Monday, July 28, 2014

Christine Shank

Christine Shank is an artist working predominantly in photography. She has exhibited in both solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States since 1998 and her artwork is in the Harry Ransom Center and the William Benton Museum of Art as well as several private collections. Shank has been an artist-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony, Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and the SIM Residency in Reykjavik Iceland. A selection of her “Interiors” series was published in 2008 through Booksmart Studios in a limited edition monograph titled She Quietly Considers. Shank has received funding through The Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, New York Foundation for the Art’s Strategic Opportunities Stipend and The Midwest Center for Photography.

Christine Shank has a BFA in photography from Miami University of Ohio and a MFA from Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas. She currently lives in Rochester, New York where she is an Assistant Professor and the Director of the MFA program in Imaging Arts at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Ashley Kauschinger: Your series, our first year together, has a great variety of imagery. What is your thought process behind this decision and how do you still create a cohesive series? 

Christine Shank:
 Yes there are a variety of different types of images within the series. My ongoing project, our first year together, consists of images that seem unrelated but are bound together by their treatment and tone. There are images that hint at and reference one another while intentionally remaining enigmatic. There are images containing a trace of reference to other images within the series, like an icicle appears in one image and just the watermark from the icicle is in another one; the outline of scissors sun bleached into butcher paper that makes up a different image, nail holes in a wallpaper, blood stained tissues, all these images reference one another and contain a very ordinary type of everyday violence. I am interested in the way that images work together and against one another and how they suggest a very benign sort of disturbance. The sequencing pushes at the differences between the singular images to avoid the implication of any one specific narrative while the wide variety hopefully works to move the viewer through the whole body of work.

Within this series I have been really interested in pushing at what is thought of as a series of photographs. There are images that are highly constructed, to photographs where the only intervention is that I made a picture. Typically the subject matter, the locations, materials, photographic techniques, or methodology will be what binds together a series but with these images what holds them in relationship to on another is the quiet and often very subtle connection between them. This is what creates the tone I believe holds the images in conversation with one another. These images construct the moments in between points of significance, the way much of life is experienced in the middle of contemplation, conflict, and wonderment.

AK: What role does narrative play in your work?

The way I think about and engage narrative in my artwork has greatly changed over the years. When I was working on the Interiors Series (2004-2009) I was very interested in constructing a story to be contained within the frame of one image. That story was told through the scenes I built and the image’s title.

In my current body of work I am most interested in creating a sequences of images that a narrative cannot be easily drawn out of, so it’s the opposite of how I was once working. With this work I am most excited by the restraint needed to make suggestions without pointing to a direct narrative structure or creating a narrative arc. I am not interested in creating a singular narrative or even an explicit narrative. I hope for a feeling to emerge and a relationship between the images to be recognized and that the person viewing the work finds something in the combinations they can relate to. I know this is a tall order considering the speed at which most people consume images these days, especially online with Tumblrs, for instance, or in overwhelming hyper experiences like art fairs.

The title of the series, our first year together, is intentionally vague and creates more questions than answers. In fact I have been developing the series over many years—from 2009 – 2014. But I think the title matches the softness and suggestive moments within the photograph while creating a time period in which to consider the images. A few years ago I had a review with curator Roy Fulkerson and he said, “don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there,” which is a quote from Miles Davis and it fits how I am thinking about what emerges from our first year together.

AK: What influence does literature and poetry bring to your photographic work?

I feel connections between photography and literature. What I draw the most inspiration from is what I read and what I experience in my day-to-day life. I recently read Rage of Poseidon by Anders Nilsen, Mumbai, New York, Scranton by Tamara Shopsin, Path by Rebecca Solnit & Elin Hansdottir and Can’t and Won’t: Stories by Lydia Davis. For different, and some overlapping, reasons these books are really inspirational to me right now. Jeffery McDaniel is my favorite poet and has been for a number of years. I always go back to his poems and always feel something stir in me when I read them. Diane Ackerman, Annie Dillard, Malcolm Gladwell are also writers that I am inspired by and always enjoy reading. The way they can create a story about the fragility of being human while also examining nature, society, economy, and exploring their own curiosity through stories is wondrous to me.

My husband has recently been reading books on the origins of the essay and the conversations we’ve had as a result have caused me to think about sequencing images in a very different way and inspiring me to sketch new images to create in the studio.

AK: Take us through what a day of creating art is like for you. What environment do you create for yourself?

