Neels Castillon

Film director and photographer Neels Castillon on cinematic visuals

For Neels Castillon, authenticity is integral to his role as a film director and photographer, especially, as he explains on the phone from Paris, in an age of fake news. The dissemination of falsified and fabricated news reportage may not have a direct connection to Castillon, whose clients include Lacoste, Hermès and the French singer, Angèle, but his contention lies with the prevalence of artifice. He sees his role as navigating a balance between capturing the feeling that cinematic visuals can provoke, whilst simultaneously resisting the artificiality those same visuals can carry. There is perhaps no better example of how Castillon meets this feat than in his production company, Motion Palace’s, advertising campaign for kitchen manufacturer, Schmidt. The premise of the advertisement was to have one of Schmidt’s kitchens appearing on a cliff face, demonstrating the brand’s functionality and adaptability. On seeing that the brief was to shoot in a studio with a green screen, Castillon responded that it should be shot for real in the Alps. The ensuing advertisement, and supplementary documentary about the process, are jaw-dropping to watch, as mountaineer Kenton Cool makes himself breakfast in a fully-working kitchen, 6500ft above ground. Castillon refers to the experience as a ‘cool adventure’; the team involved stayed in tents for fifteen days, hiking their way up to the cliffside, and creating an entirely new structure to support the camera from above.

It is through commercial work, like the advertisement for Schmidt, that Motion Palace is able to pursue its more artistic endeavours; ‘It’s in the DNA of my company to produce art stuff with the money we make,’ Castillon explains. As a result, Castillon was able to realise the F Major music video for the neo-classical pianist, Hania Rani, in Iceland earlier this year. 

Filmed in a remote location, Hania is seen playing an open-front upright piano – an approach which visually encapsulates the artist’s fascination with the mechanical, organic possibilities that the instrument affords. For the video, Castillon worked with the choreographer, Fanny Sage, and the dancers Mellina Boubetra and Janina Sarantšina, whose interpretations of Hania’s ethereal performance is captured in a single sequence shot. The camera work signals Castillon’s commitment to striving for authenticity; ‘The concept was, how can we translate music that never stops, and keep up this pace?’ So, the camera doesn’t stop either. It was important, too, to translate the sensation of freedom that comes both with Hania’s music and the dancers’ movements – something that the film’s location allowed for. ‘I want to celebrate nature,’ Castillon explains, adding that he strives to capture how a landscape can be inspirational, whilst resisting the urge to just create picture postcards of the scenery. The backdrop of mountains and black sand in F Major have the potential to be just that; awe-inspiring and spectacular in itself. But, as the chilling wind that entraps Hania and the dancers in the video confirms, the logistics of F Major were anything but straightforward. ‘As you can see, there was an ice storm,’ Castillon points out; ‘It was very cold, like minus seven degrees. We rehearsed a lot before but, on set on the beach we only had three takes because of the light and the weather.’ Not only was the filming testament to Castillon’s approach to taking on a challenge, but also his dedication to fully realising the potential of the performers he works with. 

Castillon discovered Hania Rani through her record label, Gondwana Records: ‘I like pretty much all the artists they have in their roster, so when I listened to her first album (2019’s Esja) I was totally in love.’ At the time Castillon reached out to Hania, she was writing her second album, Home, but she had seen Castillon’s 2017 film, Isola with the dancer Léo Walk, and wanted to work together. Their collaboration was postponed to allow time for Castillon to raise money and for Hania to complete the album. This time also gave Castillon the chance to work out the concept for their work; ‘I listened to [F Major] maybe 200 times before coming up with the idea.’ He was also keen to ensure he attended every rehearsal and discuss the concept with the dancers; the process is ‘almost a co-creation,’ Castillon explains, like ‘ping-pong.’ It’s a constructive and collaborative process of back-and-forths to find a way that Castillon can capture the performance in the best possible way. His work with Hania may have been a while in the making, but that seems to be the case with a lot of Castillon’s collaborations. 

