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After seeing me work magic on still photos, my old friend from back home, director Keith Alan Morris, enlisted me to do the color correction for his upcoming film, Runaway Hearts. I loved the work, and left my day job at 3Coasts to work for Keith's production company, UFO Technologies. It stars John Schneider (Bo from Dukes of Hazzard), Wendell Pierce (Tremé, The Wire), Nick Gomez (Looper), Jay Kenneth Johnson (Days of our Lives), and Ali Landry (this Dorito's commercial). Here are a few quick before-and-after screen grabs from the film's first fifteen minutes.
Cam Lasley, aka Laz D, is a rapper from Portland, Oregon whose three albums chronicle living with down syndrome. He came to me after he completed his third album for a new website, promo photos, and a poster for his album release party, below.

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When I first saw Ben Gest‘s photographs, I didn’t quite trust what I was looking at. Something was off. Before I had time to figure things out, a security guard was rousing me from my hypnosis, pointing at the clock above--the museum was closing. So I went home and looked into it. Sure enough, these are no ordinary photographs. Gest meticulously stitches hundreds of individual photographs together into one large, seamless, deceptive single image. The people that appear together in any given photograph were probably not together in real life. He plays with perspective like a cubist, subtly distorts the human figure like a mannerist, and has built a repertoire of psychologically charged scenes like, well, a photographer.

I initiated the following conversation a few years later, after returning to Paul Joyce’s book-length interview with David Hockney, which for me brought cubism finally down to earth. Gest’s main points of reference are not other photographers, but painters, and he builds upon Hockney’s photographic foundation more and better than anyone I can name. He answered my questions so well that I struggled to keep pace, and each time we spoke, I felt I was seeing his work again with fresh eyes. Of course, we talked about the aesthetic and social motivations behind his photographs, but more than anything, we kept coming back to what we found in common: a knotty relationship with photography itself.





Alec Quig:  I'm going to start with my most basic question: I've been looking at your work for years now, and have read just about everything out there on you, but your core motivation is still enigmatic to me. Your work is remarkably consistent. You're really driving something home. I wanted to talk about the psychology of that. There's nothing out there to give your audience an idea of the soil your work germinated in, who you are, or even what you look like—to be honest, I thought you’d be at least twenty years older! There must be a pretty significant wellspring of psychic energy you draw from in painstakingly compiling these big images.

Ben Gest: My work is very much reflective of the moment--the moment now. The moment I live in. My life. What I struggle with is trying to describe the complexity of all that. I don't think about photography being a depiction. I'm not interested in photography that picks something that's happening over and over again, pulls apart the subtle differences between these moments that keep happening, and generally recording, recording, recording. I'm very interested in the idea that the photograph enters into a space that's much more psychological, much more subtle, and much more powerful, about the conditions of life at this moment, and the struggles I think people are engaged in. My interest is in a very specific cross-section of photography. I think a photograph can transcend the specificity of the thing it visually describes and approach something much less tangible, and to me, much more powerful.

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AQ: Hazma Walker described your compositions making the eye “move not so much around the picture, but in and out of it.”

BG: That's what's so interesting about photography. I teach photography a lot, in lots of places. When my students really start to understand the medium, they begin to see that a photograph describes more than what's actually in front of the camera. It's not just the depiction of the thing in the photograph, it's this bigger experience: how you look at it, how it affects you viscerally, how that relates to content. Content isn't only the thing that's being described in the photographic moment—it's a broader experience. That's where I engage with the process of photography in a very specific way. There's a real opportunity to think about the experience of how you read something, how you look at something, and how that creates its meaning. Until the computer, photography hasn't been able to engage with that.

AQ: Do you see your work continuing in this vein for a while? Indefinitely, even?

BG: I'm not bored by what I'm doing at all, and I don't feel like I've even begun to exhaust the possibilities. I have very narrow interests within photography. I'm not a prolific photographer, and I'm not generally excited about the wider landscape of the medium. But I am very interested in very specific ways that I can use it. Of anything I've ever done, it's the only medium that seems to be able to connect what I think and what I want to say. It's exactly aligned with how I think and how I experience.

AQ: Is what you want to say to hard to say in words, and thus better conveyed through photography?

BG: I certainly believe that there's a language within this medium that's unique to itself. But I'm also a firm believer in being able to be articulate about your work. On one hand, I think there's something that [visual] art does that you can't do with words, and at the same time, I think you have to respect the complexity of the language you have to use to try to talk about these things.

AQ: Is there a body of work from before what you're known for now? Did you have to push through "straight" photography to get where you are now?

BG: There are a few pictures. I started with very traditional street photography. I haven't shown them much, but you can see a link between how I did things then and how I do them now. I don't work "intuitively" so much now, but I was able to dissect things even then.

AQ: Dissecting seems to be a good word for the principal function of your work. And your focus seems to be narrowing.

BG: I think that's true.



AQ: Though the connotation of “narrow” is a bit off, you really are mining this. As a spectator, your work seems to become more mysterious the more you continue to do so. The first piece of yours I ever saw, years ago, was either “Chuck, Alice, & Dale” at the Art Institute [in Chicago]. Strangely, it seemed so fully realized that there wasn't much mystery to me, even though it was quite different from other photographs around. I didn't know exactly what was going on in the picture, but I intuitively got it. I felt immediately at home with it. Literally, the work was something I could imagine, you know, hanging it up in my living room. It didn't challenge me like some of your more recent work does. And on that note, I couldn’t imagine living with a lot of your more recent work. It’s too unnerving.

BG: That was an interesting and important picture for me, but one I have a lot of mixed feelings about. I have very specific goals with each picture, and with some I feel I achieve them more gracefully than others. Then, once they're out of my control, there's that whole world of interpretation out there. I respect that picture very much and learned a lot from it, but I don't know if it's as graceful as some of my others.

AQ: Which, for example?

BG: I think my single-subject images are some of my most graceful and psychologically pointed. It started at the Renaissance Society show, where they were made public for the first time. They've since continued to become more personal. My work presents itself as something very simple. It almost looks like a very everyday, snapshot kind of picture, but it reveals itself to be something very different. Some of these pictures, especially the more recent ones, really need time to reveal themselves. What I do like about my work is that it's all in the picture. It's all there. It will reveal itself, but it takes time. I think my work asks you to spend time with in it a way that photography has trouble with in some ways.

AQ: I would say more so every day. Maybe even every minute. Coming at it from the internet, as I am most of the time, and as I imagine a good deal of your audience  is, it's challenging to give something the time it deserves.

BG: I struggle with that, honestly. I know my work survives very differently in front of you than it does in any reproduction. That's not good, because my work requires something more.



