Thursday, July 14, 2016

Q & A with Rosalind Fox Solomon

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller
Rosalind Fox Solomon is a photographer based in New York City and the author of the recent monographs Got To Go and THEM

Blake Andrews: The text in Got to Go touches on childhood memories and parent/kid dynamics. I’m curious what your childhood in Highland Park was like.

Rosalind Fox Solomon: My childhood in Highland Park was difficult. White gloves, white teeth. Smiling was important. Maybe my second childhood will be easier. There were two levels of life for me in Highland Park: uptown where my mother played majhong with her lady friends, and the rural area on “the other side of the tracks”, several miles away from the center of town where we lived and I attended grammar school. Our home was a castle compared to all of the others in the neighborhood. It was plunked on some acreage, set back from the road, completely out of context with the neighbors’ modest houses. My sister and I were the only Jewish children in the rural school. It was after the crash. Hitler was on the rise. 

My grandfather, Nathan Fox, a Russian immigrant, established a wholesale tobacco and candy business. My father commuted from Highland Park to the West Side of Chicago where he and his siblings worked in the business which they inherited.

My other grandfather, Lester R. Wellman, designed our dining room chandelier. He was an isolated and unrecognized artist, who painted watercolors. Born in Louisville, he and my grandmother moved to Chicago where he established a small business, a sales outlet for the beautiful lighting fixtures which he designed. He lost everything in The Great Depression. Then, he fell into a depression that lasted for the rest of his life. He and my grandmother were incompatible. She taught contract bridge and worked as she said, “to help the less fortunate.” My grandfather loved music and  did not interact socially. My grandmother wanted a divorce, but when my mother and my uncle begged her not to leave their daddy alone, she conceded accepting her unhappy life. Though the Wellmans were my mother’s parents, my father supported them. 

You came to photography relatively late in life. Before that, were you aware of it at all? Did you look at any art photos or know people who did or who made them?

I was not aware of photography. I never saw any art photos; I did not know people who made them or people who talked about them. I did not know any artist —photographer or painter— except my grandfather, but I knew the work of artists because my mother took me to the Chicago Art Institute, to the ballet, musicals, opera and to the Chicago Symphony. In childhood I knew Carmen, Gilbert and Sullivan, Renoir, Swan Lake, Beethoven, Oklahoma and South Pacific.

From grammar school days through my college years, I attended performances at the Ravinia Festival. We sat under the stars and listened to Schubert, Mozart and so many others. The Chicago Symphony was conducted by the world’s greatest conductors and internationally known guest artists appeared there. My aunt Barbara, had two pianos. She regularly entertained guest artists after the concerts and played duets with them. Among those I met at her soirées were Leonard Bernstein and Leon Fleisher. Leon and I were serious for a while, but his mother put an end to our relationship. She did not want him to be distracted from his budding career as a concert pianist.

Israel, 2011, from THEM

I began photography when I was 38, living in Chattanooga, Tennessee with my husband and two children. I was friendly with the chief photographer at the Chattanooga Times. One afternoon, he helped me to set up a darkroom in what had been my garden shed.

I stayed for two weeks with a Japanese family that spoke no English. I did not speak any Japanese. I began “talking to myself” with an Instamatic camera. Though my work was focused on international exchange at the time, I quickly became attached to the camera. I returned to Tennessee and never stopped taking pictures.

How did you initially connect with Lisette Model?

I went to a holiday party at a big photo lab in New York that had made several six-foot prints for me. At that time, five years of work seemed like a lot and I wondered what I should do with all of my pictures. I met an agent at the party. I need an agent! I told her. I didn’t realize that I was still an infant artist. I was put in contact with Henrietta Brackman, a photographers’ consultant. She looked through a suitcase full of my work and said, “You’re talented, but you’ve a lot to learn.” She said that Lisette Model could help me.

What was your first impression of Model?

…that she was a sage and that every word she uttered was a gem. She was physically small but had a huge presence.

I am sick of bearing the cross of Arbus on my back and being tucked away in a basket with her remains. She was an early influence and I have had many others.

I came out of an era when artists were not expected to articulate their intentions. I finally woke up to the fact that I was living in another age. I had to do what kids in art school are required to do: they have to talk about their work with intelligence and logic.

