Sunday, September 11, 2022

Q & A with Jim Han

Jim Han by Blake Andrews
Jim Han is a photographer based in Portland.

BAWhat have you been up to lately?

JH: I ended up going out to Delta Park yesterday and spent the day there. Someone suggested going out there. Lots of activity there.


Oh yeah, Bobby's been shooting out there lately too. He told me a bit about it last night. Sounds kinda cool. Very eclectic mix of ages/ethnicity/social, apparently.


Yeah. Someone suggested going to the back of a convenience store where many people congregate and use fentanyl and meth.


You've got a nose for the drug scene. We'll get to that...But first, can we start where most of my chats do? Where/how did you grow up? And what was your path from there into photography?


I grew up in Spokane, Washington. My mother used to make my sister and I pose for photos and I remember as a kid spending a lot of time looking through all the family photo albums many times over. My father used to take a lot of photos. I used to have a point and shoot camera and would take pictures of people who were in my life and I in theirs. Somewhere along the way I stopped and it wasn’t until 2016 when I picked up photography again.



Was there some event in 2016 that got you back into it, or what inspired you? How old were you in 2016?


Yeah. A voice showed up and it was insistent that I buy a camera. I ignored it but it kept on. Eventually I picked up a film camera off of Craigslist and haven’t stopped since.


What do you mean? What voice?


In 2016 I was 45, I think. Around that time I was experimenting with psychedelics and a form of meditation and a voice started to appear and guide me to do certain tasks or occasionally tell me what was going to happen. It is not around as much now.


Were any of the predictions accurate? That's kinda weird and scary. 


One time I was living with a roommate and I remember her standing over me yelling and pissed. I used to be angry all the time and would act irrational and I remember thinking as I was watching her — if that is what I look like when I am angry, then I look insane. Anyway, I was reading a book and my vision became blurry and the same voice said “she is going to move out” and I came out of it and thought must be wishful thinking and then a couple minutes pass and she comes storming downstairs and tells me she is moving out and wants half the rent back. Haha!


You mentioned that voice recently on IG. You said that a voice told you to make the Pussy book and gave you the title, or something like that? 


Yeah. I was on LSD and the sequence of the book came in a flash.



Interpretations of the LSD experience are variable. For you maybe it was a channel to some "voice" which tapped into a hidden truth? Who knows. If there was some way to utilize that info that and predict the future it could be quite a tool! But I'm not sure "the voice" always responds to logic.


Haha! Probably not. Anyway, it’s just an occurrence and nothing to be attached to or identify with. The voice hardly comes around anymore.


Weird. Did the voice come around before 2016? 


Yeah. I had a fiancé and she moved out because of a disagreement about the future and I used to drink heavily and be depressed and angry and bitter and resentful and had a shit ton of self pity. I had a house full of junk and I was looking around while on LSD and depressed and the first time the voice showed up it said, just get rid of it all. And I did. I sold what I could sell, gave away what I could give away and threw the rest away. The place was empty. I remember sitting in the living room on the only chair in the place and for the first time I could see the sunlight reflect off the hardwood floors and it was the most beautiful thing I had seen in a long time.


This was in 2016?


2014 maybe.


But it was fairly abrupt? Like you switched mental gears quickly…and then found photography soon after?


Yeah. It just showed up and what a gift to be blessed with, the ability to practice photography.


I gotta say you don't seem very angry now. So just hearing you say that is creating some cognitive dissonance for me, trying to imagine you in that state.


Nah. Brain change. It’s an amazing thing


But it was almost like a born-again situation. Like you did a 180, and photography led you to an entire new worldview. Or maybe I'm romanticizing.


Yeah. A whole life will change simply by taking responsibility.


Was the person standing over you yelling at you your fiance? Or was it two different people?


Nah. A different person. Ex-fiancé was a sweetheart. In fact one day she was driving and was getting angry behind the wheel and her friend asks her what is going on. Turns out she adopted that behavior from me haha!


So what kind of photos were you making back in 2016? Was the voice guiding you at all?


Mostly making photos of graffiti art around town and would find abandoned buildings with art inside to photograph. No voice guiding me.



I'm curious to see those. They seem tangentially related to what you're doing now. But of course much less personal. What was the progression from graffiti art to the more humanist (embedded?) work you're doing now?


End of 2016 or the beginning of 2017 I took a darkroom class at Newspace and was beginning to discover Winogrand, Friedlander, etc and I felt a pull to photograph people. The graffiti really wasn’t doing it for me, but I didn’t know what else to photograph. No voices. It put the camera in my hand and took off.


Which class? Who taught it?


Lauren from PDR was one of the teachers. 


Cool, I haven't seen her in forever. 


Man, she was so kind and encouraging. It was an evening class so I could go after work and she taught us how to process film, make contact sheets, and make enlargements in the darkroom.


What was the pull to photograph people? Can you describe what motivated you? I mean, I feel it too but I'm not sure I fully understand it. So I'm just trying to get your take.


I don’t know. When I was a kid I would collect school photos from my classmates. Even if I didn’t know them I would want one. I would flip through yearbooks and just stare at people’s faces. I don’t know why. It was just enjoyable. When I took up painting years ago I would make Polaroids of people’s face and bring them home and paint portraits. When I saw Bruce Gilden’s digital portraits I was floored and that’s when I started asking folks for portraits more often. I didn’t want to do what he was doing but I wanted to make portraits.


So your paintings had some similarity to your photos.


Yes. I don’t know what it is but I enjoy looking at people’s faces.


I don't shoot many portraits any more but as I understand it they rely on a basic connection with others. I mean, maybe the pictures are just the secondary residue, and the really vital essence is the actual human connection. I'm not sure any flat 2d illustration can really capture what it’s like to be in the presence of another person, but some photos come close. But mostly what portraits do, yours and Gilden's, is make me wonder about the behind-the-scenes interaction. Like what is the connection? What was happening? What did you talk about? What was the process that led to that frame? That's what I wonder about a lot when I look at your photos.


Yeah. Before photography came along I did my best not to interact with people. Now, with a camera and a desire to work, I will jump into just about any situation if it seems like a photo might be in there. It is quite the rush to learn how to navigate social interactions which is something I avoided all together. Photography has brought me out of my shell and has shown me a bigger world of even worlds within worlds.


Camera as passport.



It is. A ticket to adventure. What a rush. What a ride. Why don’t you shoot many portraits anymore?


I don't really use my camera as a passport. I shoot pictures of people once I get to know them. But I don't often approach strangers for portraits. It's just a different approach I guess. It takes a while for me to become comfortable with strangers, to the point where I can shoot them. I may be missing out on some photos, who knows.


I remember when we were in LA and you had approached a stranger before breakfast.


I don't remember that particular photo, and I haven't gotten to that film yet. So I might trigger a memory when I print it. Maybe that person just struck me a certain way? I can't recall.


What did you shoot when you first started out with photography?


I was very formal, shooting patterns and shadows and stuff like that. Which I still do sometimes. I went through a big Friedlander phase early on lining up buildings, etc. That is still a tool in the toolbox, but my kit has expanded. I find that most of those early formalist photos don't really have much lasting impact. They don't really show what the world is like. Which is really the main strength of photography, I think.


