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© Christian Patterson, “A Crowd Gathers (Verso)”, from the series “Redheaded Peckerwood”

Christian Patterson discusses his project and book Redheaded Peckerwood in conjunction with the Crime Unseen exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Watch the video here. Take also a look at the recently expanded selection of images on Christian’s website.

In 2010, more Americans lived below the poverty line than at any time since 1959, when the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting this data. Last January, TIME commissioned photographer Joakim Eskildsen to capture the growing crisis, which now affects nearly 46.2 million Americans.

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Valerie Schmidt was born in 1982. She lives and works between Düsseldorf and Berlin.

1. When did you first get interested in photography?

Actually it was at a party when I was 17, where I met a girl, that snuck around, taking pictures of the dancing people. I watched her move around, then she approached me, taking pictures of me with an easiness and impertinence, that impressed me.
We became friends and she introduced me to photography as a way of portraying people in all kind of situations. Before that, I drew, but as I wasn’t very good at it, I then started working with photography and found it most suitable to visualise my perspectives. Since then I focused my work on portraits.

2. The viewer’s perception is one of the most important aspects and points of departure for your work. How much do you think about the viewer while working on your series?

During the shooting, I don’t think about the viewer at all, but only crave for a good picture. When I edit my images, the perspective changes and I become the viewer, so I choose the ones, that I find most intriguing and believing, ignoring the making process.
I also ask the people around me for their opinion, because I find it interesting to hear different stories, deduced by the photographs. My images are supposed to address the viewer’s empathetic perception, in order to question any affective logic of dramatic emotion and to describe it. My photographs are not “real” or “true”, but are references to reality. They are merely an outline for the look of emotional instability.

3. Your work is a collection of staged portraits, intense and emotional, sometimes disturbing, because they show us a state of human confusion and weakness. When and how did the project “Figures of Affect” begin?

I was interested in fleeting moments and tried to carry around my camera all the time, to not miss any. I always felt ashamed to take pictures of people without asking and I was unsatisfied with the often blurred photos. In 2007 I started to stage “fleeting and intimate moments”, and realised that I could understand what really happened better while being there, instead of just taking someone’s picture without asking and then contemplating about it. The viewers had their own opinion about the images too, also ignoring the truth behind them, but inventing their own.
In 2009 I graduated with a work about hysteria, because I wanted to explore visual outbursts, relinquished gestures of absolute expression. In the group of works called “Figures of Affect”, I focus on the scope of extreme emotional behaviour, it’s vagueness and the contradictory effects. It is a collection of  loud and quiet moments,  in which mental expressions are fused into a representational form. These images are only exerpts or fixed images of running actions.

4. What do you look for in an image?

I am looking for images, which seem instantaneous and alluring, but are not clear without ambiguity. The images are supposed to be an encounter with an ambiguity of mental expression, rather than function as a likeness of the persons. I like the photo to be close enough to the displayed situation, in order to follow it. Also I prefer pure colours, natural light and a reduced composition. They should keep a natural and photographed look, as they would’nt work as high-end photoshopped images.

5. How do you develop people’s trust?

That works very naturally. Of course, we talk before and get to know each other a little, before I pull out the huge black camera. I speak very openly about what I do and let them decide what they want and not want to do.
I don’t hide behind the camera, but let them see my face once in a while. Through the close distance the whole situation usually becomes very intimate.

6. How do you approach your subjects, how much do you direct them?

There is a starting point which I assign and from there we usually let it run. We mostly develop the outcome of the situations together. I give directions, when I feel I need to, but mostly I switch into the role of an observer after a while. I don’t want to freeze their movements, so I encourage them to move, breathe and blink. Also, instead of putting everything into words, I demonstrate some acting and movements myself, to understand how it could work. It’s a very physical performance in fact. During the shooting, I try moving with them, rather following them. I get quite tensed, while shooting, because I get drawn into the spectacle. Also, time is most important while taking the photographs. There needs to be time to change things around and let loose.

Did you do a particular research for staging your subjects and let them act those states of mind?

Although I research and prepare for my projects, the practical instructions I give are mainly physical ones and often spontaneous. Facial expression gets really dramatic when the body is really in action. Just pretending to look tired often doesn´t really work. When I worked with dancers and actors, I was amazed by their ability to create expression through simple bodily exercises. I got to know some mentally disturbed people, but mostly they didn’t act out. Most of my inspiration I get from just watching people of all ages, but especially children. I am fascinated by extreme behaviour though, like temper tantrums, total exhaustion or laugh fits. I did some research about hysteria and George Didi Hubermann’s “Invention of Hysteria”, Duchenne de Boulogne’s  “Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine” or Fritz Möller’s “Physiognomische Studien” were important books for my research. Also David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks ” is an inspiring collection of hysteric actions.

