments from comment threads on breitbart.com, or in the case of a transcript of the very first interview the current president gave to the New York Times in the summer of 2017. So that the text is speech and it's being uttered for a public and all of my photographs are made in public space. I picture people out sort of in the street or in and around places where any sort of body can move through fairly freely. And it was important to me that the tenor of the moment in which I was making this work and its sort of deep thematic concerns with the normative forms of violence that organized life in this country, address itself to the public square and to people's differentiated experiences of public space. The fact that they are addressed to a reader or to a listener was essential to the way that they might interact with the images, because these are the voices that we hear in our everyday lives. And some of them are inscribed in the spaces that I photographed in certain landscapes. You can read people who you might assume legitimately will also be on those comment threads that you're reading earlier in the book, or you can certainly read a president whose voice is in most of our lives in some way or other on a regular basis in this country. And reckon with the way that the grammar of that speech articulates certain kinds of unacknowledged, but foundational logics, white supremacist hetero-normative logics, and reckon with the extent to which that speech is intelligible as part of the engine that's moving events in the contemporary moment. And therefore to reckon with the way that it's sort of part of the world that the people you see in the pictures are moving through by braiding together the appropriated archival negatives with the pictures that I've been making in a sort of more contemporary moment. I hope that first of all, that the sort of notional dated nearness takes a second seat to the ways in which they're made intelligible as linked to the moment that we're living in now. Into the sixties is the profoundly different relationship people had to the camera in that moment and the way in which the camera solicits a performance in which people inscribed themselves into normative relations to contemporary culture, and the way in which the pictures that issue from that interaction continually seek to kind of reiterate and legitimize certain particularly classed and raced norms of identity, of corporarity, of beauty, of power, of authority, et cetera. And so I think the genesis of our moment is in a lot of those pictures, and you can see even in the moment of their production, to kind of in a sense come back to what Leslie was saying about the contested adoption of a timeline documentary. You can see that people are struggling with it. You can see that people aren't adjusted automatically and uncomplicated leads to the rigors of performing a certain version of oneself for the camera. And you can see that there are differentiated valences in the kinds of performances that are being solicited and rewarded by the lens, and in the interior experience of those performances as they're undergone by the people depicted in the pictures. You can see that there are certain kind of fraught and frayed relations between different groups who find themselves together in certain kinds of spaces. And you can see that the camera won't answer the question as to what those differences mean, but it can't help but to state that they exist. And there's something, I think, in the way that those appropriated pictures interact with each other, and then potentially with the pictures that I've been making that helps to hopefully state those differences as being simultaneous in their occurrence in a particular country and in a particular moment. Because I think that, Chicagoans are different then New Yorkers and they're not any less or more American for the fact that there's differences, but if they can't encounter and recognize one another from the substance of those distinctions, then there's no viable relationship to be had between them that can last. And so I think maybe another way to think about the mixture of elements in the book is to say that they name differences, they operate in different registers. They have different intensities and they produce different kinds of sensory experiences and no one gets to claim its superiority over any other. If we're to embrace this country in this moment, then we have to embrace everything, including the reality of the Breitbart comments, as much as the Ginsburg poetry, as much as the mural Rick Heizer, as much as anything else. And then the essay at the end. Yeah. It's linked. I never wanted to write a piece of criticism about my own photographic work. I never will. And, Aroja never asked me to, but he did want me to write something and it took me a long time to figure out what I was going to write. And I think it's, might seem perverse, but I think it's the most optimistic part of the book in that it's a place where I'm trying to reach for a different conceptual and physical and psychological relationship to what blackness is and can be and what photography is and can be. And I think I wrote it because I needed to. I think I needed to say something, maybe not confessional, but personal somewhere in the book. And I think I needed to kind of publicly ask the question about these two things that I'm going to be for the rest of my life, which is black and a photographer. I needed to kind of work out what does that mean. And not in a kind of casual sense, but in a really, in a deep, philosophical and psychological sense because those questions are important to me.Lindley:Leslie, to go off of what Stanley just said about different modes of sensory experience while looking at photographs, it would be wonderful if you could share some of your knowledge pertaining to black and white versus color photography. One of the words that comes up when you talk about color photography specifically is access. Can you speak to the history of these two forms and also the contrast between viewing them?Leslie:The context in which I am looking at this, especially right now, is in South Africa. But I think it's more international than this. And this part of my research is in its earlier stages, so I can't break it down in a way that I'm anticipating will happen. But it's that at the very least in its earliest stages for color photography, I mean, we go back to the people who made the field and look at a lot of scientists and adventurers and the lot, but generally these are really expensive hobbies. They're expensive undertakings. And quite a bit of this is embedded in travel, which also says something about your own means. And one of the things that started to jump out to me as I started to pursue a question of, "Okay, when were the first color photographs made in South Africa and how are they circulating, who was making them?" I was looking at a lot of groups of amateur photographers, amateur in the photographic sense. They're very studied. They're very savvy, but it's not their professional makings. These were groups that featured exclusive white memberships. So if it was the Johannesburg Photographic Society or the Cape Town Photographic Society, those zones of exclusivity started to kind of really scream out to me because they're trading notes with one another about, "Have you heard about these auto chromes? Do you like them? Do you think they'll work for us? Carbro seems really laborious. Are we sure we really want to make these things? I don't think I'm going to pick up color photography until it's easier." And in the wake of World War II, when the technology does improve and more people can make it, who wants color and what are the ways in which they want color photography. Back to photography's very beginnings, people are talking about color, and Peter Henry Emerson will talk about before he disavows photography in the 19th century, which he does. Because I love it when photographers change their minds. But he's going to say one of the ways in which this medium will become more perfect is when color becomes part of it. People are experimenting with it. They're exploring this through the 19th century. And then we hit this point in the early 20th century with our kind of high modernists, if you will. But from Paul Strands to Stieglitz, as much as they might experiment with color, there's a point where things transition and they say photography in its best practice is a black and white medium. That's part of its identity. And those ideas get bound up in what photography is or it should look like, but they're also bound up in what photography as reportage should look like, as documentary should look like. There are ways in which we can look at photos and say, "Oh, that's a serious photograph. Someone's asking me to look at that in a real way." What do we mean by these things? Usually it's something like that doesn't look like commercial photography. Up through the 1990s, the New York Times for instance, is going to continue to print its photos and black and white for a whole host of complicated reasons that are not just about trying to make serious photographs. They're about the technology. They're about overhauling, major printing operations to facilitate this, but precisely because of the types of images that have lived in relation to the news, to print news up until that time, we still, I think, bow down to black and white as saying something serious to us. Part of that seriousness, I think, is in trying not to distract you with things that seem like spectacle. Color gets away from us and risks dazzling us or overwhelming us. This is again part of that discussion. So how do we tamp that stuff down? There's also a question of do you really want to know the truth about the way people look and what black and white can control for? Some of my favorite short essays on the advent of color photography is like, "Oh, but you're going to really know how red your neighbor's nose is. There's going to be so much truth here that what you're going to wind up with is the subject of your photograph punching you in the face." So there's a kind of, in that case, an idealizing of the world that's accomplished through black and white, through that tonality, that there's a sense-making of boiling things down to their bare essence that can happen through black and white. And yet that lives at a disjunct with how we look at the world on a daily basis, which is in color. And yet, can we replicate a color through our photographs that look like the color that we see on a daily basis? Is that the color we want? And I'm fascinated by the ways that these questions are bound up in technology, but they're also bound up in values, social values, political values. And I think I look at actually Stanley project and to One Wall a Web, and I find that play between the photographs that are in black and white and color really interesting. The ways in which often black and white precisely, in the archival context, gives us. It immediately will announce that these photographs are historical and yet we can make black and white now and we do. And that's also part of the work that you make. So I think how do we make those decisions? What are we trying to achieve when we say I'm going to make a photograph in 2019 in black white? I'm going to make this in color. I'm going to make it in a color that looks a little bit like seventies color, and we can make those choices too. And so that's a rhythm in the book that I'm really fascinated by.Stanley:Yeah, I think it's really helpful that you mentioned that word essence in talking about black and white in that I think of it as kind of like a structural reduction. Invariably, when you're looking at the world in color as a photographer, or at least when I'm looking at the world in color, I shouldn't generalize for everybody else. I'm thinking about whether the yellow of your t-shirt, what the yellow of your t-shirt will do in an image and what it will be surrounded by and the way that its particular intensities will inflect the picture that I make. And then I'm trying to work out how to respond to that. It's true that you're wearing it. That doesn't necessarily mean that I have to photograph it, will have to photograph in a certain kind of a way, but a lot of our experiences in the world, in the scene of Latoya's picture, for instance, tremendously informed by our kind of psychological relationships to color. That's part of the essence too, and all of that gets stripped away in black and white. So I also, I think, would agree with you that there's no inherent supremacy to one or other selection. There's so much that we can learn about a history of choices in culture that color specifically affords us. And there's so much that we can learn about a history of relations in space that black and white maybe makes more easily available.Leslie:But I'd say there's also kind of a false opposition within photography between these broad terms or whatever they would seek to describe, that which is the world of color and that which is the world of black and white, especially talking to photo conservators. They will be like, "We don't even use the term black and white." They'll say monochrome or something broadly, because actually, one of the things that comes through with Latoya's photo here, but certainly also in the exhibition, the Last Cruise, is the warmth of the tonality. And that warmth is so significant. It communicates something. And to me, I feel those discussions that she's having, this sense of trust that she's built with the subjects of her photos, that feels somehow bound up in that warmth that comes through the prints. I don't know. And again, I'm like, where did these ideas come from? But that they're bound up in this. And so, whether it's brown, certain sepia, if we're getting photo mechanical, certainly in the brown [inaudible 00:35:17], or the cyanotype or whatever is happening. We actually are dealing with a wealth of options that this divide between black and white and color doesn't quite speak to. It doesn't give us that range of actually what's really been happening on the ground with photographs that we've made. And so it's also the world of choices that's emerging broadly flanked by these two, but also all the way through it, in terms of what we're getting. And I think you're totally right with a photograph like this one, but I think also in the photograph by Solomon, imagining in Rosalind's photo, that whatever those colors of the clothes on the line are, and that the black and white here feels so bound up in the effect that the pillars have on you. That we're looking at the monuments of old, that somehow this is just lost from some building that was extant, that were amidst ruins. Black and white and ruins go hand in hand.Stanley:Yeah. And it's funny to me, the picture that I made in my book that was most about the ruin is in color, but I know exactly what you mean, and that, again, that wasn't a conscious choice or anything. But I mean, you're right to say that tonality is such an essential part of the register of a photograph's utterance.Lindley:All right. Well, thank you so much, Leslie and Stanley, it was a pleasure to speak with you.Leslie:Thank you.Stanley:Thank you.Kristin:Thank you for listening to Focal Point. Focal Point is presented by the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago in partnership with WCRX FM radio. Special thanks to Matt Cunningham, Wesley Reno and Sam White. Music is by Zaby. To see the images we discussed today, please visit mocp.org/focalpoint. You can also follow the Museum of Contemporary Photography on Facebook and Instagram at MOCPChi and on Twitter at MOCP_Chicago. If you enjoyed our show, please be sure to rate, review and subscribe to Focal Point anywhere you get your podcasts.