Stills from Hania Rani’s F Major music video

There is a sense, talking to Castillon, that he uses his films to capture the creative endeavours of those he knows and admires – and in turn, to introduce them to one another in the name of collaboration. That was the case for last year’s short film, Parce Que, featuring the painter, Inès Longevial, and Léo Walk. Inès, like Hania after her, had seen Isola and was keen to work with Léo who, similarly, loved the painter’s work. Castillon had known Inès for a number of years previously and was waiting for the perfect opportunity to work together, which Parce Que would be – but it took ‘almost a year to find a time when [Léo and Inès] were both available.’ The idea was to combine painting and dance together, but Castillon was wary of avoiding the pitfalls of an ‘arty cliché’. With Serge Gainsbourg’s song Parce Que as the film’s soundtrack, the dangers of doing something cliché could be high, but Castillon managed to pull it off. That success is demonstrative of the director’s integrity when it comes to understanding the performers he works with. It was important that the location choice for Parce Que would be able to accommodate Léo’s dancing, which, as he explains in reference to Isola, requires a smooth enough surface to allow for some of the breakdancing moves. As the film, which tells the story of love and, eventually heartbreak, progresses, Léo dances on a six by four metre painting that Inès is depicted as working on; Castillon’s way of combining the creative skill of both collaborators, and avoiding the cliché of something ‘that has already been seen before’. 

Léo Walk on the set of Parce Que

Inès Longevial on the set of Parce Que

As with the Schimdt advertisement and the F Major video, Parce Que shows that Castillon is a master at pulling of impressive operations. ‘It’s what I love,’ he enthuses, ‘sometimes you have a crazy idea like, “What if Léo dances on a big painting?” And one year later, you are shooting it. Like, okay – it’s worth it.’ A special frame was made for Inès’s painting, which was kept in four parts in a friend’s shop in Paris because, as Castillon explains, ‘the apartments are very tiny’, before being transported to a secret location in the South of France for filming. A delipidated castle near Biarritz was chosen in part because the location reminded Inès of her childhood and also because Castillon liked its uniqueness. It had been designed by a woman at the turn of the twentieth century, who had taken inspiration from far and wide including, amongst other references, Versailles. Castillon is careful not to disclose the exact location of the castle because of the fragile state that the building is now in; the team spent two days clearing the site of detritus before filming and filmed quickly to cause as little damage as possible. There is, then, a sense of nostalgia that infuses Parce Que – a longing for lost love, a reminder of childhood and memory of times gone by. 

Personal connections prove important to Castillon, perhaps another explanation for how he avoids clichés. During the location scouts for Isola, it occurred to Castillon that he knew exactly the place to film. Castillon grew up in Sardinia; he remembers a deserted building near a beach he used to frequent with his grandmother, which would become the ‘perfect place’ to film. He describes the place as surreal, the light there reminding him of an Edward Hopper painting. The experience of watching Isola feels similar to viewing a painting by Edward Hopper, too. To see Léo perform, at first refracting the haze of the summer sun and, later, his movements lit up by the warm glow of sundown, it is possible to feel connected to him in his solitude. Isola grants the opportunity to be close to Léo precisely because Castillon is conscientiously aware of the viewer. One of the director’s earlier videos, La République du Skateboard, came from the desire to capture a scene close to Castillon’s heart. As a skateboarder from the age of ten, Castillon started making skate videos using filming techniques common to the scene, ‘fisheyes, long lens – pretty dirty stuff.’ But, he decided to make a film that was more cinematic, taking influence from the classic movies that helped him learn the filming techniques he employs today. The film, about skateboarding and, skateboarding in Paris in particular, was envisioned as something that anyone could watch. The result is an ode to the scene and the city, beautifully shot, as would be expected from Castillon’s work, and accessible too. ‘I didn’t want to make something that only speaks to experts,’ the director explains. ‘I wanted to translate it in a way that is universal so that everyone can watch and understand why it’s beautiful.’ That same philosophy is applied to dance; ‘I’m not interested in making dance videos that only a few people can understand’, Castillon says of his approach. Rather, he wants to ‘find a perfect balance between the popular and the artistic.’  