I really prefer being alone when I’m working. I figured out pretty early on that socializing and making art don’t fit together for me; even when I’m just scanning negatives I prefer isolation. Over the years I have had really wonderful studio assistants but I have never been able to really make my work with anyone else around. I like it to be quiet, no phone, no internet, sometimes no music. My studio is a very private place where I can play, make messes, make mistakes, consider things and walk away from something leaving it right where it is knowing that it will be there when I return. I have a phrase taped to the back of my studio door – expect nothing– which is what I strive for when working. Holding that in mind keeps me open to surprises. I am a very organized person when I teach and I try to be tidy in my home and office space at work, but in the studio I am none of those things. In the last decade I have had 5 different studio spaces and the ones that worked best for me were those where I left home to go to the studio. Even just a mile away is enough for me to separate myself from the other responsibilities of my life and to enter the working space of the studio. In recent years I have started to do residencies and in those months or weeks away I am the incredible productive. There is something really uncomfortable and helpful to me in the window of time where everything is new, uneasy and unsettling, I feel a heightened sense of awareness and am very sensitive and productive in that time.

AK: You graduated with an MFA from Texas Woman's University 10 years ago. What advice do you have for photographers navigating the world after graduate school?

I think post-graduate school you have to really be honest with yourself about what your priorities are and what is most important to you. I believe you have to figure out what you enjoy doing and how you want to spend your time. During graduate school, time is really devoted to your growth and experimentation as an artist and students have to work within the requirements of a specific program. Other than the program’s guidelines it’s really about you and your work. When you are done with school you have to get really clear with yourself about what you want and what you are willing to do to have what you want in your life because no one is holding you accountable for anything anymore.

I chose the path of teaching as a way to make a living and support my art. I’ve been really fortunate and I started teaching full-time directly after grad school. This has worked out well for me and I have been fortunate to work in supportive universities with colleagues who have helped me grow as an educator and artist. I have friends who have chosen other avenues and I talk to my students about the variety of jobs and careers that may be a good fit for their lives post grad school. I think it’s important to remember no path is easy and no choice is wrong, you have to figure out what works for you.

Also I think the quote in my studio I mentioned earlier is good advice in it’s many interpretations: expect nothing.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ariella Gibson

Ariella Gibson is an American born artist and photographer. In 2013 she received her BFA with a concentration in Photography from Memphis College of Art. Her work investigates subjects at a level below the surface, literally or metaphorically. Through intimate documentation of the visceral and emotional, Ariella explores shared mental spaces. Her work has been exhibited nationally and she currently lives and works in Northwest Arkansas. This summer she will begin her MFA in Photography at Hartford Art School. 

Project Statement 

Born explores the significance and complexity of childbirth. People involved in a birth are torn between negative and positive emotions, a strange mixture of happiness and pain, worry and excitement, anticipation and dread. This series puts an emphasis on the physical byproducts of birth to symbolize these kinds of conflicting emotions. They are both kinds of interiors becoming exteriors, our insides emerge outside. The visceral natures of the byproducts of birth are important tools for evoking a reaction in the viewer. Feminist theory attributes sexism partially to women’s inevitable relationship to the abject. By elevating abject imagery to fine art, the series deconstructs the taboos associated with birth and the female body. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Scott Alario

Scott Alario was born in New Haven, CT in 1983 and currently lives and works between Providence, RI, and Alfred, NY, where he is a visiting assistant professor in the School of Art and Design at Alfred University. He received his MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2013. His work has been included recently in exhibitions at Louis B. James, NY, 2013-14, and ClampArt, NY, 2013. In 2011 Alario was named one of seven emerging photographers to watch by Art New England. He is the recipient of a 2012 Fellowship Merit Award from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Alario's work is currently on view in a solo exhibition (til July 18) at Kristen Lorello, NY. 

What We Conjure 

I’m in the process of a body of work that has no end in sight. What We Conjure is an autobiographical story, a contemporary folk tale, one that I’m creating along with my partner, our five-year old and our dog.

The work consists of pictures that are made while tracking and documenting, collaboratively inventing and constructing. I follow intuition, daydreams, our daughter’s instruction, or carefully sketched out ideas; and I set them before a large format view camera. Using an 8 x 10 inch film camera connects me directly to the history of photography, and specifically, to a history of the family photograph. It’s a process I’ve come to love regardless how counter-intuitive it may seem amid today’s picture making technology. The view camera’s fidelity and rendering of tone is unrivaled, and its presence with a sitter creates a performance, its own unique drama.

