Rfotofoiio is pleased to share the work of photographer Matthew Vogt.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a fine art photographer living and working as a nurse on the Navajo Reservation in NE Arizona. I have an intense love for the desert southwest and for black and white photography. I started photographing in high school and love to use the medium to tell stories and express the way I see the world.
How did you get started in photography?
I initially took a photography class in high school, but didn’t take to it for reasons I do not fully understand. A few years later in college I became interested in digital photography and my parents bought me a DSLR camera for Christmas. For a broke college student not having to spend money on film and developing, my curiosity was able to run wild and I would run outside whenever I had free time and just “try stuff.”
After years of doing so, I saw Ansel Adam’s, “Yosemite and the Range of Light” and became enamored with the black and white image. I knew I needed to move beyond just putting the camera on “auto” and hitting the shutter and yearned to truly understand and be able to “read” light. I went to the local camera store and asked if anyone in town could teach me how to shoot large format photography. Luckily, there was a wonderful educator who has become a dear friend by the name of Gary Meader who met me at the local park with a 4×5 view camera, 10 sheets of film and a light meter. He gave me a cursory overview and said to call him in a week when I was ready to develop my negatives. I immersed myself in learning the zone system and later the printing process. While I ultimately walked away from large format film photography, learning the link between light and corresponding tonal relationships had a huge impact on my later progression with digital techniques.
Which photographers and other artists’ work do you admire?
So many it is tough to narrow it down, but these names come to mind first.
Did you have a mentor?
I have two mentors who have had a huge impact on my development as a photographer. One is Gary Meader, whom I spoke about above. Gary taught me the nuts and bolts of photography and became a dear friend along the way, one with whom I still exchange work. The other would be Huntington Witherill. Huntington is also a dear friend who has elevated my understanding of the printing process and has helped me develop my own personal vision. Through watching him work I became aware of the immense and subtle ways one can use to construct the final print. I know of no other living photographer with the creative range of Witherill or one who can evoke the subtle nuances of tonalities of the black and white print.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
If you could spend the day with another photographer living or passed who would it be?
Minor White – I’d like to watch him work, to see his process, to be present and look at the world through those eyes. I feel like his vision was so unique, so gentle. He was a master of composition and was able to find immensely powerful intimate moments in the mundane.
If no one saw your work, would you still create it?
Absolutely. Making photographs is very much a personal endeavor. It begins with choosing to shoot black and white, as I have a desire to record the way I see things, to capture ephemeral moments of power and atmosphere the way that I see them.
Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day for you.
A perfect day for me is one where I have a large amount of unstructured free time to simply walk around with a camera (or not) with no preconceived notion of what it is I am going to shoot. I am not a big subscriber of the notion of “pre-visualization.”
What challenges do you face as an artist?
Working in a vacuum can be tough. I live in a remote area and am not enmeshed in an artist community. Luckily I have friends with whom I’ve initiated print exchanges with – both electronically and physically. Doing so has been very helpful. One part of the exercise in the exchanges is writing a paragraph about the particular image. Having a physical print to look at and then being forced to reflect on it is a great exercise I highly recommend.
How do you overcome a creative block?
I feel it’s important not to force this issue. I don’t dwell on being in a rut, so to speak. For me the muse comes and goes, ebbs and flows, and I very much pay attention to its’ calling and do not force it when it just isn’t there. Of paramount importance is not going to a place with a preconceived notion or a mental construct of a particular image I’m looking for, but rather to just be still in new places and let them come to me. I’ve taken many long walks in the desert with no camera at all and enjoy them immensely, often finding that in doing so my subsequent photography of an area is more involved and representative. In an almost Buddhist like sentiment, I think it is a good exercise for photographers to walk through an incredible landscape, one in which images abound, and be ok with not having a camera or taking any pictures.
What is next on the horizon?
I am yearning very much to “get my hands wet” so to speak. I love shooting digitally, but am eager to get into alternative printing processes that seem to be having a bit of a resurgence. One such process I’m keen to try is platinum/palladium printing from digital negatives; another is the creation of photogravures from polymer plates. I’ve seen work recently from both processes and was struck by the quiet intimacy both evoked. With that said – I don’t want to fall into the trap of having the process become more important than the image, or the process to define the image. Rather, I want to find a happy medium where these tools augment or enhance an already strong composition.
Thank you Matthew for sharing your work and words.
To learn more please visit Matthew Vogt Photography.