Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Interview With Joel Simpson (1)

Joel Simpson is a multi- disciplinary artist. He is a photo artist, jazz pianist and had taught English, French and Italian in colleges. in October he will have two shows in France. One in Tours in October 12 at the Chapelle Sainte-Anne. And the second will be in Paris at the Musée de l’érotisme.

E.G: How would you like to introduce yourself to those who do not know you?

J.S: Professionally, I’m a photo artist perhaps a bit obsessed with geological formations, an amateur prehistorian, someone who has studied form in a number of media—visual, literary, musical. If they’re interested in my background, as I would be interested in theirs, I’d tell them with a wink that I am a recovering academic—I loved teaching college, but the university today is not the intellectual community (in pursuit of truth) it once was. So I left and turned to the great love of my life, photography, which has been immensely rewarding. Most of my published writings are in music and art criticism.

E.G. You started in photography as an artistic expression in your teen years. You then became a multi-disciplinary artist. You’ve taught English, French, Italian, and jazz history and performance, and you were a professional jazz pianist for two decades. What brought you back to photography after all these years?

J.S: I realized when I returned to teaching that I was really working mainly to support my photography and travel habits. This was even true when I played music for a living. So when I became fed up with academia I said, why not professionally what I really love best, and here do I am.

E.G: What is photography for you? What do you seek to express in this form of art?

J.S: Photography is my way of taking in, loving and expressing my joy in the visual world. Although there is much to this world that is hidden from sight, pursuing photography seriously has revealed much that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. Really seeing, which is what photography teaches it devotees, brings forth a huge wealth of form and relationships which in fact reveal much more about the depths of reality than most people suspect. Practicing photography becomes a form of discovery, as we contemplate what other photographers have done and constantly try to exceed our limits, and to extend our vision.


Four areas of photography are particularly meaningful to me: natural forms, portraiture, human events and interactions, and the digital process of combining images.

My favorite subjects in nature are geological and botanical, with a slight edge to the former. The geological includes ice, by the way, which is “instant” geology. I find my favorite nature photographs are those that use a rather flat canvas, rather that the virtual perspective of a landscape or scene. So I prefer a sense of form to a sense of place. Pure form, as found in rocks, ice, water, etc. offers images of energy, power and spirituality.

The best photojournalism—where photography records human activity—is about capturing an epiphany: a moment in which many elements in space all combine to offer a rich reading of the scene. It’s not easy to escape from the norm of banality and capture something truly revealing, but the moments are always unfolding; they’re always there. The trick, the talent, is to notice them and snap, which has to be intuitive, because it’s all happening too fast to think about. When this is done successfully, a photograph can reveal certain kinds of truth as no other art can, not discourse, not moving pictures, not fiction. The capacity to freeze and preserve a moment enables the viewer to calmly explore relationships among elements that would disappear or change the next moment.

Finally, photography with its presumption of authenticity has the capacity to make believable fictions, or call them “confections,” to distinguish them from the quasi-fictional versions of literal reality. This capacity has now been greatly enhanced by digital techniques. As a particularly powerful tool of the imagination, photography can propose the plausible impossible with a straight-faced seriousness that painting can only dream of. In my virtual sculpture- body projection work I have learned from many painters, especially the surrealists, who have also inspired a whole new generation of digital photo artists. Our photography by no means diminishes the value of the great visual poets of the imagination, such as Magritte, Dalí, Miró, Max Ernst, André Masson, and others, all of whom had their own unique vision.

One more word on the relationship of photography to sculpture. It’s not an obvious one, rather kind of a subterranean one, but actually very special. Since much of my art photography consists of creating pictures of imaginary sculpture I must think about this. Both art forms address the plasticity of objects in space, sculpture by recreating it, substituting the color and tone of the sculptural material for that of the actual subject, while preserving its spatial dimension; photography by representing the subject in space in all its three-dimensionality, and what this does with the light falling on it.

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