AQ: And it’s also pretty heady. Cubism’s heady stuff, period—and here’s a blunt question: is what you're doing cubism per se?

BG: It's related. It's about the desire to understand how to describe something in its fullest on a two-dimensional surface. And I do think there's the disruptive element of cubism: intentionally seeking to break or challenge the comfort zone we’re in when looking at a representation of something or somebody. And I want to be part of the conversation of how photography is changing, or can be changed. The cubists were interested in disrupting sculpture and painting; I'm interested in disrupting photography on some level. It's that modernist gesture of wanting to break traditions. And I don't think I'm aggressively doing that visually like cubism did, but some of the underlying lessons regarding the complexity of representation that cubism can't help but...

AQ: ...throw in your face. Are you able to articulate what those lessons would be? In other words, what has this body of work taught you about representation? I think it's there—”everything’s in the picture," as you say. But since you've shown it, can you tell it, too? Hockney really made cubism click for me by showing and telling. I've been seeing Picasso and Hockney practically all my life, but the latter’s photos drew me in like a moth to flame. And he delineates it so clearly and effortlessly. I was kind of walking around in a daze for a day or two!



I mean, I know people who are pretty involved with painting and still don't really get cubism in full—I've had this conversation where it’s of course another important movement, but the quantum leap nature of it, the magnitude of it, hasn’t sunk in viscerally. Often, they're looking at all these paintings from a hundred years ago, and they're still very demanding, and it takes a while to start seeing. I can't imagine the challenge they posed to viewers in, you know, 1917. Most people don't get the chance or impetus to think about it all that deeply. Some of it relates to the same problem you deal with in terms of audience: needing to see the work in person. But it's very interesting that photography, of all things, via Hockney, can bring cubism down to earth. Wasn’t cubism partly a response to the advent of photography?

BG: Well, in terms of your original question, I don't know if I can, as you say, “show and tell.” I can say that I think artists are frequently frustrated by the limits of what they know about how to describe the world, and that innovation comes out of a sense of one’s intellect and ambition reaching beyond their facility. Those who do anything innovative connect those dots. I'm specifically interested in questioning intimacy, the relationship between the photographer's presence and their subject matter, the participation of the viewer in the picture--literally, how the photographer controls how the viewer reads the picture--and disrupting space in a way that creates meaning. Where I diverge from Hockney is removing those edges, so you don't know how I did it. That's where he was all about process. He makes it clear. I don't. And it makes you uncomfortable, and that relates to the subject matter. It's another foreign aspect that conveys meaning. If I'm trying to describe a relationship in which two people are tense towards one another, I have a choice to record it, or to describe it. Describing it is about...

AQ: ...making tons of little cumulative choices.

BG: And that's what can make photography potentially more complex. In many ways, it becomes very practical.

AQ: That's exactly what I'm trying to get at.

BG: How do I get you to look here, and here, and then here…and not be caught up in the inherent hierarchy of structure that photographs make. It's very easy to know where you're supposed to look in a photograph. There's usually a clear “most important part.” I've tried to disrupt that. I want you to not only look here and then here, but to experience that process in a certain way. That's what makes a narrative unfold. That's the solution to my problems. If my pictures create anything, that's how they do it. That's how they go from just another big digital print to something that unfolds and unravels--hopefully, in a positive way, where they add up to something. It's not just moving from point to point, but...

AQ: In and out.

BG: But I'm also interested in the potential of photography at a deeper level.

AQ: Psychologically.

BG: I have certain aspirations that have nothing to do with my broad intellectual interest in what's going on in photography. There's not much photography that I really care about in the world. I'm interested in photography's potential to engage visually with the psychological and emotional, its potential to talk about something very real, but intangible. Psychological states.

AQ: As you’re saying all of this, I'm looking at “Twanna Trying To Be Still.” It stands out. She’s one of your only non-white subjects. How should one read into this?



BG: With Twanna, I was trying to describe a certain kind of moment. I wanted a working woman with a little girl, and I knew she had a girl. She was of the age group that I was looking for. Race isn't what drove that picture as much as a certain age and situation that I wanted to describe. I use the way people look--say, the clothes they wear--as an indication of their relationship to social cues. This has less to do with economics than it does implying the presence of others, or the position they take with others. Their dress, in short, implies something public. By default, it suggests a certain kind of formality and economic “presence.” That's interesting to me. My motivations for shooting the people I photograph are rooted far more in how they look than who they really are. Though most of my subjects are not wealthy at all, there is this upper middle-class presentation in there—that’s the role of the public self. Twanna was just another person that I had access to, who I dressed to look a certain way.

AQ: So you picked her outfit.

BG: For the most part, I pick people's outfits.

AQ: But from her wardrobe.

BG: Yes—I'm asking people to look a certain kind of way. I'll photograph them and make changes. Twanna was just another person who I barely knew, who I met with the goal of photographing. She was someone who I thought would make an interesting picture. Photography is indexical: it records everything in front of it. Part of what’s interesting in constructing an image is that there are things about it that I can't fully control. Photography describes with a specificity that I can't even conjure, and I accept that. As much as I try to control things or change these images later, I'm photographing people in their own clothes, in their own space.

AQ: What fuels your interest in the difference between the public and private? I’m compelled by this too, but it manifests differently. Like, I have a fascination with masks.

BG: It relates to a lot of questions that I'm interested in. I'm troubled by the way that we fulfill the expectations upon us almost blindly.

AQ: Or unconsciously?

BG: I'm troubled by the way I was taught to conform by our society. It has to do with big questions. Where we live, how we live, the expectations that have been put upon us, and in many ways, the dissatisfaction that results from all of this influence. All these things that we're asked to do, how we're rewarded for some things and not for others. I think I'm a well-adjusted and frustrated person, but in a positive way. I don't mind challenging a lot of things that I come against on a daily basis. The public versus private is just that: there's a performance we're always doing, but there's something else that's very hard to describe. There's something else that you are that no one else has access to. I like to deal with that on both personal and interpersonal levels. Between two people together, and with people who are alone, and the idea that there's something that you are to others that's not who you are to yourself. There is a space in your mind that no one could have access to. I'm trying to make a picture about that space. I'm trying to describe the fleeting moments of self-acknowledgment that you can't share. And I think a photograph can describe that.



AQ: In a way more immediate than words. This seems to apply pretty readily of pictures of people in middle age, but as you're saying this, I'm looking at “Alice Waiting.” It's more subtle than this, but it seems in your work that people are mostly cast in three groups: children, the middle-aged, and elderly. The bulk of them seem to be middle-age. You've been outspoken about your photos not being a sequence, but you work's inevitably going to be situated chronologically. The inclusion of children in this sequence shows how we're being socialized at an early age, and the elderly, maybe age predicates a relaxation of having to play a social role. What was the catalyst for say, Alice being a reappearing character in your pictures? Her expression here seems to ring true with what you said about self-recognition. She seems to be in a way a self-portrait, representative of how or what you, Ben, might be seeing, or trying to depict.