57 minutes | Aug 7, 2019
Episode 3: Dawoud Bey and Teju Cole
In this special extended episode, photographer Dawoud Bey and writer, critic, and photographer Teju Cole are in conversation with MoCP’s curator of academic programs and collections, Kristin Taylor. Bey and Cole discuss works in the MoCP’s permanent collection by Roy DeCarava and Melissa Ann Pinney as well as their thoughts on seeing, understanding, and creating images in the world today.Works discussed in the podcast: Roy DeCarava, Man in Window, 1978 Melissa Ann Pinney, Selan’s Beauty School, from Changing Chicago, 1988 Interview TranscriptKristin Taylor:This is Focal Point, the podcast where we discuss the artists themes and processes that define, and sometimes disrupt the world of contemporary photography. I'm Kristin Taylor, Curator of Academic Programs and collections at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago. Here are our guests Dawoud Bey and Teju Cole. This is Louis Armstrong's version of Go Down Moses, the song for which Teju's exhibitions takes its name. Dawoud Bey is a widely acclaimed photographer and educator, over the many decades of his career, he has used portraiture to convey the complex anteriority and humanity of individuals. His recent works newly visualized chapters of American history. In the Birmingham project, he interprets the 1963 bombing of the 16th street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama. And a new series of landscapes traces the routing of the underground railroad through the Ohio landscape. Teju Cole is an acclaimed writer, photographer and critic, and the former photography critic of the New York Times Magazine. His works across mediums considers themes of humanity, movement, chaos, freedom, hospitality, and hope. He is the guest curator of the Exhibition Go Down Moses on view at the MoCP until September 29th, 2019. This exhibition is a re-interpretation of the museum's collection. It can be understood as a visual tone poem, interweaving the past and present, and suggesting an aesthetic approach to understanding the current psyche. So you're standing in the third floor gallery of the MoCP, and on the wall is a tightly hung cluster of photographs and each image depicts some sort of disaster such as a burning building, or the victim of a car crash strewn across the highway. Beyond these images that are very difficult to look at, is one photograph hung entirely alone, it has a black frame with a black mat and it's on a black wall and the image is so dark that its difficult to see the subject.Dawoud Bey:My name is Dawoud Bey, and I'm looking at Roy DeCarava's photograph, A Man and Window which I have looked at quite extensively for a number of years. And Roy DeCarava, the photographer whose work and presence has been meaningful to me almost since I became interested in making photographs and this particular photograph, I think exemplifies a lot of this things that I find meaningful about DeCarava's work. One of this being there, that's an exceedingly ordinary subject that has been elevated to a level of deep observation and interest. And it's a man doing... I guess we could say the most ordinary saying I've always thought that he is kind of buried in the soft light of a television that he's looking at. A man who I happened to know, because I know where the photograph has mattered after he lived across the street from DeCarava's house in Brooklyn. So probably someone that he had had time to observe, to think about how he [inaudible 00:03:38], framed the experience of this long black man.Kristin Taylor:We then head down to a gallery on the museum's first floor where we see photographs of people lying down and resting.Teju Cole:My name is Teju Cole, and I'm here at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. We're looking at a picture by Melissa Ann Pinny, a Chicago based photographer. And the photograph we're looking at is called Cannella School of Hair Design. Melissa Ann Pinny's work was new to me, when I began to curate this exhibition. And she was one of many photographers whose work I discovered in the archives of the MoCP. I have two pictures by her, in this show. And what I found very striking about her work was not nestle, just its subject. The series is very much about Chicago, but about certain moments that she captures that are very quiet thoughtful and somewhat so real moments that are actually showing perfectly ordinary things. This picture about the Cannella School of Hair Design is a color photograph of an interior space of a young woman with her head in... resting on a sink and a hairdresser's sink. The hairdresser is nowhere to be found. So it perhaps makes you think this is a moment in the process of getting your hair done, maybe a perm or something where something has to be washed out or allowed to rest for a moment. That's what the picture is technically about, but what we see is somebody's leaning back in a chair with some kind of gray apron on her and her had thrown back, and it's a very vulnerable, soft, interesting pictures. It provokes our sympathy in an unexpected way.Kristin Taylor:Welcome, and thank you both for being here. It's an honor to sit with you right now. I want to start with you Dawoud, you knew instantly which artists you wanted to talk about, and you talked a little bit about DeCarava's influence on your work. Can you talk a little bit about his specific influence on the work you're making more recently of landscape work that you exhibited at the Art Institute earlier this year?Dawoud Bey:Well, DeCarava is certainly an early influence in terms of the affirming for me that there was such a thing as a black photographer. It made that nation idea kind of tangible and my more recent project Night Coming Tenderly Black references, and I guess pays tribute to DeCarava's work in very a direct way that work has a series of photographs printed to appear as nighttime landscapes that references the reimagine path of fugitive slaves moving through the Northeastern higher landscape. And when I thought about the work initially, the black subject and the photograph objects and the photograph being a bad to blackness, I've taken the blackness as the subject, the blackness of the narrative and the blackness of the photograph or print brings me face to face with Roy DeCarava. His work to me embodies all of those ideas.Kristin Taylor:And Teju, DeCarava is very important to you also in the exhibition, and you wanted to choose him, but Dawoud had already taken it. And in the exhibition, you've in conversation called it, The Grace Note to the exhibition. It's sort of the last picture you would see if you were moving sequentially through the exhibition. And can you talk a little bit about why you consider it The Grace Note, what that means to you?Teju Cole:Yes. When you're putting together a show, you're thinking about images that do a certain kind of work when they're put next to each other, next to other images. The criterion for a photograph being in an exhibition is not, can it hold a wall by itself? But what kind of work does it do echoing, amplifying making meaning through its juxtaposition with others, nevertheless, you end up with certain images that really can hold a wall by themselves that are powerful in themselves. So all the reasons that Dawoud just mentioned, but this kind of analogical union of many different senses of black that we see in several photographs by Roy DeCarava made his 1978 photograph man in a window, sort of the perfect way to end this exhibition. Very clearly when you move through the space of the museum, you come into a room where there's a lot of photographs on one wall, and then over there at the end on another wall is one single image that calls to you and says, come look at this and think about this as a final note in the exhibition. As a writer, I often think about how do we end things, what is an ending? And I don't believe an ending has to be loud. I think an ending very often can bring us into a contemplative space through which we can understand what has gone on before. So I believe that DeCarava is one of those artists that helps us understand that politics, political thinking, libertory thinking does not have to be loud. I happen to think that Dawoud Base another of those artists. And when I saw night coming tenderly black, it affirmed and confirmed for me actually, the way that his thinking is cognate with the kind of thinking that DeCarava did throughout his career. So I was very moved by that exhibition and it was very glad to be able to see it.Kristin Taylor:Yeah. So let's talk about curating a little bit because in the exhibition Night Coming Tenderly Black, Dawoud you also pulled work from the Art Institute of Chicago's Permanent Collection and put together a companion exhibition outside of the walls of your own work. How, and you've curated a little bit before I know that you talked about this earlier, the Wadsworth and the Weatherspoon Art Museum, and even at the MoCP, I understand. Can you talk a little bit about how that process, maybe differs or is similar to the rest of the work you do in making photographs and Teju the same question for you, because I know this is your first major curatorial project. So both of you can talk about how that process is similar or different to the other work you do.Dawoud Bey:I think for both of us, who both make photographs and we think about extensively the idea about the photograph in the museum collection is a very fertile space for thinking. Space for realizing that each photograph, which may have come into a museum collection, can be in fact, reshaped into multiple narratives. And I think the artist we give ourselves the freedom to think about museum collection perhaps in a way that's a little more liberated and on more than conventional curator thinking about perhaps bringing those books into your collection to fill certain gaps in the collection. They're looking at that within the context of a very specific set of works that they already have, and then along comes someone who's not beholding to any of that who might be thinking about something else entirely. Which in fact, the work in the collection can also support and [inaudible 00:13:25]. So for me with my work, because the Night Coming Tenderly Black photographs to fundamentally landscapes, I wanted to start by looking at the way in which the American landscape has come to the visualized and photograph going back to the 19th century surveyed photograph, which is the first encounter between the landscape and photography. And then moving forward to look at the way increasingly that the black subject came to inhabit both the American physical and social landscape, and the way that, that relationship had been visualized in photography and photograph. And it was important to me, also because while there are no nominal or little black figures or subjects in that work. That work is very much meant to be seen as if through the eyes of the unseen black subject. And so curating the powered on exhibition from the yard Institute collection allows me to bring the black subject physically into the conversation and to amplify some of the ideas that inherit in my own project. And it was just a way for me to think about this idea of the black subject and the American landscape, not to again, making photograph, but going through your collection and shaping a different conversation through that collection around my set of concerns at that particular moment.Teju Cole:Yeah. A lot of that definitely resonates the possibility of an individual coming in and making the collection do something that it did not know it even had in itself, but possibilities that were latent. I think an archive might have been made for a particular set of reasons. But our archive is a material deposit that now becomes collective property and becomes open to new readings as institutions evolve and become more expansive and more inclusive in their thinking and their possibilities. The archive remains this perpetually open field in which various of the things could happen. And I think that's why it is important to bring in people who are not necessarily experts to help rethink the archive because the archive is common property that has potential. The immensely privileged work that we do as artists and thinkers about art, is not a one-track work. It is multifarious. When I make photographs, I'm thinking about photography through the camera in my hand, and my editing of images and making of books. When I write photography criticism I'm thinking about photographs through writing about other people's work or looking at their work, going to exhibitions, studio visits, and writing about their work. When I write about my own photographs, for my own books I'm doing that, but in a different kind of way, because now I'm thinking about my embodiment and what it means for me to be in a country and take photographs there. And these are all sort of continuous activities that are distinct, but they have significant overlap. So that when I step into a place like this, and I do an exhibition, it's a continuation of this privileged, but important set of practices, thinking about photography. I think about photography with my hands and with my eyes and with my body and with my presence. And with the way I organize photographic experiences for other people. Being invited to give a lecture is another practice. And they are all related in very, very interesting ways. So they keep sort of feeding each