Book Review: The Eyes of the City by Richard Sandler

Two Faces, 5th Ave., NYC, 1989 © Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Two Faces, 5th Ave., NYC, 1989 © Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

“These pictures are in part screaming at us to wake up and open our eyes to what’s happening … Richard is just putting it all down, making a record, exploring his own loneliness and mortality, compelled to document as a way to say he’s alive,
while pointing with equal wonder at beauty and horror …”
Jonathan Ames (from the Afterword)

Timing, skill, and talent all play an important role in creating a great photograph, but it is perhaps the most basic, primary element–the photographer’s eye–which is most crucial. In The Eyes of the City Richard Sandler not only showcases decades-worth of his strong eye for street photography, but also the eyes of his subjects as he catches them looking into his camera at just the right moment. Sandler’s work was shot in a period of time that spans pre-internet/pre-digital photography, and into the popular resurgence of the Street Photography aesthetic in the early 21st century. It seems like the distant past, and at the same time only 15 years past, but from 1977 to September 11th 2001, Sandler regularly walked through Boston and New York City, encountering all that the streets had to offer, and the results are presented here, many for the first time.

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© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Sandler credits his fascination with street life to his years in New York as a teenager in the 1960s. Young Sandler, a frequent truant, spent much of his time in a very different Times Square than the sanitized tourist attraction we know today. Manhattan was a cyclone of faces: some at play, many clearly suffering. All eyes, ears, and heart, Sandler was sensitive to it all as a kid peering into this adult world. Such early impressions would come to play a significant role in his later street photography.

© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Living in Boston in 1977, and after two careers involved in helping others, as a natural foods chef and acupuncturist, Sandler realized an overwhelming desire to do something for himself, alone. As if on cue, a late 1940s Leica appeared in his life and he hit the Boston streets in an experimental mood. He shot in Boston for three productive years and then moved back home to photograph an edgy, nervous, angry, dangerous New York City. In the 1980s crime and crack were on the rise and their effects were devastating the city. Graffiti exploded onto surfaces everywhere and the Times Square, East Village, and Harlem streets were riddled with drugs, while in Midtown the rich wore furs in vast numbers and “greed was good.” In the 1990s the city experienced drastic changes to lure in corporate interests and tourists and the results were directly felt on the streets as rents were raised and several neighborhoods were sanitized, making them ghosts of what, to many, made them formerly exciting.

© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Throughout these turbulent and triumphant years Sandler paced the streets with all his knowledge of what the city was, ever on the lookout for what his eye connected to as New York transformed and changed the lives of everyone who lived in it. For better and for worse, one was simply “on the street” in public space, bathing in the comforts, or terrors, of the human sea and Sandler’s work is the marbled evidence of this beauty mixing with decay as only his eyes could capture it.

Hasid and Hipster, NYC, 2001© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Hasid and Hipster, NYC, 2001© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

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The Eyes of the City by Richard Sandler
Hardcover, 11-1/4 x 10-1/2 inches (28.5×26.6cm)
180 pages
ISBN: 978-1-57687-787-6

Richard Sandler is a street photographer and documentary filmmaker. He has directed and shot eight non-fiction films, including The Gods of Times Square, Brave New York, and Radioactive City. Sandler’s still photographs are in the permanent collections of the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Historical Society, and the Houston Museum of Fine Art. He was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship for photography, a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship for Filmmaking, and a New York State Council on the Arts fellowship also for Filmmaking.

Dave Isay is the founder of StoryCorps and the recipient of numerous broadcasting honors, including six Peabody awards, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and the 2015 TED Prize. He is the author/editor of numerous books that grew out of his public radio documentary work.

Jonathan Ames is the author of the novels Wake Up, Sir!, The Extra Man, I Pass Like Night; a graphic novel, and The Alcoholic (with artwork by Dean Haspiel), among others. He is the winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a former columnist for New York Press.

To purchase a copy of the book, see http://www.powerhousebooks.com/books/the-eyes-of-the-city/


(All images used by permission from The Eyes of the City by Richard Sandler, published by powerHouse Books.)

 

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Interview with photographer Szymon Barylski – Fleeing Death

Fleeing Death Project Statement
Thousands of immigrants, mainly Syrians, are coming to the refugee camp in Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border. It is occupied by people from different social strata. They are all found there fleeing the war, death and starvation. They continue their journey through Macedonia to the north and west of Europe. Not everyone manages to pass the verification of the documents, which leads to the separation of families. The refugees are living in difficult conditions and sleeping in overcrowded and soaked tents. They are frozen and have limited access to sanitation. The refugees are exhausted, tired and uncertain about their situation.

