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Anders Petersen

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Every time i get ready to quit Burn, something happens which keeps me in the game for another 5 minutes…I am sure you can imagine I often have to ask myself “is all this really worth it?”…a pretty typical thought for all of us , most of the time, regarding wherever any of us are putting our psychic energy…so, I really came into Burn 02 thinking , ok this is it…done..finish with flourish

Then I actually held 02 in my hands.  Hmm, THIS is something…THIS is it…and I honestly can say that I could easily (well not easily) rock out at least 10 issues before my feet even hit the floor from a content standpoint…I am in touch with just that many photographers and have so many of the iconics and emerging ready to throw their best efforts into this pot…so that’s nice…at this point in my life, that’s just nice..…i like that….a peer group after many many years can love you or hate you….

At the same time, oddly I have some buying into my “future”…that’s a new one for me…yes, buying work, actually paying me for work that I have not done yet…no, not commissions/assignments, but prints out of my darkroom… selling and the darkroom is still not done yet..a show and book launch at the Australian Center of Photography booked done on for May 2012, and I am on my way out the door to go shoot a chapter of this show/book in a few weeks…nobody is that crazy…curators will be nervous, my friends will abandon me, all stuff I love of course, and then I will ride into town with the show…with work that coulda been better if I had just been organized!!! smiling…

Point is: my time is going 100% into you/Burn and 100% into me and my work…somehow it is possible …I am on it..somehow doing it..comfortably..learned to zen it…minimal stress….not much sleep , but the minute I fall asleep I wake up with a new idea…yet still I cannot help succumb to temptation and let my mind drift into total selfishness to manifest the hell out of my own work ….and yet just about the time i get ready to drop the hammer on Burn, something happens…

Five minutes ago it happened…dammit,yes, one of dozens of emails i get a day to open a link and look at work and 99% of the time it is hard work to look carefully and rarely a spark and lo and behold tonight i open up our friend Jukka Onnela work and just got blown away..I looked at it for maybe 30 seconds tops…ok maybe two minutes tops tops…fast anyway…and I KNEW right away, that I had to publish his book…no, not right now nothing else is right now, but next year or whenever the time is right….Jukka tells me I am the only one who has seen this particular sequence of work…maybe I have that part wrong…but never mind, not important …so dammit, now i am stuck putting all of my energies into somebody else!! his is brilliant work, you will see, you will see…a powerful  extended version of what he had in 01..

So what exactly is the photo/life lesson here?

Isn’t is obvious? Time worn. Works. Every time. Do what you love passionately and pass the baton to others as often as possible. Makes for a better day. Or rainy night.

Or, looking at it another way:

If you can get to a stage in your work and believe you are playing the piano, then you ARE playing the piano.

Just a state of mind, just a state of mind.


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Rowan James

Trespassers Will Be Shot

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This body of work is a photographic survey of the American landscape. It weds traditional documentary photography and my own inclination toward cinematic, or dreamlike, imagery. The project was inspired by years of traveling throughout the country, particularly in the southern United States.

These photographs were shot spontaneously. They demonstrate an intuitive appraisal of their subject matter. While the narrative structure of this work is intentionally abstract, it also presents themes that steadily develop as the series unfolds.



Rowan James is a photographer currently residing in Tennessee. He received a B. A. from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and an M. A. in Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design. His new body of work is a meditation on the American landscape.

Rowan’s photographs have been exhibited throughout the United States including San Francisco, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York.

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yes, Bob Dylan had it right..answers for life tend not to be empirical but rather instinctive gut level decisions based on the moment and circumstance…we TRY to have rules to follow, methods, reason, and sage advice…any of that really work for you? most likely instinctive decisions  seem to play the largest role for most of us…things seem to either go good or bad based as much on the alignment of the moon and stars as on any reasonable “planning”…there is no doubt that man has always tried to “stack the deck” in favor of good outcomes,  and surely this is a noble effort, but i think we all know that fate, whatever that is, has center stage…whatever actually happens can be justified or vilified by any number of philosophies, religions, political beliefs, and/or coins tossed into the fountain…

those of us who rode out hurricane Irene on the coast of North Carolina indeed did have the feeling that we had cast our fate to the wind…yes, we followed all the rules(well, except the “rule” to evacuate)….boarded up our homes, stocked up with food and water , extra candles and flashlights, and then just waited…and waited..and listened ..and felt….and finally became a part of the power of nature…a spectacular and most beautiful power…a power that was actually only destructive for those who had homes built in the known path of hurricanes..those of us who live here take our chances..this cost some their lives, others their homes…

yet all KNEW the worst could happen…intellectually likely to happen in fact…they just hoped and/or prayed it would not happen…Billy and Sandra Stinson are friends on my street and i suppose now ex-neighbors for they surely will not be allowed by town rules to build another vacation home out over the water where they were..their house was totally destroyed by a fast moving wall of water…last year i  photographed Billy and Sandra in their moments of best family joys  in their home and now also  of greatest despair,  but i will not publish this last moment without their permission on Burn , or  in National Geographic where my assignment is indeed right now the Outer Banks..maybe by next spring when my story is due in NatGeo will i seek to publish, for storms are indeed part of the story…but now my role is friend and neighbor more than journalist….the picture i took for  FB and Twitter of Billy and the destroyed house is not the picture to which i refer…