Yeah. The only way to really know what the world is like is to be a part of it and live it. It seems anyway. I seem to look at photos and feel a feeling more than I expect it to show me what the world is like. Some photos have so much feeling and some others of course fall short. And what it is capable of showing is beauty.  Or show a moment of poetry that would otherwise be lost in the moment as it moves away into another moment.


Which ones have so much feeling? Does it correspond to the feeling you had when you were with the person? 


Not so much my own work but when I look at the work of others. I try to find that same feeling or something similar when going through my own work. Though in my own work that feeling is far and few between. The feeling is not personal. It’s like a game of hide and seek.


I'm not sure I understand. When you're hanging out with people and shooting them, you don't feel a strong personal connection?


Yes. I feel connection. But when evaluating the work it’s something else and sometimes the strong personal connection gets in the way of seeing the work.


Can you site examples? 


Spread from Larry Towell's The Mennonites


I have been looking through Larry Towell’s The Mennonites and the photo that first stopped me in my tracks is the photo of the two, maybe three boys driving a car and feeling and vibe of the photo, the feeling of rebellion, of doing something that their community says they are not allowed to do and the feeling of motion with the ground flying by and the dark clouds behind them all combine to give me a feeling that is enjoyable to feel and makes me wish I could be in the back seat feeling it even more so.


I can't make out the Towell photo very well. Is the car moving? It looks like motion blur. But if so, where is he positioned?


Yes. Pretty quickly. Larry must be sitting or kneeling on the hood of the car. Daredevil.


WTF?


Yeah. Fucking wild. I’m sure there were no safety measures taken.


I can relate to Larry Towell as a force of nature. He has shot all this bad ass shit in distant places, but his life and community are pretty local. If you passed him on the sidewalk he'd be just another bearded freak in a small town. Probably drives a dented up Ford 150. 


Haha! Sign me up. F150 is a big truck. I do not know much about Larry. The Mennonites is my first experience with his photography. I will now need to search out others.


I’ve got this one. I don't know much about Towell either but I think he lives a kind of double life which I admire. World famous art star...and humble backyard farmer guy. Somehow he makes it work. 


Wow. Do you have that book, The World From My Front Porch


Yeah, I posted on IG about it a while back.


I bet you have a wonderful collection of photo books. 


Yeah, more of a "raw shit load" than collection. More turn up each week. I'd like to build the best private photobook library in Oregon. I feel petty sure I can do it, but it will take a few more decades. (Chris Rauschenberg has the best currently). 


Sounds like you’ve had a chance to hang out in Chris’ library.


Back when I lived in Portland I invited myself over there a few times.


Haha! How did he react?


He's a friendly person generally open to sharing. And he has an amazing book collection. I learned a lot poking through his shelves. For many of the rare OOP titles, that was my first experience seeing them in real life.


Are any of your boys interested in photography? I would love to sit and look through all your family albums.


My boys don’t really care for photobooks. And that's fine, why should they? It's inside baseball. No one gives a shit about photobooks except other photographers! But I think my kids will hang on to the family albums. Speaking of photobooks, how was that event up in Seattle?


It was a blast. So many people showed up to the event. There was a sense of excitement in the air. They will probably do it again next year.


Maybe some post-pandemic electricity?


Could be.


Did you get any good response or critique on your book? Or (gulp) sales?


Yeah. All but one book sold. I was surprised. What was a real trip, was the sense that a couple of people came to the event to specifically meet me. It was a trip and a strange sensation. There was good response. Some people, once they saw the covers, passed right by haha! One lady, older lady, came back later and bought one of the books.  Someone who witnessed this said to me later that he was surprised that she seemed to “get” the work. No one spoke negatively to me about the work and I was half expecting someone to.



Nice!! 


Ha! I was looking for you. I thought maybe you’d be there.


I thought about going. But then I had a book nerd moment where I asked myself, you're really gonna drive 5 hours to see a book fair? And then drive right back? I guess my true colors showed through. Maybe I’m not enough of a book nerd after all. But if they do it next year, who knows, maybe I"ll make a photo junket out of it. I think you have the makings for a pretty solid monograph. But the logistics? Kind of a minefield.


Thanks, Blake for the encouraging words. When will you put out a monograph?


Like I said, it's a minefield. Too many choices. I'll just crawl back in my hole, thanks.


I went through your blog, went through all your photos from beginning to end in one sitting and I swear something in my brain shifted and changed due to that experience.


I'm curious about Portland's tent culture. What attracts you photographically to that scene?  


I don’t know. Again, there was a pull to go into a particular area of downtown and I obeyed the pull. I would walk into the area as part of a larger walk. Then the pandemic happened and it was the only area of downtown that was populated with people. I kept showing up and eventually people got to know me. The sweeps weren’t happening and so there was a community of people growing and folks settled in. I would go on the weekends then I would go on the weekends and after work. I brought bound books of the work and once people could see what the work looked like they allowed me more access. 


What do you want to express about that scene with your photos?



I am not working towards an expression, I just want to work. I love working on photography. I imagine the expression will show itself to me, if it hasn’t already. It’s a game of discovery.


Have you ever checked out Hastings Street in Vancouver?


If it is the street I am thinking of, no. I have watched a couple of documentaries filmed there.


I've never seen a sorrier, denser skid row. And this was about 10 years ago. I'm guessing it's more concentrated now. It comes to mind thinking of your photos and the communities that you've photographed. I stayed near there with George. We kind of avoided Hastings. It was pretty intense.


It seems so. I would like to see the area for myself. The only place outside of Oregon that I have been to with heavy drug use was Skid Row in LA. Even then it seems I was pretty fortunate because a resident there who has been there for many many years took a liking to me and followed me around then morphed into being a guide.


Yeah, it seems like you found your way into that scene pretty easily. How did that go? How did you approach people there initially, and what was it like hanging out there for extended periods? Maybe the same question applies to Portland skid row. What's the social dynamic like?


It was interesting. I would approach people the same way I would approach people here in Portland. But their response to me was definitely different. Harder outer shell to crack. It was interesting to find out that the community had certain people you could go to for certain services. Some people finding a way to fill a need within the community.


What sort of skid row conversations have you had? 


Not sure how to answer the question about conversations. So many and it seems to me at this time to try and put it all to words. Most of the time people are telling me their stories. Most are heartbreaking. I oftentimes consider taking a digital recorder with me to record our conversations but in the end i always choose to concentrate on the photography portion of our interaction.


I guess it depends what you're after. Actually I think for documenting reality photography is a pretty blunt tool. A recorder would do a much better job. Or videography.



Yes. I have to agree on both counts.


With your photos you seem to focus on the moment of getting high, or shortly afterward. Am I imagining that?


Yes. I do.


So your photos are kind of about drug use, and documenting that activity. But to me they seem to be about something beyond that. A dream state. They tap some other world. Which photography can do better than most other recording devices I think. We leave videographers in the dust there, haha.


