No. 140 - Summer 2018 : FORCES of NATURE
Geoffrey Agrons ↪
Kevin Asher ↪
Laura Aubrée ↪
Amy Becker ↪
Jill Booker ↪
Siobhan Costigan ↪
Sharon Covert ↪
Tara Cronin ↪
Jenna Dallaire ↪
Alice De Certo
Monica Denevan ↪
Susan Detroy ↪
Leila Forés Iturbe
Ruslan Hrushchak ↪
Jesse Koechling ↪
Matthew Kraus ↪
Elzbieta Kurowska ↪
Jennifer MacNeill-Taylor ↪
Michael Martin ↪
Yvette Meltzer ↪
Jeff Moorfoot ↪
Russ Morris ↪
Scott Norris ↪
Sirous Partovi ↪
Shweta Poddarl ↪
Sara Rubinstein ↪
Anne Silver ↪
Wayne Swanson ↪
David Tepper ↪
Amanda Tinker ↪
Ritch Winokur ↪
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Mark Klett ↪
-Interview with Douglas Beasley
Last Light on the Echo Cliffs © Mark Klett
DOUGLAS BEASLEY: I first became interested in your work because of the way you incorporated humans into the natural world, specifically into nature settings that were usually void of people yet had human presence. There is one photo specifically, the one looking out with a rock shelf overhead and a pair of legs dangling into the frame from above. That photo had a huge impact on the way I saw nature and the natural environment and along with Robert Adams, has had a huge lasting impact on me. Can you tell me more about how that came to be?
MARK KLETT: The location is Muley Point, Utah. The “point” is actually a long cliff face of sandstone that drops over 1000 feet to a plateau. The view is spectacular. The gooseneck bends of the San Juan River can be seen below the point and Monument Valley is in the distance. On one trip, I decided to make a photograph about what I was doing - watching the early morning light. I chose my legs and feet because I wanted the human part to be limited and anonymous. I found a good vantage point below where I was sitting to place the camera, making it feel more like the figure was soaring than sitting. I was alone and no one was around to pose or press the shutter so I had to devise a self-timer for my view camera. I inherited an old mechanism from my father that when wound would compress a cable release, and this gave me just enough time to set the shutter and climb back up to the sitting position before the exposure was made. Having a human presence in the work has been important to me for a long time. For one thing, a figure can become a surrogate for the viewer and helps lessen the distance felt between self and place. It’s not always important to me who that person in the view is, but sometimes, like in this photograph, the fact that it was me in the picture carries with it personal significance.
You’re a full-time teacher at Arizona State University in Tempe AZ. How does teaching impact your photography and your ability to create new work?
I’ve been fortunate to work with a great bunch of colleagues and mentor many interesting and talented students over the years. An academic appointment does impact my ability to spend time photographing, but teaching has been a very positive part of my professional life. I sometimes feel that I’ve learned more from my students that they’ve learned from me and working with them keeps me current and on my toes intellectually. Some projects have actually involved collaborations with my students. And my long-term partner in collaboration, Byron Wolfe, began as one of my graduate students.
How important is education in developing as a photographer?
I don’t think anyone needs a college or graduate degree to be a good photographer. But being in school, working with the right teachers and working alongside a cohort of fellow photographers can be a very significant experience. At the least it can accelerate development of the work, and even more it can alter the direction of practice and open up pathways that are very difficult if not impossible to do on one’s own.
At a minimum, I believe photographers need to realize they work within a community, and that no one really labors alone. Education, or being in a school program, is often the foundation of community for many photographers. It sets their course, so to speak. But once a student graduates it’s their job to identify the community they want to become a part of.
Any trends you see in your students work that are good or bad/difficult?
The challenges that students face today are only different on the surface. Those relate to changes in technology, or social media, or the trends in the art world. Underneath it all, the desire for a person to make art or photographically derived images, or work through life’s problems and joys, are ultimately the same as they were when I started. Part of my job is to be a coach of sorts, to help them work their way through those trends and personal challenges. It’s different from every student and that’s why I try to listen carefully, while I also have a lot of experience to offer on the creative process they’re going through.
A lot of your work in the past, such as the Rephotographic Survey Project, is drawn from photo history. How important for photographers is a background in photo history?
I think it’s very important, or it has been to me at least. I like the idea of using history as a platform to work from, mostly because it’s a way of coming to terms with the present, and a potential future. But I would add that it’s not just photo history that can be significant. Other kinds of history may be more critical for some, or contemporary cultural or social issues. Most artists don’t reinvent the medium as they work, they operate from positions that have been pioneered by many others. Having a background in photo history helps photographers to know they’re a part of an ongoing conversation, and it keeps them from feeling isolated in time.
What do you do for inspiration?
Read and look at other work – often not photography and not art. I get inspired by history and science and sometimes fiction. I love stories. I also camp and travel, meet new people.
What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?
I think inspiration isn’t something that’s elusive, it’s more a matter of being open to possibilities that may easily go unobserved. The rest is hard work and having the discipline to work through slow periods. Practically speaking, I find there’s plenty of other stuff to work on at all times, even repairs in the studio, or something I’ve put off like adding new work to my websites. It can be busywork, but it frees up my head at the same time.
What advice do you have for photographers just starting out?
Remember, it’s a long-term game. Work develops over time, as it should. The same with relationships to others who also are part of the same field as you. If you take the long view, you can weather the ups and downs easier.■
EMERGING PHOTOGRAPHER: Marti Corn ↪
-Interview by Douglas Beasley
Untitled (Lost Series I) © Marti Corn
Marti Corn is a photographer and oral historian based in Houston, Texas, committed to social justice issues. She spent four years photographing and collecting oral histories in Tamina, one of the few remaining emancipation communities founded by freed slaves. Her most recent project on the Lost Boys of Sudan, was made in a refugee camp in Kenya. As white woman going into communities of color to make pictures, her work could be seen as exploitative at first glance. What is unique is her ability to stay with a project long-term with a commitment to giving back to those communities, rather than using them to further her own photography career.
