Photographs ©Ed Panar
When Ed launched his Tumblr, I started to look at his work in a different way. There doesn’t seem to be much logic to what he’s posting, but from my perspective it makes sense. He’s allowing people to look work essentially unmediated. He’s not imposing his projects or sequences. From this perspective, his work takes on a new dimension for me, and after chatting with him about his process, my admiration for his work has only grown.
Through your website and Tumblr, I get the impression that you’re incredibly productive. Are you the type of photographer who has a camera on hand all the time? I get that impression, but I also get the feeling that you’re always going off on expeditions. Do you go out specifically to make photographs, or do they happen more along the way, in the course of life?
I try to do all of the above. I try to be open to surprise, but ironically in order to do that you sometimes have to force yourself to have the camera on hand so that you are ready. I do my best to always have at least one camera with me, even though lately this often means ‘just’ having my camera phone. (One of my tumblr’s (Sun Stood Still) is dedicated to my camera phone shots, which I have been collecting since I got my first camera phone in 2004.) I really enjoy taking pictures in between things or during strange moments when I’m out doing something else, like going to the post office or the bank. I feel that when I’m out with my camera when I’m supposed to be doing something else I am able to make different pictures. And one of my ‘theories’ is that there are pictures everywhere, all the time, so it seems to make sense that I am actively testing that idea out. But I also really enjoy setting out with my camera with the primary intention of making photographs very much as well. Going on long walks with my camera is one of my favorite pastimes. I feel my interest in mixing these approaches is similar to the reasons why I like to use different film formats in some of my projects. Each process brings in another distinct yet subtle layer to the work.
My friend Hin Chua would always say that ‘photographs are everywhere’ and I suppose that also harkens back to Eggleston’s Democratic approach. With this approach it seems that photographers often discover projects or series through editing, and then refine them after they have a decent edit. When you’re out making photographs, are you thinking about projects or series?
This seems like such a straight forward question, but I usually end up thinking about it way too much and give a different answers depending on what I’m working on at the moment. Lately my shooting has been pretty free form and most of the projects I’m working on right now involve pictures I already made. I like to think of shooting as an independent process that I strive to keep as open as possible, and I approach editing in that way as well. But when you really start to look at each step, it becomes apparent that they are intertwined in such a way that it is difficult to locate where each process begins and ends. Shooting is a type of editing and editing is an extension of shooting. You have to review, select, refine and ultimately present what you shot in an interesting way in order to fully articulate whatever it was that you were inspired to photograph in the first place.
You’re receiving a considerable amount of buzz for your new book “Animals That Saw Me.” Did you have a sense that this project would have wide appeal? I’ve read in the ‘Contact Interview’ that you’re not really interested in themes, but this project seems to have a pretty clearly defined theme. Was there any impulse to resist that or did you just at one point realize that you had something pretty unique and funny on your hands?
Animals That Saw Me is an archive project that draws its images from several other ongoing projects. Even though it has a very clearly defined topic, it is not an idea that I thought of and then set out to make photographs to illustrate afterwards. It was only after noticing that I was making these photographs that I became interested in setting them aside as a body of work. The publishers and I had a feeling that Animals That Saw Me might be interesting to people who wouldn’t normally find themselves looking at photobooks. But of course you never really know how things will be received until it’s out there in the world and I am very grateful for the positive response it has had so far. But I suspect it has more to do with the animals in the pictures than me, so I’m careful not to take too much credit here!
I think I resist the idea of themes because for me it seems to imply a preconceived notion of subject matter ahead of time. Maybe it doesn’t have to be thought of in that way, but that’s what the word evokes for me. I don’t work with specific ideas in mind ahead of time and it’s only after years of accumulating and sorting images that patterns emerge and eventually grow into projects. I’m more interested in the inherent openness and mystery of photographs which I believe are essentially anti-thematic at their core. The world itself doesn’t exist as themes or categories, yet we overlay our ideas onto reality like a blanket. But maybe this way of thinking about things becomes thematic itself in the sense of being “a subject or topic of discourse or of artistic representation.” (m-w.com) When you think of it that way, I wonder what couldn’t be considered a theme?
