at Length

Posts Tagged ‘Fresh 2013’

Peter Croteau

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

interview by Darren Ching and Debra Klomp Ching

Mountain I, 2012 © Peter Croteau

At Length: How did you start the “Mountains” project, and what was the inspiration?

Peter Croteau: The project began while I was in graduate school at RISD. In my work I explore the in-between spaces in the landscape, otherwise known as spaces of dross. During this time I was attempting to shift my process and see the everywhere-nowhere spaces I had been photographing in a new way. The shift occurred when I was photographing piles of snow at night. I was interested in the liminal quality of snow, and the strange contrast snow has with the night sky under parking lot lights.

One of the photographs I came back with was different from the others. I had moved in on the space, and the camera frame had been transformed into something ambiguous—something that could be from another world. This ambiguity was an exciting new way of representing the landscape for me, and I decided to return to many sites of dross that I had been photographing, to attempt to transform them into something other.

One of my main inspirations for the project was Joe Dealʼs last body of work, West and West. Deal became tired of the amount of photography that replicated New Topographics aesthetics and only focused on manʼs impact on the earth. He felt that photographs of suburbia, and man-inflicted landscape, are in danger of becoming too familiar and easily dismissed.

With the oversaturation of images of ravaged landscapes comes a sense of complacency in the amount that we consume from the land. In West and West, Deal decides to turn the other way and re-imagine the Great Plains as how they may have been before we were there, as he imagined them as a child.

I found this act of reimagining the world key to my process as I began reframing spaces of dross. I found the process of turning a mound into a mountain was an act of reimagining the landscape as a wild space.

Mountain II, 2012 © Peter Croteau

AL: One of the first impressions of the photographs is one of monumental grandeur, juxtaposed with ambiguity regarding scale. What statement are you making with such a bold and confident portrayal of seemingly banal mounds of dirt and rubble?

PC: From my photographs I’d like people to take away the idea that nature isn’t just a physical thing, but also a state of mind that we can expand to include more elements than just grand and distant spaces. Nature can include what is right outside our back door. We need to look at our own surroundings—whether urban or rural—as natural ecosystems. We need to factor how man, space and other life forms fit together rather than see ourselves as estranged from the natural world.

I attempt to accomplish this by turning mounds into seemingly wild spaces shaped by the hand of God, only to have the viewer realize that it is in fact the human hand that does the shaping. Humans create these ready-mades for me to transform. This transformation asks viewers to question what constitutes sublime, wild space. Through my reframing of these transitional spaces I want to show how humans shape, build, destroy, and regulate the landscape through capitalistic systems.

If this free will were to be fully realized and society could moved beyond a desire to simply accumulate wealth, then we could begin to understand just how we need to shape this world. This may open possibilities for new designs and life styles, allowing us to coexist with the world in a state of balance.

AL: Does the ambiguity of scale also extend to the actual geographic locations of the photographs? In other words, could they be anywhere or somewhere specific?

PC: The ambiguity of the objects I photograph extends beyond actual geographic locations. The viewer is not supposed to know where the photograph was taken, but is allowed into a space where they can make their own assumptions about where in the world they are. The sites I photograph are so commonplace that they are everywhere and nowhere.

Mountain III, 2012 © Peter Croteau

AL: How was it that you selected the locations? Are they places that have some personal or other significance?

PC: Most often the sites I photograph are something I see when driving, and then return to at a specific time of day. The only personal significance they hold for me is that I am drawn to site of the in-between. Having moved over a dozen times in my life, there has always been a sense of dislocation in my life. I feel an affinity to the everywhere/nowhere quality of these spaces. Beyond personal affinity, I am interested in how problematic—but necessary—spaces of dross are, and how they speak to our economic relationship with the land of mass consumption and sprawl.

AL: In some respect, the landscapes you’ve depicted seem innocent and natural; it’s only with closer scrutiny that visual hints indicate human intervention. Is there a fine line that separates the two?

PC: Humans have made this fine line exist. I am trying to break that line between what we see as natural and what we see as manmade.

Mountain IV, 2012 © Peter Croteau

AL: What do you want the viewer of your photographs to see?

PC: I just want my viewers to be caught in a moment of ambiguity, where they are forced to question: What is reality? What is nature? And how do I relate to them? I want them to question the existence of the mountains and likewise ask their existential questions of themselves.

AL: The photographs display a formal composition. Why have you photographed them in this way?

