Chantal Elisabeth Ariëns

“It is in the nature of the mind to make something out of nothing, so an empty state allows the mind to rest and opens doors at the same time.”

It might have taken Chantal Elisabeth Ariëns ages to pull herself out of the state of chaos and into the utopia of emptiness, but such a transition defines what she produces today, from photographs to prints. Relieving certain emotions to provoke certain memories ushers the multidisciplinary artist into conjuring her most reflective essence, giving a home to the works of art she treasures the most.

From her reverence for water as a distilling element of life to the reminiscence of her sister’s youthful time, Ariens personifies the glory of existence: the stillness in dancing, the melancholy in capturing the relics of a passing, the times when realizations ask her to carry on.

I would love to learn more about your career transition. You first worked as a dancer, having studied at a ballet academy in Tilburg. You also modeled and assisted photographers. Why did you switch to photography? When did you realize it was time for you to hold the camera yourself?

I grew up with classical ballet and studied at the ballet academy, so my whole life was surrounded by ballet. But

“my dream to dance in a company like the NYC ballet fell apart.”

I started to look for something that could replace my passion for ballet. This was the quest. For a period, I started working as a model, where I got inspired by photographers I worked with and started to assist some photographers.

I am also a print-maker. I felt the need to create with my own hands, to give my prints more depth. I went in search of a craft technique that would allow me to do so, and this led me to the photopolymer etching technique. I love the tactility, the structure, the scent, and countless shades of black. The work itself is very intense and slow; it brings me to a more quiet part of myself and makes me more aware of how gratifying craftsmanship can be.

Delving deeper into your photographic philosophy, how did your ballet, photo modeling, and assisting experiences help shape your photography? What nuances from these backgrounds do you use in your practice today?

Dancing had been a way to express myself since a very young age. This was replaced by my love for photography. My father was a gifted photographer and a photo teacher in addition to his day job. He taught my sister and me how to print our own photos.

“Working as a model became the second part of my photographic education.”

It was wonderful to be able to learn from so many photographers, through their own ways of creating images, especially in the fashion world. Then, my process became different after working for magazines.

I felt the need to create from within after my younger sister passed away. I had to let go of concepts or themes to find out where my journey would take me. Gradually, I realized how everything turned out to be personal, including my relationship with the models I work with. I like to create an intimate atmosphere for the models to make them feel comfortable and be themselves.

I prefer to work with models with a background in dancing as they often move freely. It is important for me to make real contact in order to create images that move. They become personal from the moment I started to create my own world from the inside.

The inspiration of your works stems from the subconscious, a state of emptiness. How do you perceive an empty state? Is it meant to be filled, or just be left their void? 

In the past, it was not easy to enter an empty state of mind overnight. It took me years to be able to let go, meditate, and practice. It is in the nature of the mind to make something out of nothing, so an empty state allows the mind to rest and opens doors at the same time. This is where it became possible for me to dig deep and create my personal work, by letting it be void with all that will come up in a natural way.

As you have written: these images arise by giving space to emotion and exploring where the connection lies between emotion and memory. Emotions and memories are stored in the subconscious. For you, what is the connection between emotion and memory? What kinds of emotions and memories do you want to evoke?

For me, memories come with certain emotions, so bringing up certain memories can evoke certain emotions. I try not to evoke these emotions as I prefer them to arise in a natural way. It is by giving space that they will find their way. For me, photography is about connecting to the landscape, the people, and myself. It is about creating my own world.

Let us go through a few of your works. Where Are You reminisces about your younger sister, a time when you saw her everywhere. Would it be all right if you guide us through your state in this series?

Where Are You #1: The image is taken by the moonlight, imagery of Taoism, and the yin energy that brings the viewer within. The feeling brought me to remember the memory of my sister drifting away.

Where Are You #4: In my dreams, I was running fast to see glimpses of my sister. When I saw a figure running, I thought it was her.

Where Are You #11: I know it is not her, but it is the vague figure that is moving towards me that makes me think it is her.

Where Are You #20: Ever-changing clouds, floating on air.

Where Are You #18: The sea, the waves, the clouds, the sun behind the clouds, the rays of light coming in. Here, there is a play between the dark and the light, the light and the dark. I was fascinated by it: it moved me in ways, it made me feel emotional, it lulled me into it, and it connected me to the ones I lost.

Unfinished #2: Here a teststrip of Marijn, I started photographing with her and still do, she became my muse.
In this image she reminds me of my sister, Nathalie.

Monologue Intérieur seems to be a photographic conversation between who you are and what you feel, an inner monologue associated with thoughts, fears, and emotions that come and go. Have you ever latched on a single emotion and found it difficult to let go? 

The inner monologue is often associative. Thoughts, moods, feelings come and go. I try to catch these in order to be moved by the image. It is not only about my feelings, but my models’ as well.

Nude photography can be a complex subject to me. It is about finding the purest and most liberating expression of strong femininity. It is combined with the inner monologue, transforming the images into layers of stories.

Water as a purifying, transformative, and healing gift of life. In Healing or drowning, water becomes the symbol of existence, the power of connection, softness, surrender, and forgiveness. When do you seek healing? Is it hard to surrender yourself to the flow of the universe? How do you forgive – by forgetting?

I seek healing especially in times of grief and turbulence like the last one and a half years, where we have all gone through certain waves.

“Surrendering to the flow of the universe is a never-ending challenge.”

For me, forgiving is not about forgetting. I think it is a process that experiences ups and downs, highs and lows like waves that come and go, trying to find the angle of compassion for others. I think these bring in the softness, the healing part, for others and myself.

You quote T.S. Elliott as part of your artist’s statement. “So the darkness shall be the light. And the stillness the dancing.” How do you relate to these words?

The words refer to my own process that started with the death of my younger sister. I went through deep grief, a depressing period, trying to find the light. This is why I started my series  ‘Where Are You’ with specks of black and bright white. 

If I had to go to a deeper layer of myself, I think I would uncover stillness while finding my way out, accepting that nothing will ever stay the same and that love never dies.

What’s next for Chantal?

I’m looking forward to some wonderful collaborations in Japan, Italy and Sweden and a period as Artist In Residence to be able to do research, experiment and deepen my work.

Joselito Verschaeve

“sometimes you do not have the vocabulary to pinpoint your feelings towards a project, a place, an object, or a person”

The ambition to photograph the purity of isolation in nature infiltrates the images of Joselito Verschaeve. In his works, the fog clothes the rock formations, a hand soaks in the color of the coals, the sea laps over the grainy shore, the crescent-shaped sun ray filters through the cracks, and Joselito grips the camera in his hands. In every image, the unspoken longing to form a bond with nature, or perhaps become Mother Nature herself, tugs a wandering soul to embark on a pilgrimage with the Belgian photographer.

As one skims through the works Joselito has captured so far, they may deduce them as a meditative perception of the environment, a narrative-infested series that touches on a myriad of undefined themes with nature at the heart of his philosophy. Joselito may have just commenced his journey, but he has already left an imprint in those who gaze at his images, and now, in NR Magazine.

I would love to learn your background in photography. How did you end up taking photographs? Has this always been your first choice of medium, and why? Did you try other artistic mediums before this?

Before studying photography, I had studied 3D animation where we had to create a series of environments that were often dystopian-themed. We had to go out and create images out of worn-out objects to source our aimed textures. After a while, I realized I enjoyed image-making more and the world-building you could imply with sequencing.

Let us get into your philosophy in photography. Your work leans on day-to-day encounters. Why do you draw your photographic influences from this well? What encounters do you remark as the most significant to you, and why?

It leans on day-to-day encounters because it is the most honest way through which I can show my work. These are the moments that tend to take place in my life, but I happen to have my camera with me during these times. After these moments, the ball keeps rolling, and I can reminisce the places that I have discovered through these events, or be happy with what I got from that day. The most significant encounters I recall are the images that I captured.

You also turn to narratively driven images. Could you elaborate more on this? What kind of stories do you want to narrate through your images?

Part of my practice is the day-to-day encounters; another part is just my general fascination for dystopia, nature, history, and future events. The influences of the photographs I capture from this mindset: How can I make this newfound scene fit in these themes? I think this also forms part of my practice, just seeing if I can transform these set scenes into different ones. That is where the narration and sequencing of images come into place to tie the story together.

You have shared that you are building an archive that can fit different themes. Other than the ones already mentioned above, what other themes are you exploring? Do you have certain topics that you want to dive into soon? Why?

I would like to stay dedicated to these themes. What I do want is to narrow it down to certain topics. Now, I’m leaning towards places that see repetitions in natural events, or man-made places that withstand the test of time and nature. For me, these places come closest to my idea of dystopia where nature has the upper hand.

I want us to talk about If I Call Stones Blue, It Is Because Blue Is The Precise Word (2020 – 2021). First, how did you come up with the title? What is your relationship with it? Did you plan it, or did it pop up after the series finished?

It is from a Raymond Carver book, which echoes ‘day-to-day encounters’ in the best way. I think it categorizes under ‘honest fiction’ which sounds amazing on its own. Anyway, he uses it to write a poem, but the line is originally from Flaubert. My relationship with it is that sometimes you do not have the vocabulary to pinpoint your feelings towards a project, a place, an object, or a person. However, this does not stop you from understanding the significance of your emotions, so you compare them to the closest feeling that you do know. This is what I feel and do.

All images are black and white. Do you feel a deeper connection with this style rather than the colored ones? Is it more of a personal choice or a conscious one to tap into your audience’s emotions? 

There are a few reasons for this. Of course, the images I make share common thoughts, but the black and white style helps my images grow on each other. They may be at completely different times and places, but this variety causes interesting dialogues. To simply put it: the monochromatic style causes timelessness.

I see a lot of images deriving from nature: the uneven formations of rock, the silhouettes of forest trees, the gentle laps of the sea’s waves, and a bird trapped between the branches of trees. Does nature have a healing effect on you? Do you find it meditative? What do you think and feel whenever you place yourself in nature?

I think it is more on the idea of nature that piques my interest. It is in itself timeless and independent, which is how I would like my images to appear and be like. The balance between being comforting and intimidating is something that I admire. It is why I am so fascinated by the dynamic between nature and man-made: having the power to tear down sound and established structures versus life designs that have adapted foundations to withstand this former’s power.

