Interview with Tim Mantoani

When did you open a studio in San Diego and what brought you here?

I first came to San Diego in 1990 to work as an intern for photographer Dean Collins while I was still a student at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. When I graduated from Brooks in 1991, I moved here permanently to work with Dean as an assistant. I started my own studio a few years after that.


We hear stories about photographers who undertake extended photo projects, such as your work with Behind Photographs. How did you get started with this project?

In 2006, after I had made the switch from film to digital, it occurred to me that the medium of film was probably going to start going away. In December of 2006, while in the Bay area for the Christmas holiday, I decided to rent the Polaroid 20x24 camera that was in San Francisco and make a few portraits. I knew that it was a rare opportunity because there were only two 20x24 cameras available for rent in the entire United States – one in New York and the other in San Francisco. I called two photographer friends, longtime San Francisco shooters Michael Zagaris and Jim Marshall, and asked them to come to the studio where the camera was housed and to bring with them a print of one of their most iconic images. That was the first time I had ever used the 20x24 and I photographed them both on that day.


Behind Photographs is is a multi-faceted project, combining your role as an artist, a colleague, and a fan of other photographers’ work. Was it hard to see something of this scope come to an end?

It was bittersweet when the project came to an end. Over the course of 5 years, I photographed more than 150 photographers on 20x24 Polaroid. Eventually, the cost became too great – when I started, it was $75 per exposure and on my last session the cost was close to $200 per exposure, and that doesn’t include the camera rental. It was becoming a real challenge to schedule photographers to shoot because of the difficulty in getting such a large camera to the photographers’ locations, and also, very few photographers were available to travel to the camera’s location. I knew that a project like this had the potential to go on forever as new photographers emerge on the scene. I also knew that I wanted to publish a book, so I decided to stop the photography part of the project and turn my attention to the “book” part of the project -- finding a publisher and designing the book.



Behind Photographs helps others put a face to some remarkable work in photography. Have you yourself become a participant in this process, sharing your successes with a new generation of photographers?

I’m very grateful that the publishing of the book and the worldwide exhibition of these photos have allowed me to share my work with others and at the same time call attention to the work of these great photographers. My goal was to archive not only the work of these photographers, but the photographers themselves; to make sure that future generations know who is responsible for these important images. To that extent, I am a very willing participant in this process.


You’re among a select group of artists who have worked with the Polaroid 20"x24" camera, in fact, you now own a 20"x24" camera. Can you describe the experience of working with such an unusual machine?

I find shooting with the 20x24 not only unique because of its size, but also magical because of the “peel apart – instant” Polaroid process. It requires an exacting degree of precision throughout the entire session. It’s easy to miss the focus or get the exposure wrong if you’re not careful; and the chemical process can vary from print to print depending on the age of the chemical pods and the way they break open during the processing, all of which affect the edges of the print and create the unique border around the image. If all goes well – and there’s no guarantee that it will – you end up with a huge instant print with a look and feel that is unlike anything else in photography.


What is your advice for balancing the demands of commercial work while maintaining the energy to pursue creative projects?

For me, commercial work and personal work go hand in hand. I always try to have at least a couple of personal projects going to push me creatively and to create new imagery for updating my website and portfolio. The longer I’m in business, the more I realize just how important personal projects are. In commercial photography, you usually get hired to shoot the same kind of work that you show in your portfolio. If you want to be a sports shooter, you have to show sports in your portfolio; the same goes for food, travel or portraiture. In this way, personal projects can be used to help steer your commercial career in the direction you want it to go.


What is the most rewarding part of working in San Diego?

Living in a beautiful city on the ocean, my studio is close to my home, and I don’t have to deal with crazy traffic all the time; all of which make it easier for me to spend valuable time with my friends and family.

Interview with MOPA's "Curator at Large" Merry Foresta

You have recently been appointed as MOPA’s Curator at Large. Tell us about your new role.

First let me say how pleased I am to be working with MOPA. The staff has been welcoming, both to me personally and to the idea of someone working off site, reporting on interesting photographers I may encounter away from San Diego, current ideas about the state of visual culture, piping in ideas and advice about all manner of things. 


Will you be relocating to San Diego?

