Chatting with Taj Forer




I like what Taj Forer is doing with his photographs so I decided to talk to him about it. First we tried emailing questions back and forth and quickly opted for a less formal online chat. What follows is the result. My comments in yellow, Taj in white.


One of the things that touches me about your work is it makes a simple act monumental and important. I’m curious what your thoughts are on that and how much was of that was a strategy or simply how the pictures function?

Yes, this aspect of my work is very important to me. I am so pleased to hear that it functions in this capacity for you (I’m not sure it does for everyone as many people don’t spend enough time with my work to recognize this). While I wouldn’t necessarily refer to it as a "strategy", I would suggest that it represents the way in which I perceive the act or space being depicted. In a world as bleak as ours, I take comfort in simple acts that represent alternative ways of thinking, acting, being, etc. that suggest hope and represent a glimmer of positive change from the awful norm. For this reason, my respect and admiration comes through in the way in which I photograph. For example, the photograph of gardening tools on a bench in southern California represents this type of ‘monument’ for me. I found this pile of well-used (and clearly loved) gardening tools adjacent to a small backyard garden plot at a grade school. I was so overwhelmed by the statement that these gardening tools made that I had to photograph them. Its as if the tools are saying "look, someone is taking the time and energy to grow their own food right here in this small open space surrounded by the overdeveloped Californian landscape – take note! Its basic, anyone can do this!" I was moved and in awe – so, I made a photograph to tell the story of which I was a part; to create a monument.

AIM IM with Taj Forer 11/27/07 6:05 PM

How are things?

good – crazy busy

Was the europe trip photographing?

no – i was there for paris photo
some shooting

Wow. How was it?

amazing.

I’ve never been to that one

the european audience really looks at the work.
watching the attendees was incredible – so much time spent with each photograph. who knows if they were buying

Hmmm…so they’re possibly not just looking for decoration?

plus the whole experience was pretty romantic – it being in paris and such an international affair

Very cool

yes. your lectures went well?

They’ve been going real well. I used to play music in bands a lot and as of late the lectures feel are like those shows where everything is on.
The meeting with students as well (which is usually a big part of the lectures) gets right down to it and I’m amazing to really feel like I can help the students. Somehow something gets through.

very cool. that makes sense. i have to admit, it feels a little backwards to have you interviewing me! i’m a big fan of your work so this is an honor

Yes it is odd. But fun. I’m a big fan of interviews.

nice. the student meetings must be inspiring. i’m teaching some undergrad classes @ UNC – chapel hill
right now and its pretty interesting.

How do you like it?

its fantastic
you know, the pain in the ass students who don’t want to work nor be there are challenging at times but for the students who are hungry for it – its amazing

Exactly.

its a very REAL experience
critiques are the best

Yes very hard work.

agreed

very. But it seems more apparent that teaching these days is a big form of activism.
To simply care means something.

yes yes yes, in this day and age education is perhaps one of the most powerful forms of activism we have

Which is why I wanted to talk to you about your work.

nice segue

like that? It seemed clear to me off the bat that this wasn’t some project made ‘in a style’ for it’s own sense but there is a real sense of concern for what’s in front of the camera.

yes – that is absolutely accurate. i loved your first question / comment about my work that you e-mailed early on
this work allowed me to slow down and recognize simple acts as monumental statements – direct action – utopian thrusts in a bleak world

Well it’s like we were saying about teaching, simple acts can have a rippling effect.

yes. like planting seeds – good seeds, when cared for, bear good fruit

Wow. Have you ever read this essay from the book I mentioned ‘Conversations Before the End of Time’…

no but i will

It’s an interview with 2 artists,sculptors Rachel Dutton and Rob Olds from Los Angeles.
The author Suzi Gablik interviewed them about their art practice at a time of crisis.

that’s our time alright

(i.e. current events, environment)

i’ve got to read this – thanks for the suggestion
these are scary times. very scary

Your pictures made me think of this because in it, the artists describe giving up things.

interesting. i’ve been thinking about the notion of ‘sacrifice’ recently.

