Interview: Richard McCabe
(Part One~ The Evolution of Land Star)
Richard McCabe is a curator, writer, and photographer. He was born in England and grew up in the American South. In 1998, he received an MFA in Studio Art from Florida State University. For the past nineteen years he has lived and worked in New York City and New Orleans.
Since 2010, McCabe has been the Curator of Photography at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. He has curated over twenty-five exhibitions including: Seeing Beyond the Ordinary, The Mythology of Florida, The Rising, Eudora Welty: Photographs from the 1930s – 40s, Contemporary Alabama Photography, and The Colourful South.
When and why did you start photographing with instant film?
I have flirted with Polaroid and instant photography for a long while now – the first time I really started photographing seriously with instant film was in 1998. I had just graduated with an MFA from Florida State University and I moved to NYC. I did not have access to a darkroom, I did not have a digital camera – but I did have 2 Polaroid cameras – an SX-70 and a Land Camera. I bought those cameras for $10 each at the T & W flea market in Pensacola, Florida. Polaroid cameras allowed me to make photographs without a darkroom, studio or ink jet printer. From about 1998 – 2003, I photographed with the Polaroid cameras in and around Brooklyn where I lived. It was kind of a natural progression for me – because in grad school I made allot of lo-fi analogue installations using slide and overhead projectors – mainly because FSU did not have digital projectors or video equipment that I wanted to make video art. So I “made do” with second hand and antiquated materials as a way to make art. I love and I’m very influenced by folk art and artists – who make something out of nothing – what one of my professors Jim Roche called – “Make Do” art and that’s what I did.
“One thing I should mention is – I hope my instant photographs are good photographs – not just good instant photographs.”
There is a problem in the photography world with process or technique driven work. It’s usually really bad – gear heads and the “I only work in tintypes” crowd. For example, I’ve heard a photographer say “19th century processes is the only real photography.” Don’t get me wrong I love 19th century processes – just using this as an example of some photographer’s dogmatic reliance on techniques or process. When I look at a photograph I like it or not based on if it resonates with me visually – the image itself how does it make me feel – as opposed to how was it made? If “how did you do that” is the question your photographs elicit – then that’s not usually the question you want asked.
I know PACK PEEL POUR is all about instant photography and that’s great – but it’s also about great photography that happens to be made with instant film. One of the reasons I work with instant film and curated a 2014 exhibition at the Ogden Museum – Self Processing: Instant Photography is I always felt that instant/Polaroid photography had been overlooked or looked down upon by photo snobs or the photo-intelligentsia as a lesser form of photography – because it’s not a sacred gelatin silver print or whatever. It seems the Polaroid was thought of as a thumbnail sketch to the Gelatin Silver print – which is thought of as oil on canvas painting. Pissing off photo snobs with instant photography is fun, especially when I start doing abstract color grids. I can hear them now, “that’s not photography” – well yes it is!
How long have you been creating work for Land Star
The LAND STAR photographs were made over a four-year period between 2014 – 2017.
How did the series evolve? Was it always exclusively shot with instant film?
I originally called the series Roadside Ruins – that work culminated in the 2014 exhibition – Once around the Sun at Boyd Satellite Gallery in New Orleans. The Roadside Ruins series began in 2008 and was initially shot with a plastic Diana/Holga camera, after which I switched to photographing Roadside Ruins with a Polaroid Land Camera and instant film. In the winter of 2014, I was talking with Blake Boyd – who has made great work with instant photography – the Louisiana Cereal series that will soon be a book. We were talking about our love of instant photography. I told Blake how I wanted to start shooting instant film again – he responded that if I did he would give me an exhibition at his gallery – Boyd Satellite for PHOTONOLA 2014. That gave me a reason to shoot instant film again – starting in winter of 2014 through the present, I’ve photographed almost exclusively with a 1960s era Polaroid Land Camera and Fuji-FP100c film. After the Once Around the Sun exhibition in December 2014– I kept photographing with instant film – because it’s so much fun and the exhibition was so well received – so last year I changed the title of the 2014 -16 instant work to LAND STAR – to encompass the whole four years of shooting with instant film.
The title LAND STAR comes from the name of the inventor of the Polaroid camera and film – Edwin LAND and the light source that enables photography to be possible our nearest STAR – the sun. The Polaroid camera and film works perfectly with the subject matter I’m dealing with in LAND STAR – abandoned, desolate, obsolete sites – Americana, signage roadside snapshots – Like Sally Mann’s use of 19th century collodian large plate negatives to photograph 19th century Civil War battlefields – it just made sense.
Pumping to Please
Speaking of film, you shoot with Fujifilm FP100C which may be a dying breed. does this idea frighten you ~ in terms of this series?
Fuji announced about a year ago that they were discontinuing the FP-100C film. As of now its still available – but the price has tripled to around $24.00 a pack. I’m saddened because it’s such a wonderful process and the film produces a great color saturated print – which I actually think is better than the original Polaroid peel apart film from back in the day. I’m not so much frightened more saddened – I just think there is a great market for the film, I know so many photographers who are working with instant film – especially the Fuji pull apart film and I can’t believe its not profitable but obviously its not – that’s the only reason why Fuji would discontinue it. But I’ll roll with the punches. It is going to force me to move in another direction. I’m starting to shoot with my medium format film cameras – which is a good thing.
What do you like about FP100C? Why this film as opposed to others from Fuji?
Well what I love about Instant film/print in general is – the scale is totally out of synch with modern art photographic prints. The print is an object that you can hold in your hand – it’s tactile – and exists in the real world not just virtually on a computer screen. And the print is unique – one-of-a-kind that runs counter from editions and multiple prints that can be made from a single negative or file – so the instant print is more like a painting or a drawing.
In particular I’ve shot the black & white Fuji 3000 film that is now discontinued. I think its wonderful film – Jen Ervin’s work with the Fuji 3000 film is amazing! Its just not for me. I like color and color photography, and the color saturation on the Fuji FP100C is wonderful – it really pops like the old Polaroid SX-70 film. I also do photo abstractions with the Fuji Instax color film, which I like, but the size of the FP-100 print, 8.5 cm x 10.8 cm, the rectangle, and the color saturation all make FP-100C my favorite instant film.
How limiting or freeing is it to work with materials that are “short dated” so to speak?
It is limiting because its gotten so dang expensive and its freeing because it forces me to move on and work with other photo processes and create a new series – change the direction of my work. It’s time, it has been a good run – I’ve made a series I’m proud of and I have 100+ images that I think are exhibition quality.
Red, White and Blue
Will the series end when the film ends?
Yes, although, it might actually end before that. I have 5 packs left. But what is really putting an end to the whole LAND STAR series is the LAND STAR book that will be published by AINT – BAD. The book comes out in fall of 2017. So that will be the appropriate end to my experiments with the Fuji instant pull apart film, but I will continue working with the Fuji Instax – making abstractions and grids.
Part Two of our interview will be published next week.
Also, we are happy to announce that Pack Peel Pour’s first Artist’s Portfolio will be Richard McCabe, Land Star.
The portfolio is an edition of 10 and features 10 images from McCabe’s Land Star series.
More information, next week.