Thursday, May 30, 2019

Q & A with Matt Weber

Matt Weber is a photographer based in New York, and the author of the recent book Street Trip: Life in NYC.

BA: Congrats on Street Trip. How did the book come into being? 

MW: The truth is I have no idea how or why it happened, and I haven’t asked. He just emailed me. The timing was good as I was getting restless after 15 years since The Urban Prisoner was printed!

Who wrote the book's text? 

Hey Blake, I assume that Gary, the guy whom I was dealing with for all aspects of this book wrote the text, but he does have a couple of employees. I skimmed over it, but I did what I always do, I just looked at the photos. I kind of get freaked out by art babble, not that I’m saying this was art babble. I just feel weird when it comes to compliments, even though I do deserve a few. I should read it!

Who edited the photos/sequencing? 

Once again, I had nothing to do with the sequencing, and I do like the job they did!

They seem to play up the New York cabbie angle, the photographer driving around finding crazy moments on the streets of Gotham. Maybe that plays well to the counterculture audience? How much do you still identify with that role?

I still follow the news about the taxi industry and I always have long chats with cabdrivers when I find myself inside a cab. The yellow cabdrivers have been hurt badly by Uber and Lyft. At this point in time, 9 cabbies have committed suicide, and I do understand how hard the job is, and to have nothing after twenty plus years must be very depressing!

What do you think of the cropping? 

The cropping is the one sore spot. Two or three images suffered badly, but the rest didn’t bother me, and that’s because I do like the full bleed effect. 

The publisher Carpet Bombing Culture specializes in counterculture books. With that in mind, who do you think is the main audience for Street Trip? Societal misfits? Or other photographers? 

Blake…I have been really gratified by the responses I have gotten from all the street photographers I bump into who have bought the book. I think any photobook’s main audience is other photographers. I am really a fan of the full bleed since I never would have thought of that myself. It is different, and I just wish they had let me tweak the images, since I would’ve done a much better job with the cropping. Fuck, that sucks. 

How would you compare this book to The Urban Prisoner

I was on site for The Urban Prisoner, and was able to make small adjustments on a few images. I would have loved to have had the same access, but China was never an option for me. I am sure the book would have been a little better, and that does bother me, but then again, I am happy with the printing and the full bleed effect, so no need to fret over the cropping. 

There was the censorship of one of my Harlem images which bothered me, but since the book was printed in China at a fraction of the normal cost, I guess I can’t lose it over the one image, which featured Chairman Mao (shown below).

Let me ask that question a different way. What is this book communicating that's different than The Urban Prisoner?

It is just a better look at my career since it has all four decades in it. I think I have remained true to my vision, or at least I haven’t changed the way I shoot to please the people on social media, most of whom I will never meet! I can’t stand the idea of shooting for “Likes” and I do my best to avoid being influenced by them.

What was the print run?

Around 2,000 which is the same as my first book.

How can the publisher sell such a nicely produced book so cheaply? 

What did the printing cost? Your guess is as good as mine. I think that $19 is a great price, and I mean that in away not biased by the fact that the book is mine. Maybe I’m lucky the book was printed before the Trump tariffs!

Trump would be probably be more pissed that you made his favorite city look kind of ratty.

He would or could lay praise on Giuliani for his work in gentrifying New York. Rudy would accept the praise gleefully! Both of them make me nauseous.

Do you think the book is a good representation of NY? 

The book is a good representation of New York in the 1980s. Sure, there are more recent pictures, but they have a similar mood, I think, as the printing doesn’t vary too much. There were a couple of color conversions, but they
seem to be reasonable.

Do you miss the old NY shown in the book? What's gotten better/worse?

Yes, I miss the old city very much. I’m not sure if it’s because everybody could afford to live here, and that made New York quite an interesting mix. The other reason would be normal for anyone who is looking back at their youth and had a crazy time in the 1970s and 80s. Even the 1990s had its moments. 

Nostalgia nags at me almost daily. My neighborhood is so stale, and is just mothers and baby carriages. If I lived in the east village I might have too much action on my stoop! I have a friend down there and it is so noisy on the weekends that he can barely sleep.  I suppose the city is much safer and that makes me happy when my daughter is running around at 2 am. Maybe I am becoming the quintessential cranky old man. Ba humbug...

Now that you're a cranky old man, how do you think your photos have changed?

As I said, they haven’t and I think that’s a good thing. Some could say I didn’t “Grow” as an artist. I think I did grow a little in the fact that I had to relearn
photography when I went digital. Switching to color in 2007 was a big change. Learning to use Lightroom and print with an Epson wasn’t hard, but it does allow for really nice color prints.

In the '80s Cibachrome was so caustic that I didn’t like using it. It also cost a fortune. If color printing was cheaper and easier, maybe I would have shot a lot more color, but we will never know.