At its core, Castillon’s role as a director could be understood as transforming his fascination for performers into nuanced films that combine a highly cinematic approach with a deep respect for artistic craft. He says that he is fascinated by artists like Léo Walk and Fanny Sage, and this fascination inspires him to tell their stories. It’s somewhat telling that Castillon describes himself as someone who ‘cannot create a whole universe from nothing’. Rather, he thrives on the collaborative process that comes with the way he instinctively works. Just as he brings up fakes news as the anthesis of his search for authenticity, Castillon describes a ‘kind of boredom’ that comes with the saturation of content on platforms like Instagram and Netflix. He is resolutely not interested in making films that have been done before. That said, Castillon’s upcoming release sees the director return to Iceland with Fanny Sage for a second film; the music is by the French artist, Awir Leon, who, not surprisingly, Castillon claims to love. He describes the short film, called 間 (Ma), as ‘mind-blowing’ – and it’s a project that he seems immensely proud of. When it premieres on June 29th on Nowness, it’s more than likely worth watching.  

Tess Roby

Abstractions of Daily Life and Subtle Portraiture

These photographs were taken in Montreal, Toronto, Los Angeles, Venice, and Washington State between 2017 and 2020. Shown together, they share what Roby is most drawn to in photography: abstractions of daily life and subtle portraiture. Gathered over time, her photographs ethereally capture her movements, presenting minute everyday occurrences that blur visual boundaries.

Ronghui Chen

An Ordinary Evening In New Haven

Last year I went to Yale to study my MFA program. When I arrived in New Haven, everyone told me it was not safe to take photos outside in New Haven at night. I also was afraid as I had received some emails from the police station about crimes in New Haven.

I always run back home at night. When I open the door of my house, I take a deep breath. 

Then I lay down on the bed and have no energy to turn on the light. 

I just watch the natural light come through the windows. Then I feel calm. These moments remind me of my childhood in a small village in China. 

My grandparents raised me as my parents had to move to the city to earn money for me. Thirty years ago, Chinese people were so poor that my grandparents never turn on the lights at night. They just wanted to save some money. But I was a boy full of curiosity. 

So I would always try to find some interesting things to witness at night such as the beauty of the firefly or the beauty of the moonlight.

I want to explore the glow of the night time light and rebuild our ability to find this kind of beauty and mysteriousness at night.

Credits

Photo and words Ronghui Chen
ronghuichen.com

Brent Chua

Peak

Team

Photography BRENT CHUA
Fashion JUNGLE LIN
Grooming SHIMU
Model PIERCE BROWN from NEXT


Designers

  1. Full Look PRADA
  2. Trousers COMME DES GARCONS
  3. Shirt and Jacket COMME DES GARCONS
  4. Coat THOM BROWN Jacket PRABAL GURUNG Shirt DIOR HOMME
  5. Hat Willy Chavarria
  6. Shirt and Jumper GUCCI Trousers and Shoes THOM BROWN
  7. Jacket PRABAL GURUNG Trousers GUCCI Shoes Frye Miles Vintage
  8. Top ISSEY MIYAKE Jacket and Belt WOOYOUNGMI Trousers DIOR HOMME Shoes Ermenegildo Zegna
  9. Full Look PRADA
  10. Shirt and Jacket COMME DES GARCONS Trousers HOMME PLISSE ISSEY MIYAKESocks THOM BROWN Shoes DIOR HOMME
  11. Full Look THOM BROWN
  12. Full Look THOM BROWN
  13. Coat Vintage Burberry Trousers GUCCI
  14. Shirt and Jumper GUCCI Trousers and Shoes THOM BROWN
  15. Shirt and Jumper GUCCI
  16. Jacket GUCCI Coat and Gloves DIOR HOMME Trousers 3.1 Phillip Lim Shoes Ermenegildo Zegna

Nadia Ryder

Move

20181123.NR_SHOT.01_190_RGB.jpg

Credits

Photography NADIA RYDER
Fashion NIMA HABIBZADEH and JADE REMOVILLE
Make-Up KUMIKO ANDO   Hair KANAE KIKUCHI
Model LEX from Premier