BG: If I take a step back, it's clear that my work is not linear. It's not one thing. But it is all very much about something internal, the internal struggle between something social--the bigger requirements society asks us to do--and something very personal, with respect to where you're at in your stage of life, and how you struggle with who you are. That's where Alice comes into it. There's a picture of a woman sitting on a bed reading a book to someone. Another where she’s pulling a stocking up over her legs. These pictures are about the eternal conflict between expectation and reality. There's something in your understanding of yourself that no one else could ever access. I'm interested in that: why that is, how it changes throughout life, how it's different from a child or an older person. I haven't lived to be ninety years old, and I don't know what that means or feels like. But I'm interested in trying to understand it now, at this moment, seeing how it relates to me, and exploring how somebody who's two or four years old might even be in a parallel state of anxiety, though about different things. They all relate to the same kind of psychological struggle. This is where a two year old lying on a couch makes sense next to someone coming out of their Volvo, or a woman putting on jewelry, or a woman sitting in a wheelchair. It manifests itself in different ways, so I'm always trying to find new ways to describe it.

AQ: And the sleights of hand with perspective mirror the psychological state you're trying to convey or construct.

BG: It's impossible to separate the two. I really liked reading some of the things that Hockney talked about, and one of the things I most responded to in a very powerful way was: there's something about photography....I struggle with how unemotional it is, how distant, how removed, how slick—all of these bad words. The problem with photography will always be the two people present: the subject and the photographer. I'm trying to figure out how photography can enter into some of these conversations like other mediums can, without the burden of my presence being part of the reading of the picture. A lot of these things--manipulation, exaggeration, multiple perspectives—relate to solving that problem. How can you take a picture of somebody where it reads like that person is actually alone? I'm trying to talk about aloneness, and that's inherently contradictory to what photography is! When I take a picture of you, it's easy for us as viewers to know where we both stood. But I want to try to disrupt that, and the destruction of single-point perspective plays a big part.

AQ: It's incredible to me that this mantle hasn't been taken up more.

BG: No one is dealing with this stuff. As far as I know, I'm one of the only people using photography to explore this. When digital photography and computers became prevalent, I really thought it would be the next logical step. Hockney explored it. But see, what people don't often understand is: he was basically studying painting with photography. The process of what he was doing was the most important thing to him in photography. This wasn't the case, as far as I know, in his painting. The way he took those pictures and laid them on top of each other, and showed them that way, was clearly about how he did it, and how it creates an illusion.

AQ: Like visual strength training. He repeatedly brings up how hard it was to remember where the last picture ended and where the next picture should begin.

BG: It's all about painting, figuring out how it worked. It was all about learning for him. To me, Sunset Blvd. is about what he learned from photography. He seemed to have very little emotional attachment to the medium itself.

AQ: Totally. And it seems like that more as time went on. I can also see, after the experience of growing up in Yorkshire, in rainy, gray England, going to Los Angeles…the diametric opposite of everything you know: light, topography, people. I mean, no wonder it really happened for him there, and that his color palette, with all due respect, looked like a box of Crayola markers! I've not been to LA since I was a kid, but in the past few years I've become very interested in the idea of LA, the mythology of LA, how it's depicted in art, film, literature. Most of the painters I really like nowadays always end up living there. But at least in my imagination, it seems to be very fertile soil for the kind of work he made there.

{image caption=David Hockney: Pearblossom Highway, 11 - 18th April 1986, #1, © 1986 David Hockney}

BG: I think the quality of the light, the hills, the desert--the Pear Blossom Highway pictures are to me his most fascinating. The highway becomes so neatly packaged that it's unlike a lot of his other photographs. It has all the lessons he learned embedded in it. I wanted in some ways to take up where he left off. I removed all of the obvious descriptions of process. There's a lot I'm doing to my photographs, but it’s hard to look at them and know what I've done. That's fine with me. That's how it should be. I could talk about this forever: one of the things that always frustrated me about photography was that the understanding of a photograph had so much to do with understanding how it was made. Whether street, studio, large-format…all that stuff mattered, and even making it interesting in some ways. There's so much you can't account for as a photographer, that you couldn't control. Because of that, as a viewer, you can't critique everything in a photograph. I wanted to make photographs that didn't talk about process, and refocused on content. That's where montaging comes in--it disrupts everything so you don't know what you're looking at. Hopefully, by extension, it doesn't matter how it was made. It's about your experience. That's a different spot for a photograph to be in.

AQ: I've read your work described as “photos masquerading as pictures.” Though this might be an obvious or even irritating question, why photography and not painting?

BG: That question doesn't bother me, but of course I don't think of my work as painting. It's photography. But it relates to painting. There's an opportunity when you paint something to interpret the way you see. What you see is translated onto a flat surface. In photography, you're limited by the physics of a lens and how it handles refractions of light. But I don't feel that burden, and I get to make a lot of the same kinds of decisions that painters make. But my photographs don’t look like paintings, even though they start to enter the visual universe of how paintings look. This has to do with the simple--at least I'm beginning to see it as relatively simple--graphic illusions created by painting. When a painter turns their head down to look at someone's feet, they have to translate that somehow onto a flat piece of canvas. There's something that happens there, between the leg and foot. They get pushed together to remain continuous. These are not at all the same rules by which the camera depicts that same foot and leg. My work falls somewhere between these two.

AQ: I tend to speak about photography in a way like you did earlier, where you’re a bit detached, and you don't think of yourself as a photographer--you're "using" photography. A lot of people in your orbit in Chicago were doing "non-straight" work, too. Was straight photography too easy for you? Did it bore you?

BG: I would define straight photography very specifically. I don't think the use of the computer in and of itself has much to do with the things I'm dealing with. I don't think removing an object from a photograph automatically makes it “non-straight.” People used to talk a lot about [Andreas] Gursky removing things from his pictures, how that was unsettling. But I'm less interested in removing something than finding a new way of describing it, and that was through not being limited to one exposure or perspective. Gursky started to explore that in his work in some spots, but I've taken it a lot farther. It's a whole different set of questions visually when you begin to combine perspectives. It's a different way of asking the viewer to approach the image. That's something that photography could engage, but generally doesn't.

