Q+A: Lucas Blalock vs. Jason Fulford
This is the fourth installment in a conversation series initiated by Lucas Blalock with contemporary artists concerning materiality in regards to current photographic practice.
Jason Fulford is a photographer and publisher based in rural Pennsylvania and hailing from Atlanta, GA. He is the co-founder of J&L Books with Leanne Shapton. His work has not only been exhibited internationally at venues including PS1, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, and The Soon Institute in Amsterdam, but also published in several monographs including Sunbird, Crushed, Raising Frogs for $$$, and The Mushroom Collector. Fulford is currently involved in a 5 week residency in Amsterdam with The Soon Institute. The project, called The Mushroom Collection, will be on view in Amsterdam and virtually through December 18.
1-110 The Shipment Arrived
LB: I wanted to ask first about the structure of the book which seems to have three distinct parts: the text, the mushroom pictures, and your own photographs; and I would again subdivide your photographs in the book between the studio studies and the more ‘worldly’ or ‘of the world’ pictures. For me the project is like a dance between these elements. Is this the kind of thing you were intending?
JF: Yes, exactly. And I like the reference to dance. Each element has its own moves, yet they react to each other, and somehow move together.
LB: and the arc is that of a road trip? Did you conceive of the book as relating to the genre?
JF: No, I mean it happened without preconception. The intention was only to make sense of my own pictures through the filter of the mushroom pictures. The first draft of the book was completely visual, without text or reference to place. The visual narrative works on its own, in a linear way like an evolution. It starts with the spark of an idea, and then each new decision takes into account everything behind it. [Half way through the book, it starts again from scratch (on an island) and something completely different emerges.] But I found that it was overly cryptic to other readers. And for this book, I didn’t want a wall up front like that. I wanted an open door and a greeting, so that’s how the text started. Somehow the text took on the form of a road trip.
LB: Oddly, for me I think it was that rupture in the book that initially pulled me in. As I was flipping through it was as if the pictures had somehow gone from external to internal which I know is a strange thing to say but it is sort of how it feels to me.
I am curious about the “mushroom pictures” themselves which run throughout the book. Is the ‘mushroom collector’ a kind of stand in for the photographer? Recently, I have been generally uninterested in appropriated pictures in photo projects because I feel it often conveys a kind of cheap ownership of the world, as if the labor of experience was unnecessary. However, here I feel like the appropriated images develop in a different and fundamentally additive way. Can you talk a bit more about the mushroom pictures as “filter” and how this idea came together?
JF: I agree. Sometimes artists confuse the distinction between inspiration and output. In this case, I’ve tried to make it clear that the mushroom pictures are a reference point. They were a gift from a friend. It wasn’t until I’d owned them for a year that I realized a relationship was developing between my own new work and the mushrooms. In this way it made sense to include the found images in the book. They serve as a sort of key, or a decoding device, and also as a sort of glue. The play (between the reference and the new work) becomes a complete possible reading of the book.
61. I Took Them South
LB: I feel like the text (as you said earlier) also functions as a kind of key. It is really unusual that the book begins on the dust jacket w/ 01 and it (the numbering) continues onto the rear jacket as well. This detail keeps it from feeling so much like a container for the project and transforms it into more of an object. Without the text it would have never occurred to me that the image on the jacket was the beginning of the story. For me I think this becomes a sort of significant element of a “complete reading” of the book. Was this an intuitive decision?
JF: It goes back to the idea of an open door and a greeting. This book requires a lot from the reader, and works best from front to back. So I wanted to speak directly to that person right from the beginning. Do you know the film Blast of Silence? The opening sequence made a big impact on me.
And yes, the text is also a clue. Some of the ideas in the visual sequence enter the text in the form of storytelling. For example, there is a reference to King Ludwig II of Bavaria. He built a copy of the Palace of Versailles on an island in a lake in southern Germany. His copy is not exact though. It’s the idea of Versailles, filtered through Ludwig’s own eccentricities.
LB: I haven’t seen Blast of Silence but it sounds intriguing. The references throughout this project give the feeling of having a lot packed in but maybe without a clear method of unpacking, which to me is a real strength and keeps me looking and searching through the book making new connections. I would like to turn the focus now to the latter part of the book (post-starting from scratch) where the work seems to deconstruct (is this an appropriate word?) it’s initial condition. The light is at times literally coming apart (in a spectral sense) [pictures 79 and 105]. There are also a number of self-evidently contrived studio studies here. The turn (and I feel it is a turn in your practice as a whole) makes me think of Svetlana Alpers’ essay at the beginning of her book The Vexations of Art: Velasquez and Others where she develops the relationship between the scientist’s laboratory and the painter’s studio as both being (in their own way) apparatuses with which to look at the world. In her words, “Withdrawing from the world is a regressive act. It rehearses how we come into an experience of the world.”(Alpers, p. 18) or again, where she later quotes Gombrich; “The artist works like a scientist. His works exist not only for their own sake but also to demonstrate certain problem solutions.” (Alpers, 45). These are particularly resonant notions in my own practice and I was hoping you could talk about whether this relationship to/through the studio is important to you here? As a photographer I think the camera itself can also be seen in these terms (as a venue to rehearse seeing) and I am further curious if in the evident darkroom work here you see these elements as an extension of this rehearsal or as a separate kind of participation all together?
JF: I love the title The Vexations of Art. I read a Benjamin Buchloh essay on Gerhard Richter once that described his paintings as picture puzzles that remain vexations to the viewer. I loved that.
The second half of the mushroom book was all shot within one month on an island in Florida. The pictures evolved as things from the outside world were brought into the studio, and the studio experiments then affected the way I perceived the outside world. So in a way, each image became a rehearsal for the next (both in and out of the studio). The process was not a deconstruction, but a repetition that changed form each time, flipping back and forth between reality and abstraction. The color spectrum pictures were also made with an additive process. R+G+B.
When I returned to Pennsylvania and printed the work in the darkroom, I placed some of the actual objects onto the paper as I enlarged the negatives. These fotograms became illustrations of the experience on the island. The silhouettes of objects also give a sense of scale to the prints, like the matchbooks and nails in the mushroom pictures.
Table, The Soon Institute, Amsterdam
LB: That idea of a sense of scale is really elegant! I wanted to talk more about digital vs. analogue but I feel like your answer has such an internal logic that I wouldn’t really know how to proceed. Can we instead return to my earlier line of questioning about the numbers starting on the jacket? I just realized that they continued on (111-135) to elaborate quite a collection of things on The Soon Institute’s site. Can you talk about your current activities in Amsterdam, and more specifically how you see this collection of extended ephemera in relation to the project as a book?
JF: Over the next few weeks, I’m creating a sort of expanded appendix for the book, in four dimensions. The Soon Institute and I are occupying a storefront space in the center of Amsterdam. It’s a store, an exhibition, and also an event space. The “inventory” includes objects, images and video. The list starts with things that are directly related to the making of the book. It continues to include new things that connect my experience here to various ideas in the book. For example, in the book you’ll find two photographs of moiré patterns that I made while playing with a plastic grid material. It’s an optical illusion. This week in Amsterdam, I spent a day at the FabLab (an experimental workshop conceived by MIT, and housed in one of the oldest buildings in the city) cutting plexiglass with a laser cutter into an object that’s also a kind of optical illusion (see number 145). As I’m writing now, the list is up to number 147, and growing.
* all images copyright Jason Fulford
Lucas Blalock is a photographer and writer living in Brooklyn, NY.