Sunday, February 8, 2009

Momenta // Michael Wesley

Your photographs are long exposures that last between days and years. How do you protect the camera (keep the film from being over-exposed, the camera from being knocked around?
The tripod isn’t a tripod as you know. think more of a steel construction, really rigid and heavy, that is attached to an open location in the building. It is always a different style tripod, and I have to plan for it to sit there "unremovable" for many years, which requires certain structural planning. Neutral density filters keep the material from getting overexposed. but there is no way to calculate the filters, I have to experience the time before I can repeat the shot.
Have you ever come back to a project a few months later and found that the camera had been moved, or finally tried to develop a picture and have it not come out?
There has been little loss of images over all these years. But once in a while there are problems with the tripod, when the house is being renovated, for example. then all sorts of people run around the camera and touch it, hit it. This is why I also like to keep the construction a bit oversized, so that once you see the camera you get the feeling: "do not even try to think about moving me".

These projects seem to require a lot of waiting for the final product. Have you always been patient?
Since I do so many other projects, it is very easy to forget about a camera for a while. but sometimes, in a quiet moment, I think about this or that camera. Sometimes friends ask about certain places they have been (right now it’s mostly at the moma construction site in nyc, where I have 8 cameras). Then I return to the place out loud and also realize how fast time is passing.
How do you think the time that it takes to produce these pictures changes the way you perceive them? That is, how much does the long exposure time enable you to see what time does to the image and to you? Is there a time when you set up a photograph and something happened to change the meaning of the photograph for you?
No change of meaning, but the moma project was kicked off right before september 11, 2001. and for that reason (in the end the images will be exposed for four years), there is an easy link available for talking about the things that have changed since. I love collecting time, so these images give me a lot of satisfaction. Usually photography deals with the exposure time as something very aggressive, because it is about ripping something out of the flow of time. the click and action is very aggressive. In the "low end" photography I do, there is no decisive moment, no aggression, just a special light and a changed space. And this is a big part of my interest, and for that reason I consider my way to be soft and slow.
What are the emotional implications of your work?
Everyone is kicked back to the basic questions of life: the fragility, our limited time frame in eternity. these concepts go along very easily with the images.
This system of photography seems pretty clinical and very organized, but the photographs come out both messy and emotive. Do you agree? Was that what you expected?
I like that regular life is "writing" the photograph. Some lines are added every day and in the end it has a very precise logical appearance, even if it looks totally messed up. We cannot access this logical system, we can only guess. and this guessing is in large part the poetry that, for me, makes these images rich.
You seem to be on a project to shape visual culture. What are the political or social implications, if any, of the images you present?
If you analyze my work long enough, you will reach a level of moral understanding that is very important to me, but not very visible. In fact we all love images because of the voyeuristic qualities the medium gives us. There are two main reasons we love photographs. one is the moral aspect: in real life no one can look at another person’s face for more than a glimpse without being violating or aggressive, so photography is a tool that makes every detail accessible for an unlimited amount of time. The other aspect is the time frame: the 1/100 of a second that it takes to make these moments is not accessible to us usually, since they are so short. So the long exposure times especially, give other qualities to the images. People disappear, only the rigid stuff remains in focus, etc…so the less you see, the more has to happen in your head. these works are a lot about fantasy, individual fantasy, and not so much about voyeurism.
There are a few fundamental differences between Germany and the US –in Germany the fairly large social state pays for university education and for unemployment, whereas in the US many art students are either being supported by their parents or go into large debt afterwards, without much promise of work. Even though the economics are different in Germany, is there pressure from families not to go into art programs for fear that there’s no future employment? Was it hard for you to get employed after you graduated?
It is an international conflict, I think, of parents not wanting their children to become artists, for a variety of reasons, and some just say: okay, it’s your own life. In my family nobody said anything bad about me studying art. I was never employed, I worked as a photographer to survive, which is very easy once you learn the technique. but being paid for my work sufficiently took many hard years.
How was your university experience?
I studied straight photo technique for two years, and spent six years as an art student. It all happened in munich. German schools are usually well equipped and you could work all day if you wanted to. The limitation is more inside of every student. The more active you are, the more fun it is to study art. That way you can get to know your soul mates and have fun with them. This is key: discussing and working hard and a lot.
Have you ever lost interest in photography and regained it? How?
The wish to do good photographs never left me. This is the motor: creating really good images.
Are you still constantly looking for work, commission, projects…?
How does being in the business of visual production change human interactions? Do you feel judged (or encouraged) by the way you look, not just the way the photos look?
The definition of an artist is basically created by society. And it is the opposite of what simple people do: they go to work for at least eight hours a day (artists work sometimes), they have one wife (we always have a lot to make us creative) and they get paid some money at the end of the month (artists get chunks of money for some work), and so on. I survive pretty well. There are days where i feel really weak and then the judgement of others sucks. Usually I am fine and do not care. I cannot care so much about what other people want me to look like. I just try to follow my ideas, no matter what it takes.
One of your current projects is photographing the construction site of the new Museum of Modern Art in NY. Is it exciting to work with MoMA?
Yes. It is a strange project. we are together for such a long period of time (with preparations and so forth, it will be almost six years) which is very unusual. The photo department has almost become an extension of my family, since I go there twice a year to check my cameras.
What do you want to do next?
More photographs in Brazil.

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