Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It Can't Happen Here

Sigh. I always get reflective this time of year. Or maybe it's these damn hormone shots I've been taking lately. I dunno. Whatever the reason, the remainder of the blog-year will probably contain more personal posts than usual. Like the one with Bruce on Monday. And this one.
Tis the season for no time for Fruit

My print giveaway last week began as a whim. I figured it's the holiday season, I've got all these photos lying around, so why not? It was an experiment, and maybe a dumb one, but after letting it stew in my mind for the past few days the idea is beginning to grow on me. The truth is I've been moving away from the web over the past several months. Going to full print distribution may be the natural progression. Last summer I replaced my website with a simple filler page, and a few weeks ago I stopped my daily postings to Tumblr. So mail seems like an inviting alternative. 

The motivations for going offline are complicated and I'm still sorting through them, but I think at root it's general malaise. I realize I wasn't getting much satisfaction or feedback from posting recent photos online. Worse, they grew stale quickly. For me the most exciting photos are the new ones. I pump shit out like crazy -and shit is definitely the operative word for some of it. But when I throw a photo online it begins to age before my eyes. It becomes yesterday's news. 

I don't like that. I don't want to see anything of mine online I've already seen before, but of course that's difficult on the web. Things linger, sometimes for years. I know there's Snapchat and other ephemeral options, but I don't have the energy. So I'm switching gears, at least for now. Who knows what might happen in the future. If I knew the future, photography would be futile. I'd be in the fruit business. Because, I mean, duh. But I'm not in the fruit business. DAMMIT I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR FRUIT. Because I have to mail all these prints out.

By the way, the procedure went very well. As smooth as I could've hoped for under the circumstances. No complications. 

Reactions to the print giveaway were interesting. It was a sociology experiment. Who will respond and how? Most readers ignored it. Maybe they're suspicious of online freebies? Oh well, tough shit. I asked those who responded to tell me the number of prints they wanted. People who didn't specify a number went to the end of the line. Those who named a number mostly chose 3 or 5. Weird. A few chose 1. One person wanted 100. It didn't matter. I filled the orders, each one with a carefully selected mix. 

The funnest orders to fill were the ones for 1o photos. 3 is too small because how do you say anything in 3 prints? 100 is too many. That just turns into photo diarrhea. But ten turned out to be just the right number. With ten I could make a statement: OPERATION! I could tell a nice story with ten. Not that I would. Just saying, I could.

If you live in the U.S. and you specified a number your prints should arrive soon. They may seem random but trust me, there's a pattern. Look again just after you wake up. Or try setting your alarm for 3 am, then look. Try just before sex. I bet they'll change. Or maybe they were in fact random to start with. Who knows. 

International and non-specific requests will be filled after Christmas when the Post Office is normal again. Maybe January. Or June. Patience. I SAID, I'M NOT DOING THAT RIGHT NOW. OK?

Anyway I'm going to distribute photos this way for a while. So if you missed out on last week's offer and really want a print or 100, just ask. Hint: Ask for ten. 



On the topic of physical prints, the big news in Portland -at least in some quarters- is the imminent closure of Digicraft/U-Develop on December 23rd. This has been brewing for a while, ever since the digital revolution gained full traction maybe a decade ago and people fled darkrooms in droves. But now it's real. In one more week it closes for good. 

Digicraft is the last rental color darkroom in Portland. I'm guessing it's one of the last on the West Coast. There's rumored to be one in Olympia, but that's 100 miles away. So the closure will be a blow to the old school color printers in town. Of course that's only a handful of folks at this point -that's why the place closed; not enough use- but I think just about all of them are in my photogroup, so I feel for them. It's been a pleasure and an honor to see beautiful handmade C-prints every month from Bryan, George, Faulkner, Missy, and Lisa. The five of them are probably busy at this exact moment printing as much as they can before the end.

OK, I know what you're thinking. BFD, right? Hasn't everyone gone to digital printing by now? Well, yes, mostly. But there was a small crew of holdouts in Portland. Why did they insist on using such an archaic process? Well, if you've ever seen a nice C-print made directly from a color negative you know the answer. 


