May 4, 2013

Six Questions for David Agasi on Dreams about John Cage and Butterflies

Photograph of David Agasi © 2013 Bradley Hanson

Cold Green Tea Press is excited to announce that 
Dreams about John Cage and Butterflies, a new book of photographs by David Agasi, will be published in the near future.

Here is a brief interview with David on his recent work and the changes to his photography since his CGTP published his first book, Living with Myself Forgetting.

1.  What precipitated the change to square format?

There should be no secret about the images; they are still 35mm and I cropped them in order to bring a larger sense of focus and intensity to the objects within the frame. As I am a fan of medium format photography, but have very limited time and resources to follow that path, the experience I have with 35mm pushed me back into viewing the square as a very attractive alternative to rectangular negatives. This idea also stemmed from looking at so many LP and CD covers and trying to create a specific atmosphere in that limited size and perspective. I wanted to line up a meaningful series where all the images in the book were harmonically linked.

2.  How has your photography changed since your first book?

Not sure, because there are still a lot of undeveloped negatives that go back to the beginning of 2012. One reason for this, aside from the expense of developing film in Japan, is that I like to forget almost entirely what actually happened. That way, when I finally get the proof sheets in my hands from any number of photo shoots, the memories themselves have already morphed and changed over time. I want the images I take to be as much a surprise to me as they might be for anyone else. I don't want to elicit too much control or feel that at the time of shooting I knew what I was after or what I was doing. There is a kind of pre-prepared aloofness that I want to nurture and elicit in my work. I want the atmosphere to overshadow the intention.

3.  What decisions do you make in framing your pictures?

Again, very hard to answer because most of the decisions are unconscious. I do want the actual "essence" of whatever I photograph to be the main dalliance, in order to set the mood. Almost all the images are, naturally, rectangular, so it isn't until I am in the darkroom that I decide to crop certain parts of the images out. I don't usually take a lot of time deciding what should be altered, or which images should be made into squares because the overall composition in any negative will tell me whether it's going to be successful as a square or not. Most rectangular images can't be cropped without leaving out something important, so I have to be very careful.

4.  What qualities in people, physical and otherwise, are you drawn to photograph? 

 Photograph of David Agasi © 2013 Bradley Hanson
Most anything. My work is primarily about two things - whatever the subject brings to light, and the light itself. In most cases, I can only invest in what I am doing with the latter. The subject, its own power of persuasiveness or mystery, will dictate whether the image has a shot at remaining in the viewer's memory. Most images fail to do this. As always, after making countless photos, there are only a few worth investing in. Most of the fat has to be trimmed way, way down. Human bodies and faces are still one of the highlights of the natural world, as are objects that have been discarded, thrown away or abandoned. That must be why I am so drawn to trashed umbrellas and left-for-dead bicycles in Japan. So many of these objects no longer have owners, or never did to begin with. They are ghosly things in an of themselves.

5.  How did you come to be a photographer?

My first photo teacher, when I was a sophomore at college, was incredibly inspiring and I really felt comfortable photographing people from the beginning, so that's the long and short of it. Besides that, I didn't think much about it. In fact, there were periods where I didn't even have a working camera. Sometimes the camera equipment I did have was not particularly trustworthy, but I felt this added to the "chance operations" side of my process, not really being so attached to any one outcome. I consider photography to be a kind of reverse iceburg, where the riches you can harvest are not hiding beneath the water but are instead right there on the surface waiting to be plucked. The stuff beneath the surface, that 90%, is just throwaway. If you develop a system of editing your work where you maintain high standards, it's easier to see what matters at the processed negative stage. After that, it might be helpful to ask someone whose sensibility you trust to also aid in editing, as I did with this book.

6.  What advantages do you have as an analogue photographer in an increasingly digital world?

I like to make my images slowly, so I give a lot of the process away to waiting, being patient, and allowing whatever truths to surface naturally. Since I don't get a chance to edit my work the day I shoot it (or even the month or season for that matter) as digital photographers do, I have to be open to surprise and occasional disappointment in as open a way as possible. If you plant a specific kind of flower and cultivate it throughout its seasonal life, you are likely to get positive results. That's also the way I see film photography, as a kind of botanical exercise that really isn't as technical as the digital world has now made it out to be. There is still something inexplicably organic and mysterious about analogue, so I don't feel any reason at the moment to change formats. I would like to concentrate on 35mm film for a few more years at least.

(Dreaming about John Cage and Butterflies is forthcoming from Cold Green Tea Press in spring 2013)

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