This self-made one-year project closes with the joy of remaining an archive.

The published articles and interviews will remain online; many of the creative works–and the makers of these works–are now showcased in numerous non digital venues; in short, the project feels complete.

if you are a first-time visitor, you’re invited to peruse the pages of this blog: see the variety and the read the authors’ intentions behind their work. 

Here was the premise: after suggesting, selecting, and searching what surrounds the Minnesota photo community, this blog attempted to interact and incite participation, offering an alternative venue to discover the art of the moment whether it be in process, yet-to-be-exhibited, or already on public view.

In closing, as an author my primary goal was to give voice to what I wasn’t seeing around me in my community at a particular point in time–and to offer, in as much depth as I could, a more full image of what I see around me.

Thanks for reading, Tucker

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Greg Carideo’s projects mine archetypes and stereotypes found within current culture with metaphor, wit, and unexpected but often comic surprises. His curiosities for and questions about what can be  visually explained, especially regarding assumed or common cultural behaviors (Craigslist ads, tourist photo-ops, desert sojourns, an evening walk in a neighborhood), come into question when still-examined.

I think that is what’s super smart about the work: often Carideo stops to notice, pausing time in a moment, the connection (well, one of many) to a self-conscious use of camera.  Without offering answers, he presents. And from most work I’ve seen, he’s seemingly absent from the image-making process as a personal voice. Why interfere with pure inquiry?

Across projects, the viewer’s reaction familiarizes itself in how much laughter and consideration one recognizes in one’s self when looking at his so-far oeuvre. Work which been rewarded with an MSAB Artist Initiative Grant, Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Award, and residencies. He is a graduate of MCAD in Minneapolis, MN and Accademia di Belle Arti in Firenze, Italia.


MPB: Could you explain how this project came about?

GC: I had made a sculpture earlier that year of a few cardboard cut-out figures sitting together looking excruciatingly bored. The figures were taken from a picture found on the web. I liked the gesture of making a life-size, chintzy memorial to a remarkably banal moment. At the time when I started working on Hikers, I would get into these searches for typological images on the internet. Pictures of people on top of mountains were always funny to me because their pose is meant to show their triumph over a mountain, which is sort of absurd to begin with. The two converged because it seemed natural to make a cardboard cut-out of a person at the peak of their glory, whether they look it or not. I decided that if the average person were to pose for a marble statue, they would do something similar to these pictures. The photo series that followed was a way of animating the figures and stressing the physical space between these people who were originally photographed in such distant places. I was interested in making the cut-outs perform for the spot light, a game of king-of-the-hill if you will.


MPB: Were you shooting on location?

GC: I photographed the cut-outs on a photo sweep in my studio but the source images are of course from different locations. Each figure is a person standing at the summit of a mountain top.

MPB: Are the cut-outs ready-mades? (If not, do you know the individuals’ identities, how many figures are in the collection?)

GC: No, they are not ready-mades. I produced them in the studio and took some liberties in the process, such as adjusting the contrast or skewing the tiled pages within the person’s shape. I don’t know who the people are however there are a few people who appear in the series twice, pulled from different pictures of the same hike, so when looking at the series there are moments of familiarity similar to “knowing” them. It’s kind of like seeing a stranger twice in one day, in totally different places of the city. I think there are twenty different cut-outs but probably only seventeen different people.

MPB: Have you ever hiked or trekked yourself?

GC: Oh yeah. Hiking is one of my main activities when traveling. I am not a “legit” backpacker though. I go on long, grueling hikes wearing jean shorts. I’m really not into the consumerism surrounding outdoor activities which may disqualify me as a hiker. I don’t own a Camelbak.


Here are my observations: Part of the humor in theses images is how the car-beauty shots are in formulaic sunset backdrops. Sunsets are about the wane of something and offer remaining nostalgic thoughts, and yet the project is about the impetus for new infatuations. There’s a charged, “Look at what’s already occurred, something is closing down as night settles.”  It’s like the subtext is as though there’s death before it starts, or that like so many spontaneous infatuations, many of those objects we pine for “drive away” too quickly, moving along to pass us by.

MPB: Be honest. How many cars or drivers factually caught your interest?

GC: I knew where to look, so most of the cars I came across caught my interest. These pictures came out of an observation not a preconceived project. I had an irresistible urge to photograph them. This all took place in a very small town in Iceland during the winter, where the few hours of sunlight consisted of a sunrise that transitioned into sunset. Because of the remote nature of the town, there is a “boundary line” where the town ends and the  landscape begins. The cars in the photos are on the edge of town and appear to be in the wild, however there is usually a house just out of frame. It’s a manipulation of perspective; the camera positions the car in nature while I (the photographer) remain in town.

MPB: There’s also a place for social commentary–both online personals and car marketing shots, are ways we sell items. 

GC: Yes, they both have a lot to do with desire. Photography is rooted in a desire for ownership; a way of dealing with something otherwise difficult to appreciate. It’s difficult to know what to do with a sunset or a monument like Notre Dame, so we make the experience into an objective activity of attempting to “capture it”. I saw a correlation between those Craigslist ads and a car against a sunset/mountain backdrop in that they were both a momentary idealization of something. The ”missed connection” postings are not so much advertisements as they are a memorial to an individual or moment.


MPB: One of your awards is a 2010/2011 Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist awards. How much impact did the award offer you? Could you describe your learning arc, as well as what surprised you?

GC: Well, one of the benefits of winning a grant is that you are relieved of some of your monetary stresses. I know that’s obvious but the time that affords you to work has an impact on the things you make. I feel like I made some good moves in that year, of which I am still working from today. The Jerome is great too because in addition to the stipend you have a few visits from individuals from the art world who you may not have access to otherwise.

MPB: Do you have insight into what you would have done differently, or how winning a different year might have changed your experience?

GC: It came at a good time because I was experimenting with different approaches to making pictures, such as slide shows and longs photo-sequences, that needed a viewer for me to know how well they worked. The fellowship was an excuse to show projects in progress, which has influenced me to be more permissive these days. I spent the majority of the grant period in Minneapolis, and if it were a different year, such as last year, I may have been inclined to work somewhere else, which would’ve limited my involvement with the fellowship. For instance, after the grant period finished I set off on some lengthy travels in an effort to insert myself into a different culture or context partially to see how a different place may influence my ideas.

MPB: Do you have insight for any others who aspire to receive the grant?

GC: Apply. It’s a gamble with no risk. Submit work that you care about and don’t be influenced by what you think the jurors are looking for.

MPB: Do you have particular goals right now in your career? Additionally, where do you want to go within the next year/three years?

GC: I’d like to find a sustainable way to support my travels while maintaining a studio somewhere. Currently, I’m just trying to share my work as much as possible. I may be applying to a few grad programs this year, so school could be in my future.

Hikers Installation Shot

MPB: Whose recent photo-works have caught your eye and why?

GC: I’ve been re-looking at a lot of Fischli & Weiss photographs. Specifically, the project Airports. The project is “recent” but they’ve been making these pictures for something around 25 years. Airports is great because it’s the biggest gesture towards a totally mundane thing, which is in fact totally crazy. They are giving the world what it needs, hundreds of pictures documenting an insane place, an in-between space designed to be overlooked.

MPB: Who are your non-visual inspirations?

GC: I have a tendency to idealize musicians and what they do. I’m not sure if I am inspired or envious of them however, because they make something that enters the body and moves people without explanation. I just like to think about the directness of a noise made by one person instantly influencing the feelings of another.

MPB: Are you a comedian? Do you celebrate that?

GC: I wouldn’t say that I am a comedian, they have a different motive. A comedian usually tries to entertain and be funny. If you’re an artist who is a comedian and the joke isn’t funny, than what does that mean for the art? This would be really troubling to me if humor was at the forefront of these projects. I think that the work fits more into the category of ‘witty’ because the humor in it is speckled here and there like little treats for a viewer who continues to look and engage with the thing.