7. What are you currently working on?

I currently work with children and follow their acts and plays, which are quite bizarre sometimes. I focus on the most exciting and most exhausted moments during the plays. Children are a huge influence for my work. They invent roles on their own and do incredible things, if they want and when you let them. I am very surprised sometimes, what they come up with. Having fun and acting crazy can totally look the same.

All Images © Valerie Schmidt. All rights reserved.

Keliy Anderson-Staley‘s new project on Kickstarter: Imagined Family Heirlooms: An Archive of Inherited Fictions

On the occasion of the launch of Keily’s kickstarter project, we’ve asked her a couple of questions:

1.When and how did the project begin?

My “Imagined Family Heirlooms” project evolved out of my work with the wet plate collodion tintype process. I worked on a color project about the part of Maine where I grew up called “Off the Grid” for a number of years, but I was learning the wet plate process at the same time and started shooting portraits. I have photographed thousands of people now, and the plates fill a huge wooden filing cabinet in my studio. It occurred to me that I was collecting images I had made of other people in this old process at the same time that I was going to antique and junk stores and buying old tintypes, albumen prints and knitted doilies. How could these images of strangers end up in my hands? Why were families getting rid of portraits of their great-grandparents? Was it that the people in those photos were as unfamiliar to the people who found them in an attic or a shoebox as they were to me? Even the most striking image of a person–a loving couple, a stern father, a death photo of a baby–means nothing without the family stories that give it context. The found photographs can be beautiful. We can be struck by the artistry of the photographs, but they have lost their purpose–to preserve a person’s likeness for posterity. This project fills those gaps, but in a purely imaginative and playful way. I group images–those I’ve found and those I’ve made–with other found heirloom objects like quilt pieces or photograms I’ve made of those heirlooms in other historic processes. There is no logic necessarily to how I group them–but they must look good together. In that sense the aesthetic dimension of the images trumps the histories they were meant to convey. The viewer is confronted with photo collections that are at once familiar and alienating. This isn’t their family represented, but it isn’t really someone else’s either. It is the idea of family–specifically the idea of family that old photographs communicate–that is ultimately represented by the installations.


2.I think that working with the tintype process and using an old large format camera is important to investigate about photography in general and about its limits, but maybe there are also many other emotional components by using this camera. How much is the medium important to you for this project?

I have always been interested in the history of photography, in how instrumental photography really was in changing the way people saw the world and themselves. In the 19th century photography very quickly became a way for middle class people to have portraits of themselves the way aristocrats had had them for centuries with oil painting. It changed the way people thought about their family histories, their place in society, their sense of ethnicity and heritage. This project plays with that aspect of photography–it brings the popular and personal dimensions of photography that have been there since the beginning to the foreground. Fine art photography and the private portraits of individuals and families have, of course, diverged. Maybe they are farther apart than ever, even as digital technology levels the field once again. Right now, though, with a recent resurgence of interest in historic photographic methods we can see the entire history of photography being practiced all at once. I am interested in that layering of techniques over time, the way families can see the entire history of photographic technology in their own collection of photographs. Who we believe ourselves to be, or our ancestors to be, has a lot to do with the media through which we view them. For all these reasons, I feel it is essential for me to be making work in this process, and for this process, the oldest represented in the project–and a process which is capable of producing such beautiful and striking portraits–to be my primary addition to a collection of found images. On a personal level, I love the hands-on experience of working with chemistry and the large format cameras with their adapted wooden backs. I love seeing the portrait develop instantly and the permanence of that image preserved on the surface of the metal.

3.Did you choose particular subjects for your portraits? What kind of relationship do you have in the moment of making a photograph?

I try to not single out particular subjects or types of people. They usually come to me, and occasionally, as was the case with my residency at Light Work in Syracuse, hundreds of people from within the community volunteer to participate in the project. I like that this project has been able to reflect the diversity of America without deliberately having to pursue that diversity. I often very quickly develop a rapport with my sitters. The process is maybe more intimate than other photographic experiences. The lights I use are really bright, and the camera is often pulled in close. I often let the sitters come into the darkroom to watch the plate develop as well. They can immediately see their portrait, and I like being with them as it first appears. They are always surprised by their appearance, by the fact that they are thrown into the past, that they look ghostly as they develop, and once the image appears, that they could be seeing their own ancestor. When we have all seen thousands of photographs of ourselves, it is refreshing to be able to see ourselves in a photograph in a new light. One of the thrills of the process for me, is being able to offer this experience of seeing themselves differently to my sitters.

All Images © Keliy Anderson-Staley. All rights reserved.