No. 138 - Winter 2018 : OFFERINGS
Geoffrey Agrons ↪
Andi Alexander ↪
Anne Berry ↪
Tom Chambers ↪
Marti Corn ↪
Michael Dvorak ↪
Ning Fan ↪
Jesse Farrah ↪
Terra Fondriest ↪
Sharon Harris ↪
Rohina Hoffman ↪
Ryan Hoover ↪
Garin Horner ↪
Ruslan Hruschak ↪
Evy Huppert ↪
Matthew Kraus ↪
Marilyn Lamoreux ↪
Heather Matson ↪
Aron Mattsson ↪
Lisa Mauer Elliott ↪
Mary Anne Mitchel ↪
Scott Murphy ↪
Diane Powers ↪
Jim Robertson ↪
Stephanie L. Slate ↪
Jeffrey Wiles ↪
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Will Wilson ↪
-Interview by Elizabeth Flinsch
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Terrance Houle, Gaylord Torrence, Melissa, Nicholas Galanin, Zig Jackson, Janet and Lynn McMaster, Ron Solomon, Joe Horse Capture. CENTER: Will Wilson (self-portrait).
All images © Will Wilson.
I first came across Will Wilson’s work while researching contemporary photographers who use wet plate technique. I was deeply stirred by the vision and arresting imagery of Will’s series of tintype portraits entitled “Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange.“ Including the nine tintypes pictured to the right, this series shows what Will calls “a contemporary vision of Native North America.” Using a 140 year-old camera, Will is building this contemporary vision
ELIZABETH FLINSCH: When did you start making pictures and why?
WILL WILSON: I made my first photographs as a freshman in high school. I fell in love with photography much earlier. My best friend’s mom was an aspiring photographer, and I would spend what seemed like hours combing through her contact sheets attempting to decipher the stories within. I think that photography was an important form of self-expression for me. In part, I grew up on the Navajo Rez with my mom and our extended family. Navajo was the primary language spoken in that space and I am not a fluent speaker. This had two main effects on me. First, I didn’t really feel like I could express myself in a very meaningful or engaging way and, second, it created a situation where I was constantly living in translation, as a result I became very attuned to small details and situations which I used to create context for my translation.
Who or what has most influenced your photography? Who inspires you?
The first photographic artist that really captivated me and made me want to pursue this craft was Joel Peter-Witkin. I remember seeing a retrospective of his work when I was about 15 at San Francisco MOMA and being blown away. I read his bio, it said he received a master’s degree from the University of New Mexico. I remember vowing to follow in his educational footsteps, it turns out that I did.
The imagery in your Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX) is the first I saw of your work. These images are arresting and hauntingly beautiful. Can you tell me about how the project came about?
As an indigenous artist working in the 21st century, employing media that range from historical photographic processes to the randomization and projection of complex visual systems within virtual environments, I am impatient with the way that American culture remains enamored of one particular moment in a photographic exchange between Euro- American and Aboriginal American societies: the decades from 1907 to 1930 when photographer Edward S. Curtis produced his magisterial opus The North American Indian.1 For many people even today, Native people remain frozen in time in Curtis photos. Other Native artists have produced photographic responses to Curtis’s oeuvre, usually using humor as a catalyst to melt the lacquered romanticism of these stereotypical portraits.2 I seek to do something different. I intend to resume the documentary mission of Curtis from the standpoint of a 21st century indigenous, trans-customary, cultural practitioner. I want to supplant Curtis’s settler gaze and the remarkable body of ethnographic material he compiled with a contemporary vision of Native North America.
I am creating a body of photographic inquiry that will stimulate a critical dialogue and reflection around the historical and contemporary “photographic exchange” as it pertains to Native Americans. My aim is to convene with and invite indigenous artists, arts professionals, and tribal governance to engage in the performative ritual that is the studio portrait. This experience is intensified and refined by the use of large format (8x10) wet plate collodion studio photography. This beautifully alchemic photographic process dramatically contributed to our collective understanding of Native American people and, in so doing, our American identity.