There's a possibility here to extend the way we encounter and read objects—that's what I'm deeply engaged with. Photographers seem to have gotten excited about computers, then started to explore them, then got bored, and now just use them as tools for refinement. When I started making these pictures, I really thought that a lot of people would be doing the same kind of thing. And I waited, and I waited, and I'm still waiting. This is the thing that's so unique about our moment in photography, and what makes it so special: Hockney couldn't do this. He couldn't remove the edges. It was the eighties! And I see my work as being located very much in a linear tradition. The same basic set of questions was being asked before I came around.

AQ: And before Hockney came around. And on that note, I wanted to draw you out on the painters who were big reference points for you. Alice Neel was the first.



BG: There's a clear parallel in our shared interests in content. When I look at something, I try to deconstruct why I'm looking at it, out of all other possible things: why do I want to spend time with this? I was interested in her choices in how to describe someone. Literally, how she did it. When she paints a person, she paints the faces flat, or square to the canvas, as if you're looking straight at them. As you move through the painting, you can feel her head turning down and then back up again. It's the obvious movement of her eyes, and how that translates to the image.

AQ: And what’s your method of deconstructing?

BG: By looking for hours and hours, and at a variety of works, to notice what's consistent and intentional. She always managed to make that face resonate in a way that was psychologically potent. And I think a lot of that is simply painting square to the canvas. She succeeds at making a very deep description of a person in a way that, up until the digital, a photograph or photographer couldn't.



AQ: And what about [John Singer] Sargent?

BG: That's very simple: the noses, the fingertips, and the ends of the ears. How they were red, when the rest of the skin was white. How he could imply so much about the emotional state of that person by a gesture of color. In my work--though not all of it--you can see the same kinds of things going on. But none of it is really real, in the sense that no real psychological drama was really happening. I’m just making photographs of somebody doing something over and over again.

AQ: Have you heard of [film director] Yasujiro Ozu re-filming scenes over and over, thirty or forty times, to purposely drain his actors? Are you doing the same kind of thing? Or is it just the practical necessity of needing lots and lots of images and perspectives to compose—or “compile”—these pictures?

BG: It's more practical. Nothing you’re looking at represents a single moment. If you look at someone's face, it would be wrong to assume that I captured one good face and used it. The lips are different from the eyes, which are different from the nose, et cetera. I think of these sessions as building a kind of library of gestures, or positions of the face, that I can piece together. It's very practical. I'm not interested in whether the subject feels something. None of my subjects have anything to do with what they're depicted as doing in terms of emotion. I don't care so much about who they are, it's more them and their specifics. That's where the library comes in--it's just about information. The photographs are information that I can do something with. It has very little do with the happenstance common of photography--in the end, I get to pick and choose every element, every pixel, in these pictures.



AQ: And what about Lucien Freud?

BG: You can just look at his choices. He really sets up the frame to make the viewer uncomfortable. He makes spatially disruptive, uncomfortable decisions. Look at that sloping floor. It rolls back, from the front of the back of the image. You can't do that with a photograph—at least not with a single image. If you use a wide angle lens, you can create distortions, but wide angle lenses really draw attention to the technical—the physicality of lenses and refraction.

AQ: Peter Bacon Hales described your images as "reflections on the psychology of doubt, dreams, and moments of intense loss." Often, the only thing that prevents me from slipping into seeing these this way is this kind of neutral digital-ness. This might be lost on people who aren't photographers, but I was wondering--obviously, you're pretty handy with Photoshop—the surface look of your work struck me as something that had to have been deliberate, maybe a comment upon the medium itself, particularly in our time.

BG: I don't make them look deliberately digital. But they also don't look traditional, and that might mean that they look partially digital. They don't look like what a traditional photograph normally looks like. In ways they do, but in ways they don't. That might be what we call "digital" now, but it might not be in twenty years.

AQ: True. Let’s say they look “of our time,” for better or worse.

BG: I think so.

AQ: I think that's the best place to be. But the other thing that strikes me between you and Hockney--and this is related-- is that he seems much more interested in beauty. The way he depicts the experience of perception is more vivid than real life. Perhaps this is simply because of the film he was using, but perhaps this is also what perception is like for David Hockney. It wouldn't surprise me [Laughs]. Your approach to color seems to strive more for a kind of objectivity.

BG: Yeah, I'm not interested in beauty at all. Well, I shouldn't say that. I'm a firm believer in beauty coalescing when a lot of things add up and come together nicely. I think anything has the potential to become a beautiful pictorial thing, but it's about the sum of the parts. I think Hockney does make more references to traditional forms of beauty in representation, but to me it's about subverting that. I certainly don't try to make pictures of beautiful people or situations. It's very simple, stripped down, and the subject matter itself isn't particularly interesting on a surface level. Somehow, I hope it transcends that.



AQ: There's also more artificial light than natural in your work.

BG: Versus Hockney? Or in general?

AQ: I would certainly say versus Hockney, but also in your work generally. Even Hockney’s interior subjects always seem to be lit through the window. Your work is principally concerned with psychology. He's concerned with psychology too, but he’s also more involved with surface, formal elements, light. In Hockney the subject and their environment are given just about equal formal consideration. In your work, the viewer is going to focus pretty intensely on the figure.

BG: I think of Hockney as trying to figure out how to make a picture that feels like it's lit through the window. His concern is not to make a picture that shows the beautiful window light, but to make a picture that makes you think about the window light, regardless of whether it looked that way when you were sitting in front of it. Photography for him does a really bad job of conveying what it actually felt to be standing in front of that window. It's about the more complicated experience of seeing and experience, and how painting can address that. I feel like I'm related to him in that way: using photography in non-traditional ways to get to something that describes something intangible. The message I'm trying to convey is concrete, specific, and relatable, but I get there by a different route. I know, all of this can be argued with; I see photos that have nothing to do with what I'm doing and still somehow manage to accomplish this. But I want to mine this, and figure out what the limits are to it visually. There is a point you can reach where the viewer can very easily drop out, and it doesn't feel like a photograph anymore. My pictures start off in a spot where they don't feel like photographs. They feel like, sort of...cartoony things.

AQ: [Laughs]

BG: …and they get pushed back towards this point where they become the best of two worlds. They read quickly as a photograph…and then they don't. But getting back to the photograph is important.

AQ: Did you have to work through beauty at all? Or did it never interest you?

BG: It never interested me. I get critiqued for that a lot. I'm never satisfied by a pretty picture. It never enters the conversation. People say, "Can't it just be what it is?" And I always say no. [Grins]…I always say no.

AQ: I feel like I have to work through it until I get sick of it. And maybe then, I'll really land somewhere.

BG: How do you mean?

AQ: Like, I need to plunge so much into beauty that it becomes normal. I want to get so comfortable swimming in it that I don't realize it's there anymore. To have it become so second nature that I don’t think of it again until, say, it suddenly, for some reason, drops out or disappears.

