SHOOTING WITH INTENTION: BRANDON GETTY

Shooting With Intention is a series of interviews by Elephant Gun photographer Kevin O'Meara.  This week, he interviews Stockton, CA photographer Brandon Getty about his publication "Maps to Stockton: Volume One"

 

 

If I recall correctly in the Findrangers interview, you started shooting skateboarding first and it evolved from there. How has skateboarding changed how you look at photography?

Countless hours of flipping through skateboard magazines showed me that photography could be used as a documentary and narrative tool. In every issue there's a photo-heavy feature article that documents a team trip, tour or event. In between the full-bleed photos of tricks there were smaller portraits of the skaters, snapshots of hijinx, and maybe a few landscape photos that helped round out the article. I didn't really think about the amount of work that went into the article by the photo and design staff, I just liked the images because they told a story and gave a glimpse into a lifestyle that I was pretty obsessed with at the time. I might have learned the same lesson from old issues of LIFE or National Geographic, but those weren't on my radar as a 13 year-old skate kid.

When I started carrying disposable cameras on skate trips, I just tried to mimic the photos I saw in the magazines. Of course most of my first images were just blurred frames of us pushing from spot to spot or low-angle wannabe fisheye shots, but I didn't mind. Just having the 4x6 prints, all neatly arranged in the order that I shot them, was good enough for me.

Skateboard photography is a great teacher in terms of form and timing. It taught me to respect composition and be meticulous, to consider the edges of the frame carefully, and give what's happening in the background just as much attention as the skater and the trick. I've made it a habit to ask myself, "Why am I including this in the frame? What does it convey about the trick and/or subject?” I try to compose until I have good answers to both questions, but even then things don't always work. I'm not as deliberate when I'm out shooting on the street, but that concern for composition is always there.

What photographers do you look at on a regular basis and how does their work influence you? What are some of the publications that have affected you the most?

I've always liked photographers that work close to home, whether out of desire or necessity. Looking at your everyday surroundings with a fresh perspective and consistently producing new work is challenging, so I really respect those who have that ability.

An big early influence was Daniel Weiss, a New York-based street photographer. I discovered Daniel before learning about all of the established figures of the genre, so his style was brand new to my eyes. He blends sincerity and wry humor really well, so you get a view of New York that is warm and lighthearted. Matt Weber is a predecessor to Daniel and just as influential to me, but in a way that has more to do with the overbearing and claustrophobic nature of the city. I don't own books by either of them, but I'm always lurking their websites.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a BBC documentary about James Ravilious that blew my mind. Beginning in 1972 he spent roughly 17 years documenting the rural English community of North Devon, just leaving his house and walking the dirt roads to socialize with the farmers and their families. His work is a record of a way of life that no longer exists in North Devon, so there are threads of melancholy and impermanence tangled up in its beauty. Any time I shoot into the sun, and I do a lot, it's because of James Ravilious and his book “An English Eye”.

It seems like I find a handful of incredible photographers, all with archives that I need to delve into or zines/books I need to buy, every single day. Thanks to Tumblr I've come across current favorites like Stephen B. SmithMissy Prince, Alex JD Smith, and Ed Panar. I've been photographing people less and less over the past year, and their work reminds me that that's okay.

A lot of everyday inspiration also comes from friends that are always putting out new work or approach photography with a lot of passion. TJ Nelson Jr., Sam Milianta, Chris Taylor, Barrett Moore, Joe Aguirre, Carson Lancaster, my brother Cameron Getty, and Yubey Delgado are just a few of the people that keep me motivated and appreciative of photography. Two key influences from college through to today are Sean Morales and Raphael Villet. Thanks guys.

 

Are there any books that are similar to a good skate part that make you want to go out and shoot immediately?

The Walker Evans MoMA book is on my desk right now, and it's been a huge motivator mainly because I didn't take the time to familiarize myself with his work earlier. I haven't been feeling overtly social when shooting lately, so flipping through Evans' photographs of roadside stands, building facades and humble interiors—all mostly devoid of people—keeps the inspiration flowing when I want to stay introverted and keep the pace slow. I really relate to the quiet, direct simplicity of his approach. I love Henry Wessel's Incidents for the same reason.

I revisit past issues of Hamburger Eyes all the time. The charged, diverse nature of the work always gets me excited to head out even if I'm feeling withdrawn. The format is crazy and dynamic in itself: images that come at you in a full-bleed barrage, some jarring and others more subtle, that leave you with little breathing room and a ton of questions. It’s visceral, full of anxiety and mystery, and I love it. Mary Ellen Mark's American Odyssey, Ed Templeton's Wayward Cognitions, and the huge Garry Winogrand retrospective book are all great to look at before heading out, too.