other. So I definitely enter a space like this, not as an expert but hopefully not naive either, because I've spent the better part of the last decade, just really thinking about photographs and being exposed to them every day. So there was a kind of a readiness there as well.Kristin Taylor:So when our Director, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Karen Irvin asked you in the interview for the publication for Go Down Moses, what our archive was missing, you said the vernacular photographs are just kind of the everyday pictures that people are taking all the time. And Dawoud, I noticed in your exhibition, you curated at the Art Institute, you put some of these everyday photographs of vernacular photographs. Can you both talk a little bit about the importance of that kind of photography to you? And a bigger question is where you see photography heading at large since it's changing so dramatically every day? Big question.Dawoud Bey:Well, I think for me as I was going through the Art Institute Collection, they had recently acquired a large number of what you would call a vernacular photographs. [inaudible 00:19:32] we will never know. And as I started going through those vernacular photographs, I was in this particular context, very much interested in those pictures that contained black subjects, because I began to think about it. I was shaping the exhibition. I wanted to do a shift and include photographs that suggested not only the black subject was pictured and photographs made by others, but how in fact? The black subject, has engaged in the act of what you might call [inaudible 00:20:22], how they have visualized their own set of social circumstances by photographing their friends, their wives, their lovers whoever, and a very casual but I think meaningful way this question by making one's presence visible through a photograph, which of course was never intended to end up in a museum exhibition, but what at the very least made it as an act of self affirmation and affirmation of one's presence in the world, a kind of visible affirmation of that. And so within that particular curated exhibition, I wanted to include these photographs as a way of amplifying the way enrich black people have seen and pictured themselves and the social landscape of their own world.Teju Cole:I'm intrigued by what Dawoud describes as a self authorship there, because I think it's such a crucial part of recovering the past. Probably for all of us when we're growing up history is a very clear... has a very clear idea of what it thinks it is. Histories, the deeds of great men, some women. Great white men made certain decisions that turned the course of certain things. And then you sprinkle a few token others in there. Some black people, some Asian people, some women, some queer people, but really history is the great deeds of great people. There's been, out of revolution in historical studies has not necessarily caught up with popular audiences yet. We're still very interested in the acts of great men, but the understanding of historical studies now is that it is really worth it, trying to retrieve the activities of ordinary people everyday life, the history of everyday life as with so many things, the [inaudible 00:22:42] have tried to take credit for this, the [inaudible 00:22:45] school but cultures all over the world have actually understood that, the way that ordinary people think and the actions that they take and the decisions that they make are what constitutes the history of a nation and of a people that's where custom comes from, that's where tradition comes from. The history of photography must be the history of everyday life as well. Icons are fine, Photographic icons are fine, and Iconic photographers are also fine. Great photographers, people who dedicated their lives to it, very often can hit the mark in a way that's intriguing and very moving, but it is also true that each great photographers narrowly in their own lane and to stop bringing in material that is made by people who are not credentialed or pre-certified as experts, professionals or great, allows us access to all kinds of submerged and ignored histories, because if you only took submerge, if you only took major or great photographers for the first a hundred years of photography's history, let's say between 1830, 1826 and 1926, well then you're just going to have white people or black people as seen by white people. But if you start allowing other voices to come in and you start and you start asking questions such as, "Well, what was photography like in West Africa in 1890 or in East Africa in 1910 or in Alabama or in Mississippi, or in Harlem?" Who is doing the work? Who's working? Had the fortune to survive? It doesn't mean you necessarily bring all the artists back as great artists, but it means that you question the whole enterprise of greatness and say, "How do we reimagine the past?" And so I, and even for the contemporary, I very much believe in these informal and quite energetic channels that give us a vision quite different from what somebody who has an MFA can give us.Kristin Taylor:So we should probably talk about your collection choice now, because we haven't really talked about Melissa Penny's work too much. Why is her work such a standout? Is it a little bit of what you were talking about of that everyday moment that she captured in the beauty salon? Or is it something bigger about this other force of punctum that was guiding you? Can you talk a little bit about the idea of punctum and why Melissa Penny?Teju Cole:Yeah, that's interesting, I mean, you said, is it something bigger, such as punctum, which I actually think of as something smaller, there can be an energy in certain photographs and that has been a bit of a guiding principle for this exhibition as a whole. The exhibition has maybe 150 images in it. For sure many of them are content driven. Many of them are driven by visual analogy and resonance and forms of repetition in building a visual argument. But many pictures are in the show because there's something in them that does prick that stings that calls out to you. This is the mystery in [inaudible 00:26:41] photography, that it is simply what the camera has pointed at, but it is what the camera in spite of itself, and in spite of the image maker has discovered, what has been caught on the fly by the image and has remained permanently at rest inside that image. If we look at the Gordon Park's photo early photograph for him, of the boy on crutches, it's there in that picture. What I describe as a sort of gentle surrealism, but I'm always looking for this moment, that's a combination of the tender and the unexpected, where then there's some kind of tension in your interpretation of what you're you're seeing. Because I think if we're talking about the intensities of a present moment, I think tenderness combined with strangeness is one of the ways we can access that, like on a very intimate level. So that's something I see in Penny's work. And I do have to say that, all photographers it's not as if, she's got hundreds of pictures like this it's that she's got a fine body of work, and then certain pictures just hit you right between the eyes. Very few people are Robert Frank, who hit that mark again and again, and again, and again, Roy DeCarava hit that mark so many times, if you take a volume of his, of his work. Every other picture, you just hold your head and say, "Oh my God! How?" most photographers cannot do that. But I think, for a photographer even in a lifetime to have, a dozen pictures that really hit that mark, I consider that as sort of a great success. Kristin Taylor:So you, at the end of the exhibition have a lot of images of that are hard to look at of violence and chaos and destruction, and Dawoud, I've heard you talk about how you started the Birmingham series. The project was started from an image that you saw that was very difficult for you to look at as a child. Can you describe that inspiration for you in that image and the importance of that image to you?Dawoud Bey:Well, the image that you are referring to is a photograph of a shared with Jane Collins, who was the sister of one of the four girls who was killed in the diameter of the 16th street Baptist church in 1963. And encountered that photograph when I was, I think about 11 years old, and everything changed for me. Seeing that photograph. I've always thought of a day of my life before that photograph and my life after that photograph. And it was a photograph of her laying wounded in a hospital bed with big [inaudible 00:30:15] bandages over her eyes. And I don't know that I intuited at that moment that one of the reasons that it was having such a profound effect on me was that I was very near to being the same age as the girl in the photograph. I think I might've intuited it without actually knowing it. And that stayed with me for a very long time until several decades later as an adult more than fully grown adult, I actually awoke with a start one morning, and that image came flashing back to me. And I decided I needed to do something with that. I needed to make something out of that I knew to respond to that by making something. And that began a series of several visits to Birmingham, Alabama, over several years, becoming familiar with the place and also thinking all that time. What do you make in response to something like that? It happened it's in the past, did not much to be seen, No. Although, in some way there is, it seems to starred those kinds of traumas kind of linger in the atmosphere and the [inaudible 00:31:57], but in the most fundamental sense, there's nothing to see I said, "How does one make more about that?" And I finally came to this idea making photographs of young black girls who were the ages of those four girls in order to give those girls a palpable, physical presence. To make photographs of young African-American girls? No. Who are the ages that they were in order to give them a less mythic and more tangible, physical presence. And as I thought about it further wanted to figure out how to nonvisualized the passage of time. How you do the thing with a camera that photography is designed not to do. It's designed to make a still image of a moment. How do you make something about an extended period of time? And that's what I came to the idea of making photograph of women were now the ages that those young girls would have been. And empowering them, I could actually make a [inaudible 00:33:16] that did in fact, embody 50 years [inaudible 00:33:20] to figure out how to embody individualize the idea of time in the still photograph in a way that resonated very deeply, not other documentation because it isn't a documentation. It's not them, but it is done in a deepest sense. So those girls and women, and there were two African-American boys killed that day. So I did the same thing, photograph from boys who were their ages of the two boys and men who are the ages that there was would have been, really made me begin to think about the possible ways to enrich the photograph, could actually be [inaudible 00:34:11], which one might talk about and in some way, visualize the past in the contemporary moment. And that pretty much set the trajectory for the work that I've continued to do to make photography, which is of course, when it's made, it's made in the now, but how to make it resonate in a very palpable way with a sense of history.Kristin Taylor:Let's bring it back to your exhibition a little bit. You actually included one of Dawoud's photographs in the exhibition and it's more street photography type image photographed in New York. It is called Third Street Basketball Court, New York city. And it was taken in 1986, but you've also written about Dawuod's work before in the New York Times in an article called There's Less To Portraits That Meet The Eye and more. Is there a particular project that Dawuod has made that is your favorite or what, what work do you appreciate by him the most? And the same question for you Dawoud about Teju, Is there something that he's written that resonates with you the most?Teju Cole:When I answer the question for him. He likes the essay I wrote about his work on a purely neutral basis. Of course. Well of course Dawoud is one of our leading photographers. So one sort of looks at that body of work and it's simply, grateful for it. And when I sat down to write that essay, which was about portraiture, I wasn't saying, "Oh, I'm going to write an essay about Dawoud's work." It's just that I was looking for work that had the amplitude, that allowed me to actually attempt to say something new about what's happening in photographs. And in that essay, I wanted to go a little bit against the grain of the way people normally read portraits, which is you look, read the portrait and you read it physiognomically and "Oh, this person has this sort of eyes and therefore this is their character." Or something like this. And then just sort of bring it more back to the fact of a portrait as a testimony, to an encounter and a testimony to the artist's sensitivity, very subtle sensitivity, and be a portrait as a place where soft, small, unexpected things can happen that don't have to do with the genetics, but have to do with those little shifts of perception that a really great artists can bring to bear. So that's why I selected that. But to zoom back out of that for a moment. I think, what draws me about David's work is that, he's a good and faithful servant