Israel, 2011, from THEM

I began to discover myself as an artist at age 38. My influences beyond photography are broad and diverse. They include literature, painting, music, theater, poetry and film. They have deepened over the years.  Some of the individuals who inspire me are Samuel Beckett, Ingmar Bergmann, Buñuel, Julia Margaret Cameron, Ann Carson, James Joyce, Fellini, Goya, Hogarth, Bacon, Sam Shepherd, Tennessee Williams, Margaret Mead, Bertolt Brecht and Alice Neel.

During the past 20 years, I have used photography, texts, sound, my voice, and the moving image and installation in my practice. I have worked consistently on underlying themes that  relate to gender, psychology, ethnic violence, and the rituals of religion and culture. These themes emerged from my own life experiences.

 Do you think your portraits flatter your subjects? Are they kind?

 Of course, flattery is not my intention. Look at my influences. Think of Beckett.

Mother, Daughter and Maid, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1988, from Chapalingas

Is your subjects' reaction to the photographs important to you?

No. As I work, what is in my mind has nothing to do with how an audience will respond to my vision. Individuals have different responses depending upon perception.

Photography as such does not interest me. It is only a tool as the paintbrush is the painter’s tool. I am interested in the layers within us as individuals related to our time.

I cut off from the known and make myself vulnerable. My self image as an outsider takes me away from my comfort zones. I put myself into situations where I need to gain acceptance as a person and an artist. This has continued throughout my projects i.e. the series First Mondays in Scottsboro: portraits of people with AIDS, ritual, and Polish Shadow.

If photography does not interest you, what does?

What interests me are the dichotomies and the metaphors. Push–pull. Positive-negative. 

Got To Go, 2016, Mack Books

What was the source material for the texts in Got To Go?

I used a random format in the texts. Actually, the design of the texts is intrinsic to Got to Go and its inner voices. I wrote all of the texts with the exception of extracts from songs. Many come from a cacophony of remembered voices of the child and the parent. There are also a few of my poems.

The original idea behind the texts was to excavate parts of my childhood. The texts provided a framework for the selection of related pictures. My experiences in taking the pictures took me far beyond the personal. 

So you created the text before you'd chosen the photographs?


The title Got to Go is excerpted from one of those texts. What is the significance of that title and why did you choose it?

I chose it because it came out of my mouth as a child and within the book the phrase has multiple relevant meanings. 

Parts of Got to Go are drawn from my mother’s sayings and my father’s behavior; also from my confusions and fears as a child. They remain in my gut, relating to all aspects of my life.

Got to Go is published by Mack. How did you get connected with Mack, and do you have other books planned with that publisher?

Michael Mack worked with Steidl and was involved with Chapalingas (2003). We knew of one another then. Mack published my monograph, THEM (2014)He also published books for most of the other the photographers participating in This Place (2014). We communicate well and I look forward to my next project with him. 

Among the themes in Got to Go are dolls and amputees. Why are you drawn to these subjects?

 I was drawn to the “leper colony”, Agua de Dios, after I read a front page article in the New York Times in 1987. The Times reported on the fact that some experts had declared that people with HIV should be isolated. They should be moved away to protect the general society. People with leprosy had been isolated since the Middle Ages. At that time, the public thought that a person could catch AIDS in the way that you could catch the flu. 

My trip to Agua de Dios, Colombia, was a prelude to Portraits in the Time of AIDS. I stayed in Teresa’s home. She had Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) and walked with artificial legs. Colombia banished individuals with the disease to Agua de Dios. The town was abandoned when scientists convinced the Colombian government that Hansen’s Disease was not easily transmitted. 

Dolls in various manifestations appear in Got to Go.  In all cases they reference little girls or women. Dolls also are mentioned in my texts.

In my book review for Photo-Eye I wrote that Got To Go was not a happy book. Do you agree? 

Got to Go is a tragicomedy.

When I view your photos I almost feel I'm looking through the eyes of an anthropologist. Your curiosity about people comes through clearly, and I know you've lived in many countries and cultures. Do you think your photos are about the universal human condition (whatever that is)? Are you trying to get inside the head of your subjects and figure out what makes us human?

Israel, 2011, from THEM

My eyes are the eyes of a poet. We understand art in terms of our knowledge and experience. I want people to be excited, to plunge deep into the pictures, unpeeling layer after layer of 
meaning. Everyone interprets in a different way.

What's the intention behind your photographs? What do you want them to say?