Michelle Madden Smith, above, lives just a few hundred yards from the Stinsons who lost it all…Michelle, who runs my workshop program and my son Bryan’s partner in life, also rode out the storm, but with a happier fate….here shown in 75mph winds in Nags Head….a joyful moment amongst tragic moments for others and part of a 10 picture series i did publish on FB and soon to be part of a new book….in any case, i have ridden out many hurricanes in my life and IF you are not in a vulnerable position from flooding or wind damage, then it is  truly one of the most dramatic living experiences one can have…so, exhilarating for some, and a tragedy for others….

indeed Mr. Dylan, the answer my friend is blowin in the wind, the answer is blowin in the wind…

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Victor Cobo

Behind the Smoke Colored Curtain

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The images that I collect are often as much about myself as they are about the subjects being photographed.  A broad exploration of real and imagined journeys, which often entail not only a physical displacement but also a psychological and emotional passage.

The act of seeking out characters of interest has become a therapeutic process by means of escapism, yet it is also an addiction whereby I can express who I am and delve into my current state of mind.  A deeper representation of my relationship to this vast world we live in.

I am both an actor and choreographer in my photographic diaries and similarly to the subjects I work with, I live on the fringes of society between dreams and memories. For me, the search for my subjects makes me realize they are my reflections and my companions, each one a Dante within a personal inferno. They are the renegades, outsiders and survivors.  In the end, their trials represent all of us and define these moments of solitude that we all experience in our lives.


Victor Cobo (b. 1971) is a Spanish American photographer based in New York City. His works explore our evolving isolation through memory, dreams, sexuality and the translucency of the psyche. Cobo is a self-taught photographer who was originally trained in painting and life-drawing.  His work has been featured in the New York Times Magazine; Newsweek; Time; Surface; the San Francisco Chronicle; Ojo De Pez; Burn Magazine; Leica World; Courrier Int’l.; The Advocate; Private; Foto8; American Suburb X; Idomenee and Eyemazing.  In 2007 he was the winner of the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship. Cobo’s photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally and his work is featured in many private and public collections such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Akron Art Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive and the Amon Carter Museum, as well as numerous private collections.

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The rotating gallery features the work of an emerging photographer as well as an interview with him/her, and will change every Wednesday. The gallery is based off ‘collective curatorship’, where the photographer from week 1 chooses and interviews a photographer for week 2, week 2 chooses/interviews week 3, etc. There is only one stipulation to the process: Next weeks photographer has to be someone he/she has not had direct contact with yet. Ideally, this will take the gallery on a linked tour around the Internet, and exploring and unearthing new photographers as it goes.

This week, Tricia Lawless Murray interviews Shimpei Shirafuji.

Tricia Lawless Murray. I was recently introduced to your work through a mutual friend, Michael Tummings, who is doing a residency in Syracuse now. He didn’t preface the work with anything except that he thought you were doing interesting things and that I might like it. I noticed that you show your work from the series Thank You For Your Hospitality as an installation of prints that vary in size and placement on the wall. I too play with this way of presenting work and am interested to hear how that form of presentation works for you to get your message across and what you are trying to tap into by this sort of visual play?

Shimpei Shirafuji. I find that the conventional practice of displaying photographs uniformly and in a linear sequence over simplifies the psychological space I am constructing. Each image in the space I create represents experiences, perceptions, and preconceived notions about the US. Since I was very little I have thought of this country as representing individualism, freedom, power, wealth and leadership. To a small child who grew up in Japan in the 80’s and the 90’s, the US seemed to be the center of the world politically and culturally. In the process of developing my own identity as a Japanese man while growing up, thinking about the US was inevitable. I could only think about my country in relation to the US. These preconceived notions are still somewhat true and some are changing. However, these preconceived notions are as real and as important to me as my experiences and perceptions of the US. In this psychological space that I’m creating, my preconceived notions, experiences and perceptions are closely integrated together and they are somewhat undistinguishable. Each image in the series holds equal value. I do not want to imply any hierarchy in the work. The space is very subjective and fluid. My method of installation creates rhythm and movement.

