Still Not Dead: A Man’s Modern Day Odyssey
“You are only lost if you want to be somewhere other than where you are.”
Mikael, what is “Pieces of the Moon”?
“Pieces of the Moon” (an exhibit opening June 30th at Catalog Gallery, Vancouver) is a selection of images from my first solo show in NYC in 2009 called “Shoot the Moon.” Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art, NY, who represents my Polaroids, rented a room in the historic Chelsea hotel in the spring of 2009, where I installed 500 Polaroids from 10 years of travel into large grids on the walls. The show “Shoot the Moon” was named after a conversation I had with a friend at a time when we were both down and out, where I had said that if we just kept going and went as far as we could, eventually we could turn it all into something, and we would win. The show had gotten a lot of press worldwide. One of the folks who started writing about it was an anonymous blogger/curator who called herself ‘The Jealous Curator.’ She and I started writing back and forth, and finally settled on these 50 images from the first show. She did a great job talking about the work and what she saw in it that made her want to pull out the images of women and show them alone as “Pieces of the Moon”.
Many years ago this guy named Jay Carroll found one of my Polaroid books at a shop called Opening Ceremony in NYC. Jay wrote me a letter saying that he worked for a men’s line out of Portland, Maine called Rogues Gallery and he wanted me to start shooting for them. After a few years of shooting for them, Alex Carleton, who designed the line, moved on to design and launch L.L. Bean Signature. Alex called me one day to ask if I wanted to come in and shoot the look book for the launch party. Having grown up in Vermont, though, it was really nice to work with the folks at L.L. Bean, it felt a little bit like coming home.
I really love the images in your Still Not Dead & The Continuing Storm series … Can you tell me more about these old stories?
I’m glad you bring those up, those are two of my favorite early series that I am really looking forward to someday bringing back out and properly showcase. Still Not Dead was really my first piece in this long story. It was during my heavy years of bouncing around the country, I was shooting with a holga because I couldn’t afford a real medium format camera. The work centers around a time when I was living and traveling with, a group of artists, we would all return to this Island off the coast of New Hampshire every summer to work and then splinter off and wander during the winters. A bunch of us had just returned from living Seattle which was a fairly intense experience. I started photographing these people and the places around us; I didn’t come from a very traditional or stable family and these people were slowly becoming my new family. The continuing storm was the epolgoue to that story; I had left that family and began trailing with some new folks. I had moved to NYC and was entering a very dark period in my life. The continuing storm was really built around that time of first moving to the city, but still feeling the urge to run around the country so I would go out on these crazy trips, in and out constantly. At one point a friend of mine and I left and were living out of his car for awhile circling the country, it ended with us driving straight from Portland Oregon to NYC in 54 hours. Those years I was shooting Polaroids as well but never really thought or knew they would become the work that people would focus on. It was an interesting time, I refer to them often as “the dark days” because I have a hard time remembering them, but I do have a lot of photos.
Your book Passport to Trespass, is about your decade long documentation of your journey. Was that your Odyssey?
All my work in some way deals with the idea of home, and of family. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time searching for a home, however you want to read that, either physical or whatever. I actually have another body of work that has been touring the US called the Odysseus. It’s a medium format American landscape series dealing with the idea of the vanishing wildness of America.
Do you feel that Polaroids are more personal sometimes than photographs shot with your typical digital camera?
Yes, definitely. I think we respond differently to organic things. A Polaroid photograph has a lot of qualities that add to this, one of the biggest being that they are one of a kind, another being the intimacy required in viewing such a small image. A Polaroid is a very tangible object that everyone recognizes, it brings up a feeling of nostalgia in folks; everyone has a few Polaroids they took of their friends or family. It is a very accessible form of photography and I think that people respond to that. Having art be accessible is extremely important to me and I want anyone to be able to see my work and feel a connection to it, not just folks who are educated in the art world. That is actually something I struggle with. Intellectual art really leaves me wanting. I’ve had people in the past write me saying that my work makes them nostalgic for a life that isn’t theirs, and I like that idea.
Yeah, this is my life, these are my people. Sometimes it freaks me out a little having my life be on display so much, or my past, but I suppose I’m too far in to get out now.
Mos Def has a song called Travellin’ Man, not sure if you listen to Mos, but he says, “Memories don’t live like people do, They always remember you, Whether things are good or bad, it’s just the memories, Baby don’t forget me, I’m a travellin’ man, Movin through places, space and time.” How do your photographs always remember you?
Ha! I love that song. Haven’t thought about it in years. There are two sides to the memory aspect of my Polaroid work. The first part is that for various reasons my memory isn’t great, specifically during certain years of my life, a lot of my memory is now contained in these photos. Years ago I had a friend explain to me a theory that photography ruins your memory, because you become dependent on the image to remember the event, and we start thinking of photos instead of actual events remembered. If that’s true, I’m fucked. Having taken literally thousands of Polaroids over the past decade, sometimes I look back through the Passport to Trespass books and I have forgotten so much of what has happened. For a body of work that is so much about the past I spend so little time thinking about it, it’s always about what’s next, where to next? I often find myself saying that the past is pointless. With the ending of the Polaroid blog though, I am actually trying to slow down a little, to spend some time with the work now before I put it out.
As for my photographs remembering me, there is the photographer I love Daiydo Moriyama. He is known for his grainy black and white pictures of Japan, late night wanderings, pictures of solitary figures in alleys, shadows of dogs, neon lights. I feel like through these images we are almost looking at his subconcious, you can start to draw a sketch of a person out of his seemingly scattered thoughts and images. I’d like to think you can do the same with my polaroid work.
2008 marked the end of an amazing 60-year era of instant photography. How are you still producing Polaroid images and why is instant photography one of the mediums you choose to photograph in?
Right now one of the reasons I continue to shoot and show Polaroid (other than purely aesthetic reasons) has to do with the uniqueness of the image. When we get into showing and discussing contemporary photography I think the singleness of the image adds to the weight of the work. We live in a world where so much is mass produced and is reproducible, I like something that exists only once, almost like a life, each one is unique. I love the idea that collectors, when they are purchasing a piece, that’s it. No one else can own that one.
Here is a poem that I quite love … Take a read and let me know your thoughts, especially since you are a bit of an Odysseus yourself …
The show Shoot the moon was named based on a conversation I had with my friend David Lamb while leaving the blood bank in Seattle, Washington. At the time we were both at the beginning of things and in the middle of a journey, but most of all we were both down and out at the time. We were broke, and wandering, David was in the process of beginning his now well recognized folk project under the title of Brown Bird (I highly recommend checking them out), I was building up to the Still, Not Dead series and wandering the cities at night shooting Polaroids. At one point in the conversation I had said to Dave that all this bad stuff that was happening to us, all the scars we were gathering on our bodies and in our lives could turn into something beautiful. It was like a game of hearts, if we got enough of these bad cards, got all the hearts and you win, but if you only go halfway you’ll lose. So in part, the focus became on the journey, on the gathering of the cards, on the experiences and less on the end result. To me, my death is the end city in this journey, this is about getting in as much as I can before I hit the end of the road.
“Years ago I had a friend explain to me a theory that photography ruins your memory, because you become dependent on the image to remember the event, and we start thinking of photos instead of actual events remembered. If that’s true, I’m fucked. Having taken literally thousands of Polaroids over the past decade, sometimes I look back through the Passport to Trespass books and I have forgotten so much of what has happened. For a body of work that is so much about the past I spend so little time thinking about it, it’s always about what’s next, where to next? I often find myself saying that the past is pointless.”