I'm actively trying to grow my zine collection, so publications by friends and photographers I've connected with online are a consistent source of inspiration. There's always something new on my desk or in my mailbox.

 

Where did this project come from? What made you decide to start shooting it? Was there a significant change in the community that made you say, "I need to shoot this"?

Intention and a specific focus didn’t really come into play until I was about two years into photographing my neighborhood and downtown Stockton. I had recently moved from a suburb in the quiet northwest side of the city to a much older neighborhood in midtown. The area was more walkable, the residential architecture was more interesting and there were more people on the street. It was a refreshing change. I was working as a freelance writer at the time so I took long walks in the mornings and evenings and photographed whatever interested me.

I first started thinking of the photos I was making as a distinct body of work in early 2012. I thought having an online outlet would be a nice way to archive and share the work, so I started a Tumblr called “Maps to Stockton” and began posting. The project remained pretty casual until that summer, when Stockton filed for bankruptcy and faced the highest homicide rate in its history.

At the time Stockton was the biggest city in the country to enter bankruptcy proceedings (Detroit beat us out a year later). That fact coupled with the murders made it a historically bad year. The media pounced on both stories and put Stockton’s name through the wringer, writing the city off as too far-gone to fix. City officials and community groups tried to balance out the negativity with boosterism that to me seemed overzealous and shallow. There were two divergent depictions of Stockton that were forming, and I didn't find a whole lot of truth in either of them. I think a lot of residents probably felt the same way.

From then on I made an effort to photograph in a way that I felt was accurate; that portrayed the city clearly without malice or excessive charm. I wanted to push back against the extreme depictions of Stockton and make room for a more grounded perspective. I tried to make the images that I wanted to see; that I hadn't seen up to that point.

 

How did you decide on format for layout and publication? Did you self publish?

I tried to keep the layout simple and as true to the name of the project as possible: full frame photographs centered on the page with a handwritten caption specifying the name of the street where the photo was made. For each spread, I paired images that I felt were complementary in form or content. I realize that that's not a very subtle or nuanced way of sequencing, but I like the momentum it gives the book. Maybe I'll change things up the next time around.

For cost reasons I decided to publish through Blurb for Vol. I. I used their 9x6 trade book format, which is a nice balance between cost and quality, but I do hope to work with a smaller press for future publications. Print on demand is convenient and it has its place, but I'd like to have a more personal role in the book's production.

 

If I understood correctly, the proceeds from this project didn't go to you, they went to keeping the Stockton library open. How did you donating your art to a cause affect how you felt about the body of work?

Correct. Sales from the book paid my out of pocket printing costs and the profit was donated to the Cesar Chavez Central Library.

Donating the proceeds didn’t have much of an affect on how I viewed the work, honestly. I was just happy to put up the money because the Cesar Chavez branch in particular does a lot of good for youth in the area. All of the photo books I’ve spent considerable time with have come from that library, so it made sense to give back in some way. I felt a little better about the overdue fees I’ve racked up over the years once I cut the check, too.

 

How did you know when the body of work was complete? Did you have a particular deadline you were shooting for or did you go back through your portfolio and recognize that you had gotten all the shots you needed?

Actually, it's still a work in progress. I live here and shoot almost every day so I imagine that it will continue, though perhaps not as intentionally, until I move away. There's a lot of personal emotion wrapped up in the project, so I feel conflicted about ending it before it's necessary. But even after five years into the work, I still wrestle with what an honest depiction of Stockton—or any city—looks like, and whether I’m representing my hometown effectively. I question whether representation and accuracy even needs to be my focus anymore. I often worry that the amount of time I spend thinking about this project is closing me off to new ideas, or is somehow stunting my creative growth. Like I have blinders on, you know?

There was no grand plan behind the decision to wait five years to publish anything; it just took me a long time to figure out what to do with the photos. The first volume of “Maps to Stockton” spans November 2010 through December 2011, so I’ve got four more volumes to put out if I want to chronicle the work through to the present day. It’s comforting that the photos for the next few books already exist, but sometimes I feel like I'm just amassing a huge backlog that will be impossible to work through. As always...time will tell.


See more of Brandon's work here.

To purchase a copy, contact Brandon through his email: brandongetty[at]gmail[dot]com


SHOOTING WITH INTENTION: BRIAN WIlliam GREEN

Shooting with Intention is a series of interviews by Elephant Gun photographer Kevin O'Meara. This week, he interviews photographer Brian William Green.

Asheville, NC © Brian William Green

Asheville, NC © Brian William Green

Rather than speak with you about one particular project, I want to talk with you about your manner of working and how you conceptualize projects and take them from start to finish. You have a background in academic fine-art photography, how has that affected your view towards publication and do you think academia is necessary to make a statement through a body of work?

