Sunday, August 10, 2008

Michael Bowman (Desolate Places): Spotlight 7 Week 4

Week 4 interview, which featured Duff Suds, now known as Desolate Places.

1) Where are you from originally and when did you first become interested in photography?

I am born and raised in the Hudson Valley of New York. I was born in Peekskill and raised from day 1 in the small town of Cold Spring. I left for a while, but I am currently living there.

I first became interested in photography when I was a kid, messing around with my brother's Polaroid and later his SLR. As I got older the camera became sort of an accessory to my exploring, a way to document buildings and places I found. If I had to point to one moment when I knew that photography would be a lifelong passion it would be the first time that I climbed Breakneck Mountain in the Hudson Highlands as a teen. It was completely accidental, we were in the woods exploring the ruins of the Cornish Estate at the base of Breakneck and ventured too far up a trail. Once we saw how high up we were, we kept going. To make a long story short we ended up at the top of this very large precipice to watch the sunset. Luckily I had my camera with me, no flashlight, but I had a point and shoot. Those are still some of my favorite images, and the experience inspired me to take photography more seriously.

2) What are you thinking and feeling when you're talking to some of these people you've photographed?

It all depends on the person and their story. Since I have been engaging people for portraits I have heard just about every circumstance in life described in detail. From people who have managed to turn their lives around, to people who pray for the end. As a result it can be an emotional roller-coaster, and I have asked myself many times why I seek out these faces and their stories. The closest I have come to explaining it is that in their faces and in their histories I look to find a little bit of the pain that I carry within me…and hopefully by telling their story or by taking an image I can give that some meaning. I can honestly say that in every portrait I take there is a lot of me on the other end of the lens.

3) Your subjects seem like they would be hard to convince to let you take their photo. How do you appeal to them?

I appeal to them by not judging a book by its cover. I have found that the people who seem hard to convince or "unapproachable" are the easiest to get in front of the lens and to relate to. A good example would be the man in "From the depths of my soul" who I encountered not far from my home. When I first asked him if I could take his photo he was adamant that he would never do it. A few seconds later he had changed his mind. I still see him from time-to-time and I asked him once what made him change his mind. His reply was "nobody has ever asked me before."

Other times it's just a matter of sitting and talking to someone. Very rarely do I approach a subject with my camera out. I will sit and talk to someone, sometimes for hours, until they feel comfortable. Don't get me wrong, even then there might not be any way of convincing someone to let you shoot them, but I understand it's their choice and I respect it. What it all comes down to, on the street or in the studio, is whether the subject feels comfortable with the photographer. Being unassuming, non-judging and acknowledging goes a long

And lastly, no matter if your successful or fail, always shake their hand.

4) What do you want people to learn about the people you photograph?

It's not so much what I want people to learn, I just want people to see them. There is nothing like being invisible. Whether someone is sick, addicted, homeless, etc… what it all comes down to is that they are living, breathing people. They are somebody's parent, kid, sibling and somewhere along the line they got dealt a bad hand. It's so much easier to go on with our lives and pretend that these people don't exist. Ignorance is bliss.

Hopefully, by telling a story and taking a portrait it gives a face to someone who otherwise may have faded into history anonymously.

5) Out of the photos we've chosen here, which portrait means the most to you and why?

It would definitely be A man going around taking names. It was taken during my first trip cross country, after I had decided to check out of my normal life for a while. I was trying to sort out my own issues, figure out what I wanted from life and basically break all of the old connections and connotations and start new. I was stopping in every urban area I could find, stopping to shoot portraits of the people I was meeting and about a month into the trip I found myself in Albuquerque, New Mexico in line at a soup kitchen. To make a long story short I was taught a lesson in boundaries. I didn't mind my surroundings, nor listen to common sense and I ended up at the wrong end of a pistol. Anyway, that portrait was the first thing I took after that ordeal. To say that it was a wake up call is an understatement and since then the man in that portrait has always been a reminder to me, a symbol of that point in my life.

6) If you could photograph one living person, who would it be?

If I had been asked this six months ago it would have been Pete Seeger, who lives in the Hudson Valley. Thanks to YES! Magazine that recently became a reality.

Now I would have to say Bob Dylan. I would love to attempt to capture him on film.

7) What's your favorite lens/camera for taking portraits?

For street portraiture I stick pretty much straight-forward with my Canon Xti and the Canon 17-85mm zoom. The funny thing is, I don't go out looking to shoot portraits so my favorite lens/camera is what I happen to be carrying at the time, whether it's the 50mm 1.4 or even the Holga.

8) If we told you that we were going to buy you any camera of your choice, what would it be?

Well if it's on your dime I would have to say a Sinar F1 or F2 View Camera. I had the opportunity to use a large format camera doing Habs/Haer documentation and I would love to experiment with one for large format portraiture.

But I would settle for a Canon Mark II. When can I expect delivery?

9) Show us your favorite photograph on Flickr.

My favorite photograph on Flickr would have to be Tom Stone's portrait of Beavis. It is so raw, so real, so disturbing…and when you scroll down to see him as a young child…so utterly fucking heart-breaking.

10) Are you planning an exhibition with these portraits, or any future projects we'd like to hear about?

In the past I have exhibited some of my portraiture locally and hope to have a small exhibition later in the year here in the Hudson Valley. Although I enjoy displaying my work, my portraits mean a great deal to me…it was an ordeal just to convince myself to display them on Flickr.

As far as future projects, people can look for images from my Pete Seeger shoot in the upcoming spring issue of YES! Magazine as well as more postings on my Flickr space.

A man going around taking names...

...but a comedy to those who think.

Best Foot Forward

Eleanor Rigby

The Drooling Ward...

Face to face with an ancient...

The staring man

Freedom is just another word...

From the depths of my soul

The Rabbi...

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