BG: I'm the opposite. I don't think or care about it. I'm almost repulsed by things that are too beautiful.

AQ: Because you don't trust it? That's what your face is looking like.

BG: This is a big generalization, but it's just too easy. I know how to make a photograph that people will like, but that's not the world I want to be part of. I want to make something that challenges something deeply, and turns into something more. Once you tap into the mechanics and tropes of photography, it's very easy to...

AQ: I might just put a period after "very easy."

BG: [Laughs] You can mimic anybody. Very quickly, and very convincingly. I remember when I was about 20, making street photographs...I was able to study the work of people I admired, close the book, walk out into the world, take pictures, and mimic them so easily and so well, when I brought them back to the world, people liked them. I didn't even know what I was doing! There were roots of my larger sensitivities in that work, but a lot of it was about trying to make work that looked "right." I was deeply frustrated by that—people liking it. It was too easy. I was deeply troubled by that. I was thinking: if this is what photography is, then I don't want anything to do with it. Going back to school for me was about getting past that. I was in a class with Michael Weinstein, an interesting guy. At the end of the class, he put everyone in two camps: modernist and post-modernist. I always thought of myself as a post-modernist, but he didn't.

AQ: I'd have to agree with him.

BG: And if color can be evocative--and I believe it can…I do believe in the power of these choices: line, shape, color, and how they can transcend themselves. All my work is about how to use those basic things to get you into an emotional place. I'm a modernist in terms of using these things to engage the bigger social questions of my moment. But in other ways, I'm not. But that's the interesting thing about photography now! I always say that I wish I could make purely modernist work, but I can't. And I don't know if anybody really can anymore.

AQ: How do you mean?

BG: To put it very simply: that form, line, and shape are enough.

AQ: I don't think that you, the man who just said that pretty pictures are never enough, really want that.

BG: [Laughs] So, let me qualify. That's how I feel when I become frustrated in the process of how to solve the problems I'm grappling with.

AQ: Part of what interests me about your work, and the trajectory it's taken, is...you know, Hockney talks a lot about Rembrandt and Rubens. Your approach seems to me a lot like his: drilling into something really hard, making subtle deepenings from work to work. You’re working in a very modern medium, in a very technologically adept way, but your approach is kind of baroque! After speaking with you, I wouldn't be surprised if you kept going down this path until you're old and gray. Hockney, for one, seems to see a lot of value--or virtue--in that. A lot of people do. But I don't see that as very modernist at all. I associate modernism with the imperative to constantly re-invent yourself. Picasso, or Miles Davis repeatedly re-inventing jazz.

BG: I agree with you. I use the word modernist in a more narrow, art-historical, Ad Reinhardt kind of way. It's too loose.

AQ: Academics say "problematic."

BG: [Laughs] That's why I didn't want to get into it. But this does have to do with wanting to understand the medium, and the desire to ultimately change it in some way. I think it's a healthy place to be.

AQ: Peter Bacon Hales connects your work with “the death of the medium.” Though I think that's a bit dramatic...

BG: …there's been a big shift in the medium. These photos, they're supposed to exist in front of you. All of the constructs in them are supposed to be removed. I don't want you to think about materials, technology, process. I want the photos to transcend all that and bring you to a moment where there’s nothing but the thing in front of you. I look for paper, you know, that doesn't draw attention to the ink! All of these tiny choices are designed to make it hard to see where one thing stops and another begins. I get frustrated when people spend their time trying to figure out how I did what I did. As much as that’s part of what I'm doing, it's just a component.

AQ: [Laughs] I saw that camp coming from a mile away.

BG: If one of my pictures doesn't fulfill the expectation of looking montaged, then people get frustrated that I'm not doing enough! It's a weird conversation that happens. Especially at the beginning, very traditional photographers couldn't begin to understand. They kept asking why I was wasting all this time at the computer when I could just take a single picture and be done.



AQ: Somewhere I read your photos described as looking similar to ordinary snapshots, but then you look at “Bob,” and his dog is popping out of the picture.

BG: When I say snapshots, I'm referring to a disarming. I want the photos to be an everyday kind of thing. Moments that don't seem particularly important.

AQ: When did you first start doing this?

BG: At the end of graduate school, when I was around 27, and that was in 2001-02.

AQ: There seems to have been an unusually high coincidence in photography at that time of figurative, dramatic, coming-of-agey scenes, or the direct opposite: very big pictures of very quotidian things.

BG: Absolutely.

AQ: But your work seems less like a reaction to the larger field than you really hammering something personally meaningful home.

BG: What I was reacting to most were critiques made of touchstone photographers where I couldn’t see...I was struck when reading pieces about photographs where the author didn’t seem to be really closely looking at the work. Here, again, Gursky comes up--everyone was pumped up about their detail, how full of detail they were. But when I walked up to them, I just saw blocks of color. There really wasn't a lot of detail. They were huge, and full of shapes and forms, but there weren’t specificities of details that you could actually read. If you get closer and closer to my images, you'll see something different at an inch that you would at six inches or a foot. They're very private in that sense; as you get closer, you get more intimate. I'm interested in controlling that. The experience of the object parallels the intimacy of being close to the subject. It’s like how when you're laying in bed with someone and looking at their face, you see things you would never see when having a conversation when them at a restaurant. The statement that Hockney makes--and he does this a lot--is that photographs are uninteresting to look at because they're all the same. The space they create is really predictable. Once you've seen one photograph, you've kind of seen them all. They refract light in similar ways. They create the same illusions. He claims that that’s why photographs are easy to look at quickly and move on past. I don't know if I fully agreed with it at the time, but I thought about that question quite a bit.



AQ: This is approximately ten years ago?

BG: This is in grad school, before I was making these pictures. I really believed, and I still do, that there was a very unique moment happening. I don't know if I was fully conscious of it. There was a changing moment in photography happening with the computer, and I didn't know what it was. I remember thinking that it had to be more than just the ease and use of the computer that made it interesting. There was something rooted in this whole process. I was thinking about why I was frustrated with photography in my own work. I was very conscious of some things happening with the computer, what it enabled, and how it extended photography. I'm reading a lot, making a lot of photographs that were pieced together like his, and trying to figure out what was happening that mattered. There was a lag between what I was intellectually or philosophically approaching, and what I could actually formally do. But then there was a point when I made three pictures in a row where it...it worked. All of the things I was thinking about and studying and trying to make sense of and understand spatially...suddenly, I had control. It was a real growth. That made me very aware of the difference between the struggle for photographers between understanding the importance of the computer and being able to control it, and make something of it. I could really feel the frustration when a photographer would challenge the use of the computer. The skill set then was very different. There was so much backlash against the computer. It must have been for many people a very unsettling time.