What is next for Joselito?

I have an upcoming book with VOID, a publisher based in Athens. I am looking forward to this. Other than that, I will keep doing what I do and work on other projects. I have always worked on the “we will see what happens next” philosophy, so let us see what will happen next.

Yoko Ono

Mend Piece for London at The Whitechapel Gallery

It’s that time of year when, regardless of what you are wearing, you will always end up a little bit sweaty with cold fingers. Arriving thus at the Whitechapel Gallery, I made my way upstairs to Yoko Ono’s MEND PIECE, shedding hand sanitiser and various masks stuffed into pockets that have yet to be transferred to the laundry basket.

Upon entering the gallery in which this particular exhibition is held I find myself instantly transported back to childhood visits to the only museum and gallery in my hometown. Back then one would often be plonked down at tables handed a pair of scissors and told to ‘get making.’ Back in the present, I can see piles of white pottery littering to two waist-high tables (also white) and scattered alongside them are scissors, string and sellotape.

I know an arts and crafts situation when I see one! Although here the emphasis is on art, more specifically fine art. Yoko Ono first created this piece in the sixties and it has been shown around the world many times since. Mending Piece 1, from which this current work originates, first appeared in 1966 at the artists first solo show at Indica Gallery in St James’s. Legend has it this was where she first met her husband, John Lennon.

On the wall is the simple instruction, “Mend carefully. / Think of mending the world at the same time.” Well, perhaps simple is the wrong word here, the last line certainly requires some deep thought. Evidence of other visitors ‘ careful mending’ is already crammed onto the white shelves which line the white walls.

In the sixties, Ono’s aim was to create art that wasn’t designed to be bought and sold but instead to create works that required “concepts, ideas and instructions.” Kintsugi, the Japanese technique of mending broken pottery with gold lacquer, also played a major role in a large number of her works. The process was designed to highlight the broken parts, thus celebrating its imperfections and has been in use for centuries.

Nothing so ornate or beautiful is going to be created today, certainly not by me that’s for sure. I reach for my tools, sellotape seems like a good option, and then I carefully select my bits of broken pottery. Fingers are still cold so there’s a lot of fumbling. Did I mend it carefully? Perhaps not by Ono’s standard, I’ve always had a habit of going a bit wild when sellotape is involved (no one can ever get into presents if I’m wrapping them), however when I’m done I feel rather proud of my humble creation. I pop it on the top shelf where there’s still some space left. Has the world been mended? Well, that remains to be seen.

Credits

Yoko Ono: MEND PIECE for London at the Whitechapel Gallery is open from the 25th of August 2021 to the 2nd of January 2022. For more information visit www.whitechapelgallery.org

Designers

  1. Yoko Ono Mend Piece 1966/2018 You and I, A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa Photo by: Kyle Morland
  2. Indica Gallery, 6 Mason’s Yard (off Duke Street), St James’s, London, England – Yoko Ono setting up for her first European show. November 1966 Graham Keen / TopFoto
  3. Indica Gallery, 6 Mason’s Yard (off Duke Street), St James’s, London, England – Yoko Ono setting up for her first European show. November 1966 Graham Keen / TopFoto

Stefanie Schneider

On the West, Nostalgia and Instant Dreams

Stefanie Schneider captures the Western mentality and landscapes, archetypical histories of love, flawed beauty, and how women coddle chickens through her lens. She projects the life she yearns to live, the love she hopes to embody and receive, and the lust for both from within her onto her images. The results display burned spots in print or hazy and overlapping gradients of light, the signature she created for herself and her audience. These flaws, as she dubs them, manifest a mythlike dream Stefanie imagines for herself and those around her, ushering them into a discrepancy between light and darkness in photographic styles and the human psyche.

The German photographer works on self-portraiture as she poses for most of her projects, always infusing every shot with her views on life, love, and nostalgia. As she taps into her realm, Stefanie’s flair for memories and bygone eras – plus an old ranch and a farm of chickens – unravels into instinctive and distinctive photographs that ask viewers to journey through their definition of psychedelia and existence.

I wanted to ask how you got the moniker Instant Dreams then I came across your photo book of the same title. In this compendium, you take the American West as your inspiration to tell stories that evoke ideas of masquerade and play, and of love, pain, loneliness, alienation, rediscovery, and a social commentary on America. Why were you fascinated with these themes? 

Instantdreams is simply a combination of my two primary interests: the American dream and instant film. It just came to me in 1998 when I was building my first website. The American West has wide, open spaces that give us perspective on the meaning of life. Its void is a reflection of your interpretation. Expired Polaroid film produces ‘imperfections’ that mirror the flaws of the American Dream. These imperfections also illustrate that the dream is a myth that misleads, offering unachievable goals; the dream turning into a nightmare. The disintegration of Western society. The last hurrah.

That is the canvas of my creations. In fact, it’s the rudder of my uncharted journey. The allure of America is my pursuit of self-identity through love and pain, alienation and loneliness.

In your first book, Stranger than Paradise, the description mentions: There is no script, and none is necessary – a primal tale with ordinary looking people with archetypical histories – they drink, make love in nameless hotels, stalk the desert under the blinding sun, dance and carouse, and endlessly move on. A sense of liberation surrounds these scenes. Have you lived through these situations? When do you feel the most liberated?

All of my projects originate from my personal story. I created a place for my imagination to flourish, so there are no limits to where I can go. This particular project you’re referring to is called ‘Sidewinder’ and is one of my most personal stories.  It projects the intensity of love, the pain of losing love, futile attempts to hold on to it, and the destructive acts we engage in to avoid abandonment. For me,

“there is a catharsis in creation. Art liberated me. It allowed me to create a parallel universe.”

Going through your selected projects, three bodies of work caught my attention. I want to start with Oilfields (2004). It connotes both the notion of the frontier and the adventurous mentality of the West, and a kind of horizontal understanding of the landscape that is so quintessential about the West. Would you still describe the Western mentality as such today considering that you did this project in 2004? What changes have you noticed?

The project was published in 2004. The actual shoot took place in 1999. Considering that, basically everything has changed. There was still a kind of innocence present. The internet just started. Hardly anybody used cell phones. The information traveled slower. Actual letters were still sent and received. There was more time. Pre 9/11.

The landscapes were emptier and less populated. The feeling of being alone was much greater. Climate change wasn’t omnipresent. Back then the open landscapes felt like the last frontier. The last place to disappear into; to be swallowed into your own imagination. But it felt as if we were witnessing, with our own eyes, that times were changing, that everything would break apart.

Fast forward to 2014,  you introduce Wabi-Sabi (2014) as desolation and solitude are two adjectives that I would use to describe my Polaroid photographs, another two would be the Japanese term ‘Wabi-Sabi”. The simplicity of ‘flawed beauty’ comes from the expired film I use to create a reflection of love and loneliness. Why did you use desolation and solitude as descriptions? Was that how you felt? Then, why did you combine the feeling of love with loneliness?

Love, lost love, and unrequited love are the prominent themes in my 29 Palms, CA project. The consequences of emptiness, loneliness, and absence are related to existential themes, just like expired films. Constantly changing and crumbling, the film mirrors the changes of time, almost like a premonition. The summers seared through heat waves to the cracks of the Wabi-Sabi void.

Onto the third one: Chicks and Chicks and sometimes Cocks (2016 – present). One sees women dearly hold chickens in their arms. Can you share the concept and beginnings of this project? What do you aim to convey?

I rescued an old ranch in the High Desert just over ten years ago. Since then, I have been focusing on self-sustainability, growing organic food, and raising chickens, which has been so rewarding to me. I absolutely love chickens and wanted to share their beauty. I call it my Desert Living project. It is about reconnecting our human needs back to the sources of living, back to basics; my own personal reset.

You have used expired Polaroid films to capture and emphasize the sun-drenched, nostalgic, and photographic appeal of memories. Is there a forgotten memory that you want to relive? How do memories influence your creative artistry?

Memories are the essence of life itself. They are stories, they are history, they are our identity. The ones you keep and show define what transpires. The Polaroid itself is a tangible reminder of a moment we want to remember and hold onto.

“We only have what we remember or imagine.”

Thinking about your filmic and trance-like style, how would you direct your self-portrait and want the backdrop, the approach, and the essence to be?

A picture of myself looking at myself in the mirror of some old car far out in the desert, alone and searching with desire for a love that I know exists.

My work is full of self-portraits. I am using myself as the subject a lot either because nobody else is around or because the project is so personal such as in the case of ‘Sidewinder’ or ‘Wastelands’. I can create my vision far easier and more precisely if I play the role myself. Nobody else could have felt what I felt at that moment, so I appear again and again and again.

Credits

Images STEFANIE SCHNEIDER
http://www.instantdreams.net/

Justine Kurland

London’s Huxley Parlour Gallery Presents ‘I Belong To This’ Curated By Photographer Justine Kurland

Curated by contemporary American photographer Justine Kurland, ‘I belong to this’ gathers a group of 17 artists to explore notions of the self, family, death, and private and communal rituals, as part of a declaration of identification, a promise of solidarity, or a blurring of self into multitudes, as inspired by Ariana Reines’s poem ‘Save the World’, after which the exhibition is titled. 

The work presented by the artists constantly refuse an emblematic or fixed identity, and instead, have repurposed their DNA into a limitless family album, resurrected ancestors, and activated psychic space to give shape to their experience. The photographs in the exhibition work collaboratively in resistance to destructive power dynamics by creating new pathways to knowledge in a pact between artist, subject, and viewer. It is through these acts of resistance that we are able to recognise ourselves both through and among others.

The artists include Genesis Báez, Jennifer Calivas, Naima Green, AK Jenkins, Sydney Mieko King, Keli Safia Maksud, Jacky Marshall, Qiana Mestrich, Shala Miller, Cheryl Mukherji, Diana Palermo, Calafia Sanchez- Touzé, Keisha Scarville, Wendy Small, Gwen Smith, Anne Vetter, Annie Hsiao-Ching Wang.

NR Magazine speaks with the featured artists about the inspirations behind their exhibition pieces.

Genesis Báez

How did growing up in both Puerto Rico and Massachusetts shape you as an artist?

It shaped who I am therefore it inherently, even if indirectly, shapes my work. Having roots in two drastically different places opened my mind up at an early age. I developed a curiosity and need to see things from different perspectives. 