PC: I have studied a history of landscape representation and employ many formal tropes from photographers and painters. More specifically, I am using the tropes of the Hudson River School painters, who depicted the American landscape as a vast beautiful land that was ripe for the taking under the philosophy of manifest destiny. By framing dross in relation to these historic painters, I am drawing up a dichotomy between the expansive landscape of dross that exists now and the wild frontier of the American West.

AL: Despite their formality, or perhaps because of it, the mood is very stoic and melancholic.

PC: In my attempt to make the unexceptional spaces in the landscape look like somewhere fascinating, the mood is very important. Getting my camera down as low as I can, and looking up at these objects in the landscape, creates a sense of monumentality and stoicism in the objects. Through my use of lighting and other weather factors, I attempt to draw mood out of the stoic forms. This mood can range from a deep melancholy to one of excited beauty. Use of lighting and weather to bring out the mood of the objects is one of the most important aspects for making these photographs believable—as distant, sublime spaces.

Mountain XI, 2012 © Peter Croteau

AL: The photographs are very fresh, in the sense that you have depicted something rather unexpected and often overlooked. What was it that fascinated you about common piles of earth, or did you seek them out in order to visually communicate an already-formulated concept?

PC: What fascinates me is the existential nature of man I see held within these spaces. I see man creating his own destiny in the ever-shifting American frontier of dross. I am trying to further the ideas set forth by Joe Deal, about reimagining the world as something other. By focusing in on sites where man has had the most direct involvement, but reframing them as something natural, I am creating my own vision of the world, which speaks to how we bend the planet to our own will.

Mountain XVI, 2012 © Peter Croteau

AL: Are you continuing to make landscape photographs?

PC: I am working on a couple of different projects right now. First off, I have been trying to further develop the dialogue I started with “Mountains,” by trying to make spaces of dross look like other elements of the natural landscape, such as valleys, rivers and glaciers.

I am also just photographing the in-between spaces around Providence, documenting the shifting landscapes and trying to replicate some views after a period of time has passed.

Also, I have been going through photographs I made during undergrad in Stroudsburg, PA, of the main street and how it leads into a continuous strip that I feel comprises much of the American landscape.

Lastly, I have been skateboarding for over 15 years, and I am working on a project photographing the marks skateboarders leave behind on walls and other surfaces. I feel these marks relate to those of the Abstract Expressionist painters. I am attempting to make the case that these marks from skateboarding are analogous to the marks made by the modern artist.

Peter Croteau is an American artist and graduate of RISD. He was selected as one of the exhibiting artists for Klompching Gallery’s 2013 edition of FRESH: The Wall/The Page/The Internet, July 17–August 10, 2013.

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Maxine Helfman

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

interview by Darren Ching and Debra Klomp Ching 

White Satin Bow, 2012 © Maxine Helfman

At Length: The series of boys in girls’ dresses is called Fabrication. Tell us about the relationship between that title and the subjects.

Maxine Helfman: I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘elephant in the room,’ so I titled each piece by a description of the fabric of the dress, shifting the focus to the ‘fabrication,’ rather than the gender. It was also interesting that the word fabrication has another meaning—a falsehood.

AL: The boys in the portraits display all the usual emotions one would expect of a boy when dressed in a dress!

MH: I cast all of the boys to be ‘typical boys.’ The sessions were very matter-of-fact, but almost every one of the boys came out with the clothing on backward. Buttons and zippers in the back made no sense to them.

AL: The dresses you’ve used look quite retro. Were they selected specifically to reflect a specific era/time?

MH: I wanted the dresses to be more timeless, as those selected seemed to be.

AL: Why is that?

MH: It gives them more of an innocence and less reference to a specific time, keeping the time-frame more vague.

Blue Organza, 2012 © Maxine Helfman

AL: The color palette and incorporation of a ‘falling away’ of the background at the edges of your photographs also adds some value to this retro feel. Is there a particular aesthetic that you are referencing in this context?

MH: The edges and color palette appear in a lot of my work; it takes the photographs out of time and place. For the same reason, I also tend to shoot a lot of my work without props and on simple backgrounds, so those details don’t overshadow the message.

AL: It’s interesting that a certain level of ‘age of innocence’ comes across through the portraits. Were you looking to create this emotional response?

MH: While I take a simplistic approach to most of my work, the issues they bring up are much more complicated. During the process of producing the work—and showing it—I am always surprised at the observations and discussions they bring up.

AL: Also, does this in some way reflect a sense of loss, that only those born pre-1970′s might relate to?

