Unexpected Joy via the Art of Eric Staller

Kim Sikora: Your light drawing photographs are full of questions about your process. Especially after seeing that these were created in the 70s. Can you share some info on how these were created?

Eric Staller: New York City at night was an enchanting place for me. The plazas, bridges, parks and monuments, empty and eerily quiet at night, were dramatic stage sets waiting to be transformed. Transformed by my magic wand: the 4th of July sparkler. Late at night I drove around in a beat-up station wagon, looking for places and ideas to jump out at me. When the moment was right I set up my Nikon on a tripod and planned a choreography with light. One of the first light drawings was Walker Street:


Each sparkler lasted about a minute, so that was the amount of time I had to make the drawing. I would lock the camera shutter open, light the sparkler and quickly walk down the street, holding the sparkler at curb level, to complete the composition before the sparkler went out. I felt a strong sense of exhilaration, like running the 100-meter dash with a flaming torch! Getting the film back from the lab was even more exhilarating: it was magic, my presence was invisible! There was just this trail of liquid fire.

Suddenly I was drunk with the possibilities. I proceeded to outline everything for my photos: cars, trucks, streets, monuments. The energy was packed into one-minute performances. I worked through the night and although I was alone and even lonely, my romance for the city was sweet indeed. At dawn I would go to Fulton Street to watch the fishermen come in, or to the Lower East Side for the first hot bagels of the day.

My dreams in 1977 were taking the forms of fantasy architectures of light. … By then I found that a 10-minute sparkler was available on special order. I attached one to the end of a broomstick and, using my arm as a compass, scribed arcs overhead as I walked up the middle of the street.

The challenge now was to take it intellectually further with each photo; to wonder what effect this or that choreographic device would produce; and then, to be continually surprised by the result. For Lightubes I spun the sparkler on the end of a string as I walked toward the camera; then ran back and did it again.

I mounted 5 sparklers on a broomstick and held it vertically, at arm’s length for the 5-minute exposure Ribbon of Hanover Street It occurred to me more than once that these were performances with light. Crowds of curious garbage men, night watchmen, workaholic Wall Streeters and the homeless gathered to watch the lunatic with the blazing broomstick!


KS: We love your “urban UFO” series. (Especially when Big Bang Theory drops by the lab!). Have any of these pieces grown to become your favorite?

ES: I guess I would have to say that my Lightmobile is my favorite, as it was the genesis of a 27 year-long series of mobile public artworks. It has travelled the world and is the most widely understood and loved of the series.
The Big Bang Theory I built in Amsterdam in 1996 and since moving to SF in 2010 it has become my town car. I never tire of watching the double-takes, mouths falling open, people going: “huh, what the –?”

KS: In your writing about Fish-o-vision you say that you sometimes receive questions about “the alienation of being an artist in this material world.” Are there any works of yours that speak to this idea intentionally?

ES: All of these pieces ask more questions than they answer. I want to challenge people to think and feel, to come up with their own meaning, or to allow for the unexplainable. In fact, I can’t entirely explain where my ideas come from. They bubble up from my subconscious and it is often the idea that appears the most absurd at first that I become obsessed with and end up building.

KS: Artists in this city face some tough obstacles when it comes to creating the time and money to make new work. How do you manage your work and your time?

ES: Well, if you want/need to be an artist and also want to make a living at it, you might as well buy a lottery ticket every week as well! A lucky outgrowth of the Urban UFOs is my patented circular 7-person ConferenceBike, which I manufacture in Germany. There are now more than 300 of them putting smiles on faces in 18 countries.

Nicolo Sertorio’s Thoughts on the Local Photo World

Kim Sikora: As a working photographer in San Francisco, what was your biggest challenge been?

Nicolo Sertorio: I chose to live and work in the San Francisco bay area because I fell in love with the place and people from my very first visit. But it is a bit of a compromise from the point of view of a photographic career: it is a smaller market compared to New York or Los Angeles, there are fewer local clients, etc. Also, my personal style for commercial work (‘refined lifestyle’) tends to resonate more with East Coast clients. But there is no way I am moving, especially now that we invested in a new studio!

KS: Artists in San Francisco face many obstacles, and it can be a struggle to make the time and space to create new work. How do you balance your personal and professional time?