© Szymon Barylski

© Szymon Barylski

Q&A

Cary Benbow (CB): Can you please explain how you started your Fleeing Death project?

Szymon Barylski (SB): I was watching the news and hearing about the refugees crisis, I felt that it could affect all of us!  As in the case of any of my projects, I approached this one in a very personal and individual manner. I think that all my projects have one common denominator – in almost all of my photographic reports, I document the poorest and the most unjust face of the world.

© Szymon Barylski

© Szymon Barylski

CB: What do you feel are the obligations of a photographer covering human rights issues? Do you feel an obligation to help the people in your photos?

SB: Yes, I have an obligation to the people in the photos –  otherwise I would never find myself here. All of us could find ourselves in the situations of people in my photos. Being a reporter involves trying to adapt to whatever we get and being able to learn from these experiences as much as we can. I’d like to see my photographs helping raise individual and collective consciousness of social, political and economic needs, and urge people to act, to be a part of creating positive changes. I think that when you do something as honest as you can, it influences people.

I hope my photos will increase individual and collective awareness about the social, political and economic need and urge people to act, and be part of positive changes.

© Szymon Barylski

© Szymon Barylski

 

CB: Has it been difficult to start and stop working on projects that involve people in need?

SB: It is especially hard for me at the beginning because I involve in these situations on purpose. I talk to people affected by problems, I mix with them. Yet, at the time when I start to take photos, I try to put emotions aside.

© Szymon Barylski

© Szymon Barylski

CB: How do you decide to take on new projects? Do you work on assignment for news agencies, or are you solely independent?

SB: Sometimes it is a impulse. But usually I choose topics that, I believe, are worth showing at the moment. I don’t work for any agency, I am just independent.

CB: What was your start into photography?

SB: I bought my first camera to have souvenirs from my travels in the form of photos. Soon I realized that a camera had become an integral part of me. I began with street photography, but I was always the most interested in listening to the stories of people. I have realized that it is possible to express oneself by means of photography, to show emotion and tell a story; for this reason I am engrossed in documentary photography and photojournalism.

© Szymon Barylski

© Szymon Barylski

CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?

SB: I believe that it’s impossible to take good photos of something that one does not know well. Therefore, for each project I prepare individually, and objectively. Initially I do a thorough research of the press and the Internet. Then, I look for inspiration in the photos of other photographers and conversations.  The relationship with the people in the photos is very important. You have to get know the photographed people and approach them with respect. When we take care of this relationship in a proper way, they are capable of opening up in front of us, and with their sincerity and trust we will have a better story. My own narration, which is revealed in my photography, is very personal and universal at the same time.

The more honestly and personally I work, the better. The idea is to go deeply into oneself, think about the issues that one really wants to tell.

CB: What work are you currently working on? Any new projects?

SB: I have just returned from Nepal, where I my new project was created. I hope I will finish it by the end of the year.

© Szymon Barylski

© Szymon Barylski

 

CB: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start projects like yours?

SB: They should have the ability to search and record situations that other people don’t notice; and to understand culture differences. Besides this – it is hard work and discipline that matters.


Szymon Barylski is a Polish photographer based in Ireland, Galway. He has photographed the Syrian refugee crisis in his project, Fleeing Death, and has also photographed the inhabitants of Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, and its Belen district where many people live in economic strife.

 

To see more of his work, and view his projects, visit his website: www.szymonbarylski.com

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Andrey Tarkovsky @ The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

In the footsteps of The Sacrifice. V.Ivleva. Gotland. 2016

In the footsteps of The Sacrifice. V.Ivleva. Gotland. 2016

In the footsteps of The Sacrifice. In memory of Andrey Tarkovsky
December 16, 2016 – January 22, 2017

The exhibition is based on photos and interviews made this summer on the Swedish island Gotland, where The Sacrifice, the last Andrey Tarkovsky’s film, was shot 30 years ago. A special programme of film screenings, lectures and discussions will accompany the exhibition.
“Our exhibition is a tribute to one of the greatest directors in the history of Russian cinema 30 years after his death, as well as homage to the Gotlanders who took part in the shooting of the film,” said journalist, photographer and author of the project Victoria Ivleva.