Digicraft/U-Develop Staff (via Facebook)

I tried my hand in the color darkroom several times. One of the mystical things about the color darkroom is it's pitch black. No safelight. So most of the time you're bumping around like a blind man, and you develop the sixth sense that I imagine blind people have, a heightened awareness of space. It's a very delicate process but I never gained proficiency. I could never quite dial in the cyan, magenta, and yellow. Minus this. Plus that. I don't know. But I gained strong admiration for those who printed well, and for their prints. Because a good C-print can be drop-dead gorgeous.

My relationship with Digicraft/U-Develop predates Digicraft. It used to be called just U-Develop, and for many years they had a rental b/w darkroom as well as color. For roughly my first ten years as a photographer, that's where I printed. I cut my baby photographer teeth there. I'd spend a day each week. I could take off my shoes, listen to music, and get a lot done. After ten years I'd figured a few things out. 

And U-Develop was busy then. It was the main place in town. They had 6 monochrome enlargers, maybe 12 color enlargers, and a few enlargers devoted to R-type process (printing slides). Almost all of them were usually in use. You actually had to call ahead to reserve a slot, a concept that seems sadly laughable now. 

There was a monthly gallery in the stairway where I discovered a lot of great work. And another rotating gallery downstairs. It was a happening scene. Every photographer in Portland passed through there at one point or another, and I got to meet many of them and see who was around and what others were working on. It was a de facto community center for photography, something currently lacking in Portland. Newspace is now the closest equivalent. But Newspace has no color darkroom. In another week no place will.

I can't blame Al for closing it. I'm pretty sure he was losing money. He kept it open mostly as a public service, or maybe out of nostalgia. But it couldn't last. He tried to expand into the digital market. In the mid-2000s U-Develop eliminated the b/w darkroom. They added the name Digicraft and developed a business in Chromira printing and high-end pigment prints. They were good at it, but I don't know if their heart and soul was ever in it. I think the spirit of the place was always linked to darkroom magic. In my mind I still refer to it as U-Develop, even though it's been Digicraft/U-Develop for many years now.

But alas, Al and Wendy are retiring. They're selling the building. It's all gonna stop now and it's a crying shame. But that might just be the hormones talking.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Q & A with Bruce Haley

Bruce Haley is a photographer based in Paradise.


BA: So where are you writing to me from?


BH: I'm at home, at that glorious collision of pine forest and high desert, with a creek and canyon and mountain range out my back door and the largest unpopulated area in the lower 48 out my front door... in other words, I'm writing to you from Paradise...

Where is that geographically?

That remote area where California and Nevada and Oregon all come together...

What town?

Okay, I’m being purposely evasive, but since you’re trying to pin me down  -  let’s just say that I live in Surprise Valley, billed as the place where "the pavement ends and the West begins"...  and that’s already more than I was going to give out  -  there’s a reason that people live in the middle of nowhere, ya know....

I'm looking on a map and realizing you're not far from Burning Man. Ever go?

Yeah, this area is one of two "portals" to Burning Man... I've never been, because I avoid crowds and traffic jams when at all possible... but the rest of the year I'm all over the Black Rock and surrounding areas…  some of my favorite spots are out there in those mountains and canyons...

What's a photographer doing in a place like that? Do you find subject matter close by? Or do you need to venture further?

I've pretty much always lived in rural areas, so my work has usually been done far away from home… which is obvious, given the majority of my subject matter...

Didn't you grow up in a rural area? Where was that? And what was your path into photography?

I grew up on a small ranch in California's San Joaquin Valley, about 30 miles south of Fresno… my path into photography was crooked, and late... I showed no interest whatsoever until about age 25, and didn't try to make a go of it professionally until age 31...

I was late to photography too. Didn't start until my mid-20s.

I guess we're both late bloomers, then... which is a shame, because doesn't conventional wisdom hold that photographers only do good work in their 20s and everything after that is shit...?

What happened at age 25 that grabbed your interest? What or who drew you in initially?

