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.