Designers

  1. Dress JUST CAVALLI
  2. Dress JUST CAVALLI
  3. Dress HUISHAN ZHANG
  4. Dress HUISHAN ZHANG
  5. Full Look ISSEY MIYAKE
  6. Dress PAULA KNORR
  7. Dress VIVIENNE WESTWOOD
  8. Dress DSQUARED2
  9. Dress JUST CAVALLI
  10. Dress HUISHAN ZHANG
  11. Jumpsuit ISSEY MIYAKE
  12. Dress HUISHAN ZHANG
  13. Dress PAULA KNORR
  14. Dress DSQUARED2
  15. Dress VIVIENNE WESTWOOD

Simon Nicoloso

Sharon Eyal

“it’s all art and it’s all life”

Emblazoned onto the vast white cube exterior where the Dior SS19 show was held at the Hippodrome de Longchamp last September was a quote: ‘The story comes from inside the body’. The woman responsible for this remark, Sharon Eyal, would also make her mark on the interior of temporary space that was built over the course of two weeks, especially for the show.

Eyal was approached by Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, to choreograph a dance that would take place as models took to the runway. For the SS19 collection, Chiuri found inspiration in the world of dance; corsets were replaced with loose, tulle skirts, leggings and, of course, ballet pumps. For the performance, Eyal’s dancers weere clad in specifically-designed bodysuits. At times, dancers and models seemed inseparable. If the show reflected the unique vision for which Chiuri has become known for as of late, it also brought Eyal’s enchanting choreography to a new audience.

Eyal founded the L-E-V dance company in 2013 with fellow dancer and collaborator, Gai Behar – whilst the musician, Ori Lichtik, is responsible for the music and sound that accompanies the company’s productions. Performances of the company’s repertoire, particularly OCD Love and its second act, Love Chapter 2, have captivated audiences across the world. In this sense, the Dior show can be seen as a continuation of the ways in which Eyal utilises the body in its totality to convey emotion and feeling. Speaking with Eyal soon after the Dior show, it is clear that this idea that the story comes from within is one that Eyal embodies whole-heartedly. 

NR: What inspired the approach you took in choreographing the Dior SS19 show?

Sharon Eyal: For me, inspiration is life – it’s everything I’m going through. I met Maria Grazia [Chiuri], who is an amazing person, and then I saw the work on the collection as it appeared. I think it’s all about chemistry. When you work with people, or another artist, they have to inspire you. In terms of the Dior collaboration, fashion and material is something that I really connect with. It feels like you can see the material sewn into the movement. I really love all the layers that you can see in the connections. 

NR: What does the partnership between fashion and dance reveal? 

SE: It’s about a collaboration of feelings. I think it’s not just dance, or fashion, I think it shows the combination of something unique that you want to share together. When you create something, it comes from a certain point in your body; I think me and Maria Grazia were creating from the same point, so it was very organic.

“For me, dancing is something basic, like you eat; you dance.”

Life is about movement, and fashion is something that is so free, as if it has no limits. With the combination of fashion and dance, it’s something that seems so distant but very close, like it was growing from the same planes. Everything came together with an organic feeling.  

NR: Is dance a medium that can express human emotion better than other art forms? 

SE: I think every art form can express these emotions. Painting, cinema, music, and, of course, fashion. But also, something like, going to the beach: it’s all art and it’s all life. For me, there isn’t a difference between life and art. 

NR: How does dance reflect art and life back to audiences? 

SE: I think dance is something very physical and emotional. Everybody feels these emotions and, and I think that connects people. Everybody feels sadness, disappointment and loneliness, for example.

“There is something about the physicality of the body connects with people: dance doesn’t need to be a story in order for it to be something you understand. It’s emotion as seen through the body.”

NR: How do you hope audiences will interact with the combination of dance with music with lighting and movement?  

SE: If the elements are separated, or don’t connect, it doesn’t work because it’s one piece. I think it’s about total feeling and total experience. This connection is important. 