There really was no epiphany, no revelation or anything like that... I didn't see HC-B's man jumping over the puddle and say "A-ha!" I was in the Army - I was a paratrooper, and had a small operation on my knee and I had a few weeks off... I had previously had a little point-and-shoot thingie that sunk in the water during a kayaking trip... so during my post-operation time off, one day I just decided to buy a camera and learn how to use it - so I bought a Nikon FM2, an all-manual camera, and Kodak's "Joy of Photography" Volume 1, and taught myself all the stuff you needed to know back then.... and to this day that's the extent of my photo education!

What year was that?

Well, let's see, I think the Kodak volume came in a series of stone tablets, so it was, say, 1982...

Did you see combat action in the Army?

I've seen a great deal of combat action, but it was after I got out of the military... when I was in, I was a paratrooper (as I just mentioned) and also an instructor at the XVIII Airborne Corps Recondo (Reconnaissance Commando) School...

I know you've seen combat action as a photographer. I was curious if that attraction might've started earlier. But since you mentioned it, how did you become involved in war photography?

I grew up and always worked around the notion of service and arms... my father was a police officer for 25 years, so I grew up thinking that was what I was going to spend my life doing... I got my Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice, went into the military, got out and worked as both a police officer and a deputy sheriff, went to FBI SWAT school, was on a SWAT team, etc. etc. So I had this background that eventually crashed into my burgeoning interest in photography, and that led to my first war zone as a photographer...

Which was where?

Afghanistan, 1988…

Medicins Sans Frontieres, Afghan refugee camp, 1988


Were you freelance or working on commission?

Totally freelance... I knew absolutely nothing about the photo business, or much of anything about photography, really... I knew how to work the camera and I understood weapons systems... at this point I was just trying to build up a bit of a portfolio to show what I could do...

I just read a book about someone who went to Afghanistan as a freelance photographer in the mid-2000s. She found her way here and there but was basically a fish out of water. Then she went to Iraq for a few months, then Somalia where she was kidnapped for over a year. She was looking for trouble and she found it. Amanda Lindhout. Great book. I wouldn't wish what happened to her on anyone. She went through hell. But some of that was definitely on her, going into shady situations.

Well, if you look for trouble in these places you will definitely find it, and often you will find it even when you're not looking for it... often the latter is worse, because you’re not expecting it and it comes at you all of a sudden and you’re just screwed...

What was Afghanistan like in 1988? Physically and culturally?

I can't really speak to the greater picture, as I was up in the mountains with a mujahideen group... I do believe it's safe to say that the Soviets had devastated a good portion of the country in sort of a scorched-earth policy -  if memory serves, something like two-thirds of the pre-war population was either dead or displaced... the number of refugees in neighboring Pakistan was staggering... also, many mujahideen groups at that time were hostile to Western journalists, so you had to watch out both ways - the Russians AND some of the muj...

Sounds very sketchy. The mujahideen don't fuck around. Did you ever feel unsafe? Or maybe that was part of the draw for you?

I felt unsafe just about 100% of the time I was in the country... it was extremely volatile, and anything could happen at any moment... I came under a great deal of fire, and consider myself most fortunate to have survived a few of the incidents... I lost a good portion of my hearing in my right ear during a heavy artillery bombardment, when I was pinned down for several hours…  it took over a decade but eventually most of my hearing in that ear came back… I was surprised by that…  but overall it was good, in a sense, because you never know until you're in a very intense situation if you can still think clearly enough to take decent pictures… then again, this was before the camera did everything for you....

There were other ways to build a portfolio. What was it about war zones that attracted you?

I was more interested in the situations themselves, very much in an altruistic and humanistic manner, the "concerned photographer" who wants to get the story out... I know this sounds quaint or trite, but I was very dedicated to this…

Somalia, 1992


Was there ever tension for you between trying to get a particular shot vs. your humanitarian role as a helper?  If someone is bleeding, for example, and it makes a great photo, do you take that picture? Or do you put a tourniquet on the wound? Did you ever feel pulled in those two opposite directions?

Not really - I understood my role as a recorder of events and history... if I had wanted to do the other, I would have been an aid worker... of course there are times when perhaps the lines blur a little, but for the most part I could stay objective... and once this meant releasing damning images of a group that I truly believed in...