NS: It definitely takes discipline to carve out time for personal work, but at the same time it is where I get inspiration, motivation, and renewed excitement. On the commercial side I try to have a personal (‘test’) shoot every couple of months. On the fine-art side I tend to work on series/ideas that evolve over fairly long periods of time. But it is a balance between all the dimensions of life constantly screaming for attention, one that has to be constantly re-negotiated.

Of course it helps to have a supportive partner. In my case my wife is a scientist, so we share the passion for our work, the sacrifices, the patience and determination required, the ideals.

KS: You took part in APA’s spring portfolio review event. How do you feel that this impacted your work or your photography career?

NS: I have attended several portfolio reviews and found the APA San Francisco one to be small and intimate, which I liked.
Jaqueline Fodor gave me some great advice and encouragement to include one of my personal series on my commercial web site. I had been weary of doing so, but have been getting very good feedback since.

KS: Are there other resources you think photographers in the bay area would benefit from?

NS: I always push myself and my friends to shoot more and collaborate more. ASMP and APA are both great organizations to meet fellow photographers. I also enjoy the ‘Dog & Pony’ shows that Propville organizes. But I do feel that as an imaging community we could do a lot more together.

KS: Do you have any new projects you’d like to tell us about?

NS: The latest projects (and time guzzlers) for me have been:

Got elected as the new president of ASMP Northern California chapter. As a new board we have many great ideas but limited resources, so it has been taking a lot of our time to establish the foundation for many new programs and workshops that will be rolling out in the fall.

I just released my latest personal/fine-art series (check ‘Passages II: Rest Areas’ on my fine-art site: www.nicolosertorio.com). So far it has been received very well: it has been included in multiple group shows and won several awards. I am currently exploring the idea of making it into a book.

Jun Takano and the Unknown Delta

Kim Sikora: In your statement for “Delta Unknown,” you speak about the traditional and alternate sides of the word “solitude.” Can you talk a bit more about this?

Jun Takano: Well, I am a Brazilian born and raised in São Paulo. In Brazil, the word solitude has a negative meaning… The Latin people that very warm and sociable therefore they always seek to be around people. In Brazil, solitude has almost the same meaning of loneliness, therefore, when you say you feel solitude, usually you are sad and lonely.

I realized that, sometimes, solitude could have a different meaning, something less negative. Every now and them I just want to be away from people and be quiet enjoying the sunset for instance… It is the serene feeling we sometimes want to feel. That is what I wanted to portray in my series.

KS: How did you create the concept for this series?

JT: The whole concept of my series started by me being homesick. … That is when I found the Delta, which in many ways reminded me of the countryside city of Tupã (Brazil), where my grandfather lived. … Therefore, the Delta triggered so many childhood memories and became my home away from home, somewhere where I could feel some comfort. It became my meditation place.

KS: Your images in this series have an ethereal quality to them. Can you talk a bit more about your experience of solitude, and your methods of photographing these with a 4×5 camera?

JT: It was a humbling experience to spend hours at night shooting for my project. The time of day I choose to shoot, helps to create this ethereal mood because of the absence of people. In many nights I felt I was the only person out there.

The 4×5 camera helped me slow down and to feel the place before I start shooting, this helped me to have a better emotional response to my subject. My methods to shoot with a large format camera at night are very meticulous. I had to carefully meter the scene, slowly compose and focus my shot, take many a Polaroid test shots, wait for hours to get my exposure.

KS: For those unfamiliar with the area. can you talk about the residents of the Delta area?

JT: To me is very hard to talk about the residents of the area, I had covered a wide range of the Delta so there were lots of different cities I shot. However I can tell that they all have one thing in common, they are usually humble and nice.

During the day they are usually sympathetic people, at night this might change a little bit because to them I am the weird guy with a big camera pointing at their business and houses, so they can get a little wary about my presence. However, I have never had a problem with violence or something like that, they are usually curious and want to know what I am doing at 3 am in the streets or they just call the cops to check on me.

KS: What is one thing you want your viewers to walk away from your photography with?

JT: I want the viewer to have some kind of emotional response to my photographs, even if it is completely different than my own response. We all have different backgrounds and grew up in different scenarios, therefore any feeling or memory my images trigger will make me happy.

In addition, I would like people to understand the need of taking care of our environment, to respect what we have around us.

KS: Another great facet of this project is the color in each image. Can you explain what kinds of post-processing you do, if any?

