Interview: Benjamin Davis

Interview: Benjamin Davis

Feature, Interview

Benjamin Davis is a current RIT student in pursuit of a photo degree. His series My Parent’s Scrapbook is about the history of his parent’s relationship and their time before they were married. We asked him a few questions regarding this work.

Memory Box

Empty Stretch: Age/ Location/ 3 favorite things in life?
Benjamin Davis: 20 / Rochester NY / Family and friends, exploring, and cheap vodka.

ES: How did you get into photography?  Why do you keep photographing?
BD: I got into photography seriously in college for the first time. I had always been interested in art but typically just did sketching or painting. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in school so I took an Intro To Photography class taught by two graduate students and loved it. Seeing their work and looking at the different artists that they showed really inspired me and made me look more into the medium before I finally switched into the program. I really enjoy creating a narrative and developing metaphors through photographs. I keep creating images because I have so many different projects and ideas that I want to express. I’ll often take one picture or find an interesting object and then keep thinking about what it represents and how I can develop a project out of it. I’m always trying to find new methods of visual storytelling.

Broken Bottle, Artificial Beach

ES: What is your relationship to your parents, ie still in contact, are they divorced/ still together? estranged?
BD: I am still in contact with my parents. They have been together for 34 years, married for 27 and dated the other 7. One of the reasons I was so interested in their past is because of how long they have been together in a country where the divorce rate is so high.

Photobooth 1

ES: Do you have any siblings? how do they feel about this work, how do your parents feel about it?
BD: I have one older brother. We don’t talk very often, so I haven’t showed him the work yet. He works for a natural gas drilling company and travels often while I’m always away at school or off working. My parents didn’t really know what to think of the project at first or why I wanted to do it. We came across the box of objects she saved from the time period they were dating. I knew I wanted to do some sort of project with it. I asked them if I could borrow it and have been working on it off and on since. Now that the project has started to come together they like it. My mom has definitely taken an interest in it and just gave me more objects that she found, like another bundle of letters and an old chocolate box full of movie tickets.

Trip to Maine

ES: What is the process for deciding what is shared & what is photographed?
BD: I keep a notebook where I write down places mentioned in the letters. I then set aside letters that I feel showed a sense of character in the relationship for easier access later. I also ask them about their favorite activities and places of the time period. There are so many letters that I am still going through them in order to come up with more ideas. I also go through her scrapbooks and other objects that were saved and put into the box. After I pick out the interesting objects and places I think of what they represent and how I want to photograph it. Lots of the images are minimalist in nature because while I want them to be visually appealing the item still needs to take center stage. I try to share as much as I can because I want to create an appropriate idea of what the time period was like for them.

Motel Receipt

ES: Did you go into this with a clear idea of what you wanted to say about your family? or has it developed along the way?
BD: I always try to go into a project with an open mind and let it develop along the way. In the past I have gone into projects focused solely on one idea and it never turned out well. Some of the objects I found were sweet while others gave me a creepy vibe. I wanted to show both sides of this because in a way love can be like that too, very sweet and fun but it can also turn into obsession. As for the images of places that I visited I felt it important to show what I noticed there now, 27 years later.

Stickers

ES: Any thoughts of next steps? taking it in a direction of Larry Sultans work, photographing your parents now?
BD: I really like Larry Sultan’s work and would like to photograph my parents now but still feel like I have a lot to do with their past. I want to continue this project throughout the fall and get back into the studio. I just took a trip last weekend to visit more places. I also found more old photographs and have been doing more work involving those like this rough edit I shot last weekend.

Please find more of Benjamin Davis’ work on his website.

Interview: Marcel Rollock

Interview: Marcel Rollock

Feature, Interview, Spotlight

We recently asked Marcel Rollock some questions about his work & his new zine, Serenity Now.

Empty Stretch: Age/ Location
Marcel Rollock: 24 / Brooklyn

ES: How did you get into photography?
MR: I started taking pictures when I was 17 or so while living in Australia. Our group of friends were always skating or going out drinking and doing stupid, random stuff and taking pictures of it all just seemed normal. A couple of few of us would bring cameras and I was one of them. Shooting on film was the cool thing so we would go around to goodwill stores or whatever and pick up cheap 35mm cameras.

ES: What were some early influences?
MR: Definitely being exposed to so many places growing up, my family, friends and music. The homie Lloyd Stubber was coming out with some rad stuff and really seeing his pictures and feeling a connection to them was cool. My girlfriend Shay Richardson would always be showing me her latest shots and rolls of film which kept me wanting to shoot more.

EmptyStretch_MarcellRollock_03

ES: What made you decide to do a zine?
MR: It had been something on my mind for about a year before starting it and I have always thought photographs are better in print. Looking though a zine gives you a whole different feel then just looking at pictures online.

ES:  What were decisions in sequencing/ editing/ layout?
MR:It terms of sequencing and layout I really just went with what felt right. Nobody knows your photos better than you and that being the case it was just a matter of putting photos in an order that complements them the best. All works were shot on film so the only editing done was for printing purposes for example dpi.

ES: Any newer zines recently that you’ve enjoyed?
MR: ‘The Last Best Place’ by Brian Merriam just made me want to move to Wyoming. ‘Division of Vision’ by Jay Dymock and Lloyd Stubber has those Aussie vibes and ‘Play’ by Pat O’Rourke is sick!