No, I’ll stick to visits. Being “at large” by definition means that I’ll work away from the physical MOPA most of the time. Virtual participation in the form of professional partnerships is gaining popularity with many institutions. Obviously there are events and jobs that need on site participation and then I’ll be there. And it is not hard to find an excuse to travel to San Diego!


In 1983 you were the first Curator of Photography at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and from 2000 – 2010 you were the founding Director of the Smithsonian Photography Initiative. How will your experience in Washington D.C. inform the exhibitions at MOPA?

At the Smithsonian I had an almost unique opportunity to define myself in two different ways.  As a curator for the Smithsonian American Art Museum I was able to establish a permanent collection of photography—from daguerreotypes to contemporary photographs---organize shows, produce catalogues: the usual. And in the course of nearly 20 years, look really broadly at the history of photography in this country. And then, in my second act, I got to look broadly at the role photography played at the institution, and by implication the history of photography as the very basis of modern institutional history.  In a digital age of new visual technologies, when photography itself was facing enormous changes,  “Photography Changes Everything” was the theme—and eventually the title of a Smithsonian Photography Initiative website and Aperture publication. That idea, of a larger, multi-disciplinary history of photography, how images work, what we picture, how we picture, how we use them to communicate, how they function as contemporary art, is what I hope to continue to talk about at MOPA.


You’ve curated exhibitions at MOPA previously, including Tell Me a Story: Narrative Photography Now in 2007. What are the greatest opportunities you see to educate an audience for photography in Southern California?

There is such an important tradition of photographic inquiry in Southern California.  Historically, the schools and universities have some of the most important photography programs in the country. And MOPA has had had important role to play in supporting the work of California artists. So playing on both those strengths, and the plans MOPA has for creating a space and a program to create opportunities for both education and exhibition, I see rich possibilities.


As Curator at Large will you have the opportunity to work with MOPA’s permanent collection, including their newest acquisitions from 2016?

I hope so!  And hopefully I will have the opportunity to work with MOPA on future acquisitions.


Can you share a bit about the inaugural project or exhibition you’ll be presenting as Curator at Large? What surprises or new ideas do you have in store?

There are several exhibition projects already in the planning stages: an Aaron Siskind retrospective; an exhibition of never before seen Deborah Turbeville collages; contemporary photography from Australia. The most important, if at this point the least specific, is the re-organization of MOPA itself. MOPA is looking hard at the questions important to the building of a 21st century institution devoted to photographic images. This includes thinking not only about content, but delivery: on the walls, online, and as ongoing educational programs.  There is no “one size fits all” to any of this, and MOPA’s consideration of “how” might also become part of the online discussion… as well as how audiences interact with, experience, and use images. This is a vast topic, and I’m not quite able to share, because I don’t know, the “what and how” at this point, but MOPA’s progress in this area will be something to watch. I don’t know of any other photo-centric institution tackling these ideas head on.



Interview with Kim Stringfellow

Congratulations on being a 2015 Guggenheim recipient. What work are you focusing on as a Guggenheim Fellow?

I'm spending my year long Guggenheim fellowship and SDSU sabbatical working on the Mojave Project [] which explores the physical, geological and cultural landscape of the Mojave.

Desert. This transmedia project reconsiders and establishes multiple ways in which to interpret this unique and complex landscape, through association and connection of seemingly unrelated sites, themes, and subjects thus creating a speculative and immersive experience. Project themes include: Desert as Wasteland; Geological Time vs. Human Time; Sacrifice and Exploitation; Danger and Consequence; Space and Perception; Mobility and Movement; Desert as Staging Ground; Transformation and Reinvention.


What brought you to San Diego?

I came to San Diego in 2001 because I was hired as an assistant professor at SDSU in the School of Art + Design. I’m originally from Washington state but lived in San Francisco for 10 years and Chicago for 2 before I came to SD. I’ve been at SDSU for 14 years now and now tenured. In 2010, I moved up to Joshua Tree but continue commute for half the week in San Diego during the semester.


How does the region continue to inspire you as an artist?

The unique and varied geography and culture of the many areas of Southern California (especially the more remote ones) I find extremely interesting and thought provoking. I never seem to have a lack of ideas to focus on creatively, photographically or writing-wise. Of course, there are so many talented and innovative artists and collectives here too—CLUI, HDTS, Machine Project, Fallen Fruit that I am inspired by as well.