MPB: This past year you spent time traveling — in New Orleans, the American Southwest –and your projects continue to explore desire: whether it be for immediate needs (water), personal interest (space, personal time), intellectual curiosity (exploration, research). Does your work play off or touch a personal narrative? As if the work is a meta-example of your own search or relationship to these desires? I’m curious if the work is personal — not that it’s important — but I think about a young artist and all the obstacles and all the confusing challenges that exist in the world. 

GC: That’s a good question. Sure, things can be looked at as personal, however not too personal because they are somewhat universal. I like to work from cliches and archetypes because they are often true and usually funny. Themes like ‘lost in the desert’, ‘paranoia about your surroundings’, or ‘sexy cars’ are meant to be metaphors for more common experiences. What I try to do in the more “narrative” projects is make them open-ended enough so that someone watching can fill in the blanks with whatever they see fit. The desert to me is like the manifestation of a mental space. There’s a lot of space for movement but it’s easy to get lost. To me, it’s strongest as a metaphor but the project also came out of the curiosity of what “getting lost” would look like without portraiture. Because experiences help generate ideas and material, you can see a personal narrative in most of my work. But then, what distinguishes the work from being documentary is that an image or object is not only itself. It usually demonstrates an idea that may be about something different than the literal subject of the photograph. I mean, most art functions like that though.

MPB: Let’s talk about botany. Can you explain your interest in plants and perhaps the way plants entered your work?

GC: I started to work with the bush as an image because of what it meant to be inside it. I think we all have a preconception of someone hiding in a bush as a voyeur or outsider. Taking pictures from a bush was a way to have the viewer look out onto something with skepticism or curiosity. It was a way to turn the subject around to the photographer rather than what’s being pictured. This line of thinking lead me to the thought that, whether or not there’s a person in the bush, we should be suspicious. I started making pictures as a voyeur whose paranoia of being watched made him suspicious of all trees. Like I was saying in the previous question though, what’s being photographed is just a way to get at something else. Plants and trees are my way of dealing with the idea of watching/being watched.

MPB: Any planned upcoming trips/travel? Or dream-wanderlust trip?

GC: I’m going down South again this winter but no concrete plans beyond that. I’d like to spend some time in Mexico City and the surrounding area. That might be my next long stay somewhere.

MPB: Where can someone see your work next?

GC: Well, there are some potential shows in the works but it’s too early to say for sure. The best way to see my work is to come to my studio and hang out with me.


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Wing Young Huie has a new project space, and upon hearing him describe the joint’s purpose, one may not be surprised to discover among one of his goals for it is to become an urban living room. Yep, you’re invited. Drop your sense of pretense. (And excuse me as I don’t apologize for first name informality.) Wing now adds “host” to his job description. If I may say so, I expect he’ll only smile and thank you for stopping by and participating. Bring your Ping-Pong appetite.

The Third Place is a continued reach to explore or reconsider neighborhood categorization, cultural exchange, personal and private space, what art can do. It is another project of his, a living project–one that can more immediately relate/respond/engage among many of the most poignant themes Wing’s already explored and unshyfully untethered–social engagement through listening or watching another human being communicate.

Wing’s presence in the community as a photographer has been encouraging, uplifting, it has offered comical-relief, it is inspirational, it is action. Wing uses the camera as a tool–if not weapon–to connect and perhaps restore disparate and misunderstood and unknown lifestyles, events, experiences. His public art photo projects have paraded the respective twin-towns’ ethnically populated boulevards; are almost always far less about himself than they are about the unseen fibers of a universal human experience; and lastly, are gifts to a social conversation for our communities.

MPB: Congrats, Wing! What was the original vision for The Third Place and has that changed since you’ve been in your space for a year?

WYH: The idea I started with was to have a gallery space that furthered my public art projects, commingling art and social interaction. And, like my projects, I tried to not think too far in advance and let the concepts evolve. I knew I wanted to bring in other artists and thinkers from different fields for an event once a month and have karaoke and ping pong afterwards, but that was about it.

At first I invited artists I knew and admired, such as Ed Bok Lee, a poet, and Barbara Kreft, an abstract painter and pretty much let them do whatever they wanted, with minimal suggestions on my part.

A big step was that after about a half a year I hired Stephanie Rogers as Gallery Director and that’s when we took on a stronger curatorial role. Word has gotten out and now we’re getting requests from artists. We’re also able to book presenters farther in advance, giving us more time to shape the evening. We challenge artists to go outside their comfort zone and to experiment, or to show a work-in-progress. We also encourage them to spend a significant amount of time talking about the creative process, pulling the curtain back as much as possible for the audience.


MPB: What hours are The Third Place open to the public?

WYH: We don’t have regular hours yet. Best to email or call to make an appointment, or take a chance and drop in. I’m there every day at some point unless I’m out of town. Stephanie is usually there Mondays and Fridays, 10 – 5.

MPB: What type of experience could a first-time visitor To Third Place anticipate in a visit?

WYH: One first time visitor who had recently moved to the Twin Cities told me that it was fun and edifying, and even though she didn’t know anyone she felt right at home. I would hope that is a common experience.

MPB: What programs, or projects, or themes have you shown since opening the space?

WYH: An incomplete list includes: A dialogue between two abstract painters, thirty years apart in age, one concerned with pain and the other with healing; an Asian film maker who discussed the challenges of making a documentary about a Hmong deer hunter who killed six white hunters in northern Wisconsin; a dual reading from an accomplished actor and an esteemed theater critic of their respective work-in-progress plays—the first forays for each as a playwright and the first public reading of them; an episodic puppet theatre piece as a response to Occupy Wall Street; a sensory isolation experience performed by a music collective; a conversation about the intersection of documentary photography and sociology between a prominent sociologist and myself; another documentary of an organization in South Chicago of former gang members who interrupt gang violence, followed by a vigorous audience discussion facilitated by a few of the violence “Interrupters”; and most recently an interactive, aleatoric work for violin and live electronics between a concert violinist and her music composing, husband-to-be—their first public collaboration—a site-specific composition titled: “Music for The Third Place.”

MPB: So what have you learned most?

WYH: I’ve certainly learned from each of the performances and realized that you don’t need to know a lot about a particular medium, such as music or theatre, to enjoy it. It was important for us to make all the events accessible to a diverse audience. Art can sometimes be a barrier.

I’ve also realized that setting the right tone; a balance of informality, vulnerability, and openness was important for the performers, as well as the audience. We suggest that introduce themselves to at least one person they don’t know at some point in the evening.

MPB: Can you discuss any of the gallery’s future projects?

WYH: We’ve tentatively scheduled my first solo exhibition for early December, tentatively titled: “Eat.” Photos will be culled from my archive coupled with new work. There will be a potluck opening and potluck closing. A zine-like catalogue will be available. The plan is to do a solo exhibit of my work two or three times a year, combining old and new work around a theme, with an accompanying catalogue. I’m thinking each will be titled after my blog, so the first would be: (k)now: Eat

MPB: Beyond programming, how does The Third Place reach communities–be it neighborhood, creative, various population demographics?


WYH: We’ve drawn quite diverse audiences, folks from the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods, college students and academics, all different socio-economic and cultural groups. An estimated 2500 have attended the monthly events in the 14 months and an additional 1500 have visited the gallery, including many K – 12 and college classes.

The corner of 38th & Chicago is emblematic of many urban corners in that there is a stigmatized perception; that it is a rough area. But how much does the media drive the perception of neighborhoods? What is the gap between perception and reality? And how much do images created by popular culture—Hollywood and marketing—reinforces and widens that gap?