of the given he's functioning in a certain moment in history. There are certain political realities that impinge on the making of the art, is a very serious commitment to the art, that comes both out of sensibility and out of technical skill. And he's a teacher so you can sort of abstract individual images out, but if you go through the whole sequence of seeing deeply, what you see is a testimony sort of commitment. I do very much like the photographs of the students in the boarding school. Is it boarding school? Students of all races who are in this sort of in-between age puberty, young teens and such compassion for these young people in these very beautiful, large formal portraits. So yeah and as far as the third street basketball thing, so many things just suddenly happened with that picture. One is that it's not, it's not portraiture and there's a sort of angularity and subtlety to it, a touch of DeCarava in that as well, even though, it's obviously very contemporary. I've been by those basketball courts, numerous times stood their and watch games going way back to 1995. I mean, it's like, it's just, you get off of West fourth, it's right there. It's part of New York there're dudes on there where you're thinking this guy should be in the NBA and then you're like, well, maybe not, because he's like five foot seven, but he sure can play basketball. So there's that, there's a touch of [inaudible 00:39:23] with a chain link and that complexity of that. So it's in conversation with the history of art as well. And I think ultimately if you're also doing this sort of mixed practice of being a photographer, writer, curator, I think there's always also an element of when you select something, there's always an element of that's a photo I wish I had taken. Sometimes it just comes right down to that. Sometimes you do a show just full of photos. You wish you'd taken, which is a layer of this exhibition. I have not even talked about much, but half the pictures in there. If I look at Carrie Coppins picture it that's in the show of a group of young black men dancing in Chicago. I think my first, my rawest response to it is wish I took that. But this is not envy at all, It's more appreciation, I'm glad it's in the world. I wish I took it. I wish I owned it. I want to be closer to it a little bit longer. I'm going to put it in my show.Dawoud Bey:Thank you Teju, to hear you talk about it because that that basketball court is a very iconic location and social space in New York. For those who know and I've been out of New York for a few years now, more than a few years, but at the moment that I made that photograph, I like a lot of people had spent hours standing there watching some of the most extraordinary, most organized and pickup basketball games. And that photograph is really... it's mediocre, and of course all photographed about the photographer looking, but in that particular space, it echoes so much a piece what was very much a seamless part of the fabric of my life, because it's right by the subway station. You can't come and go from the village without passing by that basketball court. And it's also interesting for me to see the photograph in this exhibition, because that is a piece and a period of my work that is not much shown or seen. So I was kind of surprised to see it myself because I don't see that piece of my work on the wall too often. But for those who know that location kind of like in the way that 57th street and fifth Avenue, you think about all the photographs that [crosstalk 00:42:30] with all of them, that there are certain iconic locations within the city of New YorkTeju Cole:And New York is a little by the corners, right? It's like the corner of this and that, and pick your corner is basic.Dawoud Bey:Yeah, And that's one of them. And so, I was just pleasantly surprised to hear it included, because it's also a very it's a very public social moment, but it's also very quietly intimate moment. Teju Cole:Oh yeah, but what's on that block is the Blue Note Jazz club. So I mean, think of that juxtaposition, I mean, that photo is jazz, it's not going to coincide... I mean, it's a very mixed spaces, diverse space, but it's not coincidental that what we largely see there are black bodies arms, the figures that are across the picture plane and, you blink and suddenly you're at the Blue Note and Miles Davis is playing there. So there's a continuity to these things because I think locations retain the ghost of the things that happen there, in those locations.Kristin Taylor:I'm glad you brought up the Jazz club because music has been also a big influence on this exhibition, down to the title being called, Go Down Moses, you made a custom playlist on your Spotify account to go with this exhibition, and you're always playing music as you were working in the museum. And we've talked about influences are ready a little bit with DeCarava's work, and I know that you also were inspired by Langston Hughes poetry. That was part of the title of your exhibition at the Art Institute. Can you both talk a little bit about those influences outside of photography with poetry, or music, or painting, and are there any that haven't yet worked their way into your work that we can expect down the road?Dawoud Bey:Well, I was a drummer before I was a photographer. So certainly music has been and continues to be a very important piece of my way of being and thinking. Most people probably don't know that Roy DeCavara was also a very good, tenor saxophone player. He always said that he was just a student, but that's an interesting way. And with people you have a high regard and a very deep respect for an art form can practice for 20 or 30 years and still call themselves students. And certainly the relationship between DeCarava's interest in visualizing music and his extensive study of John Coltrane extended to his own practice as a musician too. And because I did study and play jazz and was initially informed and inspired by jazz drummers like Tony Williams, who was actually meant for creative inspiration of any kind of the world lit up for me when I first heard Tony Williams and I was [inaudible 00:46:00] and I had the good fortune when I was very young to be able to study with Tim Berry, some very good teachers as a drummer starting with, [inaudible 00:46:15] with some people who know the music might know, and Milford Graves, who is considered the father of free jazz drumming. So [crosstalk 00:46:27] go into a situation and improvise. Because a lot of certainly it's probably more explicit in the period of my street photography work, but one has to just go and improvise and find the form and articulate it. But I think every situation that I go into as an artist and photographer making brick, I never know exactly what I'm going to be confronted with, but because you understand the form, you understand the material, you understand the parameters, and you just improvise this notion of improvisation is kind of a foundation to my thinking and my confidence actually as an artist. And I used to write a lot of fiction and poetry in my younger years, published quite a bit of poetry in different literary journals. So all of that it's very much a part of my formation and I think as an artist and photographer, and I think about the world really in different ways to use the materials that the world offers me in some kind of creative articulation.Teju Cole:The first time I saw a live jazz concert was in 1992 having just returned here and from, from Nigeria and it was Jimmy Heath, You know that song CTA? which is the CTA. So that, I mean, he wrote that for Miles Davis. So, I mean, that was like really something that anchored me into this tradition. I ended up really, really loving very deeply. And recently I've been thinking a lot about the difference between practices that are integrative and practices that want to separate the world out into like these distinct strands, that silo things off and integrated practice. I know how nourishing it is, and how satisfying it can feel to encounter in a piece of music in a photograph, the emanations of music in a menu of the emanations of tradition and improvisation in painting the sense that, the person also has a sense of architecture, or dance, or whatever, but it's really hard to say why there's very healthy integration is present in some places and why in some places it's so hard to break into it. I don't know if it's a difference between indigeneity and colonialism. I don't know if it's a difference between blackness as experience and what thinks of itself as whiteness. I don't know if it's a difference between more socially committed political practices and raw capitalism. I don't know if it's the difference between tradition and modernity, all of those things partially map it, but none completely explains it, because it can integration can erupt into a daily mess. If we give it a chance. What I do know is that's where our health is, separating everything out, turning everything, sort of professional people siloing themselves off, defending their turf and all of this, but life at its best once to sort of bleed in and like dye color, dyes running into each other. So I know that I am at my truest and best self when everything is in conversation and I don't have to make a declaration of any kind of purity. So I'll say well, I don't believe in God, but also God is against purity. Yeah, If I did believe in God, God would be against any form of purity and isolation, because we're all sort of in this together.Dawoud Bey:No, I was thinking in relation to this question about music and other influences and thinking about your use of The Grace Note turn in the exhibition, but truth of course, in fact, the music was [inaudible 00:51:53]. And I think it's that DeCarava man in the window photograph, it serve, the shame function within the construct of the exhibition as it were musically, when you have a phrase. And then at the end of that phrase, that particular statement, the grace note at the end against which the phrase is now weighed the Grace Note, and then they kind of set each other off and the Grace Note allows you to consider that phrase in a very different kind of way. In line of that one last flourish.Teju Cole:And very often John Coltrane will do like a triplet where the phrase has been there. [inaudible 00:52:49] at the end, They're almost as if it's just saying I'm signing off, he's just sort of played like some like circular breathing thing that has like a million notes in it. And then there'll always be like this little throwing it out with this three note thing that he does. And it's great to hear that DeCarava played, because I mean, if you could take a picture of home, it would be the one of the man dancing in that darkened hole. For me, it would be the portrait he made of Coltrane and Elvin Jones. You know what I'm saying? What a picture, because that picture is music, what does it mean to solo? You can just see Coltrane in profile almost as if the saxophone continues, his profile very close behind Elvin is on drums, but he's just pure grain, dark grain. He's just dissolving into this bouquet of the lens, but the picture is so musical, it's so there, inside the music it's full of love, but also expertise. They have deep focus on what they're doing. That's a picture that I would like to sort of live with, because this is a conversation, that between the photographer and the man photograph that, as Toni Morrison has said in a different way, sort of eludes the wide gaze, this has not been presented, "Oh, look at us." This is a conversation of love inside a tradition. So he photographed Coltrane, like no one else ever did.Dawoud Bey:Yeah. From inside[inaudible 00:54:45]. And that photograph. Which is another picture that I can, it's always somewhere in my brain, it's the formal embodiment of both the music and the relationship between those two musicians, those two men, but it's absolutely exquisite. Lyricism is also the embodiment of the music, but then there's and Elvin and there's Coltrane, and Elvin is in fact the foundation and then Coltrane is the lyrical.Teju Cole:And you could almost imagine a second version of that picture in which Elvin is sharp and Coltrane is blurred, right?, Because that is how jazz works. It's an exchange. It's an interchange somebody's emanating out of this. I mean, this is Fred Martin's idea out of this collective body. The soloist is not a star. The solo is... The band is the star. The soloist comes out of the band, like a solo flare and then is reabsorbed into the band, into the collective. So I can see that sophistication in the way he makes that image.Dawoud Bey:That's an exquisite photograph, one of my favorite.Teju Cole:Yeah. We got to do a heist and steal it from somebody who has a good print of it. We'll replace it with a photocopy.Kristin Taylor:Well, I think we are out of time. Thank you both for coming in. It's been a great conversation. Thank you for listening to Focal Point. Focal Point is presented by the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago in partnership with WCRX FM radio, special thanks to Matt Cunningham and Leslie Reno. To see the images we discussed today, please visit mocp.org/focalpoint. You can also follow the Museum of Contemporary Photography on Facebook and Instagram @mocpchi, that's M O C P C H I, and on Twitter at MOCP_Chicago. If you enjoyed our show, please be sure to rate, review and subscribe to Focal Point anywhere you get your podcasts.
