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20th Anniversary Issue: Nate Larson & Marni Shindelman

As part of F-Stop Magazine’s 20th anniversary celebration we invited past featured photographers to share with us some thoughts and reflections. We asked each photographer to consider how their photographic work has changed over time, how the changes in photography over the past 20 years may have affected or influenced that change, and to share what they are up to most recently.

By Nate Larson & Marni Shindelman

Marni Shindelman: We were so excited when Christy reached out to us for this 20th anniversary issue. F-Stop published our Geolocation project in March of 2013 and we were curious to reflect on how our collaborative practice has evolved and changed since that time.

We made our first Geolocation photograph in Chicago in May of 2009, before I had an iPhone and before the iPhone advanced into the app-based device we use today. We had a printed screenshot of a map with a single tweet on it from a Yahoo! Mashup, in this case Twitter geotags on a map. We went to the location, made this photograph, and knew something important was happening in connecting the two.

Larson Shindelman, Geolocation: Sneaking Suspicion, Chicago, Illinois, 2009

Nate Larson: The tweet was about someone losing their job, at a moment when the repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis were rippling widely. The idea of someone self-documenting in the midst of this historical shift was powerful to us, as was the idea that we could preserve this digital fragment with a new photograph on the site where someone typed those words. Without the photograph as an anchor, the words would have been lost to an ocean of digital noise. We continued making these photographs as site-specific portraits of communities and it went through many iterations in the following decade, taking us from England to New Brunswick to Qatar, among other places. Sections from these iterations were published in book form by Jennifer Yoffy and David Bram’s Flash Powder Projects.

Larson Shindelman, Geolocation: Make Sure I’m Happy, Yonkers, New York, 2012

MS: Fast forward to today and our last iteration of Geolocation, titled #Gratitude #Благодарность. The series traces the first Cyrllic hashtag to break into the worldwide top ten most popular hashtag, #ThanksToPutinForThat through two cities in Russia in 2016 and then traces #ThanksObama in the sister cities to those Russian cities on the heels of the 2018 election. It is a tragic story of how easy it is to manipulate fragmented media musings (tweets) into political weapons.

Larson Shindelman, #Gratitude (Crimea is Ours), Saint Petersburg, Russia, 2016

NL: The impacts of Twitter on the US 2016 presidential election really laid bare our societal prejudices and our inability to distinguish fact from conspiracy. It’s complicated, though, as we have also seen it used as a platform for organizing for social justice. Through our work we have seen social media lead uprisings, expose injustices, and at its worst, be utilized to justify war. As we sit here today, Twitter no longer exists as it once did. It is now just an X on our phones, the hobby project of a billionaire, himself seemingly more preoccupied by scoring points than factual accuracy.

Larson Shindelman, #Gratitude (40% of my Paycheck), Chicago, Illinois, 2016

MS: #Gratitude #Благодарность is compiled in a new book, currently in production. We collaborated closely with designer Ania Nałęcka-Milach to weave together the tweets, photographs, and cultural commentary into conceptual bookwork in two languages. We are grateful for the translation and annotation by Iaroslav Volovod and Lidiya Kan. We are excited to share this book with your audience and hope that folks will support us by pre-ordering a copy today – https://www.larson-shindelman.com/books/p/gratitude

Larson Shindelman, #Gratitude #Благодарность, 2023

NL: We have both continued to build on our methodology from Geolocation in new individual projects. I have been photographing cities designated by the U.S. Census Bureau as the Mean Center of Population, which runs population data through a complex algorithm to create a coordinate for the “symbolic center” of our nation. The designation starts in 1790 in Chestertown, Maryland and runs west and south through seven states to the 2020 center in Hartville, Missouri. My photographs are both topographical and personal, combining formal landscape images with portraits produced in partnership with local communities. Ultimately, I’m thinking about this symbolic center as a fulcrum to examine how symbols shape national identity as well as the social and political transformation of America.

Nate Larson, Burning Driftwood, Steelville, Missouri, 2023
Steelville is the mean center of population for the 1990 census

MS: I have been following the traces of immigrants through our landscape, in my latest work Restore the Night Sky. I have been making photographs outside of our country’s forty-five private ICE detention centers. The landscapes are lit only by the moon and the new high powered LED lights of the detention center. Like Geolocation, I utilize the camera to make visible hundreds of thousands of people moving seemingly invisibly across the country. The photograph again is a tool to make visible traces of data.

Marni Shindelman, from Restore the Night Sky, 2022
Pine Prairie ICE Processing, Pine Prairie, LA, Detainee Capacity 700, Town Population 1331

NL: The biggest challenge in working collaboratively is coordinating our (busy) schedules and finding blocks of time to work together in a focused way. We have never lived in the same city (or state) and distance has always been a conceptual through-line in the work as well as a logistical obstacle. We’ve been bouncing around new ideas for the next stage of our collaboration, hunting for time and space to work together. Overall, we feel proud of where we’ve been, excited for this new book and curious where our work continues to take us.

Larson Shindelman, #Gratitude (Syrian Refugees), Los Angeles, California, 2017

Pre-order Larson Shindelman’s new book #Gratitude #Благодарность here https://www.larson-shindelman.com/books/p/gratitude

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