The Third Place is a continuation of my many projects that creates communal spaces, but in a playful way, combining art and salon-style discussion with ping-pong and karaoke.

My blog about the neighborhood—We are the Other—is a continuation of The Third Place, as well as my online gallery.

MPB: Looking back, what stories do you feel have gone missing?

WYH: There are lots of artistic cultural mediums still to explore. We’re working on trying to book an up and coming Somali hip hop artist. Haven’t had any dancers yet.

MPB: Have you ever worked for a newspaper?

WYH: I have a B.A in journalism from the University of Minnesota and was a general assignment reporter for the Minnesota Daily. My best article was a two-part series on campus loneliness. My most enterprising piece was on the phone numbers scrawled on campus bathroom walls, all of which I called.

I freelanced for most of the regional publications at some point, including the Weekly Reader (defunct), City Pages, Corporate Report, Minnesota Monthly, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, and so on. I was the staff photographer for CitiBusiness weekly in the early 90s, until they fired me. I was getting burnt out on editorial and commercial photography and had lost interest in what I was doing. They were right to give me the boot because I wasn’t doing good work. Which was a blessing in disguise for me because a couple of months later I started my first project, Frogtown.

MPB: I ask because your work appears to focus on the stories behind or between the headlines.

WYH: There is definitely a journalistic perspective to my work. The difference is that when I was working for an editor or art director I pretty much knew what kind of photograph they wanted and what it should say, while as an artist working on my own projects I am just reacting to what I see, rather than pre-visualizing, which is often what happens in commercial work, and even photojournalism. Generally your job is to illustrate, not interpret.

Also, I embrace ambiguity more as an artist. I like photographs that are open to interpretation. Ambiguity has little value in the marketplace. Commercial and editorial photos have to shout.

MPB: At what point when your work developed did you become attracted to capturing the stories that weren’t being told?

WYH: My first project Frogtown (1993 – 1995) is a neighborhood, like many urban areas, that you only seem to hear about on the news, when something bad happens. How much does the media drive the reputations of neighborhoods, or for that matter, culture in general? So a lot of my work is about everyday realities not reflected in the idealized imagery created by the popular entertainment, marketing and the media.

MPB: In what way might your images be both visual commentary and serve to connect the viewer to the subject?

WYH: Of course everything I do is subjective, both in how and what I am drawn to photographing. But I do like photographs where the presence of the photographer is not too present. I think the best images look as though they took themselves.

I started in a documentary vein and I think that documentary photos, despite the best intentions of the photographer, can exoticize and objectify the people in the photos. I felt that this happened in my own work as well and so with my most recent completed project, The University Avenue Project (UAP, 2007 – 2010), I consciously tried to photograph in a way that would shorten the distance between the viewer and what is viewed. One way was to just get physically closer. Another was to use a chalkboard.

ImageMPB: What was the inspiration or what did you hope for your Chalk Talk series?

WYH: In many of my previous projects I interviewed the people I photographed and included their words alongside the photograph. With UAP I decided to incorporate the words directly into the photograph, using hand held chalkboards I made. I came up with a set of questions that were not easily answered but would elicit a wide array of thoughts, dreams, wishes, private and public fears.

Questions were: What are you? What advice would you give to a stranger? How do you think others see you? What don’t they see? What’s your favorite word? Describe an incident that changed you. How have you been affected by race?

I then suggested the answer I thought was the most interesting, but ultimately you could write whatever you wanted to write.

Talk about using chalkboards in your latest project as a way to connect people, going far beyond documentary to a more community-oriented art where the artist is the catalyst for introducing neighbors.

MPB: Did any of the results surprise you?

WYH: At first I thought it was a bit gimmicky and thought I would use the concept sparingly. I would pin all my photos, chalkboard and non-chalkboard, on the walls of my studio and when people would come in they invariably gravitated to the chalkboard photos. About half of the 500 photos in the project ended up being chalkboard ones.

MPB: Do you see your work as politically charged?

WYH: For most of my life I’ve been fairly apolitical, but I can see that what I do may seem like a political act and I don’t want to get in the way of anyone’s interpretation of what I do. I accept all interpretations and the intentions of the artist, however interesting they may be, are largely irrelevant, once the work is displayed.

Politics, like all of culture, is deeply polarized, and I don’t wish to be part of that kind of discussion. But the personal is political, as they say, and so with such large-scale public installations, it’s hard to side step political issues.


MPB: Do you see a difference between being political and socially engaged?

WYH: Well I’m not into specific political issues. Life is gray to me. But I think social engagement may be the most important issue, personally, culturally, and globally. We live in such insulated technological bubbles that it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage with those you feel are different than you. It is the modern dilemma.

When MPB began, I thought of the e-project as a way to connect digital readers with photography. It’s a mission I feel is central to the initiative of the blog because conversation about and around Minnesota photography seemed to be infrequent and unorganized. 

However, for over nine months I’ve unexpectedly and surprisingly found myself away from Minnesota. And even more, as my professional opportunities dramatically increased, I found myself having to devote more and more time to the business requirements of my art.  Enough with the explanations for this period of silence.

In the coming months, MPB will revamp its content to include not only interviews such as those appearing in the blog previously, but more features–including meditations and guest writing.

Looking forward to continuing the conversation.  Thanks for reading.

More soon.

Very best wishes, 

Tucker Hollingsworth

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Beth Dow‘s photography is unexpectedly cool and non straightforward. Her imagery demands her witnesses to view and look at the work with a slow eye. Tricks, surprises, details abound in her photographs. Tucker Hollingsworth recently interviewed Ms. Dow about her current projects, recent works, and ongoing interests.

Dow’s photographs have been exhibited throughout the Midwest, as well in New York, the United Kingdom, Japan and China. She has been the recipient of two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships (2008, 2011), a McKnight Foundation Fellowship (2004, 2011), and a Greater London Arts grant (1989). Her work is represented in public collections such as the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Portland Art Museum.

MPB: You like order and design. Why photograph landscape?

BD: I’m actually most interested in acts of rebellion against order and design. That might be why I love formal gardens, especially English ones. We kid ourselves that we can impose artificial structure on living, organic things, and go to great lengths to impose our will. We can only fail, and I love those little gestures of failure.

MPB: Do you respond to fields and plains–undeveloped, unused, or left to hazard?

BD: I tend to overlook those landscapes in favor of examples of more direct human interference. I’m sure the wilderness is marvelous, but it wouldn’t occur to me to make photographs in such a place.

MPB: Are you philosophical at all in terms of contemporary land use/mis-use?

BD: I am in other aspects of my life, but not in my photographs. I recognize that we live on, in, and from the land, and that parasitic existence can’t always be pretty.

MPB: I just want to understand: Chaos in nature is a form of order. Chaos is visually unorganized. I think there would be quite a number of people who would find fussy, over-the-top gardens to be just a slight step away from chaos. Yet, you see an opportunity to communicate order using horticulture-forms, arranging mass and scale into your compositions.  Is your work a conscious reaction to this paradox?

BD: I tried to compose my garden photographs in a way that would slow everything down. They sort of feel like held breaths to me. Having said that, I shoot very quickly, and with a hand-held camera. I’m far too impatient for a tripod! Those photographs are about the illusion of stillness, but insects are buzzing, leaves are rustling, and sap is rising. There is movement all around, but on a small, subtle level. And they are also about the illusion of imposed order, but branches break, and shoots sprout.

MPB: We both manufacture and observe landscapes. We landscape with our tools and shovels and pickets; we observe and interact with landscape as well. Do you have interest in manufacturing landscapes with your camera?

BD: Yes, but that newer work is not on my web site. I’m currently using digital tools to make artificial landscapes that move through time and space.

MPB: That would be a new venture for you, as you’ve mostly involved historical processes with your work. What excites you about the change in your work?