I don’t know what I want to say until I say it. My pictures are often ambivalent. My work reflects what I see in the world. Images are open to interpretation until they are contextualized and, even then, the viewer gets to choose.

Do you shoot color?

With my black and white silver gelatin prints, I stayed in control of every aspect of the process. I worked untold hours in the darkroom to interpret my negatives and create my final prints. Now that I am working with digital scans, color is a possibility. I am considering it.

(All words and images above © 2016 Rosalind Fox Solomon.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Q & A with Julie Mihaly

Julie Mihaly is a photographer based in Poughkeepsie, NY, and the author of The View From Here.

Blake Andrews: I'm curious where you grew up and how you first got into photography.

Julie Mihaly: I first got involved in taking photos as a kid. My Uncle Ralph gave me a snapshot camera for my 10th birthday and I carried it around with me for at least a year. The particular way in which snapshots render the world is what lies behind a great deal of my work.

How would you define "snapshot" and what is it about that style that appeals to you?

A snapshot, for me, is an image without pretense whose main intent is to record people, places and things that have some personal value. It's also, as Diane Arbus, said of all photos, "a record of the gap between intention and reality." And it's that gap that intrigues me and beckons in its own odd way.

Why did your Uncle Ralph give you a camera? Was he a photographer? Did he see something in you that might connect with it?

Ralph worked for 3M and the camera he gave me was a freebie from work, but my dad was an avid photographer. That said, I think my desire to record things was perhaps more influenced by my mom, who was a writer. She wrote short stories about her childhood in Appalachia and the power of the images she rendered made me want to do something similar. I guess I felt more drawn to doing that visually rather than verbally.

When and where was this?

I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but my mom was from coal country in Western VA —one of 10 kids in a dirt-poor, Depression-era family right out of a Walker Evans photo. The dichotomy of growing up in the suburbs and feeling as if my "soul" roots were in those poverty-stricken hills is one that influenced me deeply. I believe I learned early on that being wealthy didn't make you happy and that being poor didn't make you noble. I was taught to judge people as individuals and to be curious about everyone and every place. I thank both of my parents of that, but most especially my mom.

And if I'm guessing right this was the 60s or 70s when cameras were becoming a common thing in every home? Snapshotting was sort of a national craze, although by today's standards with limited distribution.

Yes, I was born in 1953 and grew up being photographed and photographing. It was definitely part of the national zeitgeist, but very different from the way people use the cameras in their cell phones these days.

What kind of photos did your dad make? And what kind of feedback did you get from your parents back then on your photography?

My dad took photos mostly of our family vacations. He was a builder and rarely got away from "the job," so he shot the crap out of our family travels. Sadly, he was killed in a freak accident when I was 17, so he never really had the opportunity to weigh in on my work. My mom was always supportive of my work- no matter what shape it might take.

My entree in the world of official photo-dom came about when my brother, who'd received a Nikon F4 for his high school graduation present, borrowed $100 from me when I was 16. He gave me the camera as collateral and when he never paid me back the $100, I got to keep the camera. Ergo, I used it to create a pretty blatant ripoff of "The Family of Man" for a section of my high school yearbook. 

Sorry to learn of your dad. So your uncle Ralph planted the seed but it wasn't until high school that you considered yourself a photographer? Did you study photography in college?

Butterfly with running girl in background, Central Park, New York, NY

Yes, it was in high school that I really started to consider myself a photographer. I spent my 1st year of college at Vassar where I submitted a photo essay for a project in one of my classes and got very positive feedback —though in retrospect it was pretty cheesy and I don't think the professor knew diddly about photography. But I realized then that I wanted to be somewhere where I could study photography and writing and other related disciplines so I transferred to the newly-founded Evergreen State College (TESC) where I really began a serious pursuit of the medium, later transferring to the San Francisco Art Institute where I earned a BFA and MFA in photography.

Did you meet some of the Blue Sky folks at Evergreen?

Yes. Chris Rauschenberg and I were both in the same interdisciplinary program titled "Image And Idea" and we've been friends ever since.

Chris definitely comes from a snapshot-friendly worldview.

Yes, Chris is a snapshot-o-phile.

Can you briefly describe the "Image And Idea" curriculum?

“Image & Idea” was supposed to be a multidisciplinary program that incorporated photography, film and writing, but it really boiled down to a great immersion in photography. I learned how to make fine B/W prints, met people with whom I’m still great friends, and found my calling thanks to the input of faculty members like Kirk Thompson and fellow students like Chris and Craig Hickman.

