F-Stop Magazine: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?
Epiphany Knedler: Both of my parents are artists, so I’ve been involved in the art world for a long time. While I was in high school, I borrowed my sister’s point-and-shoot camera and took some photographs of my great grandma’s house. After that, I was hooked! I took a black and white film class in undergrad while I was originally majoring in Political Science and I couldn’t take enough art classes and ended up double majoring. I found it was a lot easier for me to use the images I took to discuss the issues I wanted rather than to work in the political field.
F-Stop: The Portfolio 2019 issue of F-Stop Magazine features your project “Wish You Were Here,” can you tell us about this project? What led to this work?
EK: Wish You Were Here is my MFA thesis work. While in graduate school I was attempting to create a big project with a focus on politics and community, hoping to create real change. That previous project took a lot of my creative capacity and I actually went an entire semester without taking any images. As I was heading towards my MFA thesis year, I went back to why I fell in love with photography, which was road trips. My boyfriend and I are both from the Upper Midwest so we decided to roadtrip back over the summer of 2019. I realized there were a ton of odd roadside attractions in our home states, like Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, and Carhenge. We spent a month on the road visiting all kinds of different places. Looking at the images, I’m understanding how our communities create grand stories out of our histories and how we create places to honor them; I’m also more aware of how we cover up certain parts of our histories and how these places are commodified versions of the mythologies.
F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images, or your creative process more generally?
EK: My creative process is very research-heavy. I do a lot of reading on whatever my topic is or where I’m taking photos. When I take photos, there is not any staging or any control on my part other than my use of the camera. I use a street-photography approach and create the compositions in-camera but I am constantly using my research to create interesting narratives within the photographs.
F-Stop: How do you choose what or who to photograph, what are you looking to capture?
EK: With Wish You Were Here, I was looking for traditional Midwest and roadtrip iconography. Growing up in South Dakota, I was very aware of the Midwest kitsch; South Dakota is a fairly large state in terms of landmass and the highways are lined with Midwest iconography. Growing up in South Dakota, these aesthetics were part of my daily life and as I’ve moved away from the state, I’ve grown to miss many of the things I took for granted. Coming back to the area, I was immediately drawn to these visuals. I have also always loved people-watching and general just looking at things, so that comes very naturally when looking for compositions. For the most part, I look for interesting symbols or objects and how people are interacting with them.
F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?
EK: My favorite image from the series is “Selfies at Mount Rushmore” because there is so much going on in it. Mount Rushmore is one of those places that is so iconic, you’re very much in awe of it when you’re there. We were watching all of the tourists interact with the place in their own way, mostly taking photographs. I watched the girl to the right take some photographs with this American flag she brought from home, which was already striking because it was something so odd and patriotic and specific and obviously for her Instagram. Then watching her fold the flag in the correct way just brought be back to second-grade and learning all about the patriotic actions we’re supposed to take as citizens. And the entire time in the background an older man was getting his picture taken by his son and wife and kept insisting they take more, but not speaking English. This also struck me because I felt it really spoke to the diversity of America and the ongoing debates about immigration. There are a few other tourists in the image talking about the viewfinders and to each other; I knew after I took it that this image would be one of my favorites.
F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?
EK: I am very inspired by the work of Greta Pratt and Alexis Pike who are able to capture the culture of a place or event, showing the interesting parts in a very beautiful way.
Also published on Medium.