BD: I’m messing around with the malleability of space and time, and the tensions between fact and fiction. I’m trying to make landscapes that look rational at the first glance, but that are also illogical, and digital editing is an obvious tool for that. My previous work, printed in platinum-palladium by Keith Taylor, uses the labor, process, and rich, unsurpassed tones of the medium as part of the metaphor of the imagery. They are meant to be ageless and permanent. This new work is less about the photograph as object and more about it being a fleeting instant in space and time.

MPB: What projects are you working on during your current McKnight fellowship?

BD: I’m combining my interests in the history of photography, world history, geography, and books. I’m experimenting and having fun!

MPB: You’ve received two McKnight fellowships for photography. Does the first inform your current fellowship?

BD: I’m surprised to realize it probably doesn’t. The two projects aren’t related in any way.

MPB: Who and what have been your most enduring non-visual influences?

BD: Literature, always. I especially like people who say seemingly subtle things that, on further reflection, are rather subversive.

MPB: I see your work and I immediately think back to works by Atget. But I understand you respond to Frith–and in a lot of ways that makes sense because your interests to capture exotic locales or unique views seems shared. Are you deeply affected by early photography?

BD: Absolutely, but I’m interested in Francis Frith and other Victorian expedition photographers for perhaps the wrong reasons. I’m mostly interested in the ways their process failed, so I love the white, heavily retouched collodion skies behind graphic pyramids and other antiquities, and I also love the titles in their print margins.

MPB: Do you feel your photos have any relationship to Atget’s work?

BD: I realize it’s logical to mention Atget in regards to my garden photographs, but I was actually thinking about earlier artists, like Claude Lorrain. Garden photographs are usually made in color, so I can see how my tonality has something in common with Atget.

MPB: Do you feel your photos have any relationship to works by Henri Cartier-Bresson?

BD: Most of my early work was shot on the street, and usually included bits of people passing through. I made that work before I knew anything about Cartier-Bresson, but some of my shots look like his!

MPB: How do you see your work in relationship to the photographers of yester-year?

BD: I use historic processes and visual conventions to tell stories about the contemporary landscape.

MPB: Frith’s meta-statement, “Oh what pictures we could make if we could command a view” strikes me as a good entrance to looking at your existing, collected body of work.  Looking ahead at work you are working on currently or want to make in the future, could you offer a statement to viewers as a perhaps for where to “come from?”

BD: Why must we fidget with the world? Because it’s there. And where do our efforts get us? Here.

MPB: One of my favorite images of yours is “Broken Tree” from Fieldwork. At immediate glance I’m pleased by the structure, and miss the comedy or action of what’s happening or occurred. If you remember the details, could you describe if the break-down was a live-action shot, or if it’s part of a slower deconstructive process?

BD: That picture came about in a way that’s unusual for me. It was shot in rural Wisconsin on a road we traveled frequently. A huge wind storm blew apart the weeping willow, and that enormous branch hung there for ages, dangling precariously above the piles of neatly cut fallen branches. I loved that the owners never bothered to just pull that branch down, and finally took a picture after watching it week after week. As I said earlier, my photographs are usually quick, spontaneous responses to things I happen upon. That one festered for months.

MPB: I also think about the way I read that image and I realize: It’s allowing the photo to speak to you versus us reading into images.

BD: My whole Fieldwork portfolio is a collection of curious sculptural arrangements and forms in marginal rural landscapes. Many of these forms and structures were made for utilitarian reasons, and that was their only meaning. I love finding those little intrusions on the landscape, and especially like to leave the narratives wide-open for speculation.

MPB: Another image I enjoy of yours is, “Soccer Game: Bell Field.” The image captures nostalgia, but for me it’s really successful in delineating tension in point of view, trying to see action as it is best happening. When negotiating with the image, I think about where I’d perch myself to see the game, where are the other open spots or other people camped, what’s happening on the field, what’s the geography. Essentially, the photo can be read as a metaphor for how to look and how to interact with space. “Image as space,” I see it more than “image as place.”  I see the image more universally than a Carleton College experience. For you, what about that image works, and what do you see in it?

BD: I love that people are just scattered all over the place. Even though a soccer game is underway, the players are dispersed evenly and show little engagement with each other. Likewise, the spectators are spread randomly on the slope, staring ahead and waiting for something, anything, to happen. The clouds kept opening up, flashing little spotlights on the scene. This photograph has a lot in common with my earlier photographs I spoke about previously.

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Andy Mattern is currently pursuing an MFA in Studio Art at the University of Minnesota. His photographs are receiving attention not only within Minnesota but around the country for their depiction of human life without visualized human forms. Instead, influences from culture are mined to examine our technologies’ and abilities to create and express. His recent projects will be seen at The Katherine Nash Gallery in Mountains Were Oceans, opening March 30, 2012, and in Duluth at PRØVE Gallery (opening March 19, 2012). Just this week, Andy received a 2012 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Grant.


AM: These photographs are from a recent body of work inspired by evening walks in the alleys of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The title refers to the structures pictured, but also to the experience of being separated from the activity of the street while wandering in the alleys.

MPB: In the series, every door is closed. Thematically, the back door or secret portal’s a personal and private place. But these structures are detached from their houses.

AM: My work often begins by locating a certain type of private space in which I can focus intensely and without distraction. The activity of photographing for me is similar to meditation because it is a repetitive attempt to focus on a single point while letting everything else go. I am enamored with the forms of these garages, their surfaces, shapes, and hints of individuality, but more important to me is the pursuit of solitude through seeing.

MPB: Is DETACHED GARAGE is an extension of your series, EMPTY BUILDINGS? 

AM: Inasmuch as an artist is always saying the same thing, albeit in different ways, yes, these two series are related. The connection for me is mainly in the experience of photographing and the desire to be alone, but certainly the content of the images and the way they are presented is similar.

MPB: What are DETACHED GARAGE’s influences? 

AM: The New Topographics has been a big influence on me, Lewis Baltz and the Bechers, in particular. Their formal and systemic approaches appeal to me because they create a method of engagement with the world. This method becomes ritual and the output, although ordered by a set of parameters imposed up front, becomes a surprise.


AM: Last winter was the 5th snowiest in Minnesota’s recorded history. During the months of astonishing cold, I noticed a peculiar product of weather and urban movement: masses of dirty ice and snow that accumulate under cars. I dislodged these forms from parked vehicles, or retrieved them from the street, and brought them back to the studio to photograph. Impossibly suspended in midair, these odd forms are presented like specimens, removed from their context. The visual result is something between scientific record and abstract painting that is a meditation on impermanence.

MPB: Do you have any anecdotal responses from your audiences about the work?

AM: Some people think they are rocks or even organisms. I like this uncertainty. Even though the objects are evenly lit and presented at life size, they are still mysterious.

MPB: What are the scales you present these two series’ work? 

AM: Detached Garage is printed 24×30 and the Driven Snow is printed with the depicted objects exactly to scale, one-to-one, which makes the paper size 17×22.

MPB: Other then geography and place, do you find similarities between these two series?

AM: Both deal with seriality. I am interested in the production of collections of images that work together. The repetition this entails is an important part of the process, not just as a generative strategy, but also as a psychological statement. I love looking deeply at closely related images, finding the nuances and variations. This type of seeing is similar to listening to the same song on repeat, over and over, each time you hear something new.

MPB: What are the next opportunities and venues to share your work to the public?

AM: My work will be in two group shows coming up at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery. The first, Regarding Place, is a continuation of the exhibition I helped organize this past summer in Turku, Finland with my colleagues from the Department of Art, Areca Roe, Jan Estep, Erin Hernsberger, Sam Hoolihan, Justin Newhall, James Henkel. This spring in the Nash I will be showing work with my fellow graduate students in our MFA thesis exhibition.