Well, I would hardly say it’s my background--since I’ve only spent a year at a university--but I think even that small amount of time has changed the way I look at publication and things in general. I think school or at least that type of environment is good because it makes you ask yourself things like, “what am I trying to say,” “how am I saying it,” “am I saying it?” and so on.

New York, NY © Brian William Green

New York, NY © Brian William Green

You experiment with mediums and developing techniques frequently, what drives that desire to break conventional norms?

I just use whatever I have on me at the time, unless the project I'm working on requires something specific.

Exist To Be Content

What role does social media play in your work?

In the past year social media has helped a lot in my work, primarily Instagram: I like to connect with strangers travel to them and stay with them to build a sort of relationship with them while photographing other strangers in their town. I really dislike the discussions around photography in this age of social media in terms of things like Instagram, more emphasis is put on if it was was shot on film or digital ect, unless that is important to the work and brings something to the table I don't think its a relevant part of the conversation. 


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© Brian William Green

© Brian William Green

In terms of your own publications, you travel, almost incessantly.  How critical is travel in developing as an artist and exploring new narratives? Is that something that comes easier through living near a cluster of large metropolitan areas?

Travel is a big part of my work, but I don't think it’s a necessity. I think travel is good, though, to give you more exposure to another way of thinking, especially when shooting photos on the street. Having great access to public transit makes things easier, but there’s always a way to get around. 

© Brian William Green

© Brian William Green

The amount of work you put out is overwhelming.  Any time we talk you are publishing something or starting a new project.  How do you maintain a constant stream of projects in the works and how do you develop these concepts or narratives?

Yeah, its a bit of a problem; sometimes I have to force myself to take a step back and relax every now and then, but even then most of my relaxation time ends up being looking at stuff on the computer which inevitably drives me to make something else.

Orlando, Florida © Brian William Green

Orlando, Florida © Brian William Green

 Who do you study? What about their body of work is appealing to you?  It appears as though you are heavily influenced by the Provoke era of Japanese photography (Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Nobuyoshi Araki), simply for the amount of work that they put out, what about their manner of working resonates with your approach? Is it because they rejected the conventional approach to photography and publication?

I think what resonates with me, especially with the Japanese guys, is their work ethic and way of thinking, A lot of people spend way to much time thinking about cameras and tools when that’s all they are—toolsbut when you spend all your time thinking about that, it becomes a roadblock. With a lot of the Japanese artists, it seems more like the work is a stream of consciousness, and that’s what I like about it.

Atlanta, GA © Brian William Green

Atlanta, GA © Brian William Green

What are examples of what you were looking at when working on these publications?

I don’t really look at anything in terms of inspiration for shooting, but when it comes to printing books, I look at various publications. Usually before I start laying out a book I will go to a bookstore and just sit in there for hours, combing through books. I find inspiration in the smallest of things: the way a paper feels, the way a colophon is laid out, what thought process is shown through a good preface/forward, etc.

New York, NY © Brian William Green

New York, NY © Brian William Green

What does the shot-selection process look like for you? You shoot digitally now, but when you were shooting film, did you scan everything and make selections from there or did you still rely on contact printing your negatives and seeing the whole roll?

What I like to do is clone my CF card to my external since the file sizes are so big, and then dump it all into Lightroom, Then, I’ll pick what I like and delete what I don't, then edit, then render. I always keep everything—there have been so many times I have gone back and found photos on a memory card so now I just back up everything. For film work, I contact print everything and then go from there. I think if you’re shooting film and not contacting, you’re honestly just wasting time scanning everything, and my time means too much to me.

I Woke Up Here Counting Sheep

Take me through the process from concept development to publication.  What does the timeline usually look like? How long do you usually shoot for? How many copies do you run for each project? What are examples of what you were looking to say with these bodies of work, or what moment you were trying to document?

Again, it depends on the project; some projects are treated like time capsules and are very specifically time-based. The size of the edition depends on the project as well. If it’s something time-based like, let’s say it’s me documenting a city block for a week, I like the idea of keeping the edition size as precious as the time spent there. In the past, I have done things where I shot for ten days so I printed ten copies. What my work says is nothing more than I was here, these are the moments that happened around me and in turn are a reflection of me in that moment.

San Francisco, CA © Brian WIlliam Green

San Francisco, CA © Brian WIlliam Green

Any thing else I didn't ask you that you want to talk about? 

Just would like to say thank you for taking the time to ask me these questions as well as EG for hosting this series. Me being someone who thinks books are what bring a project to closure I am happy to be a part of something that is about pushing others to think about and create publications.

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See more of Brian William Green's work here >

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SHOOTING WITH INTENTION: LINNEA BULLION

Shooting with Intention is a new series of interviews by Elephant Gun photographer Kevin O'Meara. This week, he interviews Los Angeles-based photographer Linnea Bullion

Georgia.

