November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Michael Eastman/Photography

©Michael Eastman

“There is no substitute for working.

None.”

An Interview with Michael Eastman

by Mike Foldes

Eastman

Michael Eastman’s photography captures the imagination in much the way it captures the essence of it subjects, merging the two in a surreal admixture of self and other. The current exhibition of meticulously produced images at Barry Friedman Ltd. Gallery, taken on Eastman’s fourth (and most recent) trip to Cuba in 2010, gives evidence: Rooms, facades, streets, all fade against memory when viewing the saturated color and play of light in monumental prints, as if to say, “This is what was, as well as what is.”

Los Angeles Times Art Critic, Leah Ollman, writes, “Walker Evans’ legacy is evident throughout Eastman’s work: a love of the vernacular, a consistent, frontal approach, and a fondness for … time and neglect.”

Michael Eastman is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. He has been a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant. His photographs are in the collections of Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum, San Francisco Museum of Art, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, St. Louis Museum of Art, and the International Center for Photography, New York, among others.

The following interview was conducted via an e-mail exchange in March of 2011.

Q: How did you happen to gravitate to photography?

ME: Photography’s immediacy.

Q: What was your first camera?

ME: Nikon

Q: And what do you use today?

ME: I still use film, my camera for architecture is a Cambi from Denmark. It’s a 4×5 view camera, and also, I use old 500C Hasselblads. I still love a square.

Q: How much lighting equipment do you carry around with you? Your photographs have a remarkable intensity and  revealing of detail that seems hard to capture with natural light alone.

ME: I do not use lighting equipment.  All my photographs are made with natural light. By scanning my negatives myself and using Photoshop as my digital darkroom,  I am able to make prints that I never could have made with traditional methods. The amount of control is unmatched.

Q: In your Havana series, what time of day were most of the photographs taken? Everything appears to be very well lit.  Are these ‘long’ exposures?

ME: Photographs were made all during the day.  No particular time of day. Yes, fairly long exposures.

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Michael Eastman/Havana 2010

Volume 7 No 2.5 April 2011

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View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.

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Q: You say “Fairly long.” Can you give an example using, say, the following staircase image:

ME: 30 to 60 seconds at F22. Very low light …

Q: Of the hundreds of photographs on your own and other websites, and in your books, humans are conspicuous by their absence. Some of the settings give the flavor of life as we think we’ll know it after everyone else is gone but us – take that in the imperial singular. Did you ever photograph people, and if so, when did you stop?

ME: When I photographed commercially, I only photographed people. Real people doing real things. Very documentary.

In my fine art work, I am more interested in finding places to photograph that are full of evidence of human activity but without the specific people that inhabit the places.  These photographs are portraits of the people without the people in it.  Through inference, we tend to “create” the portrait from what is in the room and from our own personal experiences.  I feel successful when my interiors feel like someone has just left the space or is about to enter.   Almost like a stage set.

Q: Do you work with assistants, or is all the setup and digital darkroom work and printing handled by you?

ME: I do not work with assistants.  I photograph alone and print alone.  When I first began to photograph, there seemed to be many voices in my head. Imaginary critics telling me what to do, What not to do. Voices of parents wondering what I was doing with my life and why was I wasting my time with a camera, etcetera. Over the years, the only voice in my head is mine. The only one I am trying to please is me. I think this is what people mean when they say finding one’s voice. I try to find places that speak to me and one needs silence to hear it. That’s why I photograph alone. No interferences. No noise. No distractions. In the beginning my voice was very weak and very hard to hear. Now, it’s the only one up there.

Q: Your images are “huge”. What kind of printer do you use? Any special inks?

ME: The prints are six feet by eight feet. No ink. They’re not ink jet. They are conventional chromogenic prints (C Prints) exposed with a light jet.

Q: How do you happen to live in St. Louis? Are you originally from the Midwest?

ME: Saint Louis is where I am from. Where one is based has very little effect on what one accomplishes. It has been an advantage to be an outsider.  It is easy to get lost by being overexposed. And it easy to get lost in trying too much to advance one’s career.  The best thing one can do for one’s career is to continue to make better photographs. If your work gets better, you will get opportunities.  That is all you have control over.

Q: Do you still take commissions?

ME: Not really, although I still am open to collaborating.  Art is very singular activity. Whenever I have an opportunity to collaborate with others I respect, I am interested in exploring that opportunity.

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View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.

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Q: What or where would you like to shoot that you haven’t, yet?

ME: Nothing specific.  I just want to continue to look, make better photographs and grow both as an artist and as a person. Those two things have much more in common than one might think.

Q: Do you enjoy teaching? And even if you don’t, what advice – other than find your own voice – would you offer the aspiring artist/photographer?

ME: I do not teach, although someday I would like the opportunity.  Currently I keep busy with my own work. I like to stay busy. I am a bit compulsive that way; if I was growing up today, I probably would be on a Ritalin™ drip. I believe an artist grows through working. I have learned mostly from my own photographs, both the ones that work and probably even more from the ones that do not work.  Editing is so important. Essential. And I have learned so much from just looking at prints. One has to be driven. There is no substitute for working. None.

Q: If you were to ask yourself a question, as an interviewer, what would it be, and what would be the answer?

ME: How did you succeed?

I think one needs to be a bit in denial, especially in the beginning. You have to believe you are better than you are. And still be ready to respond positively when you face rejection. Which I have to do all the time.  Still do. You have to keep making photographs even when you doubt, especially when you doubt. And you want your photographs to have more and more levels of ideas.  More is more. The only thing I have ever had control of was my work. The better it gets, the more I have achieved.

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For more images and information about Michael Eastman, visit:
http://www.eastmanimages.com/

The Michael Eastman show at Barry Friedman Ltd. runs through April 30, 2011. The gallery is located at 515 West 26th Street, New York, New York 10001.
http://www.barryfriedman.com/