I’m exploring my role as father through these pictures, and occasionally appear on the other side of the lens, implicated in the story we weave. There was a point when I found myself wandering, looking for a photograph, with fingers crossed. When I became a parent I felt an urge to tell stories and so set out to make a fable for my daughter. Along the way, reality has leaked into our myth. We are on a search for the spiritually significant, the magic in every day. What will we find that’s worth passing down? What will we conjure?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Daniel W. Coburn: The Hereditary Estate

Daniel W. Coburn lives and works in Lawrence, Kansas. His work and research investigate the family photo album employed as a visual infrastructure for a flawed American Dream. Selections from his body of work have been featured in exhibitions at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and the Chelsea Museum of Art in New York. Coburn's prints are held in collections at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago), the University of New Mexico Art Museum, the Mulvane Art Museum, the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, and the Mariana Kistler-Beach Museum of Art. He has been invited as a guest lecturer at national and international photography events including the International Festival of Photography in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and the Helsinki Photo-Media Conference. Coburn received his BFA with an emphasis in photography from Washburn University. He received his MFA with distinction from the University of New Mexico in 2013. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Photo Media at the University of Kansas.

Interview conducted by Deedra Baker 

The Hereditary Estate Statement

Quiet suffering occurs within a family unit living under the auspices of the ideal American Dream. A psychologically violent relationship with loved ones, and an immersive cult-like experience with an evangelical Christian church contributed to my loss of spiritual and domestic faith.

These issues take center-stage in a story that emerges from the walls of a single-family sanctuary and unfolds onto a Midwest landscape. In my story, these characters exist at the intersection of domestic duress and spirituality.

I photograph my family in parables of love, reverie, respect and quiet tragedy. These images are a tangible manifestation of fantasy, memories and experiences acquired during my journey to adulthood, and function as a supplement to the family album assembled by my parents.

Deedra Baker: The Hereditary Estate is your first major monograph. Why was it important for your photographic work to be presented in a book format?

Daniel W. Coburn: For me, the book format provides a unique curatorial opportunity. The experience we have when flipping through the pages of a book is much different than walking into a physical space and interacting with work in a traditional exhibition. Both can be dynamic in their own way, but I enjoy the book format because I have control over sequencing. It allows me to take more control over the narrative and create a powerful psychological dialogue between carefully chosen images. My goal is to inspire a strong psychological response from my viewer, and I think I am able to accomplish that with a book.

All of my work is a response, or supplement to the traditional family photo album. Most family photo archives are filled with visual cliché's: a series of staged happy moments that punctuate the banality or tragedy of everyday life. These collections became the visual infrastructure for the false ideology of the American Dream. The Hereditary Estate is a family album, one that is designed to puncture that illusion. It just makes sense that it is presented as a book or album.
DB: Throughout your oeuvre, you appropriate and / or utilize the vernacular photograph. How do you acquire said photographs? What is the nature of their existence in The Hereditary Estate as they are paired with images from the series, Next of Kin and Waiting for Rapture?

DWC: I am fascinated by amateur photography. I collect amateur snapshots for pleasure and include them in my own work. I find them in a variety of places: antique stores, estate sales, garage sales and online auction sites. My approach to collecting is similar to my strategy for making my own photographs. I am looking for images that possess a dark psychological undercurrent, ones that don't fit the paradigm of the ideal American family.

I am also looking for images that have a similar potential, but require some sort of intervention on my part. In recent work, I have been physically altering these vernacular photographs to transform the family narrative.

Designing the book has been an exciting challenge. It's as much about the language of photography as it is about family. I am interested in the syntax of an image or photographic object. For instance, how does a weathered family photograph from the 1950's work in conversation with a modern digital photograph? How can I use this dynamic relationship to add context or commentary to a complex family narrative? You'll have to buy the book to see how it all comes together ;)

DB: The Hereditary Estate explores themes of the “American Dream,” family dynamics, and psychological trauma. Do you feel that in making this work you have grappled with your “loss of spiritual and domestic faith?” Or, do you see this body of work as a narrative of such experiences rather than an experience of catharsis?

DWC: I believe that I am telling an important story. I am inspired by artists like Emmet Gowin, Sally Mann, Ralph Meatyard and Larry Sultan, who believed something very important, inspiring, or life-altering can be found in the quotidian, or the everyday. My own family history is haunted by instances of substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. Has this process been cathartic for my family and me? Yes, very much so. Can it be cathartic for my audience? I have found that many, or most people have similar stories in their own familial histories. I hope that people can look at my pictures and recognize a bit of himself or herself, or someone they know in the set of characters that I present. I hope that my work inspires conversation and discourse surrounding family, and the representation of family in pictures.