The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

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PhotoNOLA December 8 – 11, 2016 New Orleans

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PhotoNOLA
December 8 – 11, 2016

PhotoNOLA, the annual festival of photography in New Orleans, is here and this year we are bringing New Orleans 150+ photographers in 50+ venues for exhibitions, gallery talks, portfolio sharing, workshops, panel discussions, and the PhotoGALA & Keynote.

PhotoNOLA is run by volunteers and produced by the New Orleans Photo Alliance. For more information: https://photonola.org

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Carolle Bénitah, Robin Cracknell, Eeva Hannula, Susanne Wellm @ Sous Les Etoiles Gallery

Next One, 2014 ©Eeva Hannula

Next One, 2014 ©Eeva Hannula

Carolle Bénitah, Robin Cracknell, Eeva Hannula, Susanne Wellm – The farther I remember
December 10, 2016 – February 4, 2017

Opening Reception Saturday, December 10, 2-6pm

“The farther I remember” highlights each photographer’s unique relationship to memory and time. In the collected works on view, the artists have mined their past, dreams, and subconsciouses to create images that are at once familiar and new using various techniques and crafts that include the layering of images, direct physical contact with the photograph, and analog and digital methods of reworking the negative or original image.

Sous Les Etoiles Gallery
100 Crosby Street #603
New York City, NY 10012

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Patricia Lay-Dorsey @ Blue Sky

unnamedPatricia Lay-Dorsey – Tea for Two
December 1–31, 2016

Opening Reception December 1, 6:00–9:00 PM

“As I look through the lens of my iPhone camera, I see Eddie’s and my day-to-day life together against the backdrop of his playing ‘Tea For Two’ on the piano and my singing along almost every night for the past 50 years. The ‘now’ blends into ‘then’ with soft washes of black and white memories.”

In 2015, during Detroit’s third coldest February on record, Patricia Lay-Dorsey began documenting her daily life with her husband, Eddie. Because she relies on a mobility scooter to get around, single digit temperatures and heavy snowfall kept the artist at home, requiring her to shift her creative focus to personal subject matter while also experimenting with a new tool for visual storytelling: her iPhone. The result is the series Tea for Two, a quiet yet heartfelt meditation upon 50 years of intimacy and companionship.

Blue Sky
Portland, Oregon

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Contemporary and Historical African Photography in Dialogue @ Photobastei

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Contemporary and Historical African Photography in Dialogue
December 2016 until 22 January 2017

13 works from winners of the CAP Prize for Contemporary African Photography and historical photographs from the African Photography Initiatives archives

The exhibited photographs are from: Thom Pierce, Great Britain | Julia Runge, Germany | Filipe Branquinho, Mozambique | Tahir Carl Karmali, Kenya | Zied Ben Romdhane, Tunisia | Romaric Tisserand, France | Ilan Godfrey, South Africa | Léonard Pongo, Belgium | Dillon Marsh, South Africa | Graeme Williams, South Africa | Guillaume Bonn, France | Nabil Boutros, France | Paolo Patrizi, Italy | Jean Depara, Democratic Republic of the Congo | Zagabe Mugema, Democratic Republic of the Congo | Thaddeus Nokuba, Cameroon | Emmanuel Mbwaye, Cameroon

Photobastei
Sihlquai 125
8005 Zürich – Switzerland

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CURRENTS 2016 @ New Orleans Photo Alliance

Jane Fulton Alt – Fire and Water no.1

Jane Fulton Alt – Fire and Water no.1

CURRENTS 2016: New Orleans Photo Alliance Members Showcase
December 8, 2016 – January 29, 2017

The featured artists are: Jane Fulton Alt (New Orleans, LA), Matthew Arnold (New York, NY), Craig Becker (Windham, ME), Christa Blackwood (Austin, TX), Lisette de Boisblanc (New Orleans, LA), Benjamin Dimmitt (Fairview, NC), Josh Hailey (New Orleans, LA), Jamie Hankin (Kinderhook, NY), Brittany Markert (New Orleans, LA), Robbie McClaran (Portland, OR), Colleen Mullins (San Francisco, CA), Owen Murphy (New Orleans, LA), Hannah Neal (Austin, TX), Marcy Palmer (Dallas, TX), S. Gayle Stevens (Downers Grove, IL), Milisa Taylor-Hicks (Middleburg, FL), and Bill Vaccaro (Chicago, IL).