You and your mother feature in your piece for the exhibition. Could you talk a bit about your relationship with her?

My mother and I feature in the piece Lifting Water. We lift a heavy glass vessel that is about to overflow with water. When I made this picture, I was thinking about transference, inheritance, and the weights that we collectively carry. My friend once said that she read the image as us removing the water between Massachusetts and Puerto Rico. I like this interpretation! My mother and I like making pictures together. I inherited a relationship to Puerto Rico from her, as she took me back there for the first time when I was three, and then throughout my life. But my work is not about her or our relationship. I also make photographs with many people, both family and extended community.

What do the concepts of motherhood and motherland mean to you and your work?

I don’t think about my work in relation to motherhood, but rather the idea of an origin or belonging, and how these are quite precarious and slippery. What if you don’t have a motherland – can’t go to it, can’t stay in it, or don’t want one? I don’t have a motherland. At times it’s been painful, and other times I don’t want one and it’s a relief! Sometimes, overidentifying with a ‘motherland’ can quickly slip into complicated nationalistic tendencies. I’m more interested in describing the watery, temporal experiences of existing between worlds. I used to yearn to have a clear, grounded origin that I could go to and say, ‘I belong to this.’ Now I lean into the watery places of my belonging. Belonging can be nuanced and certainly extends beyond geography.

Jennifer Calivas

How would you describe the relationship between body, earth and identity within your practice?

It may sound corny, but sometimes I need to be close to the earth to get grounded. In graduate school I was exposed to so much in the way of art and ideas which was wonderful in many ways, but afterwards I wanted to get back to earth so much that I literally went into it. When I am underground for one of these pictures, I can’t see what things look like, so finding out how my body looks when I develop the film is really exciting. I love to see how the earth cracks and forms around me and finding out what new forms have appeared. Seeing these new sand or mud blobs take shape helps me to mess up my own sense of self and for its boundaries to feel less rigid.

What impact did performing this self-burial have on you?

It gave me a rash! All of these pictures were made by the ocean, in the sand or on mud flats. Did you know that the rotting smell of the ocean is caused by tiny microbes doing their part to digest and ferment decaying matter? When I am buried in these pictures, I can feel my body being eaten. In my effort to be still for the photograph, I end up getting consumed. The last time I made one of these images this bacteria made my skin burn and gave my assistant’s silver jewellery a patina. I think I’ve performed my last burial where I’m stuck in the sand and now. I want to move my body around which is what I’m doing in my new work.

What sculptural influences do you take from ecology and your environment?

I grew up on the coast of Maine, spending my time climbing around the shoreline, always poking and prodding at the ground to discover things. I seem to have a limitless love and fascination for this space and by burying myself in it, I get to experience it with all my senses and feel what it’s like below the surface. When I started these pictures, I had death on my mind but realised quickly that below ground is teaming with life, which has made me think about stillness differently.

Also, I am at the mercy of the weather, tides, and light when making these images. I like having to coordinate with nature in this way. There’s not much negotiation involved; I have to follow its lead. This reminds me that I am a part of environmental processes, not separate from them.

AK Jenkins

What was it like for you creating the series ‘Grandma’s Fans’? 

It is very much an ancestral conversation that is happening, along with my own memories of what growing up in the church has instilled in me – how it has shaped, and at times shamed me. My grandparents’ home is still in our family and much of it remains intact. It’s really hard to create new memories in a space like that which has so many markers of presence, both physically and spiritually. It often leads me to enter into a conversation with things that may never be fully answered. It’s like how I still listen to older music and records – there is so much more I understand from them now that we both have more life in the world. The act of revisiting, be it an album or my grandmother’s house, is a practice that allows me to understand changes in meaning overtime. 

What attracted you to working with portraiture?

I would say that specifically, self-portraiture is at the centre of my work right now. This shift happened after I found myself conflicted with the power dynamics and even weight of ‘shooting’ people with the camera. At the same time, we all look at the plethora of images to understand our narrative in the world. I wasn’t witnessing the nuances of my own life; it was like people like me didn’t really exist in image culture. So, imaging the complexity, strength and the love of my existence became obvious and urgent. The work is not speculative, though I’m interested in exploring that moving forward, but I’d say these thoughts, moments, and places I find myself playing with are within the context of my daily life. I appreciate that portraiture gets to the core of humanness, even though people often come to the work through identity, I think really good portraiture penetrates deeper than that. I never have to say queer and Black; you see that when I image myself. But I still do have to make images that speak to conditions of love, desire, belonging and beauty.

In writing about the series, you mention that it is ‘rapt in moments of contemplation and refusal’. How do you feel this relates to your identity as an artist? 

I think it is what we try to do as artists – in making our work we are constantly wrestling with what we give, what we take or leave on the table, as we draw from our realities and imaginations.

Sydney Mieko King

Your work in the exhibition includes archival photographs of your grandmother. Could you talk a bit about your relationship with her?

My grandma lives on San Juan Island in Washington State. My parents, brother and I visited my grandparents there every summer until around 2016. My mother always said that my interest in art came from her. We used to make chalk drawings together on the cement floor of the garage while I ate Push-Ups from the freezer. One summer I was really invested in growing plants, so we tried to plant tulip bulbs near the mailbox and cared for a tomato plant together. My grandmother lived day-to-day and told us very few stories about her past. Most of the time we would watch movies and TV together or take naps on the couch. Every summer we would get into a fight, and I would spend the rest of my visit trying to make it up to her. She was tough in a way that I couldn’t handle; she had the capacity to ignore and not forgive.  

If she were my age, we would be the same size and shape. Her clothes that didn’t fit my mother I now wear. The two-piece outfits, the tie-dyed gown, the house dress that she’d put on when we drove away each summer, waving from the front steps. When I saw her this summer she faded in and out of consciousness. She still made snappy comments to me and my brother, told us we were ‘being mean to grandma’ when we joked with her at the dinner table. That was her old self, the one that loved us and pushed us away. My mother says that she is silent most days now, too tired to move.

You studied Art and Archaeology at Princeton University. Was this where you first became interested in the potential of the body to create new realities and histories?

The old photo labs at Princeton were right next to the ceramics studio, where a lot of sculpture students would make and leave behind their two-part plaster moulds. There were dozens of moulds of vases, mustard containers, wine glasses and other objects. I started photographing the objects I found there, angling the light so that the objects would appear as three-dimensional casts in my resulting images. I was fascinated by the idea that I could change my perception of objects through photography – to create an almost-tangible form when there was only the absence of one. After a while, I started making my own plaster moulds with a variety of materials, mostly to experiment with form. I would mould apples and oranges from the dining hall, blobs of foam insulation and snow procured from just outside the art building. I was fascinated by the way these objects could switch between two states, a shifting in form that I had begun to relate to my own understanding of identity and how it could be portrayed through photography.

How do you navigate the concept of identity through photography and its relationship to the body?

I view the difficulty of portraying the body through photography as a topographical one. It will always be impossible to fully translate and understand a three-dimensional body by transposing it onto a two-dimensional surface. To re-imagine the medium’s relationship to the body, I started bending my prints, later manipulating the surface of the negative to somehow empathise with or mimic the surface of what I was photographing. Thinking of the plaster mould as a form of proto-photography, I later returned to recording the surface of the body, itself.

Making moulds with plaster requires so much stillness – it is a material used for replicating sculptures for educational purposes, for creating ‘death masks’ of the recently-deceased. When I mould myself in plaster, I try to occupy positions that evoke movement and breath. A bend in the stomach, legs wrapped around each other, or the overlapping parts of the body. It becomes an exercise in trying to hold still, and the inevitability of the object falling off my body with each breath I take. The moulds become an archive of my body over time – a way to understand its shifts. Some moulds that I made a year ago no longer fit; sometimes I cannot remember how I created a particular mould and go through an exercise of ‘trying on’ old positions that my body once occupied.

Keli Safia Maksud

What aspects of your work stand out to you as declarations of identification?

The overarching theme in my practice is the politics of identity. I interrogate state narratives and how they are used to manufacture national identities. It is crucial that I give a sense of my background, as it runs hand in hand with my practice. I was born in Kenya to Tanzanian parents of Muslim and Christian faith, making me a Kenyan-Tanzanian-Muslim-Christian. In addition, having only ever attended British, Canadian and American schools, I cannot deny what Frantz Fanon calls, ‘Presence Europeenne’ as a constitutive element of my identity. How does one postulate a Black and/or African self within a language or discourse in which Blackness is absent? It is a result of this fragmentation in my identity that I find an interdisciplinary approach to art making to be the most accurate and naturalist way of making sense of the world.

With the theme of this issue being Identity, I thought it would be interesting to know your thoughts on the relationship between sound and identity.

Identity is tricky, because it is often thought of as being fixed. In my work I am much less interested in fixed notions of identity and more on in-between, hyphenated, and contradictory spaces between identities. I am interested in how things bleed into each other or are in excess of boundaries that we have built around them. As such, sound allows me to explore these interests because it is omnidirectional and cannot be contained. Working from the space of leakage is generative as it is where I can begin to think about questions of connectivity and cross pollination.

Could you talk a bit about the inspirations behind your work in the exhibition?

For the past two years, I have been researching and deconstructing national anthems from various African countries. When African nations gained independence from European colonial rule, they too were motivated by the ethics of self-determination by adopting new national anthems that would speak to the new ideologies of the independent states. These anthems, however, were composed using European musical conventions (notation, language, and instruments) and many were modelled after former colonial powers, thus exposing the contradictory and hybridised nature of postcolonial subject formation where self-determination both mirrors the former colonial powers while also speaking against the former colonial power. Put differently, these new states continued to use European tools of imagining while also rejecting European ideology.

The outcome of this research has ranged from works on paper to deconstructed sound works of various national anthems. The sound piece for this exhibition is a deconstruction of the Algerian national anthem. Here, I was interested in taking an anthem that is quite revolutionary and militaristic and turning it into something that connects and allows for reflection. I am interested in how sound moves through space and how it feels in the body, so this piece begins in a very high sublime range and gradually drops to a very low piano sound which plays back from a subwoofer, which is really felt in the body and ends with this coming together of voices in some form of a chorus.

