LATITUDE is excited to welcome Justin Rhody as its September Artist In Residence!
Justin Clifford Rhody (b. 1984, Flint Michigan) is a fine art photographer currently based in Oakland, California. His work has been seen widely online, through exhibits and traveling slideshows, as well as publications. Mirro Editions published two different monographs of his work created in Central America between 2009 and 2012, titled Zona Urbana and Dec. 21st, 2012: Chichicastenango. In the Fall of 2016, Rhody presented a slideshow performance of his work as part of a fifteen stop, national tour alongside performance artist and musicians Jeff Zagers and Russian Tsarlag. While on this trip across the United States, Rhody created a series of photographs titled Married To America which was published as a monograph in the spring of 2017 by Hidden Eye Press. Other publications produced in 2017 include the artist’s books Slow Boat To China and Alone Together (collaborations with collagist Abigail Smith), A Horse With A Name (Rebel Hands Press) and the seventh installment of Rhody’s self-published electrophotographic journal, Slo-Mo. Rhody also organizes a public slideshow series of found 35mm photo slides called Vernacular Visions and is a co-founder of the White Leaves Artist Residency in El Rito, New Mexico.
Q & A
Projects such as The Western Lands and Married to America both explore the space between the obvious and the subtle – why is this idea of obscurity important to your work?
By avoiding the literal, which can reduce storytelling into a collection of data, and instead working with these charged zones of obscurity the work is offered a larger field of context and interpretation. It’s a method that requires an engaged reader who’s willing to respond to nuance, but it also loosens the reins of an otherwise didactic narrative and pays respect to the viewer’s ability to create his or her own form of meaning with the work. I see this approach to narrative construction being parallel to the concept that music isn’t just the notes that are played but also the silence between them.
What influences outside of the arts inspire your approach to making work?
I spend a lot of time thinking about history and economics, which has sometimes been the catalyst that leads to working within a particular area or subject. And even though the material I end up developing may only address those topics in a vague way (at best), the motivating thoughts feeding the process under the surface become key navigational or leaping points both in the field and while editing/sequencing/etc. in the studio. I suppose the way that I was raised and the working class ethics that my parents encouraged in me as a kid affect my approach more than anything: maintaining a respectful self-confidence about what you’re making and finding happiness in the act of doing the work is what will eventually lead to an unchained mindset.
How would you describe the relationship between your photographs and poetry – what does language bring to your work?
I think that photography mirrors poetry in its ability to present condensed information in a form that requires the reader to connect the dots. While the motion picture may convey a linear storyline similar to a novel, photography largely presents an assemblage of details without explanation. It’s the accompanying text to the photograph that often creates its context: a relationship between text and image that can be both mutually beneficial and/or parasitic in nature.
In the past I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few people write pieces to accompany my work that I felt both brought the photographs further into the open while also allowing them an autonomy of their own. Margaret Olin was recently kind enough to write a wonderful essay to accompany a large body of anonymous portraits that I created at a horse track from 2013-2016 titled, Only Chance Is Fair. I hope to have this work published in book form in late 2018.
What will you be working on during your residency here at LATITUDE?
I’ll be producing large prints for exhibition from my series Only Chance Is Fair, as well as selections from a more recent work-in-progress shot in Southeast Asia. I’ll also be making small(er) work prints of a recently completed series titled Faces of Advertising, experimenting with printing on hemp linen and charmeuse silk, and creating drum scans from 6x9 negatives.
You have self-published many artist books and zines over the years, can you elaborate on your interest in printed material?
Most of my education was accrued through public libraries and used bookstores, so that’s where my heart lives and that’s the culture that I want to personally re-invest into. I do think that gallery exhibits hold strength in their ability to present the work on a grander scale and the internet offers the potential of a larger audience, but the thought that a book might eventually come into the hands of a more random audience that could find inspiration in it excites me in a deeper way. This element of chance in some ways seems to be the most visceral embrace that can be offered by a seemingly chaotic world.
Are there any current movies, books, magazines or podcasts that you recommend for readers to check out?
Although it’s only new-to-me, I recently saw Cassavette’s Love Streams for the first time and was completely blown away by it (Gena Rowlands is a genius). Oracle Plus are the real deal and I’m a true believer - their recently released DVD is a highly recommended mind-melter. I’ve also been enjoying Janaye Brown’s short video Last Seen in El Rito and I’m looking forward to seeing Mark Borchardt’s The Dundee Project. I brought three books with me to read during my stay in Chicago: Seeing with the Mind’s Eye: The History, Techniques and Uses of Visualization, The Face of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. I rarely ever listen to podcasts, but I did enjoy The Magic Hour’s recent interview with Danny Lyon (as well as Lyon’s taped conversation with Hugh Edwards from 1972). Music is a near-constant companion however and I think Zak M. is one of the most interesting contemporary songwriters. I recently saw Theodore Schafer deliver a stunning sound piece in Santa Fe and I’m looking forward to Jeff Zagers’ next album being released. I also spend a lot of time listening to Bud Powell, Meek Mill remixes and early Randy Newman albums. I think that in the United States it takes all types, and that’s a major reason that I’m proud to be from here.