Tell us the story behind your winning LICC entry, The State of America, from the inception to the final touches.
The State of America began as a project to depict each Amendment of the Bill of Rights as a photograph. I quickly realized the nation was becoming polarized due to the presidential primaries at the time and this would make for a better topical subject rather than the Bill of Rights. I began to look at what people were fighting about and addressed those social issues one diorama at a time. As the politics of the world keep getting more complex, I have more ideas to work though. I plan to continue to add images to this body of work.
What are the issues covered in The State of America?
It seemed that almost every day there was a new issue to address, like my take on the border wall where I placed immigrant children in cages, separated from their parents. Protests, the woman’s march, religion, guns, military torture, the opioid crisis and school shootings are just a few of the topics addressed in the portfolio. Anything that is causing the nation to be polarized is fair game.
Since The State of America, how did you evolve as an artist?
After The State of America, I began a project based around D-day, specifically the Omaha beach, Normandy and my grandfather’s time fighting in WW2. The micro dioramas in The State of America became a much larger, more detailed diorama on a level I had not committed to before.
Now, take us back to the time you first held a camera and the moment you realized your passion for photography.
When I was a young boy, I used my grandfather’s Spartus Full-Vue plastic 120 format
Camera until my parents thought I might destroy it, so I was given a 35mm point and shoot to replace it. I spent countless hours and rolls of film trying to capture a still life advertising image of jewelry and watches like the ones in the magazines. Jump forward 20 years later, I was designing fine art jewelry myself and needed to photograph my designs. A dear friend, photographer Ron van Dongen, helped me out and taught me how to use a macro lens to get those shots I had been striving to take for years. Photographing my jewelry led me to take other macro still life compositions.
Tell us about the pivotal moment that really launched your photography career.
About 6 years ago, I wanted to test the waters in the fine art photography world. I gathered my portfolio and headed to the Palm Springs Photo festival for reviews of my work. My thoughts of what a portfolio should be was not what the reviewers were expecting to see. One curator told me to hang up my camera and never touch it again. While this was upsetting to hear, it made me work harder to prove her wrong. I began to search out what a portfolio of work should look like and I worked hard over the next year or so developing what is now “The Protectors of Magical Seeds.” I also found a group of photography peers looking to meet up and present work for critique. We call ourselves “SnowCreek Collaborative.” This group has become one of the most valuable tools I have now.
What influenced you to start creating dioramas and photographing them, instead of shooting more conventional work?
After “The Protectors of Magical Seeds” I went to an Adobe Creative Jam event, the theme for the evening was “finding your child-like mind.” I went home and thought back to when I was a boy and what I enjoyed playing with the most: action figures, mainly from Star Wars and Lego. I began composing these types of figures in small micro-dioramas to mimic movie scenes. I realized this may lead to copyright issues and looked for other figures to use instead. I settled on train set miniature figures in a scale of 1:87 (very small) and began work on the “Bug Transport” portfolio with the silly concept of “What if bugs were the size of cars and we could ride them for transportation?”
How do you come up with ideas?
I keep a journal for ideas. When something pops into my head, I try to write it down. I go back and review these ideas every now and then for inspiration. “The State of America” began as a project to decipher all 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights as a photograph. The last political cycle made me realize most people do not know what their rights are as Americans. After I finished the project, it grew and expanded to deal with the issues that are polarizing the nation and became what is now “The State of America.” I now use the mini-figures as a form of activism politically. I use them to work through social issues facing the world.
Your work is labor intensive. Talk us through the process.
First, I find what topical issue I want to tackle. Next, I write down ideas for concepts and search for the right figures online. Sometimes they come painted, other times I need to paint everything. Then I build a diorama to place the figure into. Once I begin to photograph, I try to take every possible angle and lighting set up before It’s torn down and a new one built. Some of the more intricate dioramas, I have begun to save for future exhibitions.
What do you consider the most challenging aspects of your projects?
Building of the dioramas can be labor intensive. For my latest project I just completed, it was combining diorama images with war memorabilia from WW2 to tell my grandfather’s story of fighting in the D-day invasion at Normandy, Omaha Beach. I come at this project from a few different ways but I somehow managed to successfully combine them all to have the images tell the narrative smoothly.
Is there a chance for you in the future to use themes or genres of art outside of your own?
I am always looking to push the medium of photography in new ways. Everyone has a camera in his or her pocket and I am looking to stand out from the crowd. I did a project titled “Bending Time” that addresses the concept of multiple universes by using portals I create within an image from pixels I extract from within the original photograph. A peer who uses a similar process in her work inspired me. My work is very different from my friend’s work but you can see how our process is similar. Being inspired by other’s work helps me grow as an artist but my main goal is to be original and true to my own work.
With your growing number of outstanding works, what should we expect from you next?
Well as I mentioned before, I just finished shooting a portfolio about my grandfather’s time fighting in WW2. It is a very personal project and I approached it much differently than other projects in the past because it required a lot of research and I took a couple workshops to help me find my voice to tell the story I wanted to tell. I did not begin taking any photos until a year and half after I started researching it! War Stories is already doing very well and is already scheduled to be shown in Boston and San Diego.
How’s winning LICC New Talent of the Year going so far?
It has been an amazing year. Winning this award was such a huge honor and validating as an artist, especially after being told to give up photography that one time. It is so wonderful to be recognized for your work. The support of LICC has boosted my confidence and allowed me to realize my full potential as an artist. I am now applying for grants and exhibitions I never thought I would be at this point in my career and I’m getting positive results.
What is your advice for young artists who are just starting out?
Never give up on your dream, and never let someone else tell you to give up your dream. Learn from your failures and study, study, study. I am constantly looking at images of other artists and I try to figure out how their approach got them to their end result. I look at the shadows in an image to figure out their lighting, the paper they printed on, their composition, and even reading an artist’s statements about their work will help a young artist define their own work. Then, continually make new work yourself. The more you make, the more your personal style begins shows through, and a narrative of relating images will begin to stand out. Also find a group of peers to share work with. The constructive criticism of peers in a safe environment can be the most priceless tool in your collection.