Which group?

It was the whole Burma execution thing, which I've talked about at length for over 20 years... I really believed in what the ethnic rebel groups were trying to achieve against a brutal regime, but at the same time I couldn't cover up or make excuses for atrocities..

Executions, Burma, 1990



Let's go back to Afghanistan a moment. Do you think the US should have any role there now?

I think what happened to Alexander, the Brits, and the Soviets should have told us something... you know the old saying about what happens to those who don't study history... also applicable is using the old "my enemy's enemy is my friend" - basing foreign policy on that can oftentimes come back around and bite you on the ass, hard....

OK, so you returned from Afghanistan with a portfolio of war photos. What was next?

Belfast, 1988


I did a few stints in Northern Ireland... then it was off to New York with my meager portfolio, to try to land a rep!

Belfast, 1988



Did you?

Long story short - yes, and it was better than I could have hoped for... after pounding the proverbial pavement and hitting a number of the big agencies (and actually getting a door slammed in my face by a very rude agency owner!), I managed to wrangle a meeting with the legendary Howard Chapnick at Black Star... and much to my surprise, he actually took me on at the agency... he was the most wonderful man, and is the reason I'm still in the business - the fact that he gave me a chance, gave me a break... looking back at those early pictures, I can only suppose that he thought I would either get better or get my ass blown away trying...

You don't like those early photos anymore? How would you critique them?

Actually, a number of them are decent - I can still look at them, still show them, whatever... I'm pretty hard on myself, brutal actually, when it comes to editing and what I'll show... then again, how many of us wouldn't like to have a decade or two of experience under our belt and then go back and re-shoot the early stuff?

I think it's healthy for tastes to shift over time. If you stayed exactly the same you'd end up liking Match Box cars forever. Bad example, but you get the point. I'm pretty hard on my early photos too but there are still many that I like. There are some I don't think I could shoot today because my brain's not wired to see that way anymore.

Of course - I think you HAVE to shift, or you get stale, or get into a rut and all of your pictures start to look the same... that's why I've tried to shoot a wide range of subject matter with a variety of camera formats - it's all about stretching myself, a cleansing of the creative palette and attempting something new…  and wow, I forgot about Matchbox - I had a ton of toy cars when I was a kid! I think I had the original Batmobile too, that was my favorite!  No, wait  -  maybe my favorite was the James Bond Aston Martin with the ejector seat that actually worked!

My kids have only recently grown out of them. Are you still with Black Star?

I haven't been with Black Star for a long long time... after Howard Chapnick retired, things started to change and a lot of us left the agency...

Are you still covering war zones?

I haven't done that in quite a while... who knows, I may return to it one of these days, but as my initial sprint into the business turned out to be a marathon, and I find myself 26 years on, I just have to follow a path through a lot of different subject matter, as I mentioned a few minutes ago...

Where has the path led lately? What have you been shooting recently?

Right now I'm on something of a hiatus - I've been wanting to take a break and just do something with my hands, so I'm preserving a historic building that is on my property, a flour mill that was built in 1867...

I fully endorse doing something with your hands. Building stuff uses a very different part of your brain than looking for photos.

Indeed, and it’s a welcome shift for a while…  I encourage photographers to live outside of the photo-box a bit  -  I think it can only help to stimulate your work in the long run…  learn how to rope a steer or fix your own plumbing or rebuild a motor…  but back to your other question:  earlier this year I was working on a project that was sorta/kinda semi-autobiographical - the San Joaquin Valley was in the national news all the time due to the drought conditions, so I was working on a set of pictures about the Valley that went beyond just the ubiquitous photos of cracked and parched ground and dry reservoirs...

Do you miss the adrenalin of war shooting? After photographing in that environment, other situations might seem boring in comparison. Or is that reaching too far?

Close-range combat, Burma, 1990



People look at my background and assume that I'm the stereotypical "adrenaline junkie,” but I don’t see myself that way... I raced motocross for years, jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, was on a SWAT team, was a combat photographer, etc. etc., so I can see where that notion comes from... but to be honest, a lot of those war situations scared the hell out of me, so no, I don't really miss being that afraid for my life... I still do quite a number of things that get the ol' adrenaline flowing, though...