AQ: I very much grew up with computers. But most people, say, ten years older than me, who didn't, I feel quite sorry for, because they can never seem to fully adjust to living in such a wired world.

BG: Yeah. The skill set was not there. People didn't know how to do anything. Suddenly you have to understand a lot more about illusions, space, constructions. There were three pictures. Two figures in a basement, one getting dressed by a laundry machine. Another of a bathroom with the dog and a woman combing her hair. And I don't remember the other. Suddenly, I was starting to make sense of all these choices, and how they added up to something. I was trying to figure out how these choices conveyed meaning. I wanted a photograph that was somehow able to bring the viewer into that world of contemplation that’s easy with a painting but not so much so with a photograph. When I made them, I knew it. I remember thinking to myself: these are different. I brought them in and showed them to the people around me, and I think everybody knew something had happened, and the work was entering something that was kind of new.

AQ: At what age did you first start photographing?

BG: I always liked making things--there was a certain pleasure I had in drawing as a kid, and to a lesser extent painting. But what I like about being an artist is the opportunity to think and speak out loud. That's where my interest in art began. When I became an adult, it was really about having an opportunity to spend my time publicly sharing my thoughts about the world. I transferred into an art program at the end of school, and found the people there to be much more well-rounded, intelligent, and insightful about things than anyone I had met before. They were all able to speak about things and engage with big questions. Until that point, I had never met anyone like that.

AQ: And how far back does that go? Do you remember the first art experience you had? I got into Edward Hopper in fourth grade. He was my first big book report of any kind. The way I remember it, it was basically off to the races from there.

BG: That was not me. I liked drawing, and spent a lot of time doing that when it was hot in the summer. And I liked building things. But I don't necessarily think that's art. Art to me is something very different. It's connected to something bigger. It's a deeper investigation, somehow. It falls under lots of categories in people's lives, but to me, it's about deep involvement, questioning things, trying to understand why things are the way they are.

AQ: Do you have any kind of niche fascinations outside of art?

BG: It depends.

AQ: I’ll put it this way: if you're out with people, there must be subjects that really get you talking right away. Things you’re a minor expert in.

BG: My interests as an adult have always wavered—everything I've become interested in I've become deeply knowledgeable about. One of my strengths as a thinking person is the ability to find something, explore it deeply, and generate my own understanding of what it is. I have millions of interests like this, but I'm also the kind of person that doesn't share a lot with other people. I'm a private person. I only share who I am with two or three people. You're not gonna find me out in a group of people speaking my mind. The reason no one knows about me personally as an artist is because I'm not interested in anyone knowing anything personal about me. There's a real validity to what you're asking: understanding the complexity of the person helps explain the art. But I don't want to share anything. I want to keep my art my art, and my self my self. It's a criticism I've always gotten: I'm too un-public about everything. I keep it all to myself.

AQ: I can see the larger direction that our world's heading amplifying that for someone like you—Facebook, blogs. I think it’s a valid, understandable reaction.

BG: And I do think I'm reacting to something, something that's happening.

AQ: I'll have a night every few months where I suddenly become horrified at how much of me is out there, whether by my own control or not. I think a lot of people go through the same thing. For a while, I instinctively want to take it all down. But by the next morning I'm back to remembering that very few people care [Laughs].



BG: It's the same anxiety I talk about in my pictures. There's this very strong desire in people to mold the public's understanding of who they are. To me, that's very curious. I don't want to talk about Facebook too much, but this idea that it connects people, and the question of whether it actually does. I read something about Facebook being a public display of insecurity, and that's kind of how I read it. A lot of what it is is trying to create a public persona. It goes back to the anxiety of how you perform. How you know yourself versus how you're read. How we're engaged in that all the time.

AQ: I think this will be an increasingly productive avenue in art. I'm surprised I don't see it discussed more beyond op-ed pieces.

BG: This public sharing of information to me is an odd way of living.

AQ: A profoundly odd way of living!

BG: To me it is about insecurity. Not the standard kind, where you're nervous, but where you fit into the bigger world: wanting people to know who you are, being careful that you're coming off a certain way. That's what Facebook is.

AQ: Keepin' up with the Joneses.

BG: It's exhausting! And that's what I make my pictures about. Facebook makes it even more clear that there's a big difference between who someone says they are and who they really are. A person is not what he or she says she is. You are going to be the *most* unreliable person in terms of telling people who you are. I don't know if what I'm interested in is psychology or emotion, but it boils down to what I said earlier: what the photograph does best doesn't relate to its specificity, but intangibles.

AQ: What exists between what's there and what's not.

BG: Yeah.

AQ: Have you ever had the experience of watching people observe your work without them knowing you're the artist standing right there?

BG: People stand in front of it for long periods of time and look through it. I watch people trying to move their mind through it. They try enter into the picture on many different levels. I've had pictures ruined by what looks like somebody pointing around the picture with a pencil and dragging it across the surface. But the photograph asks you to do this in a very controlled and subtle way. And when people look at it, they do just that--they find themselves in and moving through the picture. My way of constructing them is meant to have that happen.

AQ: Is there anything that people consistently miss in your work? Are there subtleties that you're surprised that people haven't picked up on?

BG: No. Certain people do. Here's what I've noticed: either you have zero interest in it—I've talked to people who have looked at it and thought, "Oh, no. More big digital prints." But then, after spending a minute with it, they see that they’re not just another set of digital prints. And then a lot of people walk right by and don't engage with them. Part of my interest in these pictures being big and digital is trying to understand what those elements might offer. I want to mine that. What shocks me more than anything is when some people can see all the things I'm trying to put in the pictures right away. Sometimes they do it really well, or really quickly. They're so literate at understanding how things look that they can quickly understand. I think those who have written about my work did so because on some level they've felt a certain complexity there that's worth exploring.

AQ: How important is working out these social puzzles in your work for yourself, versus communicating to a likeminded audience?

BG: That's a good question. I live my life knowing that I'm not the only one who feels the way I feel about things. Every time I do, make, or think something, I know I'm not the first or only one. Even if I have no one around me like this, I believe that. I don't believe in, you know, the universality of man in my pictures, or that everyone can relate to what I'm talking about. But I do believe that I'm not the only one. Everything I think, I inevitably share with many others. I don't believe in the idea of making art to show people things they never thought about. I’m not trying to teach anyone anything. That's never been a motivation for me, and I often question that assumption. I am moving through my own set of problems and ideas, while acknowledging that I'm not the only one.

AQ: Well, if you had no audience, would you still be putting this much effort into the work?