35 minutes | Jul 2, 2019
Episode 2: Lisa Lindvay and Natalie Krick
In this episode, photographers Natalie Krick and Lisa Lindvay join Karen Irvine, MoCP's chief curator and deputy director, to discuss works by Andy Warhol and Kathe Kowalski in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago. In the process, the two artists also discuss their own work and themes of photographing family, intimacy, and vulnerability. Works discussed in the podcast: Kathe Kowalski (American, 1945-2006)I Wake, from the "Get me some pills" series, 1991 Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)Unidentified Woman (short brown hair cropped top), 1985 Glamour Shots of Lisa Lindvay and Natalie Krick, 1999 Interview TranscriptKaren Irvine:This is Focal Point, the podcast where we discuss the artists, themes and processes that define and sometimes disrupt the world of contemporary photography. I'm Karen Irvine, chief curator and deputy director here with special guests, Lisa Lindvay and Natalie Krick. Lisa and Natalie are both artists included in our permanent collection who work with their family members to create photographs that push against some of the mythology of the family and reveal some rather fraught aspects of intimacy. In Lisa's case, she's exploring her family's existence in the wake of her mother's mental illness. Although we never see her mother, the disheveled appearances of her father, sister and two brothers is mirrored in the unkempt and chaotic appearance of their home. In Natalie's case, she explored sexuality, aging and womanhood using her mother, grandparents, sister, and herself as models, mirroring poses, and facial expressions that are seen in fashion magazines and advertisements, while at the same time revealing all of her models imperfections. Today, we are discussing a work that they've each chosen from the MOCP's permanent collection of over 15,000 objects, as well as their own work and practice. We're standing in the vault of the museum of contemporary photography. It's a tightly packed space with high ceilings and tall shelving containing hundreds of black print boxes containing thousands of photographs, as well as movable screens that have dozens of large-scale framed photographs hung on them in all different shapes and sizes.Lisa Lindvay:I'm Lisa Lindvay. And I am going to be talking today about the artwork of Kathe Kowalski. They have actually pulled out two photographs from the vault for me from her series Get Me Some Pills. So the first photograph that I'm going to explain is a vertical image that is a silver gelatin black and white print. At the bottom of the two photographs, there's a sentence that reads, "She was angry at me for treating her like a child." And then the images themselves, the top image is of a elderly woman's torso. Her head's cropped out of the image. And so really the focus is on her breasts. Because of the shallow depth of field. Her spider veins become really delicate, beautiful, curvy lines on her body. And then the image underneath her is a closeup of her knee. The knee is actually out of focus and the focus sits on her hands, which really shows you the veins and all of their detail and then scattered on the floor is a tissue, as well as if you look really closely towards the bottom of the image on her leg, you can see that there is a tube going into what looks like a bag that is either for medicine or something that's going into her at that point. I'm going to talk about the second image, which is a horizontal also black and white. The sentence below it reads, "I wake to your screams." You can see her pants are fastened with a safety pin. It looks as though maybe she's lost a lot of weight. Her breasts sits on top of her stomach and you can see all the creases it. And then in the background, there is a form that looks like the bottom of a coat rack that so beautifully mimics the shape of her body. And then to the right of that image is a closeup of the woman lying down on the ground. Her knees are in the foreground. Her stockings are pulled down slightly over her knees and you can start to see the slight wrinkles of the stocking, which mimic the wrinkles in her leg. In this image, it's really hard to tell if she had fallen or is laying on the ground. And it makes you kind of wonder how she got there.Natalie Krick:I'm Natalie Krick. And I chose a group of 20 Polaroids by Andy Warhol. They don't really have a title, but they are identified as unidentified woman, short brown hair, cropped top. There's 20 of these Polaroids. The pictures are of the same woman and a variety of different various similar poses. I chose these pictures because at first they look like flash photographs and they are flash photographs. The light is really harsh on her skin, but then as you look closer at many of them, you can see this little area on her chest where her natural skin color shows through. Then I began to realize that this woman is actually, she had been painted white for the photo shoot. This woman is ambiguous in many ways, mostly because a lot of Andy Warhol photographs are of celebrities. And this is this unidentified woman. It's really hard to tell how old she is because of the white makeup and the flash photography. She could be anywhere from 35 to even perhaps 55. She's smiling in most of the pictures and the smiles kind of vary from something that seems very genuine to something that's, I don't know, a little bit awkward, a little bit of a grimace.Karen Irvine:Thanks for being here. I have known you both for a while. Lisa, you graduated in 2009 from Columbia College's MFA photography program and Natalie in 2012. It's wonderful to have some of your work in the collection and to have watched you both kind of develop your careers as artists. I'd like to have you both tell us why you chose the images you chose. And Lisa, maybe we can start with you. I also know that you've had a personal connection to Kathe Kowalski, the artist that you chose. So in addition to talking about why you chose those images to discuss this morning, we'd also love to hear about your relationship with Kathe.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah. Thank you. So I chose the work of Kathe Kowalski, who is a woman that I have deeply admired and really who I think because of her I am the photographer that I am today. And so Kathe Kowalski was my undergrad professor and in a lot of ways she taught me everything that I know about photography and also really kind of shaped who I am as an artist. And so her work, she spent many years really invested in looking at her community and as a woman really thinking about what it means to be a woman through looking at the lives of other women. And so for most of her life, she was a strict documentary photographer, which is where I think I learned everything about my formalist self, but also she had such a deep, beautiful connection with her subjects, which is what I most admired about her work. And I think through her, I learned that by digging inward, you could really talk about kind of larger issues that were happening. And also I think really dug deep into that idea that the personal is indeed political. And so I just admired her vulnerability with her subjects, the fact that she would expose things about her own life and her mother's life that were things that I think we often look away from. And she was never afraid of that. And so I think a lot of that really shaped who I am today and gave me the courage to really think about how I exist in the world and how that relates to other people's existence.Karen Irvine:And the photographs depict her mother, correct?Lisa Lindvay:Yes.Karen Irvine:Who was very ill at the time and at the end of her lifetime.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah. So she's worked on several different projects, but the images that I selected from the collection are of her elderly mother who was suffering from dementia. And also, I think oftentimes when we think about those kinds of photographs or we look at images of people who are aging and growing old to really talk about kind of the mental state that her mother was in, she included text. And so the pictures are these kind of formal studies of the body, which is also a body that I think as a woman, we are ashamed of and don't often look at. Her mother it looks like she's probably in her seventies, eighties is naked in the photographs. And so there's just that sense of vulnerability to the body in itself, but also the fact that it's hard to picture a mental state. And so how do you start to dissect that? And I think that's really where the text comes in. And so Kathe is interested in documenting the body as it is, but to really start to think about how does the body tell a story and how can language start to add to that conversation?Karen Irvine:Your work is similar in that it attempts to describe somebody's mental state, but of course you don't put that person into the photographs, but I would say what you have in common with Kowalski's work is just that kind of raw exposed vulnerability that you both include about own personal lives. So that seems to be a great source of inspiration for you.Lisa Lindvay:Oh yeah. Absolutely. I think in undergrad, I did the thing that you do when you enter photo school. And I photographed all the decay and black and white photography has this amazing ability to make things that are not so beautiful be really beautiful. And so I think once I had her as a teacher and just saw the way that she photographed people, that's where I fell in love with the idea of photographing people. And at one point I started to photograph my grandparents and wanted to really mimic that idea. And then I stepped away from that for a little bit. Kathe actually was diagnosed with cancer while I was in school. And so that was a really hard point I think for me and my peers who admired her so deeply. And so as she transitioned out of the school to take care of herself, we had other teachers coming in. And so that's where I started to play around with the four by five camera. And that was the time of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia and Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson. And this element of artifice really came into picture making. And so I feel like I wanted to hold on to my inner Kathe Kuwalski and mix those two ways of picture making. And also just I think it gave me a lot of strength to realize that this thing was happening in my life that I didn't quite know how to deal with. And I was really able to use photography as a tool to try to make sense of that. And then through doing that, I was able to connect with other people on this kind of deeper level, because I think the things that she's looking at dealing with mental health and the things that I'm interested in are things that are really, really prevalent that we, as a culture just don't want to look at or talk about. And so it was really important for me to start to think about ways to talk about these things in a larger scope.Karen Irvine:Awesome. Natalie, let's hear from you about your choice of the Warhols and why you chose those and how they relate to your practice.Natalie Krick:Well, I'm really interested, I've always been really attracted to Warhols Polaroids and his films. And I think that they weren't really displayed during his lifetime. The Polaroids are mostly sketches for his paintings. The reason why I chose the collection of images that I did because the woman in the pictures is unidentified and most of his Polaroids are of celebrities. And it's very, I guess, mysterious. I like to look at photographs where I don't really know the backstory and I can spend some time kind of guessing what the situation was. I guess whenever I'm looking at portraiture, I'm always kind of thinking about this dynamic that Roland Barthes talks about in Camera Lucida, which is kind of what I like to refer to as a love triangle between the photographer and the subject and then the audience. So in this case, the photographer is Andy Warhol photographing this woman who, as I said before, you can't even really tell what her age is. We don't know who she is. Here she is wearing this tube top painted white. It's just a very kind of strange scene, not knowing the backstory. And then the audience is me. So what I've kind of concluded is she was probably an art collector. So a very wealthy woman, commissioning Warhol to make a silk screen painting of herself, but I guess he would paint his models white in order to ... You couldn't tell in the silkscreen paintings that the people were painted white. You could only tell him these Polaroid pictures. And he did that because he's of course really interested in the aura of glamor. So of course the white paint would remove any imperfections. Warhol was really interested in the cult of celebrity. And it's really interesting to look at these pictures of this unidentified woman, kind of in the context of most of his other Polaroids who are of famous people. So it's impossible for me to look at these and not think, "Oh, I see these pictures of this woman as she's longing to be famous, longing to have like her 15 minutes of fame." Also, when we were looking at the pictures earlier, there's a lot of interesting things that are happening. When you see the group of photographs together. I guess in my own practice, I'm always thinking about photography has this like endless bag of tricks. And as a photographer, you make so many decisions on the way that you can really manipulate the viewer to be totally honest. And one of those decisions is editing. And so when you have this broader scope of 20 photographs, and when he would go into these sessions, he was taking up to 200 pictures of the same person, but what can be revealed through multiple images I think is really interesting. And then in these pictures, you can really see the flaws. When you can see this little peep on her chest, where you can see her her real flesh versus like the painted flesh. That's one thing that always gets me in photographs are these little details that seem to, I don't know, reveal so much about the image making process.Karen Irvine:Yeah. And your work is a lot about the aura of glamor. And in a way you might say that your pictures, who, again, depict your family members kind of in electric colors and interesting poses where you can't always see kind of the full body or the full relationship between two bodies, but that also really expose some of the details of aging. Wrinkles or lipstick that's kind of sloppily applied. So in a way, what I think your work has in common with the Warhol Polaroids is that it's almost like a perverse glamorous shot, if you will.Natalie Krick:I love that. That's so much more interesting than flawlessness. And actually I wanted to talk about how I learned about posing. Lisa, when I was in grad school, Lisa had just graduated. And at that point I was just kind of having people pose for the camera themselves, I wasn't really directing them. And Lisa totally taught me the trick of going through fashion magazines and picking out poses and having your subject perform those poses. And it was such a huge influence.Karen Irvine:That's cool. That's cool. That's a great story. [inaudible 00:16:07] Awesome.Lisa Lindvay:I was an anonymous woman once.Karen Irvine:You were both talking in the vault about having had glamour shots made at the mall when you were young. That was kind of an amusing story.