I went to the NY Art Book Fair this year with James Turnley and after browsing through all the books and zines, we both sort of turned to each other and said, “you can literally just throw together a bunch of photographs and you have a book or zine.” Obviously, the work will probably resonate more if more thought is put into it, but there’s no question that photographs can be mixed and matched in an almost endless number of ways. Yet, for the most part the tendency is to categorize or define a body of work by location, social issue, or theme.
Do you think this tendency arises because perhaps there’s this lingering sentiment that we want photography to be something, something like a novel, or a narrative film? I’ve always felt that photography closely resembles music to some degree. When you think about your work, do you think it relates to another medium, like poetry, or music?
It seems like that might be part of it. But I also think it might have something to do with the fact that photography seems to commingle with other mediums in interesting ways. So maybe it’s not surprising at all that we find ourselves confronted with many different blends and approaches to photography when as a means of expression. I think it’s great that anybody can slap together a set of photos into a book today. I love being able to make cheap print on demand books so easily. While it might lead to more viewer fatigue as we struggle to come to terms with the infinite amount of stuff to look at, it also shifts the emphasis onto other aspects of the book making process. Editing and sequencing becomes even more important, along with the overall concept, design and materials being used. Everybody is looking at more things more quickly, and this is undoubtedly changing and challenging the way we look at and think about photographs. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that we’ve seen an explosion of ground breaking photo books (not to mention all the recent revisiting of overlooked classics) made during the same time period that has seen this dramatic increase in the amount of pictures we have access to.
Music is a huge influence and something that I think about in relation to my work in many different ways. Making mixes and playlists that combine disparate and seemingly unrelated genres of music while still having some sense of consistent flow or mood was part of my initial inspiration for creating stream of consciousness edits like Same Difference and Falling Asleep. I also like to think about how music relates to the time and place it was made, and how that compares to the way that time and place functions in photographs. Someone once described my work as “ambient photography” and I really like the idea of that. I just recently re-read an interview with Brian Eno where he defines ambient music as “immersive rather than narrative.” I think that’s a good way to describe the type of photography I’m interested in investigating.
When I look at your work, there’s a certain loneliness and melancholy in the pictures. They can even be downright depressing, which is maybe why I like the work so much! Is that something you notice in the photographs? Another interesting aspect is that your subtle visual humor generally offsets the melancholy which creates an interesting tension in the work.
I do notice this feeling at times, but for me it is always blended with other responses so hopefully it is just one possible way to see the work. As you noted, that is definitely part of the reason why I try to find a balance in the edits with humor so it doesn’t feel too heavy handed or narrow one way or the other. I realize that due to the nature of some of the places I photograph the feeling of sadness and loneliness may be an unavoidable reading to some people, but that certainly is not my primary response. I don’t necessarily find the places I photograph depressing. But I am attracted to the particular feeling of loneliness and emptiness that seems to surround us everywhere in North America. I’ve been curious about how that feeling is different but strangely similar whether I’m hiking in the mountains hundreds of miles away from other humans or on a long walk through Brooklyn. Lately I’ve been thinking about the idea of wilderness, and how some of the characteristics we associate with that concept can be just as easily found in heavily populated places as it might be in truly isolated and remote locations. Some places might justifiably be called depressing depending on your point of view, but they are also just there, indifferent to our opinions about them, and this is what they happen to look like.
This might be a bit too open ended, but I’m curious about what you’ve got planned for the future. I know you’ll be making photographs but do you have any sort of peripheral projects or ambitions? I know some photographs think about making short films, or others have ideas for projects that go completely against their style.
I always seem to have a never ending list of dream projects that I would like to work on in a perfect world, but right now I am mostly focused on photography & book projects. I have done some video and sound work in the past and there is some new stuff brewing in that area that might eventually see the light of day. Also floating around is an idea to develop an absurdist comedy animated series, that seems like it could be a lot of fun!
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