The use of photography is limiting in a place that relies on darkness, soundtracks and actors hiding in corners, waiting to startle tense patrons. These are not businesses that are ubiquitous, but rather indicators of a relatively high availability of leisure and safety – quite the opposite of the experience they promise. Furthermore, the contents of rooms made to instill fear, are reflective of our culture. The combination of environments and characters make up a very specific portrait of our country through fear.
In developing countries garbage dumps often support sub-cities of individuals who live inside them. Large communities grow up in these areas. They are so impoverished and unable to find regular and safe work that they end up living in what others consider waste.
It is easy for a western audience to view these images and see horror. The idea of living in garbage is one that draws revulsion. But the one thing all of these places have in common is strong community. Out of these extraordinary circumstances, individuals often rise to the occasion with a strong work ethnic in the dirtiest of landscapes, creating homes that are resourcefully put together to raise their families. Society at the edge of landfills is often collaborative, resourceful, local and entrepreneurial at the same time.
I have made photographs about garbage dumps in three very different parts of the world over a span of twelve years in Guatemala, the Philippines, and Nigeria. There are similarities to be found, but each of the locations and culture around the dumps is distinct. It is imperative to me as photographer that the images dignify my subjects.
I am methodical and slow when shooting, spending weeks at a time in a location, visiting several times, and working with the subjects as much as possible to create portraits of people, interiors and landscapes of the dump.
Love Hotels is a body of work featuring environmental portraits of themed rooms in Japan that couples rent by the hour for amorous liasons. This work became the subject of my first monograph, Love Hotels: The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan and was published by Chronicle Books. It was also a solo museum show at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College in Chicago and was recently included in Framing Desire: Photography and Video at the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth.
I have spent a greater part of my life curious about taxidermy, simultaneously repelled and drawn to it. I began to dissect the subject in every way imaginable over a period of several years and the resulting piece is several very formal portraits of the foam armament of modern taxidermy that fill a room. The title references this unknown element of taxidermy, as a black box is a technical term for a device, system or object when it is viewed in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics without any knowledge required of its internal workings. Black box is also a term for experimental theater consisting of a simple unadorned performance space, usually a large square room with black walls. These photographs cross discipline boundaries and borrow fromboth sculpture and the history of painting. I leaned heavily on the Dutch masters and the classic odalisques for inspiration when making these formal portraits. The base of the work already exists in the world in fairly prolific, common places (it is easy enough to encounter taxidermy) but we aren’t accustomed to seeing the hairless amoebic forms here. They are simultaneously lifelike and at the same time they never look like real things in the world. So much of photography is about projection and these photographs evoke sympathy and confrontation from the viewer while at the same time remaining completely empty since we know they’re inanimate objects. There is an element of false recognition between the viewer and object – the pieces seem familiar but they aren’t, at least they are nothing I know in ordinary life. The piece reverses the traditional human/animal power play of taxidermy and the viewer becomes the object of the gaze at every angle. All the prints are life size, 1-to-1 in scale.
Low Lands is an ongoing body of work exploring the cracking facade of the Las Vegas strip, the culture and its outer edge.
A selection of recent assignment work. An additional portfolio for editorial work can be found at reduxpictures.com