ES: Do you decide whats a photograph while shooting or during editing? Are you more documenting time of a scenario or composing an image?
MR: Shooting solely on film forces you to decide what a photograph is while taking the picture and that is what’s so appealing about it, you are telling a story in a way. In the past I have used digital cameras but never really liked the results.

Find more of Rollock’s work over on his website.

Interview: Charalampos Kydonakis aka “dirty harrry”

Interview: Charalampos Kydonakis aka “dirty harrry”

Feature, Interview, Pictures, Spotlight

Charalampos Kydonakis aka "dirty harrry"
Over the past few years I have been following the moniker “dirty harrry” on Flickr, and have always been curious about just who this person was. That’s why I was thrilled when we got an email from Charalampos Kydonakis aka “dirty harrry” sharing his work with us. Check out the interview below and start following this photo machine immediately.

Empty Stretch: What’s your current location & favorite place to photograph?

Charalampos Kydonakis: I’m living in Rethymnon, Crete. I don’t know if it’s my favourite place to photograph, but my favourite photos have been shot here

Charalampos Kydonakis aka "dirty harrry"
ES: Your aesthetic crosses many styles, what is your background with photography and is there a certain subject matter you prefer shooting?

CK: I started photographing when I was a student of architecture, so the first ten years I was shooting only architectural stuff. After I saw some masters’ work I focused more on people. Now I don’t have a certain preference, every subject seems challenging to me.

Charalampos Kydonakis aka "dirty harrry"
ES: Your photographs seem to allude to a painterly style, is this an influence to your work? What are some of your biggest photography and non-photography influences?

CK: There were many lessons of history of architecture and history of art in my university faculty. All these lessons helped me to understand something about how a thought can be expressed and formed visually in 2 or 3 dimensions. I don’t know if history of architecture and art has influenced my photos , I guess not, maybe subconsciously, but not by intention. I started to view photos of great photographers about 6 years before, when I started to photograph people. Some genius minds that I pray under their visions are:

  • Directors: Sam Peckinpah, Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel.
  • Writers: Nikos Kazantzakis
  • Painting: El Greco, Francisco de Goya, Max Ernst , Paul Klee.
  • Architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright, Vladimir Tatlin.
  • Music: Ástor Piazzolla, Ennio Morricone, Vicente Amigo, Stelios Foustalieris.

I ‘m inspired a lot by my people, other times by strangers, unimportant things, and other times, I’ve just drunk much and I shoot whatever is in front of me.

ES: What is the source of dirty harrry?

CK: harrry : a shortcut of my first name (Charalampos) in greek. dirty : my photos. My nickname doesn’t refer to the Callahan cop, I prefer Clint Eastwood in his western films rather than the Cop role, I don’t like cops.

Charalampos Kydonakis aka "dirty harrry"

ES: You group your images with interesting titles, what is your process for sequencing, are they shot at the same time or do you group them later?

CK: Initially, some years before, I didn’t have any project in mind, I just  took the camera and went out to shoot. After some years, I started to gather photos from specific subjects, I realized I had to somehow to group my photos so that I could see what it was that I was trying to shoot, and then focus on it. Still after all this grouping I don’t know what I’m shooting exactly. The projects change, a lot of old stuff is deleted and new photos get in the existing sets; sets get deleted and new ones emerge. Sequencing is a never-ending process.

Charalampos Kydonakis aka "dirty harrry"
ES: How many projects do you have going on in your head at one time?

CK: Most times I’m confused and there are many thoughts spinning around my head. I have in the background of my mind these existing projects and there are times I see things that could fit somewhere. Other times, I go out trying to shoot something specific to develop an idea. Many times though I simply have an enormous vacuum in my mind and shoot without thinking.

ES: What is photography for you on a daily basis?

CK: Probably two things:

  • Shooting my own stuff and editing them some weeks afterwards.
  • Looking at other people’s work and editing my blog with work that I find inspiring.

ES: If could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

CK: I wouldn’t like to have to dinner, cause we would eat and we wouldn’t talk much. But I’d like to get drunk one night with Nikos Kazantzakis or Sam Peckinpah or any of the people I love and are away from me.

Please check out more of Kydonakis’ work on his website and flickr.

Interview: Tom Hoying

Interview: Tom Hoying

Feature, Interview

Columbus based photographer Tom Hoying recently reached out to us, we really like what he is doing and check out our interview with him below to get a better idea of his work process and what he is all about.

fts I almost drowned in the Blue River
fts I almost drowned in the Blue River

Empty Stretch: Age/ Location/ 3 favorite things in life?

Tom Hoying: 22 years / Columbus, OH / art, my bicycle, and the people I’m closest to.

ES: How did you get into photography? Do you have a favorite camera or set up at the moment?

TH: I suppose I’ve always been taking pictures but I started really pursuing photo seriously when I was 16 or 17. In the past I’ve shot film exclusively, but I’m starting to transition into mixing digital and film into one workflow. So I’d say I’d split that question between my Mamiya 6, and a 5D.

ES: A fair amount of of your work seems based around American identity and aspirations of retaining or rejecting the concept of the “American Dream.” What about this theme interests you? Did your own upbringing influence you to tackle this subject matter?