Yes. Also experimenting and experiencing a series of photos in a particular sequence brings about a feeling, for me, that film or listening to a person speak about their experience cannot. This feeling cannot be put into words, but it seems to activate a different part of my consciousness that is more satisfying. Haha! Also, the experience of tripping the shutter manually with intention and also to get to the point of tripping it without thought is quite the experience for me. One gentleman put it best: that photography is my drug. And I am out with them getting my fix.


Is that a common experience for you, tripping the shutter without thought? It's not very common for me. I wish it were.


Yes. Once I stopped getting hung up on getting a great shot then more and more and much more quickly I am able to enter into a state of no thought and just go. Even framing is done without thought or consideration.


I could ask a bunch of shit here about flow states and yada yada yada but you and I and everyone reading this have already contemplated that stuff to death so NO.


Yes. I can see that in your work. Your work seems to be based on a lot of observation on your part.


Well yeah. If I'm out shooting for a few hours, it takes a lot of concentration. It's work (pleasurable but still work), and my brain is usually fried after, like after a long chess match or something. I should add that I’m a pretty brain-forward photographer. Heart and soul take a back seat. Your method sounds more fun.


I don’t know. Your method seems fun to me. I imagine if I was walking with you I wouldn’t see a quarter of what you see. A lot of the photos that come out of your camera make me laugh. Sharp witted, clever, and intelligent but not trying to be. The photos just seem to be an extension of your personality.


The grass is always greener (especialy in Oregon).


Haha!



Have you tried fentanyl?


Hell no. Been offered it plenty of times. Opiates scare the hell out of me. I like altering consciousness but addiction scares the hell out of me. And fentanyl addiction is a monster. Watching people and seeing what it does to them and hearing the stories. It’s horrible.


Never tried heroin or morphine?


I had an oxy addiction for a minute. Years ago. You?


No. At one point in my youth I was more open to new experiences and might have tried them. Now I'm too old for new tricks. Maybe I'm an idealist but I don't view any drug as "evil" or through some bad/good lens. Even fentanyl has a productive application in theory. Morphine is a medical marvel, and I know opiates have helped to create many amazing art works over the years, even if they've led some astray in the process. There are thousands of functional users out there as I write this. I’m not trying to glamorize hard drugs. They have huge risks. Just want to view them objectively. 


It’s true.


What about the sexual angle to your photos? Which seems to go with the drugs in terms of pushing against cultural norms. What's going on there? You named one of your books Your pussy better be gold baby and it shows a pussy on the cover. What's up with that?



I have always been fascinated with sex workers. I used to work at the Lusty Lady in Seattle years ago. I worked the graveyard shift. I started shooting more on 82nd Ave hoping to meet sex workers and photograph them. Again, just feel a pull towards that area. One day after work I spontaneously got off the Max at the 82nd Ave stop and started exploring. It was meant to be silly more so than sexual. In the book is a photo of a cellphone that shows a text conversation between someone I knew who is a sex worker and opiate addict and a john. In it he was telling her her pussy better be gold and she responded it is. Haha!



Jeff Mermelstein eat your heart out, haha. I'm guessing you've seen the recent Cammie Touloui book? She worked at the original Lusty Lady down in SF back in the 1990s. And I heard she recently moved to Portland. 


I’ve seen bits and pieces on the internet. I would like to pick up a copy.  Do you have it?  What do you think of it?



Here's my review.


Perfect. I love reading your book reviews. I’ve picked up so many books after reading about them on your Instagram page or your website review. They never disappoint


What job were you doing at Lusty Lady?


Janitor some nights and cashier other nights. Blood, piss, shit, cum. Haha! And lots of used tissues.


So you worked at Lusty Lady. And you mentioned painting. And you were in a band, and almost married? And you're a mortician? All of this was before you picked up the thread of photography in 2016 at age 45. I know it's a lot but can you sketch a rough timeline?  What happened before 2016? 


Yes. After my fiancé left I started going to open mics and sharing these songs that I had been working on. At some point I met a person who introduced me to a person who sold psychedelics. Then through that person I met other who were practicing Magik and alternative healing methods. Through that group I was lead to Dr Christopher Hyatt’s book, Undoing Yourself, and Robert Anton Wilson’s book, Prometheus Rising. Eventually I met another person who could coach me through the energized meditation exercises in Christopher Hyatt’s book. This released a lot of unconscious tension and PTSD and also alleviated some of the fear that had been built up to that point. I was then offered a chance to make a record, with Larry Crane at Jackpot Studios with a band put together by John Vecchiarrlli, who hosted the open mic at the White Eagle.  Then the voice told me to contact Calvin Johnson at Dub Narcotic Studio and off I went.  All these experiences became manageable and enjoyable with less tension and fear in my body. Then one day it all stopped. The Music. And it was quite easy to shed that identity and move the creative energy into photography.


What happened to the record?


Hahaha! No one wanted them so I threw the physical copies away but they are steaming online.


The history of art, reduced to one example. But wait, the voice directed you? I thought that wasn’t until later.


Haha!  But those experiences are the meat of it all. Yeah. Nah. The same voice that told me to get rid of all my possessions up to that point was the same voice that told me to reach out to Calvin and ask if I could make a record with him at his studio.


What did the voice sound like? Was it someone else's voice? Or did it come to you in your own internal voice? Can you describe it tangibly?


Just an internal voice that is as clear as the clearest day. It has a different quality then the gibberish nonsense that has plagued my life more so then than now.  It has weight and presence.


Are you still doing LSD much? And if so, is the voice still there?


Nah. Mushrooms every once in a while if there’s a calling to do so. One time I had a dream and a gift of a sword was bestowed upon me and I pulled the blade out and the end said mushrooms. I woke up and ate some. It was a nightmare, a beast that tore me up emotionally. But it was a gift as well. Still processing out a lot of old emotions. Hardly any voices anymore.


Are psychedelics much of a presence in Portland's tent cities? It seems like they might have therapeutic applications. 


Nah. No psychedelics. Nowadays it’s just fentanyl or meth. Heroin has all but disappeared. No one shoots up heroin anymore. We’re you ever much into psychedelics?


Yes of course. They were common in my friend-group around late adolescence. I feel so fortunate to have enjoyed that experience. If it were a different time or place it might have been fentanyl or heroin, who knows. But for whatever reason those drugs were not very common (Fentanyl not even invented?) and I just did whatever was around.. Marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, shrooms, acid. Just the boring drugs I guess.


Did you have a cosmic experience that stands out for you now? Maybe even still having an influence now?


"Cosmic" is a hard word for me. But those experiences have definitely helped form me and my worldview. The thing with LSD is that it was a very consuming experience. I can have a few beers or a joint and wake up next day fine. But acid? That took weeks for me to resurface completely. I was never one of those people who could just do it regularly and float in that weird meta state. I’m too much of a control freak.


Really. Wow. That must have been a weird sensation. How would you cope? Care to share one experience?


Once I was with my buddy G. We drove out to the ocean one day and dropped acid. We parked the car and started hiking, and pretty soon the trail got all strange and I couldn't remember which way we'd come in from. So we just picked a direction anyway and came to this fantastic meadow above the ocean. Even decades later this place remains the single most beautiful vista that I've visited. It was a gorgeous fall day, sunny and breezy. And I photographed my sneakers in the meadow with an old point-n-shoot. I felt an urgency to shoot them. I can't remember why but I had to take a photo. I still have that pic in an old album. It’s a terrible photo, looks like shit just like any snapshot of old sneakers should. But at the time it seemed like they were glowing. I guess that's photography in a nutshell. It never looks like what you experienced. 