Jacky Marshall

What inspired you to start working with photograms?

I have always admired Christian Schad’s Schadographs and was inspired to see what compositions I could make myself. My work is an iterative process combining all the elements of my drawing and photography, and taking my drawings into the darkroom and experimenting with new ways to make pictures was a natural process. At first it was just the poppies and ginkgo leaves, then the drawings I had been working on from Zoom life classes were added. I was drawn to the test strips which I could put together and make new collages. 

What parts of your creative process help you navigate your identity?

The act of making pictures and being creative helps me express myself in ways I could not verbally articulate as a child, and probably still now as an adult. I am creating a new world for myself in my work. 

What is it about blurring the boundary between painting and photography that appeals to you?

I am both a painter and a photographer. I like that I can be working on my paintings and drawings that are quick and gestural, and then take them into the darkroom and make another picture using the two processes and even adding more elements to the photograms at the same time, playing with colour through the darkroom process. Painting and drawing with light instead of paint and ink. Everything for me is available to be used and recycled.  

Qiana Mestrich

Born to parents from Panama and Croatia, how do these cultures influence you and your work?

As an artist of mixed heritage, I consider my work to be transcultural in nature, meaning that it combines elements of more than one culture. I never knew my (Croatian) father, so that is a country and culture that is still very foreign to me. Eventually, I would like to use my art as a framework for discovering and connecting more to this Eastern European identity that is in my DNA.

My mother’s homeland of Panama is a very unique place geographically, it being an isthmus in Central America and the site of the canal that most people know it for. Culturally it is a mix of indigenous, European (Spanish colonial) and African influences as the country was an important centre of the trading of enslaved peoples in that region starting in the 1500s. Given this unique history, upwards of 80% of Panamanians are considered to be Black or ‘mixed race’.

Beginning in the 1830s, another wave of Black migrants came to Panama from Caribbean islands like Jamaica and Barbados – this is when my mother’s family settled in Panama. Somehow my mother’s maiden name is Scottish in origin, which we still haven’t traced back, so this cultural multiplicity is everywhere within my family tree. Genealogy is one aspect of my practice.

I’d love to know your thoughts about how you feel identity impacts knowledge sharing and community building – I know these aspects are a key part of your practice.

I first encountered photography as a teenager in the mid-1990s and I never thought twice about the fact that we studied the work of (mostly white male) artists in class. It wasn’t until I got to college where I took 3 years of colour photo and began to question, ‘where are all the Black photographers and why aren’t we studying them in class?’ 

My confidence as a photographer and connection to the medium was formed when I was able to discover (on my own) the works of artists like Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Andres Serrano and Renee Cox, among other emerging photo-based artists of that time. From there I devoured work by Latin American photographers like Garduno, Bravo, Cravo Neto, Iturbide; obsessed over Japanese photographers like Hosoe, Sugimoto, Moriyama, Miyako; marveled over Black British photographers picturing the diaspora in Europe like Shonibare, Pollard, Fani Kayode, Barnor….the list goes on.

Essentially, I was determined to educate myself about ‘photography’s other histories’ and that is how my blog, Dodge & Burn, was founded. The blog was initially a place for me to digitally hold my knowledge, but then it became a platform for the many photographer interviews I published. It connected me to a global photo community and judging by the feedback I got from my peers and email correspondence from curators, students, and educators, it was something we all needed.

Your piece in the exhibition includes your son – could you talk a bit about your relationship and the inspiration behind the work?

Winston is the oldest of my two children. He’s the son I wished for, and he was so excited to come into this world that he was born a month early. I literally went into labour during my baby shower! Parents can be biased towards their offspring of course but not a day goes by when I don’t marvel at his presence, and I am validated by the many compliments I get from other adults who know him.

The sequence of images I’m showing in the Huxley Parlour group show were taken during an impromptu dance session (which Winston often breaks into) while I was shooting some still life photos in my makeshift outdoor studio on the deck of our home. One of his favourite songs came on and he started doing this dance called the Orange Justice – his limbs were just cutting the summer air and I found it curious how his head just hung down the whole time – a position not typical when performing that dance. 

The sun was blazing above us, and our home’s vinyl siding was the perfect reflector. I fired off multiple frames as I often do when photographing my children because I have to make every millisecond count before they tire of my requests to pose. I was trying to record Winston’s energy, this ecstasy he was in.

In interpreting the spirit of this work, I’m curious about the various (art) historical references that a viewer might apply to these photographs – from the religious (crucifixion) to the profane (lynching) to the technical capture of motion (Muybridge) but ultimately it reminds me of the transcendent experiences of African rituals throughout the diaspora that defy time and space.

Does motherhood influence your creative process at all?

Mothering has influenced my creative process in the sense that it made being an artist more urgent. Caring for two children fuelled my desires to care for and nurture the artist within me.

Shala Miller

How do you feel like your pieces in the exhibition explore the concept of identity?

I believe there is much to be seen and heard within the quotidian, and there are both simple and dynamic poetics of everyday living. Poetics that continue to help me understand the beauty and pain of Black femme adulthood, which in turn helps me understand the world around me. My entire artistic practice is bred from this belief. ‘Play’ is not just an image of myself, a Black female bodied person, beneath a tree and hanging from a tree. It is an image in conversation with my history as a Black female bodied person. It is an image about resistance and finding grounding.

What inspired you to work across text and image?

Working with text and image has been a sort of touchstone of my practice over the years. It’s what led me to video installation and writing for moving image in general. I try to use text as an extension of image making, not separate from it. In ‘Play’ specifically, I was also thinking about ethnographic field work as this image is a part of an ethnographic study I’ve been doing about the epigenetics of trauma and my relationship with my mother. The text beneath the images is a kind of poetry but then also field notes.

How important is transformation to you and your practice?

What gives steam to the engine of my practice and my personhood is being devoted to discovery and being a student of life. And I think with discovery comes transformation, or a kind of repositioning. And that is the sort of thing that I strive for in both my practice and my life.

Cheryl Mukherji

Your work for the exhibition explores transgenerational trauma through interventions in the family album. Does healing play an important part in your practice?

Healing plays as much part in my practice and life as it does with anyone. If the question leans more towards knowing if I have healed (in any way) as part of my practice, I would not have an answer to that mainly because, right now, I am interested in naming things, articulating feelings, and ideas (which is its own way of healing, I believe) more than rushing to fix them.

Are family and psychic inheritance important aspects of your identity as an artist?

Family, transgenerational trauma, and inheritance are recurring themes in my current work which makes them an important aspect of my identity too, because my work is semi-autobiographical. I don’t identify as an artist who is only concerned with and restricted to exploring these themes, but they do shape both me and my work in huge ways.

Diana Palermo

How does spirituality influence your identity as an artist?

Trust and faith are required for both. Being a heavily experimental process-based artist, I find that my fluidly intuitive relationship with materials and the unknown are a bridge. Personally, I will have moments where I feel like I’m conjuring a ghost while working in the darkroom, and moments when the by-products of spiritual rituals feel like sculptures. They influence and inform each other.

What was the inspiration behind the pieces chosen for the exhibition?

In the last year, I’ve thought a lot about the element of fire as an archetype in my life. I’ve been interrogating different symbolic meanings in direct and cryptic ways. I’ve been particularly curious about fire as both creator and destroyer. The poems in the two photographic prints are informed by these inquiries. 

The long exposure lumen print (Incantation 11) is a diaristic document centred around the unknowns of Covid. I was quarantined out of my studio at Columbia University from March 17th until 26th August 2020. The exposure of that print measures that amount of time. I set up the conditions by writing a poem on a sheet of acetate and using it as a transparency by placing it on photo paper and leaving it on the floor for almost 6 months. I don’t think I knew how long it was going to sit alone in that room. In many ways it records my absence and created itself. 

The other piece (Incantation 9) is a poem drawn with a flashlight while kneeling on the darkroom floor. The prints were then developed, and the image was revealed. For me, it speaks to the slow emergence of something new when fire and light are wielded in a balanced and intentioned manner. 

Do you have any rituals as part of your creative process?

I am a pretty methodical person, but when it comes to actually creating the work, it can be somewhat chaotic. I find that my studio set-up and clean-up are extremely ritualistic. I place certain objects and materials in a way that would make me want to use them when I enter or leave. Though the parameters of the pieces are planned, the actions are frenetic and leave a lot of room for fortuity. I find this is much like the relationship one has with spiritual rituals.

How do you see your work as a declaration of identification?

Claiming space as a queer person in otherwise confined spiritual traditions is a declaration. I’ve done a great deal of work both internally and academically unearthing the spirits and stories of queer mystics, gods, and saints. My work is a visceral reclamation of religious archetypes and stories through intuitive actions. Though many of them are created in the dark or in an absence, they are presented in the light with all their history and power like a relic in a museum or chapel.

 

Calafia Sanchez- Touzé

Could you talk a bit about the inspirations behind your series of images in the exhibition? 

The photographs in the show are about the feeling of premature grief. A feeling I’ve long associated with my father and brother. In Mexico, I was surrounded with images of suffering, violence, and martyrdom, mostly in a religious context. I started thinking about how those images might have affected my father as a child and his understanding of his own mortality and sickness. I used crime photographs taken from the local newspaper in Michoacán as references for my portraits, as well as iconic religious postures to position my subjects. 

Has exploring aspects of the body and your family always been an interest of yours? 

I think my study of the body has a lot to do with my fascination with the ways skin can make us think about death. I make images where skin is plump and smooth, folding on itself, and juxtapose it with moments where skin is older and fragile, where it becomes a thin layer that could tear at any moment. Skin shows the body’s proximity to death in its capacity (or lack thereof) to seal the inside from the outside, but it can also show nothing at all.

Gwen Smith

What inspires you to work between photography and painting?

I’m a vessel filled with pictures—sometimes the photographs that I generate are transformed into paintings or collages, and other times they maintain their shape as photographs. This fluidity of media bears traces of my own fugitive existence, the way that I connect my lived experience to a greater genealogy which crosses lines of colour, nationality, and family. I create proof of my own existence through my relation to others- the artwork is my evidence.

How important is archival imagery to you and your practice? Does it help ground your sense of identity at all?