Reading between the lines a bit, a transfer in the early 70s to Evergreen was about more than just academics. That was akin to "Turn On Tune In Drop Out", or "Go-West-Young-Woman", or maybe just basic youthful exploration/rebellion.

Evergreen was the opposite end of the higher educational spectrum [from Vassar]. Then I left TESC for SFAI. It was the 70s— I tried to pack as many schools into that 6 year undergraduate and graduate career as I could, moving to NYC 3 days after I got my MFA.


As an aside about Evergreen, after the main color darkroom closed in Portland, the closest one became the school darkroom at Evergreen. I know several people who now drive up there regularly to use it. So in a way Evergreen is still having an impact on the broader photo scene, at least on the West Coast.

Wow. Can't believe that people head to TESC to use the darkroom. That's actually very sweet somehow. As it was meant to be...

from Botanicals

What was in NYC?

After years of waitressing and doing my own work, I segued into teaching photography at The School of Visual Arts, Rutgers, and The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Then, after more than a decade, I decided that paying the rent with a bit less agita might be a good idea and I moved into the world of photo editing and research, working at magazines ranging from Vogue to Vanity Fair, et al.

You're jumping ahead. What about back in the 70s? What brought you to NYC? I assume you were done with the West Coast? Was it to pursue photo opportunities?

I moved to NYC in 1978, partly because I'm an Easterner at heart —I missed the seasons— and partly because that's where you went to become a real artist.

Do you think that's still true? Do you need to be in NYC to be a real artist? Or in a major city?

I don’t think you need to be in NYC or a major city to be a real artist, but I think you need to visit them to get your work seen on a major level. Ironically, I saw more of many of my San Francisco friends once I moved to NYC as they all came to the big city to show their work to local galleries. These days you can get your work seen so much more easily via websites and FTP portfolios. It’s a great boon, but making a personal connection is still hugely important.

When and how did you get involved with Dianas?

I was goofing around on a day trip to San Rafael one day in 1976 and found a "Lina 1" toy camera for 40 cents at a local Goodwill. I've, as you might imagine, collected Dianas over the years, but none of them ever leaked light and vignetted as perfectly as that first one. I was instantly drawn to how it rendered things, but I also loved not looking like an "official" photographer. People were more relaxed than they might have been if I'd had a honking big SLR around my neck, and that sense of collaboration between subject and image-maker that came with taking snapshots was more organic with the Diana.

Did you know other photographers at the time making work with Dianas?

Remarkably, no. I mean, I knew people who used giant pinhole cameras and knew some of the Blue Sky people who used Dianas, but none of them were in NYC. I honestly didn't know anyone else in the city who was shooting with one at the time. My first photo friends in NYC were more classic street shooters- Mitch Epstein and Len Jenshel in particular.

Once you began shooting Dianas did that become your main camera? Or was it just one tool in the quiver?

I actually started using a Polaroid SX70 quite a bit just before I moved to NYC —another snapshot camera, another square format and another informal piece of technology. But I always continued to shoot with my Nikon. 

I'm curious because the Diana captures such an unusual worldview. Maybe it goes back to your Arbus quote. The "gap between intention and reality" can be fairly wide with a Diana, which is part of its charm. But it's hard (at least for me) to move back and forth quickly between that style and "normal" seeing.

I think you get used to knowing what will render what in what way when you work with multiple kinds of cameras. It seemed natural to me. I've always used whatever format might fit what I wanted to say rather than trying to fit what I wanted to say into a format. 

I think the 70s were sort of primed for Dianas to be discovered. They were in thrift shops all over, and Szarkowski had helped usher in a very loose era of documentary photography. 

Yes, there was more acceptance of Diana work back then than there is today, which is ironic because you can even choose to take Diana-esque pix as one option on a cell, and Instagram is riddled with Diana wannabes.

Erick with toy dinosaur, Warwick, NY

If there was more acceptance of Diana work back then (by the art world), maybe it's just that snapshots in general were more accepted. I think most professionals and serious fine art photographers nowadays have a dimmer view of snapshots. There's less trust of chance or lightleaks or imperfections, at least to the extent of the 1970s. I'm probably just being nostalgic but I can't help feeling a pull toward the looser 1970s style. But with all the tools available to photographers now it's hard to consciously give up control. 