Shoes in a meadow circa 1986, Blake Andrews


Then we hiked down to the beach and all the little pebbles turned into Steal-Your-Face skull shapes, and I finally understood what all the Grateful Dead iconography was about, because I'd been going to a lot of Dead shows around that time, but not fully grasping it. Or so it seemed. And I remember feeling completely non-hungry, non-sexual, and non-musical. It was as if all my primal drives were switched to "Off”. That was peculiar. The most beautiful beach on earth and we had it all to ourselves. We didn’t see another soul the whole day. 


Sounds fun. You ever experience a bad trip?


Yeah, I had a bad trip my first one. Some dude gifted me some tabs over the summer so I dropped one about 11 pm one night thinking it might be a fun nightcap. That right there should tell you how little I knew about acid. I was pretty ignorant and also solo. I wound up roving for hours on the beach which was normally my comfort zone. But the moon and kelp turned into sea monsters, and I was all alone and pretty freaked. So that night sucked, and it went on forever. It was an In-Your-Face introduction to Acid. I get it now, but of course at the time it was a jolt, and I just had to get through the trip. I didn’t sleep a wink until dawn, then crashed on the drive home the next day. 


Haha!  You ever experience overwhelming fear.


Well yeah, I probably did that first time. As much as anyone 17 can fear anything. I mean, I had zero fear of anything at that age. Probably some white male privilege in there mixed with small-town bravado. Anyway, I think that was the first time I realized I didn’t know everything. So that insight was kind of frightening.


Do you remember what brought the feeling on?


I was watching the Tonight Show as the acid hit. I'll never forget. I have a lasting image of Jay Leno' s tie doing sidewinders and I'm thinking WTF, something's not right. And then I was off...


Haha!  Sounds like a cartoon.


I was filled with, I guess, existential dread. Very creepy and dark and scary. You know, the whole off-kilter mechanics your brain goes through on acid. Sometimes it sucks. Fear, yes. But nothing physically threatening. A week later I was fine. It was all in my head.


Yup. It usually is. You go out traveling a lot specifically to go there and shoot? Other cities and states? You seem to travel a lot and I am just curious if it is usually photography specific trips or family trips.


I try to work photo ops into my life whenever I can. Basically every waking moment is a potential photo op, so if those moments happen to be on trips that material can provide some fresh juice. But I don't schedule many photo trips just for that purpose, especially since the pandemic. Probably the last one was with you in LA. That said, I try to get around. I was with my kid at an Ultimate tournament in Minnesota a few weeks ago. And I'm heading to Canada soon for a family camping trip. So I'll have my camera and shoot whatever is handy. But that's just tagging onto pre-existing trips. I'm not picky. I can find photos pretty much any place any time. It's more of a challenge for me to turn the photo spigot off on occasion. So I've been working more on not seeing photos lately. It's hard.



Yeah. Perfect. Yes, every waking moment is a photo op. It’s true. Yeah, I’ve met some people who need to travel in order to shoot. Photos are everywhere.


They can be.


How far back does your unprocessed rolls go?


I process everything pretty close to when I shoot it. But printing takes longer, because that is basically my base edit, Yes/No. So it requires time and attention. I’m backlogged to about 2/20 right now. I'm just digging into pictures from our LA trip. And it's also just before the pandemic. So that period has some serious baggage.


What is an Ultimate tournament?


That was the US Open in Blaine, Minnesota. I haven't looked closely at my film yet but I don't think I got much. 


Does your kid play or just a fan?


My youngest son was on the Oregon U-20 team. They did OK, 7th place.


Was becoming a father an easy transition for you?


This is like a reverse interview.


Haha!


Easy transition? No. But worthwhile. I evolved and at this point I can hardly remember a time before kids. So it's tough for me to look back and pick out transition points. You know, life goes on, and before you know it you're someone else.


How many reels does your development tank hold? 


Four, so I do four rolls at a time, usually a few times a week or whenever they add up. 


I was imagining a giant tank holding 20 at your place. And when you mention serious baggage, please elaborate.


The baggage of pre-pandemic life. It's been fun the past few months printing all these old rolls, right up to the edge of the virus. I'm at about February 2020 now printing. I know what's coming, but the person shooting them didn't. What strikes me now viewing them is the degree of freedom and socialization then. All these pictures of outings and events and people doing this and that. I was constantly attending events and gatherings. It's kinda weird to view now, from a future perspective. It still hasn't resumed. I'm not sure we'll ever get back to "normal”.


I don’t think it will ever get back. Have you had COVID?


Yes, and honestly Covid is mostly a non-factor for me. I kinda ignore it. Maybe that’s not so safe but whatever. I have no fear of it (my inner 17 year old speaking?) or much patience for it. I should probably be more wary. Maybe myself in 20 years looking back will have a better perspective. It usually does.


All photos by Jim Han unless otherwise noted.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Q & A with Simon Kossoff

Simon Kossoff is a photographer and writer based in Arkansas.

BA: Where did you grow up?  How and when did you get into photography?

SK: I was born in Middlesbrough in the north of England, but raised in the south in Hampshire and Dorset. It's hard to pin down my first connection to photography. I remembered recently when I was perhaps 8 or 9 years old and my mother sitting next to me and she was very excited to show the new in utero photographs in one of the Sunday supplements. I remember being absolutely terrified and amazed by them and fearful of every turn of the page.


That's pretty heavy to lay on an eight year old.


I think that too now. She kept saying how beautiful they were.


How would you describe your mom? What kind of person was she?


Down to earth, creative and visceral in her descriptions of things. She’s a northerner.


I'm a dumb American. What does northerner mean in UK? Is that the industrial part?


From Yorkshire and yes.


Maybe like Pittsburg is to the US?


That is exactly how I have described it in the past! Yes.


Whoa, cosmic. We're like twin brained.


Hahaha.


What's the UK version of Arkansas?


Dorset, for sure. That's the UK's south. Going back to how I got into photography, I remember using the family camera. I don't know what it was but it was square format. I used to set up scenes with my Star Wars figures, getting down really low to the ground, like I was part of the stilted action. I was maybe 11 then. I'd use up the whole film, get into trouble, but hurry to get them into the mail to be processed. TruePrint, with a free film. When the pictures came back I'd draw on all the laser fire and explosions. Later at about 14 I got a Polaroid camera for Christmas with a couple of film packs. I loved Polaroid. A friend of mine at school was a gifted shoplifter and she’d steal film for me in exchange for my lunch tickets.



Did you save any of those photos with the laser fire drawn on top?


My Mum might have them still, I don't know.  I showed my art teacher what I had done with the Polaroids and he mounted and framed them as a set and it was hung up outside the library at our school. I thought they looked cool, and got me thinking differently about things, like this totally creative personal thing can be now up on the wall. I felt quite exposed. 


