INTERVIEW with JOSEPH PODLESNIK
SNAPPED AWAY.com


Can you briefly introduce yourself and your photography style to our readers?

I’m chiefly an art educator, born in the American Midwest; I’ve been teaching visual art since the early-90’s. As for photographic style, I’ll point instead to changes in medium: I’m trained in drawing and painting, but have taken a steady interest in digital photography during the last 5 or so years. I seem to approach photography, or am curious about the photographic medium, in ways that drawing or painting might satisfy me. I admit to having an uncertain relationship with photography.


How did you get interested in photography? And why did you pick photography as a medium and a form
of expression?

When I was 18, I bought a 35mm film camera and was curious about how cameras captured the visible world. Since I never learned darkroom wet processes, I took the film to the lab and it was always exciting to see the results. Actually, in grade school, I loved playing with a friend’s 8mm movie camera, so an interest in photography/cinema was there early on. Later, I started college as a film major, but switched to drawing and painting, as talking/collaborating with others in the filmmaking process was too difficult (I’ve been stuttering, more and less, since childhood, but was acutely self-conscious of it in my twenties). With that switch I found I could connect with others silently, drawing and painting, without the cumbersome intercession of speech. Like many, I used photography as a way to record subjects to paint, to paint from. Then, as a teacher, I started using photography as a way to teach design concepts: in my classes, it seems I wanted more and more to remove students’ personal handwriting from their designs, going from acrylics to paper collage, then eventually to digital photography. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, with digital photography I go out into the world - in what I imagine to be a pictorially receptive state of mind, being open to ways which constitute a “picture” - seeking a range of objects/subjects/compositions/configurations/inspirations that I wouldn’t say I’m inclined to realize with paint at this point, then take the images back to my workspace to sort, review and adjust them.


How did you learn how to shoot? And what did you find the most helpful source of information along
this way?

I confess I rarely hold the camera up against my eye while taking a picture; instead I use the LCD monitor (sometimes flipped out, sometimes not) to frame images. There are several of my photographs, taken at certain vantage points, that I could not have gotten had I held the camera against my eye. Why should photographic images be limited to what can be captured only at eye-level view? That doesn’t make sense to me. What is seen in (and equally important, what is left out of) the frame is what matters most, not conventions of how to interface with a camera. Maybe this is just my inexperience talking. I suppose I learned this though trial and error, as I’ve never had a formal photography course. If and when I enroll in one, I’m sure I can learn things about flash photography and wet processes, things I don’t work with now. My most vital learning resource is of course looking at the work of other photographers. In 2010, I started a Facebook (public) photo album titled “Compendium of Photographic Possibility”, in which I’m compiling many different approaches to photography - https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=503362948&sk=photos&collection_token=503362948%3A2305272732%3A69&set=a.442686992948.239921.503362948&type=3


How about your photography style? Can you describe your journey to where you are right now?

I hope it isn’t immodest to say that perhaps my earlier photo attempts were, say, more prosaic. I am noticing that I’m increasingly questioning the easy way in which the camera lens resolves spatial perspective in pictures – this is why I try to find ways to block or stunt that easily gotten perspective with complex pictorial goings-on, which bring the viewer’s eye stubbornly back to the surface of the picture. I think what also might influence my approach is an art/general studies seminar course I teach titled “The Image the Eye”, based on writings of cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman and art historian E. H. Gombrich. Through the course, the students and I explore larger issues of visual perception, perhaps broader than medium-specific photographic concerns.


How do you work? Are you after a specific project or a single frame? Do you come with idea first or the idea finds you when you are shooting? How do you find your project ideas? Please share your work flow with us.

I’m afraid I don’t work with specific projects in mind at the outset. I think I approach it from the other end; I tend to amass a bunch of pictures, then try to see a pattern (in terms of subject or approach) among them, from which I might define a project. Of course, I have some ideas, some expectations, some sort of mindset when I set out to take pictures, but then I love when those expectations are upset, where I get pictures that I didn’t quite expect. I’m not confident enough to take just one picture of subjects, then move on; I often take many exposures, exploring the motif - approaching it, moving away from it or moving around it, which might yield surprising things in the frame. Perhaps even in the goal of surprise there is some agenda, some expectation involved, as I eventually have to decide whether or not I want to exhibit the photograph.


What is your favourite or memorable project/ photo you have worked on. Why? And also what is the project you will share with us?

My latest project, well - I’m not sure I see definite separations between my “projects” in how I approach them or what I choose to point my camera at - is “Almost Seeing”. For me, seeing through photography is partial and provisional. Maybe this project should be titled “What Looking Looks Like: Taking the ‘Picture’ out of Photographs”. Regarding my “Almost Seeing” photobook project, in which I included several photo self-portraits of a sort, James Elkins has said, “…it may be the occluded self: the seer who is only partly visible, who sees without seeing himself in the lens. Ideas of seeing and hiding organize and motivate many of Podlesnik’s earlier formal experiments." - http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1136199?__r=536625

What do you personally find challenging as a photographer?
Seeing the world anew, framing it and organizing it in pictures, in inventive ways, which also directly/indirectly communicate my views and thoughts about the world. Pictures, of course, can have connotative power; they’re not just black and white or colored patterns - so getting the picture, its formal properties, to support the connotative power of the image is why I’m continuing with it so far. I also try to see photography and pictures as commenting on or reenacting perception itself, rather than serving only as documentation.


Do you have your favourite lens? Why this specific one? Favourite camera?

I wish I could have equipment favorites, but for now I’m limited to the tools I happen to have at the moment. Before I switched to a full-frame digital camera (which I now use, with a 35mm f1.4 lens), I worked for the last 5 years with an APS-C sized-sensor camera, the Fuji X100 with a built-in 35mm f2.0 lens. Lately, I’m interested in the Fuji GFX 50S medium format camera, which just came out in 2017; I’d love to experiment and see what I can get with the extended dynamic range and detailed resolution in such a tool - I’m curious to see what that might open up for my photographs. The last 6 years I’ve been working solely with fixed focal length lenses, so I’ve gotten used to this: when I want to zoom-in or zoom-out while framing, I simply step forward or back.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Name: Joseph Podlesnik
Email: jp@josephpodlesnik.com
Website: www.josephpodlesnik.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=503362948