Based in Richmond, Virginia, Justin James Reed’s work and artists’ books have been exhibited widely. He is a member of the international collective, Piece of Cake, designs and develops projects with the Brooklyn based publisher Horses Think Press, and an Assistant Professor of Art Foundation and Photography & Film at Virginia Commonwealth University, School of the Arts.
Justin James Reed
Justin James Reed was chosen by Mexican photographer Alejandra Laviada
Laatikkomo’s interview with Justin James Reed October 17th, 2013
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
JJR: I was born in Portland Oregon but spent the first few years of my life in a small town called Boring. After that I moved around the US to California, Washington, Connecticut, Minnesota, Idaho, Pennsylvania, and now Virginia. More than anything this ongoing experience of flux and change has engrained in me a constant sense, even need, to explore and find myself in new places.
L: What is your earliest memory of landscape?
JJR: I think my first memory of landscape is not my own but a story that my mother told me about Mount St. Helen’s, which is located in southwestern Washington. We lived on the side of a hill facing the volcano and were in our garden during the 1980 eruption, I was just over 3 months old. Of course I cannot personally remember this event, however, when I travel back west every summer I make an effort to see the mountain if I am in the area. The vision of it erupting fills me with an unending sense of awe and I cannot help but think that perhaps some part of my subconscious was imprinted with this event.
L: When you create an image, are you thinking about landscape as a visual or is the landscape a means for you to bring up other topics?
JJR: This question is in many ways central to my work. I am very interested in the push and pull between representation and metaphor in photography. Trying to break or shift the illusionary qualities of the medium is key for me and a fundamental part of my process. Therefore, I am entirely interested in using the landscape as a device to talk about concepts and ideas that are not only visually present in the place but encoded in my impression of it. For me landscape offers a wonderful venue to project my personal interests upon and explore the possibilities for picture making.
L: The titles of your work often add a whole new dimension to the visual image. Do you use words as a starting point when beginning a new project?
JJR: When initially conceiving a project I enjoy a period of unknowing, where I allow the work itself to reveal where it will take me. During this time I typically have a few words in my head, denoting a general concept or feeling. These act as a guide for where to point the camera, I use them as a device to begin understanding how the visual world translated through photography will form an idea.
L: Your images are very carefully composed, many have geometrical aspects and you have also given a lot of attention to colour and shades/tones. Everything looks planned and well thought out, is experimentation or haphazard chance also involved in your process?
JJR: I come from probably the last wave of students who learned photography almost entirely in an analogue setting. It was only right as I was finishing undergraduate studies that digital technology was starting to become a primary component of the curriculum. I think this probably had a strong influence on how I think about using the camera and color in particular. Beyond this though I shoot exclusively with a 4×5” large format camera on film. Inherently I believe this camera demands a slowing down of the process of looking and requires a certain degree of patience. Shooting on film is also it’s own discipline and I am constantly experimenting with exposure to achieve an element of photographic seeing that I believe is a unique part of the material.
L: Your images are very still, and there is something eerie about them that I cannot quite place: a feeling of unease. What feelings or sensations to you want to communicate through your work?
JJR: Hmmm, that is interesting. In some ways I wonder if this feeling you are talking about is something photography does by itself and I am just accentuating it through my pictures. My practice has been expanding quite a bit lately, incorporating many different mediums and forms of production. So when I use photography now, I am using it for a specific reason, not just because it is my chosen field. What I mean by this, is that I think it is critical to consider what the link between concept and material is when making work, and for me photography does some things very well and others not so much. Therefore, if there is an overarching feeling or effect in my pictures it is because that is how I want photography to work for my ideas.
L: Could you list 5 (or more) words that you were thinking about when you made this work (shown in Laatikkomo)?
L: Do you consider your work as environmental or in someway actively involved in the politics of nature?
JJR: Absolutely, it is inevitable when photographing out in the world that work will carry a trace of politics. I believe it is almost impossible to be an artist today and not have an element of this in your work, considering what is happening environmentally, socially, and culturally. That said, some of my work addresses this implicitly, especially when taking photographs of undeveloped real estate sites or suburban sprawl. However, even within these and my current series I am not interested in solely engaging the political. I am much more interested in perception itself and how to involve a viewer in the act of looking. From there I think that broader notions will be revealed. A lot of the time though, this is the viewer bringing that reading to the work and setting the scene for that to happen is very important.
L: Seeing as landscape or maybe more accurately nature, plays a large role in your work, what current environmental issue are you most interested in right now?
JJR: I recently traveled to Detroit for the second time and am increasingly fascinated with the issues present there. It is an almost post-apocalyptic urban landscape that on one hand is being reclaimed by nature and on the other being re-imagined as a site for an entirely new way of living. The urban farming, bartering and other systems that are being put in place are inspiring and raise important questions about what the future may look like, especially in a post-capitalist world.
L: Thank you so much Justin James Reed!