Michael Darough portfolio The Talk was selected by jurors Paula Tognarelli,
Jennifer Schlesinger and Rfotofolio for the 2020 Rfotofolio Selections. We are pleased to share his work.
” I believe there is nothing more urgent than to call out systemic racism. By choosing this portfolio I acknowledge that systemic racism exists and that I am committed to exhibiting photographs by indigenous people and people of color. This work is important. The Talk is real.” Paula Tognarelli
“The Talk by Michael Darough created in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, is timely, relevant and powerful – it is atypical ‘portrait’ photography used to tell us a story of the subject typically rendered via frontal angle perspective. This for me led me to imagine deeply the stories that lay beneath the images, asking even more questions of the photographer – always a good sign to me when I want to know more and have a dialogue with the work.” Jennifer Schlesinger
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I’m a working artist and educator currently based out of St. Louis, MO. I grew up here but have lived all over the country. My work explores personal and cultural identity in the form of documentary photography, street photography and constructed narratives. The work featured on Rfotofolio, is a body of images representative of my interest surrounding issues of race in America.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I developed a fascination with taking photos at a young age, walking around the house with a camera in hand and taking darkroom classes at a community college in my neighborhood. The main sources of my training were at the University of Memphis where I received my MFA and Arizona State University where I received my BFA, both in photography.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Carrie Mae Weems and the way that she explores her ideas and incorporates the black body into her work has always inspired me. Jeff Wall’s approach to storytelling is creative and the presentation of his work draws you in. There is a long list of people I could give but in addition to the high-profile individuals; former professors, photographers I’ve met, my friends who are fellow artists, individuals who are constantly experimenting with their work. All I have to do is scroll down social media or have a conversation with one of them and it helps stimulate ideas that I had but wasn’t sure how to visually articulate. They also make me think about approaches and processes I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
There are a lot of recent images that I’ve seen created by contemporary artists that are powerful and that I revisit but an image that I have gone back to repeatedly over the years is Emerging Man, Harlem New York, 1952 by Gordon Parks. Something about this collaboration between Park and Ralph Ellison that resonates with me. It’s engaging. Maybe it’s the eye contact mixed with the proximity of the man peering his head from the sewer or the bit of light that illuminates the part of his face that’s visible. The combination of Parks’ eye and the ideas behind The Invisible Man by Ellison makes the photo even stronger. It was an image that I was introduced to early in my photographic education that stuck with me.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson.
There’s a photo I shot while traveling with my friend a couple of years ago; it’s on a busy dock in Copenhagen, Denmark. We had been walking all day and I was going back and forth between my film camera and DSLR. We slowed our pace down for a few minutes because she could tell I wanted to photograph in the area. Patience is what I was learning in that moment, something I forget and frequently have to relearn while shooting. I pulled out my film camera, knowing I couldn’t see the immediate results of my efforts, and waited for the sun to be in the right spot and for just enough people to enter and exit the frame. I was happy with the results weeks later when I developed the film.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to the Rfotofolio Call.
The Talk is a continual conversation that addresses systemic racism, prejudices, and the perception that individuals may have about black/brown people as they try to navigate the world. This is a discussion that I, like many other people of color, had with my family at a very young age. It is a conversation that we’re all continuing to have today.
These are teachable moments my father shared with me on early morning drives, thoughts my mother expressed before I left the house to hang out with friends, or a look my grandmother would give me as we would walk through a store together. They impressed upon me the importance of being aware of my surroundings, to understand that I am a Black man in America and the reality that comes along with that. These instances that occur around the country on a daily basis is what prompted me to pursue this body of images. Although these matters regarding race are better than they have been in decades, there are still racial disparities within our society and our criminal justice system that have yet to be properly addressed and fixed.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
When working with street photography, searching is the most rewarding part. Looking or finding the right environment and the right social interactions is fun. If I’m in the studio constructing the image presents the most challenges but watching everything come together right before you hit the shutter is a good feeling.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
That is a good question…. I guess I get frustrated like everyone else, then I put on some music and work through the process. I think getting stuck is a natural part of creating. Like many others, I have to go through bad ideas, bad attempts and poor results before finding what I’m looking for. The finished product might be completely different than the initial idea but continuing to work on anything helps when ideas aren’t progressing how they should.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
Good lighting equipment, especially for the work I’m currently exploring, having access to diverse lighting is essential to produce this work. I am in a studio with a camera on a tripod and yes, both of those items are key but the way I illuminate the frame and allow things to fall into the shadow is what helps change the composition of figures that are placed in the same spot.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
Delving into rethinking older photographic processes in new ways. The darkroom is my first love and alternative processes can yield unexpected results. Investigating different approaches to previous photographic techniques is something I’m always interested in.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
I’m going to flip this question and say the way that I see the world affects my art. They play off of each other. I’m constantly looking at the news, having conversations or receiving a text message from someone on issues going on in the world and it compels me to make images in response to that. This is particularly true in regard to work I’m currently pursuing. This call and response become part of the image making process whether I’m photographing a landscape or commenting on social issues.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods? Or has it?
I think that it has affected my process in positive and negative ways. It’s forced me to re-evaluate what I have in my space and how I can work with it. I enjoy being out and photographing social interactions and that is not a thing right now. Environmental shots, still lifes and portraits of people within my bubble have become interests of mine in recent months.
What’s on the horizon?
Every day I’m thinking about what the next project or images within current projects will be. The Talk is coming to a place of resolution but it’s not quite there yet. I plan on finishing this up in 2021 before transitioning into the next body of work.
Thank you Michael Darough To learn more about the work of Michael Darough please click on his name.