In their interview they describe actually selling all their belongings, everything and they leave modern Los Angeles and head out to the desert. They give up their art career, everything.

i suppose i’m not surprised – someone awakened to environmental issues and cultural ills might have a difficult time thriving in LA

What they discovered was that they were still experiencing the world as art events.

i haven’t spent much time there but it seems challenging, amazing

So simple acts like washing the dishes and planting became monumental, important and ‘Art’. Because it is these things which have an impact on the environment.

i am a huge admirer of joseph beuys and that last statement is quite reminiscent of ideas that his work was about (work equals life equals art, etc.)

Indeed

action. a bee making honey – just by living its life

ha!

but its true – i do see simple acts such as growing food in our backyard suburban homes as revolutionary! which is a crazy notion as growing food is one of the most fundamental and basic aspects of civilization! yet – in these times – it is truly revolutionary


So I guess the biggest question, one which I think you’ve gotten at is, is there room for art as activism? Can it make a change? Do we have too high expectations for ‘art’?

it can – i must believe this

Because there is little else to believe in?

as alfredo jaar recently said to me: ‘art is political, social, environmental! if its not, its just decoration’ – i LOVE that quote

yes, i guess so. scary times leave us scrambling for something real – art is real if it is art! that’s my belief. however, there are plenty of people out there making decoration and the public wants decoration – hence, the scary times i guess.
obviously, that’s a generalization as i think there is a growing portion of ‘the public’ who’s eyes are opening – and quickly

Well. Certainly now there is so much talk of ‘art market’. That changes things huh?

the art market – wow. it truly is a market. we need it though just as all artists have need some form of a market to sustain the work

I’ve had some great experiences meeting people who really understand what I’m trying to do in my work, and a few times where people judge the work on # of sales.

amen. i’m having a very interesting experience right now with my show
along similar lines.
i used to be much more critical of the market. while i remain skeptical, constantly questioning, etc. – i see the necessity. we exist within that paradigm.

I think it’s a good paradigm because it still encourages dialogue.

i think that those of us concerned with the world around us and participating in larger conversations through our work we can influence this market. afterall, it is BASED upon our work

yes yes

conversation – dialogue – ideas are born – change begins

If it fails we could go into business selling books about selling.
Woops maybe I am doing that.
So I wanted to switch gears here to talk about some picture strategies here. Your work is in a strong tradition of documentary. But moreso a recent one, one within the last 30 years as opposed to someone like Lewis Hine.

have you read the book ‘collecting contemporary’?

No. I guess I need to.

interesting – take it all with an enormous grain of salt. but it certainly speaks to some of the inner workings of ‘the market. it is interviews with big players (dealers, critics, consultants, auction house folks, etc.) – very very interesting to read as an artist
ok – back to your question above:
yes, i suppose so.

It seems to be a documentary based more on the language of art historical painting with a dash more fiction?

i draw significant influence from the more traditional ‘documentary’ photographers but that word is so so so charged! people get so hung up

Yes. Very loaded.

there’s a whole lot of ‘me’ in this new wave…

You mean a preoccupation with the self?

A true response to the landscape, culture, etc. an engagement with it

Oh ok. Thought we were going Nan here

well, in some cases yes. but in more cases i feel as though there is an autobiographical component to the work.

Nan – amazing and riddled with problems. i guess that’s why we still look at her work and talk so much about her.

Amazing indeed. So what would define the ‘new wave?

i can only speak for myself, but i really explore what i am concerned with or interested in through my photographs. i know this was true for Hine as well
and lange
and evans

And Nan

yes

:0

so i guess that doesn’t set us, as ‘new wave’, apart.

But there is a difference here, is it just stylistic? Aesthetic?

the idea of the ‘objectified’ photograph is just as poignant now as it was then

Evans wouldn’t crop so close?

yes, there is the whole german aesthetic influence that is much more prominent now i guess. as well as what we draw from that american FSA perspective.

Ah.. now that makes more sense.

together perhaps that gets a bit more at the ‘new wave’ – i hate that term but we’ll roll with it

So the visual language of the picture changes a bit, but what the photograph has the power to effect becomes more?

interesting, or just contemporary?
Maybe. i’m not sure. very though-provoking comment

There certainly is more venues than ever for photography.

yes

i.e web, books.
etc.

i can’t help but think: because of the image-saturated culture that we live in today does the photograph have more or less power?

What I always tell people is what is amazing about photography is most people will believe it.

an Evans photograph was certainly one of fewer photographs in the world than one of mine is today. even in this digital age when ‘legitimacy’ or ‘truth’ takes on a whole new meaning. perhaps we are conditioned and it will take time to recondition so as to include the digital.