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Justin Newhall’s photography has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, including solo, two- and three-person exhibitions, at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago), Galerie Lichtblick (Cologne), Franklin Art Works (Minneapolis), and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

His work is represented in numerous public and private collections, including the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography and the Walker Art Center.

Justin is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He received a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design and an MFA from the University of Minnesota. Aperture has published an individual title of Newhall’s work. Newhall is represented by Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis.

For more information, contact

MPB: Your work involves myths and history, and in your Lewis and Clark series, many of the photos depict “history” as it relates to opportunities for tourism and commerce. In America, public knowledge about her history is a commercial industry in as much as commerce equates America’s national pride. For you, is there a semblance which stories from history sell, and which stories people are attracted to, and how those stories are spun over time?

Sacagawea State Park, Walla Walla County, Washington

JN: My work in Historical Marker revolved around the 200-year anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition. One of the things I was interested in with that project was exploring how we tell or sell our historic past. It is usually incredibly oversimplified and often hyperbolic – animated dioramas, reenactments, etc.  As a kid visiting these places, I can tell you it did little to shed light on history in any thoughtful or educational way.  I also wanted to juxtapose those often absurd images with images of the geography itself, which is often unremarkable.  Many historic sites and monuments belie the significant events or histories that actually took place there.

MPB: Contrarily, photographing up in Churchill, Manitoba is more about hunting down the mythology that inspired Gould. Whatever community there was, it was a fringe-society without the glamour of the heroic American mythological epic. Your series, Northern Studies, is less about a public or collective connection to history, yet, like any other story, the landscape’s narrative is mysterious and compelling. Is there a reason why you started the series as it relates to the hyperbolic tourism found in Lewis and Clark’s legacy, or the shared fetishism found in Axis and Allies?

JN: With Northern Studies I wasn’t so much interested in “hunting down” the North that Gould portrayed in his experimental radio documentary as I was in finding a way to translate its essence into visual form.  As for how it relates to my Historical Marker images, I would say that both involve following someone else’s path.  And in both those projects and in my Axis and Allies series, I was interested in history – past and present. Also, in all three bodies of work, the landscape figures in or looms largest.  Even in Axis and Allies, the Midwestern landscape, full of buckthorn and honeysuckle, becomes a character.

German Soldiers, Rosemount, Minnesota

MPB: What’s an experience about an image you had difficulty making, and could you describe what potentially distracted or diluted the image before you were happy with it?

JN: With Northern Studies I had many difficult experiences making images. My first of several trips to Churchill, Manitoba (where the Northern Studies images were taken) involved a 10 day trip (five of which were on a train) with me shooting around 100 rolls of film – and I didn’t like any of the images I made.  There were a few images from that trip with promise, but I could tell I just needed to figure out a better way of picturing them.  On my next trip I switched from a medium format to 4×5 so I could get more descriptive power from the images and that helped a great deal. The worst part about shooting in the region was the cold in the winter (one trip the mercury never made it above -30 F), which made taking pictures with my 4×5 almost impossible.  And add on top of that that the very real possibility of a polar bear attack. The summers weren’t much better – I still had to be worried about polar bear, but the real menace was the bugs. You can’t even imagine how insane they were. It was the Boundary Waters times ten!

MPB: Is the purpose of your work satire, or to critique? Or both?

JN: No comment.

MPB: Your previous series Axis and Allies explores history as consumption: the rituals of subculture, nostalgia, and respect ultimately compel larger bodies of people-groups to reenact war battles. How much is spectator-sports? Education? 

JN: Many people who participate in reenactments feel like they are having this very intense and “real” connection to history.  Of course in reality, it’s a very selective and often nostalgic one.  Sometimes there is a component of public education – reenactments often take place as part of celebrations commemorating historic events.  But what I was interested in was the private events that reenactors hold, where the general public is out of view. There, there’s very little pretense about educating.  Participants are still obsessed with “authenticity,” especially as it relates to their gear and weaponry, but in my experience at least (I participated in many private events as a Russian soldier in a Soviet unit), there’s not a whole lot of talk about the nature of war or its outcomes. They would have these battles with an end goal, and sometimes they’d relate it to a particular historic battle, the Battle of the Bulge for instance, but the outcome wasn’t actually predetermined.  Most of the time I participated, the Germans won.

MPB: I’m also curious: what is your understanding of the psychological motivations of the participants? Is there a general through-line as to why they participate? Are there financial costs to participate (do they pay a participatory fee)? And if there are fees to participate, does money go to something specifically?

JN: Motivations vary – everyone comes to their “impression” from a different place.  Typically, there are no fees to participate.

MPB: Were you able to deduce how much of the battle re-enactments are a way for two sides to continue fighting, or for two opposing frames of thought not to compromise? 

JN: Not sure what you mean? I think in large part it’s a way for a bunch of grown men (and some women) to get together, camp, drink, smoke and play war. I believe much of it is about fantasy and play.

MPB: Political-theorist Hannah Arendt said, “I’m more than ever of the opinion that a decent human existence is possible only on the fringes of society.” All of your work appears to be focused on fringe-societies. In many ways “the other” (aka “fringe societies”) is becoming more consistent in our own society. What’s a fringe society now?

JN: I’ve never thought of my work as concentrating on the idea of “the other” except perhaps in Axis and Allies.  With Historical Marker the work was born of familiarity – paying homage to decades of family trips out West and also to the work of a generation of photographers often associated with the New Topographics exhibition at the Eastman House in 1975.  I guess with Northern Studies there was a sense of the exotic – due in large part to geographic distance and isolation – but in reality the town of Churchill isn’t all that much different from what you find in Northern Minnesota or Rural Montana. Fringe to some, but again I think familiar to many others.  I’m not sure what I would consider a fringe society as it requires you to set a baseline for the norm, which is something quite difficult to do.

Cold War-era Radar Facillity, Fort Churchill, MB

MPB: Could you list your most important influences–visually and philosophically? 

JN: Tough one to answer, there are so many, and it varies depending on which project I’m looking at.  Music in general is almost always an influence, whether it’s a specific band or song  or composer, or a general movement – punk rock, folk, classical, etc.  Frequently, I think of my projects in terms of structure the way I would a song or album. That was one of the reasons I was so keen on using Glenn Gould’s Idea of North as the foundation to build my Northern Studies series.  Gould’s work is a radio documentary but it’s structured like a musical score.  Also, with my most recent work, I keep coming back to a song by the British post punk band Wire – Outdoor Miner. It’s spare, simple, beautiful and mysterious in a way that resonates with me.

MPB What inspires you to photograph currently?

JN: At the highest level of generality, I make photographs to discover and make sense of the world and to communicate what I find with others.

MPB: Do you have any opinions about the future of photography: technically, artistically?

JN: Practice-wise I could care less if an image was made with an iPhone or with an 8×10 view camera as long as it’s compelling. Also, I’m sure digital cameras will continue to get better and the means of producing images easier – though you will still need a good idea to make something worthwhile. Predicting photography’s artistic future (in terms of subject matter)  I would say that, from now until the end of time, we’ll be rehashing the same broad or general themes and ideas.  What’s the quote…“the really original artist does not try to find a substitute for boy meets girl, but creates the illusion that no boy ever met a girl before”?  Some might find that discouraging.  But I find it comforting.

MPB: What is the surprising-best quality about the “Minnesota photo-scene”?

JN: I’m not sure if I see it as a scene per se, but I do think there is a strong visual arts community here.  Its best quality is that it’s accessible to anyone seeking it out.

MPB: Are there any dynamics you would wish could change? Or things “we’re doing,” but could do better?