TH: A lot of the areas that appear in I almost drowned in the Blue River I visited often when I was growing up. Some of the portraits are of family members as well. These details remain absent from my statement however, because I want the viewer to be able to connect to the work on their own, using their own individual experience and understanding of America. The “American Dream” isn’t a clearly definable concept and means a lot of different things to different people. Part of the motivation for making the images was the shift I saw in the attitudes of those close to me, and seeing my relatives in and out of work. I think the shift I observed also had a lot to do with my own coming of age, and having the haze of childhood idealization lifted. I knew I wanted the images to reflect my respect for the people and the land, but to also be honest and attempt to show some of the economic realities of the area.

fts I almost drowned in the Blue River
fts I almost drowned in the Blue River

ES: The body of work “I almost drowned in the Blue River” seems to play out as a eulogy for the “American Dream.” Could you talk about your work and thought process behind this series? If a viewer was to take one thing away from this series, what would you hope that would be?

TH: The “American Dream” is a constantly shifting undefinable concept based in opportunity, optimism, and the good will of the people around you.  I think the core of my statement is that although the recession may have hit hard, these communities and people will step up and support one another.  The jobs may have left, but the opportunity that the “American Dream” promises may not really be dead, it’s just constantly changing like anything in life. I was standing in the gallery with my prints getting feedback from a few people about the work and they all remarked about how it reminded them of where they came from, or somewhere close to them. For me, being able to connect with the subjects and subject matter in an intimate way, and then in turn sharing that experience with viewers who are able to connect and relate to the images in to their own way is why I make photographs.

fts I almost drowned in the Blue River
fts I almost drowned in the Blue River

ES: Do you consider your work a critique on American identity / the “American Dream” or merely a documentation of a time within America? Why?

TH: A lot of the images bear a specific nostalgic gaze, while many remain attached to the present. The work certainly isn’t a critique of American Identity, but rather an attempt to assert that American Identity, like the “American Dream”, is isn’t clearly definable and welcomes interpretation from the viewer.

ES: Who, photographically and non-photographically, has influenced you lately?

TH: I recently visited Cleveland for an opening of Christian Patterson’s work Redheaded Peckerwood.  Seeing the work in person and hearing Christian talk about all of the time, planning, and research that went into his work really impacted me.  The amount of care and connection Christian has with his subject matter is really inspiring.

fts I almost drowned in the Blue River
fts I almost drowned in the Blue River

ES: If you could travel to any planet, which one and who would you bring?

TH: I’d travel to Mars and bring my closest friends, a camera, some sunscreen, and grill.  Who wouldn’t want to have a block party on mars?

"Thou Shalt Not" Dayton, Ohio - fts Restless In The Midwest
“Thou Shalt Not” Dayton, Ohio – fts Restless In The Midwest

Please check out more of Tom Hoying’s work over on his website or blog.

Beholder

Beholder

Books, Interview, Spotlight
Down the rabbit hole that is the internet, I stumbled upon the photographs of Chris Cox. I enjoyed them & kept clikcing links. Over the next few days, I would keep coming back to the photographs that make up the series Spiritual Lake. When I found out he was releasing a new book, I knew I had to have a copy. We asked him a few questions about his process & work. Be sure to get yourself a copy of the book, from Gaspard Gallery.

Beholder by Chris Cox

Empty Stretch: Can you talk about how you got into photography & major influences to you & your work. You have very a mystical aesthetic, a certain combination of failure & hope, where is this derived from? 
Chris Cox: A distinct moment for me was when I was introduced to Jeff Wall’s photographs, this was a pivotal realization for me as an artist. Walls photographic tableaux work introduced me to photography as a means to interact more decisively with history. I was drawn to Wall’s ability to interact with other artworks, in particular painting.
Aesthetically my work is interested in finding figures in decided moments, the figures relationship to both their environment and the camera are the foundations for aesthetic preferences. The work can come across as formal or still in certain ways, this comes from a very concrete taste for particular compositions and formal qualities.
ES: What is the meaning behind beholder, it feels as if a loose narrative is taking shape through out the piece & seems like it is another chapter in your on going body of work. 
CC: The narrative and cinematic qualities of the work are both deliberate and results of process. When shooting for Beholder I would photograph with the same individuals at a particular location for several days in a row. Working in that way inherently produces narratives throughout the work. There are only about 40 images in the publication, so that narrative becomes broken and fractured. One of the more important decisions when creating the body of work was deciding what would go in the book and what wouldn’t. There are several scenes and environments that we created and photographed that didn’t make it into the book. The final selection of images is a quite concentrated and limited look into the overall scope of photographs produced.

Beholder by Chris Cox

ES: With Spiritual lake, the viewer seemed to be immersed in the water, here we are given sight of water but never quite submerged, do you wish there to be a dialogue between your series, how do you see them all working together? 
CC: The works in Beholder do have ties to past bodies of work, in particular Spiritual Lake. My overall process hasn’t changed much since shooting for Spiritual Lake, and I’m using many of the same models, so the work is going to be tied to one another in that way. Again this is a result of process, but the process is deliberate and is recreated to continue certain themes in the work. Publications or exhibitions function as capstones or introductions for particular ideas in the work, they act as a nice pause and opportunity to expand or refine where necessary.