NR: When you’re creating a new dance, where do you start first?

SE: I don’t start a piece, it’s always a continuation of something; it’s like the story of my life, but we have deadlines and so, I’m always cutting it, but it’s a long story that carries on. I start by improvising movements, which my dancers record, and from there I cut, edit, and change: this is the first layer. I work with lots of changing compositions.  

NR: Would you say that your dances have a futuristic element to them?

SE: I don’t know how to explain movement in words, but it’s very natural and simple, but complicated at the same time.

“It’s about trying to be what you are, in a very, very physical way.”

NR: So are you stripping back the elements of dance to the body?

SE: It’s not just the body, it’s also about the body and soul. I believe in the heart and emotion, but I think that everything comes from the physical, from inside the body.

“Muscles are emotional; you don’t need to put anything on top of the way muscles move because it’s all already there.”

NR: Do your dances take on the traditional structures of ballet, or is it a completely new style?

SE: When you see our dances, you can see the roots of that. I love ballet because I feel like I can play with it; I love the technique, and I love to break it. 

NR: In future, do you hope to add another chapter on to OCD Love and Love Chapter 2? 

SE: I like chapters a lot, so I would love to add more to that. Anyway, I think it’s always a continuation of what we’re doing, or what we’ve done, so I’m sure it will be happen. 

Photos

  1. Sharon Eyal photographed by Eyal Nevo

Sayuri Ichida

When the Past is Present

Ronan Mckenzie

“I try to capture each person as they are”

Ronan Mckenzie’s photographs are imbued with the personal, a quality that transcends the nature of the project she’s working on. Be it personal work or commissions, there’s a warmth that Mckenzie manages to capture regardless. To that end, her recent cover for Teen Vogue featuring Serena Williams feels as intimate as, say, a portrait of her mum wearing the underwear brand Marieyat. It is this approach to photography that makes Mckenzie’s work so captivating and unique.

Speaking earlier this year at It’s Nice That’s series of talks, Nicer Tuesdays, Mckenzie remarked that her desires to pursue styling were quickly quashed upon the realisation that she ‘preferred faces, people and stories’ to clothing. If this explains the beauty of her photographs, then it also points towards the underlying focus that spurs her practise on behind scenes. Mckenzie has taken to task the industries within which she works, exposing and unpicking the narrow vision ingrained in the realms of art, fashion and publishing that still fail to incorporate a broad range of voices. In 2015, for example, Mckenzie’s first exhibition, A Black Body, sought to normalise the diverse possibilities in what it means to be black; a year later, the first issue of her magazine Hard Ears challenged the prevailing obsession with youth culture.

Towards the end of last year, she curated her second exhibition: I’m Home at Blank100, hosted in a purpose-built space with a series of interactive events explored the idea of ‘home’ through the lens of the black experience. At stake in Mckenzie’s work is a critically-engaged, and engaging, approach to shaping of the future – one that is both too enchanting and important to miss. 

NR: Your work showcases an honest representation of personal experience by challenging homogeneous representations of ‘black, female, British’; what can the industries you work within do more effectively to counter these approaches?

Ronan Mckenzie: I think the only way to truly be representative, and by that I mean showcasing a diverse cross-section of stories, is to include a more diverse cross-section of people both behind the scenes and visibly. 

NR: In the case of both Hard Ears and I’m Home, you have created a platform that wasn’t already available; did you ever aspire to becoming an editor and a curator, respectively, or are these projects that you’ve taken on out of necessity?

RM: I guess you could say I’ve taken them out of necessity for myself, not because any one else made me, but because I needed the platforms to be there so took it upon myself to make them happen. There was never really a moment with either project that I said ‘Ok, I’m going to be an editor (/curator) now’. Those were just the titles that afterwards summarised best what my roles were within those projects. For me, the action part is so much more important than the title, and I was prepared to and excited to take the actions I needed to achieve what I wanted to exist. 

NR: What inspires the way you photograph people? Does it change from person to person?