What’s happening in photography now that excites you?

I'm embarrassed to say that I’m not really in the know right now! I need to go to Medium to find out! But I’d say that I love the resurgence of interest in archaic photographic processes by some younger photographers. Of course, I am always a fan of great critical landscape photographic image.

Interview with Michael Mulno

How did the gallery’s interest in 1970's photography emerge?

Joseph has a strong reputation as being a valuable resource for photography practiced in California.  That trajectory has run from Pictorialism to mid 20th century work to the 1970's (and forward).  The mid 1970's is an era that saw a change in the way a generation of photographers started to look at the surrounding landscape and much of this practice happened in California, so it seems a natural growth to his research and interest in exhibiting and promoting less recognized photographer’s, to investigate that era.


Many photographer’s work we know(are aware of) through important exhibitions and publications, but just as many were making strong bodies of work and exhibiting with key figures from the period, but for one reason or another did not make it into the mainstream histories.  Joseph has through a revisionist practice of photo history, brought many important bodies of work to a larger contemporary audience through exhibitions and subsequent publication opportunities.  


Several of the gallery’s artists that were active in that era have seen a lot of attention most recently, and for good reason.  Terrific photographers like: John Schott, Bevan Davies, Philip Melnick, Terry Wild and Thomas Barrow.


The gallery’s interest in the 70’s is a good fit for me too, given several of my teachers in school were involved in either curating or exhibiting in the seminal 1975 New Topographics exhibition; their photographs and ideas have helped shaped my own thoughts regarding photography.




You’ve been with Joseph Bellows Gallery for more than 10 years, what can we expect from the gallery in the coming year?

Has it been that long? I have been working with Joseph in varying roles for the past decade or more, while teaching and making pictures.  In the past year, I took on the role of directing the gallery after organizing the group exhibition, Living Arrangements.


We have a lot of interest in American work from the 1970’s, but certainly we are involved with all eras and types of photographs.  Joseph and I are planning for an exhibition on the altered photograph, a show that will feature many women photographers from the seventies and eighties.   I will be working with Joseph to bring in new photographers to the gallery’s roster; we recently added the early work of Sage Sohier – whose pictures are a knockout, as well as building up our presence at additional art fairs. 


Most immediately we will be organizing a group themed exhibition about trees and a solo show by Wayne Gudmundson; a really wonderful group of pictures made in the French countryside.  Both shows open November 7th with a reception for the artists from 6-8pm.


Are your own photographs influenced by working at the gallery?

Working with the photographers and the photographs that the gallery represents provides a dialog; a connection that is a crucial aspect to the process of picture making.  Knowing that others have looked and seen similar things that interest me as a photographer helps reaffirm that certain things are worth looking at.  When the world is seen with a high level of concentration and order, it is a learning experience.  Having the opportunity to surround myself with the work of gallery artists like Gregory Conniff, Arnold Kramer, Grant Mudford and Bevan Davies; something is going to rub off.


My work has changed a lot since I started working for Joseph.  He was one of the first people I met when I moved to San Diego from Boston.  I walked into his gallery totally amazed by the amount of pictures and books available and I thought: I need to be here continuing my education beyond the classroom.  It is a totally different experience seeing a photograph hanging on a wall in a museum as opposed to holding it in one’s hand, and a different kind of history to be learned too.  I was coming from Boston - the whole California living has snuck in and influenced me, as well as its rich histories of image making.



What is the most rewarding part of working in San Diego?

It is a great climate, San Diego has a strong history of supporting photographic practice both locally and nationally and it continues to grow with the energies of those who give, in one form or another, to the medium.   There is great potential here and enthusiastic individuals who are shaping the local photography scene on many levels.


There are also really strong local photographers, many who have been at it for decades, whom I have great respect for, and who have laid a solid footing for the medium to grow locally.


As a gallery director I am just trying to be part of that continuum through organizing exhibitions, giving the community a place to see and learn about pictures in a context that believes in the value of photography and the object-hood of its practice.  Creating an environment that is engaged in the subtle aspects of the photograph as an object, not just a visual language, but also a thing onto itself – a print.  Some thing that one can collect, live with and be nourished by in their individual life.


As a photographer, I am rewarded by the southern California light, and a rich and complex region to describe.