Like what?

I do quite a bit of exploration in very remote areas, climbing, etc., and some pretty heavy-duty off-roading in my 4x4, and I still ride my dirt bike way too fast for an old man.... :>)

Cool. I used to do a lot of rock climbing and wound up taking some risks that were probably not very smart. But then kids came along and my whole safety equation got rejiggered. Doing crazy shit like that seems more selfish than it used to. If I kill myself I'm not just killing me. Other folks need me too. But I still enjoy climbing. Alpine mountaineering mostly. Nothing radical. I like that sense of exploration that climbing feeds off of. I think photography plays off of many of those same urges. The idea of walking somewhere, just around the block, with no idea what's coming. That's a part of why I enjoy photography. And also climbing.

My wife will tell you that I can't go anywhere, on a hike or whatever, and just stop... I always have to see what's over the next ridgeline, or around that next bend in the canyon... and it's the same with photography - when I'm working, it's full-on and very little sleep... sometimes I concentrate so hard with my work, my composition, etc., that I'll break a sweat even when it's freezing outside…

How long have you been married? How does your wife relate to your photography?

I've been married for 23 years, and my wife is a saint... I was doing war photography when she met me, so it's not like I was an accountant and then one day after we were married I said "Honey, I'm goin' to Afghanistan with my camera!" She's never tried to change me, and I admire that - there were times when I would be gone for many months and often she had no clue if I was alive or dead... and one time everyone thought I was dead - but you know the saying about the reports of my death being greatly exaggerated.... anyway, she's always been my biggest fan, but not necessarily my biggest critic - she loves just about everything I do, so I have to question her taste... she married me AND she loves all of my pictures - I really do have to question her taste!

Debra Haley (Bruce’s wife), Nevada, 2010


Going back a sec to your last response, that need to see over the next ridgeline comes down to basic curiosity I think. It's a need to uncover stuff or find out what you don't know. I think that's the most basic instinct in photography. Throw out the MFA programs and books. Curiosity is enough.

Well, it's what I like about photography - I've always said that the camera has given me an excuse for being in places where I have no reason to be and don’t really belong… but yeah, to me the camera is a tool for exploration, and to depict what's in front of it... as anyone who knows me can attest to, I'm not big on conceptual mumbo-jumbo... for me the world is endlessly fascinating, and I don't need to crawl up my own ass with my camera...

How do you relate to the art world? For example, how do you distribute or promote your photos?

I don't really relate to the current art world at all... I've always been something of a curmudgeon even when I was younger - I like representational art, I like photography that engages with the world, etc. etc., and I see nothing wrong with beauty in art... so modernism and post-modernism and all of the psychobabble conceptualism has sort of passed me by... but I’m not trying to be judgmental about it either -  you can get excited about Tracey Emin’s bed or her neon “My cunt is wet with fear” sign, and I’ll go look at Blake and Turner, and we’ll both be happy… 

As for promotion, I definitely fit the stereotype of the creative person who is terrible at self-promotion… and living what some consider a hermit-like existence only exacerbates this... I get a kick out of the fact that if you Google the phrase "the reclusive Bruce Haley" that you actually get a hit! But I'm not Salinger-type reclusive, really... but I'm also not on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram... hell, I don't even have a cell phone! So I'm not out there shouting about my work 24-7, like seems to be the necessity these days... whatever, people still seem to find me and I often get to do cool things that no one ever hears about.... just recently, for example, a band released some new merch - a hoodie and a t-shirt - with one of my photos on the back....

Which band? Which photo? Links to images?