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah, I think it's like one of the things that's so appealing about the Andy Warhol pieces, but even thinking about Natalie's work and my own and where we overlap is everything we understand about ourselves is mediated through culture and magazines and beauty ideals. And so just thinking back of these fake photographs that you often get taken of yourself and when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I got glamour shots and Natalie was ...Natalie Krick:I think I was just going into seventh grade when I got mine. So a wee bit older.Lisa Lindvay:We'd go to the mall in our normal clothes and then go to this boutique that dolls you all up and does your hair all crazy. And then you get to be this different persona, which is actually really weird to be a seventh grade girl feeling like she needs to go to the mall and look like Marilyn Monroe or just these really sexualized ideals of what being feminine is.Natalie Krick:But also there's such a disconnect there too, because it's something that's seen as sexual, but I don't know. When you're also when you're a kid or even when you're an adult and you're wearing lipstick or whatever, it's not necessarily sexual.Lisa Lindvay:[crosstalk 00:17:44].Natalie Krick:No, it's a facade.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah.Natalie Krick:Which is why it can be fun.Lisa Lindvay:It can be fun [crosstalk 00:17:50].Natalie Krick:[crosstalk 00:17:51]Lisa Lindvay:And wearing a feather boa every now and then is great.Karen Irvine:Well, I think it's so interesting that idea, the pressure on women, if you will kind of does feed into both of your works, but in really different ways. I mean, Natalie is talking about the kind of the pressure to be glamorous and attractive, but even in your work, Lisa, there's also the pressure on women to let's say, raise the ideal family and be this perfect homemaker. And so you're both kind of coming at feminine identity I think from two different poles actually, which really compliment each other nicely.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah. I think I was raised by a male and I have two younger brothers and my mother has always dealt with mental health issues. And I think really just starting to think about too women's issues are also men's issues. And I think oftentimes we kind of forget the things that men are doing and going through too. So for me, it was a lot about taking the men in my life and starting to pose them based on fashion magazines and art history in these things that are like typically female in nature. And so even starting to change that conversation and think about that or just the absurdity of gendering bodies and ways based on what they wear, how they look. So for me, it started to be a lot more to just about gender roles and how those exist within my home and also exist outside of just we always talk about the things that are female or look at the female body, but also how those things can follow male bodies too.Natalie Krick:Yeah. I can't help but think about the photographs of your dad. And sometimes his belly almost seems like a very womanly, pregnant body and how at this time he actually, I mean, he became this caretaker. The mother figure it really for your family and how you can depict that through pose and through the body.Lisa Lindvay:Well, and I think the other thing that's really thinking about the overlap in our work too is the fact that both of our families have kind of allowed us to step into these spaces and be really vulnerable. And we do these really crazy things to them sometimes or at least sometimes I put my brother in a pose and he's like, "What are you doing to me?" And I think there's that performative nature and that collaborative spirit that is one of the things I've always admired about your work and also the fact that they're okay with like not being so beautiful or what we stereotypically think of as beautiful. And that's scary to be that vulnerable in a picture.Natalie Krick:Definitely.Karen Irvine:No, that's great. And yeah that idea of the personal becoming political. Are there other instances in both of your projects that ... Or what is your kind of ultimate agenda, would you say with the work? Is it possible to summarize that in a few sentences?Natalie Krick:Oh, I feel like I can only make work about my experience and I think I'm thinking about gender in a way that I think a lot of people are questioning gender right now. And I mean, I do think that there's definitely something political about that. And that's something I've always wanted to question is this performance and how photography contributes to that too. Really how we learn gendered ways of presenting ourselves through our family, but also through images.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah. I think when I started this project a long time ago, I think there was a little hesitation because I think there is a kind of a cultural fear of talking about mental health. And for me, my whole life, you're told, "Don't do this, don't do that. Don't talk about these things. These aren't things that we talk about." So for me, I think there is a rise in just mental illness and the kind of working with young people in my everyday life. I'm seeing that as a really, really important factor that we often just negate and don't want to talk about. So for me, it's been really, really rewarding to talk about mental health and to show it in a way that's not what we're used to seeing. It's not the thing that we see on TV where people are wrapped in coats and put in rooms. And so to talk about the fact that everyday people deal with mental health issues and that those have lasting effects on the people around them and the spaces that they live in. And also that you can be beautiful and happy and still also be sad and have these deeper things that exist too.Karen Irvine:So Natalie, you were talking earlier about what's revealed through multiple images and both of you have been working for a really long time on your projects and your themes. Can you talk a little bit about what's revealed due to the long-term nature of the investigation? And I was thinking earlier specifically about aging. In Lisa's case, we watch your siblings and your father age in front of the camera. And of course Natalie's work has a lot to do about the aging body and so forth.Natalie Krick:I kind of like using multiple images to confuse the viewer. Because in my case, my work really isn't about my family, even though I use them. And I guess in a sense it is about them a little bit, but it's so performative and directed by me. But I mean, I definitely like the fact that you can see a change in appearance in my sister and my mom, but I really was trying to, over the years that I was making that work, I was trying to confuse my mom's identity. I wanted the viewer to see all of these pictures of the same woman, but think that perhaps it was different women. And then I started to use myself and my sister as well. And it's interesting because a lot of people will look at the pictures and they don't know who is who. And I think that's photography is so powerful because of the editing process. And even with the pictures, the Warhol pictures that we were looking at earlier, we were talking about how there was so much fluidity in the way that this woman looked just because her of her pose, just these really slight changes in pose. She did look masculine in some and feminine in others. And once you are editing down a photo shoot, you really lose that. So I guess I'm thinking about the long-term project and multiple pictures to really confuse the viewer.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah. And when I started this project, I just had started grad school. So I think I was 23, 24. So I was really young and I felt really lost coming to grad school because you get uplifted, you have this idea of what you're going to be or what you're going to do. And then I landed here in Chicago and was like, "I have no idea who I am or what I'm going to be." And these things just started to happen at home. It was my first time away from home. And so I just started to go back and create photographs and have a deep investment in wanting to be here and to be an artist. And wasn't really sure what that looked like, but knew I needed it to be also back at home making photographs. And so I think when I started this project, first of all, I was young and just really naive to what that was going to look like. And as time kind of progressed in the project, it did turn into this project that became a lot more about time and going back to the same space. I think one of the really beautiful things about photography is that it does allow for multiples. And so you can photograph one space in 20 different ways. And so for me, it became a really, really important part of the project was going back to that same space and really starting to see it evolve or devolve in some way and really became a kind of frozen moment of that time. And so the other thing that starts to happen, interestingly enough in my work too, is my brothers look very similar. And so does my sister in some ways. And so I think as family members, you know you look alike, but you don't think about it too much or you're always trying to not look like family or be your family. But I think even like my brothers and sisters start to get confused in the images as well.Natalie Krick:I could not tell them apart. And I live with some of those pictures in my apartment.Lisa Lindvay:And that's one part that I really love that kind of accidentally starts to happen. And it's also one thing that I really love about your photographs is that a photograph of your mother, your sister and yourself, that you can see the resemblance. And it's hard to tell who's who at some points and even to figure out ages based on the makeuping or the costuming. And so there's something really just interesting too about that shared identity that starts to happen.Natalie Krick:Well, I was really interested in the text with the piece that Lisa chose because it revealed so much more than a photograph alone could. And I remember Lisa always talking about her work and making it a point to not really show her mother in the pictures because of this failure of photography. And although photography can capture so much, to capture someone's mental state is a very challenging and impossible thing to do.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah. Well, and I remember being in grad school and people would ask me, "Is this a documentary project or are you conceptual?" And I always would be so frustrated and I'm always like, "Can photography live somewhere in the middle?" I think the things that I think we want to talk about are these larger issues that oftentimes don't visualize themselves. And that's why we don't talk about them. So it's like, how can we use this tool that is so much about capturing the thing itself in front of it to talk about these things that aren't seen? And so for me, I have always been kind of less interested in the backstory and more interested in the single image and how much of a story can you tell in one picture? And so for me, it's referencing art history, referencing magazines. So pulling from things that we all understand and that feel kind of universal rather than I think traditionally in photography, we're always thinking about what makes things other? And so for me, it's like, no. Actually, what are the things that hold us together? And I think photo does fail at so many things and there's also this interesting thing that happens where we like trust photography and we don't, which I think also comes into play in your own work.Natalie Krick:Yeah. I think that's really the most interesting thing about photography is this relationship to fact and fiction. There's always it's simultaneous.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah.Natalie Krick:And I think as a photographer, it makes a lot of sense to use those visual cues from culture to talk about something broader. And I guess that's one thin talking about photography that I feel frustrated a lot with is I don't really want to talk about the reality of the situation necessarily. I want to talk about the pictures.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah. Or you're talking about the reality through the falseness of it. So like thinking about glamour magazines. It's amazing to me that we idolize Kim Kardashians and like these other people who are so clearly and openly talking about how they've had all these things done to them. And that's something that we believe to be true about how they look and who they are. And I think your photographs are really fighting against that and starting to peel away those layers by actually applying more layers if that makes sense.Natalie Krick:I definitely think a lot about layers.Karen Irvine:I did want to ask you both about your working process because obviously you're dependent on your models and have to kind of probably schedule time and so forth. But how often are you working kind of in your heads? How obsessed are you with kind of thinking about your work and are you planning it as you walk down the street before you get to, let's say your family's home or set up the time with your family to shoot them? Are you pre-planning photographs or is it more spontaneous than that? I'm just curious to get inside the mind of an artist and how much it kind of consumes your mental space.Natalie Krick:I'm consumed. I would say unfortunately, I'm thinking about it all the time and I wish there was space in my brain for other things, but sometimes there's just not. I plan a lot ahead. I plan everything ahead. And I mean, I know Lisa has done this too, collecting a lot of poses from magazines or pictures from the internet to copy. I mean, I think we're both doing a lot of pulling from culture and copying in our own way, but then I'm also thinking about stylizing and lighting and props and I guess a lot goes into each picture that I make of. There's lots of planning.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah. And I mean, I think I have more ideas than I ever have time for. And because for the project I have been working on, which has really consumed the last 12 years of my life, that is back in Erie, Pennsylvania. And so I live in Chicago and so that's an eight hour trip and I don't get to go often enough. And so a lot of that is here, I'll think about things or see things on the street and catalog it a lot of research. And then when I get there, I will try those things and it tends to all fall apart. And so then there is that kind of reacting to the situation because things are never, ever as I plan or anticipate, which is what I think keeps me interested and keeps me going back because that does mean that there's still more to learn from that subject.Natalie Krick:Yeah. I think that's a good point. I think it's good to go in with a plan, but it would be so boring if everything went according to plan and that's why photography is so exciting is because there's so much room for being spontaneous and being surprised.Lisa Lindvay:Yeah. I tell my students all the time it's not fun if it's not hard.Natalie Krick:It's true.Karen Irvine:Thanks for listening to Focal Point. Focal Point is presented by the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago in partnership with WCRX. Special thanks to professor Matt Cunningham and student production intern, Wesley Reno. Music by [Xavi 00:33:38]. To see the images we discussed today, please visit mocp.org/focalpoint. You can also follow the Museum of Contemporary Photography on Facebook and Instagram at MOCPchi. That's M-O-C-P-C-H-I and on Twitter at MOCP_Chicago. If you enjoyed our show, be sure to rate, review and subscribe to the Focal Point anywhere you get your podcasts.