Ah, yes... but giving up control was part of what made it fun.

I think it ties in to something you said earlier about your love for "an image with no pretense". One of the obstacles in contemporary photography (for me) is that feeling of pretense. Too many folks trying to create something deliberate or important, or with an undeclared attitude of pretension. Of course the other end of the spectrum is the 50 billion iPhone photos online of someone's last meal. No pretense but not much craft either.

 Maybe there's a middle ground. You mentioned Instagram earlier. What is your overall impression of it?

I think Instagram is great, but I’d never post my own work there— I simply refuse to flat-out give anyone the rights to my work. I’ve been in the photo business too long not to be aware of how you can be ripped off. It’s easy enough to have that happen via Google images and even work being taken from your own website, but to intentionally give your work away is not something I’d ever do.

Why did you stop shooting Dianas? Or did you?

I still occasionally shoot with my Diana, but when I left NYC 6 years ago for the Hudson Valley (I moved up here to be closer to my mom who had Alzheimer's and was in assisted living in the Valley), I couldn't bring my darkroom with me. It was tragic really. I couldn't even give the equipment away. I dismantled the enlarger and left it on the street with the garbage. I still have about 75 rolls of Diana film that I haven't processed, but I'll get to it eventually and will scan the negs and work from them.

So the move from Diana was tech-driven? Just because you couldn't keep a darkroom? You can scan and print them inkjet. (Can't wait to see what's on the 75 rolls.) 

The Diana decision was technical, but also influenced by the fact that the person with whom I live is sensitive to chemicals, so I even have to wait until he's out of town to develop film in the bathroom. Sigh...But I've become more enamored of newer, still snapshotty cameras. I'm getting back into shooting square B/W portraits, but with the Leica point and shoot camera. I just can't bring myself to carry a big, heavy camera at this stage of the game. I just had a show of work that I photographed with a tiny Nikon Coolpix and printed the images 17" x 22". Just little things I noticed on the streets of my current hometown of Poughkeepsie, NY.

I saw some photos from that show on your site. I think you've kept the snapshot aesthetic but you're moving away from people photos and into quieter scenes driven by mood/texture. But I should probably let you describe them instead of me. What attracts you photographically to stuff in Poughkeepsie?

I wasn't feeling particularly drawn to anything in Poughkeepsie, which says a lot about the town. But then I realized that if I wasn't seeing anything that appealed to me as a photographer, it was my responsibility to find something that did. So I took to the streets and much of what I photographed is much of what I've always shot in one way or another- the little things that people see, but don't really "notice." I loved finding and revealing this completely inconsequential bits and pieces of the life around me and giving them a sort of esteem in the way I shot them —composed the pix of them formally and thoughtfully.

from Notes In Passing

Maybe part of what you were seeing was the lack of stuff. After moving anywhere from NYC, the paucity of visual material must be dramatic.

I think there was stuff here, but yes, it's just not as rife and easily accessible as what lies on the streets of NYC. I'm hoping to head into town for a few shooting forays when the weather gets a bit better.

I made a similar move about ten years ago, from Portland (medium sized city) to Eugene (college town). The move has made me more finely tuned to my surroundings. I can see stuff here now that I probably wouldn't have noticed when I first moved here. But I need to search harder here for photographical material.

I definitely think that's what happens under the circumstances. It takes a while to let your cones and rods settle down and see what's there without wanting to see what you've already seen. I think it takes a bit of time before you see what’s actually in front of you vs looking for the types of images you would have taken in that more familiar, busier locale.

You mentioned your SX-70s photos a moment ago. I wasn't sure how to interpret the ones on your site which are set in pairs to short narratives. Is the text autobiographical?

Those images were from the first book I had published by Blue Sky and the text is and isn't autobiographical. Most of it is, but some of it is actually about my mom and my sister. The book, which was intended to be largely ironic and funny, was taken pretty seriously by many. I received quite a few letters from a number of women who said that I accurately related their feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. Not my intent at all, but if it made them feel less alone in those sentiments then that's fine with me.

from She Began To Realize

Tell me a little about Boom Underground.

Well, when —thanks to the advent of the internet— the print magazine world began to lay people off in droves, I decided that if I couldn't get a job that paid me enough to live on at one of the dwindling number of magazines that exist, I'd just create the magazine I'd most want to work for. One copy of "HTML for Dummies" later and Boom Underground Magazine was born. It's been a labor of love, but one that is wonderfully engaging and educational. I've learned so much creating it and am so proud that it now has over 11K fans on Facebook.