It’s the Native American blues-rock band Indigenous, led by Mato Nanji…  Mato is an incredible guitarist (he also does the “Experience Hendrix” tour every year), and they just won a few more NAMMYs (Native American Music Awards) a couple of weeks ago  -  Mato won for “Artist of the Year” and the band won for “Best Blues Recording,” so big congrats, guys!  Anyway, one of my photos of Mato is on the back of the hoodie and the tee, and I like the design and the way they turned out  -  so everyone reading this should show the band a little love and order some merch…  I especially like the hoodie:


But back to your question about self-promotion, because this is a good example  -  most smart photographers would be on Facebook, Twitter, whatever, telling everyone that one of their images is on some new music merch…  and then there’s me (but at least I’m mentioning it here!)… a while back I did a book cover for William Peter Blatty, the guy who wrote The Exorcist…  another fun thing I did that no one ever heard about…  my career motto should be “Why self-promote when I can shoot myself in the foot instead?” :>)

Let's take your San Joaquin project as a specific example. Once you finish shooting that what will you do with the photos?

At this point, that's a good damn question... in fact, I almost never mention what I'm working on at any given time, because for some reason it seems to jinx it....

I didn't mean to jinx it. But I've hit some of the same walls. I don't like to self-promote. I have no gallery connections. So I take all these photos. And then what? I thought you'd have the magic answer -just kidding. But I would think that for you especially being so geographically isolated, online activity might be more important.

I guess the “magic answer” is that the magic has to be in your pictures!  Seriously, though, there is no good (or good-paying!) answer to your question…  what meaningful venues are there for in-depth photo projects these days? Print is dead, especially for lengthy photo essays... for most photographers galleries are hard to get into, and then it's ephemeral - up and gone... a boatload of work and expense, up for a month and then poof!  -  crated up or in a closet…  there are a zillion websites and web magazines, etc., some of which really know how to showcase images  -  but put your project up on one of those and it's like the proverbial drop in the ocean...  who’s even looking?  And did you get paid for your work?  Photography has been in a weird transitional place for a while now, and I don't claim to understand or even be a part of it…  I’ve spent most of my career in a self-imposed rural bubble, so I’m very thankful that my work has gotten out there and resonated with some people  -  I don’t take any of it for granted… 

But hasn't it always been in that place? I mean, the options for distribution now are much greater than say 20 years ago.

It was never easy, and even the oldest of the still-living old-timers will tell you that there never was this so-called "Golden Age" when it was all unicorns and money... and certainly there may be more venues now, online, and it may be easier to self-publish your own book and shove it into the very-limited photo-world pipeline, but who's looking at this stuff? I guess I should say, who's buying this stuff? Just the sheer volume is astounding....

I don't know. Are you? How do you see photos? Is it mostly online? Or books? Or do you see shows nearby?

It sure isn’t me buying this stuff…  in fact, I rarely buy photo books anymore… the majority of photographers I like are all dead anyway... I get Photo-eye's e-mail newsletters and I'm just baffled by what I see... I spend much more time looking at painting than photography...

How do you see paintings? In exhibitions? Books? Online?

Most of my viewing, either of paintings or photographs, is in books  -  I have a large library of art and photo books at home… I look at painting online, but usually within the context of some sort of research…  I look at very little photography online…  and because of the fact that I’ve always lived rurally, I see very few exhibitions  -  although I must say that the Tate Gallery is one of my favorite places on the planet!  And as if you couldn’t guess, that’s the original, time-tested Tate  -  not the Tate Modern…!  :>)

Do you think a painting can convey the same power in a book or online as in person? What about a photo?

With painting it’s something of a double-edged sword…  I can be blown away by a painting in a book, but sure, I would rather experience it first-hand…  but in a museum setting there can be distractions, crowds, other people talking inane bullshit, whatever  -  and how long do you spend there engaging with a single work?  And what of “museum fatigue?”  You allocate most of your time to the work you already know that you love, and it’s getting near to closing time, and your eyes are ready to glaze over  -  do you miss that lesser-known gem that would have been a major discovery for you if you’d seen it first thing in the morning?  That’s why I love books, because you can engage with them forever, at your own pace…  I think this is especially true for photography  -  in my opinion, the best venue for photography is a well-edited and decently-printed book…  sure, there are times when a vintage Paul Strand or Frederick Evans platinum print has just made my jaw drop, but for the most part I much prefer photography in books…  but back to the exhibition aspect of painting versus photography for a moment  -  when someone tries to get their nose right up to a painting, it’s usually to get a close-up look at technique, at brush strokes or application of paint…  when someone does this to a photograph, it’s usually some form of pixel-peeping and they’re mostly looking for a shitty printing job...  