35 minutes | May 7, 2019
Episode 1: David Schalliol and Carlos Javier Ortiz
Carlos Javier Ortiz (left) and David Schalliol (right) In this episode, photographers and activists David Schalliol and Carlos Javier Ortiz join Kristin Taylor, MoCP's curator of academic programs and collections, to discuss activism in documentary photography. Their work focuses on the demolition of homes and communities and the tragedies that proceed this destruction on the south side of Chicago. David and Carlos explain ethical obligations to communities and landscape as well as what it means to be an activist in 2019.Their work is featured at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago as a part of the exhibition, Chicago Stories: Carlos Javier Ortiz and David Schalliol, until July 7, 2019. Works discussed in the podcast: Fazal Sheikh (American, b. 1965)Gabbra Matriarch, Seated at Center, with Gabbra Women and Children, 1993 Alejandro Cartagena Gonzalez (Mexican, b. 1977)Business in Newly Built Suburb in Juarez, from the "Suburbia Mexicana" series, 2009 Interview TranscriptEpisode 1: David Schalliol and Carlos Javier OrtizKristin Taylor:This is Focal Point, the podcast where we discuss the artists, themes, and processes that define, and sometimes disrupt, the world of contemporary photography. I'm Kristin Taylor, Curator of Academic Programs and Collections at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago. Today, I'm joined by Carlos Javier Ortiz and David Schalliol. Carlos and David both use documentary, still photography, and film to consider segregation and systemic racism in Chicago and beyond. We've asked both artists to select one work from the museum's collection to discuss in conjunction with their own practice. David Schalliol is a sociologist, photographer, and filmmaker who is interested in the relationship between community and place. He is the principal with Scrappers Film Group, where his directorial debut, The Area, follows the story of a multi-billion dollar intermodal freight company as it buys and demolishes over 400 homes in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood. The film closely documents the story of one community activist, Deborah Payne, and her fight against the development. Additionally, his still photographic series, Isolated Building Studies, pictures lone buildings centered between vacant lots, challenging us to consider the wider narrative or causes of urban transformation. Carlos Javier Ortiz is a director, cinematographer, and documentary photographer who focuses on urban life, gun violence, racism, poverty, and marginalized communities. His short film and photographic series, A Thousand Midnights, considers the ideals and realities of those who moved to Chicago during the great migration from the South and another series, We All We Got, focuses on communities in Chicago repeatedly affected by gun violence. Their work is included in the museum's permanent collection, as well as its Midwest Photographers Project, and it's also featured in the exhibition, Chicago Stories on View, at the MoCP until July 7th, 2019. I am standing in the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago's vault space right now, where the museum stores its collection of approximately 15,000 photographs. It's a quiet, climate controlled room that's shut off from the rest of the world. I'm in here with David Schalliol and Carlos Javier Ortiz, looking through some prints that they selected to talk about today.David Schalliol:We're looking at a business in newly built suburb in Juarez, by the Suburbia Mexicana series by Alejandro Cartagena Gonzalez. This is a print that I'm really excited to see in person. It's a photographer whose work I've seen online, but never had the opportunity to actually see in person. So, what we're looking at in the photograph, it's a photograph of suburban Juarez, but it's part of the series where he's looking at the development of suburbia on the outskirts of Mexican cities. One of the things that really draws me to this photograph is that there are these clear signs of life in it, and so, you get a sense of suburban development and its hugeness, but at the same time, you can see someone setting up a sign in front of a restaurant, that you see the advertisements, the signs of life that don't fit into that rigid, orderly new construction.Carlos Javier Ortiz:I'm looking at these three images next to each other, and they're from a refugee camp. And in the images to me, it's mostly women and some boys, but mostly women, look really powerful, all looking at the camera, beautiful portraits. Each portrait is like a landscape to me, like a long panoramic image.Kristin Taylor:Carlos, you chose Gabbra Matriarch, Seated at Center, with Gabbra Women and Children, by Fazal Sheikh. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose this picture?Carlos Javier Ortiz:I was really attracted to these three images together, and then mostly, it's just the subject matter. The women, the matriarchs, and now that I read the caption on the picture, it says matriarchs, so the matriarchs, the women who hold it down around the boys and the young girls in this camp, and it's just really full of life and dignity. Most of the pictures you see in camps don't look like that.Kristin Taylor:Something that you and Fazal Sheikh have in common, I think, is that you're trying to photograph a situation that is different than how you would see it in the news and how you'd see it in the media. Can you describe Fazal Sheikh's style a little bit for people who maybe don't know how he photographs and how it's different?Carlos Javier Ortiz:Yeah. So again, another thing I relate to is the landscapes and the relationship of landscape and people, and I try to do that in my work, is make this connection of people and landscapes. So, he makes these simple portraits of people looking at directly at the camera, but they're very powerful. They're very beautiful. There's a lot of respect and beauty in the folks that he photographs. I try to do the same way when I photograph people. It's just about empowering the people that allow us to be around them for either for years, 15, 20 years, or one day, and you can never pick that. You can never choose that moment of like, how long are you going to know someone? It's people choose it for you. They also choose the moment that they want you to see, as well. We always think we do, but most of the times people let you do that.David Schalliol:For me, the ideal kind of project is a project that you can ease your way into and build relationships, and not just feel each other out, but really try to figure out what you're going to create together. And so, while in a lot of ways, as Carlos was saying, the emphasis is often on the agency, the photographer, but instead thinking about it being about a dynamic and it's a collaboration and the photographer does play a particular kind of role. The people who are part of the process in a different kind of way may play a particular role, but ideally, the thing that we're doing is we're all trying to figure out what our relationship to each other is and what we're going to make. And so, time and being able to develop over time, just provides the opportunity to develop these deep, meaningful, close relationships. I think that the strongest work is the work that comes out of that kind of experience that kind of really mutually giving collaboration.Carlos Javier Ortiz:People in the communities know each other, and you always have to approach with respect and kindness and they need you and want you to be there almost a hundred percent of the time. So, I think that's part of the process, is just listening and looking and understanding the history of the places that we're working in, and if you don't understand that, you'll find your way around it.David Schalliol:I think, also to the piece that we're spending a lot of time talking about, relationships and relationships with the people, and, of course, starting from this photograph and seeing this clear expression of a connection, but even thinking about landscape work or other kind of work that emphasizes the built environment, I feel like that even in that sense, that there's something about having that longevity, really having that, building those relationships really informs the way that one can understand place. It reveals meaning in a different kind of way, then that drop in, drop out kind of approach that we often see in photographic work.Kristin Taylor:I was actually going to ask you a question similar to that soon about if the same sort of code of ethics applies to photographing architectural structures in the built environment, because with people, the questions are obvious about mutual respect and vulnerability, and how that image will be used, but what are the rules with photographing buildings and places where people lived their lives, and what have you come across in doing that project?David Schalliol:Yeah. I try to approach it in many ways, in the same way. I don't always have the same connection to that particular place that I might have with a connection with a person. But, I try to approach projects that are about buildings or involve buildings as a way to talk about these other things in a similar kind of way. I think respecting where they live or respecting where they spend time, where we all spend time, where we live is an important part of acknowledging people's contribution to communities, to neighborhoods and vice versa.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Yeah. And since we're talking about that, can we also talk about, so Chicago, we've lost a lot of architecture. We lost the major projects that existed here.Kristin Taylor:Robert Taylor Homes.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Robert Taylor Homes, Cabrini-Green ...David Schalliol:Stateway Gardens.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Stateway Gardens. I mean ...David Schalliol:You name it.Carlos Javier Ortiz:And then, the area where you worked, that was a historical neighborhood. When I came to see you and you actually explained it to me, because I would see the neighborhood as I drove by to go West on Englewood, I would look at the lots, and they just kept getting bigger and wider, and the nature kept coming and taking over the landscape. And then, the dignity of people's homes, like when you look at a building as it's getting the mileage, because you've seen so many get demolished. What do you think about ...David Schalliol:I mean, with the demolition process, both slow and long.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Yeah, yeah, and even looking in someone's house. These were walls where you put your photographs or something on them that was of value to you, right?David Schalliol:Yeah.Carlos Javier Ortiz:And we take that for granted. But, what comes to mind when you just, anything? I don't know.David Schalliol:Gosh, I mean it's ...Carlos Javier Ortiz:Just wondering, I'm curious.David Schalliol:So much, a lot of what it is, I have the same kinds of thoughts, whether I see a building immediately coming down or if a building that has, for a variety of reasons, been put in a position where it's become derelict. And, but the experience of seeing the actual, the visceral experience of demolition is something that, I think, it sharpens all of the feelings. And so, when I'm seeing buildings that are derelict or buildings that have been left on their own, to put it, another way, is to say that people have been able to hold on and make this building a site of resilience, that when see all of that, I'm seeing history, I'm thinking about people's experiences in those places. I'm thinking about all those stories that people have of a place. And then, that erasure of that. I think about it in that bigger socio-historical context that, what's happening on the South side of Chicago and the West side of Chicago with structural disinvestment, thinking about the way that particular groups of people have been privileged and others have just been put into the position and again and again, where they have to fight. I'm thinking about all of that as I see the building come down, whether it be in that short term, like there's that demolition, or that long term, what's happening to this community?Kristin Taylor:That leads us into a good segue of you discussing the piece that you chose, which we haven't yet done. Can you tell us a little bit about what you noticed about this piece or why you chose it among all of the 15,000 photographs in our collection? What stood out to you?David Schalliol:Yeah. So, when I was going through the collection, I was trying to think about work that could connect with some of the issues of the exhibition, and do that in a pretty straightforward way. And so, this photograph that I chose, the intention of the photographer is to engage these big conversations about what's happening in Mexico in relationship to urban planning, into commerce and commercial construction, to thinking about even the experience of drug wars and cartel work. And so, in the same way that when I think about Dawood's work is responding to the expression of racism and resistance in the South, I think about Carlos's work and relationship to again, the same sort of processes, the same kinds of experiences in the North. I think mine also falling into that same category, but obviously we're all doing it in very different ways. I think about this work as also trying to engage those conversations in Mexico. Just how do we see the built environment as an expression of the contemporary conflicts and the historical reasons for the manifestation of them in these particular ways?Kristin Taylor:I feel like his work is almost the opposite of yours, even though there's the same intentions in a lot of it. He's photographing the sprawl, more like the suburban growth outward, and you're photographing, trying to keep and preserve parts of the city proper. We have one photograph in our collection that I'm surprised you did not pick by him, of a chapter of the series called Urban Holes.David Schalliol:Yes.Kristin Taylor:It's directly the opposite of yours, in that there's a building on each side and in between, it has been demolished and yours is on either side, it's been demolished and it's one standing. So, I thought that was a really, when you said that this is the piece that you picked, I immediately wondered why you picked this one instead of the inverse of your work?David Schalliol:Yeah. I really did think about that other image, but one of the things I liked about this one is that we see the whole community here. We see the plan and in the uniformity of the buildings or almost uniformity of the buildings, we see the intention of developers and we see the intention of the creation of the suburb. And so, I like the idea of thinking about all these dynamics in a place that is seemingly whole, even if it is this speculative kind of thing. Thinking about that as a different kind of counterpoint to the kinds of issues that my work and Carlos's work in particular investigating and the resistance and at the same time, oppression that manifests in the city.Kristin Taylor:I think with Fazal Sheikh and Alejandro Cartagena Gonzalez, I hope I pronounced that right-David Schalliol:Perfect.Kristin Taylor:-and both of your work, you would all be classified as artists/activists. Do you agree with that term?David Schalliol:Yeah.