Beholder by Chris Cox

ES: You used a gallery space to release a book of new images, where does the work go from here? Is the work meant to live beyond the book form? What is the next step for these images, if any?
CC: I view Beholder as a completed artwork in itself, and using Gaspard to exhibit and release the book was a nice opportunity to let it stand alone as its own individual piece. A couple beholder publications were all that was on view in the gallery, the exhibition experience demanded a certain degree of interaction with the work, it seemed to be an appropriate setting to release the project. Although, I am planning on spending the next year continue working on the body of work started with Beholder. I plan to exhibit a series of works from Beholder as well as new works in an exhibition of printed photographs. I will exhibit exhibit this larger body of work in the spring of 2015.
Beholder by Chris Cox
ES: You incorporate design elements often associated with gallery signage, through out the book. Can you talk about image info & the bodies of text within the work & what exactly you wanted the book to accomplish, i.e. just a book, a gallery show, or an object.
CC: The inclusion of the image information in the book was a way to show the photographs as part of a catalogue of images and give a bit of insight into the breadth of the work. The image numbers are referencing the chronological sequence that the images were shot. The poems at the front and back of the book, then disseminated throughout the book are written by Jacob Bullard, he is pictured in some of the works and is a frequent collaborator in my work. Designer Ben Biondo then worked with the various text elements and photographs to design and layout the publication. I rely heavily on the design of my publications, execution when producing a physical object is crucial, therefore design considerations are critical when considering the final experience a viewer will have with the work. The way one experiences printed matter is very different than when one scrolls through a feed on a screen, therefore all aspects of the publication and its presentation were considered when creating Beholder.

Interview: Missy Prince

Feature, Interview

Missy Prince has been making a name for herself through her photography over the past several years. Her Flickr stream is an instruction manual on wandering and learning how to see subtle and and sometimes haunting beauty in the every day. She’s been wandering a lot—through Mississippi, the American Southwest, through Washington and Oregon and back down South again. What she’s seeing feels familiar yet simultaneously fresh way that only comes with an esteemed sense of a personal voice. It’s straight photography done exceedingly and consistently well. There’s something to that consistency in the way she floats between landscapes, people she knows and doesn’t know, still lives, and of course vernacular architecture. I’ve been interested in getting between Missy Prince’s mind’s eye and camera for a while now—her photographs beckon more from me and I was excited to get an opportunity to read her words.

Empty Stretch: Age/Location/Three favorite things in life:

Missy Prince: I’m 42 and I live in Portland, Oregon. I don’t really think in terms of favorites, but I like driving around, records, my dog.

ES: Can you pinpoint a specific photograph or moment in time that got you to start taking pictures for yourself?

MP: It was a slow evolution. I went through a few photography phases, but I was never happy with any photos I took until a few years ago when I started carrying an Olympus XA everywhere. I shot compulsively until it started making sense. I remember getting a roll of film back that had about five better than average photos with a sensibility I could see as my own. It was a small but noticeable turning point.

Missy-Prince-2

ES: How important is making C-prints to your approach?

MP: At this point it’s pretty integral. About a year ago I decided to incorporate the darkroom into my workflow because I like to have prints rather than negative scans, and the average lab print leaves a lot to be desired. The satisfaction of having a physical copy that I printed myself is so great that it is hard to imagine cutting the darkroom out of the equation. I like having control over the final product.

ES: Some of my favorite images of yours evoke religion. Churches, Christ-figures, crosses, and other singage; it spans across your pictures from the South to the Northwest. Can you speak on these? Is it something you’re conscious of in your everyday life or is it something your camera just finds?

MP: I’ve often wondered why a random cross or church can stop me in my tracks. I’m not religious, but I was dragged to church the first twelve or so years of my life. Being there always felt strange to me, I never could relate to the experience. I stared at a lot of crosses as a child, so perhaps photographing them is a way of revisiting my past. But I think it fits within a more general interest in where people find meaning in their lives. Religion is one of the more obvious places, but it is an attractive subject because it’s so loaded. I’m usually drawn to scenes that lean toward the peculiar or askew: a truck stop chapel, a broken steeple lying on a church lawn, a prayer box in a parking lot, a proclamation of faith on a satellite dish. I don’t think about religion in my everyday life and I don’t look for it as a subject but I eventually find it, especially in the South.

Missy-Prince-5

ES: Conversely, how do you deal with the tougher subject matters like adult book stores, bail bonds agencies, liquor stores?

MP: They are just places I’m attracted to. I don’t feel like they are challenging or tough. They are interesting places in interesting parts of towns. I think they fit very well next to the religious imagery. My interest in them is like my interest in, say, Tom Waits’ album Small Change or some old blues lyrics. Hard times are doorways to the unknown. People go to weird places through them, and you wonder how they got there. It’s more interesting than joy or contentment.

ES: What is your relationship to some of the people you photograph? They’re seldom seen in your work but when you make a portrait there’s some intimacy there I’m eager to know about.

Missy-Prince-6

MP: I used to photograph only friends, but lately I’ve become more interested in photographing strangers because it is a different kind of experience. I’ve always been a people watcher but the habit has taken a long time to find its way into my photography, partly because it’s harder to interact with people than with objects. Taking that next step and actually engaging with the people I notice is suddenly exciting. The camera gives me an excuse to enter their lives. I like to spend time with them and hear them talk. Maybe that’s where the sense of intimacy comes through. I get to find things out about them that I might not learn if I just passively observed them. I don’t know the kid with the basketball, but the place is very close to me. It’s the street I grew up on. Last time I went home he and his friends were outside my folks’ house playing basketball every day. The day before I left I went out and got his picture. Right before I snapped it he said he wanted to be a porn star.