JT: To be honest, there is not much I do in post processing. The fact that I use film already helps me with all those colors, film handles colors and highlights differently than digital, especially at night. When I am scanning my negatives I usually choose one light source and I try to make it as close as I saw it when I was shooting. I neutralize one light source but I am aware that the others will shift and get some nice different colors.

KS: Is there a new project you’re working on you’d like to tell us about?

JT: I am working in a daytime project of the Delta right now. I really love this place. The majority of the photos are being shot at daytime from a boat. It is much more like a street photography; I am shooting different things I can capture from a boat’s view. But it is still in the beginning; there is a long way to go before it gets ready.

Madeleine Campbell Explores the Familiar

Kim Sikora: How did you create the concept for this series?

Madeleine Campbell: The current series I’m working on, titled Cloth, is inspired by the apartment I’m subletting while in San Francisco and part of a larger body of work, titled Anthropomorphic Spaces. I am exploring a reciprocal relationship between self and space through psychoanalysis, haunting, intuition, and personal history.

KS: How do you decide when and where to shoot? Were there destinations with history you tracked down, or was it more or a fluid exploration?

MC: I shoot in places that I know on a personal level, places I have lived in or spent a lot of time in. I explore familiar spaces in unfamiliar ways as a means to speak toward a singular/plural understanding of time, space, and the unknown.

KS: Many of your images have a brooding quality to them. What kind of emotional content do they hold for you?

MC: Private spaces are both those which shield us and those which conceal us, this interplay between comfort and fear is central to my work. While my photographs are often read as being quite dark, play is a major influence in both my process, and my conceptual framework.

KS: In particular, I’m very curious about the image on the television, and the view of a stone backyard patio. What is going on in these pictures?

MC: Both images are from a project titled Old Man’s Voice in which I documented my grandparents’ home as a site of myth, memory, and cultural association. With my grandparents’ house now vacant, the lack of habitation creates a museum like effect in which all the objects are frozen in time. In stark contrast, the surrounding yard has become wildly overgrown. The juxtaposition of interior/exterior space symbolizes the passing of time and acts as a metaphor for the psychological/physical self.

KS: Can you tell us a bit more about your shooting process?

MC: It is performative in nature and for this reason I like to shoot on my own, using myself as subject (via wireless remote), or with my sister whom I use as a stand-in for myself. I shoot both photography and video on a canon 5D mark II.

KS: What is one thing you want your viewers to walk away from your photography with?

MC: I want to provide avenues for the viewer to explore intimate spaces through personal associations and collective experience.

KS: A lot of photographers struggle with the balance of personal work and otehr money-making pursuits. How do you balance the two?

MC: I’m currently working towards a masters of applied arts at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, which has allowed me the time to focus solely on my personal work.

KS: Can you tell us what to expect in the next few weeks of your residency?

MC: I will be shooting new work and using the Dickerman Prints’ Print on Demand services. I’m also really looking forward to meeting the other residents and having the opportunity to work in such a creative environment.

Peter and Lisa Layer Patterns of the Bay

Kim Sikora: Can you tell us a bit about your beginnings as a team of photographers?

Peter Tonningsen and Lisa Levine: We met as artists-in-residence at Kala Art Institute about six years ago and have much in common… We began collaborating through an annual event called Alameda on Camera… We had both participated individually in this event in the past, so proposed collaborating one year thinking it would be fun, but were told it was ‘against the rules’ of the event. However coincidence was in our favor as the random pieces of the map we each drew happened to border each other, so we proceeded to photograph each other’s area while standing on the shared border of our map sections.

PT & LL: We did this using a multiple exposure technique in which we each photographed on 35mm film, rewound that film, exchanged it, and then repeated that process right over the top of what the other had just photographed, with this shooting and exchange occurring multiple times… thus our collaboration and multiple-image methodology was born.

KS: When you first started out photographing as a team, what things did you first gravitate towards?

PT & LL: Given the nature of the first piece we created together, we started off interested in exploring borders, particularly the borders between divergent neighborhoods… For example, one of the first areas we examined was the border between the Port of Oakland and the surrounding West Oakland neighborhood

KS: How has your imagery changed in the past few years?

PT & LL: Our work has become less about the context of borders and more about the dialog and discovery we have with each other and how that interchange can be developed to distinctively describe and portray place and experience… We have become increasingly dedicated to pursuing public art opportunities as we are thrilled with the challenge of creating solutions for site-specific spaces…

KS: You have a lot of images shot in the Bay Area, and all of them are delightfully complex. Can you tell us a bit more about your shooting methods?