BG: I think part of being an artist is wanting to be part of a public conversation. Would I still think the same things I think? Probably. Would I be expressing them on a piece of paper? Probably not. I've often thought that photography, or being an artist, isn't the only thing I could do. It's a conscious choice to do it. Sometimes I question it: why would someone want to do this one thing? I'm not sure if it's something I'll do forever, but it is what I want to do most.

AQ: Are you able to articulate what you've learned about people, or humans as social beings, since you started this body of work?



BG: I think of myself as an optimist. Sometimes I think of myself as the only one who sees me that way. I also think of myself as pretty well-adjusted in this world, pretty level-headed. I think that my opinion of society and the world sometimes gets…I feel like in life you're forced into so many things. At least in our society, American society, everything is designed to keep you from thinking about that. Our society is designed to keep you from stopping and thinking about the game we've all somehow entered into. I think a lot of life—and this doesn't only relate to technology—is about distraction. There are so many ways to distract yourself. When I think about making a picture, it's about moments when you’re lucid, where you’re self-aware, in spite of all the distractions that are perfectly placed to keep you from thinking about yourself. Those moments are extraordinarily hard to come by. And when they do come by, they're kind of uncomfortable and jarring, because a lot of what life is is beyond your control. You find yourself in a position, and it's hard to figure out how you got there.

AQ: “This is not my beautiful house?! This is not my beautiful wife?!

BG: I think a lot of people are in that position: living a life that they can't even fully account for in many ways. And when you stop and think about it, it's pretty upsetting. What you want, versus what you've been told to want. The way you live versus how you think. See, when you do something and the reaction is positive, you do it again. Then you figure out how to do more of it. But unfortunately, in our culture, you get rewarded for things that aren't particularly noble. Or important. You lose track of who you are and what you want because the affirmation comes from conformity. That's a tough place to be in. What actually happens and what you're feeling are often two different things. It's easy to suppress what you're thinking and feeling most of the time. But not all of the time.

AQ: You said earlier that you were interested in a very narrow slice of photography. It went in a different direction that I anticipated, and I wanted to go back to this and ask more specifically: what photographers do you admire?

BG: I always question the assumption that because I'm a photographer, I'm interested in a lot of photography. Right? There's also the idea that I see things that I like and try to...

AQ: ...or don't like.

BG: And I think that's more what I do. It's not that I see things that I don't like, necessarily, but I see things and they don't add up. I try to make things where the parts add up, and that's where the computer comes into it. The computer basically says: here it is, and you can do whatever you want to it. You can separate it into thousands of parts per inch. What are you gonna do about it? That's what's exciting. Now, I have to take responsibility for all those parts, and that's something I want to do. But to go back to your question, there have only been a few photographers whose work I look back to as formative. Often, they're the same famous photographers that many others have responded to. I don't know why I like what I like; I think I like something because I'm learning something when I'm looking at it. I never look at art and think, "I've been so deeply moved." I never have that experience. I look at art and when it works for me, it pushes me into a deep process of thinking. That's what I like.

AQ: When it sticks with you?

BG: The art doesn't have to stick with me. It's the process of coming to understand it. The connection between the artist's intentions and how she resolved it. When that does happen, I respect that. A lot. Everything I like solves something. Every work I make is a question to be solved. Something in my own life drives me to make each picture, I like the end result better depending on how well I resolved the two. I don't share, or need to share, what inspires them, but it relates to something deep that needs to be solved. And I think of myself as a very sensitive person who can...[long pause]. I have no interest in telling anybody how to feel. About anything. At all. I have no desire to make anyone feel the way I feel about anything. But what I do care about is that, in my private, personal endeavors, I pushed to figure something out. And if I care about what you've done, it's because I feel the same about you. That's what I respect in art. I respect—at a private, personal level—people, and relationships. Even in a very personal way: if you're not engaged in solving something...if you're the kind of person who does not engage with bigger questions, and challenge things that challenge you, then you're not particularly interesting as a person to me.

AQ: So who does it for you?

BG: As a young person coming to photography, when I looked at Diane Arbus' pictures, I remember thinking to myself: there's someone who's interested in people. What I also liked were her choices of how to photograph people, how she actually described a person. It wasn't just a person, but how they were described. She created this personal construct of what someone looked like. All of these questions were also about her, and not so much about the person she was photographing—in my opinion. She was always looking for a kind of person—to me, this meant somebody who was not just different, but somebody who was in the struggle of self-awareness that they were different, and how hard it was to exist when you acknowledge that to yourself.

AQ: And there's nothing you can do it about.

BG: But that could imply, well, if you could, you would. But I don't think that's what it is.

AQ: Right. This goes back to this moment of self-acceptance you’ve described.

BG: Her pictures are about the toll it takes on you to not conform. That's what I'm interested in. Not difference, but the way it eats you up to not conform.

AQ: Which sounds like the opposite of what your pictures are doing.

BG: How do you mean?

AQ: Your pictures are about the toll it takes to conform.



BG: Right. See, this is what I think about people. I think at some level, we're all kind of the same. And the people that are conformists are all facing the same...Okay: this is the thing I firmly believe. We all know who we are. We all know what's right and what's wrong. But we don't all choose to acknowledge it. And when you acknowledge it, that's when it becomes a problem in our society. When you start to think about how you really feel, how you really react to the world, and your place within it...then, realizing that there's nothing positive on the other side of that quest. To me, this is exactly what we should be doing as feeling individuals and thinking people. But there's no reward on the other side, except for a personal one. If the personal one's enough--which, for me, it is, and maybe for artists it is--if it's not enough, then there's no reason to do it. You just…keep on keeping on. And that's what frustrates me. Everything is set up to reward you for conforming. It's just the way it is.

AQ: As you say this, it's almost impossible for me not to think about grade school, and how strong the pressure was to conform, versus some point in high school, when you begin to want to do the opposite. After, it seems to become more of a tightrope act between the two. At least that's what it feels like now.

BG: See, it's not necessarily…as an adult, it's not social. It's more economic. If you're an adult and you want health insurance like the guy sitting next to you on the subway, you'd better get a job making money for somebody. You're forced into it. All of this stuff constantly, constantly, constantly telling you: if you want to reap the rewards, you have to do this. It infiltrates every part of our culture. It's not just the motivations you feel as a teenager--and I remember the same feelings you just described--but this is on a completely different level, where it becomes practical.

AQ: Right.

BG: You're always buying into it, but only certain people get access to the same things we're all contributing to. It’s a sick system, but it's hard to let yourself exit that cycle. Once you do, all the doors get shut on you. That's just the way it is, so why would you exit? Why would you want to think about who you are? What's the point? You have to conform just to get any of the things you're already paying into. I'm making a picture about that moment--that acknowledgement of who you know yourself to be versus who you have to be or present yourself to be to exist.