TLM. I spent some time going back pages in your blog and I learned that you had come across this Anders Petersen and JH Engstrom book. I recently participated in an Insightsproject workshop that the two of them led in the Canary Islands and found them very inspiring. I am wondering how this book has entered into your thought process and your work?

SS. I’m interested in how a subjective view can be more real than a conventional documentary approach to understanding people or places. I think Engstrom and Petersen both take a very subjective approach to photographing in order to convey a sense of the place that they come from in the book. Moreover, I’m interested in collective story telling. I’m fascinated by how collective subjective views can capture something real about a place or time that conventional documentary media cannot. Since moving to the US, I’ve had countless conversations with many different people, all with unique perspectives. These people come from various regions and different classes. Many of them conflict with each other in their opinions. I want to gather all of these people’s perspectives, stories, and lifestyles in my work while simultaneously inserting my own viewpoints and perspectives. I want to photograph not only as an observer, but also as a participant. It is very difficult to incorporate all these perspectives in the photos, but I want to push my work in that direction now. I’m planning to start by spending more time with certain groups of people such as elderly people in rural regions and teenagers in metropolitan cities and inserting myself into those lifestyles and stories. I think that this collective viewpoint that I strive for adds a sense of complexity and fluidity to the photographs that the traditional documentary style of photography often lacks.

TLM. I was a bit obsessed with JH Engstrom’s work and loved the way he placed really raw black and white photos next to color ones. I am wondering how mixing things up like this works for you and whether it tends to accentuate one work over another?

SS. I like how he mixes black and white photos with colored ones, too. I think of this project, Thank you for your hospitality, as a conversation with the artists that I’ve learned a visual language from. I am using the photographic language that past masters such as Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and others have developed. By adopting this photographic language, I was enabled to recognize what my America was. Through this language, I learned that certain things look better in B&W or color.  Different tones of black and white images and various color palettes of colored images that I mix up in the series are references to different photographs of the past. They work as sort of a vocabulary along with the motifs that I photograph such as cars, storefronts etc. They remind me of how America was previously seen and where we are standing on the extension of time.

TLM. I know that the work of Daido Moriyama has influenced you. I wonder if you could speak to what specifically in his process intrigues you and whether not a bit of the stalking quality of Calle’s work might be part of this process?

SS. I was drawn to Moriyama’s process of wandering around and collecting a large amount of images. It was very helpful for me learn the way he shoots reflectively and subconsciously, analyzing the collected images later. It is a process of getting lost in the place and understanding the situation. My obsession and fascination with America do have somewhat of a stalking quality. I’m not following a particular person but I am stalking America to find out what it is.

TLM. I find Moriyama’s work to be fairly erotic and am drawn to that element in his work. Some of your photographs have that sensibility although they aren’t quite as aggressive. I’m wondering if you feel as though you have to play things safe for now as you find your way in this culture that has fascinated and welcomed you? I mention this because I see a few moments that push towards charged situations, but feel as though you temper them.

SS. I was definitely drawn to the gritty expressionism of his photographs. I liked the sense of violence and eroticism I found in his images of downtown Tokyo. These qualities actually matched the preconceived notions about America that I had. Therefore, the earlier stage of my project had a lot of Moriyama-like photographs. The gritty, high-contrast, grainy expression matched my preconceived notions of sexy and dangerous America. However, as I spent more time in the states, I found myself habitually emulating Moriyama’s style without thinking too deeply about how that aesthetic was working to convey my vision of America. I felt a gap between my perceptions of everyday life and the images I was making. The solution I found to fill this gap was to use more muted and subtle symbolism, which is emphasized or played up by the installation. To be honest with you, I constantly think of ways not to exploit people while I’m photographing them. The more muted tone I adopted in my work is much less aggressive than Moriyama’s work, but I see it as a more accurate and honest representation of my perceptions of the US, at least for now.

TLM. According to your blog, another suggestion that was offered to you was to look into book done with imagery by Sophie Calle and text by Jean Baudrillard. While I haven’t read the book, from what I can tell, it discusses the role of the flaneur and in this case the person is Sophie Calle. Historically the flaneur was a Parisian bourgeois man who was able to transgress all levels of society. I am wondering how your identity as a Japanese male foreigner wandering through America with a camera relates to this figure of the flaneur? Do you perceive yourself as someone who is secretly “stalking” certain people like Calle did?