When you say "family camera" that implies that your parents (or siblings, or someone?) were amateur photographers too. Did you have anyone else in the family or nearby friends to learn from or share ideas with?


My Uncle was a cameraman for the BBC and he was a keen photographer too, still is. He bought me a new Pentax for my 18th birthday. That's when I started to get really excited about photography.



What kind of photos were you making then?

At around that time Hockney was making his joiners and I could not resist making them myself too, they caused mind bending kaleidoscopic thinking in me, the changing perspective, each photo of the same scene a different exposure, focus and view point, and the assembling of them too. Over the years I realize how important and creative that assembling part of the process is. I am in an assembling phase now.


These were Polaroids you were joining? Or photos made with the Pentax?


With the Pentax. I experimented wildly with Polaroids and loved making those Ralph Steadman-like Paranoids too


Was this around the time you made scrapbooks too? I've seen some of those shared on FB recently.




I have always made scrapbooks and filled up notebooks. The pages you saw were from my 20s.


It sounds like you were interested from the very beginning in pictures as elements in larger art pieces. Not necessarily prizing them as single frames, but also for their wider application in collage or grid or scrap, etc. 


It was the photographs first, that was what it was about. I was always ripping out pages from magazines with a photo on it that I thought was cool in some way. Then I’d cut it out carefully and stick it into my scrapbook so I had it safe to revisit and ponder. Once the photo was glued into the scrapbook the pictures would over time collect other photos around them on the pages, then writings, poems, notes, lists, thoughts and compulsive doodling became a part of that too. I carried a notebook and pen around with me, like I later would carry a camera. It was the photos first though. 


I still do this collecting, but digitally, and have tons of saved nameless images in folders. I trust it is all for something later, but I have not connected the dots yet and realized what for yet, but that’s ok. An example of this is with the ‘pink suitcase’ pics. I read an article about a girl being found dead in a suitcase about a mile from where I used to live and this set off a fantasy whodunit going in my mind and I have an idea to return and make my own photographic investigation into the murder, but esoterically, gathering whatever I believe is evidence and photographing it. Anyway I had several crime scene photos saved and several old photos of the area too and I just started putting them together, assembling them into episodes. It’s going somewhere, slowly.


It’s a very different approach than "street photography”, a category which for better or worse, you've been lumped into.


I have and that is alright with me. I only have about 20 of what I would consider true street photos in my archive. I think this connection originally came from my Flickr group Altered States of Agoraphobia. At that time—maybe 2010-13?—I did source and invite several photos posted in the Hard Core Street Photography (HCSP) Flickr group to be part of my own. My group had a tight submission brief and I was super specific in my curating of it and I think at the time street photographers were looking for a home for their work too, to be separated from the crowd, to rest and be. It was from there I felt love from the street community, I think. That was a long time ago though. I do love street photography, it just floats out there unattached to any idea other than itself, which is beautiful and pure thing, but it is lost in the crowd of a million others doing the same. The good stuff does rise though, which is amazing.


Tell me a bit more about your Altered States of Agoraphobia.


It started back in, 2010, maybe before. It was during my immigration process and I was not yet legal to work so I had time to really explore my corner of Flickr. I was following some wonderful photographers and felt I wanted to do something collectively with them, but didn’t know what. I had been in the US maybe 3 years and done some traveling and was beginning to get a feel for the mind-boggling size and geographic diversity of this country and was curious about the locations of the American photographers I was following and what their world was like. I set the group up as a kind of extension of my own explorations and invited images from a handful of photographers to submit and they did. These initial submissions acted as a baseline for me and gave an idea of what I was looking for from potential future members. The introduction of the group stated:

“The Altered States of Agoraphobia is a psychological, geographical and cultural investigation into the United States of America today by what I call its ‘Resident Aliens’. It is a contemporary photographic exploration into both the psyche of the artist and also a document of the world in which he or she inhabits and the forces acting on both.”

It took off pretty quickly too. I had ideas for a publication, but I didn’t have the know-how to do it by myself. A show too. Then Brian Formhals, who was editor of La Pura Vida, approached me and invited me to contribute a regular Altered States feature for it. I did the first couple and then turned it over to any interested member to make their own, using a text from American literature coupled with a selection of photographs from the group pool. It was great too while it lasted, but times changed. La Pura Vida folded, I got my Green Card, and the real world took over and it, like many other things around that time, began to get neglected and that was that. 2013 I think. I haven’t visited the group since and long ago forgot my login details. Photographer and nice chap, Matt Gomes contacted me about 4 years ago asking if he could take it over, and I said yes, but not sure what became of it. Now that I am settled again these days it has crossed my mind to reboot it somehow and I have some ideas. I am in a better position now if I wanted to run with it too. The title is still cool and has a new edge to it after recent global events. Looking back, the original project was, for me, an exercise in curation and it was a joy all the way.


I was quite a chronic Dyslexic so in my early years I loved comic books, illustrations, photographs.


Does Dyslexia manifest in your photography in some way, in how you see visually?


Probably and that is a really interesting thought. I recently became aware that all these initial visual influences on me in early life are beginning to surface again, or I seem to be noticing this looking at my archive. It may inform my use of flash and how I seem to compose. I like to flatten everything out in a photograph, like on an even plane like a comic graphic in that way. I am embracing it and it knows what it wants to do and I trust it. I have found myself sequencing pictures this way too.



In other words, working with the natural dynamics of photography. Photos convert to 2D, but many photographers try to fight that basic fact. 


They do?


Maybe I overstated that. Photographers don't always fight against 2D. But a lot try to ignore it. It's the lazy school of thought that associates the meaning of a photograph merely with what's in the photo. Have you seen Tim Davis’ latest book? He talks about that a bit, how photography can only ever describe the surface of things. It describe the outer visual layer only. And then you take that information and flatten it into its own 2D form. It's quite something.


Wow. It's funny because I read your review of that book the other day and also watched Alec Soth's new YouTube video, talking about that too. I love Tim Davis and this new book looks wonderful.


I need to watch the Soth video. Is it good?


Those videos are like watching Bob Ross. I would love to hear Alec read those essays in full just to listen to that restful voice he has.


Haha. “Here I am about to photograph some happy little trees…”


Yes!


You mentioned flash a minute ago, and the way it flattens space. When did you first start using flash?


Good question. When I came to the US, I think.. I wanted to light up every corner of every photograph and see what was in there. If something stirred me to raise my camera I didn't want to miss anything at all in its recording. There are profound signs and symbols in the shadows sometimes, secret things you saw but didn't see. My teachers and peers mostly all used flash at University and I got an education watching them. I was into constructing sets and making my own deck of tarot cards then. Yes, the first time I used flash was when I came to the US, 15 years after graduation.


Did you focus on photography at university? If so, how was that experience?


Yes, I studied at Brighton Univ, Editorial photography. It was a fabulous course and looking back I am reminded of how lucky I was to have attended at that time. Paul Reas and Mark Power were amongst my teachers as was Jim Cooke and history of photography was taught by Gerry Badger. Our visiting teachers were also always a treat and included Martin Parr, Harvey Benge, so many more. Paul, as I remember, was tough in his approach. He had us make slides of our contact sheets for class crit sessions, which was rough on us all. 