New Orleans Photo Alliance
1111 St. Mary Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

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JOHN COHEN @ L. Parker Stephenson Photographs

Alfred Leslie, 1959 Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, 1959 Tanager Gallery Opening, 1959

Alfred Leslie, 1959 Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, 1959 Tanager Gallery Opening, 1959

JOHN COHEN: THE 10TH STREET ART WORLD 1957-1963
December 2, 2016 – February 11, 2017

John Cohen (b. 1932) was a witness to this extraordinary era of experimentation and transition as well as a participant. After graduating from Yale University School of Art in 1957 (studying under Herbert Matter and Josef Albers), Cohen settled around the corner from Tanager Gallery on East 10th Street, across a courtyard from Willem de Kooning and next door to Robert and Mary Frank. In Jed Perl’s words, Cohen produced a “definitive photographic impression of a hell-bent, headstrong time” as one of a new generation of photographers “mixing gritty stylizations of film noir with a Dadaist playfulness”.

L. Parker Stephenson Photographs
764 Madison Avenue between 65th and 66th streets

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Interview with photographer Jason Vaughn – Drifting with Purpose

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Jason Vaughn is a fine art documentary photographer based in Wisconsin who focuses on life in Middle America, showcasing everyday people and scenes in a way that is suggestive of reflection, community and the idea of permanence. In 2011, married and a father of a 3 month old son, he was diagnosed with leukemia at age 32. After cancer recovery, Vaughn refocused his in-progress work on the deer stands he saw in the fields of rural Wisconsin. The resulting project was critically well received, and Vaughn also published the series as a photo book.

“Hide is a project that began as a commentary on Wisconsin’s hunting tradition, using deer stands as a metaphor for the changing values of the sport. When my sudden cancer diagnosis interrupted the project, hide took on a much deeper, more personal meaning.

I was inspired on my drives through Wisconsin by deer stands, and began having conversations with hunters about the tradition of hunting in their families. Some people described building the stands as something permanent that could be passed to the next generation, especially sons who would inherit the land. I was anticipating the birth of my own son and thinking about my legacy to him, so this idea resonated strongly with me. I also heard hunters emphasize that their pastime is not about violence, but more about oneness with nature and time spent with their children in the stands. I wanted these photographs to capture the serenity of that sentiment, and to suggest the dignity that was associated with hunting when it was seen as a means of feeding large families. Finally, I wanted to look at the issue from a historical standpoint, and the impermanent nature of some of the stands illustrates the fading hunting tradition in Wisconsin, which has declined 6% since 2000.

When I was diagnosed with leukemia in 2011, my work on hide was put on hold. I was 32 years old and had a 3-month-old baby at home. Having to face mortality so unexpectedly made me come back to the project with a new perspective on the ideas of permanence and impermanence. Ultimately, hide became my reflection on legacies and family, my homage to the state that has become my home, and a narrative about accepting change.”

Given the coverage and attention given to hide and Vaughn in the past several years, I wanted to find out where he is headed with current work and where he finds himself now. Vaughn has continued to photograph his surrounding environment, and visually comment how the world around us is a reflection and reminder of life itself.

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

Q&A

Cary Benbow (CB): Like so many of the people I’ve interviewed, I always come to the core question of why do you photograph, or what compels you to make the images you create?

Jason Vaughn (JV): I initially fell in love with the darkroom when I was taking a photography class in Los Angeles. I was only taking the class because I needed to be a “college student” to keep a side job distributing records to students on campus. It seemed like the easiest class, so I took it. At the same time, the record label I was working for needed photos of live bands and I fell into that, shooting bands like Depeche Mode and Kanye West. Having that kind of access as I was first discovering the medium added to the excitement of it, but soon I decided I didn’t like shooting for money and wanted to use photography just as an art form. I befriended other photographers and started entering the LA art scene more so I was seeing all the paths you could take as an artist. It was fun but confusing. I went on my first road trip with my wife around 2009 to Wisconsin, and really figured out what I wanted to concentrate on as a photographer.

CB: Why did you decide to move and live in Wisconsin?

JV: I’m from California, and lived there most of my life. I met my wife in 2002 in Los Angeles when she was playing in bands and I was working for a record label. We wanted to start a family and decided to move to Wisconsin, where my wife was born and raised, in 2011. I had never even visited the midwest prior to meeting my wife. But I loved the winter, the pace of life, the warmness of the people…I basically fell in love with it and never looked back.

CB: What do you feel makes a good photograph?

JV: My thoughts on this have changed over the years, as I’ve grown as an artist and also just gotten older. These days, I respect when a photographer shows a natural ability to be sensitive to the subject. The people I follow now make it look effortless. They have perfected their craft enough that nothing looks forced. I can’t really point to one aspect, but an overall competency and ease that reflects mastery.