DB: There is a tenuous balance between the sinister and fragile in your photographs. As you make work, which depicts your family unit, do you see this juxtaposition as an important quality to these intimate, sublime images?

DWC: Jenna Garrett once described my work as "…a mixture of resentment, questions, and hurt always present in a ferocious love." I think this description is accurate. I am at odds with these people in my life. I love them, they love me, we have hurt each other, and we have survived each other.

I have described my mother, the powerful matriarch of my family, as having a presence that is simultaneously menacing and fragile. My father, intimidating because of his rough and brawny exterior, is actually quite vulnerable. This juxtaposition is important, but only because I want to provide a compassionate glimpse of the people that I love, but at times resent.

DB: There have been two successful years for you since your last Light Leaked interview (published September 03, 2012). What, if any, career, promotional practices, or working methodology changes have occurred between now and then? Also, please share information about your Limited Edition Collector’s Portfolio and Limited Edition Pre-sale of The Hereditary Estate.

DWC: It's important to me that my work reaches the public. Over the past two years I have been working feverishly to make new photographs and exhibit as much as possible. I see this new book, The Hereditary Estate, as a retrospective, but also as a conceptual work of art. It's a physical supplement to the broken family album that exists in most family archives. The book is being published by Kehrer-Verlag with international distribution, which means this new album will appear on bookshelves in homes all over the world, completing a necessary conceptual component of my work.

I am currently working to schedule a series of exhibitions and signing events surrounding the release of the new publication. I am excited to announce that the first in a series of traveling exhibitions will take place at the Mulvane Art Museum from January 9th - March 14, 2015.

I am offering a limited edition pre-sale book as well as a special collector's edition portfolio to offset framing and shipping costs for this traveling exhibition. The book is priced below retail cost for a limited time. I would greatly appreciate your support.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Acacia Johnson

Acacia Johnson is a photographer and artist from Alaska. Her photographic process can be described as expeditionary in nature, exploring her profound connection to the landscapes of the Far North in Alaska, Scandinavia, Iceland, and beyond.

Acacia has worked as a photojournalist in Norway and has exhibited her work internationally. Her work is also included in collections at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum and the Smithsonian Museum of American History. She holds a BFA in Photography from Rhode Island School of Design and is the recent recipient of a Fulbright Student Award to pursue a photo project in the Canadian Arctic for the 2014-15 academic year. She will be working as an expedition guide in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic this summer. 

Origins Statement

These images are a return to the boreal landscape of Alaska, my childhood home. In the Far North, a place not governed by conventions of light or time, hours pass in the movement of the stars, in the rush of the sea ice adrift in the tide. Together with my family, I roam this land, seeking the places and occurrences that illustrate the wondrousness I perceived as a child. Like birds and all things blessed with flight, the landscape escapes the bounds of the earth, its profound subtleties happening inside of us as much as they are happening outside. Through my camera, I construct a personal mythology for my family, in which the landscape serves as a gateway to a numinous realm, and we stand, awestruck yet at home, at the border. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

John M. O'Toole

John M. O'Toole is a photographer and bookmaker living in Brooklyn. He graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA in Photography in 2011. He works as a digital photography technician in the Photography Department at Pratt. He has exhibited work in Brooklyn, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Italy, England, Ireland and Finland. He is also the editor-in-chief and founder of Oranbeg Press.

Diaspora Statement 

This work focuses on Irish culture in America and the significance that Irish identity holds for older immigrants, like my father and extended family, in relation to the younger first generation, like myself, and those not of Irish descent. "Diaspora" means a group of people who live outside the area in which they had lived for a long time or in which their ancestors lived.

In 2011, I started Oranbeg Press, an independent publisher based in Boston, MA and Brooklyn, NY. Oranbeg's books are a mixture of artist created zines, photobooks, online media, and collaborative works. Our main goal is to promote the idea of "what is a book?" We use a variety of printing methods, unconventional materials and ideas of bookmaking to further a growing dialogue. In addition to books, Oranbeg Press has other publishing projects like Interleaves, Beta project and NET the online exhibition program. In July, I will be putting on an event called Across the Gutter, a series of exhibitions, events, and a pop up Siopa Leabhar/Bookshop.  To learn more about Oranbeg Press and its other projects, visit