I heard a podcast last week with Paul Reas (Ben Smith's Small Voice). He sounds like a very thoughtful guy. Probably a good teacher.


Yes, I listened to Paul's podcast too, just yesterday I think. It was good and it was nice to hear his voice again. I had no idea about his own dyslexia too and it moved me to drop him a line and say hi.


Mark’s Shipping Forecast was published during this time and he was working on the Dome project and he’d pin up prints from it now and again, amazing work and a privilege to see in progress. I learnt a lot there about exploring ideas. Mark’s grid assignment was one I always remember and has never left me really. He had cut up a map of Brighton into its squares and put them into a hat and we had to each pick one out then go there and make pictures.


That sounds a lot like Portland Grid Project which I was involved with many years ago. We cut up a map and picked squares at random. But we shot the entire city over 9 years, not just one part. It was very enjoyable, I started one in Eugene when I moved here.


I got a lot out of that project and I am sure you did too. What happened to the Portland one, was there a show?


We did have a few shows while I was part of it. And I think there have been some shows since I left (it's now about to start round 4). But we didn't really focus on that. It was always more of a personal project, at least for me. If I ever was in need of some place to shoot, and feeling a bit adrift the grid was always a source I could depend on. It always promised a new place to explore. Which for my way of shooting is everything I need.



I am very much the same way. Drawing a circle around a location on a map and exploring the interior.


Were you always that way? Even back in school and before?


That is a start for me, often. The world is too big otherwise. Photos have to have a location, no matter how arbitrary. If it is not stated or apparent, then the location can become a psychic one, which means for me, some aspect of my unconscious will connect to it instead and make itself known. There is something about knowing this that gives me a footing somehow in making sense of my own life. Sounds heavy, but I am not a commercial photographer. Photography is part of my everyday life and that is what I photograph. I have chosen it as a tool and an aid and have a private complex relationship with it. It is essential to my general good health. I am sure you are the same way, otherwise why are we still doing it?


I have asked myself that question quite often. Never with a good answer. I think it is something like you describe, an every day tool inseparable from life.


Between you and I here, I have never gone "on record" that I was a heroin addict for several years after my girlfriend of 7 years died suddenly in 2003. That was a black hole for me for a solid 3 years afterwards. I eventually cleaned up after going to Thailand and living on a monastery and taking their vomit cure. 


Tell me more about the monastery.


After several failed attempts to get clean I decided to go to Thamkrabok Monastery, in Thailand. A lot of people on the UK ‘streets’ had heard of this place and I had too, it was like junkie folklore in a way and seen as the last resort at the end of the line. There the monks have developed a special herbal medicine which has been used with some success to treat addiction. Twice a day myself and a group of other addicts, mostly Thai, gathered to drink a shot glass of thick back bitter tasting liquid, like ground up cockroaches. Then drink as much water as we could. There is a reaction that then causes intense and projectile vomiting. Drums are going at this time and monks are chanting, monkeys are howling, the jungle is right there and I am on my knees puking into a gutter. If you didn’t manage to vomit the liquid up it would sit there inside you sloshing about and sending you into a kind of delirium of nausea and the only relief was to puke. I stayed clean for 9 years after that.


Do you know what was in the medicine? It almost sounds worse than quitting cold turkey and puking without medicine.

I don't know what the medicine was and have tried to find out in the past and drawn a blank. I was already starting to go through withdrawals when I got on the plane. We didn't get anything but the beetle juice.


After I got back I went to live in Madrid, Spain where I worked and lived for 2 years as an English teacher. It was there I met my future ex-wife. She is an American and when she got another job offer back home and we did not want to be apart, so I went with her. We were married for 7 years. 


I try to keep the heroin out of my "story" because there is a huge stigma to that particular drug and I do not want my pictures to be viewed only through the prism of addiction and recovery either, if that makes sense, bc it's not the whole story. Addiction is the manifestation of deeper ‘ill humors’ and its those which I am interested in exploring more, not just its surface behaviors  - the drug taking (though I do have those photos too). Maybe I should just go on record, as it were..


Personally I attach zero stigma to heroin, or any other drug. They are personal choices, some of which—e.g. heroin— pose health risks. But the criminal side is irrelevant to me. All the drug laws are fucked and should be disregarded. Oregon has done away with most such laws, thankfully. Anyway, if you feel it's important to your life story and your photographic development, I'm all ears.


Yes, we can talk about that. Let’s see where it goes. Addictions are present in my pictures, in the pixels, the craving, lust, anxiety and dread, haha. 


I try to be aware of how I am feeling when I am taking pictures and sometimes drugs are in there and part of that and sometimes they are not. I hope for transmission or connection. Music is the most transmissive of the arts, I think. A sad song is a sad song to most who hear it. Some of Robert Frank’s photos in particular are not only transmitting but transporting too, for me. I personally do not go for a record of a time, but a feeling for it more and this is where drugs can be found in the work.


You said “addictions” (plural). There are others?


I am an addict and can get addicted to anything now. I have to watch my step, be mindful and pay attention. I was never much of a drinker though. I gave up smoking this year for the first proper attempt to quit. I’d smoked about a pack a day since I was 20. That’s been a big deal for me. 8 months. They say cigarettes are the first drug people pick up and the last they put down.


I got fully clean and stable and ready to get my life back after I returned from Thailand and my life since then, though there have been some major ups and downs, they have been preferable to where I was before. I have relapsed here and there briefly over the years on either heroin or meth, which I did for the first time about 4 years ago. It was a fucked up time and I am glad it is in the past. Meth is such a terrifying drug. I am not designed for it at all. The horror. My other Instagram account covers some of the ground material from that time.


I got out of that situation with nothing but the pictures I took then and at some point I am going to face them and assemble them into a narrative that makes sense to me. Making sense of a time when I really was not a reliable witness to my own experiences. That lovely Mum of mine is going to now read this. Lets make it part of the healing. 


Do you think there addictive aspects to photography? You said you were taking photos high on meth, without much sense of what they'd be. I think some part of you felt that recording impulse no matter how stoned. Perhaps it is a type of compulsion?


Yes, I've heard a lot of people say they are addicted to photography, but addiction to anything is no fun and people are just trying to sound cool when they say that. The compulsion to take a photo though is something else. I have been carrying a camera around for a long time. I have wondered if I carry a camera as a disability aid, like I need this with me at all time just in case, because I am not able to process my reality in retrospect. But that recording impulse is a real thing. I trust it right through and don't get in its way. I will find out what it all means later. I could probably write something about the effects of different drugs on photography.


Weird. As soon as I wrote that last comment, VU’s “Waiting For The Man” came on the radio. Maybe someone should write a photographic version, "Waiting for my B & H package."


Hahahaha. Let's do this.


Why is meth terrifying in comparison to heroin? And when will you look through those meth photos? 


Well, when a heroin user has some heroin they just want to relax and be left alone for the most part, but meth people get high and instantly want to go looking for trouble, first on their phones then out and about in the area. Then if you include a whole community doing this too there can be a lot of aggro, drama and weirdness. I can't go into my experience too deeply because there was a bunch of stuff I was not sure was real or not in the end and it is such a crazy fucked up world under the surface of things sometimes, that I just don't know..