Who's your favorite painter?

It would be too difficult to narrow it down to one… I love the visionary qualities of Blake, and the same in Charles Burchfield... I love a lot of the 19th-century French realism and Barbizon work, Millet, Breton, Daubigny, etc.; Tonalists like George Inness; the Pre-Raphaelites, esp. Rossetti's paintings of Jane Morris... Edward Hopper, Maynard Dixon.... the list goes on and on... I get more inspiration from these artists than from most photographers, really - I think some of the 19th-century French realism, the pastoral stuff, etc., is really reflected in the edit that I did for the book SUNDER...

Can you elaborate? How is painting reflected in the SUNDER edit?

I’ve said in the past that the edit was done something like symphonic movements, with passages of dark balanced by passages of light  -  horrible industrial sites and traditional agrarian areas and an attempt to make it all flow between two covers…  the painting aspect of it comes in the subject matter  -  I photographed pockets of culture that weren’t far removed from that which was depicted by Millet or Breton, and I wanted that to play a large role in the book…  especially in contrast to the horror of some of these industrial sites  -  and in places the two weren’t physically far apart at all...  and who knows, maybe I’m the only one who sees this painting connection, and maybe it’s just because I want to see it…  I have a good friend who is one of the world’s leading photo book experts, and he sees an Eastern European sensibility to the SUNDER work, along the lines of Jindrich Streit and Viktor Kolar… other people might see a Tracey Emin influence, who the hell knows…  :>)

I read in another interview that music is also very important for you. How would you describe your musical taste?

I always joke that if you were to peruse my music collection you would think that it belonged to a schizophrenic.... or that it was a group collection belonging to many people... I like everything from opera to heavy metal to twangy old-time country… but I hate jazz...

That's odd. What is it about jazz that you hate?

I think it's the dissonance, mainly, and the minor keys, or the fact that, to me at least, it sounds like the aural version of herding cats  -  five different musicians playing five different songs at once... but people will say that I'm not intellectual enough to understand jazz, which is why I'm also not smart enough to "get" non-representational art…  but actually, I quite like the earlier forms, such as Dixieland, swing, big band-era stuff, Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima… it’s when you get to more of the free jazz or fusion or whatever, then it loses me  -  maybe it’s just that dreaded “M” word again, “modern,” coming into play!  Just take into consideration that this is all coming from a guy who doesn’t even own a cell phone!  :>)

I have a half-hearted appreciation for jazz. I can't say I hate it but a lot of it leaves me cold. But that's because I think a lot of it is musicians speaking to other musicians. It only makes sense if you can recognize the keys and shifts and references, most of which I can't. 

The reason I'm going off on this is I think photography can sometimes be the same way. A lot of it is made for other photographers, or is best understood by other photographers. Which is fine. But I think many photographers work under the illusion that their work will have mass appeal, when really the potential audience is about the same as for a modern jazz record. Small. And don't get me started on photobooks. The target audience for them seems to be consciously shrinking. It's basically MFAs talking to other MFAs. It's like scientists communicating through papers in journals. 

Maybe that's just the world we live in. It's fractured into ever smaller niches. You find your niche and that's your people.

I love a world where everyone is into different things - if we all liked the same stuff, or if everyone made the same music or art or whatever, it would be boring as hell... that being said, maybe I just have simple tastes... I remain open and I push my boundaries all the time, but a lot of stuff just doesn't stick for me... as for photography, I get that everyone will understand Ansel Adams but not everyone will get Eggleston's tricycle, to use two examples of straight photography and mass appeal… I mean, who are the biggest crossover sellers in photography?  Is it Ansel, or is it Anne Geddes?  And if we take this much further along and further afield, to where photography seems to be today, and where it's heading, I think it's losing even more of its potential audience...  like you said, it’s becoming like small peer-reviewed journals, like studies on the migratory patterns of the Uzbek tree frog or something, where only 15 people worldwide read it, or even give a shit…  and I see that you're typing much the same thing while I'm typing (we’ve been typing over each other quite a bit during this live-chat-thing!)... the photo book-buying market worldwide is very small in the grand scheme of things... I've seen it estimated at around 5,000 hardcore constituents worldwide... and that shrinks considerably the more esoteric and obscure the photography becomes... but the web has allowed people to find their niche audience, allowed far-flung people with obscure interests to find each other, and I think that's a great thing overall...