Georgia.

What's your background in photography?

I carried disposable cameras around with me at camp and on family trips for quite sometime before I picked up a point-and-shoot digital camera around the age of 14 or 15. I was, and still am, most interested in paying attention to the simple, beautiful moments of everyday life. In high school I was determined to become a photojournalist. That documentarian mindset has stayed with me, even if the career trajectory has not. I’ve definitely started to explore outside that realm––mostly through self-portraiture––but my favorite images are still those anchored in reality. Many of my interests have been influenced by the various subcultures I’ve documented. For example, it’s fascinating to me how skateboarders see the world. For skateboarders, a stair set is so much more than just a means of getting from point A to point B––I want to see the world in a similarly creative fashion (and as photographers don’t we all?).

 

Guadalupe, CA.

Guadalupe, CA.

Your book American, is a modern take on the quintessential American road trip, what artists did you study prior to your 20,000 mile journey? 

In regards to the road trip itself, I was frankly more influenced by literature than photography. A few years ago, I read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and was smitten. When I was young, rather than going on a yearly road trip my family would save up and travel to Europe every few years. I’m incredibly grateful to have had such cultural immersions at a young age, but I remember envying my friends who would road trip across the country with their families. I suppose that envy stuck around, and rather than souring my spirit turned into fuel for projects such as this. Photographically, I’ve always been inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson. “The decisive moment” is a beautiful notion, and one that I always strive to capture (whether or not I ever do is a decision I’ll leave to you). After the road trip and while I was working on the book, I turned towards Stephen Shore. His work, particularly Uncommon Places, is so rooted in its time period yet so timeless. I really wanted that feeling for American.

Raleigh, NC.

Raleigh, NC.

When you look at the history of American road trip photography, from Walker Evans, to Robert Frank and more recently Alec Soth, what did you feel was missing and what perspective did you feel you could bring to the table? 

My photography professor once told me “Everything worth doing has already been done.” Not exactly the words a 19-year-old aspiring artist wants to hear, but they’ve stuck with me nevertheless. I’ve reached a point in my life and career where I feel fairly confident in adding to the statement: “Everything worth doing has already been done; that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be the one to do it again.” I looked a lot at The Americans; it’s an incredible time capsule, which is honestly all I wanted for my book. For me, knowing that I produced something tangible that people can hold in their hands and look at in twenty, thirty+ years and think, “Huh, so that’s what it was like,” was all the motivation I needed. I shot it for posterity as much as I did for myself. Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Alec Soth to a certain degree have very politically-charged images. The United States is at a very volatile point in its social history, but I didn’t set out to capture that directly. It’s not that I don’t care or that I’m ignoring the negative aspects of the United States, but we’re exposed to so much darkness every day… When I was younger I thought that I could never be considered a photojournalist because I didn’t take photographs of mangled bodies in war-torn countries; it was striking to me that that those were always the images winning awards. I’m not belittling those images––they are obviously important––I just wanted to shine some light. That being said, American ended up with a very bittersweet, melancholy tone. There is no light without shadow, after all, and I can feel those shadows creeping in on the images. I’d be lying if I said that a part of me isn’t worried about how the advent of certain technology will change our concept of the “road trip” (at the risk of sounding technophobic, I point to self-driving cars). I wanted to pursue a road trip while I knew that it still held the defining characteristics of the concept.

Phoenix, AZ.

Phoenix, AZ.

How did you organize the book and decide on a sequence?

When I left for the road, I didn’t have a specific narrative in mind, but trusted that through the overarching similarity of the American people and landscape one would arise. I actually was originally planning on sequencing it chronologically, so that the regional differences would be very clear and one would see the progression of the landscape, but I realized that ordering it in such a way would simply be too easy. I wanted to showcase various moods, and tried to order the photographs according to these. 

Montana.

Montana.

I can imagine that traveling that far in such a short time, you may feel like a permanent outsider to these places that you visited.  How did you manage to gain rapport with the people you photographed? Do you think Mary Ellen Mark was right in suggesting that there is an advantage to being a female documentary photographer (https://vimeo.com/33169308)?

I’ve been taking portraits of strangers for quite some time, so I was already pretty comfortable in approaching people. The advice I always give is to simply smile and be genuine; the worst they can say is no. My favorite aspect of the trip was the constant reminder that most people in this country are decent people who simply want someone with whom they can share their story; I was invited to church potlucks, given homegrown vegetables and free dinners, and welcomed into the homes of strangers. I tried to ask the story of the people I photographed as often as I could. If people are willing to give you their time, you better damn well be willing to give yours.  Like anything else, there are upsides and downsides to being a female documentary photographer. I definitely think that I have an advantage in that I can approach people without them remotely feeling threatened––it’s hard for a 5’4” (on a good day) person to intimidate strangers––but I also am incredibly cognizant of the settings in which I’m surrounding myself, perhaps to a fault. So many people have asked me, “Were you ever scared? What’s the craziest thing that happened to you on the road?” but the truth is that I never put myself in a situation where I had need to be scared. I was, and am, cautious both by nature and necessity. On the whole, I don’t really feel that my concern for my safety has hindered me from capturing the images that I want to capture. Overall I think being a woman has helped me in the realm of documentary photography.