MH: I can only speak for myself, but I think you might be right. We live in a world of too much information and no regard for privacy. I certainly grew up in a much simpler time.

Size 7 Floral, 2012 © Maxine Helfman

AL: The personalities on the faces of the boys, and in their body language, are quite absorbing. More than one visitor seeing your work at the Klompching Gallery didn’t realize that the subjects were boys at all. How challenging was it to capture the appropriate expressions that you were looking for with each subject?

MH: I was looking for an age that I knew they could make their own decision about whether to do the project. I wanted to make sure they were all comfortable with it. They were all very natural.

AL: Elsewhere, you’ve stated that you like to raise questions through your photographs, rather than answer them.

MH: I usually approach issues of race, gender, culture and identity. With the boys, it is simply a boy in a dress, yet some are bothered or disturbed by it.

AL: What are the questions that you want people to ask?

MH: What does it represent? What is it that makes it unsettling? Would girls in boys’ clothes raise the same issues? My photographs are about questioning and challenging beliefs.

AL: Why is this important to your fine art practice?

MH: I’m not someone who wanders with a camera. The subject is usually an issue I’ve been thinking about, or an idea that comes from something I’ve heard—I listen to a lot of NPR and BBC. I think there are a lot of ways to get a message out. Sometimes that message is through photojournalism or documentary, or in my case it’s fine art. It’s important for me to use it as a voice.

Pink Iridescent, 2012 © Maxine Helfman

AL: And yet, identity, or the construction of identity, is a theme that runs through your other work. How do you see your different projects relating to each other?

MH: I take the same straightforward approach to challenge and confront the issues of identity. My series Historical Correction is a collection of what look like traditional Flemish portraits, but the subjects are African American.

AL: What are you working on now and what’s coming up?

MH: I’m finishing up a series of African American geishas and have a few other series in the works.

Maxine Helfman is an American artist who was selected as one of the exhibiting artists for Klompching Gallery’s 2013 edition of FRESH: The Wall/The Page/The Internet, July 17–August 10, 2013.

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Manuel Cosentino

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

interview by Darren Ching and Debra Klomp Ching 

Behind a Little House (A), 2008 © Manuel Cosentino

At Length: The Behind a Little House series was photographed over a two year period from 2008–2009. What were your considerations when making the initial photographs—what were you looking for?

Manuel Cosentino: I find it essential to work on long-term projects, because it allows me to develop a strong relationship with the subject and become familiar with all its idiosyncrasies. I select locations which seem to want to share a universal story and start collaborating with them. It is a two-way dialogue which entails a lot of listening on my part. Each photograph needed to play a specific role in the project—individually and as a whole—and I devoted a great amount of time, while on location, to thinking about this relationship and how it would have impacted the reading of the work. Each day was unique and had something to say, but only the sky in the first photograph could have started the series, and only the one in the last could have ended it.

Behind a Little House installed at the Klompching Gallery, 2013. © Klompching Gallery

AL: The resulting series had not been made public until 2012, suggesting a period of refinement and editing. Talk us through how you arrived at your sequence of eight photographs, and why you have grouped them as a set of five, a pair and a single image?

MC: I always like to forget about the photographs for a while, so that I can see them for the first time once more—it clears my mind. I devoted a long time to the construction of the project as a whole, focusing on the dialogue between all the images. I considered carefully the number of pieces and wanted to create an installation which could have been easily exhibited around the world without taking up too much space. There in no secondary photograph; they’re all key. The three-set structure in some ways follows in the footsteps of the three-act-play, devised as far back as the Roman theater. They set the rhythm of the work and punctuate the overall dramatic structure of the project. The viewer is taken through a visual journey. It starts, in a literal sense, to becoming allegorical and symbolic, and finally the last piece reveals the conceptual side of the artwork.

AL: One of the questions that many people have asked is, “where is the little house?” You choose not to say exactly where it is. Why is this?

MC: I never mention where the little house is. I prefer it to transcend geographical placement and become an idea. We all live under the same sky after all …

Behind a Little House (B), 2009 © Manuel Cosentino

AL: So, the title itself tells us that the work is not so much about the house, but rather about the sky behind. Is the sky a metaphor for a bigger concept?

MC: Throughout the work there is a stratification of layers that anyone can choose to explore or not—it’s up to the public to decide how deep they want their involvement with the project to be. The title plays a fundamental role, as do the little house and the sky—they all work together. The last photograph in the series, and the participatory artist book, take the symbolic and metaphoric meaning of the work even further, allowing for all facets of the project to be fully experienced.