Essentially, I am an archivist: I accumulate images, photographs of family and those who have made me who I am, shots of artworks that have struck me, and use them to chronicle meaning in my life. These images connect to one another, forming threads of belonging and selfhood through a labyrinth winding around the complications of dissociation and Blackness.

‘These artists mark an intractable this. The lens points, more like an ear than an index finger, in the direction of what is felt rather than seen.’ – Justine Kurland

The exhibition runs until October 16th, 2021. 

Discover more here huxleyparlour.com

Ziqian Liu

“props are not only objects, but also something that brings me ‘knowledge’ through photography.”

A faceless woman with black hair is reflected in the round silvery disc of a mirror. Surrounded sometimes by flowers, sometimes by fruit, these photographs are minimalistic and infinitely satisfying. Ziqian Liu is an independent Chinese photographer who developed her self taught practice whilst struggling to find a full-time job after graduation.

Liu explores two main themes within her work. The first examines the “symbiosis between human beings and nature” She states that “to some extent, it can be said that human beings and the rest of the natural world are equal – we live in the same world, breathing the same air, mutual tolerance.” Because of this, she attempts to illustrate a state of harmony between humans and nature within her work.

Secondly, she investigates the theme of perspective. Through her work, she conveys the need to scrutinise the same thing from different angles so one might discover different findings from the ones we already know. While she desires symmetry and order she understands that this is not always possible in an imperfect world. “In her work, the image in the mirror represents the idealised world she wishes to live in, and the integration with the outside is just a reminder to respect and recognise the imbalance in the real world, but also to adhere to the order and principles of our hearts.” NR Magazine joins the artist in conversation.

You have said that you want your photographs to show a peaceful harmony between humans and nature. However, is it even possible to have that said harmony in a post-capitalist society, where even with ethical sourcing the props you use in your images, such as the flowers and fruit, might have had a negative impact on nature?

I think the harmony mentioned still exists.

First of all, the props used in the pictures are all things that will be involved in my life. I will not prepare the props or throw them away for shooting but shoot what is in the home. Flowers are always in my home; they are my good friends. Fruit or vegetables are also on the menu of the day. In fact, when I shoot, I usually use the plant as the subject and myself as the prop. I will not deliberately change the form of the plant for the sake of the picture, but let my body match the inherent posture of the plant.

In the post-capitalist society, knowledge is in an irreplaceable and important position. Of course, I don’t think there is a clear boundary in the scope of knowledge. I think these props are not only objects, but also something that brings me “knowledge” through photography. I gained knowledge about plants while taking care of them, but more important is the change that solitude brought to my heart during shooting. The whole process was very positive and harmonious for me.

You have said you use mirrors in your images because you want to create the feeling of another reality within your work. Mirrors have often been considered as a bridge between reality in both mythology and popular culture, such as Louise Carol’s Alice Through the Looking Glass. Are these cultural stories something that has inspired you? 

In the beginning, it was a very coincidental reason to use mirrors in the images. Originally, I was just taking pictures of plants at home. When I had a rest, I picked up the mirror beside me to look at myself. At that time, I suddenly had the inspiration to try using a mirror in my photography. Later, I found this way of shooting is very interesting, so I stuck with it.

Later, when I saw works in which mirrors appeared, such as movies or even songs, I would feel very familiar, and I would pay special attention to the way mirrors appeared in these works, which sometimes brought me inspiration.

While you consider your work ‘a space that belongs to yourself’, you have also said that you want viewers to be able to imagine that the protagonist of these images can be anyone. Have you ever considered using plus-sized models or models from different backgrounds to create more diversity in your work?

Maybe I won’t consider a model for a few years. All my works are self-portrait to find the most suitable way to get along with myself, which is also the reason and original intention for me to stick to photography.

During the daily shooting, I was alone without any assistant or other people to help me. It is only when I am alone that I am most at peace and inspired to create these images. Sometimes I can only hear my own breathing. I can’t concentrate if I’m talking to people while I’m taking pictures. Secondly, only I have the best idea of what kind of picture I want to finish, such as how high the arm should be raised, how much distance is between me and the mirror, and so on. A very small difference will make a big difference. These details cannot be communicated with the model effectively, so I might insist on completing the work all by myself.

What does identity mean to you as an artist?

For me, identity is the same as occupation. It simply summarises who I am, but does not show the whole of a person. Identity is not important to me.

In fact, I only think that I am taking pictures in the way I love. I am very honoured to be regarded as an artist. This status also encourages me to continue to be myself, not to be disturbed by the outside world, and to shoot more pictures that can bring peace and beauty to the viewer.

You have mentioned your love for flowers many times and you often use them in your work. Do you choose the specific flowers according to their meaning? And if so does that meaning give a hidden message to each photograph? 

To be honest there are no specific choices and no hidden messages. As mentioned in the first question, I only take existing flowers at home. Before I became a photographer, I always go to the flower shop every weekend to pick out some fresh flowers, I enjoyed the vitality of my home very much.

You have stated that you use your artwork as a way to get to know yourself. Do you consider your art as a form of therapy to help you come to terms with your identity in life? 

I quite agree with what you said. I think artistic creation is a way for me to heal myself, just like yoga and meditation, which can bring positive effects to people.

Through photography, I find that the fusion of identity has a lot to do with the change of perspective, and the biggest feeling it gives me is that I can accept myself more easily. Before photography, I was very concerned about my appearance and looked in the mirror to see if there were any flaws that needed to be covered up. But by shooting with a mirror, I had a chance to see myself from different angles, and I discovered that the so-called ‘flaws’ have their own beauty, they are just a normal part of my body. I think the integration of identity has also led to a change in my mindset, a more positive and peaceful self.

Not long ago, I just summoned the courage to face a part of my body in front of the camera – the wrinkles on my stomach. It was the first time that I discovered the beauty of the traditional impression of “flaws”.

You have stated that you wish your work to be apolitical. Do you think that choice comes from a place of privilege, as many artists are unable to separate politics from their work, or is it a necessary choice for your own personal safety?

I don’t pay attention to politics too much in daily life, so the content of my works is mainly about the harmonious coexistence between human and nature, and has nothing to do with politics. But if when the political inspires my expression of desire, I don’t think I will withdraw.

You have said before that you enjoy solitude. Did you find that the pandemic allowed you to be more productive and was a fulfilling period in terms of your art practice? 

Yes, I enjoy solitude. All my work is done in solitude. In my opinion, in art practice, the most productive period is before I found my shooting style, and the most creative and efficient period is in the groping stage.

As more and more pictures are taken, I set higher requirements for myself, hoping that the content and details will be more refined. And I don’t want to be confined by a fixed style, so I try to make some changes on the original basis, so it takes more time to complete a work now than in the past.

What advice do you have for young creatives who want to work with photography? 

It is important to have confidence in ourselves, trying not to imitate. There is no good, bad, beautiful or ugly work. It is enough that the work comes from the heart and is sincere.

Are you working on any specific projects at the moment and what plans do you have for the future? 

I like to let nature take its course and have no plans for the future. Now I am still working steadily on my own works.

Honey and Prue

Blown Tissue

Hassan Kurbanbaev

“Photography is my interlocutor.”

Shining a light on the hidden gems of Uzbekistan, photographer Hassan Kurbanbaev documents and explores the identities of the people and landscapes of his home country. Capturing the spirit of the country’s capital city Tashkent, Kurbanbaev’s also uses photography as a tool to better understand his surroundings. Immersing himself in the country’s emerging generation, his sentimental perspective shines a warm light on the often-overlooked aspects of Uzbek life.

A Soviet republic for the majority of the 20th century, Uzbekistan became independent in 1991, and the country’s history of immigration has made Tashkent a city of great diversity. Kurbanbaev’s body of work reflects this richness of culture, as he documents Tashkent’s youth, inner city spots, rural landscapes and personal portraits. Snapshots of urban life bathed in sunlight, trees caressed by the breeze and locals lost in thought – the photographer’s love for his city stands out in his work.

Kurbanbaev’s work has planted the seeds for a new era of liberated image-making in Uzbekistan. Championing authenticity and showcasing his heritage, he speaks into existence a new kind of artistic expression for the Uzbek photography scene and inspires other emerging artists to do the same.

NR Magazine speaks with the photographer to learn more about the history of artistic censorship in Uzbekistan, the blossoming photography scene, and Kurbanbaev’s exploration of his country’s identity.

When did you first start getting into photography? 

I took up photography while studying at the Tashkent State University of the Arts, where I entered the Faculty of Cinematography in the early 2000s. Now it’s slightly difficult to call this university a full-fledged education, but at the time we had a photography course that helped me understand that it was something I’d be passionate about in the future. After graduation, I didn’t immediately become a photographer in the full sense of the word. I worked for several years in radio and did various jobs, but eventually returned to photography as a profession. I guess I understood photography as something that made my existence useful and conscious.

You’ve mentioned being ‘full of questions’ about your ‘identity as a citizen of Uzbekistan’ – as this issue of the magazine is about identity, I’d love to delve deeper into your thoughts about that. 

I think that I, like a lot of other people from the post-Soviet era, experience this feeling of uncertainty about questions concerning the concept of self-representation, a homeland and community really means for us.

Uzbekistan with its modern borders was formed by Joseph Stalin, who personally laid out every centimetre of the border. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan retained a totalitarian-type, autocratic, harsh regime that was present for many years, which of course stopped any real understanding of yourself and the place you live. Instead of turning to a critical study of history and our national identity, we turned to propaganda and a constant zombification of Uzbekistan being ‘a country with a great past and a great future’. You just don’t believe what you’re being told – something inside you resists. My childhood in the 90s was when Uzbekistan became independent, and at the start there was still a sense of freedom – the borders opened, we had MTV, and I was definitely shaped by that feeling of freedom.

Uzbekistan slowly started to return to its old ways, which prevented us from accepting ourselves as part of the country. I come from the south-west of Tashkent, where they mostly speak Russian, and I was also raised in a Russian-speaking environment, so this was also part of what confuses me about my identity. These internal conflicts have haunted me all my life. Photography helps me to constantly examine my country from different angles and to seek the truth, even if it’s not something I reflect in my work. Photography is my interlocutor.

Your work, and ‘Untitled (Portrait of Uzbekistan)’, stands out as an exploration of your country and the things that unite it. Has documenting the people and places of your home uncovered anything in particular for you? Have any specific moments resonated with you?

