ERIC GARDUÑO: How did you first get into photography?
JUSTIN FISET: My mom was into photography, we had a darkroom in our basement, she taught me how to use a camera and to print when I was around 9 or 10 and that was that.
EG: How would you describe your personal aesthetic, both in terms of your work but also your style, i.e. Horn Rim glasses, vintage Mercedes Benz wagons, Scotch and of course…The Beard. Do the two influence each other? (your work and your style, not scotch and beard)
JF: I don’t know. All the things you mentioned are founded in a sort of practicality, keeping things simple, finding the default setting, or at least that’s how I think about it. The old wagon is a cheap, practical and reliable car that I can (sort of) work on; I don’t like to shave and have excellent beard genes; old things, like the glasses, are just what they are, or rather they look like what they are, if that makes any sense. It’s bourbon more than scotch, and that just tastes good. Does that relate to the work? Well, I like to keep things simple in general, and opt for a practical approach when I’m making something, so maybe a little.
EG: Let’s talk about how your photographs come into being. Do you carry a camera at all times waiting to capture a fleeting moment or do you embark on occasional expeditions in search of opportune subjects?
JF: It started with (and continues to be) regular outings. I had moved to Los Angeles a year or two before and was still settling in. I hadn’t really worked on art in any consistent way since before I moved and was looking for a way to start. Carrying a camera around had never really been how I worked, I would usually have an idea and deal with in a studio or on a computer but that wasn’t really working for me, for whatever reason. I knew I wanted to make images and that the subject matter wasn’t really important, so I started by walking out my front door. I walked all over the neighborhood, and other neighborhoods, and through alleyways and parks and tried not to think too much about what I was doing. After a while, longer than I would have thought, I started getting something that worked.
EG: How do you know when you find something you want to shoot?
JF: I don’t, until I do. It’s not all that easy for me to articulate what I’m looking for or what I see in the images, but it has to do with seeing a convergence of elements that manifest in a way that, to my eye at least, elevates itself just beyond everything around it; a frame that’s stranger and realer than what’s outside of it. That last sentence makes me cringe but I’m leaving it because it’s pretty close.
EG: I’m deeply struck by the color in your photographs and their relationship to the whole composition. Can you describe the process of composing an image in terms of its logic of color?
JF: The color is really important, the color of the things but also the color of the light. Probably more than anything else, what dictates when I make an exposure is color, and that might shed a little light on the last question, because the images aren’t really of things, if that makes sense. I’m not trying to tell you anything about alleys or walls, it’s color and light. But I’m not sure I can describe the process. It’s the recognition of whatever internal logic of color that comes across that’s guiding the thing, when I’m composing the frame, or rather, when I see something I usually move pretty slowly to actually take a picture. I stare a lot, step back, walk around and just look to make that the thing I’m seeing or responding to is actually what I’m seeing. I try to make sure that I’m clear on the logic of what I’m seeing so that when I actually make the exposure all of the active elements are in the frame. This usually means I take a few steps back. Well, ok, that’s actually a pretty good description.
EG: Do you think color can be humorous? Is humor a part of your practice?
JF: Sure. There’s stuff in there that I think is funny. The best pictures usually have me laughing to myself a little before I make an exposure, but I also spend a lot of time alone. Humor’s tough, I think I’m funny personally/socially, I like making other people laugh and I like comedy a lot, and occasionally I see humor in art that works and I really, really like it when it does, but a lot of the time (and this may be specific to photography) it’s an easy out for everyone, but mostly the viewer. They see an image, they get the joke, the interaction is done. It’s difficult with a still image to be funny and not have it be a one-liner. If there is humor in my images I hope it’s on the absurd end of the spectrum.
EG: To what extent are your images produced or staged? Do you move objects around, use lighting tricks or post-production tools?
JF: They’re not. I don’t move anything around, or I don’t think I have, and it’s all natural/available light. Everything goes through Photoshop, the editing is usually pretty light, though. After the picture is taken whatever editing I do is usually just in service of a better print and to bring the image inline with what I recall. The relationship to reality isn’t all that important to me, but it’s usually pretty close. If I thought it would make better images I would arrange things, but I don’t think I could do any better than what I find.
EG: Has photography ever gotten you into trouble or led you on any noteworthy adventures?
JF: When I’ve actually been on something like an adventure, photography isn’t something I’m very concerned with. Photographs just end up being a deflated version of what you thought you saw or what happened, or it takes you out of whatever is happening in order to make a better picture. It’s much more work than you would think to make things appear as they are, and a lot the time it isn’t worth the trouble.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
ERIC GARDUÑO (USA, Santa Fe): Eric Amabe Garduño was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico the year that E.T. premiered. He completed an MFA at Yale around the time Justin Timberlake attempted to bring Sexyback. He was the storyboard artist for the pilot of Breaking Bad, and has exhibited artwork nationally and internationally. He’s taught at several colleges. He drinks Whiskey and Gin (not together) and is currently the director of the foremost Pre-Columbian antiquities gallery in the United States.
JUSTIN FISET USA, Los Angeles): Justin Fiset was born in Edmonton, Alberta and grew up in West Virginia and New Mexico. He studied photography at the University of New Mexico. Since graduating in 2003 has been struck by lightning and has looked at more photographs than you ever will. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he manages one of the most significant private collections of photographs in the world. His work has been published internationally, most recently in VIA Publication (issue #2), shown throughout the country, and is held in several private collections.