Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in a middle class family in a leafy suburb of Cleveland, Ohio in the 1960’s and early 70’s. Like a lot of artists I loved to draw as a kid, though in my family art was not considered a viable career option. Still, eventually I made it to the School of Art at the University of Michigan, and when I got there I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I studied mostly painting and printmaking, and after graduating, I moved to New York. Once there, I was lucky to eventually fall into a day job doing graphic design at HBO. I pursued fine art on the side, making paintings and mixed media box constructions. I learned Photoshop on the job at HBO, which fairly quickly led to my long career in commercial photo-illustration, and eventually that led to my fine art photography.
How did you get started photography ?
I have always been drawn to photographic images (who isn’t?), but I have had very little traditional photographic training and I do not possess traditional darkroom skills. Until relatively recently, I would refer to myself as “an artist who uses photography” rather than a “photographer”, though now I am happy to use the label, “photographer”. When I was in art school, as I said, I studied mostly painting and printmaking, though I did a lot of photo etching and photo lithography. I only took one darkroom course, and I was not very good at it. But I always incorporated photographic images into my work, through photo printmaking or collage, using both my own personal images as well as found images. But it was not until Photoshop was introduced in the 1990’s that I had a “darkroom” that I felt comfortable with. By that time, I had been using a Macintosh for page layout and vector graphics for several years, so Photoshop came naturally to me, and seemed much more analogous to painting and printmaking than a traditional darkroom, which was good for me. After that, my photographic image making took off.
Did you have a mentor?
When I was in art school in Ann Arbor I was fortunate to study with the lithographer, Paul Stewart. Low-key and soft spoken, he was a serious thinker, and very good at pushing students to expand their aesthetic horizons, along with instilling in them a solid work ethic. He was also an avid photographer, more often than not incorporating his personal photographs into his lithographs, which also made an impression on me.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer living or from the past who would it be?
That is a tough one, but Julia Margaret Cameron is the first name to pop into my head. I have always loved the emotionality and sheer beauty of her work, and the more I have read about her the more my appreciation has grown.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
After the “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison,”The Prologue” by Jeff Wall. For me, it is the most moving and imaginative example of the staged photography genre.
You make your photography by building entire worlds for your subjects to live in, how did that come about?
When I first moved to New York after art school in 1979, my very first job, before I started doing graphic design, was working in an architectural supply store. The model building materials there inspired me to begin a series of miniature “stage-set-like” box constructions. The tone of these was surreal, and a human presence was often suggested by collage or painted shadows, or sometimes an actual painted clay figure. The later box constructions each contained a completely enclosed scene that was viewed through a lens, and lit from the interior. Perhaps not surprisingly, many people told me these resembled antique cameras. I worked this way for most of the 1980’s.
Tell us what inspired Kazimierz?
My wife, Ewa, grew up in Krakow, Poland, immigrating to the U.S. as an adult. Visiting the city with her was my first trip to Eastern Europe. I was incredibly moved by the architecture much of it dating to gothic and renaissance times. Additionally, my own Jewish eastern European ancestors hailed from Warsaw and other nearby areas. So visiting the historical Jewish neighborhood of Kazimierz in Krakow inspired me deeply on both aesthetic and familial levels.
What do you hope people will take from these images?
As I imagine is the goal of most figurative photographers, I would like to kindle a sense of empathy for the characters I portray. Even though they belong to a particular community at a particular time in history, which I think is interesting in itself, in the end we all share the same passions, limitations, and struggles.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
I suppose the biggest challenge is finding the time, energy, and resources to make all the pictures I want to make. Going along with that is the financial uncertainty that is a daily reality for many artists. Additionally, I work very slowly, and as is typical of artists, I can be pretty hard on myself.
Is there one thing that you would like to tell people about your creative process ?
It is a long process, but I love all of the stages; the planning, the building and painting, lighting the scenes, photographing the models, even the post production.
What is next?
As I get older my work seems to be getting more and more personal. I am still working on the idea, but I am thinking my next project, while staying within my stylistic parameters, will be more explicitly autobiographical.
To learn more about Richard Tuschman visit his site at Richard Tuschman.
Thank you to the photographers that share their work with us.
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