Is it only online, or also in print?

Just online, though I'd give my right arm to be able to produce it in print. But Boomers, the market that the zine addresses, are a dwindling breed. And though we still have enormous spending power and have a good 20-30 years left in us, I think it's unlikely that those who publish print would go for it.

I thought most magazines were aimed at Boomers.

I think that the really successful print mags are marketed to 30-40 years olds if not younger these days, but that's a whole other discussion.

That said, a great friend of mine and wonderfully talented photographer, Monica Church and I are thinking of creating a tiny little print photo magazine that would be a give-away up here in Poughkeepsie. It's still in the works, but we hope to get something going by the end of this year.

Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Buonconvento, Tuscany, Italy

What about the Al Gore project? I read somewhere that you're involved in photo research for his new film. 

I was part of a team of 5 international photo researchers that gathered imagery for his next film. Sadly, I think the project is currently on hold, but it was really great fun to do the research and a pleasure to meet him.

Which current photographers excite you?  

I like the work of so many folks. Larry Sultan, Emmet Gowan, Jim Goldberg, James Hamilton, Chris Rauschenberg and on and on. I'm a big fan of trolling LensCulture to see who's up to what from every generation of image-makers. 

Which ones were most influential when you were developing as a photographer?

Again- so many. Historically I'd say Lartigue, Sander and Atget. Then there's Arbus, Winograd, Larry Clark, Friedlander and perhaps most of all, Robert Frank (who I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with when I taught photography at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design).

(All photographs above by Julie Mihaly)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Q & A with Bertien Van Manen

Bertien Van Manen is a photographer based in Amsterdam, and the author of the recent book Beyond Maps and Atlases.

Blake Andrews: What was your path into photography?

Bertien Van Manen: I started taking pictures of my children. I published Easter and Oak Trees three years ago of the images I took then in the seventies. Some fashion photographer saw these pictures and asked me to be his assistant. I stayed in fashion for one and a half years and then started to not like it. I saw The Americans and it changed my life.

I've seen the Easter and Oak Trees book. Great pix. If my math is right you were in your thirties when you made those images? What were you doing before that?

from Easter and Oak Trees, 2013
I studied French and German literature, I translated books, and I had two small children.

So The Americans was your first exposure to fine art photography? How and where did you see the book? Did someone show it to you. Or did you find it on your own? 

The British fashion-photographer Kenneth Hope showed it to me.

Were your parents into art or photography during your childhood?

No, my mother was into literature. She read a lot. My father was an electrical engineer. They told us stories and my father sometimes took me to a concert. No art, no photography. We lived in a provincial mining town. There was nothing there. 

I'm from the middle of nowhere too. No stoplights for 50 miles around.

But in my grandparents' house there were painted portraits on the walls, of aristocratic great-grandfathers with beards and severe faces. And paintings made by my grandmother. 

When I was 12 I was sent to a nuns boarding school. We had art lessons. In the books the penises of the Roman statues were covered with a piece of paper. 

Was the paper easily removed?

Yes, but the nun was always there. During for instance Latin or Greek, that was given by a man, there was always a nun in the room. Of course we feverishly lifted the paper and I remember our big disappointment about those cold looking, stony little strange things hanging there. Was that what they made all the fuss about?

That was my art education (exaggerating a bit of course). Later they showed us the Impressionists, etc, but always very careful for Roman Catholic girls' eyes.

What the nuns didn't know, but photographers do, is that sometimes hiding body parts can be more arousing than revealing them.

In that time there was a whole different way of thinking about protecting against a forbidden world. In that way, for them it had nothing to do with "arousing”. They couldn’t allow themselves to go that far in their thinking. They just followed the rules.

Are you Catholic/religious? Were your parents?

I have been brought up very high middle class, Roman Catholic.

Are you still?

NOOOOO! Can't you tell from my work?

I can't tell anything about your religion from your work. There isn't much of a religious component, and I don't like to assume much. Why? Do you think your work says something about Catholicism? The photo in the recent book of the bright white statue comes to mind. I'd call it spiritual, maybe not religious.

from Beyond Maps and Atlases, 2015

Can't you tell I am not religious? Spiritual, yes. And the statue is something I just had to photograph when I saw it. I went onto my knees in the mud to do it. We had learned to bring sacrifices, as they called them.