Maybe when I get into really start looking at all that stuff I shot on meth with my iPod, I will get it figured out and turn it into something cool. That's how I will balance the books on that experience. Turn my karma around and shake the curse. 


You say you weren't sure what was real or not. It seems like the photos might weigh in here. 


The photos are like uncovered arrow heads, fragile and curious findings that open up an hour of time surrounding the making of the picture for example. It's not easy to explain.


You shot photos with an iPod? What was that about? Why not a camera?


I got a job working as a security guard for a meat processing plant in SW Missouri. It was a tough place. Photography was strictly forbidden too. I had been using a Nikon up until then, but felt it was suddenly intrusive and people seemed be self conscious when they saw it. Not sure why this come about, probably because most people there had warrants and stuff. Switching to my iPod was natural and no one cares if you are holding one. I liked using it a lot and I like the low image quality too, gritty, noisy and saturated in colour. I liked the tiny pin head flash too, that lighted things up like a candle flame and had to get really close too. I shot with this for a year. This was during my meth time too. I’d met a cute Cherokee girl who was on probation and working in the plant kitchen, and to Hell we went.. This was about 4 years ago.


What was it like working at a meat plant? 


It’s a death factory. 1/4 million chickens killed every day. There was not much poetry there. It was located in a small town and all the employees from the area. It was incredibility multi-cultural too. Refugees from Somalia, from US territories in Micronesia, first nations, immigrants from south of the border and of course a rich and wonderful variety of local rednecks.


What kind of photos were you looking for? What would have happened if you were caught?


I was taking pictures of my life, the place, the people and my job. The plant of course is terrified of PETA infiltrations and I was told a photographer could be charged with corporate espionage. Heavy stuff.

I just tagged you in a pic on Instagram to show you. I am pretty sure I could get into big trouble for this pic, if it was found. I will maintain it is nothing but a scale model like my star wars figure set up’s.


It's a strong photo. But at the same time I don't think it's incriminating for the factory. I mean it looks about like what you'd expect a meat plant to look like. And if it's on Instagram, isn't it out there in public already? What would they do if they saw it? Fire you? You're already out of there.


I was not in any way allowed to make that picture. I knew someone who took me in there.


I had a related experience a few years back in Maine. I tagged along with my brother-in-law to a chicken slaughterhouse where he had his chickens "harvested" or whatever.


Harvested, yes, that language all the time, in security we called it the “kill”.


It was just a shack in the woods basically, with an assembly line inside. Chickens went in one end, throat cut, defeathered, Boom, meat out the other end. No one cared about me shooting photos. In fact there's one in that zine I sent you. I think if I dealt with that scene every day I would have a breakdown. I'm a total pussy when it comes to blood and meat and stuff.


Hard to comprehend. I just had another look at your photo, it's a good one, haha. Yours is a great zine. Always been a fan for your photos.


Thanks man. I was on a huge Instax thing for a few years. Had to go to this place in Thailand to finally kick lol. 


Hahaha, they took my camera off me as soon as I walked in there. The monks did, I mean.


The monastery was just like the slaughterhouse. There must be a joke in there somewhere. Or maybe just that cameras are increasingly unwelcome.


Always, you know this too of course, “photography is not a crime”. I have been escorted from the premises of many a big box store in my time too.


Reminds me of Paul Reas and his book I Can Help. I'm guessing he must have been escorted out of a few stores while shooting that book. Was that book influential for you?


I knew about it at college, friends owned a copy and I'd seen it. I'd say it did influence me, but low key. It's only looking back now though that I can really see how much. I'm a bastard son of 1980s British social documentary. Harvey Benge, who had given a lecture inspired me a lot at that time. His book Not Here. Not There, and later Vital Signs both really effected me. His idea about the "I-ness of other-ness" is something that instantly took hold and is still very much a part of how I work today. I only have a 3 short shelves of photo books these days.. lost so much, but I Can Help is there. It's so good too.


What do you mean lost? You sold off your books? Or actually lost them?


Traveling around, I left a box here and there, some lent and not returned. I've been rounding up my few possessions.



This might be a segue into your car life the past few years. Can you tell me a bit about that. How that situation came about and where you went, etc.


When my marriage ended I spent the following year working hard, living simply and saving as much as I could. This was 2014. The 'car life' (love it) was planned, and I had given myself one year to be ready. I was an EMT then and worked for a big casino in Kansas City and also for an event management company who were an agent for EMTs and security guards looking for extra gigs.


I had decided it would be a trip that was going to take a year and that first leg of it did. I left KC in May and was back the following year at the same time. I had driven from Kansas City out and up the east coast to NYC then west to Detroit, north over the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, then out to Wyoming. I had planned to go to the northwest, but because I had snow coming in behind me, I made an exit road sign decision in Dylan, Montana and headed south to avoid it. I then went south down into those deserts. I spend some months in southern California after that and eventually headed back though Texas. I would only be back in KC though for about 3 months and that was punctuated with 2 trips to Colorado. My friend, Photographer Philip Heying had also arranged for me to be artist in residence at one of the little houses (on the compound) that the late William Burroughs owned in Lawrence, Kansas. There I got a chance to sit down and begin editing what I had shot the previous year.


Was this when you shot the Bump zine Descendant?


There are about 10 pictures from then in it, I believe. It was from Lawrence that I went to south Missouri and the meat processing plant.


Did you ever shoot photos as an EMT? 


No. It was not possible. I thought about it, and it was going to get in the way, so no. 


What was the Burroughs compound like? Did it still have any of his stuff? It always struck me as strange that he lived in Lawrence. I know he wanted to escape NY. But all that time in Kansas...Weird. Of course I live in bumfuck too, which is maybe why I'm intrigued.


His stuff was everywhere, his cane and jacket by the front door. The wishing machine was next door. His paintings and those few who take care of everything. Should be a museum I think.


How would you describe Lawrence, Kansas, to someone like me who's never been there?

College town, leafy neighborhoods. The downtown is pedestrian, so enough like Europe for me to feel comfortable, but for sure apple pie.


You're more comfortable in Europe that America? Do you still feel like a foreigner living here? Or do you feel American now?


No, I am a foreigner.


Do you think you'll ever move back to the UK? Or somewhere else maybe?


If I leave the USA it will be for somewhere like Nepal, via the UK for bye byes.


What is your least favorite aspect of America? Keep in mind we produced WS Burroughs. So we can't be 100 percent bad. And Hondas. No wait, that was someone else.


I have only lived in the UK for 3 years in the last 20. Least fav thing about the US, the health care system. Mind boggling all the way. No insurance and it’s back to listening to old wives tales and make do and know how, remedies from Dollar Tree, hope for the best. 1890 again, street drugs and Vet meds.


But that's just the thing. You've lived many years in the US but you still feel like a foreigner. 


Been here 13 years. The UK has changed so much since I left. Last year when my back was injured and I was at my lowest, It crossed my mind to perhaps return, but I soon realized that was ridiculous. This is my life. There is no going back home. I’m a foreigner everywhere now. 