JN: I do think that one could argue for trying to make it (the MN visual arts community) better known to the world outside of MN.  There are certainly a number of people in town whose reputation or work is well known elsewhere, but there’s still a sense that artists in the Midwest are not the same caliber as their coastal peers and that there is a provincial quality to work made here. Both in my experience are not true.

MPB: Whose unnoticed photo-work are you particularly excited and engaged by and would like to find wider exposure?

JN: This is a bit of a copout but there are too many to list.

MPB: I’d associate you as a Minnesota photographer. Have you lived elsewhere, and if so has that experience informed your work specifically?

JN: I was born in Los Angeles, but shortly thereafter my family moved back to Minnesota. But my family has had a long connection with the state of Montana, going back almost 100 years, so growing up I spent many of my summers on my grandparents’ ranch in Central Montana.  That connection has and continues to inform the work I make.

Installation View of Northern Studies at Franklin Art Works

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Tucker Hollingsworth discusses with emerging Minneapolis-based photographer Stephanie L. Rogers about the themes and concepts she engages with in her work. Stephanie graduated from Saint Olaf College as a studio-art major in 2007, and her interests are heavily informed by the Memento Mori tradition (Latin for “remember your mortality”).

TH: Dead bugs, damaged photo-albums. How did you land in the photo-making world, behind a camera?

SLR: I have impulses to document memories. However, for a long time I considered myself a photographic printmaker, so now I’m trying–with difficulty sometimes–to force myself to go out and shoot new images.

TH: Do you know why photography captures your attention?

SLR: I’m interested in how photographs function, and the way photographs function with memories. Because photos are part of our everyday lives as much as they are an art form, I ask questions about how the art form relates to the photos that are our everyday experience.

TH: In other words, your projects relate to the way photographs function in our society.

SLR: Yes –they have a time-based nature, collective effects–and my concerns about mortality and memory are loosely affected by Susan Sontag’s “a photograph is a slice of time that will never happen again,” and Roland Barthes, “every photo is about death.”  Even though both of these quotes are revered and often cited, I think both of them are true.

TH: Would you describe your interest in death as morbid? or a preoccupation?

SLR: No. I think death and mortality are huge themes in my work. But I’m concerned more about how photographs become instrumental to how we remember things. I at least am constantly reminded by . . .

TH: Images’ influences?

SLR: Yes.


TH: What influenced you to make the New Orleans series?

SLR: Seven-months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I volunteered with a group of friends from school to help rebuild in what ways we could. I naively thought we would be rebuilding–but we weren’t–we were still cleaning up. It was while cleaning out mold-affected houses, I came across families’ photo albums.

TH: Were your thoughts involved that somehow you were violating some kind of space and privacy?

SLR: Yes. Opened-up memory books is a voyeurism.

TH: How did you go from processing or invading someone’s personal space to making these pictures??

SLR: A friend encouraged me to take the photos and worry about it later. “You’re never going to have the chance again.” And I told myself, “I have a camera, it’s loaded with film.” I’ve thought about it a lot since then. Part of what bothered me was that it felt selfish to take five minutes to shoot the film when there was so much clean up work to do. The homeowners were also in a very emotionally raw state, so I didn’t feel that I could ask their permission then. Because I still feel guilty about not asking permission, I would love to hear from the families.

TH: Did you take photos of individual pictures? Were they all anthologies?

SLR: A group of photos. I didn’t have time to think about it–it was an impulse. I’ve now come to realize the work is an intimate, personal look at what people lost. I also think the albums are contextually important.

TH: I like the photos for the fact that the photos in your photos have deteriorated. When looking at them, I like that the dye is swimming on the paper with mold that’s floating on top of that. It reminds me of Justin Newhall’s found photos that were discarded, a similar but different thing. (To compare discoveries, the photos Justin found appear to be images of ex-lovers, intimate images of women that were physically discarded. Click here to see the images.)

Are you interested in photos that are already made?

SLR: Yes, but it comes back to what I experience. The way we remember is influenced by the photo. I’ve found even when someone close to you dies, I have a hard time remembering what they looked like. And if someone from past centuries didn’t have a painting made of them, their faces were lost.

TH: How do you feel about photographs being described as “archival footnotes to memory?”

SLR: I think photographs are more important than that because photos don’t just remind us–family stories are told through them.

Personally, I use my work as a way to process what’s going on in my life–my family is a huge theme. One technique is to take old images and reprint them in new methods.

But I’m more fascinated by the things on the threshold between two things. As an artist, dying is more important to me than birth. The coming into being is also interesting but not as much as death because birth is more pleasant to think about, and therefore we’ve seen more images of sprouts and buds.

TH: Are you working on anything now? 

SLR: Yes, but I’m not ready to share. It’s new work, and it touches on themes of archiving and memory.

Partly because artistically I have a short attention span: four months go by, I’m ready for a new project.

TH: Whose work do you respond to?

SLR: Laura Letinsky.

I’m also intrigued and shocked by Angela Strassheim. Some of her series I feel have exploitative qualities and raise ethical questions. But essentially, I enjoy issues that are dark and issues that go to the depths of human nature– horrifying, if they are sometimes; but it’s important that her work is out there and that someone is bringing up these ideas for others to think about.

TH: Lastly, how do you take photos of bugs?

SLR: The bug series were taken in my neighborhood in Minneapolis or in Cass County Minnesota where I spend a lot of time. The bugs are what I encounter. They get at the idea of what I find incredibly moving about Momento Mori.

To see more of Stephanie’s work, please visit her website:

Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Edo Pop show celebrates Japan’s graphic influence on world art. Presented with a survey of Japanese woodblock prints are several works by contemporary artists also influenced by woodblock prints and the concepts underlying the floating world. London artist Emily Allchurch discusses her photo series’ “Tokyo Story” which is exhibited in its entirety in Edo Pop.

Edo Pop closes next Sunday, January 8, 2012, and is highly recommended.

MPB: Your series of ten photos, Tokyo Story, is presented in lightboxes. But you also show prints of the same work. In your mind is there a distinction between presenting these pieces through a lightbox versus print?

EA: I have been working with backlit transparencies (duratrans) for 12 years now. I came to photography via sculpture whilst on my MA at the Royal College of Art in London. My approach to the medium was playful and experimental, just as any other material I had been working with in a sculptural sense. It was upon moving to London that I realized the language of photography was the most appropriate medium to present my experience of the contemporary city. However, I was trying to capture a very specific feeling with my photography, one dealing with the gulf between our dreamscapes and the realities of life, perhaps you could say the beautiful versus the mundane. The choice of presenting the work as light-boxes, with its simulation of natural light and seductive luminous quality seemed to capture this pull and push notion, emphasizing an ethereal quality that is artificially constructed.

Tokyo Story is the first time I have created a set of prints, alongside light-box works. The framed archival prints are smaller in size and thus have an intimacy that relates closely to the original Japanese woodblock prints by Hiroshige from which they are inspired. I took great care over the presentation of the prints and feel the float mounting of the works in large, highly polished wooden frames have a contemporary finish whilst presenting a sympathetic nod to the Japanese Ukiyo-e tradition.

MPB: Exhibition-wise, where else have these photos been? And are they going anywhere else?

EA: Tokyo Story was launched at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation in London in January 2011, by Tim Clark – Head of the Asia Department at the British Museum. The show then went on to Diemar Noble Photography in London from March to May 2011. I was involved in a number of public talks and seminars during both exhibitions and the work received some good press coverage including profiles in the Sunday Times Magazine (6th March 2011) and the art photography journal Zoom (Fall 2011). It was a real honour to be invited to take part in Edo Pop at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. To see my work curated with other contemporary artists, alongside the museum’s extraordinary collection of Japanese prints, including some works from Hiroshige’s ‘One Hundred Famous Views of Edo’ was such a privilege and a thrill. I was very impressed by the Mathew Welch’s (Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts) vision for the show and the quality of the execution was immaculate. I’m not sure where they will go on to in 2012, but I hope one day to be able to show them alongside Hiroshige’s original prints and to exhibit the series in Japan would be amazing.