In August of 2012, at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, I initiated the Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX). This was the initial spark for an ongoing intervention into the history of photography that I plan to undertake. I aim to link history, form, and a critical dialogue about Native American representation by engaging participants in dialogue and a portrait session using the wet plate process. This multi-faceted engagement will yield a series of “tintypes” (aluminum types) whose enigmatic, time-traveling aspect demonstrates how an understanding of our world can be acquired through fabricated methods. Through collaboration with my sitters I want to indigenize the photographic exchange.
I encourage my collaborators to bring items of significance to their portrait sessions in order to help illustrate our dialogue. As a gesture of reciprocity I will give the sitter the tintype photograph produced during our exchange, with the caveat that I be granted the right to create and use a high resolution scan of his or her image for my own artistic purposes.
Ultimately, I want to ensure that the subjects of my photographs are participating in the re-inscription of their customs and values in a way that will lead to a more equal distribution of power and influence in the cultural conversation. It is my hope that these Native American photographs will represent an intervention within the contentious and competing visual languages that form today’s photographic canon. This critical indigenous photographic exchange will generate new forms of authority and autonomy. These alone—rather than the old paradigm of assimilation--can form the basis for a re-imagined vision of who we are as Native people.
Much of your work is at the intersection of antique and modern technology. Can you describe the vision behind this work and what draws you to it?
I think that there is an inherent time travelling aspect to photography, from the creation of a still life to navigating the history of photography, time and technology are bound together in this craft. I think my use of the old and the new reinforces and points back to this insight about photography. Working with the old and the new also enables me to formally/technically embed contradiction into my work, which goes a long way to disrupt the vocabulary of romanticism and nostalgia operating in a lot of photographic representation of Native Americans by settler culture.
How does new technology impact your work as a maker differently than it might affect other consumers?
Instead of approaching tech and the manner in which it is deployed as natural, I think makers are always looking to transform tech to serve alternative imperatives.
I guess I’m always thinking about how to hack new technology. After I started using LAYAR for the Talking Tintypes I got an unexpected call from the LAYAR folks wondering what I was doing with their tech. I guess they hadn’t seen it used in a “fine art” photographic context previously.
Introduce our readers to your installation-based and sculptural work. Do you see yourself continuing to pursue these media in addition to photography?
I have always been fascinated with architecture and enjoy making things with my hands. I started creating installations in an attempt to control the viewers reception of my photography. Rather than simply being able to consume the work I wanted to create environments and experiences that mediated the viewing experience by putting spectators within the work. Later this engagement with material developed into other projects. I’ve done a number of public art projects where the pixel is translated into material form, in one example my colloborator, Joshua Sarantitis and I used one million, ¾” square, pieces of Venetian glass tile to create a glass photograph that is a football field long and 20 feet high: https://willwilson.photoshelter.com/image/ I0000LVKNf0kAfcg.
Tell me about your upcoming exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. What will you be showing and how does it relate to your fellow exhibitors?
The show is entitled: Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson (running Thursday, June 14 to Sunday, September 9, 2018.) For my part I produced CIPX @ SAM [Seattle Art Museum] in November 2017, The museum reached out to members of the local indigenous community and we produced about 15 portraits and shot digital video, which will be linked to the portraits through a software called LAYAR. Viewers will be encouraged to download the free app and then scan the images to access the video. I call these works Talking Tintypes, all of my images will be of members of the local indigenous community and give voice to contemporary Native people. In some respects this a direct response to Edward S. Curtis’s use of the notion of the “Vanishing Race,” to inform his project. I’m very excited to be exhibiting with Nicolson and Rector, they are both artists that I admire and respect. I think that we are all using this engagement with Curtis’s work as an opportunity to showcase our contemporary practice. At its core we all deal with representation and indigeneity on some level, that will be the connective tissue that links the work. ■
1 Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Norwood, MA: The Plimpton Press, 1907-1930, 20 volumes, 20 portfolios. 2 See, for example, Jill Sweet and Ian Berry, Staging the Indian: the Politics of Representation, Saratoga Springs, NY: The Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College, 2001.