PT & LL: We are both urban at heart, so favor industrial and metropolitan subject matter, especially because of the dynamic and serendipitous nature of these kinds of environments. Regarding our shooting and creative methodology… We are especially drawn to this combination (multiple exposures) of analog and digital technologies, which we believe makes our work especially relevant given the rapidly changing climate of digital photography today.

KS: How did you decide when and where to shoot? Were there destinations with history you tracked down, or was it more or a fluid exploration?

PT & LL: Sometimes the sites we choose are predicated by commissions we are working on, while other times they are simply places that have caught our attention for being visually interesting. Once we start exploring a place, everything about the context of that location becomes of interest… How all that unveils itself to us is more of a fluid exploration. Our preference is to go to the sites together and wander about, talking about and shooting what most captivates our attention.

KS: What kind of feeling, or what experience of your context do you hope to give viewers?

PT & LL: Essentially we hope that our viewers will relish in a sense of discovery and excitement at seeing a familiar place anew. We want to provide aesthetically alluring, yet visually complex and contemplative works, where the audience can take in a location from multiple viewpoints and multiple points in time… For those interested in photography, we also hope that they will be engaged with how our process challenges conventional standards of a photograph document by extending notions of photographic time, space, framing, and authorship.

KS: Can you explain on of your most recent public art installations? What are your goals for public displays like this?

PT & LL: The most recent Public Art project we completed was for Highland Hospital where we were commissioned to produce a series wall-mounted images reflecting the varying communities throughout Alameda County that the Hospital serves. The goal of our artwork was to celebrate the diversity of the populace served by Highland Hospital while providing a familiar sense of home and place to patients, visitors and staff.

Hopefully through such a familiar portrayal of the surrounding environment we contribute to the overall quality of care and wellbeing that the hospital provides by promoting reflection and conversation and helping decrease some of the anxiety that can be part of the hospital experience.

KS: What can we expect to see in the next few weeks of your residency?

PT & LL: The focus of our residency has been to develop a series of prints centered on the replacement of the Eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which is expected to be completed later this summer. We hope to arrange exhibition of our work at multiple locations on both sides of the Bay in conjunction with the Bridge’s opening celebrations.

Ana Vega’s Decisive Imagery

Ana Vega’s photography exists at the intersection of engineered fiction and bare reality. Ana is one of our newest photographers in the Residency Program here at the lab, and will be exhibiting images from this body of work in an event at ABCo Artspace in Oakland this upcoming weekend.

Don’t miss the opening, this Saturday April 20, 6pm at 3135 Filbert St in Oakland.

Ana says, “The act of photographing represents a series of decisions and actions, and my work investigates the protocols of the look, of visual perception. I strive to offer images that, despite their realistic qualities, provoke a hesitation as to how to understand them.”

Kim Sikora: Can you talk a little bit about your series? How did you create the concept?

Ana Vega: Her eyelashes rise and fall like a theatre curtain is the trio of images that I worked on while in residency at Dickerman. I was working with silicone, pigmenting it and then pouring it. I wanted to make tongues that would come out of a picture. I then worked with them in the studio with a neutral backdrop to make these images. The process became close to painting, applying color to a surface, red puddles on a flat grey. The images appear in a degree zero as face expressions, moods, postures. Between extreme abstraction and immediate facial recognition.

The images for Her eyelashes rise and fall like a theatre curtain are a parade of an eyelash’s calculated
palpitations, in postures of seduction. Sticking out tongues pouting lusciously, showing their make-up and apparent retouches, like lipstick marks/tracks. The idea of mutual desire with images. “Pictures want to be kissed. And of course we want to kiss them back.”

There is the pleasure of distortion; when the photograph arrives on my screen, the primary mood isn’t the same any more, it’s ready to change. I can knead it and put on a different face, the face I want to show. There is a temporality that is specific to the photographic medium, that is dismantled in stages. It shows through as a being that is always malleable, at each step of production, in it’s own way.

KS: A lot of your images are very clean and spare. Can you describe some of your aesthetic choices in
this vein?