SS. My obsession and fascination with America might have a stalker quality to it, but I see myself as a flaneur rather than as a stalker in my process. My personal history and my identity as a Japanese male who was born in the early 80’s has a lot to do with my obsession and fascination with America. However, speaking to the contents of the project, I am aiming to be just a person crossing over different levels of society. Although I am interested in subjective vision, who I am is less significant than I expected for this project. I take a more neutral position as a photographer in this project. I can step in and out of different levels of society, and because of this, I’m not a typical outsider photographing America. I’m a foreigner but I have been in the US for a long time. By taking a more neutral position as a photographer, my vision becomes looser, more complex and less judgmental. Of course, I acknowledge that I cannot totally erase myself from the project, (my preconceived notions about America remain consciously and subconsciously) but I want to loosen up the borderline between me and other people. I want to mix myself up with the things and stories I collect while I’m walking. My interest in collective subjective vision that I mentioned with Petersen and Engstrom’s book speaks to this desire of blurring the lines between individuals. It is important for me to keep things open. I walk around to increase the chance of something revealing itself to me but I do not go out to look for certain things. I would say that this is more the attitude of a flaneur than a stalker.

TLM. I understand that Robert Frank’s The Americans is a source of inspiration and that much like him, you are a foreigner doing a project on America. How has his understanding of Americans influenced your own? Are there specific images of his that you find yourself remaking? Frank’s work was done over fifty years ago. How might you differentiate your project from his?

SS. Stylistically, Frank is the one who influenced my work the most. His view of America was much darker, harsher, sadder and more judgmental than mine. It was more focused and confined. I’m more interested in multiplicity and complexity, not only the multiplicity and complexity of America, but also of the subjective viewpoint. Through my experiences in this country, I have found conflicts in interests, opinions and lifestyles. I want to include all these different perspectives in my work. For example, there are people who hold anti-militaristic sentiments and participate in protests against wars both nationally and internationally. On the other hand, there are families whose lifestyle and history is built around being in the military. For example, to me, the photograph of the woman in a military uniform in the back of a car speaks to the ideas of power, authority, individualism, masculinity vs. femininity, and public vs. private spheres. For this image, I’m more of a participant in the situation than an observer. I’m close to her family and friends and hold the viewpoint of a friend and participant rather than a foreigner or outsider. My work is subjective and I like to keep it open enough that I do not become judgmental. I’m not criticizing America, but studying it.

I get criticism for being open and loose but I do not believe in claiming absolute truth. Too many people tend to favor concrete statements but I think that is too simplistic. It is easy to take photographs of postindustrial cities saying that America is collapsing. However, the reality is that there are areas like that and there are areas that are not like that.  If I just photographed shutdown car factories that would be a false representation of America and my perception of it. For me, open research is more honest than criticism. I believe that it may not be obvious at first glance, but there are certain perspectives in my work. At the very core, my perspective is somewhat in favor of the US. My effort to be open, neutral and nonjudgmental comes from my love of this country. However, while I love this country, I am not afraid to show all sides of it. The challenges of this project are to stay honest and open to my own and other people’s subjectivity and to reflect that onto photographs without falling into binaries. Frank’s view of this country was shocking to many Americans because it was opposite to how other media represented America at that time. As a person who lives and works in the 21st century, I want to create work that requires the sensibility to detect subtle atmosphere as opposed to news media trying to draw attention to certain things by in-your-face expressions or shock value. I want my audience to look more deeply into my images and look for symbolism on an intellectual level. I also want them to insert themselves into my psychological space and experience it.

In terms of remaking images of his, I have several references to the photographs that are important to me from the history of photography. For example, the photographs shot in a car showing an older man and woman driving is a direct reference to Robert Frank’s Hitchhikers leaving Blackfoot, Idaho towards Butte, Montana, 1956. It is important because it represents the vast open roads of America and the intense energy that is essential to exploring the land.

TLM. His project was done during the age of McCarthyism and paranoia about Communism infiltrating the American Psyche. Is there a political agenda underlying your project? Or do you feel as though you are merely chronicling your experience of living in America?
SS. The political world is one that revolves around binaries. I see a lot of political work as being very one-sided in order to push a specific agenda. This seems somewhat dishonest. I have no agenda other than to convey how America looks and feels at this point in history. I want my project to reflect the atmosphere of contemporary America, and only in this sense can it be considered political. I find symbolism within everyday scenes and emphasize certain issues about America through the installation of my images. For example, the image of a photograph of an employer of the month juxtaposed with a John Wayne cutout speaks to the idea of the death of the American Dream and issues of migrant workers. Also, the image of a brick wall collapsing represents the US’s decline in the international arena and the financial collapse. I try not to portray these issues in a positive or negative light. I show them because they are real issues in America today, not because I have a certain opinion about them that I want to push on others. I do not scream these things out like the news media does. I want my audience to see the photographs as representations of the atmosphere of the time, and view them as an honest portrayal of my America shown though my perceptions and experiences of this country.