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Yeah, absolutely.Kristin Taylor:Do you think of yourself more heavily in one side versus the other, or what is that balance that you toggle between just pure research of what you're doing? I mean, because you both also spend a significant amount of time reading about the subjects and learning and talking with people and interviewing and building that brain behind your work, that data that you have, how much of your time during the day is spent doing that versus just capturing images, or what does that balance between artists and activists for you?Carlos Javier Ortiz:For me? It's actually, the opposite is because I'm dyslexic, photography and filmmaking is a way of channeling the communication of reading and the process of sitting down and reading a book and observing it, but the photography and the filming, what it does to me, it triggers knowledge. And then, most of it is contemporary history as we're looking at it and making it. And so, I go backwards and then I really start getting into the books, and that triggers that part of it. And then, the other part of activism for me, again, it all revolves around the photography and making films. And, but I let people tell me that I'm an activist. I don't like to say I'm an activist, because then I really would put it all down and start fighting and protesting, and I mean really fighting for these, which I try to do at my work, but I believe that that's where my talent lies. So, I don't want lean on just becoming an activist overnight, but I think the work over time is about activism. It's about getting the word to the public.David Schalliol:Yeah. Yeah. I can relate to that. To throw another piece in that also as a sociologist, there's this whole other thing of thinking about all of these ways of, just all these different kinds of intersections. And so, there's the act of making work is research in a lot of different ways. It's research about learning about the world and its research, and it's learning how to connect with people and to build another world. It's also research maybe in a more traditional sense, where it's trying to figure out how do you then take this material and transform it into something else. Not that I frame everything as research, but it's like at each aspect of what it is that I'm doing, I feel like there's just this tremendous amount of overlap. And so, yeah, that's reading books and there's talking to people and they're doing things like this, where we're having this conversation, which, of course, goes back and informs the work that I'm doing, I assume the work that we're all doing, as we try to figure out what's the best way to articulate these essential contemporary problems that have these just huge histories that you can also weigh on us.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Like if you weren't a sociologist, you're a real, real, real photographer. You just have a different perspective of the world, not just the sociologist perspective.David Schalliol:No, I think that's true.Carlos Javier Ortiz:I see that in your work a lot.David Schalliol:Yeah. Well, and of course, I think about all these different things that you're drawing from, too. I think that's one of the things that's, I've always found your work so compelling, is this richness of drawing from all of these different kinds of experiences and trying to be really thoughtful about how to, what to do and how to do it. I think also Dawood's work, is another just really great example of someone who is being so deeply thoughtful, and also intentional about the way he interacts with people. And so, I think that thread connecting the work, I think it was really important.Kristin Taylor:Personally for me with the intersection of art and activism is that, again, considering the differences between like Fazal Sheikh's work and when we're really looking also at pictures of people, and that difference between when you read a story in the news and you know that something horrible is happening in the world and with his work, it's about refugees in Kenya and a refugee camp, but you don't see anything else in the environment. You don't see war going on in the background. You don't see what the camp looks like or what their home looks like. You just see the people experiencing it, and really, there's a lot of connections to download Bay's work in that style of just connecting with the gays so intensely and portraiture's power there. With your work, you don't as much do, there are direct portraits, but there's also a lot of different types of photographs that you take, and there's one picture that made me stop in my tracks when I saw it, and it's up right now, of a man holding a baby. I assume that it's his baby and in the background, there's a woman that used to be the baby's mother. At first, it just seems like this sweet family photograph, the baby's arm is reached up and the kid's grabbing his mouth a little bit. And then in the background, when you sit with the photograph for a little while, you notice that there's police tape in the background, and then that's in a soft focus. I think about how different that picture would be if it were taken for the story, that it would be the other side of that tape. And so, with Fazal Sheikh's work and your work, it's to me, more powerful to slow down and really get to know that story through your type of imagery, because we get so overwhelmed by headlines and imagery, that is so dramatic at times. So, when I spoke once, I accidentally said you're a photo journalist. I think I was thinking, because I've seen your work in magazines and I've seen your work at crime scenes and in a certain way, my brain fogged it up for a minute, but it's very, very different. Can you maybe talk about that a little bit? The difference, and this is a conversation that happens in our museum a lot, about what photojournalism is and what documentary photography is, and what a portraiture photographer is. And are those categories important to you or ...Carlos Javier Ortiz:Yeah, I think they all blend into each other in a way. I think they're all bred in a way from the portrait end. And then, when the cameras got faster, it became photojournalism, and then it became documentary. I'm drawn from photojournalism. The importance of it is, I can't state how important it is. I think there's a lot of laziness in the way the news gets told. It's so fast and it moves so quickly and people forget that the real stories are over time, and sometimes we need to tell a everyday story, but we don't usually tell the longer period of story. So, and that's the important part of a museum. There's stories that would last longer than a newspaper image, and I'm glad the Black Star archive got saved, because a lot of these pictures get thrown away, and we have it today.Kristin Taylor:That's that connects nicely to also what, David, you're doing with your film, The Area, and Deborah Payne, you call her the main protagonist in the film and a producer in the film. Everyone now is learning about this rail yard expansion that happened that cleared away, is it a 20 block radius of Englewood or how many blocks?David Schalliol:More or less, there's a metro block, but yeah.Kristin Taylor:400 homes, right?David Schalliol:Yeah.Kristin Taylor:So, I said to her this morning, we were commenting about how you and Deborah are touring around and showing this film in multiple screenings all over the country. I said, "It's too bad that this wasn't happening while the expansion was happening." She was just like, "Yes, exactly, that's exactly what should have happened, because unfortunately we're all learning about this expansion now that it's completed." Really, it'll be interesting to see in the museum, how much people are aware that this happened, but in my circle whenever I talk about your work and that we're doing this exhibition, most people don't know that it happened, even though it's this terribly tragic thing that happened, right a few miles away in Chicago. This is a kind of thing that happens often, where the reasons for buildings getting destroyed are the reasons for people being taken advantage of. I think you're so successful in your documentary because you just follow her, and you're able to connect to this one person and focus on one person instead of the 400. That can become abstract, and you don't know how to register, how to feel empathy with a number that big.David Schalliol:Yeah, and I think you connect back to this. This is not the first time this has happened where communities of color have been displaced to make way for progress, effectively meanings for someone to make profit. It's such a complicated situation. One of the struggles with trying to figure out how to tell the story and how to share the story, was to figure out how to represent the experiences of a community without, as you were saying, without showing everyone. In the end, Deborah really ended up emerging, in part because of this connective role that she played in the neighborhood, and the way that she brought people together and her strength was something that was a uniter and was one of the reasons that we met in the first place. And then, of course, there's some other people who also pay key roles in the film. And so, guys like Tigga and Wheezy, as they're working through what their experience is of being born and raised in a place that no longer exists, and what does it mean to move somewhere else when you're so associated with one community. But yeah, there's so much of it is about anchoring it in people's experience. One of the things that I thought about a lot at the very beginning, in fact, the reason to make it a film in the first place, was to make it something that could be shared in the way that a film is shared, where people sit down and they have an experience where they expect to sit down and experience something unfolding, and to be able to structure something that would give people some sense of that timeframe, some sense of that experience and development and the consequences. And, of course, the horrible injustice along with the possibilities of resilience that we see really expressing at the end of the film, but to be able to do that and the movie format really seemed like the clear way to do it. I guess the only other thing to say about this is that we thought a lot about, is this something that should come out earlier? We did put a short out in 2013 in order to, while things were still very much in process, but there were some strategic questions about how do the neighborhood residents want to negotiate? How do they want to proceed practically? And, in the end, I think what we're hoping is that the film can be an opportunity to have these meaningful conversations. Of course, if the idea that A, maybe doesn't happen next time. And then B, if it does, people understand who to talk to and what the process is like, but, of course, hopefully, it's not just documentation, but it's a community building activity.Kristin Taylor:Well, I don't want to take up too much more of your time, but what's one thing you always carry with you throughout the day when you're photographing or otherwise, if there is something significant? If not, we can scrap this question.David Schalliol:I always take a camera with me.Kristin Taylor:Yeah. Everywhere. Yeah.David Schalliol:That was easy. I say that in a joking way, but I really do. I always try to have my camera with me. And so, no matter what it is that I'm doing, and it's always, when the, I don't know, I'm rushing out the door and I think, "Oh, should I grab my camera?" I'm like, "Oh, no, I'm just going to go quickly into the grocery store and I don't need it." And then, clearly I needed my camera, but no, I mean, but really there is this thing about always having it with me and that thinking about making work as something that's just this constant activity and trying to make that part of my life ...Kristin Taylor:Do you carry anything, Carlos?Carlos Javier Ortiz:Well, I always have these bracelets on my arm with me as just a reminder of my family. And then, my wife gave me these, and then I have, obviously, my camera. So, those are like the two things I always have. And if I don't have one or the other, it feels strange and obviously I have a phone, so if I forget the camera, that it's a second hand tool.Kristin Taylor:So, would you say that that is advice you would have for anyone trying to do what you do is to never leave home without their camera? Or what kind of advice would you have for someone who's aspiring to do work like you?David Schalliol:I'd say that, obviously people work in all these different kinds of ways and it may not always make sense to. You're maybe not the kind of person that's bringing the camera around all the time, but certainly doing the kind of work that I do, I think that work that Carlos does, that seems like great advice. I'd say maybe more generally, just to always be working. I don't mean that in the sense where you're pushing your family aside, you're doing whatever. But I mean, instead to be thinking about, making small projects and just continuing to build, and that, for me, at least with my experience with making projects, that it's through making work and all the ways that we've been talking about that over the last, however long this has been, that a lot of meaning is really revealed. Sometimes, I don't fully understand the meaning of an image until I've made 20 more and start to understand why it might be something that's important. And so, this idea of always working and always thinking about work in this abstract sense has been really helpful to me.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Yeah. I mean, I wouldn't disagree at all. I think the life of an artist does revolve around work and it doesn't mean that you can, like, I want to be with my son all the time now and my wife. So, it doesn't mean, and my wife's like, "Go work and go make money and go do-" It was like ...Kristin Taylor:Don't be around us all the time.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Yeah, and she never told me this before, but I believe the life of an artist does revolve around the discipline of making work and creating your vision and refining it. Going back to the activist question, photography is a freedom of speech for me, freedom of creation. And so, it's making the same discipline with making films and it just all comes together. I think Louis Armstrong said that somebody asked him if he was a master at the trumpet, and he was like, "Hell no. This gets harder as you get older, so don't think if you're a young cat, it's going to get easier. This is going to get harder and you have to do it. You have to do it and think about it and open your mind to it consistently."David Schalliol:Well, I'll say the one other thing. Just, as I'm sitting here and looking at the two of you, is also just having conversations about work, and constantly looking at other people's work and listening to the people who are around you and that means the people you're working with on photography projects or whatever, but it also just means the people you love and the people who love you and just trying to figure out how you build from there.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Yeah, and don't let Instagram fool you. It's good, but go to the museums. Look at archives, look at physical materials. Instagram is just another tool to getting it into the world, but look at the physical material that people make. We see that three-dimensional world. On a flat phone, it's fine, but you need to get out and think about it, bring it into your soul. So, go to museums. Support museums.Kristin Taylor:Come to our museum.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Yeah.Kristin Taylor:That was a good closing.Carlos Javier Ortiz:[inaudible 00:33:28].Kristin Taylor:Well, thank you both for coming here.Carlos Javier Ortiz:Thank you.David Schalliol:Thank you.Kristin Taylor:Thank you for listening to Focal Point. Focal Point is presented by the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago, in partnership with WCRX FM radio. Special thanks to professor Matt Cunningham and student production intern Wesley Reno. Music is by Xavi. To see the images we discussed today, please visit mocp.org. You can also follow The Museum of Contemporary Photography on Facebook and Instagram at mocpchi and on Twitter at MoCP_Chicago. If you enjoyed our show, please be sure to rate, review and subscribe to Focal Point anywhere you get your podcasts.Speaker 4:Did you enjoy the podcast? Be sure to check out WCRX's variety of podcasts, including Profile, hosted by Katelyn Moore, which explains the unique artistic endeavors of a plethora of students at Columbia College, Chicago. Hear about each artist's inspiration, accomplishments and goals. Check it out.Speaker 5:That was the coolest moment of my life. I mean, first time with a wireless mic. First time I really experienced what it was like to move around and work a big stage and work a big crowd, and I think I got a little too excited at times.Speaker 4:Available wherever you get your podcasts.
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