Interview #379: Joshua White
Lee Chang Ming: Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a new professor in the Department of Art at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, where I am the area coordinator for photography. The new job and family keep me pretty busy, but if I have spare time, I use it to play music (guitar, banjo, ukulele) and spend time with my wife and daughter.
In several of your series, such as “These Precious Things" and "Alternative Processes”, you emphasize on the creative process of making the image. Do you feel that process it more important than the final product or just means to an end?
I feel like for me, personally, they are equal; I care deeply about the processes I use, whether it is a painstaking hand crafted image, or an image that comes from exploring my environment and photographing with my iPhone. That being said, I can’t expect a viewer to be as invested in the process as I am, so it is very important to me that the pieces are visually compelling as well. I try to craft work that I would be excited to walk into a gallery and see.
In “That Which We Have Held”, you show found photographs of anonymous photographers from the past. Personally, I collect old pictures like that too, but I never really understood why I am drawn to these images. Why do you show these found images?
The series of work came from my love of 19th-century photographic processes. One of the things I love most about those early ways of making images are the mistakes that can happen along the way, the errors that cause part of the image to get washed away, or have streaks or voids. I was finding all kinds of images that time had started to deteriorate, in beautiful, fascinating ways, and I found myself drawn to those flaws. I found many of the images at antique stores, and from eBay, where one seller sold them by the pound. I began to realize that for many of these people, this might be the only image ever made of them in their life, and that gave them a kind of gravity, a real sense that this was the last memory of this person, the last tangible piece of their existence. Dr. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, wrote in his book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” I feel like part of this series is saving these people from their final death.
You highlight your creative process in some series, which sort of highlights the artist himself, yet in “That Which We Have Held”, the images are picked from unnamed sources and decontextualized, which eliminates the original artist. Is it possible to reconcile these two different approaches?
I think that the process of finding, curating, and placing the images in a new context is very similar to the process I use when I create any body of work. In other bodies I am sketching, photographing, and creating in hopes of ending up with a finished piece, something I can call mine. In That Which We Have Held, I am searching for images that I am drawn to, that have some history and show the marks of it, and pulling them together to create meaning. For me, the piece of artwork is just a catalyst, a jumping off that creates questions in the viewers mind. I am not so concerned about the idea of ownership of the original artifact. Even though I didn’t create the photographs, the process and context transform the images into something different than just a collection of old portraits.
Do you feel your education in photography has helped (or not helped) how you make images?
Absolutely. I think one of the main things my education helped me understand were all the possibilities of the photographic medium. In undergraduate school I took darkroom courses, digital courses, semesters dedicated to studio lighting as well as documentary photography. It all helped force me to see things photographically, and to understand light. In graduate school, I worked with some amazing folks and really came to understand my working process. Regardless of whether someone goes to a university or not, I feel it is very helpful to find a community that can give you honest feedback, challenge you, and be there to offer support.
I shoot with lots of different cameras, depending on the kind of work I am doing. I use my iPhone 4s, a Canon 5D Mark II with a few prime lenses, a Deardorff 8x10 camera, a Holga, a Mamiya RB67 with a Polaroid back, and a couple different 35mm film cameras.
Upcoming projects or ideas?
I am working on a series that uses found images to create narratives, some more poignant and some with a little more humor. I am also working on more pieces along the lines of the series In Search of Lost Time, as well as continuing to photograph for A Photographic Survey of the American Yard.
Any music to recommend?
I love music, but I am usually the one asking for recommendations. I really love Josh Ritter; if you haven’t heard of him and you like folk music, go look him up. Especially his song “The Temptation of Adam.”
tumblr and website