Interview with Joseph Podlesnik
by Christina Foard
October 21, 2017
(Christina Foard is an University of Georgia MFA program student, researching artists toward her degree work. She's decided
to utilize her extensive Facebook network and interview contemporary artists with whom she has virtual relationships.)
CF: I know you have a history as a painter, but for now, I’d like to talk about your recent photography. I think you bring a painter’s sensibility to your images, which is what struck me about your work immediately. Can you detail the link between painting and photography? …And discuss “seeing” as you understand it.
Yes, I’m trained in drawing and painting and, like many, have used photographs as sources from which to draw and paint. I think it was when I started using photography to teach design fundamentals that I started to try my hand at taking photographs. Clearly I come to photography through a painting/graphic/pictorial background, as I'm finding satisfaction from wrestling with shapes observed in my viewfinder, with no overt social overtones to my images. Through the camera, I'm searching for solutions to formal/compositional and expressive pictorial problems. Regarding “seeing”, for me there’s physiological, mechanical “seeing” (how eyes function and how signals are sent to the brain making optical vision possible); then there's the psychological aspect of ‘seeing” (or attention), which is noticing, attending to and ignoring things, distinguishing between things - seeing “wholes” or gestalts, seeing relationships between events and not just seeing single, isolated, nameable objects. For me - order, harmony, contrast and compositional structure is as important as a documentary use of a camera.
CF: Your compositions are extraordinary. How do you find them, what do you look for in a given scene? Are your compositions sometimes determined back in the studio when you might crop and further refine a shot? Or are they always determined on site?
My attention to photographic subjects is all over the place. This is not to say that I don’t look for certain subjects. After I discovered an affinity for photos of myself obscured and reflected in windows, I deliberately pull into shopping malls, walk along and point my camera at store windows, myself unseen/obscured and reflected, looking for inter-relations of 3 elements in the camera viewfinder: 1) an interior space (seen through a window or whatever I’m pointing my camera at), 2) part of myself reflected, 3) the environment behind me. For me, all three need to work together for the picture to work. When not taking these types of photos, I'm open to most anything, not tied to one "project" theme; I suppose themes of society, politics and identity, etc are, to a degree, already implicit in the photographs one chooses to take, it's difficult to avoid them (it might be a matter of the degree to which they appear). All of my pictures are composed/captured on-site, then in post I selectively lighten, darken, adjust color, sometimes crop and even edit out small unnecessary elements.
CF: When you work with reflection in glass, your compositions become much more complex. Can you talk about the process of seeing as you move from simple and stark imagery, to more complex color and shape combinations?
Yes, I’ve learned (from looking at other photo works) that images with reflections offer the flat, 2D emphasis that I am interested in - the idea of fracturing, flattening, contradicting the easily-gotten spatial perspective that is captured by the camera lens. The complexity of reflection images gives me an opportunity to treat photography as a way of exploring the contradictory nature of "seeing" itself and not just as a mechanical approach toward documentation.
CF: The series in Phoenix is particularly powerful as you use architecture and shadow and color and composition in profound and precise ways. Can you talk about the specifics unique to the Phoenix area that inspires images otherwise impossible elsewhere?
I’m guessing the light has something to do with the surge in my picture-taking in Phoenix, but this increase might also be coincidental to my interest in taking pictures intensifying around the same time as my moving to another place (Phoenix), I’m not sure. But the light, ahh, the light here, exposes everything, there’s no escaping it, no place for things to hide. This searing “exposing” light might just be an appropriate analog for photographic activity.
CF: When shifting your focus from painting to photography, did you have any noteworthy challenges or opportunities that surprised you in terms of your career risks?
When I made the shift, I think it was so gradual I’m not sure I noticed it (going from one camera to another, gradually upping my time behind the lens and shutter, etc.). Career, as such, really didn’t enter into it all (at least consciously), as I don’t really take photographs as a “career”, since I’m fortunate to support myself teaching art foundations full-time.
CF: Do you currently paint, and if so, how does your photography feed your painting?
I confess I haven’t painted in 3 years, but I still draw.
CF: How has the Internet affected your work?
The Internet does affect how I feel toward and treat photography, in that I tend to think of the photographic image, how it looks, as on an illuminated screen and not as a physical, printed entity. Many a seasoned photographer has scolded me on this.
CF: Do you listen to music as you work?
I’m addicted to music, many different types, for many reasons: thematic, compositional (structural) and many times extra-musical (i.e., personal memories which music evokes). I listen to music in the car while driving around, looking for motifs/configurations. It may be that it puts me into a state conducive to taking pictures, I’m not sure. I also listen to music often when processing/developing my digital images.
CF: Whose photography inspires you? Whose painting inspires you at the moment? Are there any artists who have helped you see differently?
Many photographers. For the most part, I tend to lean toward the more or less “straight” documentary photo practitioners. Photography is a language; strings of photo images influence where, how and when I bother to takes pictures; it colors what I deem picture-worthy, etc. The photographs I admire and study are the works which guide me when I go out into the world: noticing, noting things long enough to stop and point the camera at them. James Elkins’ reductive and “badly behaved” book, What Photography Is, might have influenced me, too, in ways I’m not sure I can articulate.
CF: How has social media affected your career as an artist?
I have Facebook and Instagram accounts. Without realizing it, I’ve been using my photo posts on Facebook as a kind of chronological system. If I need to find an image, say, for inclusion in a book or in a show or if a buyer is interested in purchasing a print, usually the date on which I posted the photo isn’t too far from the date on which I captured the image, so this helps me track down the RAW or TIF file of a photo. Through Facebook I’ve gained some recognition: perhaps your appreciation of my work on Facebook might be one example? Through exposure on social media I’ve been invited to teach some workshops and have sold dozens of prints of my photographs. I don’t experience as much interaction through Instagram.
CF: If you could collaborate with someone, who would it be?
At some date, I may be collaborating with painter Jenny Nelson in a kind of painting/photo two-person show. Jenny has made it known publicly that my photo compositions have inspired several of her paintings.