AL: In many ways, then, the photographs appear quite simple, and yet they speak in so many different ways to different people. Is there an overriding message in the work, or a sense of universality that you are seeking to portray?

MC: Simplicity is the best language to talk about anything complex. Anyone can relate to the little house. I chose it because it reminded me of the little house that I’d draw as a child. It holds a strong symbolic value and speaks the same universal language as the sky. When looking at the photographs, anyone pours into them his or her own life and sees them in a unique way.

Behind a Little House (D), 2009 © Manuel Cosentino

AL: An interesting element of the work is the addition of an artist book that visitors to the exhibited artworks are invited to draw in. Can you explain what this is and what it means to you?

MC: I am interested in exploring alternative ways to present, interact with, and consume photography, as a way to activate and facilitate the dialogue between the artwork and the viewer. The participatory artist book allows me to develop a deeper bond with the public, and lead them from a position of observers to that of active participants. I always imagined it a little bit like a self-contained universe. The first photograph starts the series with a ‘Big-Bang’ and sets everything into motion; the last is a new beginning—it represents that piece of ‘carte blanche’ that we are all given with our lives. By drawing in the book, anyone is at the same time breathing life into it, keeping it alive page after page, and is also responsible for his or her contribution within a wider context.

AL: Besides inviting the public to become part of the project, you contributed yourself to the artist book with the first drawing, featuring two power plants towering behind the little house. Why have you chosen this subject?

MC: People coming to the exhibitions are first drawn to the wall-mounted photographs and are meant to happen upon the participatory artist book afterwards. It is at this time that, suddenly, the power plant drawing starts to suggest a further layer of interpretation. It was inspired by one of Mitch Epstein’s most famous photographs from the American Power series. When looking at ‘my little house’ embraced by pristine skies, and ‘Mitch Epstein’s little house’ dwarfed by power plants—they might look like two very different and distant places. But I strongly believe that they’re not that far apart ….

Behind a Little House, artist book. © Manuel Cosentino

AL: Each exhibition of the artwork has a new book. What happens with the books at the end of each exhibition?

MC: To respect the participant’s trust, the artist book is not for sale and at the end of each exhibition it becomes part of my personal collection, or is donated to a public/private institution. Furthermore, anyone who has taken part in the project is credited at the end of all future books. That is also where my name first appears in the artist book, as I don’t see myself as its author, but as one of the many people who breathed life into it. In the future I envision an exhibition where all participatory artist books will be brought together and exhibited as a whole.

Behind a Little House (H), 2009 © Manuel Cosentino

AL: This is your first body of work as an artist, and it has been embraced by so many people—going viral on social media/blogs/online magazines, exhibited across a number of venues in Europe, Asia and the USA—and has been acquired for collections, including the Bibliotéque Nationale in Paris. Are you now working on something new?

MC: I think that it is very ironic, for my first body of work to go viral. I often refer to it as an intimate participatory art project, specifically because I have chosen to sacrifice the dissemination opportunity given by large-scale web 2.0 distribution/interaction methods. I’ve chosen instead, to communicate through the intimacy of a book—in order to reclaim a physical connection with the public. The media attention has been truly exciting and has allowed me to reach an audience far beyond my wildest dreams. However, I do believe that the photographs and the participatory artist book should be experienced in the flesh. As for the future, I have been working relentlessly on my next project, which will be released in 2014, following a four-year obsession started—similarly to the Behind a Little House project—from a simple spark.

Manuel Cosentino is an Italian artist who was selected as one of the exhibiting artists for Klompching Gallery’s 2013 edition of FRESH: The Wall/The Page/The Internet, July 17–August 10, 2013.


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Priya Kambli

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

interview by Darren Ching and Debra Klomp Ching

At Length: In your statement about the Kitchen Gods series, you said that a key kernel for the work was discovering a family photograph that had been damaged. Tell us more about that.

Priya Kambli: One of my most startling early childhood memories is of finding one of my father’s painstakingly composed family photographs, pierced by my mother. She cut holes in them, so as to completely obliterate her own face while not harming the image of my sister and myself beside her. Even as a child I was aware that this act was quite significant, but what it signified was beyond my ability to decipher. As an adult I continue to be disturbed by these artifacts, which not only encompass the photographer’s hand but also the subject’s fingerprints.

Even though her incisions have a violent quality to them, as an image-maker I am aesthetically drawn by the physical mark—its presence and its careful placement. These marred artifacts have formed a reference point and inspiration for my new body of work, Kitchen Gods, but they do not limit the form my own work takes.

