19 Downtown © Matt Magruder
19 Downtown © Matt Magruder

Bill Schwab told us about the work of photographer Matt Magruder. Thank you Bill. Rfotofolio is pleased to share his work.

Would you please tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Matthew Magruder. I live in Austin,Texas and have been doing photography in various forms for about the last 15 yrs. I’m also a psychotherapists, magazine art director, painter, and graphic designer.

How did you get started photography?

I started exploring photography as a rock climber. I would often take my camera (an old 35mm Canon SLR and a few lenses) with me on climbing trips and photograph my friends and fellow climbers. This led to exploring more of the world with my camera. I then got into medium format with a Hasselblad 500C, spending time making black & white silver gelatin prints in a darkroom that a friend built in the house I was living in at the time. My interests then progressed to bigger and bigger format cameras and older and older printing processes. First a 4×5 Crown Graphic, then an old Eastman 8×10, progressing to a 7×17 and 12×20 Folmer and Schwing banquet cameras. By this time I was knee-deep in doing various alternative/historic photographic process as well. Predominantly platinum/palladium printing as well as gum bichromate over platinum/palladium prints. My love and interest then continued to the ever more historic process of wet plate collodion, which I’ve been passionately pursuing for the last five years or so.

Which photographers and other artist work do admire?

The names that arise instinctually are, Kerik Kouklis, Bill Schwab, Clay Harmon, Monty McCutcheon, and David “Ike” Eisenlord. These are five guys that I can gratefully call good friends, mentors, advisors, and inspirers. One of the most pivotal photographically inspiring moments for me was when I got the 2004 Jan/Feb issue of View Camera magazine. There was a feature on three photographers that spent some time at an old abandoned BNSF trainyard in New Mexico. One of those photographers was Clay Harmon and he made a series of 12×20 platinum/palladium prints from the visit as well as. These images themselves were so enthralling for me and even more so the format. I can remember saying to myself clearly and definitively, “I’ll shoot negatives like that” and I couldn’t wait. This circuitously led me to discovering the work of Kerik Kouklis (who was shooting 7×17) as well and this even further inspired and excited me photographically.

And what about their work inspires you?

I think what inspires me most about their work is the individuality that exists in it. I know a “Kerik portrait” when I see one, I know a “Bill Schwab” landscape when I see one, and I know a “Clay Harmon” night shot when I see one. There’s distinctiveness, authenticity, and expressiveness in their work. This is something that I strive for continually. But even more so than this I am inspired by the mentorship and friendship that’s grown between us in the years I’ve come to know them. I’m reminded of a quote (that I’m likely butchering) in the book Art and Fear, “the only people who will ever love your work are the people who love you.”

When did you start to develop a personal style?

To be honest this is something I’m still trying to fully “accomplish.” From the internal perspective, I’ve never quite done it and on a certain level hope that I never do as I believe it to be a path meant to be continually walked and explored not a destination to arrive at. On another level (and likely a more external one) I feel I started to really feel my photographic voice when I started working in the 7×17 and 12×20 formats.

It is those big negatives and the deliberate/methodical nature of working with a camera that large, that resonated with me. The platinum/palladium process also spoke to me internally in a way that nothing previous ever had. I love the hand-crafted nature of creating platinum/palladium prints and then the combination of gum bichromate layers really created color nuance and substance that I truly loved. These really seemed to start me into feeling as though my photography had truly begun to feel like mine. Then it has become even more so with Wet Plate collodion as this process continues on with similar aspects that resonated internally. The need for mastery and hand-made aspects in particular. I found that I especially love the immediacy of the process. It is, at it’s very nature, a labor-intensive process, but it’s also an all-inclusive process. I can get my dark box set up atop a parking garage and 5 hours later have basically a finished product. No negatives to come home and develop, no digital files to manipulate at a later point. I’m done and it’s a unique piece. Another key aspect of wet plate that I love is this inherent uniqueness of each piece. This uniqueness is a combination of so many aspects that leads to flaws and what I feel to be character. Granted, I don’t make an effort to intentionally create sloppy/messy plates, but I also feel it important not to fight against the flaws that arise in the process as they can potentially being a wonderful visual seasoning. Not to get on a pulpit, but I feel this equates to us as individual humans as well and how we each possess imperfect perfection at our very core level. My wet plate collodion project “Windows”, which is a series of various sized multi-plate assemblages is likely a series that I feel most exemplifies my photography as it speaks to my own personal philosophy on humanity and life in a way that I am continually passionate about. A philosophy and view that life is built of pieces that create a whole.