Ashbury Park, NJ.

Ashbury Park, NJ.

Robert Frank's Americans he took over 27,000 frames during his trip.  Roughly how many shots did you take and how did you ultimately arrive at the final images? 

Over the course of 82 days I took about 7,700 shots. Of those, I selected about 1,500 that I really liked. From there, one of my photographer friends helped me narrow it down to about 500. And from there, my sister, her fiancé, and I got that number down to the 115 that ultimately made it into the book. It would have taken me infinitely longer had I not gotten editing help––it’s so hard to cut selections when your judgment is clouded by emotions and general nostalgia. We based our selections on the strength of individual images as well as how they fit alongside other images.

Deer River, MN.

Deer River, MN.

How does shooting digitally affect your mindset in approaching project-based work?  I can tell that many of these shots, especially the landscapes, were not happy accidents that you later discovered.  How does your approach vary between digital and analog work? How is it similar?

I definitely struggle internally over the fact that I never learned to develop film (yes, you read that correctly; go get the rope). Digital or analog, if you miss the shot you miss the shot. I try to approach my photography with a sense of urgency and intention. In the case of American, I had more than myself to disappoint should the photos not have turned out (Kickstarter backers don’t like when you don’t make good on your promised rewards), which is why I decided to stick with my more confident, digital medium. I am a firm believer in tangible photography, however, so I also shot Polaroids on a 350 Land Camera and sent them to backers.  I didn’t set out for the road with specific images in mind, nor a specific itinerary. I would stick to the backroads and two-lane highways and see what caught my eye. I guess it was nice knowing right then and there that whatever I shot either worked or didn’t, but I was shooting so much that there actually were quite a few photographs I would consider “happy accidents” because I didn’t pay any attention to them until five months later when I was reviewing all of the photographs while working on the book. Shooting digitally has definitely given me more wiggle room. I probably shoot twice as many photographs than I would if I were shooting analog, but I try to retain that sense of intention because I’m indecisive enough as is and sure as hell don’t need the added pressure of selecting from even more images!

Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas, NV

Were there any shots that you took and immediately said, "Yes, this one is definitely in the book?” 

There’s one particular image that comes to mind––Las Vegas. I was in Vegas for about 12 hours. I arrived on a Sunday night shortly after midnight. I went to park the car in a garage, stepped out, and saw the lights of the casinos through the parking ramp window. Immediately after shooting it I knew that it would make it into the final cut. It’s a perfect example of my “beautiful ordinary;” to anyone else, it would probably have just been an elevator hallway in a parking ramp. To me, it was my collective feelings about the Vegas Strip captured in one frame. I had been in Vegas for all of twenty minutes by that point, but already knew that I would be leaving satisfied.

New Orleans, LA.

New Orleans, LA.

What were some of your fears in bringing together this first book? Talk me through the risk/reward feelings that came with publishing.  

My biggest fear was that I would get home and realize that I hated every single photograph I shot––that none of the photographs would work together and that not having a more fine-tuned concept was going to be my downfall. It was a ridiculous fear, but like many others I am definitely my own worst critic. Because the project was funded on Kickstarter, I also had this deep-rooted worry that I would disappoint everyone who had donated. I used that worry to push myself; I wouldn’t let myself have a day off from shooting or forget that this time around, I was taking the photographs for individuals other than me. I self-published the book, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I had complete creative control. On the other hand, it was a lot of money up front, and I’ll be the first to admit that I need to work on my marketing skills. But I’m really, really pleased with the way the book turned out. I printed it through Shapco, a local Minneapolis company who have printed a lot of Alec Soth’s work. The biggest reward has been seeing people’s eyes light up as they page through the book, and they ask questions or bring up tales from their own journeys. I’ve never purported that my photography is going to change the world, but if it can get one person to appreciate the beautiful simple in ways he or she had not before, I am happy.

 

From project conception to book-release, how long did this project take? 

A few years ago I thought of taking to Kickstarter to make a project like this possible. I kept on making excuses not to pursue it––oh, I have a job, oh, I need to find a job, etc. etc.––but it was always in the back of my mind. Then one day I was describing the project to someone, whining about how badly I wanted it to happen, and she asked, “What’s stopping you?” It was then that I realized that I was the only reason it hadn’t happened. I started writing my proposal for Kickstarter in January of 2014. I received the finished book in January of 2015. 