Yes, I think my love and respect has grown for the people living in the provinces and small towns. They are very hardworking and good people, able to withstand many hardships that life has presented them with. I don’t know if I reflect the determination of their spirit in my photography, but when you are with them, you definitely feel it.

Your work is the first I’ve encountered of its style that details life in Uzbekistan. It is clear that life in the rural parts of the country is often overlooked – is that something you wanted to change through creating the series? 

From a visual archive stance, modern Uzbekistan and personal photography in particular lacks a solid foundation. By and large, Uzbekistan is well represented in the colonial view of the past few centuries, and as an almost ideal picture from the Soviet Union, but in contemporary photography, there are only a few series from local photographers that have an impact on the Uzbek photography scene. Personally, I couldn’t name more than three people that have gained recognition documenting Uzbekistan or that have had their work published in books. The country itself is interesting to me and as I travel, I learn more and try to share this experience. To me, it seems that now is the time for local photographers to document their city, or anywhere they feel connected to. The most important thing is expressing your opinion and your viewpoint as much as possible – this is the only way to form a new community of photographers, and a community in Uzbekistan, which I think should then be transformed into an institution.

As a photographer, how do you find life in Uzbekistan? 

Only from about 2016 did I feel motivated to work here as a photographer. The country has changed for the better over the years, but some reformation processes have slowed down.

Most of the photographs in the series are portraits, but there are also poignant still lifes, as well as sprawling landscapes – does the natural environment and the Uzbek landscape have a big impact on you? 

I am not a naturalist or a landscape photographer, but I do love nature, and sometimes I find it necessary to spend some time in solitude with it. Landscapes and still lifes are just a continuation of the study of my country through the eternal images of nature.

Do you ever find it hard to explore your creative freedom given such a long history of censorship where you’re from? 

Yes, it happens constantly. Some artists I know still have a fear of putting themselves at risk with their work. At the same time however, I think that now is the time to act on and explore topics that wouldn’t have been possible previously. I don’t limit myself in what I do, but I know that at any moment everything could change. You never know what tomorrow might bring.

The 139 Documentary Centre in Tashkent has become an important place for the photography scene in Uzbekistan. Could you talk a bit about its impact on you? 

It would have been impossible to imagine this centre opening a few years ago. It is a small but important organization that is finally really engaged in visual research of Uzbekistan, through documentary photography and exhibitions of young artists. The centre has helped support artistic freedom, which has been much needed for the arts community in the country for many years. I’m very glad that I held my first solo exhibition here.

What has it been like over the years having more freedom to document what you want? Has there been a noticeable difference in your creative process now to back when you first got into photography? 

It has not been an easy journey, and I feel like I’m just at the beginning of it. Photography is a plastic medium and requires constant commitment. I am changing along with the country. In other words, this is my evolution – from an amateur fashion and stock photographer, to rethinking my work, understanding the key moments, and constantly learning in my profession.

You’ve mentioned how important it is for Uzbek artists to document and speak about Uzbekistan. How else does identity and your hometown Tashkent inspire and influence your work? 

I’m an introvert, and sometimes to get some time away from everything, I walk for hours in the city, in the courtyards or along the road. It has always helped me in the worst moments of my life, especially as a teenager. Tashkent has always been my friend. In 2016 I returned to photography after a break, I began to photograph my own city and its youth. This helped me return to my profession. If all Uzbek artists address their community, it would be so cool – we really need a variety of stories! But then again, I know that a main problem is money. Young artists don’t have money to fund their own projects, and I often experience these problems myself.

How has the pandemic affected Tashkent? 

2020 was a frightening reality for the whole world. Like the rest of the country, Tashkent, was no exception. The pandemic obviously affected the economy and peoples’ way of living. For example, we had economic migration to Russia and Kazakhstan, and many people were unable to work to earn money for their families. I don’t know how they survived.

What do you anticipate for the future of Uzbek photography? 

I think in five or six years you’ll recognise some great projects from new artists in Uzbekistan. We live in a time where we can use a platform like Instagram to help realise and share our thoughts and ideas. I think that if censorship doesn’t return to my country, then our future is bright. But in general, being an artist in Uzbekistan is hard.

What inspires you about other Uzbek artists? 

This is a great question! If we’re talking about photography, there are some young photographers that I follow on Instagram who I met at the 139 Documentary Centre. They work in the same genre of subjective documentary, and there is a lot of personal touch to their stories, which inspires me the most.

Your series ‘Logomania’ explores how signs and symbols of Western culture have become deeply embedded in the daily lives of people in Uzbekistan, and you’ve commented on how this has had a devastating effect on your country. Could you talk a bit more about this and the ‘crisis of self-identification’ that you’ve mentioned?  

After almost a century-old totalitarian regime, Uzbekistan gained freedom, but at the same time there was an increase in the uncontrolled import of poor-quality goods. This is how the market was formed, influencing our perception of beauty and prosperity, and it strongly influenced the emerging culture of Uzbekistan.

Globalization and the lack of vital improvements in education made us dependent on everything Western, and as a result, we formed a mediocre culture of self-identification that was reflected in everyday life. For the series I looked at this problem through the lens of everyday fashion, which is fascinating to me. In these gold Gucci patches on the velour local dressing gowns, I saw everything I mentioned above.

What do you value most about Uzbek culture? Do you have any favourite people or places to photograph? 

I appreciate their modesty, humility and their great love for life. I appreciate the strength of our people who bring goodness and light into this unjust reality. I am still exploring my country, so whatever I photograph now becomes my favourite place.

Do you have a particular process when shooting or is it just something that comes naturally to you? 

It depends on the projects, for example, Logomania is a completely staged project, but most of the time my process is candid – my friend and I collect backpacks with cameras and travel without a specific aim in mind.

Are you working on any projects at the moment? 

Yes, I am working on a new project that investigates the changes in Uzbekistan 2016 to the present day.

Discover Hassan Kurbanbaev’s work here hassankurbanbaev.com

Erwin Wurm

“Absurdity helps me to clarify, to make the view clear”

Have you ever seen a fat car? Maybe a thin house? It sounds like the start of a joke but for Austrian artist Erwin Wurm, who has spent much of his career exploring sculpture, space and the human form, it is a way to gain a new perspective or understanding of the world around us. While Wurm uses humour as a tool to get peoples attention, ultimately his work is intended to prompt people to look at things more carefully.

With one of his most well-known works, One Minute Sculptures, viewers are invited to take part in and become the artwork themselves. Wurm provides handwritten instructions accompanied by cartoon-like drawings so that viewers can pose with everyday objects, often in absurd and humorous ways.

Wurm states that “I am interested in the everyday life. All the materials that surrounded me could be useful, as well as the objects, topics involved in contemporary society. My work speaks about the whole entity of a human being: the physical, the spiritual, the psychological and the political.” NR Magazine joined the artist in conversation.

Much of your work revolves around the concept of consumerist excess and gluttony. Does your work critique the people who are manipulated to consume in such an excessive way or the capitalist society that entices and forces them to do so? 

It doesn’t critique the people, it critiques the system and the idea of the system. But on the other side, it wasn’t only a critique. I was working on the notion of sculpture and what does it mean to make a sculpture. Then I came to some basic questions, when I make something I add volume and take volume away. When we gain and lose weight we do the same, so you could say gaining and losing weight is a sculptural thing. I found this strange absurd relation interesting. The sculptural issue was always combined with the social issue. Sometimes it’s more a critique of consumerism, sometimes it’s addressing questions about our entire life, and psychology, and all these things.

One of your most well-known series of works is One Minute Sculptures in which viewers pose with objects to become ephemeral sculptures. As these ‘sculptures’ are then captured with photography what separates them from say, an image on social media with someone posing in a similar way? What makes one a ‘sculpture’ and the other simply a funny image? 

Well first, I started doing them in 1992 far before social media existed. At the time I invited people to follow my instructions and I made little drawings so people could realise the sculpture. It was an attempt to democratise the concept, so everybody can be a part of the art piece. So I invited the public to follow these instructions and at that time we offered mainly, at the exhibitions, Polaroid photographs. So they would have a Polaroid taken of them and then they would go home with it.

This was far before social media existed, but then social media came and now everyone comes into my shows with mobile phones and takes selfies. But it’s cool, it’s great, and they transport them out into the world. And many people know my work. I was surprised that this became a success because as an artist you always have doubts. I was very surprised that it became so successful.

You consider the physical act of gaining and losing weight as a sculptural gesture. Is the intention for your work simply to explore the sculptural form of gaining and losing mass or is it a greater commentary of the danger and damage diet culture causes? 

I was playing with this diet culture because I remember when I was younger, it started in the 70s, there were these photographs about gaining weight. These double portraits with one slim one fat. I turned it around and made a portrait of one slim one fat, so I was playing with the important questions of daily life. Important questions which everybody and all these magazines were dealing with.

You are known for using humour to explore serious topics in your art. Do you think that people these days, particularly the younger generation, see using humour as a coping mechanism as part of their collective identity? If so how do you think that affects how they approach the creative sphere?

My humour comes from the idea of the absurd. I’m very influenced by the absurd like Beckett, Ionesco, and all the others. Also, the idea of paradox, looking from the paradox and the absurd angle to view our world and maybe see something else, something different. This is necessary because our world is fucked up, and in a very bad condition, and it gets worse and worse.

“I think we have to start making steps back and look at what we are doing.”

Where we have brought the world and how we will treat our world in the future. Absurdity helps me to clarify, to make the view clear in a way. And humour is a part of absurdity, yes. Sometimes humour is a good thing to use, but not always because I’m not a joke teller. I don’t want to become someone who is just telling jokes. I want to be taken seriously, even though sometimes I use humour as a certain method.

You often extend and alter reality in intriguing, humorous and disturbing ways. Do you think viewers connect with your work because there is a common desire for escapism in a post-capitalist society?

Maybe? But frankly, I never thought about this very seriously because I’m more intrigued by my work. I feed into my own work and my own universe. I try to get the best out of it and then I show it to the public and they discuss it. They love it or they hate it or whatever but I am more focused on my work and not so much the reaction of my work.

So you say you dive into your universe, how would you describe that?