MPB:  Do you have fixed ideas about technology, photo-making and its tangential influence from painting?

EA: As I have already mentioned, I came to photography via sculpture. I see myself as an artist that works with photography, rather then a photographer. If anything I am probably a natural painter and I have come full circle over several years to deal with image manipulation: modulating colour, contrast, perspective, focus, highlight, shadow and construction, except that for me the traditional canvas is replaced by a computer screen. I see the photograph like any other medium; one to be manipulated and worked with to communicate an idea. I’m not particularly interested in any rules associated with image taking. The photograph is a starting point, a raw material, to work with, to develop my ideas. I feel lucky to be working in such progressive times for image making. We have so many tools available to us to aid self-expression. For me it is essential that I am working with photography rather then painting a recreation of an old master. The point of my photographic homage is that they are images of real places, existing in time and space at the point of capture. They therefore still function as a form of documentary record, even though they are subsequently placed in a new constructed context. Many of the works I choose to recreate, such as Piranesi’s Carcere d’Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons), first published 1743-45 and reworked for even darker menace in 1760, were conceived as architectural fantasies. However, the style and atmosphere of the architecture in these scenes can be seen to exist all around us in the modern-day metropolis, with the same possibility to reflect on the human condition.

MPB: Could you explain how The Minneapolis Institute of Arts acquired 10 light boxes from your series?

EA: To be honest there’s a fair amount of mystery to me as to how these works came to the attention of Matthew Welch, the Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I think the world of Asian art curators is probably quite close-knit and it was definitely significant that Tim Clark from the British Museum agreed to do the opening introduction for my show at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation. I had the opportunity to meet with a number of influential Japanese print dealers and collectors whilst the show was on in London and the work received a good amount of publicity in the press and online. All these forms of communication helped to build up a profile for the series in a remarkably short period of time. Matthew recounts that my work came up when he did a web-search over the summer, but I’m assuming he made some calls before he contacted me about being involved in the show.

As for acquiring the series for the museum’s permanent collection, this was a remarkable leap of faith on the museums part and a most significant landmark in my career. As an emerging artist, especially in the States, we were able to work a good proposition to our mutual benefit, to enable the museum to acquire a full set of Tokyo Story and for myself to have a first museum acquisition. I am so happy that the series has a permanent, public home at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It feels like a real endorsement of me as an artist and gives me courage for the journey ahead.

MPB: Do you live with any of your work on your walls?

EA: I used to have some of my works on my wall at home, but these days if works are not on exhibition, in transit to clients or on consignment to galleries then I need to have them safely stored in an art storage warehouse. It’s a shame as it means I get to spend so little time with the actual final artwork, having spent so many months working with each work as an image on the computer screen. I did find it very hard to leave my exhibition room in ‘Edo Pop’ at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, as this was the first time I had seen all ten works together as light-box images and knew it would be a long time until I would see them displayed in this way again.

However, I have started to collect some works myself, supporting artists at the start of their careers – so my walls are increasingly full with these works.

MPB: Whose photo work especially excites you right now? Is there anyone catching your eye you can share and briefly explain why?

EA: There are a good number of artists whose works have inspired me over the years from Jeff Wall, Julian Opie and Ori Gersht, to Gregory Crewsdon and Elisa Sighicelli. I have a real love for work that explores capturing a particular quality of light, for example I love Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ‘Theatres’ series where the exposure time lasts the duration of the film to capture a whole movie in a single frame. The resulting white light of the movie illuminates the surrounding setting. In a similar way Darren Almond’s ‘Full Moon’ series uses the light of the moon, over a long exposure to reveal on film what would otherwise not be visible to the naked eye. Dan Holdsworth and Sophie Rickett work with artificial illumination alongside nature to create hyper-real, evocative landscapes. I am also very interested in photographers who explore narrative and reference art history (such as Tom Hunter, Neeta Madahar and Christian Tagliavini) and those who use collage and image manipulation freely in their works. It seems to be a very exciting period right now with a growing number of photographers, and increasingly female artists who are working in very experimental ways – photographers such as Yao Lu, Sohei Nishino, Lisa Creagh, Jane Ward, Suzanne Moxhay and Won Seoung Won.

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Jan Estep is Associate Professor in the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Selected notable past projects include Beneath the Surface (of language), 2011; Wittgenstein Project, 2007; The Antarctica Project/Because Snow Never Melts, 2004; and “Survival Wear,” 1996- 2001.

Jan Estep is currently working on two exciting conceptual-based projects. Most recent and ongoing is a collaborative interdisciplinary art and cognitive neuroscience project, titled Thinking Portraits. And this past summer (2011), Estep traveled to the Grand Canyon and performed Metta and Loving Kindness acts to honor those who had taken their lives there in the related projects, Grand Canyon Suicide Map and Metta Meditation, Grand Canyon National Park.

Photographically, Estep’s contributions expand the range and approach to traditional image-making. I sat down with her recently to learn about her refreshing process, but also about how her experience in life is ultimately one of her most used materials.

MPB: Your background has philosophical flavorings. Could you contextualize what your role and responsibilities are to the Art Department at the University of Minnesota?

JE: I am hired through the photography area, but honestly, I’m photo/interdisciplinary.

In terms of my teaching, I develop more conceptual-based processes rather than technically-based processes. For example, one of the photography classes I’ve developed is Performative Photography: Documentation of Artistic Acts and Social Interventions. The class parallels my own relationship with the camera. I’m affiliated with the photography area, but I use the camera, really, as a tool when it’s appropriate in my projects, usually documenting some other behavior.

MPB: Speaking of this approach, but stepping back to 2001, as part of the series “Survival Wear,” you trekked through a forest in Wisconsin and photographed yourself for the Hunter Dress images.

JE: Yes. I designed the dress, a simple bodice, a simple skirt; the skirt is made with a Realtree nature-print pattern that hunters use during hunting season, using a material that would help camouflage me but a bodice that is bright red, so I’m also a target. I hiked with my camera, tripod, and garment carried in a backpack. I made the dress the entire time with this particular image of me draped over a tree in mind, like a hunted, trapped animal in some kind of dark fairy tale. I hiked in the woods until I found a felled tree, and found a way to hoist myself on to it. In this case, I only took two takes: I put the camera on a timer. It just felt right. I felt I got the image.

This image is part of a series. In another image, I was on the ground; in the other, I leaned on the tree. But the point is that this is how I use the camera, to document an event or action that otherwise would go unnoticed, and also to be able to share it with others.

I have to rely on the viewer imagining what this experience would be like, of extending themselves into the situation: so in the case of this image, what would motivate me, what would it be like to be out in the woods like this, hanging over a tree. What other references does the image hold?

MPB: What’s compelling is the experience, the momentary time and context–the ingredients of life.

JE: Yes. I’m interested in the primary behavior, the trip event, the research, my experience, and as the artist, it’s always, “Can you share the experience with people? How can you share it with people? How can you make it interesting for the viewer?”

MPB: But it’s even the joy you express, or your curiosity–and sometimes the way you inhabit that circumstance, and how those qualities become communicated. The person in the environment.

JE: That’s how I got into the photography. I needed a way to document these things I wanted to do in the world. Lots of artists do this. It’s not a totally novel idea.

I think about this a lot, “How can I have these kinds of experiences, which I think are important not only selfishly, but how are they going to be shared to others—my audience?”