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Linnea Bullion 

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Buy Linnea Bullion's book American:

http://www.linneabullion.com/store/

SHOOTING WITH INTENTION FEATURING: Adam Jason Cohen

Shooting with Intention is a brand new series of interviews by Elephant Gun photographer Kevin O'Meara. This week, he interviews Chicago-based photographer Adam Jason Cohen.

Why did you shoot and publish your series of zines?

Like all photographers, I photograph because I’m curious. I’m curious to see what things look like photographed. Naturally, I’m a critical human and I guess you can say I’m a collector of sorts. I’m really interested in typologies. I photograph many people, things, places, etc. A lot of the times, I don’t show those photographs. However, these photographs that appear in this set of zines I simply found interesting enough to share with the world and offer in the form of a physical object to interact with. The idea of turning the page is just so special to me. So much more than swiping down or double tapping a screen. When I pick up a book, turn a page, and the sequence of photographs just make so much sense, I will talk out loud to myself. I will say “daaaaaaaaammmmmnnn” or whatever I’m feeling at the time. That just doesn’t happen with Instagram, e-Books, or whatever they got going on right now. I’m not sure if that’s a feeling or an interaction that can ever be replicated with a LCD screen. Additionally, I have been working on a book project that has been very close to my heart and mind for the last five years. It’s much heavier in subject matter, I go deeper, a little darker, and it’s more intimate. And I think it’s important to pull back sometimes. If a song was the same note over and over again; would it be interesting? To me? Probably not. Working on multiple projects at once allows me to focus on each of them more closely. Sort of like a rotation, keeps my mind feeling fresh and not stale. I guess one of my bigger fears is getting stuck in one place. I’m not sure if anyone reading this has actually seen the movie IN TOO DEEP (LL Cool J has one of the lead roles….), the main character played by Omar Epps, becomes essentially addicted to getting deeper and deeper into his role and never really gets out and becomes a teacher at the end of the movie. I don’t want to become a professor. In summary, I LIKE TO SWITCH SHIT UP.

© Adam Jason Cohen

© Adam Jason Cohen

How did you develop the concept behind it? What narrative did you want to share?

I developed each concept based upon my own curiosity in each of the subjects. With Fresh Garb I saw a beautiful a tradition that I have been interested and never really explored or attempted to understand on more than a surface level appreciation. What also attracted me to that subject was the obvious fact of Chicago, specifically these neighborhoods that are highlighted in the book, are reeling and are having difficult times and these beautiful traditions that continue on today are not what people really tend to focus on. The media tends to focus on the negative, which is important, but also unfortunate at the same time. The majority of my longer term projects are much more heavy, and have a broader range of emotions. At the time I felt it would be a great break to focus on something purely beautiful, in aesthetic and tradition. King of Pop was something that I visited more than once. Gary, Indiana is a strange place, it’s almost like a part of Chicago due to their relationship and distance, however it’s still it’s own entity. Especially in a time like this where, previously strong manufacturing towns are quickly dying, I thought this project could be interpreted a bit more universally. I just so happen to use the shrine of the Jackson 5 as a metaphor. This type of work is done quite often, however I haven’t really ever seen Gary photographed other than photographers taking pictures inside of an abandoned church, which personally, doesn’t interest me in the slightest. But to each their own. Tres De Mayo was about the celebration of Cinco De Mayo in Chicago. I thought it was interesting that it so happened to fall on the third of May, which also happens to be the title of my favorite painting by Francisco Goya. Without giving too much away, because with this one I really wanted to keep some references subtle, Tres De Mayo is loosely about examining cultural self expression. I really enjoy this event in Chicago, I’ve been in attendance for quite a few years at this point, but this is the first year (2015) I really knew how and why I wanted to photograph it. 

© Adam Jason Cohen

© Adam Jason Cohen

Are there any photographers that you study that you found helpful in constructing your narrative?

For the work you see here, a good example would be Alec Soth. For one, I don’t necessarily believe that a photograph can exist as pure document of something. I see something much more than that, however my work looks like “documentary” and for some that’s how it functions. I think Alec deals with the struggle of his photographs looking like a document, however he deals with it in a broader context. Additionally, I’m just not sure anyone knows how a book functions better as an objects as he. Maybe Martin Parr? But I think if the viewer is also familiar with his work you can see a bit of his influence in there as well. Paul Fusco’s RFK Funeral Train is another interesting one. He published quite a large monograph about one single day in America’s history. He photographed the American social landscape from a moving train, in one single day. I’ve been always interested in the idea of; What would one day, in such and such neighborhood of Chicago or anywhere for that matter, look like in book form, with a context, a concise narrative, and a sequence? I have a ton of photographic influences. And sometimes I feel like that actually may be a detriment to my work. It is something with a struggle with every single day.

