You were born in San Diego but have lived in New York and Los Angeles, what makes San Diego the right place to call home?
I was lucky to have been born and raised here. I have a feeling of some subconscious, perhaps even primal connection to my native landscape. Almost every return flight from another city includes the same moment: a sense of comfort experienced upon my first glimpse of the boulders in Anza-Borrego far below.
How has the photography community in San Diego evolved since you returned from NY and LA?
In my view, the art community here has, in general, become more vibrant and self-sufficient in the past dozen or so years I’ve been back. It doesn’t feel like a satellite of L.A. as much anymore. There’s a lot of cross-border activity happening, too, with people of various citizenships and cultural traditions living and working on both sides of the line.
From a photo-centric standpoint specifically, I’m seeing more artists whose principal output lies outside of photography incorporating it in their work, and more photographers making things that aren’t photographically-based.
Of course, the Medium Festival has made a great impact locally each autumn since its founding- it’s been fun to meet and interact with artists from around the world who make the trip here to show their work and gain insight and inspiration from fellow travelers. I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends and perhaps making some new ones again this year.
Your photographs have involved the human presence in the landscape for many years, but rarely included people as part of the images, until recently. What draws you to the landscape as subject?
As a boy, I accompanied my father on his driving trips to motorsports events in locations throughout the western U.S. During the long stretches between destinations, he’d perpetually lecture me on this or that subject, sometimes interrupting himself for a few decades of the Rosary, executed in the call-and-response style he favored from his own childhood.
Ignoring his praying and ranting, I would spend those hours in a combination of wonder and bewilderment at the vast world lying outside our speeding El Camino. From my perspective, the scale seemed impossible to grasp- the distances, the heights- everything was too big, too complex, too disorganized. I couldn’t imagine how all the cowboys and Indians and miners and explorers could accomplish what the books and movies told me they did. I was fascinated. Even all these years later, the feeling persists.
Your current work with photography is on the edge of representational, involving people, place, and color theory. How did you start making this work?
In late 2010, my partner and I purchased a house that needed total restoration. For the three years that followed, I devoted my entire creative capacity to demolition, repair, reconstruction; it was, at times, harrowing, and left me nearly spent, both physically and emotionally. I made no attempts at art during that time.
Then, in 2014, I was asked by a couple curating a show of small-scale works in San Diego to participate, and compulsively agreed, despite not having anything appropriate to contribute.
As you mentioned, I’d spent the previous decade or so making pictures of human intervention in the landscape. The finished works were large and rather formal.
During my house labor, I spent significant “psychic capital” turning over the question of what to pursue once I started making art again in a disciplined fashion. Each internal debate kept returning to how making straight photographs no longer seemed to be the right language for me.
Can you talk about the process of abandoning representation while still being committed to photography as a medium?
The work I’m making is trying to inhabit the space between representation and abstraction. The pictures still begin as simple photographs created in-camera, and I suppose they could stand on their own as documents depicting particular moments, but I’m not really interested in that right now. I’d prefer to investigate distortion at this point.
There is growing movement within academia and education concerned with instilling “visual literacy” in our culture. I’m headed in a different direction: trying to create visual aphasia.
When did you start adding glitter to your prints, and why?
A buddy of mine once said something along the lines of “I wanna make shit that freaks out my friends,” and I had adopted that as my mantra.
Years ago I’d started a project that involved taking surreptitious portraits in craft and hobby stores. I had some crazy idea of capturing moments when “average folk” were considering the various physical components of some future artistic output. After a bit of soul-searching, I concluded the idea was derivative and exploitive, so therefore aborted it.
Earlier in this interview, I touched upon how I’d agreed to contribute to a small works show, despite having nothing appropriate. During the months preceding, I’d begun experiments removing the human elements in some recently made images. Rather than simply employ photo editing software, I wanted to make my “redactions” more personal by applying the metaphorical felt-tipped marker with my own hand.
About that time, it occurred to me that perhaps I should revisit the craft store- this time to consider materials for my own work. The first piece I made was featured in the small works show, and I’ve continued to expand on the ideas and techniques since.
My motivation is to simultaneously remove and highlight the human presence in these pictures. I’m trying develop a balance where the lighthearted media I’m employing offset the bleaker ideas; I like the tension between the two.
You’re making abstract work while staying connected to the formal concerns of photography such as composition and making fine prints. How do you see the face of creative photography evolving?
There’s a whole bunch of compelling exploration/experimentation happening right now, with some artists using traditional processes “incorrectly,” others with non-traditional processes, others using outdated materials; it’s all over the place, which I find exciting.
In my own work, I began seeking a way to more intimately engage with the object itself. I was tired of solely looking at screens and user interfaces. I wanted to spend time with the work- not simply have prints pop out of a machine, autographed and sent off to the framer. I missed handling stuff and the sad/happy/weird accidents that happen in the world of “things.”
Each piece in this body of work is unique and, when finished, reflects a series of individual choices made during construction.
What work do you find most inspirational for your own career?
Anything challenging, mysterious, thoughtful, honest.
For more information visit the artist's website www.johnbrintonhogan.com