Interview with Benjamin Thomas, Contact Editions.
Carlo McCormick once wrote that photographers can “explicate in great depth the poetics of the prosaic simply through their way of seeing”(Carlo McCormick, Blind Spot Magazine, issue 35). This quote rings true when studying the work of Andres Gonzalez. Although it might not be clear what he is photographing, or for what purpose, what is clear is that his way of seeing finds poetics in places and situations that usually remain overlooked.
BT: You imply in your introduction to ‘Somewhere’ that your work is a study of the limits of language; that the images inhabit a space where words fail. How do you feel you manage to create images that achieve this?
AG: I’m interested in the world as felt experience, which might not always be best described with the written or spoken word. I wouldn’t say it’s so much to find where words fail – because language is a universe unto itself – but to find where a parallel expression can occur. It’s the meditative quality of photography that I find most meaningful, just being out in the world feeling my way through. I let myself be drawn to the softer spaces, looking for things that might otherwise be missed but hold an emotion, a moment, or a thought. The photograph is evidence of that recognition, but never fully representing it. I like that the picture becomes an entirely separate reality.
BT: Do you feel there’s a tension in the images you create? I’m interested in how an image can be indexical whilst also talking about something completely indirect; evoking a different place or feeling to the one it directly depicts, which seems particularly true of your work. How do you feel you achieve balance between these two planes?
AG: I enjoy wandering, losing my way, daydreaming. It’s a matter of getting into a certain state of mind, where the distinction between the obvious and the extraordinary starts to blur. I think the tension you feel comes from not knowing which reading takes priority. I like my images to linger in that space between the literal and the metaphor.
I think it’s embracing this process of immersion – in both making and viewing a photograph – that allows for something directly in front of you to begin reaching beyond itself. I have a Diane Arbus quote scribbled down from way back when I first started taking pictures seriously, “…if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic.” And another quote by John Cage: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” I always think about these when I’m out making photographs, to remind myself to look closer, to be open to the possibility of transcendence.
BT:Somewhere appears to be a personal meditation on journeys. Did you have to undertake actual journeys in order to make the images, or are you capable of knowing what you are looking for before picking up your camera?
AG:I’m definitely inspired by the road, but I try to find photographs wherever I am. It just so happens that I’ve found myself in far-flung corners of the world lately, probably because I live in Istanbul and one of the benefits is that it’s a great access point to some amazing places. Lately the requirement for picture making has been open space. I’ve always felt like a nature boy trapped in the city – especially after moving to Istanbul, a city of 20 million. So traveling to somewhere like northern Finnmark was more to replenish my soul than to make pictures, I just happened to need both in my life at the moment. One of my next pursuits will be to try and make pictures in the city, which has been really difficult for me. As for knowing what I’m looking for – I never really know, I just try to follow my instincts and stay open. The tension you mentioned before might come from this as well, trying to be open to the world, while still being deliberate with the images I want to make.
BT:How do you manage to maintain the sensitivity required to see the quieter pictures when you’re editing as well as photographing? It’s harder to wander until you’re in the right frame of mind, when sitting at a desk. How do you get around this issue?
AG:That’s a good question. I guess I never thought of it as an issue. I would say most of the photographs I make are rather quiet, so for me the challenge has been more about finding the right combination. Recently I’ve been less interested on what an individual photograph means on its own, as to how a specific group of images can contain, and expand meaning without being too definitive, or conclusive. I edit with that in mind, trying to subtly juxtapose content with abstraction and mood. I enjoy seeking out that balance. Ultimately I try not to over think it, just feel my way through. In that sense, it’s still a kind of wandering.
BT:There’s a great essay by Jason Evans’ writing about Viviane Sassen’s project ‘Flamboya’ where he describes her work as having a “visual intention so particular as to be exclusive of language”, i.e., we shouldn’t look for further meanings in her images but just celebrate them for what they are. To some extent I feel the same way about ‘Somewhere’. I don’t want to overanalyze why the boy is holding the axe backwards, but simply celebrate the fact that visually it makes the work intriguing.
Your introduction to the work is delicate & lyrical, which sits apart from the heavily theorized or explanatory artist statements we are used to. Are you ever pushed to try to explain the work beyond what you feel is necessary?
AG:I haven’t been forced to explain the work beyond what I’ve written, and I feel appreciative of that. Ideally I would like the images to just sit in that space where they can be quietly contemplated and absorbed and lead you somewhere inwards. I agree with how you framed it, that perhaps we shouldn’t look for further meaning or justification, but just celebrate them for what they are. To me, these are simply expressions of life, and a love of life.
BT:Do you feel people are becoming more receptive to work that is less tangible or clearly defined? If so, why do you think this is occurring?
AG:I definitely feel like there’s been more tolerance for an elusive narrative, for work that draws out an emotional, open-ended interpretation. There’s this great line in Aronofsky’s The Wrestler where Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei are sitting in a bar reminiscing about 80’s rock – Van Halen, Scorpion, Guns and Roses – and he turns to her and says something like, “it was all great until that Kurt Cobain had to come around and fuck it all up.” Ok, this might be a stretch, but I feel like post-modernism kind of did the same thing to photography. It stole away its innocence. I truly believe that people inherently want to trust photographs, we want to feel for them, be nostalgic through them, even if that nostalgia is a fairytale (because we all need a good fairytale once in a while). I suppose photographers are at a point where we just want to get on with it already. Ok, photographs aren’t truth, how can we build from here? I think many photographers nowadays are being pulled more towards poetry than deconstruction. It seems that they – and their audiences – are becoming more comfortable with this marriage between truth and fiction in our visual culture, experimenting with it rather than commenting on it. There’s a variety of work being produced out there – Vivianne Sassen’s Flamboya, and Jason Fulford’s The Mushroom Collector come to mind – that is intelligently and playfully exploring new possibilities.
BT:With a project such as this, how do you find an end point? As a viewer I get a sense that I’m experiencing a constant wandering without a clear beginning or end, how do you take this fact, which contains many good qualities, and turn it into a succinct body of work with structure? Is it important that a project about these themes has a beginning and end point? And if so, is it finished or how will you know when it is?
AG:Some other project ideas I have bouncing around in my head I hope will be more contained, but I suppose with this work, right now I’m not thinking of it as having an end point. It’s really an expression of moments in my life as I move through it, and these will continue, so I’m fine with it feeling open-ended. I’ve never really believed in stories having a beginning, middle, and end. We are born and we die, but the universe doesn’t give. My work is partly about that drift. Ultimately, I want it to feel like you don’t have to make any conclusions.
I do feel like Somewhere will be the first chapter in a larger body of work. But I’ve only recently started to put this series together and I’m definitely still working out the edit, so I can’t say if this series is done yet, or how I will know. It’s a culmination of 5 years of work, and that felt like a good point to start editing. I’m always just going on my instincts, but I think I’m close to closing up this chapter. I’m about to spend a long winter in Maine most likely submerged in snow, so I may have to wait to see what comes from that experience.
BT:Finally, how do you see this work being presented? Is there an aim to publish it in the future?
AG:When I imagine the series in physical form, I envision a soft cover, small little book, something understated. These are gentle pictures, and I would want the book to reflect that. I love the idea of an exhibition, but I wouldn’t know where to start.
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