I create certain issues in my work and certain quality criteria. I always try to get better and it’s getting worse and then it’s getting better and then not. So it’s a constant fight. It’s a daily fight with my work and the rules inside my work, the different components and the quality aspects that I’m fighting for. Sometimes it goes very easy and very smooth and sometimes it’s very edgy and complicated. Sometimes I don’t get to the point and I don’t even know where the point is. The point is disappearing and I have no idea what I’m doing. Then desperation is following and then it’s releasing again and it’s constant up and down. But I think every artist can give you this same answer. Because an artists life is not like you know what you are doing and you just do it. It’s full of doubts and shortcuts in a way. That makes it exciting, but also exhausting sometimes.

Do you have a specific way you approach your work, say from coming up with an idea to seeing it to fruition?

Yeah so when you work a lot, you get more and more ideas. I never run out of ideas, but it’s whether they are good or not. I write them down and make little notes and little drawings in little booklets. I look at them after a certain time and when I find something interesting I make a mark of it. Then I go on with it and I come back and forwards and backwards. In one moment I think “Oh that’s a good idea I could do something out of this”, and then I have to decide “What do I do?” Do I make a photograph, or a video, or a 3D sculpture, or a drawing, or a painting, or whatever? So that’s a second process and this lasts sometimes a long time, sometimes a year or more, and others times it goes very quick. It depends on my mood or my idea.

Your work deals with philosophy drawing inspiration from philosophers from the early twentieth century. Is there a philosopher or philosophy that stands out particularly when it comes to your work as a whole?

Well yes, because I’m Austrian there were always two guys who were very influential on me. One isn’t actually a philosopher but a psychologist, Sigmund Freud of course. The inventor of psychoanalysis, he’s Viennese.  The other is Liechtenstein, who was a linguist describing and trying to make order of the world through language. Just the opposite of Sigmund Freud which is very interesting too.

For other people, if you go back to Montaigne who was a philosopher from the Renaissance. By writing about the world, just by writing about himself and his family, and his needs and necessities, and his desires and his longings, that made him write about the world. It’s so interesting because that’s what artists are doing.

“When we make work about us, in a way we mean the world.”

When it’s functioning well, it’s accessible for many people. if it’s just a story about your grandmother nobodies interested, but if you’re able to lift up a story that is accessible to many people, then it’s interesting.

How do you find that then comes out in your work?

That’s a good question. How do I know? Sometimes I have the feeling it works well, and then not. It’s a constant doubt, yes. That’s the fight that I was talking about before.

What advice do you have for young creatives?

Oh my God, go on! Don’t believe anybody! Because so many people gave me advice and much of it was good but also much of it was not good. So be critical with what you hear and what drives you. Be critical with yourself, and be critical with the world, and try to make it better every single day, and don’t give up. Don’t give up, go on. People will tell you “Oh there are so many artists in the world we don’t need another one” or “You will never make a living out of this.” I heard this always. Just go on. Just trust yourself. You really want to do it then do it. If you have doubts then stop and try to have a better life somewhere else. And I mean having doubts in the general idea of becoming an artist, not having doubts about the work you are doing.

Are you working on any projects at the moment and what plans do you have for the future? 

Oh, I have several shows coming up. I’m not able to go, but we made a show with augmented reality. They scan sculptures and then they transform them. You can go there and there is a QR code on the floor, and you see this sculpture pop up. Sometimes it’s very large and you can walk around them. I will be there on a flying carpet as an augmented reality also. It’s an experiment we did this recently and it was quite successful. In the fall I will do some other shows, so it’s going well, it’s going good! I have a lot to do, it’s very exciting. I’m looking forward to being able to have exhibitions and openings which I can go to.

Ed Templeton

“Every time I forget my camera, I have regretted it. Life isn’t worth living if I can’t take a photo of it.”

A respected cult figure in skateboarding culture, Ed Templeton’s photography takes inspiration from the subculture he is a part of and its suburban roots. Born in Orange County, a sprawling suburb of Los Angeles, the world champion professional skateboarder and founder of the iconic skate company Toy Machine has exhibited his work across Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, Belgium, Vienna, the UK and more. His work is also housed in LACMA’s permanent collection, and he has published over 20 books of his work.

Templeton started his professional skating career in the early 90s, and soon ventured into the world of photography, documenting his friends, surroundings, and the antics that followed the subculture. In the mid to late 90s, Templeton found himself on the frontline of a cutting-edge mixture of personal expression and social documentary. Developing this into a vast and distinct body of work, Templeton has become a household name in the world of contemporary street photography, with his most notable work ‘Wires Crossed’ being part memoir, part documentation of the DIY, punk-infused subculture of skateboarding as it blossomed between the 90s and early noughties.

Giving us an insider’s look at a subculture in the making and confirming his capabilities as a visual artist, Templeton’s work has achieved a signature style that has emerged from the skateboarding world he helped establish. Templeton’s approach to street photography and documenting youth culture recalls the iconic work of Larry Clark, Jim Goldberg, and Nan Goldin, and is fuelled by the raw energy of the skate scene and all of its grit and glory.

NR Magazine speaks with Templeton about his life’s work, his thoughts on life on the West Coast and his identity as an artist.

 

What initially attracted you to working with photography?

In my former life as a professional skateboarder, I was surrounded by photographers whose job it was to take photos of me skating and I was always interested in their cameras, how they worked and was generally immersed in the world of film and photography through them. But it wasn’t until I was exposed to photobooks by Nan Goldin, Larry Clark and Mary Ellen Mark that I really started to see photography in a different way.

I had always had a camera for taking tourist snaps, but after seeing those books I mentioned, and work from people like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand, I realised the power of a good documentary photograph. And like any 22-year-old boy, I thought maybe I could do it too. I was traveling the world with some hard-living folks acting like rock stars on the road and I had that personal ‘a-ha moment’ where I decided to document what it was like to be a pro skateboarder from my perch on the inside.

I’ve tried my luck at skateboarding in the past, but for me, I think starting as an adult I’d already developed this strong sense of fear that I struggled to overcome on the board. Did you ever feel this kind of apprehension when starting your artistic career or was it something that just came naturally to you?

A friend once asked me where I get the gall to put artwork out into the world. I think he meant it as a criticism, as in, ‘why do you think what you do is up to the standards of true art and so confidently offer it?’ I think he considered my artwork naive. I thought about it and was aware that compared to many of the artists I admired, my work was naive. I think my answer to him was that one needs to have a certain amount of delusion built into them to get them over that self-critical hump. When you put what you do out onto the chopping block, there’s always someone ready to chop. But there is also always someone who may connect with what you have done and appreciate it, so you do it for those people.

I think years later when you look back on your own work, you should be embarrassed a bit, because hopefully you have evolved and improved. So yes, I have felt apprehensive about my work, but I’ve tried to operate in the spirit of putting one leg in front of the other and to keep moving in a positive, evolutionary direction.

Skateboarding and Toy Machine has been such a huge part of your life and your identity. With your creative pursuits – photography in particular – have you ever felt the need to establish a specific style or aesthetic? Obviously when you first started you were documenting the subculture you were part of. Was that always your aim?

My aim at the beginning was to document skateboarders, but once I had a camera on my shoulder 24-7, that narrow scope quickly widened and whatever was in front of me became fair game to be photographed. My aim regarding style was always Henri Cartier-Bresson, and in that way the aesthetic I was after has always been very pared down – no frills.

Cartier-Bresson was the quintessential documentary photographer known for being a master of composition and shooting ‘The Decisive Moment.’ I still prefer black and white photos over colour. I shoot with a Leica M6 and a 50mm lens with no filters or adornments, not unlike Cartier-Bresson. When shooting, I try to blend into the crowd and quietly shoot like a fly on the wall. Just the basics: get close, make a quick composition, shoot, then keep walking.

I feel like I wasn’t consciously trying to adopt a specific style, because by default there was no way my work could mimic Cartier-Bresson, Larry Clark or Robert Frank because I was living in a different time period with totally different subjects and surroundings. I did decide to generally shoot in black and white, and to keep it very simple. Starting in 1994 when I started shooting skateboard culture, I was simultaneously shooting many different long-term projects that have continued until this day.

Another aesthetic thread in my work is the idea of writing and painting on the prints. That is a departure from the Cartier-Bresson ethos, he would have frowned on the idea of drawing attention away from the photo itself. But for me, the print itself is an object to be used in any way possible to convey the story you want to tell, even if that means some contextual text or some decoration will elevate it to another level. Artists like Peter Beard, Jim Goldberg, later Robert Frank, David Hockney and Allen Ginsberg all used the photographic print as a starting point to make new types of artwork.

Your documentary project ‘Wires Crossed’ is essentially your life’s work, and you’ve got plans to publish and exhibit it at some point. How do you feel when reflecting on this long-term venture?

It’s a daunting task trying to edit down the five thousand photographs that I have collected over the last 27 years, scattered over all types of formats into a relatively concise, readable, cohesive story. I have had to break it down into themes like ‘Fame in a Microcosm’, ‘Self-Medication’, ‘Lust’, ‘Injuries’, etc. In this way I was able to craft chapters that tell the stories I’m trying to convey photographically on those topics. I have also dredged my journals from those periods so some contemporaneous stories and texts scanned directly from the pages will be included along with the photos.

What have been your favourite places to photograph?

No place jumped into my mind immediately. It’s really fun shooting in Japan. It’s a camera culture so people don’t seem weirded out when you are taking photos there. Any place where I can just walk and shoot is my favourite – even my own hometown.

Your project ‘Memory Foam’ reflects on life in Huntington Beach, California. What stands out to you most about beach culture and suburban life on the West Coast?

Suburbia is a fucked-up place, and Huntington Beach is hyper-fucked. It was through world travel that I wanted to look at where I lived in the same way I see a new country. Each time I would come back from a month abroad, I would marvel at the size of Los Angeles and its surrounding exurbs. The freeways are so wide, there’s a seemingly never-ending sprawl. The things we take for granted because we grew up here are things that a first-time visitor here might marvel at, like I do when I see a cool sign or experience a new custom in Asia or Europe.

Orange County, where Huntington Beach is located, was built on the ‘White Flight’ leaving Los Angeles in the late 50s, and those roots are evident, as this county is a conservative stronghold in a mostly liberal state (there’s plenty of white supremacists and their sympathizers here). Over the last four years as American society as a whole has become more antagonistic and belligerent, my hometown has become a surreal ‘idiocracy’ on one hand, and then on the other it’s a beautiful paradise that many people around the world would saw off their right arm if it meant they could live here.