I think it's a very clubby country in some ways, and not easy for outsiders. But of course it is built on immigration so outsiders are quite essential to its character. 


Being an outsider, for me, has helped. The amount of times I have been confided in while others have talked candidly about their lives and their country, because I am an outsider. As an EMT and security guard having a British accent has helped. I have found it has disarmed people gently. Same with photography.


Alienation I think is very useful in photography. All of my favorite photographers (you included) exhibit that tension in their work. That sense of an outsider looking in.


I have always felt like an outsider and being part of a group has never appealed to me either (like Burn My Eye). Growing up we were on the move as a family and I was often the new kid at a school and always felt out of step. Then later as a young adult I began traveling on my own or with a friend on the trains throughout Europe, back packing with hardly any money, sleeping on beaches, mixing with locals wherever we were, getting lost, finding our way and stumbling onto sites where there were the remains of previous civilizations. I used to think, how else would anyone want to live. Traveling is what I have come to know, reflecting now. Being in one place only meant getting a job and saving for the next trip. That was the difficult part for me, being in one place and all the things one has to do to remain there. Its easy to lose your way and I have. Right now I am happy to not be out there in the 'wilds' anymore and after 6 years I have gone a little feral too, but I am finding my way and have a wonderful partner. I now have a lot of editing and stuff to do too. Yes, outsider and pretty much always the ernest novice.


You are right about the health care. It is an insane system. It's kind of like a Platypus. You look at it and wonder "how did that thing ever come into being?" But it was a simple process of mindless evolution. A led to B led to C, and here we are.


It is the most striking difference in our cultures.


Do you think there is more classism in the UK than here? Put on your meat-plant glasses a minute.


Classism is alive and well here. Being a Brit I have, like us all, a special ear for all the tiny nuances and class markers of the UK. I have heard myself say here "where are they from?" so I can jump to the outrageous conclusion about what sort of person I think they are from what UK city they are from.


Same thing here pretty much.


Yes, it's true, but maybe missing the bitterly sarcastic multi-layered venom.


Are you conscious of that at all as you shoot pictures? I think that photography is inherently a power play. It's a way to exert control over others. Of course there's a lot more to it too. But for me that is a constant background presence, as I decide where who what how to shoot. And since class and social structure run throughout American culture, photography intersects with them. Almost always on every shoot, no matter if I'm shooting people or buildings or birds or whatever.


I don't think I have ever seen it as a power play, personally, but yes I can see how it could be. I know a model who had lot of stories of shoots with sleazy photographers. I know that's not what you are getting at exactly, but like anything it has a responsibility and one has to check oneself and pay attention. Photography has a way of keeping me present. I can look at a photo I took a year ago and it can transmit a clear message to me about me then and it is contrasted with the me now, looking at it. It can be intense, like two mirrors facing one another. The feedback can be devastating and in the past, especially when I first started taking pictures, bringing prints to a photo group I felt very exposed as if all my psychology was there to see. This is one of the reasons I still take pictures. Photography connects me to myself, for better or worse.


You mentioned BME a little while ago. Are you still part of that group? 


I left BME in January. To be honest I never took advantage of the platform and I could never keep up with the endless banter and debate that was going on all the time. Not much of the little I had to do with it was much fun I'm afraid, but I wish them the best. There are some beautiful souls part of it though. Just not my cuppa tea. Dirty Harry is part of UP isn't he?


yUP.


He was in BME before but he was out of there in a couple of months.


Did you interact with him much?


Not really. He proposed an At Home assignment for the group but no-one could agree what was in, out, or about. Tragic


I think you got to know Don through BME right? I love Don. 


No, Don and I had known each other a few years already.


Oh, so maybe he helped invite you to BME?


Maybe hahaha.


It's all who you know. That's what makes the world go round. I don’t know anyone, unfortunately


He is into it much more than me. In fact he was my only point of contact with the group in the end. I asked him to choose what pics they were going to use of mine, for things. I was grateful for that. He’d summarize the banter too. Both Don and Gene are very dear to me. You guys of course know each other, he has told me. I saw you in one of Joe's photos today too. Never met Joe, but love him.


Yeah, I love Joe too. I slept on his couch for a few days in August. The heart of Bushwick. Great location.


That's really cool. I know there was some trouble with him and he vanished. I always hoped he was doing alright. I should just message him. I am isolated as a photographer. I have wanted to travel to your neck of the woods for so long. I have never met Missy, but I love her work and we have talked here and there over the years, as I have to Ron too. I would like to meet them. And your good self of course.



Come up to Oregon anytime. Missy and Ron are cool. I saw them regularly before the pandemic. But I've only seen Missy once this past year. I think she is not doing much photography. Or maybe just not sharing much if she is. You would dig their record collection. It fills an entire wall in their apartment. Our photo meetings used to be structured in 20 minute blocks. Play a side, share some pix, record done…Get up, change the record, repeat...


I've seen it in the background of some of their photos I think. Photo meetings, I like the sound of that.


Do you have any photo community where you are? People to shoot with or talk shop or share work?


Not at all. I was thinking of having a little show locally for kicks. I have some frames and it will get me making some prints again.


Yeah cool. Is there a good spot?


Looking for it now.


Park your car somewhere. Paste some photos from Descendant inside. Open it up to the public. Boom.


Sadly I donated my car to a charity. That’s why I made Descendant, like a memorial of sorts. It was beyond repair. I like the idea of those paste up shows I'd seen in NYC on construction site fences.


Michael Jang is doing wheat paste shows in SF. Also Jesse Marlow in Melbourne. I have considered it. I think it's a cool idea in a lot of ways.


Me too, I love coming across that stuff too.


Complete subversion of the gallery structure. Photos to the people! But of course, that means no print sales too. So no paying for the show.


Yes, many levels cool. Leave a cryptic web address.



Yeah, send them to some wacko Trump site or something.


Hahahaha.


So you’re planning a show. You just published two zines with Bump and are about to publish a book. And now this interview. I'm wondering how those projects came about, and how you feel about this general reactivation of your public photo life.


In May when David Solomons invited me to make a zine with Bump Books I felt it was good timing. I had just completed a mountain of editing and was getting a feeling for what was going on in my work and was ready to start doing something with it. A zine was perfect. I have now made two and David has been an intuitive collaborator and the process has been a pleasure for me.  


It was at this time that I heard from Eyeshot informing me I was one of the winners of their open call to make a book with them. This, of course, is very exciting and a dream come true. Since then work has begun. I have submitted my initial unsequenced selection of about 200 photographs and Eyeshot has responded with their own selection from that edit which is about half of that. The assembling of the book has now begun and I like this tentative semi-final selection very much and it retains the spirit of my secret vision for the book and I am eager to start work on the sequencing. I hope the book will be published this year. 


It's lovely to be back online reconnecting and seeing a lot of new work. It appears to me also, having spent time away, there has been an emergence of the photographer as a personality too. There are so many photographers with YouTube channels out there doing their thing and I have spent many an evening down a photo podcast wormhole. This interview has been a wonderful and challenging experience and it has helped me to think about what I am doing. I appreciate it, thank you.