AV: The studio space has an essential role in my images, it is this place where I can bring an object and isolate it – from its context, from its relationships to the world, to us in a certain way – and create fiction… Its a blank. The spareness that you are referring to comes from the will of a specific focus. As portraits of sorts, the subject is placed in plain view. I put my subjects through auditions, and as characters they may play several different roles, or re-appear in different contexts or scenes.

KS: How has your imagery changed in the past few years?

AV: It’s actually changing now, again. My work has always been interested in the aesthetics of advertising, and its static feel. Without leaving that arena, but as a departure towards something more sensual, my imagery is now looking for a more formless or anonymous shape.

KS: For this project, you’ve been in many different locations, LA, SF, and Paris. Do you see any trends
in the local photography scene? How would you compare this to other cities you’ve lived and created in?

AV: I came to California because I’ve been interested for the past couple of years in a young scene of
photographers that was bubbling up in a very influencial way for me – Elad Lassry, Sam Falls, Lukas Blalock, Michele Abeless… Annette Kelm, in Germany..

Southern California gave me something more, something else, difficult to describe. The landscape and cityscape, Peter Shire (and the Memphis Studios)… but it’s not only that. I like this quote from Don Draper, talking about love, “What’s the difference between a husband knocking on a door and a sailor getting off a ship? About ten thousand volts.” Los Angeles is the antinomy of Paris. And yet, loving Paris, it comes so naturally to fall in love with LA. They have this kind of relationship of extreme desire, telling each other “don´t change a thing.”

KS: Is there a new project you’re working on you’d like to tell us about?

AV: A couple of projects are upcoming, a collective show at the 104 in Paris this September. And I’ll be back in California for a duo-show with Gina Osterloh, a great photographer that I met in LA, at Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles in September 2014.

Amanda Boe’s Progress on “Midwest Meets West”

Amanda Boe was recently accepted as one of our inaugural Artists-in-Residence. During her residency, Amanda will be developing and printing new work for her series “Midwest Meets West.”

Here’s Amanda’s current edit for “Midwest Meets West,” including some shots from her most recent trip.

Kim Sikora: How did you create the concept for this series?

Amanda Boe: My brother’s relationship to the landscape was the inspiration for this series. I was intrigued by how his role as a firefighter had given him a sense of purpose through protecting the local forests and wild lands in the Black Hills. I spent some time with him there in 2009 and the pictures I made during that trip became the foundation for this project.

KS: Can you tell us about your overall goals for this project?

AB: I’m currently developing this body of work and I plan to make a few more trips back to South Dakota over the coming months. Ultimately, I’m working towards making a book.

KS: You were recently on a shoot during the wildfires in the Black Hills region. Were you looking for anything in particular during your shoots?

AB: I make a shot list before my trips with ideas and locations in mind, but that’s just a starting point. I wanted to take more portraits for sure, and I really wanted to photograph a wildland fire that my brother was working on. It didn’t happen on this trip, due to unfortunate circumstances and timing, but I’m trying to make it work for a future trip.

KS: What was your biggest challenge?

AB: Trying to get access to a wildland fire was definitely the biggest challenge. I took some wildland fire tests through FEMA before this last trip, and I had been in touch with people from the forest service and state wildland fire department about media access, which did not come through. Tragically, four people died working on the White Draw fire (near Edgemont, SD), which my brother was also working on, and I could not get access. The Black Hills region had several wildland fires this summer and that particular fire was the only one that occurred while I was there.

KS: From your statement, “Midwest Meets West” is closely tied with your memory of this region. I’ve noticed some of your other series that deal with memory as well. When did you first begin exploring this subject matter?

AB: In 2008, I started photographing in my home state of South Dakota and I was thinking a lot about my connection to home and memory. Around that time, I read Dakota by Kathleen Norris, which captures the spirit and character of South Dakota. Her book inspired me to explore the landscape and revisit places from my past. My grandma would share old family photos and relics with me as well, and I became more interested in our family history. I started going back there more often to take pictures of the landscape, my home, neighborhoods, and family. I finally felt inspired by a place that I couldn’t wait to escape years earlier, and now I absolutely love going back there.

KS: How has your imagery changed in the past few years?

AB: I think my imagery remains personal, but perhaps is more psychological in nature these days. My influences have evolved but I’m still very much inspired by film, music, and of course, photography.

KS: Given the obstacles that most of us face as artists, it can be a struggle to make the time and space to create new work. How do you balance your personal and professional time?