9 Downtown © Matthew Magruder
9 Downtown © Matthew Magruder

If no one saw your work, would you still create it?

I love this question. I assume the intention being to deduce whether the creation of my work is potentially intended to fuel my ego or if I feel it is just an inherent drive. The answer is yes, albeit a reluctant yes as I believe it would be a tragedy for art created by myself or by anyone to go without being seen. Art much like life as a whole is grounded in relationship and the communication that goes on between them.

Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day of photography is for you.

I’ve had many manifestations of this over the years. When I first started out really trying to embrace photography it manifested in having a brick of Ilford Pan-F and my Hasselblad and wandering around downtown Austin just looking at as much as I could. Then when I moved to bigger large format and ultra large format it manifested in loading my 3-4 film holders in the early A.M. in the darkroom in my bedroom closet, then loading everything in the truck and just looking at a map of Texas and finding a small town I’d never been to and wandering around with my big beast of a camera until I’d shot all my sheets of film. I’d then often get home that evening and go back into the darkroom, develop my sheets, wash/dry them over night and coat and print platinum prints the next day. Most recently, the process if pretty similar in many ways. I’ll sometimes mix up batches of wet plate chemicals the night before and then spend a Saturday creating an every larger assemblage in down town Austin. Often times then varnishing my plates the next morning or that evening.

The “perfect”for me, is so often in the process of creating as I’m calm, centered, and focused. It’s rare to be so free from distraction in life to be and feel truly quiet. Almost as if the product is an icing on the cake of sorts.

What challenges do you face as a photographer?

Time. Finding time to create amidst the responsibilities of relationships, job, and the work that I love (my psychotherapy) and life as a whole.

With the rapid changes in how people make and view a photograph how do you view this time in the history of photography?

Perhaps if my photography was a source of income or something that I relied upon in ways outside of just personal expression and outlet this would change, but I feel somewhat (happily) oblivious to how/when/if/what is changing in the photographic world. I made efforts early on to make a “living” with my photography and it never felt right for me not to mention that I never fully fit in with what the photography art world was at those times. I know that it is changing rapidly and immensely, as with everything in life, but I feel quite at home and comfortable in a strange way.

How do you over come a creative block?

Just create. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just go out (or in) and create something. This has always been the best thing I can ever do.

How does your art affect the way you see the world?

For me art (especially so since starting photography) is inextricably intertwined with seeing the world. I don’t go anywhere without either having a camera with me or wishing I had a camera with me. It has become the way I see the world and ultimately how I appreciate and show respect for it.

4 Downtown © Matt Magruder
4 Downtown © Matt Magruder

Is there another type of photography or subject matter you would like tackle?

Good question and one that I am actually drawing a blank on. One thing that comes to mind is a wet plate collodion project of large (11×14 or 14×17) microscopic and/or closeup images paired with aerial imagery. I’ve always been fascinated with the universal structure in nature. I remember reading Carl Sagan’s, “Cosmos” as a teenager and seeing an image of what neural paths ways look like when visualized and how they are identically structured to how mycelium (mushrooms) one of the largest organisms on earth are structured. These both look identical to how astrophysicists theorize that the known universe is structured. Visually showing these familiar patterns is a fascinating idea to me.

Another project that I hope eventually comes to fruition is a series of portraits of mental health professionals in the Austin area. I’ve found that over recent years I’ve grown quite fond of portraiture in wet plate collodion. The process is a wonderfully collaborative and engaging process and I’ve found that my photography has shifted from a very isolated endeavor into a collaborative one with portraiture. The project would be yet another pairing or sorts. I see it as having a portrait on the left and then an equally sized piece on the right that is created by the therapist that expresses why they do the work they do (this could be a written page, a collage, a sculpture, a painting, etc).

Thank you Matthew for shareing your work.

To learn more about the work of Matthew Magruder please visit his site at Matthew Magruder.  

The book Matt quotes is Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland

thank you800.