Missy-Prince-7

ES: There’s obviously a musical facet to your work, as well, as traveling and walking. I had the opportunity not too long ago to go through a Flickr slideshow of your greatest hits and it felt like reading a short novel to me. No chapters, but a sort of stream-of-consciousness writing that reverts back to previous thoughts and wildly new ones. How much do you feel literature is a part of your process and work (if at all?)

MP: It’s a big part. I think photography and literature are both driven by the impulse to show something about life, to give our observations some kind of form. There was a time when I wanted to write. The desire isn’t so strong now, but I can see a connection between it and the role that photography plays in my life. Both involve imposing a narrative onto experience, noticing details, making connections, figuring out what is important or interesting about a situation and trying to put it into a form that makes you feel something. So much of the literature that moves me has a wandering theme. Stories from the road, people on the move, on the run, or looking for something, the recurrence of the familiar amid uncertainty and change. Such work is reflective of the spirit that made it. It carries the charge of life, always moving, always searching. My process is very much about wandering, being out in the world and coming back with pieces of a story that is hopefully held together by the thread of my own sensibility. I don’t know exactly what I will find when I set out, and that is the point. Photography, like writing, is a means of discovery, a filling in of (or working around) blanks, a fleshing out of ideas or feelings. I imagine that if the urge to write returns it will somehow be informed by what I’ve learned from taking and editing photos.

Missy-Prince-8

Missy-Prince-9

ES: What are you currently reading?

MP: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell and Bitter Music by Harry Partch.

ES: Where is your photography headed in 2013?

MP: I hope to get back to Mississippi and continue some work there.

We hope you do, Missy. Thanks! Be sure check out her Flickr stream, Tumblr, and do yourself a favor and purchase an 8×10.

Book Review: Chris Berntsen

Books, Feature, Interview, New Zine, Pictures, Spotlight

I was driving around New Orleans with no real destination, when I passed a guy on a bicycle, he looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. A few minutes later, I realized it was Chris Berntsen, this only solidifies his somewhat mythical creature status. He does what I try to do, only he succeeds. He seems to constantly be in transit, he consistently makes new work, & is one of the nicest people I have come to know in recent years. We interviewed him about a year ago & since then he has had shows in Montreal, New Orleans, & Philadelphia, & released a new book “The Ritual of Nothingness.”

chris-berntsen-emptystretch-01

It come’s in a xerox cardstock sleeve, black & white with a beautifully cyan out of focus portrait, gold text scribbled across in messy cursive. As I pull the book from the sleeve, I almost immediately realize, he has accomplished in one book, what I have been trying with Empty Stretch releases for years; he has kept the ethos & feel of a zine, yet translated it into book form. Photos taped in, sporadically arranged, collaged, notes written; he has stepped right inline behind the greats of Jim Goldberg’s “Raised by Wolves” & Ed Templeton’s “The Golden Age of Neglect.”

chris-berntsen-emptystretch-03

chris-berntsen-emptystretch-02

I first got into Berntsen’s work because of his photos & videos of bands & his closeness to them & I have stayed interested in his work because of that proximity. You can look at these photos & know he cares about his subjects, some faces repeat, & you can actively see the transitions of his friends, whether physically or geographically. He has spent years with these people & this is their yearbook of sorts & I can only hope to one day produce a body of work so drenched in passion & so footnoted with care.

chris-berntsen-emptystretch-05

If you haven’t previously seen his work, I urge you to get a copy of the book, as well as take another look at his website, he is constantly adding new photos & videos.

You can email him at chris@chrisberntsen.com or pick up a copy at Dashwood Books in New York.

Interview: Johnathon Kelso

Feature, Interview, Pictures

Johnathon Kelso‘s photographs have been a source of inspiration for me in more ways than one over the years. I was drawn to his work about two years ago when I found his Flickr page in my own search for Southern identity in contemporary photography. Kelso’s pictures exude a lot of my own ideas regarding a sense of place down here. Vibrancy, intimacy, (Kelso makes friends with the landscape, he knows where to go, and the people around it, he knows how to talk to his subjects), sitting, listening, and, for me, a genuine understanding of the importance of Christian ideals. His photographs all come down to witnessing. And he does it so well. Kelso’s at his best when he photographs the Sacred Harp singers, of which is he is not only a participant but an observer of the beauty that fills the rooms when voices blare. You can almost hear it. You can certainly feel it. I was hesitant to contact Kelso at first, as he’s done a plethora of interviews about all this over the years, but I’m glad I did.

fts, "I Want to Die A-Shouting"
fts, “I Want to Die A-Shouting”

Empty Stretch: Age/Location/Three favorite things in life:

Johnathon Kelso: I’m 29, I live in Atlanta, Georgia. My three favorite things are my mother, my dog, and the Trinity (cheated a bit on that last one.)

ES: What are the Sacred Harp Singers? How did you first get started with photographing I Want to Die A-Shouting?