RM: Yes, each person I photograph inspires the way that I photograph them by offering something completely different. I try to capture each person as they are, so that can change drastically depending on the type of person they are and in which way I connect and communicate with them.

“I try not to have a set idea of what I’m aiming to achieve with each person and instead let them lead the way.”

NR: How do you create a sense of tactility and warmth that is present in your work? 

RM: I guess that what is visible is the honest sense of warmth and care that was present when the images were being made. 

NR: What is the one, most significant thing that you hope to see change in the art and fashion industries in the future?

RM: Artists to be paid fairly for their work every time an institution/brand/platform will value monetarily from it. 

Designers

  1. Mamu
  2. Ashanti
  3. Zen

Jo Ann Walters

“I like doubling and tripling ambiguities, tensions, and constellations of associations”

Jo Ann Walters has been photographing towns like the one she grew up in for a while – since the 1980s in fact. Growing up in Alton, a ‘small town along the Mississippi River in southern Illinois’, she was as committed to leaving her hometown, as she was to returning there, in order to document what life is like for those who live there. Walters won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985 to photograph along the river and was soon drawn to depicting the livelihoods of the town’s population of women. This series was made into a book, Wood River Blue Pool, last year. Yet, if focussing on the women of Alton, and towns like it, was familiar to Walters, the DOG Town series explores a side of her upbringing that was both familiar and alien to her. In this body of work, Walters has built up a picture from the other side, as it attempts to uncover the role of an industrial town and its working, male population in a post-industrial era. In DOG Town, barren landscapes that recall the early photography of Eugène Atget are juxtaposed with whimsical, even straight-up comical, scenes of human life. Speaking on the phone, it is clear that Walters gives as much weight to the epic as she does to the humdrum, as competing aspects of the complexities of human existence.  

NR: What were your intentions for DOG Town, and have these changed over the years you’ve spent photographing Alton for the series?

Jo Ann Walters: I’ve always been interested in the place where I grew up, and for many years I was particularly interested in young mothers and girls there. It represented one possibility for my future, but also one I had consciously moved away from. I just published my first monograph of that work, which came out last October [Wood River Blue Pool and the companion book Blue Pool Cecelia]. In the early 2000s, I began to wonder about the men I’d grown up with as well as the marginalized parts of the town I hadn’t paid much attention to while photographing. My father, for example, had a small sheet-metal fabrication business that serviced the steel mills, ammunition factories, and refineries in town, so modern industry had always been around and part of my life. Women rarely worked in the factories when I was growing up in the mid-20th Century. We didn’t have first-hand knowledge of life and labour in these factories, but it was always the backdrop for our lives. So, I started taking these pictures, not just in my hometown, but in other small industrial towns too. I’m still working on DOG Town, among other projects; I’m very thorough and two decades of work is not such a long time. A few years back I began photographing people more frequently, so there are more portraits showing up. 

NR: There are two images in Dog Town, a women singing, and a boy playing a video game: within the context of the depravity of the series, these seem like frivolous pursuits. Is that something you’re intending to depict?

JAW: That’s interesting that you say it appears frivolous. When I was younger, I would have thought that karaoke and video games were trivial pursuits. There’s not a lot to do in many of these towns. Even though Alton isn’t far from downtown St Louis, MO, people don’t travel there often. Some of the photographs were taken in a decade ago but the place looks pretty much the same only more impoverished, more run down. I made the picture of the woman singing in a bar called the Ranch House during one of their bi-monthly karaoke nights. The woman is in a one-piece blue outfit and wearing white pumps, and a garish shining backdrop. When she got up on the floor to sing, well, … she couldn’t carry a tune at all. The few competitors in her audience sneered and rolled their eyes without caring much if she or anyone noticed, but in my mind’s eye she was the best of them all, her voice and countenance so full of emotion, longing loneliness, soul. I realized that karaoke nights held meaning for the people there in ways I hadn’t understood before. I remember a few people asking if I was from the press. I realized some hoped their image would be published in the Alton Evening Telegraph and, perhaps, they would be discovered by a talent scout.