Let me give you an example. As the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic raged, we had the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing racial justice protests in cities all over the world. A BLM protest planned for Huntington Beach spurned a ‘Defend Huntington Beach’ counter-protest in response organised by Tito Ortiz, a well-known retired MMA fighter. The popularity of his ‘Defend Huntington Beach’ movement launched him into a run for city council, where he overwhelmingly won a seat and was named mayor pro-tem. Of course, he is anti-vaccine, thinks Covid is a ‘plandemic’, and refused to wear a mask at the council meetings. We basically had our own mini-Trump here inside Huntington Beach city government like a bull in a china shop.

Naturally, he resigned months later after realising running a city is actual work, and he couldn’t take the constant heat his antics provoked. Each weekend at our pier there’s a mini rally by adherents of some disgruntled group, usually a combination of Pro-Trump/Anti-Covid/Anti-Vax/Extremists that yell at people as they walk by on their way to the beach. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive to all of this, but that is what I want to document. The dichotomy of this place is essentially a microcosm of the whole United States. I think my series started off as a sincere and earnest documentation of my local environment and has ended up being a critical look at human nature.

Whenever I end up publishing this work, I think it will reflect a love/hate relationship with my hometown.

With the theme of this issue being Identity, I’d love to know how you see yourself as the person behind the lens.

I see myself differently at any given moment. Sometimes I see my physical reflection in a window and I’m horrified, revealing that perhaps my mind’s eye sees a younger version of myself and I’m shocked at the creature I inhabit currently. It probably effects how I approach shooting photos in the streets because I am hyper aware of what I might look like to an outsider as I am walking around with a camera.

“One moment I am shooting in a spirit of celebrating human nature, another I have turned cynical and critical.”

The identity I imagine myself having is certainly different than the identity I actually have in this space. But to answer the question more directly, when I’m behind the lens I try to see myself as an inquisitive onlooker. Not a passive onlooker, but a participant in society – a member who happens to be using a camera, which isn’t so strange anymore since we all have them in our pockets now.

If you could select a handful of works that capture the essence of your creative vision, what would they be?

Photographically, something like my last major book ‘Tangentially Parenthetical’ would probably the closest thing to the essence of what I’m trying to do currently. Of course, that essence is evolving, and I’m sure the forthcoming ‘Wires Crossed’ book will be the closest I can get to my creative vision, since it’s the body of work that got me into photography in the first place.

A lot of your work is in black and white. What attracts you to working with this aesthetic?

I think colour is amazing, but for me, more often than not when I shoot in colour, I wish the photos I got would have been in black and white. Once in a while, the colour pops and makes the photo even better, but often the colour comes off garish or gaudy. I prefer to strip everything down to the essentials. Maybe I have a strong infection of nostalgia in me. There is a timelessness to black and white that I like.

There’s also a practical reason – in my home darkroom I am not set up for colour. I tried once but it was a big hassle, and the chemicals are much more toxic. So, with black and white I can do everything from home which is nice.

Your work also features more intimate pictures of your wife, Deanna. Does your visual approach change at all when working with someone closer to you?

I don’t think it does. I have a camera on me when I’m out, and there’s always one laying around when I’m at home. So just like if I were out in public and something visually interesting happens and makes me want to shoot it, the same applies when I’m at home.

If something happens that is out of the ordinary, let’s say Deanna is vacuuming the house nude for some reason, I’ll shoot that because it might be funny or interesting to me, but it also might translate into a photograph that speaks to the domestic experience and will resonate with others who have a similar shared experience.

I suppose my approach at home is more sensitive, although if this body of work ever comes out, it will be a fairly unflinching look at married life. The work is called ‘Suburban Domestic Monogamy’.

Would you say that being transgressive and incorporating a DIY aesthetic into your work are important aspects of your identity?

I have this one identity as a pro skateboarder of 22 years, and another as an artist, and they overlap to some degree. Through my skateboard company Toy Machine’s graphics and advertisements, I have always tried to poke holes in the whole idea of selling and marketing something you love and care about, it seems so crass, so I made it into a joke about brainwashing our loyal pawns into doing our bidding, using language that Nike or Amazon only wishes they could use!

We have a ‘Consumer Control Centre’ with its own logo, and it’s all about forcing consumers into blindly buying only our products. Our fans are in on the joke. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

“It’s just skateboarding – but Skateboarding is our life! I’d like to think the same applies to the art world.”

It’s just art, but art is our life! It’s all for fun and enjoyment but it’s also our life blood and the thing that keeps us going, so I think there’s a built-in spirit of transgression in what I do that stems from skateboard culture, and of course a do-it-yourself attitude is also endemic.

On the spectrum of transgression, I feel like I’m pretty mild. I wouldn’t say that anything I do ‘breaks the rules’ in some heroic way, but I think it does break down the façade between the artist and audience or company and the customer. We are all part of the same community. There’s no hierarchy – or at least there shouldn’t be.

Have you ever thought about dabbling in other creative fields?

I have been recruited as a commercial film director, but I never pursued it seriously as of yet. I dabble in commercial photography here and there. I would like to get into proper filmmaking, and I might do OK in marketing since I do that already on a small scale for Toy Machine.

Are there any particular works that resonated with you when you first got into photography?

I mentioned Goldin and Clark, but once I got into photobooks there was a cavalcade of falling in love with so many photographers’ work! Anders Petersen, Tom Wood, Susan Meiselas, Jane Evelyn Atwood, Graciela Inturbide, Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, Peter Beard, Jim Goldberg, Bill Burke, Burk Uzzle, Josef Koudelka – there’s too many.

More specifically I’d say that ‘Raised By Wolves’ by Jim Goldberg, ‘Brooklyn Gang’ by Bruce Davidson, ‘Falkland Road’ by Mary Ellen Mark, ‘At Twelve’ by Sally Mann, ‘Nicaragua’ and ‘Carnival Strippers’ by Susan Meiselas, ‘Streetwise’ by Mary Ellen Mark, and of course ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ by Nan Goldin, and ‘Teenage Lust’ by Larry Clark were some books that really hit home for me. Those are ones off the top of my head.

What things have inspired you recently?

I discovered Tom Wood – see ‘All Zones Off Peak’ and ‘Bus Odyssey’. All work by Mark Steinmetz, Alec Soth and Gregory Halpern. More recently I have discovered older work but new to me from John Humble, Sage Sohier, and Larry Fink. There are also some young photographers making great work that are really cool; Daniel Arnold in New York, William Galindo in Los Angeles, Jake Ricker and Austin Leong in San Francisco, Billy ‘Captain Soncho’ Williams in Orange County. Deadbeat Club Press is publishing a lot of great photographers’ first books. It’s not new, but I’m also really getting into the German New Objectivity movement, especially Otto Dix. There’s a painter in Los Angeles you should check out named Kevin Christy.

What’s your usual approach when taking a photograph?

I prefer to go completely unnoticed. Usually, I am just walking by at full speed and shooting as I go. Sometimes it’s a direct approach where I walk up and start shooting and start a conversation. Sometimes I ask for a portrait, but mostly I just shoot and keep walking, and most of the time I am not seen.

Have there been moments when you’ve regretted not bringing a camera with you?

Every time I forget my camera, I have regretted it. Life isn’t worth living if I can’t take a photo of it. I say that jokingly but that is really how I feel. Even if I forget the camera, I still have my iPhone and can shoot photos, but only for Instagram. I don’t use digital photos in books or shows, although there have been a few exceptions. I did a very tiny book with a French publisher of some of my digital photos from before I had an iPhone as a special project, and a few years back I did an exhibition at Pilgrim Surf Shop in Japan of my #DailyHBpierPhoto shots from Instagram.

Have there been any difficult moments you’ve had to overcome when taking certain photographs?

I have had some strange moments, but nothing too crazy. I shot some teenagers fighting in Huntington Beach once, and in theory as the adult present, I should have broken it up, but it was so damn stupid how it started and what it was about that I figured they deserved to fight each other.

Another time in Barcelona I shot the police roughing up a suspect as they were trying to arrest him. They banged his head on the side of the police car. One of the cops saw me and made me give him my film. I wasn’t in the mood to make a stink about it, so I just handed it over. Luckily, I had just put a new roll in so I didn’t lose anything special.

Do you have any daily rituals or habits that help you stay creative?

I get up each day and procrastinate for way too long, then check my emails, and whatever is the most pressing or has the most looming deadline is what gets worked on. It may be graphics for Toy Machine, a painting, drawing, or organizing the photo archive. It’s in constant need to improvement, even when I’m not shooting as much. Covid has slowed down my photo taking, but not my archiving and editing.

I need to adopt a daily ritual; I think that would be very helpful for me. Maybe I could spend 30 minutes making a drawing every day? But think of the 365 drawings you’d have if you stuck with it.

Looking back on your career, both as a creative and a skateboarder, would you take the opportunity to do anything differently?

In hindsight I would have started skating and making art earlier. If I could go back in time and find a young Ed, I’d tell him, among many other things, to start making art now, start skating now, and keep a journal. I keep a spotty one, mostly for travels, but it’s not philosophical, it’s just the bare facts of each day. The people who know where they want to go tend to get there over time, so an early start helps.

I don’t have a lot of major regrets that I’d want to change. It would just be small things, dead ends that I may have avoided. But having said that, those dead ends, and mistakes are what forms you into the person you are. Can you imagine going through life never making a mistake? I wonder if anyone has. Mistakes are learning experiences.

What can we expect from you in the future?

In the near future I have a book of my drawings coming out in December published by Nazraeli Press. In January 2022 I will have a solo show of my paintings tentatively titled ‘The Spring Cycle’ at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles, and I’ll take part in a group show at Tim Van Laere gallery in Belgium.

Later in 2022 the ‘Wires Crossed’ book will come out, published by Aperture in the fall. The ‘Wires Crossed’ exhibition will start in the Netherlands in 2023 at the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht. We have plans to travel the exhibition both in Europe and in the USA. After that, it’s safe to expect some more photobooks!

Discover Ed Templeton’s work here ed-templeton.com