JK: Sacred Harp singers are people just like you and me – anyone can sing this music. Both young and old alike for many generations have came together and sang these praises to God. Sacred Harp or “shape-note” singers refers to those who commonly sing from a popular hymnal like the Sacred Harp, or something similar that uses shape note notation to aid along in the sight reading process. It’s full throated singing, bringing people from all different walks of life together. You don’t have to be classically trained or have a pretty voice, you just need to be willing to have some fun and do some singing. I had been singing for a good while before I started this body of work. It took a lot for me to put down my song book long enough to do anything else but sing. It’s funny too, because once I started photographing at singings, it was never the actual singing that I was interested in. I wanted folks to see the love Sacred Harp singers have for one another and the joy that comes from these times we spend singing. In doing so, the visual work was taken away from the hollow and square and to more intimate settings like the back pew of the church where a mother would be teaching her son to sing, or drawing near with friends to sing at the bedside of those passing away. I wanted to soar above the music and tradition a bit and get to the hearts of the people who join together in song.

fts, "I Want to Die A-Shouting"
fts, “I Want to Die A-Shouting”
fts, "I Want to Die A-Shouting"
fts, “I Want to Die A-Shouting”

ES: I acquaint singing in a group like that to the act of photography itself. You really do bear a lot of yourself out to the public, more or less, and in a way that’s somewhat immediate. How do people respond to you when you ask to make their picture?

JK: I reckon people always surprise you and you can get a handful of different reactions throughout a day. Oftentimes at singings people are familiar with me wielding my camera around and it gives me a chance to talk to people a little better and get to know them. Outside that arena though, reactions are always of mixed degree. People in the south are always wanting to understand what I see in them or their surroundings that is worth while. I’ve gotten into the habit of giving my camera to strangers and have them look through the viewfinder to see for themselves what might be beautiful.

ES: What are your favorite songs to sing?

JK: If we are talking Sacred Harp jams, I tend to lean towards the minor tunes or songs with poetry that draws my mind back to where it needs to be. One of my favorite’s in the Denson book, 397 The Fountain, goes – “There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains.” Those just aren’t words you hear sung in most churches these days.

 

fts, "I Want to Die A-Shouting"
fts, “I Want to Die A-Shouting”

ES: What does it mean to be a Christian working in the art world?

JK: As I mature in what it means to know Jesus, I struggle with how being a Christian not only affects this arena of my life, but all aspects of living in general. In the past couple of years I’ve wrestled a lot with trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian man holding a camera. God has given me a gift that allows me to approach strangers and interact with them on a personal level within minutes. Getting to know the people whose lives I’m documenting and hearing their stories is important to me. My hope is that whatever it is I’m doing, whether it be working with a camera or simply befriending people I meet, that they would come to know and see Jesus through our interaction together.

fts, "Ongoing"
fts, “Ongoing”

 

fts, "Mountain View"
fts, “Mountain View”

ES: What first attracted me to your work was that I didn’t see any of the normal aspects of the South that first come to viewers minds when they hear “Southern” — how do you contend with the rich history that precedes this part of America?

JK: Well, I guess people first have to realize is that the South, just like anything else is rapidly changing. Those iconic images that Eggleston and Christenberry shot are still out there, but there’s also so much more still on the table yet to be captured. Because the South is trying on different forms and the landscape is encountering small changes, even the oldest relics take on a new face. My eye will always go first to the images I’ve come to know and love about the south just like everyone else, but to stop looking there is to rob yourself of a great treasury that this part of America has on offer.

ES: When did you first start taking photographs?

I first starting making photographs in 2006 while living in Memphis, Tennessee.

JK: Can you describe your most recent body of work “Mountain View”? How did you approach photographing this town and its people?

Essentially, it’s the documentation of a town that was. Mountain View is the the only town in Georgia history to be abolished by the Georgia State legislature. Folk stories and rumors of why the town eventually disbanded differ from person to person but the arching theme that is prevalent in all stories pins the Atlanta airport’s destructive and expansive need for and more land as the cause to why thousands of residents were “bought out” and moved. Churches, schools, and businesses alike slowly but surely boarded up, shut down, and were bulldozed over to make room for the megaplex of the future which now stands proudly as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The work focuses on what remains, who remained, and who moved in.

 

fts, "Mountain View"
fts, “Mountain View”

After work everyday I’d drive just outside Atlanta and explore this place. It was fascinating to me that know one talked about it or knew it existed. Some of the new business owners I interviewed had no idea that the land they worked on (thought to be a bypass between Hapeville and Forest Park) used to be a town in itself. Beyond the kudzu, just feet beyond store fronts, were whole maps and grids of road and remnants of where people scratched out their livelihood. It seemed like a living tomb holding onto dying parts of itself and all the while harboring drifters and woebegone’s. Most people I photographed were quiet and wanted their privacy. A lot of folk never answered their doors no matter how many times I stopped by or left notes explaining my presence. It was very difficult tracking down the original community members to photograph, so a lot of what you see in the work are people living on the fringes of the place – people living in the woods in secret huts covered by brush or pastors holding onto small congregations and waiting for just the right time to sell their properties to the Airport buyers.

fts, "Mountain View"
fts, “Mountain View”

 

fts, "Ongoing"
fts, “Ongoing”

ES: What are you up to now? What does this year hold for you and your photography?