CB: What or who are your photography inspirations?

JV: Currently it is Raymond Meeks, Bernhard Fuchs, Roe Ethridge, and Mark Ruwedel, among others. I admire how Raymond Meeks approaches his books and interacts with the people who collect them. He has a great personal touch that I would like to emulate in my own personal interactions with collectors. He creates a sincere connection, and so people want to continue supporting his art. He seems to be able to do all of these things on top of being a father, which is a hard balance.

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

CB: Your work is specific to a certain place or region of the U.S. — is it more about your experience, or do you feel it translates well to other people’s experiences or lives? Do you feel your work makes a comment on a universal level, as well as the personal level?

JV: My last book, hide, was about deer stands in Wisconsin so it would seem to be very specific. But I think what resonated with people across the country and even outside of the US were the themes that translate on a larger level. Thinking about permanence, family, and the legacy you leave behind are just part of the human condition, no matter where you are geographically. I’m wrapping up another project called “Driftless” based on a little Wisconsin town called La Crosse. Again, it’s very localized but I believe people can experience it on a personal level because the theme of feeling stagnant versus being in transition is so universal.

CB: There are elements of nature, wildlife, landscape, man’s inclusion/interaction with nature in your work – can you comment on why you choose to depict these elements in the way you do?

JV: Ironically, I was never very interested in photographing nature until I started visiting the Midwest. I still don’t photograph untouched nature very much – rather, I like to photograph the ways that people have manipulated nature to serve the individual. In my new project Driftless one of the themes is how people become entangled in their environment, by altering the environment to suit themselves, and thereby becoming more and more entrenched and stationary. There is an interplay between nature and man that I think is far more interesting than just nature alone.

CB: What drew you to start a project about the deer stands originally? Were you thinking in terms of structures as form or architecture, or more about how people use them? Or something else entirely?

JV: It was a gradual development. I started out purely interested in the deer stands as structural forms. That was before I even knew what they were used for.  I was photographing them because I thought they were beautiful and minimal, and it was kind of a treasure hunt as I traveled through Wisconsin, spotting them randomly from the highway. Once I learned about the hunting aspect and learned more about the culture of people who used them, I was drawn to that as well.

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

CB: Please talk about your decision to publish Hide, and the special addition as well. Why did you decide to do the special addition and work with TBW Books?

JV: I never officially studied photography in school (besides taking the darkroom class I mentioned before) and learned most of what I know about photography through books. So for me, the ideal end result of a project was a photo book. Hide had gained traction through the web and I was contacted by some publishers interested in printing the series. Trema Forlag was one publisher from Sweden that contacted me, and I liked the design aesthetic of Dennis and his minimal approach. We talked back and forth and it was a good fit. I was a fan of TBW Books and had been in contact with Paul because of that. Through emails he had mentioned seeing my work and we decided to meet up in Madison. I had been playing around with the idea of a deer stand-inspired wooden box and he took the idea and ran with it. He offered to put together a cool special edition box for the project and to release it through TBW. I was stoked.

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

CB: Is it relatively easy, or do you find it a struggle to be an artist in the Midwest? Do you feel isolated in the larger artistic community or not?

JV: Overall, I feel lucky to be an artist in the Midwest. There are definitely some struggles. You don’t have the daily interactions or ease of access to major gallerists and collectors. But at the same time, I don’t believe those are necessary to be a successful artist. There are many benefits to being located in the Midwest. For me, I have easier access to the subjects I want to photograph. The artistic community here offers a different perspective, and depending on what part of the Midwest you live in, there is more government support of the arts – though not as much in Wisconsin. I find it easy to engage with the larger artistic community, online or by traveling to larger cities, but I get to enjoy the quality of life here.

CB: Of the photographer’s who you think of as influences on your own work – If these photographers have qualities that you admire/desire — how does that ‘inform’ your own creative process?

JV: Rather than one person or several people informing my process, I’m actually more influenced by the spectrum of work I am exposed to. Seeing how contemporary artists choose subject matter, sequence their books, explain their themes, construct a narrative – it’s remarkable how many variations a successful project can have. I like to look at the classics and compare them to contemporary books as well, to see the differences there. I’ve invested quite a bit of time and attention into my book collection, and I use it to inform my process regularly.

CB: What new work do you have currently? Please tell me more about your Driftless project.