What heavy metal do you like?

Wow, from photo books and shrinking markets to heavy metal...! I love a lot of the old stuff, like Black Sabbath... I love Dio... but I'm not like a classic rock station playing the same old shit over and over - I love some of the modern bands like The Sword, I absolutely love Monster Magnet... I like a lot of doomy stuff, like Pale Divine... but then again, I'm not parsing the definition of "metal" here either... I don't like a lot of the speed stuff and the growly vocals, though I do like bands like Five Finger Death Punch and As I Lay Dying... I guess one of my all-time favorite bands would be Tool - they are absolutely amazing....

Speaking of heavy metal…..   Burma, 1989



I second you on Tool and Sabbath. But at heart I'm not really a metal guy. I think that world is similar to jazz in some ways. It speaks through commonly agreed upon cues and signals. It's a niche. 

I think some of that has transcended the niche by now... but yeah, music can certainly be a "tribal" experience, with a shared feeling of belonging - when I was younger I was a total metal-head, and thought every other kind of music was shit... thank god I outgrew that!  I probably listen to more blues, blues/rock, Red Dirt, alt-country and Americana than metal these days anyway…  though I probably still do more air guitar than a 57-year-old in his right mind should do…  :>)

Do you think the photo world has some of the same "tribal" aspect? Is it sort of an isolated cultural niche?

I think it would take a lot of time and a great deal of hair-splitting to answer that correctly, looking at it especially in terms of genre and location  - for example, “I belong to this great street photography forum and I feel like I’m really a part of that group” or “The photo scene here in Portland is just awesome and I really feel like I belong”...  that sort of thing, that sense of community that some people find necessary or rewarding or both, there’s that in a multitude of variations… overall, though, with constant image bombardment and just about every person on earth photographing every meal they eat and posting it online, it makes the notion of photography as anything “niche” seem quite absurd…  although it might be like the tree in the forest thing  -  if a photo is posted on Instagram and nobody looks at it, is there really an image there?  Photography as the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox… actually, though, I guess you can just purchase your “tribe” now  -  you can buy “Likes” or “Followers” just like ordering Chinese take-away…  10,000 “Likes” for 70 bucks…  I wonder if they throw in a Beyonce download and a Kardashians box set with that…  I’m not sure I want to spend time pondering what all of this says about us…

One of the themes we've hit on is your relative isolation, both geographically and culturally from the mainstream photo world. I think this resonates with me because I'm sort of in the same boat in Eugene, cut off in some ways from most of the photo world. Who do you go to for photo advice or to share work?

To be honest, and for better or worse, I have never asked anyone's advice about my work, and I don't really share it...  it is what it is, I push myself hard and I think I edit myself hard, and when it's all said and done I have to live with myself and sleep at night  -  meaning first and foremost my decisions have to be right for me...  beyond that, if what I do resonates with others, then it's a win-win...  it's the main reason I never went to another agency after Black Star  -  so I could retain complete control over my images, the edits and what is released... but it has also cost me the moon in terms of the weight of an agency pushing and placing my stuff...  I go back and forth on this, in terms of how smart my decision has been...  if I was a fame whore, then it would have been a horrible decision...  as it is, overall, I'm better when I only have myself to blame...

How does your isolation affect your photography? It's something I've been wondering about in my own life so I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

I don't know  -  I'm not sure that the isolation has really had an impact upon my work...  what I'm drawn to in photographic terms, I sorta think it would have been the same no matter where I lived...  it's probably obvious that I have a stubborn and independent streak a mile wide, and my work would have pretty much been the same no matter what...  I've always had to just plug along and make my own mistakes and learn by doing and screwing up or whatever......