We still have emotional visceral reactions to images.

yes. there is nothing like a photograph!
it mimics realty too closely to NOT beg a reaction – a powerful reaction that is, assuming someone really looks at the photograph

If done well and if done in this tradition of ‘real’.

yes. and the most interesting digital work is the work that fools me

So for instance the image of yours, ‘To live with you alone’, tells me someone indeed did write this, was there and has this philosophy. It could be all illusion.

wow. yes

But I am moved…. Like crying at movies.

well said. i think that people (those who have taken time to look at photography, engage, but not really really dig in) are confused right now
i’m even confused by a lot of work i see today and my life is photography

Indeed. But are we talking about photography or visual literacy?
(that which is confusing people)

good question. i suppose one exists as part of the other.
how we read images. photograph: photo = light / graph = writing
light writing, so we must read it.

Do you think if one can teach people (back to teaching) how to look at images they will have a better understanding of the world?

interesting. yes i do definitely

No more big mac attacks!
(because it will never look like picture)

exactly
fast food
fast culture
it is pretty simple – just slow down, look, examine, be with the image and listen to it
fast looking

It’s exciting to me that we’re in an interesting time where many things seem up in the air. Do you see others who share the idea of a potential for art photography to have profound effects?

i do. many. it is the boxing in that is causing the biggest problems i think. people who want to label everything keep themselves closed off to these effects that you reference

Yes one venue, art stardom being the only avenue, etc?

yes that’s it. take away the entire ‘art world’ and see who is still out there, dedicating their lives to making photographs – these are the people who’s work really matters today and always

I get the feeling that the people and people in the settings of your photographs would also ‘get it’ because they are also connected to what in the image.

i think that is why i was compelled to make their pictures

To give them a sense of purpose?

purpose. yes, there was a connection – something that we shared. a bigger something. even the children – they understood ‘play’ ‘innocence’ ‘imagination’ in a similar way that i did when i was their age.

So how does Daylight Magazine fit into all this?Is it difficult to juggle? Switch hats from being an artist to a curator, to a writer?

It is a collaborative project with my friend Michael Itkoff. We founded Daylight 4 years ago. As we are both photographers first and editors second, we perceive each publication to be a real curatorial exercise. Speaking personally, this process allows me to explore some of my many interests, photographically, without picking up the camera – researching work aids tremendously in the process of making photographs as it allows me time and space to look at mountains of photographs that others are currently producing in response to issues that interest and/or concern me. In starting the magazine, we were frustrated by the limited number (and type) of publications in the world for emerging photographers and decided it would be worth our time and energy to start a publication specifically focusing on exploring the definition of ‘documentary’. Through constant fundraising, research, conversations and collaborations, the magazine is published twice each year. We are always looking at work – we look at so much photography! Through this process along with an interest in and response to global events, a theme is selected and photographers are invited to be published. We now have a dedicated (small) group of people who help us with everything from design to distribution and without them the magazine couldn’t happen. It has grown quickly and seems to be filling a niche in the world of contemporary photography which is very exciting for us.

2 Comments

  1. Posted December 18, 2007 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    You speak of our times as a time of crisis. When I was in grade school (in the 70s) we practiced hiding under desks in the event of tornadoes or nuclear attack. My point being that every time is a time of crisis. Every artist can choose to respond to their place and time in the world or not. I think both of you are responding to our most recent time of crisis in so totally different yet effective ways.

  2. Posted December 18, 2007 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    glad you posted this, i respond to his work in a couple ways. one, i really understand his artistic sensibilities and think we have a lot in common in that regard. and when i say sensibility i mean both something easily tangible (his sense of space), and something a bit more metaphysical (illusions/allusions created by the space). two, on a personal/historical context; my brothers went to waldorf school, so i understand the people and subjects in his photographs intimately even before seeing them. for me that’s really interesting.

    anyways, thanks for posting this, it reminded me to get in touch with him.

    by the way, we haven’t met in real life, but we have common friends. i’m in chicago for 2 weeks, anything important on a photo level that i should know about? somehow i have a portfolio review at the MoCP, and I’m also printing a lot with Caitlin, so I’ll be around the Colombia area quite a bit.

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