AB: I have two jobs, so making time for my own projects means a lot of late nights and spending my day off working on scanning, printing, and editing. I’m still trying to figure out that balance with my personal time.

KS: Can you tell us what to expect in the next few weeks of your residency?

AB: I’m working on a batch of prints during my residency so I can start editing my new work. I’m also going to make exhibition and portfolio prints.

Be sure to stop by the lab and meet Amanda during her Monday work sessions.

Her work is also on view at SF Camerawork in Transient States, through August 25.

Damien “DEMO” Loyola

**Sadly, the intro writing for our recent interview with local photographer Damien Loyola was lost in a web server failure. Below is his original interview text and images.**

Kim Sikora: I’ve read that your inspiration comes from “the things you can relate to.” When you first started out photographing, what things did you first gravitate towards?

Damien Loyola: Yes nothing else moves me, I was instantly drawn to up close and personal street style documentary work. Before that I had been photographing the side profiles of vehicles for a site I had created it was boring but it was business.

KS: A lot of your images seem to have storied narratives behind them. Can you tell us a bit more about a few of these?

DL: This is Concord, CA, Mohr Ln AKA Dope Lane, and Monument Blvd rain or shine we were on the block 8 to 15 deep. I’ve seen a lot here, though its the suburbs. We’ve been shot at here, dopefiends run out their apartments after being awake for 5 plus days on meth, I learned how to cook crack here (I never sold it), I met my best friends here and lost close ones. The point is, I wanted to give Concord its respect because it also shaped me and helped create my style.

DL: This one is in Respect to the graff game where I fit right in after meeting some homies at James Lick Middle School back in 1994 much love to them some got deported,some are doing time,and some are still in frisco.

KS: Do you see any trends in the local photography scene?

DL: …Railroad tracks and women posing in front of graffiti. I’m not going to front, this ones cool but being a graff artist, the artwork is the focal point, not the partially naked woman taking up half the lens. It can take hours to days to create a piece on a wall so show that talent.

KS: What is one thing you want your viewers to walk away from your photography with?

DL: One word “Inspiration”

See more of Damien’s work here.

Jon McNeal Shoots our Everyday Unravelling

Jon McNeal was a participant in this year’s Spring Open Studios through 1890 Bryant. One of the reasons I always love these events is the change you can see between years. I love Jon’s work, and it was great to see the direction he’s moved in since last spring.

I am always drawn in by the vast spaces Jon shares in his images, and the weight of their presence in a room. His landscapes seem to open up and unfold as you would see them in person. Each place seems as familiar as my own environments, even those that are, in fact, completely alien terrain.

Jon recently self-published a book of his work, including many of the photographs seen here.

Kim Sikora: I’m sure, like most of us, you have a point in time where photography caught a hold of you. When did you become a photographer in earnest?

Jon McNeal: I’ve had an interest in photography since childhood, but it took some time for me to become a photographer. When we went on family vacations growing up my father always had a 35mm film camera. He would shoot mostly slide film, and we would have slide shows at home after the film came back. As a kid, the fact that you could shine light through a little piece of plastic and have a luminous image, and a memory, appear on a wall was pretty magical. I was fascinated by the fact that an instant in time and personal experience could be embedded in something and then recreated and shared with others.

When I went to college in Houston, architecture studio classes required us to research project sites which included taking documenting photographs. I wasn’t trying to be artistic by any means, but it lead to discussions about composition, color and lighting in photography, and it elevated my interest in the medium.

I subsequently had an internship in Genoa, Italy. Weekdays were all work, but on the weekends I had little money and no obligations, so I would hop on the train and take pictures of the hundreds of cities and villages that were within easy reach of Genoa.

I shot about 50 rolls of film in my two years there, so it was clearly something I enjoyed. My interest and habit have continued to grow steadily ever since.

KS: How has your imagery changed in the past few years?

JM: It’s pretty common for artists to develop a series, but I’ve only recently started shooting work with an eye for how it might fit into a larger body with a specific subject. This has caused me to be more selective in shooting and editing. It’s made me work harder for an image… waiting for light, researching sun angles and weather, and carrying more of the gear to pull it off.

It goes back to the documentary nature of photography that interests me the most. I think one of the best ways to describe the feeling of a place is through providing information, texture and detail, which is best conveyed in a large print.

KS: A lot of your imagery has an otherworldly quality to it. Can you tell us a bit more about your shooting process?