JV: My family and I had to live in La Crosse, WI for one year, which is a small town right on the Mississippi River.  We moved when my wife was expecting our second child, and so I was wrestling with these feelings of wanting to settle down but still being in transition. Knowing that I was going to have only one year there, I wanted to capture my own process of drifting, becoming lodged somewhere, and breaking free. At the same time, we were living right on the Mississippi River and I found out the area was called “the Driftless Region” so the whole thing came together.

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

CB: In addition to the galleries of photo projects on your website, you have some other work highlighted. What is the background behind some of them listed on your site: like Cabin Porn, I wish you would believe me, etc.

JV: Cabin Porn is a website that features rustic structures, like the deer stands, and they put out a collection of photographs from the website. Hinterland is similar, but from a German publisher, and focused on architecture and typography. I Wish U Could Believe Me was a zine put out by Clint Woodside’s The Deadbeat Club. He had seem my work through TBW and wanted to do something together. So I gathered some older road trip images and collaborated with the amazing Brad Zellar on the text. The Deadbeat Club has a great following and works with several photographers I admire. It’s been fun seeing the zine make the rounds at the art book fairs and get into places I’ve never worked with before.

CB: Please talk about the role of a photographer as “publisher” and what you think about the recent increased push for photographers to publish photo books.

JV: Photo books still hold the same excitement to me as when I first started collecting them. It is hard when the market is flooded with them, but if only the major companies were releasing books, I wouldn’t have been able to publish anyting.  I can see the benefits of publishing a photo book completely independently, and also of working with an established publisher. I love sequencing and being in charge of what happens to my books. But a few items i put out through other people were put in hands I could never reach. So I think both have their benefits.

CB: In an article in Lenscratch, you mentioned that the hide project became a narrative about accepting change. Has your approach to making photos changed in the years since your cancer diagnosis, recovery, and fatherhood?

JV: A lot of change happened in 2011. I relocated to the midwest, my wife started medical school (which basically means I never saw her), I had my first child and was diagnosed with a bunch of crazy medical problems, all within the span of 4 months. It was unbelievable and a lot to handle, not only physically but mentally. I wasn’t really given the choice whether to accept some of these changes. And some of the effects have lasted to this day. For example, when I was going through chemotherapy the doctors told me I couldn’t hold my infant son, for months, and it was heartbreaking. Even though I’m doing fine now, that still affects my interaction with him. I find myself trying to compensate for it. Those type of circumstances changed me more as a person than anything. I think it adds a different level of sensitivity to the work I’m creating. It gave me a lot of perspective as a photographer.

CB: Has the birth of your second child, your daughter, lead to anything new in the way you approach your work or life?

JV: Yes, I’m having to put more effort into balancing my work and life. Most of my time right now is spent being a father. It was my decision to put my family first, and I know I’ll never regret that. The time I’m spending with my daughter is especially precious to me because she’s the same age my son was when I was too sick to take care of him. So some of the experiences of having a baby are new to me even though she’s my second child. To be honest, I don’t get to photograph as much as I would like as a result of being a father. I don’t carry around a camera with me 24/7. I take walks with my daughter and will shoot but I try as much as I can to give her dedicated time. I did use her as a diversion when shooting people in La Crosse. People are often a little wary of me asking to take pictures of them or their property…but with my daughter in a Baby Bjorn nobody is threatened by me whatsoever.

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

© Jason Vaughn

CB: There is something about the Mississippi River – so much history, influence, and its symbolism in American culture. River towns are set apart that way. There is a different attitude toward one’s sense of place when ‘Home’ is in relation to a significant aspect of the physical landscape like a river or ocean. Does the Driftless project tap into any of those muses?

JV: Definitely. Years ago I did a photography road trip that brought me to my dad’s hometown, Portsmouth OH, which is on the Ohio river. He kind of moved away and never looked back when he was 17 so I have lots of family there that I wasn’t in touch with. We spent 4th of July on the river, and it’s hard not to be inspired by the symbolism of a river – cleansing, renewal, movement, separation, evolution. Portsmouth is the tri-state area and the town grew as a function of the river, but due to economics it’s now a dying town so it was interesting to go back and see how the symbolism of the river has changed. La Crosse is on the Mississippi and like you said the history and influence are profound. In the Driftless series, one of the main themes is how people drift, become entangled somewhere often by pure coincidence, and occasionally but not always break free. The debris and ice floating on the river were a very pertinent visual representation of that for me while I was there. Many of the pictures from the project show these floating elements, or suggest the activity and constant change happening on the river. I was so fortunate to be there, because it is a very inspiring muse.


To see more work by Jason Vaughn, visit his website: http://jasonvaughnart.com/

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