Hmm. Thinking of you making that photo on your knees, that's an image loaded with Catholic baggage. Praying to the photo gods...?

I was not on my knees, but with my knees in the mud, which is perhaps the same... 

When did you leave Catholicism behind?

My husband played a role in that. His parents were Anthroposophic and he was nothing. This was a big drama in my family when I wanted to marry him. Anthroposophy is a theology  founded by Rudolf  Steiner at the beginning of the 20th century.

I don't know much about Anthroposophy but I like what I know of Steiner. He had a certain glow about him, and maybe a connection to humanity or trans-humanity which was uncommon. I wonder what kind of photos he might've made if he'd pursued that path.

I never thought of Steiner as a photographer. For me he is too much a theologist and a philosopher to be involved with such a worldly thing! Not that I am a follower of his, but some things I appreciate, such as his schools. My children went to these schools.

The Waldorf method is popular in Eugene. 

It's strange to hear you describe photography as "worldly". I know it has that element. It can be a scientific recording technique which is very tied to the physical world. But the part of photography which is most interesting for me is when it gets non-worldly, when the photograph surpasses the base level of what was in front of the camera. I'm not sure how that happens but I see it a lot in your photos.

Yes, these are two different things. I agree, my camera is just a tool that I use to express my thoughts or feelings. That's why I have the easiest little camera. You don't have to worry about technique. And this is in a time when every picture has to be super sharp. I had my images printed at the laboratory of Grieger in Düseldorff, Germany, where Struth, etc have their work done. Those people didn't believe that I wanted some of my pictures to be UNsharp.

Maybe you're a pictorialist at heart? Which other photographers do you like who shoot unsharp photos?

It is not a strict principle or a definite way of working, it happens. Not like Jacob Aue Sobol who makes all his work in very grainy tones. 

Speaking of unsharp, one of my favorite photos in the new book shows two men sitting at a table. They are very brightly lit, and there's a strange diffusion effect from mist or a filter, it's hard to tell. But the photo would not be as good if it were sharp and clear.

And that counts for more images. Even the branches in the forest, we made them 2 stops unsharp. They had no soft-focus lens, so I went to a drugstore and bought nylon stockings, of which we put two layers in front of the lens. The poor printer-woman, she had never done anything like it, but she loved it in the end. 

You added blur during production? Were the images also unsharp in the camera?

The two men were in a pub. I came from the freezing cold outside and my lens got blurred. One of the little presents the camera gives you from time to time.

from Beyond Maps and Atlases, 2015

But only if you're open to receive them.

But the picture of the forest, we did this in the darkroom. Because, being sharp it did not have the same quality. Yes, I love them, all these unexpected surprises that you discover later at home, looking at your contacts. Like the light leaked photo of the people on the mountain. You could never organize this.

You shoot film and make contacts? Do you have access to a color darkroom? Or a lab which does this for you?

I work with different photo labs and printers in Holland, the U.K. and Germany.

I wonder what Steiner would say. A light leak creates a perfect frame. Would he attribute the coincidence to mere chance? Or something else? How do you explain it to yourself? Is it pure accident? Or is it magic? Or both?

That's what makes taking photographs so exciting.

What, the surprise element?

Yes. I am seduced to think it is magic. But I think it is giving coincidence a chance. I don't know if the word coincidence is the right word here.

from Moonshine, 2014

Coincidence sounds like the right word. Photography + coincidence is a powerful combination. If you're searching for surprises, photography might be the last place you'd look. You aim a tool at a scene, and there's a rote recording. It's as surprising as accounting. But perhaps that's what makes it so surprising. It lulls you into a false sense of documentation.

Oh, but so many things can happen that you don't count on. This is why I work on film. I like to let myself be astonished about some results, if you see what I mean.  Yes, perhaps it IS magic. I am not recording. I am just letting it happen, I think. Have you ever seen an Anthroposophic painting? It makes you feel like running away.

Thus the small auto-camera. You're abdicating control. And in its place comes…what? I guess that's the surprise.

And the magic.

You mentioned your husband a moment ago. Was he involved at all with your photography? As an observer or companion or to give feedback?

My husband, Willem, was a lawyer, but very artistically talented. He gave me advice.

Did he travel with you during your photo trips?