© Adam Jason Cohen

© Adam Jason Cohen

How do establish relationships with the people you photograph? How do navigate cultural differences from the demographic that you shoot? Do you receive any pushback from the community?

I photograph people with respect and compassion. That goes for any and every one who has found themselves in front of one of my cameras. There have been many instances where I originally thought I wanted to take a photograph of someone or something and decided against it, for whatever reason. I don’t regret that and I’m at peace with leaving it out there. I have a great deal of responsibility with the photographs I make and ultimately show. As of right now, I mostly photograph people, places, things, etc that I’m “demographically different” than. I think on the surface level that can be viewed as something thats apparent, deeper than that, I feel as though I do have a connection with subjects in my photographs. I would like to think I have a good approach and I think that’s massively important. That’s something that art school unfortunately can’t teach. I learned that on my own. When people ask me how I am I able to make these photographs, I simply tell them I’m a much better communicator than photographer. The making of a photograph structurally, I believe can be taught to anyone. I guess that’s why art school exists. However, the process in order for you to be able to communicate your vision and why it’s important to a complete stranger takes a bit more skill. I offer my contact info to everyone I photograph, and as long as they contact me, I will certainly and have sent images that I shot. The other day I recieved a great email from the father of a family that appeared in Fresh Garb, thanking me for being there to capture that day for them and how special the photographs were to them. Little things like that go a long way for me in assuring me that I am on the right path.

© Adam Jason Cohen

© Adam Jason Cohen

How did you go about sequencing the zines?

Sequencing the zines as a series was actually pretty easy. Everything I do has a flow to it. I think of all my work as if it’s one big music composition coming together as whole. There’s a time and place for every thing. Fresh Garb came first, it was fresh and metaphorically it represented the second coming of Christ, which can be interpreted as a “new beginning”. King of Pop, which actually was supposed to originally be my first zine released publicly, ended up being snuggled in the middle of series. Gary, Indiana which the zine is ultimately about, is a place that has been trapped and stuck somewhere in time. It’s a really rough place. So I stuck it in the middle. Tres De Mayo was the third and final zine of the series and it ended with the title referencing the number three. Additionally, the car on the cover was on three wheels, which happened to work out perfectly.

© Adam Jason Cohen

© Adam Jason Cohen

In retrospect, is there anything that you would revise?

I’m 28 years old. I have been photographing for a decent amount of time now, and up until recently, I have been scared to ever publish anything more than a book with two copies. Part of that has been due to the fear of the book being the end all be all, and other parts feeling generally incomplete. It feels great to have a few things out there for people to hold and look through. It’s like the mixtape or demo before the LP. Every book, project, etc has it’s own successes and failures. Nothing is perfect. Sometimes, you just have to do it, and that’s where I’m at right now. I wouldn’t change anything. At all. It’s been a great learning experience to challenge myself and to learn from my mistakes publicly.

Michael Jackson's Boyhood Home; Gary, Indiana © Adam Jason Cohen

Michael Jackson's Boyhood Home; Gary, Indiana © Adam Jason Cohen

What are some positive experiences that have come from publishing your work?

There has been great acceptance across the board and a lot of new opportunities have come through the publishing of these zines, which is great. But nothing compares to watching someone pick one of these up, flipping through it and their eyes lighting up and the questions I’m ultimately asked. Or the emails and comments I get about people wanting to do their own book. That’s all great to me and I’m interested in seeing what anyone comes up with. I’d love to see that. It seems there has been a huge push back to social media, more so than ever, for independent artists to produce objects for the viewer to hold and interact with. We live in a three dimensional universe, let’s focus on making things that take advantage of the physical nature of the world. There’s a staying power to that, and it’s important to take that into consideration in a world becoming increasingly more instantaneous and focused on the moment.

© Adam Jason Cohen

© Adam Jason Cohen

Do you have any recommendations for photographers who are thinking about shooting a complete body of work?

I have a ton of advice. I’m just not sure anyone really should listen to it. Hahaha. Being as vague as I can possibly be: My best advice is to just feel things out. You’ll probably never feel completed, I know I don’t with any of my projects, but that’s ok. The work will always work its self out.

© Adam Jason Cohen

© Adam Jason Cohen

Anything else you want to include?

Right now I’m not sure what to say other than thank you. I appreciate your interest in my work and the opportunity to be able to talk about it with you. Everyone needs to be questioned, and that’s a fact.

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For mobile photography and more follow @adamjasoncohen on Instagram.

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Interested in sharing your story or technique? Drop us a line via the email link below. We'd love to hear from you. 

