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.


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…”


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?


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.


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.