The purpose and focus of this series is to create and contextualize a body of work that creatively references the conflict in the image-making process—my father constructing an image of his family through his camera lens and my mother re-shaping that image with her knife.

Muma, Sona and Me—from the family archive of Priya Kambli

AL: You’ve gone on to create your own narratives, utilizing various techniques of manipulation. What relationship do these techniques have to the content of the photographs? For example: your use of rice and flower petals.

PK: My son, Kavi, once asked me if we were going to keep the flowers that I was buying at the grocery store, or if they were for art. The series, Kitchen Gods, is a conversation with my ancestors. The conversation begins with the family photographs that I carried with me in my suitcase when I moved from India to the United States, and which have been my companions ever since.

My choice of materials is dictated in part by play, and figuring out what works in the studio. My preference tends to be for materials that are domestic and humble in nature, and usually grounded in everyday use. But I think, besides being humble, simple, or common items, rice and petals (for example) are used to adorn household shrines—the kind of shrines Indian housewives keep in their kitchens. You might drape a garland of flowers over a holy man’s portrait, or a dish of rice might be kept, ready to use in small ceremonies (arthi). In my work I re-contextualize the familial qualities of these things, to serve my own artistic and creative purposes.

Mama and Dada Aajooba, 2012–2013 © Priya Kambli

AL: And the intriguing technique of creating a partial mirror-image?

PK: Going through the family photographs I realized, because of the way my father photographed, there were a lot of duplicates–well, almost duplicates; the images had slight variations. I was really intrigued by this element of repetition and wanted to incorporate it into my own work.

Dada Aajooba and Dadi Aaji, 2012–2013 © Priya Kambli

AL: There is the overarching theme of memory and family. What is your personal story regarding the meaning of these photographs? What does the title Kitchen Gods mean and how does this relate to the people in the images?

PK: My need to decipher and address my family photographs is personal. My work is rooted in my fascination with my parents, both of whom died when I was young. Therefore, for me these family photographs hold even more mythological weight. In my work I labor to maintain my parents and my ancestors, the way Indian housewives do their kitchen deities. I also strive to connect the generations—my ancestors and my children—who have been separated by death and migration. Like my mother, I alter these photographs to modify the stories they tell.

Aaji, 2012–2013 © Priya Kambli

AL: The photographs are very intimate, and this is further grounded by their scale. Have you executed them in this way with the audience in mind or something else? And then, each photograph is presented with an expanse of white space surrounding the images. What is the purpose of this visual device?

PK: The scale of the image is derived from the original unaltered photographs themselves. Most of them are pocket sized, intimate, and now have my finger-prints pressed into them. I am gentle and rough when handling them, knowing full well that they are irreplaceable, but at the same time unable to refrain from playing with them—like paper dolls, cajoling them to come alive. The purpose of anchoring the images in the white space is an aesthetic as well as pragmatic selection, dictated by my choice of scale. I wanted to give the image prominence, without having to compromise on the choice of scale.

AL: Your photographs are clearly highly personal statements about family and the role of family photographs. In a wider context, what is the value of the family album to you? From the point of view of parent, artist and also academically—the family album as genre?

PK: I am fascinated by family albums, but I am also realistic and pragmatic about them. I am aware that for my children, disconnected from my roots, photographs of my family and ancestors don’t have the same pull that they do to me—their [my children’s] interest in these photographs and people is that of kind strangers. Through this work I am attempting to recreate a much more tangible family album that I can bequeath to them.

Dada Aajooba and Mama, 2012–2013 © Priya Kambli

AL: What has inspired you to be a photographer?

PK: I never wanted to be a photographer. My most vivid childhood memories are of standing beside my sister in front of my father’s Minolta camera—waiting, while he carefully framed and exposed us onto film. My father, an amateur photographer, took the task of making images rather seriously. And we (my father’s family) often found ourselves to be his unwilling subjects. Our reluctance was related to his perfectionism. We, his subjects, were constantly herded from one spot to another, posed in one pool of light and then another. As a child I was certain that being photographed by my father was my punishment.

Interestingly I find myself donning the role of the photographer, demanding that same commitment that I balked at, hence most of my subject matter tends to be objects, artifacts or self-portraits—things that I can put through a wringer without feeling that I am donning my fathers shoes.

Priya Kambli was selected as one of the exhibiting artists for Klompching Gallery’s 2013 edition of FRESH: The Wall/The Page/The Internet, July 17–August 10, 2013.

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