JK: I am still figuring that all out. I put down the camera for a bit after the Mountain View work and have only recently started shooting again. I’ve been thinking a lot about Grey Villet’s work in the late 60’s when he documented interracial marriage in the south and how that might look different today. If I shoot anything of value this year, I’d want it to be something like that.

Can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon, thanks, Johnathon!

Interview: Katherine Squier

Interview

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Katherine Squier. If I had one word to sum it up, it would be refreshing. Reading through her answers, she exudes an excitement & the wonder that I have always loved & associated with photography.

katherine-squier-emptystretch-01

 

Empty Stretch: Age/ Location/ Favorite things in life?

Katherine Squier: 24, soon enough 25 / Austin, Texas/ good hugs, belly laughs, traveling, music, kind people, natural light, finding the right words, feeling grateful, animals

ES: What got you into photography? What keeps you photographing?

KS: I just decided to try it out as a hobby, I had been seeing a lot of commercials for nice cameras and thought it would be a good investment. I would randomly go out and take photos at first but then fell hard after my dad gave me his Canon Ae-1 after cleaning out the attic. I take my camera everywhere with me because it feels like I’m missing a piece of myself if I don’t. It also feels like an ultimate type of awareness, like I’m really appreciating my life by acknowledging and capturing the uniqueness and beauty in all the moments.

katherine-squier-emptystretch-02

 

ES: Who is your favorite person to photograph? Who is someone you’ve always wanted to photograph?

KS: Both of these question are hard- I don’t know if I have a favorite person, I love photographing all the people I’m close to. I have never thought about who I would love to photograph, as there are so many people out there that I think would be so interesting to capture!

katherine-squier-emptystretch-03

 

ES: You seem to be extremely attracted to light & it’s placement, it makes it seem like you’re more interested in an internal moment as opposed to external. Is this something you’re conscious of & does that make the photos hold a special place for you?

KS: I love interviews because a lot of the time the interviewer has insightful questions about my work and it even helps me gain better perspective sometimes. I take photos never trying to produce a certain type of look or feel, I just go with instinct, so your observation about light and internal moments hit a chord with me. Light moves me and I think it places a special spotlight (no pun intended!) on each moment– the most ordinary, mundane scenes become beautiful and heightened experiences with the right light. So it’s much more an internal recognition of what I see as the external manifestation of how special a moment is? Photos with special light aren’t necessarily more special than other ones, but light is a powerful factor in terms of what moves me.

katherine-squier-emptystretch-04

 

ES: You’re Ground work photographs seem very much about mark making & remind me a lot of abstract paintings, is that something you are influenced by or interested in?

KS: I wouldn’t say it influences me but I have been developing more of an interest in it since I started photography.

ES: Your portraits show very little if any of people’s faces is this for their sake or your own?

KS: I’ve always wanted to show people’s full faces but unfortunately because most of my photos are of my close friends and family, and during times when they aren’t necessarily wanting to be “seen,” photographing them when you can’t see their face is the only option I have in that moment, out of respect for their privacy and not having my camera always intruding into their lives. Also, my sister is a big subject of mine and she almost never wants her face shown. For all other cases, unless they are obviously happy I am photographing them, it’s because I’m afraid it would make them uncomfortable since I can get that way when someone wants to photograph me.

katherine-squier-emptystretch-05

ES: Who has the best beard you’ve ever seen?

KS: My future husband? (kidding, kidding– maybe)

ES: What is your favorite place you have been?

KS: So hard. Over my entire life, I honestly don’t know!

katherine-squier-emptystretch-06

ES: Any projects we should be keeping an eye out for?

KS: I spent 5 months solo in Europe traveling around during the later part of 2012, and I’m self-publishing a photo book out of the mass amount of film I shot. It’s taking me a while now that I have more obligations than ever— but it’s happening. And I’m excited– so keep an eye out for it and get excited too! :)

Please find more of Katherine’s work on her website & tumblr.

 

 

Interview: Ricky Adam

Feature, Interview, Pictures, Spotlight, Travel, Uncategorized

Ricky Adam is one of those people that I love to find through the internet, because I knew him all along. I read a DIG BMX mag all thru my teens & even still today, the magazine Ricky has worked for a decade & a half. The photograph on the Refused album insert that is the photo I am trying to take any time I take pictures of a band, Ricky took that photo. The title of his new book “Destroying Everything… Seems Like The Only Option” is the title I’ve been trying to come up with for years.

After coming upon Ricky’s book at the ever amazing Quimbys in Chicago a few weeks ago & putting al these pieces together, I decided I had to know more about this person who already seemed like such a key piece to my life.

Empty Stretch: Age/ Location/ 3 favorite things in life.

Ricky Adams:
Feeling pretty old & getting older  – I grew up in a small costal town called Bangor in Northern Ireland which is about 10 miles outside of Belfast, but I’ve been living in Leeds U.K. On & off for the last 10+ years.
There’s no way I can narrow it down to just 3. Off the top of my head: good people, music, nice vegan food, photography, animals, coffee, fog, big trucks getting stuck in small streets, people sneezing in public.

ES: From my own experience & friends, it seems people involved in the bmx/ skate/ punk scene often just naturally find themselves behind a camera at some point. How did you find yourself start photographing?