NR: Linking on from that, what about the image of the young boys, one is surrounded by dogs, the other with a pumpkin bucket; it would be interesting to know how their futures play into DOG Town. 

JAW: I like both of those photographs quite a bit. I happened upon a family, at a moment when their dog had just had puppies – the dogs were half-husky, half-wolf.  They were running all around the property. One of the things I like about image of the boy and his parents holding the puppies is that this little boy is so attentive, but also intensely inward. He had been looking at me with near total concentration, but I chose to make the picture in a moment when he was looking past me. The boy and the dog appear to be in the same state of consciousness. Both appear contemplative, world weary and knowing. I wouldn’t call it hopeful, but I’d call it a kind of youthful and adult consciousness at once. Their gazes seem to extend both inside and outside the picture. It is difficult to imagine what the future holds for him and his family, but it suggests the possibility of wisdom.

On the other hand, the little boy holding the white plastic pumpkin, he looks… well, the grass is nearly dead, it’s the end of fall, the sky is cloudy: maybe there will be rain, maybe a storm. And, he seems so very confused to me; the wheelbarrow’s tipped over; another toy appears to be stuck in a rut. I can’t easily pin this image down. The pumpkin’s white, why is it white? I remember the boy was angry when I first began to photograph, I guess because I had interrupted the privacy of the game he was playing. His imaginative life seems rich in the picture but also full of starts and stops. It is hard to describe what this appearance of difficult and complicated dreams will bring. 

NR: You mentioned the timing of the image in relation to the seasons. That’s something I picked up on in DOG Town; one of the constant changes in the series is the change of season, has this been a conscious decision? 

JAW: Yes. There’s something particular about the light in the town where I grew up in. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling along the river, and there’s something about the moisture in the air and the humidity. We had four distinct seasons when I was young, and this has profoundly affected my sensibility climate change has blurred the boundaries between seasons. I often photograph the same things and places over and over, year after year. I feel fortunate that I discovered the world through photography. Through my habit or discipline of re-photographing, again and again, I have cultivated and deepened my perceptual capacities. Sometimes, at its worst, repetition ends up feeling mechanical or obsessive, but when it works repetition transforms into ritual and something very different happens.

“Ritualizing picture making prepares me to be open to the complex and sensual experiences than the relative subject matter depicts. The images evoke something experiential, with a wide range of emotion and intellectual complexity. Seasonal time, as opposed to linear time.”

While making the Dog Town work, there came the point when I began to get sick of my color palate and habits of pictures making. So, I challenged myself to make pictures in the winter when there was minimal colour, often during inclement weather, or when the snow was so white there was little apparent detail. I tortured myself [laughing] for three or four years by photographing in freezing weather in an attempt to experience and photograph the color, light and affective register of winter. I wondered how these variations in my practice might affect the construction of meaning. 

NR: What about the image of the snowy landscape, with what looks like a warehouse in the background, and a truck in front? 

JAW: I like that image because the sign on the building says salvage and I can easily transpose or associate it with the word salvation. I bought a small tripod that you can screw onto a car window. After I had printed the picture, I kept staring at the odd double shadowing in the overhead power line and wondering where it was coming from. I had made a long exposure in low light. The sun was nearly gone. I hadn’t securely tightened the camera to the tripod. The camera was slowly moved downwards during a long exposure and traveling at irregular intervals that created a double shadow of sorts. It reminds me of the way movement is sometimes described in early photography because of the slow film and necessary long exposures. It was a strategy I wouldn’t have thought of myself. I love mistakes when they work out

NR: Would you be able to talk about the image with the Easter decals?

