Rfotofolio’s annual call brings to our attention the inspiring work that is being done.
Today we share the work of Paul Matzner, one of the selections in the2017 Rfotofolio Call for Entry.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself ?
I was born in 1953 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. First generation American, since my parents were born in Vienna and came here in 1938. Long story short, I was raised as a Catholic, but discovered when I was 13 years old that my entire ancestry was Jewish. So, it has taken many decades of questioning my mom to ferret out information and feel comfortable with my identity and where I fit in. I mention this because I am a loner by nature, and have always gravitated to individual pursuits like running, piano playing, photography, etc. I never felt part of a group until I joined CoPA (Coalition of Photographic Arts) in 2006 in Milwaukee. That was the springboard to helping me appreciate strong support among peers, and interaction among people passionate about their art. That same feeling is now why I love Facebook for posting photos and keeping in touch with fellow photographers and friends. It’s a sense of belonging that I treasure. Connecting with people is my primary subject matter in my image-making. Speaking of people, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my wife, son and daughter (and their spouses), and my granddaughter as being the primary focus in my life. They bring me stability, love, and purpose that allows me to be a photographer.
How did you get started in photography?
A high school photography class taught me about image making, film development and processing, and making prints in a darkroom. I thought it was the coolest thing to be able to make a picture of something or someone and have it appear magically on a piece of paper, some of which I still have now almost 50 years later! In my 20’s I took a b/w photography class at the former Milwaukee Center for Photography with Al Balinsky.
Although I majored in Early Childhood Education in college and worked in a public school system in various capacities for three years, I left and traveled to New Zealand and Fiji for nine months and shot color slides of my adventures. Upon my return I was hired for a grant based job as a photographer for the City of Milwaukee for 18 months. It was a chance to do photojournalistic work along with public relations type work. Everything from shooting council members at meetings, to city workers repairing streets, to the mayor in his office speaking with constituents. It was a tremendous opportunity since I didn’t really have prior training for it. They also paid for me to take a Photojournalism class at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. I loved it.
After that I ended up in the printing industry, first selling commercial printing and then working as an account manager for 23 years at Quad/Graphics overseeing the production of magazines and catalogs. I retired in 2010. My own photography became somewhat dormant during this time and was re-awakened in 2004 when my family went to visit my college age daughter who was studying in Ecuador. Shooting slides again brought back my passion for making images.
In 2008 I purchased my first digital camera and decided to spend a few days in New York City to test it out and learn how to use it. That was the first of seven trips to NYC in the last ten years to do street photography. The rest is history as they say. Since then I have been licensing stock photos to publications, exhibiting my work locally, being juried into shows in various states, being chosen for online exhibits and books, and now of course, RfotoFolio.
Would you share with us one image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time?
That’s easy. Tomoku Uemura in Her Bath, by W. Eugene Smith, from his Minamata series in 1971. I saw this print in an exhibition in Milwaukee shortly after this series was published in Life Magazine. It deals with mercury poisoning in Japanese rivers, caused by corporations. The impact of seeing this incredible black and white image of a mother holding her deformed daughter in a bath has never left me. So haunting.
Which photographers and other artists’ work do you admire?
Well, there is always Gene Smith as I mentioned previously. He brought such an amazing sense of humanity to his work whether it was the country doctor, the Haitian mental clinic, war scenes, and also his own children. They are strong, graphic, tonal images that stand the test of time. Then there is Henri Cartier-Bresson, of course, because I consider myself mostly a street photographer. What I love about a lot of his images is the sense of “everyday” occurrences. “The poetry of human encounters on the street” is how one writer described Cartier-Bresson’s work. From his work I have learned to pay attention to what is going on around me in all directions and not just the event itself. For example, his most memorable photo of King George’s coronation was of the crowd perched on railings and such, with one supposedly drunk man lying on the ground beneath them in a pile of newspapers. Classic.
I have spent a lot of time with photo books, going to exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Milwaukee Art Museum, looking at Lenscratch and Visura online, and perusing other photographers’ websites. So, there are hundreds if not thousands of artists whose work I admire. Oh, let’s not forget Elliott Erwitt!
What has been your most memorable experience as far as your photographic work is concerned?
Meeting Aline Smithson, David Carol, Jonathan Blaustein, and others at the Filter Photo Festival portfolio reviews and getting positive feedback and support from them. Aline was the first person I had ever reviewed with on a national level and I was struck by how willing she was to go the extra mile. She looked at my b/w prints of a foreclosed house and after some discussion asked me if I had printed the color versions. Since I hadn’t, she asked me to e-mail her that evening so she could see the color images. She made a point of saying I needed to do this that same day because she would not have any free time otherwise. I was flabbergasted when she responded to my e-mail at about 10:00 pm on a Friday night:
“OMG…the color is amazing. No doubt in my mind. I mean the color of that toothbrush, the wallpaper in the bathroom, and the little bit of brown on the toilet paper…so so fantastic! The colors are so muted that it feels a bit in the black and white vein, but they feel much richer to me… And remember, that’s my subjective opinion.”
I was fortunate to take Aline Smithson’s class “Photographing with Intention” at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops in 2015. After seeing some of my close-up street portraits of strangers, she featured my work in Lenscratch on June 5, 2015. I am very indebted to her for her nurturing style and honest critiques.
Please tell us about the portfolio of work you submitted to our call.
My series is called Facing You/Facing Me. I started it in 2014 in Milwaukee and have done multiple shoots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. I place myself on the sidewalk of a main street and stop people as they pass by to photograph their face up-close. Very quick, very painless. I do not ask them anything about their name, religion, ethnicity, income, etc. because that is not the point for me. I just want to connect momentarily with people and value their humanity. ”
On a personal level, this work forces me out of my comfort zone as just an observer, and makes me have direct contact and a moment of trust with a complete stranger. As a high functioning introvert (my own term) it allows me to still meet people, but not have to engage in lengthy dialog!
What Image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
I made one in NYC a few years ago that I now call “Subway Smile” which is of a seated man holding his “smiling” dog on the subway. It has been juried into numerous shows. What I learned from my interaction with this subject is that I need to be patient and keep shooting. I started out standing next to this man on the platform and took some shots there and then continued as we both boarded and as he sat down. We never spoke to each other, just sort of nodded. The image that is now “Subway Smile” was the 10th and last one I shot.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
To be honest I don’t shoot every day (except with my iPhone), but I do it in concentrated blocks of time. So what I really enjoy is thinking of diptychs, or typologies from photos I have already shot. Going back to images on my computer of NYC for example and combining similar subject matter. Not a day goes by when I don’t look at photos or think about photos in some way.
Do you have any favorite pieces of equipment that you find essential in the making of your work?
Canon 50mm, F1.4 lens. It’s a workhorse.
What is on the horizon?
Books. I have so much material and so many ideas. Everything from NYC dogs to typologies of doughnuts to close-up portraits to…well, let’s just say my mind starts racing when I think about publishing my work in book form. Over the past few years I have been taking iPhone photos of my dog, Lucca, as we take walks. I pose him in front of various signs to create humorous or interesting scenes. These have been Facebook posts, but now need to reside together in book form. It will be a great winter project.
Thank you Paul for sharing your work with us.
To learn more about the work of Paul Matzner please visit his site at Paul Matzner.