TLM. How might you describe your journey of photographing American culture? What images have the most elaborate or memorable back-stories for you?

SS. My journey is like collecting fragments of stories. These fragments are everywhere if you look carefully enough. The quality of America that motivates my travels and enables this project is the openness of the people and the land. I’m really grateful to people who share their beliefs, lifestyles and personal stories with me. Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner and I’m not judgmental, but I find that people are often open to share things with me. It is the same with the landscape. Most of the time no one really cares about me walking around observing and photographing. The picture of the snake in particular represents how things become available to me. As I walked into a bar one day, a young boy turned around and asked if I wanted to see his snake and he showed it to me. The way he revealed this mystic creature is how America reveals itself to me when I’m photographing.

TLM. Robert Frank was quoted in Life Magazine in November of 1951 as saying that  “When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.” I feel as though there is a strong sense of the poetic in your work, especially because of the way you show it, and I wonder how you might describe your work as a form or visual poetry?

SS. I really like the quote from Frank. I think of my work as visual poetry. There are different threads that connect images on different levels and I definitely want my audience to feel the way Frank wanted them to. My audience is encouraged to confine themselves in the space of the installation to draw different connections at various levels. The way of presentation definitely suggests a more free form of reading and encourages the audience to discover that.

TLM. How do you decide what image follows another and does the placement of it on top of or below have significance for you?

SS. I go back and forth with visual play and play with meanings. First, I make groups of images by meanings, tones and subject matter. Then I shuffle the images around to see how meanings can be emphasized or changed by different arrangements. It is somewhat similar to doing crossword puzzles. Referring to the quote from Frank that you mention above, I want my audience to find different kinds of threads going through the installation. I want my audience to see how meanings change and feel how one image leads to another visually and sinks into their hearts.

TLM. One of the most memorable photographs in your series Thank You For Your Hospitality depicts a lion mounting a bull. Do these symbols of virility and power speak to something you experience in American society?

SS. These qualities seem to be highly valued in American society and I strongly associate them with America. That object being displayed in a gas station, which is also a very masculine and American environment, was such symbolic scenery to me.
When I stopped by at this gas station, there were many taxidermy animals besides these and I was immediately drawn to them but did not stay there too long. I took a few shots there but did not quite know what to think of them. After a few shots, I just moved on to photograph something else outside of the store.  It was only after I printed small proof prints that I started thinking what the image means. This is usually the case for me when I’m photographing. At the stage of collecting images, I’m active in more subconscious level. Only at the stage of editing, I come to find what images mean and how they work.

TLM. I see a lot of representations of suburbia in your work. Do you feel as though this has been the majority of your experience while living in America?

SS. No. I have spent most of my time in urban areas in the US. The reason I am attracted to suburbia is that it feels very real to me. Suburbia is real in the sense that it depicts how picture perfect ideals visually coexist with daily compromise. I like how houses and yards are perfectly spaced out and how some kid’s toys and a lawnmower are just laying around in the yards. The picture of the leftover watermelons on the table suggest similar thing for me. I think that picture perfect ideals of happiness are as real as daily necessities or real life physical/financial limitations. This coexistence of the ideal and the real is very attractive to me.

TLM. Have you considered how you might put this work together as a book or have you considered doing an Internet-based project that can in some way mirror the installation?

SS. I’m considering both an online presentation and a book presentation. It is very appealing that I can change sizes and move images around on the computer. Also, a computer-based presentation will allow me to insert short moving images (short video footage) along with stills. In terms of a book, I’m interested in doing an accordion book so that the viewer can focus on each image but spread a few pages out to explore the visual space in a different way.

TLM. Do you feel as though this project is complete? Or do you feel as though it could go on forever?

SS. It is definitely an ongoing project. I’d like to diversify the areas of society I’m photographing. The project could go on forever.

TLM. What is next on the horizon? Did some of the work lead you in another direction? If so, which works or experiences opened this path up for you?

SS. I’d like to keep going with this project, but at a same time, I’m interested in doing a project about immigration. I’m particularly interested in stories and experiences of Generation 1.5. The term Generation 1.5 refers to immigrants who were born in a foreign land and immigrated between the ages of 8-15. These people were presumably old enough to learn the language and customs of their motherland before being forced to adapt to the country they immigrated to. While traveling, I encounter many immigrants and I have already listened to many of their stories. It is very interesting to see how parents are different from their children. The stories of Generation 1.5 fascinate me and are the basis of my next project.

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