Interview with photographer Duncan Oja

DuncanO4 F-Stop Magazine: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?

Duncan Oja: I have been taking pictures about as long as I can remember but only started getting serious about it in high school. since I was very young though my passion has always been exploring everywhere I could and collecting little treasures I found. I think photography was an appealing medium because I’ve always been more interested in discovering and pointing out things in the world that interest me than creating new things altogether.

F-Stop: All of the work that you present on your website seems to be a result of being “On the road”. Can you tell us a bit about your work overall?

DO: My work does often have to do with being “on the road.” I have always been interested in the culture and aesthetic of roads, I think I am drawn to the liminal spaces they create and the people who pass through them. I really enjoy shooting on the road too, I think it gives me the time and space to focus on my work and I feel like it has a way of helping me to see places and things more objectively.


F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making your images or your creative process more generally?

DO: I generally work on one or a couple of separate projects at a time. Sometimes they start with a specific concept, and sometimes come from sort of aimless shooting, most often I find something that I am drawn to in the world (as with the backs of signs) and after thinking about it for a long time without deciding its stupid, I dedicate a lot of time to it and start shooting.

F-Stop: How do you choose what or who to photograph, what are you looking to capture?

DO: I usually choose things that interest me in the world and have for a while, things I can’t stop looking at anyway. I think for whatever reason they have a striking visual presence to begin with, so they would make good photographs.

F-Stop: What do you think interested you in the backs of signs?

DO: Something very simple and basic first drew me to the backs of signs and I was interested in them before thinking of them as a potential art project, but looking again as an artist I think I was interested in the lack of any concept or specific meaning, that presence of absence. From behind, the signs loose their intended message and become purely things, objects in the landscape, monuments of absence. This seemed to remind me of something I have always enjoyed about photography; it’s ability to show the plain being-ness of a thing honestly and beautifully.


F-Stop: What do you want people to experience or think about when they look at these photographs?

DO: I guess I want people to experience what I do when I see these things, and agree that there is something special there. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

F-Stop:Are you working on any other projects currently?

DO: I am, right now I’m traveling in South America and shooting but without too specific of a project. Back home I was working on a project about these big sort-of stumps that I was seeing a lot especially in the northeast when a tree is removed from someone’s yard and the branches cut off, but for whatever reason the bottom five or ten feet of the trunk are left. Like the blank signs they are these beautifully empty, purposeless structures.


F-Stop:What photographers or other artists inspire you?

DO: I have always been inspired by Walker Evans. I also really love the geological survey photographers of the nineteenth century. Eugene Atget may be my favorite right now, his photographs are strikingly beautiful but still with a subtlety that I think I strive for in mine.

See more of Duncan Oja’s work in the group exhibition Duncan Oja’s website:

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