JM: I think my process is rooted in a documentary point of view. It’s what first attracted me and keeps me interested in photography as a medium. With the landscape, water, and built environment work I’m not trying to inject my personality into it. I want to let these places and moments speak for themselves, so that the viewer can make as direct a connection as possible to the setting.

As for the otherworldly quality, I think it may be because I’m interested in the environments that lie just at the margins of the everyday, or enable our everyday; they’re a mix of the familiar and strange. I think these transitional environments can tell us a lot about what we as a society value: where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Generally I want a viewer to recognize at least one element in a photo, but I want to avoiding being didactic about why it is the way it is. It creates a deeper bond when viewers search for their own understanding of what’s generating the scene. Extreme examples don’t interest me as much; they’re too spectacular, too disconnected from our lives to be as informative of our immediate, ‘normal’ surroundings.

KS: How did you decide when and where to shoot? Do you always set out with a particular image in mind, or are some of these “happy accidents”?

JM: I would love to be able to support myself as a photographer full time, but until then my shooting time is limited. For now, this limitation may actually be a good thing; it makes me disciplined as I know I have such a brief time to capture images.

I plan my shoots carefully, figuring out how long we have to drive, where to grab a meal along the way, what the moon and sun are doing at what time, how many days/hours/minutes I’ll need, and what the typical weather conditions will be. In spite of the planning, it’s humbling for me that these are often the least successful images!

The shots that I enjoy taking the most are often the ones made on the way to our ‘destination’. This often involves my wife and me happening upon and driving past something that we find amusing and doubling back to shoot it as quickly as possible, since I’m still trying to maintain my schedule. There’s no self-imposed pressure or preconceptions for these surprise subjects, so if they’re unsuccessful, it’s not as disappointing.

KS: What has your biggest challenge been?

JM: Having time to shoot more. Being available to shoot when nature’s light is most interesting is a constant challenge. It would be a luxury to be able to spend several days at a given location, really getting a sense of a place and its light. In the meantime, I’m enjoying shooting within a few blocks of where we live for those reasons, but I would love to be able to expand that intimacy to other geographic areas too.

I would love to have more time to shoot some of the delta cities, like Antioch, Martinez, Benicia. They’re at the physical and economic edges of our region and represent some of the fundamental challenges facing the Bay Area and California at large.

KS: Can you talk a little bit more about your recent work?

JM: In an attempt to bridge landscape and portraiture, I’ve been developing a series on tourists. As a landscape photographer I am fascinated by the primal experience of seeing a place for the first time. Witnessing others doing the same is a means of capturing that sense of wonder and curiosity. More importantly, a tremendous amount of cultural information can be found in observing this moment.

For me, observing their behavior is a perfect mirror to the challenge of photography, and it simultaneously helps me to discover more about a place and our role in it.

KS: A lot of photographers struggle with the balance of personal work and commercial work. How do you make the time and money to photograph consistently?

JM: I am an architect, and am fortunate enough to work for a firm that has stayed busy over the last few years. It’s allowed me to take one or two small photo trips per year and covered costs for modest equipment improvements. I’m certainly not at the point where photography alone could serve as my primary income.

The good news is that these two pursuits are similar and symbiotic. Architecture is a very long process; it takes a tremendous amount of time to design a building of nearly any size or quality. A project’s concept can be set in place fairly early, and you will work for years to make every detail support that concept; creativity comes in solving a series of small problems to realize a harmonious whole.

Because I have a day job that is demanding, it makes me savor my time to photograph. I go out shooting whenever I can, usually at least 1 day per weekend, and am always planning some sort of photographic excursion… even if it won’t happen for a while, I’m thinking about it.

KS: Is there a new project you’re working on you’d like to tell us about?

JM: I am sending out grant proposals right now for a project to document the infrastructure of the State Water Project, the most well known part being the California Aqueduct. It’s literally transformed the economy and the terrain of the state, and has fueled a majority of the population growth in the southern portion of the state for the last 30 years. I want to show what has made that possible, why it has been successful and why it will always be controversial.

Of course, at some point this game of chicken with the state’s water is going to end…so I want to use photographs to make predictions of the consequences.

It’s very ambitious in terms of geographic scope, time, permissions/access, and budgets… much larger than any single project I’ve undertaken to date. I’m very excited about it and hope to be able to start shooting in earnest this fall.