I always travel on my own, except for people from the country where I am working.

Have you ever made photographs in the town you grew up?

Easter and Oak Trees is made in the park where my grandfather lived. We went there in the holidays. I once made a book about Roman Catholic women and went to photograph processions, etc. in my hometown, which is in the Catholic, Burgundian south of the country. But more than that I did not. I prefer to go to places I don't know.

I've read that you tried to begin a project in Instanbul but you couldn't make good photos there. Why? What was it about Instanbul that didn't work for you?

It did not click with me at the time. I tried to make portraits, they were not interesting. And during that time I saw an exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art there, about Istanbul by Magnum Photographers. The only one I really liked and who had a non cliché personal view, was Jim Goldberg with very personal pictures that had nothing to do with Istanbul. I also liked Alex Webb's images.

When you travel in order to make photographs, how do you usually find people initially? I know sometimes you travel with other photographers. How do you meet the non-photographers who become your subjects?

If, for example I want to go to Ireland, where I did not know anyone, I put a message on FB: "does anyone know someone in Ireland?" and of course I got the address of a photographer: Kate Nolan, who introduced me to Paul Gaffney, who introduced me to Martin McGagh and so on.

So you start with photographers? And are they also making photographs near and around you while you work?

This was in Ireland. Yes, we travelled and they and I took pictures. If we saw something we stopped. 

For meeting the non-photographers, it is a bit the same. If I go somewhere, I am sure to have at least one phone number. And soon it will roll as a snowball. When I went to Russia, I found the address of Ljalja Kuznetsova, whose pictures I had seen in the bookstore of  MoMA. It took me a long time to find her. I wrote my first letter in Russian, partly copied from my books. And when, after months her answer came, written in Cyrillic letters, I felt like getting a love letter.

I know you become close with the people you photograph and maintain some friendships afterward. Is your main motivation on these trips to make photographs? Or is it also the social connection? Would you ever consider making the same sort of trips without a camera? Or would that not interest you?

It would not interest me. I need both.

Spoken like a true photographer. 

But I also like to stay friends with some people. Taking pictures is a strange thing. I can go months without it. But once I start and the location is challenging, I can go on for 24 hours on end.

from Let's Sit Down Before We Go, 2012

What do you think of Jacob Holdt and his photographs?

Is he the one who takes pictures everywhere and all the time? For me personally there are limits. I prefer to respect the privacy of the other person. How far can you go? I find this a very interesting topic. You sometimes walk on the sharp of the knife.

He was a Dutch guy who traveled widely in the US in the 1970s, hitchhiking and staying for days or weeks with different families and people, and making photos of them. Very intimate and surreal. As far as sharp end of the knife, many of Holdt's photos are right there. They remind me of yours, and I think your methods are related. But he attached a social dimension to his photos which I think you would disavow. He wanted to highlight inequality and racism, and was very activist. I've read that you have left that stuff behind in your photos. 

I also have been thinking that I could change the world. I made a book about women migrant workers in Holland at the end of the seventies. And it opened some eyes.

Great! But then you lost interest in activist photography? Or do you think your current work is activist?

No, of course not. As you said, I have left that behind me. Being activist is not the word. I would say concerned or empathic. And that I still am.

I think what you are getting at is the tension between making photos and relating to people as humans. Sometimes those aims are in conflict. It's tricky. I don't know how war photographers do what they do. I couldn't. But even in non-war situations that tension is there when shooting people you care about. I know you've shot your kids a lot and I'm sure that's an issue with those photos. How to be present as a parent...and still get the shot.

My children are a good example. My son loved it, my daughter less. There you are as a mother, there goes your beautiful shot.

What about when you shot fashion photos? Did you feel any connection or empathy with your subjects?

I didn't like that world, but with the girls I had a good contact and I tried to photograph them as beautifully as I could.

Why didn't you like that world?

It is not my world.

But you are drawn all the time to worlds that aren't your world. To the unknown.

Ha ha, there you have a point. No, I mean it is a fake world. I feel irritated in it.

What music do you enjoy listening to? 

Classical music, especially J.S. Bach. Music from the seventies, Dylan, Young, the Stones, the Band, etc. But I also like to dance to dance music, disco etc, for hours.

What is your reaction to Donald Trump?

A disaster, how stupid this all is. I have no words for it. I hope Hillary will make it.

We'll see. I don't want to get my hopes up.