EMERGING PHOTOGRAPHER: Manuela Thames ↪
-Interview by Douglas Beasley
Untitled (From the Peace of Wild Things) © Manuela Thames
I first met Manuela when she contacted me after moving to Saint Paul, MN with her husband and 2 kids, without knowing anyone else, and was looking to find kindred spirits in the photo community. While viewing her self-portraits I resonated with the way she put herself in the natural world and those images stuck with me, embedded somewhere in my psyche. I invited her to come and show her work to a group of workshop students at my cabin in Wisconsin, the Trade River Retreat Center. While there, I heard more about her early photo attempts while growing up in Germany. Later I included her in the exhibit Beyond the Selfie: Going Deeper Into Meaning & Metaphor I curated for a local gallery. When she was unexpectedly called upon to give an impromptu talk at the opening she was struck by the common fear of speaking in public, yet when she summoned up the courage to address the large crowd, I was impressed by the utterly open and honest way she spoke about her work and her motivations. I knew there was more to the story and I wanted to continue a dialogue about her work
DOUGLAS BEASLEY: How and why did you start doing self- portraits?
MANUELA THAMES: I took up photography seriously as a way of coping with two life changing events that happened within one year, the birth of my first son and the death of my brother. The camera, and particularly self-portraiture, became the tool for me to express what my words couldn’t.
I think photography has always been a way of coping for me. As a teenager, I used to spend hours in my room, dressing up in different clothes, imagining myself in different roles and taking self-portraits with a simple point and shoot camera. It served as a way of escaping my reality and creating my own world where I could be whatever I wanted to be. I think my self-portraiture has changed somewhat over the years. In the early stages of my photography it was all about my own life experiences and personal struggles, and it still is in some projects, but generally my curiosity has shifted towards other people, their joys and their struggles, maybe humanity in general. I will always take self-portraiture because it is convenient, but I am getting more and more interested in asking other people to model for me.
However, the process of taking self-portraits and using my own body to create images remains very enjoyable to me as it is solitary and, though it often can be more challenging than shooting a model, it gives me full control over the whole process.
Like many artists, you have dealt with depression in your life. How has your depression informed or shaped your photography?
Yes, depression has been a part of me for a long time. There was and still is a lot of depression in my extended family, so I guess it’s in my genes. Although it took me years to recognize it and accept it and not constantly think that something was wrong with me or that I was somehow less valuable than others for struggling with this. Early on in my artistic journey the feelings and thoughts I had during bouts of depression provided much of the content for my photography, as I often tried to give visual expression to those thoughts and feelings. Or at least that’s how I used to describe it.
However, I’ve come to recognize that I have a strong sensitivity to things like suffering, vulnerability, oppression, sadness, and so forth. When I was younger, I would have described the feelings and thoughts I had about such things as symptoms of depression, but as I have grown as an artist and as a person, I recognized that having a deep sensitivity to all of that is a sensitivity to certain real aspects of the world that we live in, rather than just a mood or state of mind. I see this sensitivity now as a gift—not always an easy gift to carry, but nonetheless valuable and something I appreciate about myself.
However, those feelings did and still can at times bring me into states of actual depression, one of the main effects of which is actually to stifle my creativity rather than feed it. During those times, I usually don’t take many pictures (or do anything else healthy and productive, really). I’m more inspired and take better pictures when I have a healthier outlook on myself and on life and I am not just stuck in a depressive state. That said, often the only way to break out of the cycle of depression and be creative is to force myself to go out and take pictures, which then helps me in gaining a healthy perspective again.
