10 02 2015
Interview by Christine McFetridge
There’s no denying we take our environment for granted. Celebrated photographer and photobook maker Terri Weifenbach abstracts figure and ground in her photographs, giving importance to features of the natural world that are often overlooked. The function of the eye to conceive what is presented before it is flawed; and by selecting and emphasising different elements in her images, Weifenbach directs the gaze of the viewer. Recently producing Stilll (published Super Labo, 2013) and Gift (in collaboration with Rinko Kawauchi, published Amana, 2014) her photographs prompt the senses. The kaleidoscopic colour and form persuades calm and clarity of thought through the recording of an intersection between humankind and nature that is as familiar as it is fantastic. As the eye is never truly capable of rendering a scene in its entirety, only what it can perceive upon different planes of focus, we default to our other faculties to conceive the setting before us. Can you feel the dappled sunlight on your skin? Or imagine the sharpness of an intake of breath in icy conditions? Perhaps you hear birdsong. You might consider the weight of those who have gone before too; as Weifenbach says poetically they are ‘written deeply into the landscape.’ The world has never been so beautiful.
What draws you to the areas of natural growth in your work and how do you select the places you will photograph?
In nature every single day is different. The light, the way water responds to wind, the sky, birds, decay, all are constant changes in a landscape. I’m drawn to the areas where people intersect with nature; change and manage nature as in neighborhood gardens, parks and orchards and also, as in the instance of places like Lana, Italy, where human history (time) is written deeply in the landscape. There is no end to discovery and different scales of existence. It all seems inexhaustible and that calms me and has done so since I sought out these places as an only child looking for something interesting. It almost never failed.
Your photographs deliberately abstract the landscape and control the direction of the viewers gaze by emphasizing the relationship between figure and ground. Could you talk a little about the decisions you make in relation to this when photographing?
I don’t use conscious effort or thought, but I sense when things exist correctly in the rectangle. It is about abstraction and where I believe the importance lies. I feel strongly that we overlook so much that somehow should not be forgotten, even if it is just how a color relates to a line, but sometimes it is about the way a bird looks at you. I’ve started to work in video recently as these things we overlook started to exist as longer and longer moments for me, but the photograph is much more concise.
There are parallels in the presentation of your work in Stilll to that of verse, for example the images are separated into stanza-like sections and often form a narrative around details like a fallen leaf or lone poppy. To what extent does poetry influence your practice?
Only obliquely and somewhat secondhand through visual means. I found the corollary of poetry in the photographic sequences of Robert Adams’ ‘Listening to the River’ in 1991 at the Center for Creative Photography in Arizona and was transfixed. He made photographs while on walks and put them in sequences of varying numbers, two to six, I believe. With Adams’ images much information is in the spaces in between like they are in Haiku. They are spare in information and utterly about what one can’t see. The thought for Stilll includes the memory of these sequences but also has a video/time component. I started making videos from a fixed camera position as extended moments in which things change. It seemed a perfect foil to have the images in Stilll show changes of perception, orientation and narrative as sequenced single shots.
Gift, a recent collaboration with Rinko Kawauchi, began as a conversation and way of keeping in touch via email. At what point did you consider that the images you were sharing could be collected and form a project? Additionally, were the images you would respond to with one another intuitive or was it more about presenting a document of what was going on in each of your lives at that time? Do you still correspond in this way?
It was a multistep process. The first two times we met there was a full moon, one in Brooklyn and one in Paris. Rinko sent me the image of the moon in Paris later in an email and we started emailing with images partially because so much more could be communicated. The book Gift is quite different from the exhibition in that it includes some of these initial passes back and forth. These told us more about what the other’s world was like. The next year Rinko and I met in Paris again at Paris Photo, and Rinko offered the idea of a conversation as a collaboration. We agreed this was to be a conversation, not two monologues existing side by side. So for a little over a year we made direct responses to each other’s images, formally, obliquely, about content or feel, but always as a response. And yes, we still correspond this way. It’s addictive!
Did communicating digitally affect the camera technology you used?
No, not really. We both were using negatives and files. We both used our archives and also shot specifically for some responses. I made the move to digital the summer of 2013. Very late as I love film. Have you seen Tacita Dean’s ‘FILM’? It’s a love letter. My change to digital occurred when it seemed to me the output materials for analog printing were getting pitifully bad. They became so canted toward digital output that the compromise was too profound for color materials.
You’ve always been an ardent advocate of the photobook in your practice. What excites you about its future? Will you continue to present your work in this way?
There has been a necessary wave of photobooks that are experimental and challenge the idea of ‘book’, going far into the question about what makes a book a book. It feels like the young stages of a medium. I look forward to the refinement of these inquiries as the perceptivity of the medium settles in for the long look. And, yes! I very much look forward to continuing to present work this way, but as a piece of what I do, because video and the wall interest me as well.