JAW: This was taken in Bethlehem, PA., a coal mining town, and there was this funky little convenience store. It was grey and overcast outside, and I was fascinated by the formal complications of making a photograph through the store window from the inside out. I was fascinated with the Easter decals that decorated the window pane, and how this content might create a strange layer of composition and meaning. There is a sentimentality one associates with cheerful cartoonish characterizations of rabbits, eggs, baskets of flowers, and springtime in the decals. This happy sentimentality seems at odds with the rest of the image. Through the window and past these silly stickers, you see the grey street and the sad generic buildings in disrepair. By chance, a person in a dark coat walked towards the store. Because of the moment during which the picture was made, it looks like the man is wearing a rabbit mask and carrying a bunny purse. All the while the easter decals appear animated like they are dancing around in the air and on the street. At first, I thought these pictorial events in the image moved away from the melancholy tone of the series, though

“I do often employ humor in my work. But, in retrospect, I think it imparts a kind of black foreboding humor to the image.”

NR: Another image that stands out in the series is the one of prisoners; how does it fit into the series?  

JAW: There are several pictures in the series – along with the one I just described that seem akin. For example, the hunting dogs chained to barrels and the parking lot with an older car and a building displaying a sign illustrated by cartoon description of dynamite exploding. There is something that feels comical, but, also telling. Both pictures are funny in their ways, but the underbelly of each is cold and covertly oppressive. There is something almost whimsical about the hunting dog picture despite the visible constrictions and brutality of the short leashes and imaginings as to how they function in the our world. The dogs appear over and over again, and if you look closely, you discover tiny dogs in the background standing on the barrels or shed roofs or hidden partially behind trees. I can whistle really loud and mearly every dog is alert, at attention, and looking straight at me, even those furthest back in the image. In the world of this picture, one can imagine that if the dogs were to run at me in their excitement once their surprise wore off, they’d be yanked back by the chains attached to their necks. In the image you refer to there are a group of prisoners in single-file with a barge behind them. They were picking up trash along a Mississippi River highway following a recent flood when I stopped my car. The sky is blue and the air is clear. The prisoners appear tame and benign. The tall, tremendously large, white prison guard sporting a long white beard had just ordered the surprised prisoners to get back to work. He is carrying a taser stick. 

NR: There is something cartoonish about these images, but also a darkness in them, a violence… 

JAWs: That’s it! Yes, there is an undertow of violence in these pictures, and the cartoonish quality contributes to this violence. The cartoons reduce and cover the inherent abuse implied in the scenes depicted: the prisoners and prison guard, the bunny-masked figure seen through the convenience store window decorated with easter decals, the parking lot and dynamite sign, and in some ways even the boy with the pumpkin. At first, this kind of humor might seem at odds with the tone of other pictures we have discussed but viewed within the entire body of work I think they act to cut away, cut through or partially subtract from the edge of sentimentality I explore in other images. In the picture of the hunting dogs chained to barrels, you can make a game of searching for and counting the dogs, a kind of Where’s Waldo? It could be a child’s game, but violent associations are embedded or buried.

NR: I found it amusing that there are all these images of barren landscapes with heaps of scrap material and piles of cars, and, then, there’s also this picture of a window sign, which reads ‘top dollars paid for scrap gold and silver’.

JAW: I don’t know if I’d use that picture when I get around to publishing a book of this work. The image is illustrative, more so than other pictures throughout the body of work. My father was a relatively successful small business owner and what some might call an upstanding citizen, and as I said earlier, he ran a sheet metal fabrication factory. After he retired, and without the constant structure of a work-week, he was often at a loss as to what to do with himself. He retired early and drank more, just like nearly everyone in town. There was nothing much to do. As a way to socialize, he would sometimes hang out at pawn shops with other men. Perhaps this is one reason why this picture seemed vital to me for a while. As an image it illustrates something about the realities of class and economics in post-industrial towns of this size. In the end, I think it lacks the subtlety that I’m usually drawn to. I try to particularize and keep cultural information to a minimum to slow the pictures down, and so the viewer has to travel through the sequence of images in multiple ways. I like pictures to suggest uncertainty or rather carry multiple meanings that are often in contradiction to one another, and to do so all at once. I like doubling and tripling ambiguities, tensions, and constellations of associations through individual images, sequences of images and the intervening spaces between images. In DOG Town, I want to evoke meanings such as that which is overtly illustrated in the picture of the pawn shop, but to do so in slower, more nuanced and porous ways.