Interview with Featured Photographer Stuart Window
INTERROBANG?!: I was thinking we could start talking about how you got into photography — I assume it started when you were in England?
STUART WINDOW: Actually, no. In England I was always more into traditional art and graphic design. No photo editing, just straight creating in Photoshop and Illustrator. Composite images and abstract creations — building on layer upon layers. I used to try to paint, but I could never get my hands to do what my brain wanted to do. And I’d end up just destroying them later. And then I discovered Photoshop and the … [laughs] “History” tool. It’s like, “I just screwed up horribly – and it’s gone now.” It feels in a way horribly like cheating, an awful way to do things.
?!: It’s funny though – I definitely understand that feeling – but it goes back to the early days of photography too, or not the early period but the middle period of traditional photography.
SW: It’s incredibly powerful, the tools now. It makes it very easy for the amateur to start, but to create really sophisticated results still takes a lot of work.
?!: You can’t fake the eye.
SW: That’s the most important thing, especially photography going back to actual straight photography. I barely use Photoshop anymore, it’s all straight Lightroom, which is even more like an old photo shop. The beautiful thing about photography for me is that if I’m out and I’m going out specifically to shoot then I can find something in any situation that I find interesting enough to take a picture of. When I was painting or sketching it was a lot harder to get that inspiration.
?!: Do you feel that process-wise you always go out with an idea of what shot you’re trying to find?
SW: I try not to. I mean, there are times that I do. I’ll check surf forecasts, check the weather, where the moon’s going to be in the sky — and there is an idea but it never really works out that way. I end up getting distracted. You know, finding something more interesting on the way to shooting what I was intending to shoot. The beauty of living in southern Rhode Island is sunset, sunrise, there’s not much light pollution — compared to where I grew up — it’s a very pure atmosphere that creates some incredible colors, some incredible vibrancies that you don’t see in other places that I’ve personally been to. But then again, my other favorite place to shoot is London, which is just dirty and filthy and covered in grime and fumes and smoke, but it creates a different atmosphere, so you’re always getting something different within those two environments. The purity of one and the filth of the other.
?!: You want totally unmolested or –
SW: Utter filth. Right, and I guess the middle ground is nowhere I’d ever want to be. [laughs] Utter filth is probably a good way to describe a lot of what I shoot.
?!: You’ve told me before that you don’t particularly — you’ve not really gotten into shooting people. You’re mostly into doing landscapes or buildings.
SW: Landscapes or architecture, yeah.
?!: Given that a lot of people do shoot landscapes, buildings, things like that, is there a way that you try to set yourself apart, a point of view that you find yourself getting into that’s different than what you might find in say, a print book that would be sold to my parents?
SW: It’s a tough call. With the amount of photography that’s available to the public these days because of the Internet, it’s not a question of going to a bookstore and finding a book of prints down there. There’s great examples of pretty much everything around. So I try to ignore other [artist's work] as much as possible while I’m in a period of heavy shooting, you know? Obviously the influence is going to be there in back of my mind. It’s impossible not to take what you’ve seen into account, but it’s very important not to think about what makes a good photograph. I think, first off, “I really like this, I would really like to see this from various different angles.” And if it creates a good photograph that other people want to see from that? Fantastic. But it’s a very personal process originally. I’m shooting very much for myself.
?!: Growing up, as you did in London, and coming here and doing for instance the cover shot for Interrobang this year, I would call it a very “American”-looking shot.
SW: It’s Americana, it screams Americana. It reminds of the beginning of every road movie ever. It’s that tracking shot low down on the road and then coming up to the car.
?!: Do think that quality gives you a unique perspective, a more unvarnished look at America?
SW: I hope so. There are elements of American culture that I adore and there are elements that I still can’t understand.
?!: Like what, besides our politics?
SW [laughs] Besides your politics. I think, coming from London which is a big city, and it’s loud, it’s bustling, it’s bombastic, but compared to even smaller American cities London is very reserved. I didn’t really appreciate that stereotype of English people until I came over here. “Oh yes, we are.”
Taking shots of that American landscape and trying to keep a little of the reservation of an Englishman, essentially, in those photographs is kind of important to me, just because it’s not something that I think is in the general American personality.
?!: You try for a distancing effect, almost.
SW: Yes, that’s true. It’s interesting to me, because Southern Rhode Island is insular — everybody knows everybody. For me to find a spot I’ve never seen before is kind of exciting. It’s a challenge, and I want to make a part of where I live now more personal. Because if I discover it on my own, it now a little bit belongs to me, where everybody’s passed that road 30,000 times. I’ve never seen that before, and that’s exciting to me.