RA: Photography for me is something that started out purely as a hobby. I rode bikes, skated & all my friends were into punk. The things I photographed were a direct response to that, and a catalyst for picking up a camera in the first place.
I’ve ridden BMX bikes since I was 12 years old. 26 years on and I still ride, and not in a midlife crisis sort of way either. It just feels right, it’s always felt right. Same goes for taking pictures.
I quickly realised that photography was something that I could do pretty well. It fitted in with my lifestyle. I liked the immediacy of it & it was fun, so I stuck at it. I’ve often felt a bit of a disconnect in social situations and having a camera helped with this.
After some time I began to take it more seriously and started to document certain aspects of the Northern Irish punk scene, as well as other things that I thought were worth documenting. At the time no one else was taking photos at gigs, so in a way I felt a sort of responsibility to do so.

ES: You recently had your book “Destroying Everything” released. What was that process like for you? Did you have any previous experience with books/ zines. How was the book design/ editing process overall?

RA: Putting together ‘Destroying Everything’ was a totally liberating experience.
About a year ago I was looking through my archive of photos and realised that I had lots of images that bore a resemblance to one another. It was a strange process. A lot of the photos were taken some time ago. As individual pictures they felt a bit disconnected, but when I edited them down and put them side by side they morphed into a really powerful set of images.
After that initial realisation I felt compelled to turn it into a book and put it out there.
Maybe it’s my own paranoia, but since the book’s come out I’ve noticed that certain people seem disappointed when they meet me in person. It’s happened a few times. It seems people expect me to be a loose canon, or something.
I was at a show recently and some kid asked me where Ricky Adam was. I told him it was me and he laughed. He said “ha ha, Ricky Adam’s a gnarly fucker!” He didn’t believe me! And that sort of thing has happened more than once…
I find it funny that a selection of pictures can alter a person’s perception of someone so radically.
As for previous experience with print: I have worked as a photographer & Co. editor at DIG BMX magazine for the last 16+ years so I did have experience with editing and print, which helped hugely. I also made a few punk zines in my teens as well.
I’ve always loved print: books, magazines, etc.
I’ve always been a collector of things which is another reason why I got into photography.
I did all of the design myself. It’s fairly basic but I wanted it to look ‘punk’, and I think I’ve achieved that. It works in context with the photos. As for editing, I started off with over 1000+ photos and ended up with 104. I had some help with this. You really need another perspective after looking at the same photos over and over. There were a few photos I really liked that got pulled. But that’s how it is with editing, you have to be ruthless.

ES: I’ve noticed a love for the midwestern United States in your photos, what is it that you like about that region? What’s your favorite place you’ve ever been too?

RA: Well, as often is the case it started out with a girl – About 10 years ago I dated a girl from Minneapolis and ended up going there a lot over the 5 years or so that we were together.
It was a great experience.
Coming from Ireland the Midwest was an exciting, frozen foreign land.
Minneapolis, or if you prefer ‘Ice City’ has a nice atmosphere about it. I haven’t been back for years but I sometimes get quite nostalgic about the place: Harsh winters, Extreme Noise records, Seward cafe, thrift stores, quirky Midwest things.

ES: What is your photographic process? Digital/ film?

RA: The way I work is kinda haphazard and often out of compulsion. I tend to only photograph things that genuinely interest me. I’ve found that’s the way to get the best results – from photographing things that I find inspiring.
There are some projects I have done that are solely focused on one particular subject/theme. But usually I’ll take photos here & there, which over time I eventually edit down into different sets.
I like how projects organically form out of the tangle of images. This fermenting over time approach works for me.
I shoot both film & digital. I shot film for years (pre digital) – A lot of my favourite photos were shot on film. I find myself using a lot more digital these days. It’s more cost effective, faster and better for the environment.
Ultimately, as long as I get the pictures that I want it doesn’t matter to me what format they were shot on.

ES: What is your favorite subject to photograph?

RA: Over the last lot of years I have focused a lot on youth sub-culture. I also particularly love documentary/street photography. I’d say that over 90% of my photos have people in them.

ES: Who are your photographic/ life influences?

RA: For the first few years taking photos I knew nothing about other photographers. What prompted me to pick up a camera were the bands & creative people who I hung out with. But as I got more & more into photography I started discovering amazing photographers such as Eugene Richards, Robert Frank, and Larry Clark.
The D.I.Y. punk scene influenced me in a big way. When I was around 17 I started going to gigs in Belfast. I’d see people playing in bands, and running & organising gigs, without the help of promoters or any other outside help.
Bands from all over the world would show up, play a gig, then stay at someone’s house.
Being around this sort of environment was inspiring and pushed me to be creative in ways that I hadn’t thought possible before. It was a turning point for me.
I learned to play drums and ended up in a few bands which over time led me to photography.

ES: What keeps you photographing?

RA: I’m an obsessively curious person, and out of that curiosity comes a desire and appreciation to look, listen and absorb.

ES: Any current projects you’re working on or we should keep an eye out for?

RA: There will be a 2nd (extended) edition of ‘Destroying Everything’ coming out some time in 2013. So, I’ll be busy with that and more than likely doing shows here & there to tie in with the book.
Over the last few years I’ve been documenting a bunch of punker friends who have been squatting in random houses. It’s not completely finished yet, but it’s getting there. I’m really excited about it, but I won’t be showing it until it’s 100% finished. Please find more of Ricky Adam’s photographs on his website & do yourself a favor & get a copy of “Destroy Everything… Seems Like The Only Option.”