The dilemma is as the artist I always get an incredible amount of satisfaction and engagement from making the work, but others don’t have that creative, making moment. So the issue is, will anybody else get anything else out of it? In this case, documentation is not about replicating the experience or providing a way for someone to mirror it in some experiential way; that’s not possible, nor do I think it’s necessary for the work to have meaning or to communicate. Nonetheless, I wonder what the pay off will be for my viewers, and will what I’ve done translate when they’re not with me, they’re not in the forest?

MPB: But even so, you’ve exhibited the work with success. Moving to more recently–this past summeryou worked on quite the project!

JE: Yes! Last year I made a map of all the suicides that have occurred in the Grand Canyon—the valley of the canyon—the ones that have been recorded by the National Park Service, going back to 1900. There have been 59 known suicides, most of them from jumping or driving off the edge. Over 600 people have died, and some “accidents” could have been suicides, but only 59 suicides have been determined. Relative to all the deaths in the region, most of the suicides happen at the Grand Canyon National Park, clustering mainly around the South Rim of the Park.

Grand Canyon Suicide Map, 2011, detail

This past summer I spent a week at the Park, both the North and South Rims. My agenda for the trip was to retrace and visit all the spots where people had taken their lives, and perform acts of Metta mixed with compassion. I had a backpack of Z-rests as a seat cushion, and in each spot I would meditate and reflect.

What’s curious about these sites is most people who go to the Canyon are blown away by the beauty. They’re there to gawk and awe and be amazed, and to be outdoors in that setting which is full of life. But there have been times where in front of the same sublime spot there are people who are so distraught, so alienated from themselves and life, they jump or take their life.

MPB: You were there as a tourist and interacting with the tourists, right? 

JE: Exactly. Yes, I was a tourist, but for some of my projects, there’s pilgrimage—it’s part of the experience.

For the Grand Canyon, each day I hiked my way out along the Rim trails, stopping by each of the sites to meditate, then at the end of the day I’d ride the shuttle back to the campground, cramped in the bus like sardines with lots of other talkative tourists. There were also lots of visitors around me as I meditated, and I just included them in my Metta.

Suicide is a serious thing. It’s about suffering and being in pain. A lot of us suffer in different ways. These two experiences—tourism and alienation—were happening simultaneously.

MPB: Tourism is a metaphor about life: in life, we’re visitorswe’re here, we come, then we go. The visitor theme is strong in the project because multiple dimensions about traveling are happening simultaneously in the parkvisitors in life, visitors to the park. 

Traveling to another project. Could you reflect on your Wittgenstein pilgrimage because it exemplifies your philosophical underpinnings and curiosities?

JE: When I visited Wittgenstein’s hut in Norway, the project was partially about this famous philosopher who built a hut in the middle of Norway, where is it, what is it?

MPB: To which you created a map.

JE: Yeah! I’ve been very enamored by Wittgenstein’s philosophy. He was the first philosopher I ever read, though I didn’t understand much of it. I can reread it, reread it and still discover new things.

In this project, I took the camera as a way to document the trip, though I didn’t know at the outset what kind of art would arise. I ended up making a map that literally maps where the hut is, which had never been done before. It’s a functional map that you can buy and if you want to visit his hut, there’s an essay about the trip, some historical information, and archival pictures as well. It will get you there.

Searching for Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lake Eidsvatnet, Skjolden, Sogn, Norway

Maps are interesting. They have this factual tie to the world, yet they are really subjective, an interpretation of the empirical world. In a way they are like photographs—at the same time they’re real and not real, natural and cultural. It’s a paradox. I think maps also play that role: they’re two-dimensional, they’re a schema, they’re not realistic, and yet they represent reality, too.

The maps were made with the support of a McKnight Fellowship. In the Wittgenstein map, the essay talks about two interrelated things about the hike. As I walked to the hut, in my head I had this narrative of who Wittgenstein was—informed by fame, informed by the legend and what he knew, his ideas about language and the world—he’s so smart and thoughtful—and then alongside this there was a really strong experience of the physical world: an embodied physical element. It was both of these things at the same time.

Wittgenstein lived in a particular social time, experienced a specific historical perspective, a materially and intellectually concrete location, which helped shape how his thoughts manifested. It’s curious to me how his ideas are taken up by contemporary readers, where they have resonance. And also how the embodied, lived experience relates to thoughts and thinking.

I return a lot to the connection between the mind and the body, in a very philosophical way. How do you make art about this? I don’t just want to write about it. I also look for opportunities that give my audience a different entry point. Is the body just a container for the mind? I think that concept is too simplistic.

(Moment of silence.)

I’m also doing a project called Thinking Portraits that’s a cross-collaboration with a group of cognitive neuroscientists in the Department of Psychology. Part of our research uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), calculating blood flow, oxygen levels in human brains during specific thinking and memory tasks.

The fMRI machine gathers this information from each subject, and then scientists treat the data to algorithms mathematically, so that it is organized to create an image. The resulting visual presentation is as if we’re seeing another person’s brain, yet it’s not a contact print or direct X-ray. Rhetorically, it appears as a photograph, and the images seem to have all the evidentiary quality that a photo has. They’re anatomical, they’re realistic, it’s . . ..

MPB: But it’s not a photo made by a camera: the data is formulated, then manipulated to create an image like a graph.

JE: Yes. It’s called a “scan,” but it’s not a real scan. It’s very seductive. Not only as an image, but also what we think it’s showing us about the brain, direct visual access to the body.

Again, it’s this kind of photographic perspective here, I’m using it as a way to analyze what the fMRI data shows—how people respond to it, and take its truth-value as much more simplistic than it actually is. The image and data is a highly interpretable thing. Scientists disagree about what it means.

MPB: What is your role? How much longer is this project going to continue?

JE: We’ve been meeting for nearly two years now and our study is almost ready to begin. I’ve been part of the group as we research and create the scientific study, and also will be one of the test subjects. I’m hoping to use the resulting images of my own brain to produce some self-portraits and related works.

I’ve learned so much about science, the brain and mind, from working with this team; they’ve been incredibly generous to welcome an artist in the group, which as you can imagine shifts things a little bit. Artist and scientists ask questions differently than one another, and we can learn a lot from sharing our processes.

Again, I’ve taken up a project that poses a similar dilemma: how do I take my own interests in the world and how we connect our thoughts and feelings about our experience, and create art out of those interests? The art for Thinking Portraits is very much still emerging from the process, and pushing me in ways I’ve never experienced before.

MPB: Collectively, your projects are very personal.

JE: The great thing about art—when you put the frame of art around something, or when you’re in the right frame of mind—is, it shifts the way your perceive reality. You look at the world anew. And ultimately, it helps you understand something about the world that you didn’t quite know before, yet feels totally in sync with what your experience tells you.

Visit for more information about Estep’s work.

Metta Meditation, Grand Canyon National Park, Pima Point, 2011, photo documentation


Hunter Dress, Draped, 2001, from “Survival Wear,” color photograph, 30 by 41 inches

Hunter Dress series, Exhibition view, Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, 2001

Wittgenstein Project, Exhibition view, “McKnight Visual Artists 2006-2007,” MCAD Gallery, Minneapolis, July to August 2007

Wittgenstein Project, Exhibition view, “Out of the Comfort Zone,” Nash Gallery, Minneapolis, September to October 2007

Signs en route to Wittgenstein’s Hut, Norway, 2007, photographic digital inkjet print, 22″h x 48″w

Searching for Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lake Eidsvatnet, Skjolden, Sogn, Norway, 2007, illustrated folded sheet map, four-color offset print, 32″w x 24″h (unfolded), 3″w x 8″h (folded).

Grand Canyon Suicide Map, 2011, digital inkjet print, map pins, 39″h x 86″w

Grand Canyon Suicide Map, 2011, detail

Metta Meditation, Grand Canyon National Park, Pima Point, 2011

Metta Meditation, Grand Canyon National Park, Shoeshone Point, 2011