DOUGLAS BEASLEY: You make your living as a graphic designer. In what ways does working in a closely related but separate industry help or hinder your photography?
MARTI CORN: For the first 15 or 20 years in my career, clients frowned upon those who worked in other fields, believing it caused one to lack focus and dedication. Today, however, it’s considered a benefit. Since both areas focus on composition, they both work hand in hand and allow me to bring new ideas to the table. It’s also a plus having the skills to create the marketing materials needed to promote my work.
While there are times I wish I could make a living as a photographer, I love that I don’t have any expectations placed on me. It’s not always easy, but I’ve found a balance working in the two fields. I’m extremely fortunate that my clients understand how important my work as a photographer is and allow me to take several months off each year to focus on my photography pursuits. On the days I’m frustrated I can’t spend more time on my photography, I remind myself that my career as a designer allows me to do the work I love.
When and why did you start to take your photography seriously?
Though I studied photojournalism in college, I spent the next 20 years focused on my graphic design studio and raising my children. Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to visit and photograph those living in the outlying villages of Tegucigalpa. I immediately felt a sense of purpose, and my dream of doing documentary work (I had studied photojournalism in college) was renewed.
As a former teacher and mentor to you it has been really great to see your success! Do you feel like a ‘success’?
I feel successful in unexpected ways. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the validation offered by colleagues and curators, but I feel a success when those I photograph walk away from our session with a bit more pride in themselves and I selfishly allow myself to think I may have helped them in some way.
Your work seems very principal driven. Can you speak to that?
The only way I know to keep from spiraling into crippling sorrow after witnessing so much inhumanity is through my activism, using my camera and recorder as tools to give voice to those whose dignity has been stripped away.
I so admire your dedication and long-term focus that you give a project, starting with the freedmens town project outside of Houston. Tell us about how that project came about and why you were able to stick with it.
I was always curious about Tamina and love driving through this pastoral place where time seemed to slow down. I discovered it’s a freedmen’s town, meaning it was established by freed slaves who were fortunate enough to have some money to purchase land and found someone will to sell it to them.
I channeled my anger of those treating them with disrespect into a project where I taught their children visual storytelling and eventually documented 14 people and their families.
It didn’t occur to me that I would spend more than six years on this project but doors kept opening keeping me immersed in this project. Though it began as a photographically charged project, it expanded to a traveling exhibit, a book, and creating a curriculum to be included in the second edition for teachers to use enabling their children to research their own history.
Why do you go to Africa? And why do you keep returning?
While documenting the lives of those who came to Houston as refugees, I met a group of the Lost Boys of Sudan and learned there are many, including Lost Girls, who remain in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya. After several phone calls to various NGOs, I was on my way, and three years later, I’m still making the journey every six months. Half of my time is devoted to documenting the Lost Boys and Girls and offering them micro loans and the other half teaching workshops and mentoring a group of young photojournalists.
There’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about or talk with them. I’m in awe of their ability to remain gentle and kind and funny after suffering so much. I learn how I want to be by their example and have grown to love them, now calling them my second family. I will always return. Is it hard to photograph there as an outsider or does that help? Unlike the challenges I face gaining the trust of those I photograph in America, the refugees in Kakuma see talking to outsiders as a rare opportunity to share the challenges they face—not enough food, corruption, lack of education, little to no health care . . . the list goes on. They hope their stories will be shared and as a result, their situations will improve.
What is it like to be a white woman photographing black culture? You negotiate that territory so gracefully, can you comment on what that’s like and how you deal with it?
In regards to Tamina, I was fearful that people wouldn’t welcome an outsider, let alone a white person because of all the prejudice and injustice generations have endured. I discovered though that I was more worried about the color of my skin than they were. Once they understood my intentions were to honor their lives (it took some as long as two years) we were able to establish a trusting relationship.
It’s impossible to forget that I’m a white woman in Kakuma. I’ve lost count as to how many times children have called out to me, ‘Mazungo. Mazungo’ (white person). But as relationships developed, the only thing we see in each other is friendship.
Are you done with this project in Africa? If not, how will you know when it is done?
I’m determined to get the 332 remaining Lost Boys and Girls out of the camp, a lofty goal considering our current administration. Until that’s accomplished, this project will continue in some form. In the meantime, I’m preparing an exhibit for The Holocaust Museum Houston and beginning to work on a book.
For the sake of my sanity, I’d like to work on a fun, lighthearted project, documenting with my filmmaker nephew the quirky artistic community that lives by the Salton Sea. Then, I’ll be ready to turn my attention to immigration issues. Unlike the challenges I face gaining the trust of those I photograph in America, the refugees in Kakuma see talking to outsiders as a rare opportunity to share the challenges they face—not enough food, corruption, lack of education, little to no health care . . . the list goes on. They hope their stories will be shared and as a result, their situations will improve. ring our current administration. Until that’s accomplished, this project will continue in some form. In the meantime, I’m preparing an exhibit for The Holocaust Museum Houston and beginning to work on a book.
What inspires you? What keeps you going when it’s difficult?
Like everyone, I seek purpose, and my camera gives that to me. It’s my stubborn conviction that keeps me going even when my emails aren’t returned or I’m told my goals are unrealistic. When faced with challenges—and they are continuous— I remind myself how important it is to be patient and trust all will fall into place. When a door closes, I find another to push open.■