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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Interview with William Zuback, BOOK PASSAGES

Our 2010 exhibition year is winding down, but going out with a bang.  BOOK PASSAGES photographer William Zuback shares with us his thoughts on inspiration, flexibility and Alice Cooper. 

1. You write in your artist statement that you want the images to leave the viewer "visually satisfied but emotionally curious" - that's a really striking phrase. Have you ever seen photographic work that had this affect on you? If so, please elaborate. If not, what was your jumping off point for your own work and style?

Thanks. Yes I see work all the time that has that kind of affect on me. I'm not much of an intellectual with my approach to art. All my work has a base idea/emotion behind it but not to the extent discussed by many academics. I say that only because my process is much more visceral for me and although I have a specific goal of what a body of work means to me It's less important to me than the reactions and response it has on others. Current artists who's work I really respond to are photographers Eliza French and Jeff Charbonneau, Maggie Taylor, Robert and Shana Parkeharisson. Painters Mark Ryden, Tabitha Vevers and Alexander Timofeev. Long time Cindy Sherman fan and love the work of Hans Bellmer.
The jumping off point for my work comes almost exclusively from music and not other photographers or fine artists. Concept albums were a huge influence in my development as a visual artist. From the album art to the lyrics and music to the theatrical stage performances, musical performance creates visual vignettes that has always fascinated me. Alice Cooper, “From the Inside”, Pink Floyd's, “The Wall”, The Who's “Tommy” are all good examples of music that left me visually satisfied but emotionally curious.

2. Some of these images are clearly the result of some intense digital manipulation, yet every image in this exhibit is printed at a standard sized black and white. What's the significance for you in having these modern digital pieces look like silver gelatin prints, and to look non- manipulated?

If you notice each image except for “Visual Haiku” and “Details” are full frame images from a DSLR. That just happens to be my equipment of choice right now. I tend to be very precise in my vision and my compositions for this series were all composed in camera starting with a base image. Digital manipulation is just another tool. Before digital I created a lot of manipulated images for commercial clients with film and pin registration. To me it's not meant as a gimmick. I consider myself a story teller and I will use what ever tools I feel best help me communicate that story. I started as a custom black and white printer. I love black and white and often see in black and white. It speaks to me more often than color. The significance to me is that I consider it all photography. I have spent my life since Jr. High School in photography. I pride myself on being a good steward of my craft. I feel to show a manipulated print not as non-manipluated would be a partial failure of my craft. I'm not trying to bring attention to the manipulated aspect of the work I'm using the manipulation to strengthen my message as a story teller. The art part of the process comes from the aesthetics of the conceptual.

3. You build jack-in-the-boxes in the woods, have nude models at the Pick and Save, and have men peering out of dirty windows at children passing by. Please tell us about your process, both regarding the emotional process wherein the piece is translated to visual imagery in your head, and the cerebral part of how you plan, build and direct your shoots.

I wish I had some great process I could impart to others such as it begins with a sketch, etc. It rarely does, for me, it begins in my head and stays in my head. Each concept started by reading the passage over and over. I would have it near me and read it before bed, during a commercial while watching television, while going to the bathroom. Idea's begin to formulate in my mind and I play it over and over in my mind until I know it like a well choreographed dance. It changes and is fine tuned through this mental sketchbook. By the time it gets to the shooting stage I feel I have done it so many times in my mind already that it often times flows like music and feels like a dance. Since this works for me and it changes in little ways right up to the shoot I feel that this process gives me great latitude for improvisation during the shoot because it feels so natural and free flowing. The intellectual part of planning, building and directing a shoot has developed out of many years as a commercial photographer. Many commercial shoots require the same criteria of hiring talent, building sets, choreographing all the elements to function as a whole and then it's show time. Nail the shot! It helps to be a very organized individual.

4. You are making work based on the submission and writing of others. How much of your own aesthetic style has to be flexible in order to create images that illustrate these passages, and how important is it to you to stay true to the feeling of the original written piece? Do you ever make a piece that fits the written word perfectly, but doesn't feel like yours?

The only flexibility that I feel I need to be concious of is my own need to be true to myself as an artist. I don't feel it was important for me, during this project, to stay true to the feeling of the original written piece. First, I only based my visual interpretation on the passage submitted. I was fortunate to have not read any of the books and had little knowledge of the original intent of the words.This gave me free reign as a visual artist to see and interpret the words based solely on my own experiences. It isn't much different than how family members can reflect on the same family experience with completely different perspectives because of their own biases and experiences. Each reflection of that memory is accurate to their own self and that is how I saw and would relate to the passages. In this body of work, no I did not make any visuals that fit the written word but not my own personal style. This was a very selfish project. It was a shared experience simply because the passages were donated and the feedback offered when I would post finished interpretationson my blog. The process of creating the work was done first and foremost to satisfy my own creative curiousity.

5. This work is about relationships. Relationships between the digital process and the traditional aesthetic, between the photographer and the writer, between the viewer and the work, between the image and the text, but primarily between you and the people you collaborate with. Can you talk to us about that process of trust, how you know when to trust your collaborators and their submissions, and how you know when to edit something out and go with your gut? Any submissions that you didn't have a real sense for at first but as you worked through the piece it grew on you?

I think it was the other way around. Each of the collaborators seemed to know me in some capacity. That's just how it turned out. I felt that they had a huge amount of trust in me to send in a passage. That trust could have been in knowing I was up for a challenge, liking my creative process and style and trusting I would do their passage justice or their trust of the complete unknown and excitement of discovery. I don't think I made trust a requirement of the process from my end. I understood the challenge I created for myself and made my own rule that I would take the passages in the order they were submitted so that I faced each as a challenge weather it was easy or difficult. I wouldn't just toss it aside because it stumped me conceptually. That challenge came early in the process when I was presented with the passage from Scott Huler's “Defining the Wind”. The passage was the Beaufort Scale. Not even a passage but the actual scale used to measure wind. I think this one was the third passage I interpreted. I relished those challenges. I did have two passages that became incredibly difficult and I had to move on to keep the process going while I came up with visual interpretations for these others. The passage from William Faulkner's “The Sound and the Fury” and the passage from George Eliot's “Middlemarch” both were incredibly difficult for me but as part of the process I refused to let a passage defeat me and I saw it as a larger challenge. I feel those visual interpretations became some of the strongest images in the series. 

The whole process truly tested me as an artist from concept to completion. It was a formative year for me as an artist and shared by the many who followed the entire process.

Come by the closing reception on Saturday, January 8th 2011 from 1-3 to meet Bill and find some inspiration of your own.  Thanks, Bill and all of our 2010 artists, for a great year!

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