Shooting With Intention: A SERIES OF CONVERSATIONS WITH INSPIRATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS

I was speaking with a colleague recently about a blog post in which someone was writing about how a specific camera was a necessity to shooting a particular style.  Both of us agreed that while, yes, there are certain cameras that are more utilitarian for different styles of shooting, ultimately, the camera or technology doesn’t make the shooter. A photographer is only as good as his or her eye.

                      Kevin O'Meara photo by SereneSupreme

                      Kevin O'Meara photo by SereneSupreme

Moreover, with the propagation of social-media outlets and the seeming ubiquity of cameras, there are more photos taken now than ever before, yet, photographers are doing less and less with their images.  Growing up, I was allowed to shoot a roll of film. I shot 36 frames, my parents brought the roll in for development, I got 36 prints back, and looked at all 36 images.  Last week I cleared my phone of images and it was some embarrassing four-figure number and I doubt I looked at any of them after I sent them via text, and I certainly didn’t print any of them.

In the last two years since I transitioned to film and started working on Morning Sickness, I relearned how to shoot with intention. That is to say that I shot with a specific narrative in mind, to tell a story that I felt a visceral urgency to share.    

In the upcoming months I will be conducting interviews with some of my favorite photographers.  My goal is to share his or her insight in how to conceptualize a project, where they find their impetus, how they develop a manner of working, what they are trying to say through these images and ultimately how they choose to present their body of work with the world. 

From Morning Sickness © Kevin O'Meara

From Morning Sickness © Kevin O'Meara

It is my hope that in these interviews you might find something helpful in putting together a body of work. Whether it be a 10 page zine or an 11x17 hardcover monograph, the important part is you learn to use your voice in your photos.  

 

First up, Adam Jason Cohen

 

Kevin O'Meara

Ivar Wigan's pics of gangs and strippers have a sense of empathy and admiration

Images of gangs and strippers are nothing new, and their creation is fraught with the risk of appearing insensitive and patronising at best, exploitative at worst. So for them to pique our interest, they have to be very special. The works of Scotland-born photographer Ivar Wigan are exactly that. Ivar’s recent work has seen him documenting the street culture of Miami, Atlanta and New Orleans, and their often seedy, rarely glamorous underpinnings. And while the images undoubtedly have a voyeuristic slant, central to them is a sense of admiration and empathy, rather than pity or profiteering.

Ivar’s photographs manage to fizz with the immediacy of street photography while creating compositions that each contain an individual, beautifully lit narrative, which many have compared to the work of Nan Goldin. His recent work is now being drawn together for a show at London’s PM/AM gallery, entitled The Gods.

According to the gallery, Ivar’s images aim to make his subjects the “stars of their own narrative,” while confronting viewers with realities he may not be familiar or comfortable with. “I want the viewer to feel that they were there with me and that they know what happened just before the image was taken and what might happen soon after,” says Ivar. “The images are slightly beyond what is real. Everything I show you happened but the exact moments I choose to present are selected and edited to give you an intense distillation of what these scenes are like.”

The Gods runs from 12 June – 31 July at London’s PM/AM gallery

Top 3 Places in the U.S. to have your film processed

Some say, shooting film will make you a more focused photographer and heighten your technical understanding of photography (we think so). Shooting film isn’t necessarily “better” than shooting digital– it's different. If you’ve never shot film (or that Fuji GA645 has been in your closet waaayyy too long), we recommend giving it a go. Once you've shot a roll or two, check out some of the processors Elephant Gun photogs have used for consistent results. 

 

THE DARKROOM

The Darkroom has over 37 years of experience developing film and making pictures.  The Darkroom has developed literally millions of rolls of film and they still love doing it!  Mail your film to The Darkroom using its prepaid mailer, and, for as low as, $11, The Darkroom will process your film, scan your negatives, and upload your images for immediate download or sharing on Facebook. They’ll also mail your negatives and CD to you with your digital image. 

 

DWAYNE'S PHOTO

Dwayne Steinle founded Dwayne's Photo in 1956.  The business is still independently owned and operated by the Steinle family.  With over 50 employees, Dwayne's is one of the largest specialty labs in the United States.  Dwayne's Photo was the last lab in the world to process Kodak's iconic Kodachrome film and one of the few labs that still offer processing for a variety of film types that are no longer manufactured, including Disc and 126 films. Located in a small town in Kansas, Dwayne's is still focused on the traditional values of quality craftsmanship and customer service.

Dwayne's Photo became the last processor in the world of Kodachrome in 2010

Dwayne's Photo became the last processor in the world of Kodachrome in 2010

 

RICHARD PHOTO LAB

If you shoot film you will inevitably come across one of the most reputable photo labs in the world, Richard Photo Lab in California. They are famous for two things: having the most renowned film photographers around the globe trusting them with their work and also for having a look to their results, especially their color work, that is second to none.