You are also the mother of two kids. How does that figure into your creative process?
I think it is interesting that photography only became a serious endeavor for me after I became a mother.
I always wanted to be a mother, but I struggled with it a lot, and still do. It was and is hugely important to me that my kids not only see me as their mother, but also as a person with important needs and passions and a separate vocation.
This was part of what pushed me to be more disciplined, and taking the time out of my day to pursue photography became something of a non-negotiable, in theory if not always in practice. Sometimes I did that by using my kids as models, which included them in the process in a way that allowed them to see that side of me more intimately.
Do you go through periods where you stop doing your photography? How do you get started again when you have been dormant photographically?
Yes, there have been many times when the camera remained untouched for weeks, sometimes even months at a time, due to many of the factors already mentioned like depression and the circus of life. I used to say to my husband, “See, it’s all a fluke, I can’t do it anymore, it’s just gone, I have no inspiration, and I don’t even want to do it anymore.”
It has been a long learning curve, but I don’t think there is any other way to overcome these times than to simply get out and force yourself to take pictures again.
I think the romantic view of an artist being always inspired is not realistic, and doing bad work or working while feeling uninspired is part of the process. Moreover, I think it is also okay to have periods of not actually taking pictures. There are a lot of other aspects of being a successful artist and photographer and it is important to take breaks and nurture your creativity differently, or work on the business side of things, or simply organize your files (which I am terrible at).
What scares you?
A lot. I fear that my creativity will someday go away. I fear that I am never enough, never good enough as a photographer, a mother, a wife, a friend, etc.
I have a huge fear of failure. I even feel that sometimes the successes I have had were sort of a fluke, maybe just lucky circumstances, and not necessarily a proof of my abilities.
Perhaps more than anything else, I fear death. I fear loss. This must sound like I go through my life constantly afraid. Well, that is partially true. Fear is something I try to overcome and fight against daily. But don’t we all? Fear is part of being human. It’s how you deal with fear that matters most.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the book “Big Magic,” talks about fear as her constant companion wherever she goes, whatever she does. You acknowledge it, you can even talk to it. Fear is there, maybe in the passenger seat, hopefully in the back seat, but NEVER in the driver seat.
I think it is important to acknowledge that it is fear that drives us to be better; besides, there is no courage without fear.
You were born and raised in Germany, but have been in the US for nearly 14 years. Does being from another country affect your photography?
Yes, absolutely. Being German and the history of Germany is a big part of my identity. My grandparents lived through World War II and suffered through situations I have not even come close to in my life. I was raised by a father who escaped from East to West Germany with his family just before the wall was built. My father has so many stories to tell and the memories of that time gave him nightmares for years.
My mother was raised in a family who experienced a lot of loss and some mental illness. She doesn’t have strong memories of WWII, but being the child of WWII parents I am sure had a big impact on how she raised me.
Certainly, all this contributed to my own personality and the tendencies I described earlier.
I have been told multiple times that my photography style is European, not specifically German, but European. I am not sure why, but I like it. I am glad that my German identity has stayed with me and that part of it becomes visible through my art. ■
ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Franco Salmoiraghi ↪
- by Douglas Beasley, Publisher
Angel of Choice © Franco Salmoiraghi
Hawaiian photographer Franco Salmoiraghi is the closest thing to a brother I have ever had. He is also the nearest resemblance to a mentor I have ever known. He sees this image, Angel of Choice, as an offering. It is a Japanese Butho performer in Honolulu, dropping the black rock as symbol of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. She is dressed in a gauze-like kimono, symbolic of the material used to bandage burn victim survivors of the bombing.
Franco says this is the “offering of choices we must sometimes make in our lives…whether to choose one action or another. To choose war or peace. In giving the title, I was thinking of the pilots being offered this choice in their decision to detonate the monster – or to turn the plane around.” We always have a choice, however difficult, in every action we are presented with. ■