AQ: And when they collide.

BG: Or, when they don't connect. And the discomfort that arises. Some people have described my images as funereal, and in some ways, maybe that's true—at least in the sense that this moment of self-acknowledgment is never comfortable. That might be why the people in my pictures look the way they look.

AQ: With that in mind, it's incredible that your subjects aren't really experiencing what's being projected upon them, whether by you or the viewer. They're just doing mundane things over and over. But that, maybe by coincidence, is related to the type of societal conformity you're talking about: one usually has to do repetitive things to get by, to make a living. But how, or why, do we end up reading the work this way, if the people aren’t really feeling what it looks like they’re feeling? How does this magical transformation happen? This is the thing that still messes with me the most about your work. The disconnect between what your subjects are actually feeling in the real world versus how we read the picture.

BG: My pictures are not about specific things. They're not about going up the steps, or getting out of the car. That's what's tricky about them. They're never about what's being depicted. That's the problem with photography: the thought that somehow you think that the photograph is good at capturing the intensity of a moment as it really happened. To think that this is the way, that this medium is best at that...I really want to challenge whether that's true. This is why, when I do commissions, I have people pay me before I give them the final work. Because usually they have a really hard time. They now have to look at themselves doing something that bears...

AQ: ...absolutely no relation to how they were feeling at the time! [Laughter] I didn't know these were commissions!

BG: About half of them are.

AQ: What a mindfuck!

BG: Yeah. It's quite an experience for everybody. No matter how well-versed some of these people are in art, you're looking at a picture of yourself--a photograph, with all the associations of objectivity that come with it that we can't seem to break past. There you are, doing something next to someone who was never there, in an emotional moment that you never experienced. And it's you, standing there! Most people cannot handle that right away.

AQ: Wow.

BG: I'd love to get ten of my subjects together in a room and have a real, emotional conversation, and just talk about how they reacted the first time they saw these pictures.



AQ: How do you choose your subjects’ gestures? Are you borrowing from your own life? How do you decide upon depicting a woman pulling up her stocking when you're not a woman?

BG: I think of…the emotional resonance I'm trying to create. When a woman's pulling up her stocking, I'm talking about her struggle with her own body, or her own self. This idea of being something, having to deal with it, and how that might not be how you imagined yourself would or should be. The feeling of having to deal with it. Then I ask, how can I visually manifest this, the struggle of the self? I think about that in a psychological way, and I think about it in a physical way. To me, it's about the stocking—the stocking pinching your leg so tight. The pinching is where it happens for me, and that's what I made a picture about. In a sense, I know how to make you look at my pictures. Hopefully you don't realize that I'm making you see this in a certain way, but you do it anyway.

AQ: “Ben and Katie,” on the other hand, must have been inspired by real life.

BG: In the pictures of couples specifically, one of my main interests was trying to describe a disconnect between people. The internal thing that you can't access from the other person. In a sense, the terms are very simple: two people in a situation in which you'd expect them to be interacting in some way, and somehow they don't. I try to think of these little narratives that describe that. Like, my little dog gets a lot of attention.

AQ: That’s your dog? See, now this becomes kind of hilarious [Laughs].



BG: Yeah. She has a lot of personality. It's funny, because she's more social than I am, and she probably has a lot of people that are more excited to see her when she walks into the room than I do [Laughs]. The one figure, myself, just came out of the water, drenched, and he's the one that's being ignored. But it's not about me, per se; it's about the misstep between us. How do you describe that feeling? You have someone who looks like they need attention, but they're not getting it. That's what all my pictures are about. These two should be acknowledging each other, but they're just not. The thing with that picture on a computer screen is that you can't see the details. You can't see the coldness in the hands, the water dripping off his body. It's all there. It was an important picture for me. It was the first of these pictures that was made with a digital camera.  The camera was in this weird spot, kind of out in the water--the camera was on a dock, but you don't know that. I removed all of that information so it looks like it's floating.

AQ: Ben, do you watch movies?

BG: No...this is the thing...I'm very interested in what I'm trying to figure out. For a long time, I looked at a lot of art. A lot of it. I studied it very closely and tried to figure out what I was looking at. At a certain point, I stopped. My own problems became more important to me--what I was trying to figure out. That was enough, and it still fuels and drives me. I don't look at art for inspiration. I'm comfortable in this position. I guess I believe this: the way to make something that's your own is to divorce yourself from it all, and try to figure something out. I'm perfectly happy with that. It's a hard thing to do. You see this lot, as you get older: just how hard it is to keep it going, on so many levels. If I've accomplished anything, it's having been able to keep it going in a very real way. Not just, you know, just playing the art game.

AQ: But staying truly engaged.

BG: How do we get to the work we make?

AQ: This is kind of a perpendicular way to respond, but a lot of my interest in photography relates to my interest in place, the mythology of places. The whole photographic preoccupation with America, the photographic road trip as rite of passage...that all really appeals to me. The mythologies of places. Hockney said photography doesn't engage with mythology very much--you mean to tell me America hasn't developed its own mythology in very short order? Perhaps the biggest collective aesthetic in photography for at least the past fifty years is questioning those myths, stripping them bare, and exposing their contradictions and ironies. It's funny that Hockney makes this claim, because LA, and even California in general, seem to me among the most blatantly mythical places in America. Especially as a midwesterner [Laughs]. Memphis would be another one—really, I think Memphis might be the most mythical place in America. This goes back to earlier, about Hockney having more of an investment in beauty: he seems more comfortable with the external leading in, where you seem to be about the internal coming out. [Laughs] What was the original question?

BG: [Laughs] How we come to make what we make.

AQ: After having read about your work compared to dreams and moments of loss, I can't help but project that onto your work. Even if you couldn't admit it to yourself, I can't imagine your work coming from anywhere else. I don't see how it couldn't be.

BG: I think that's fair. I can admit that a lot of what I've done relates to that. Again, where I don't aspire to depict the universal, I'm always conscious of not being unique. Maybe my work attracts people who can relate to the moments I describe, or the feelings associated with them. But I never try to go back and re-invent something that happened. When I photograph a child, it has nothing to do with my compassion for their moment, but somehow trying to understand the feeling of their frustration. It never has to do with a specific moment, but what all these parts add up to. You don't relate to the moment, but everything that surrounds the moment. Psychologically. I think that's what people relate to. We're all frustrated, and at times wondering how things led to this, or wondering whether I even want this. I think we can all relate to that. [Long pause]. Do you think people can see this? Or care about it? Does it translate? Or is it all an academic thing that matters, but doesn't really amount to much to most people anyway?

AQ: I think the growing ubiquity of the computer, the digital camera, and the internet—in conjunction—make the questions you're asking of the medium as pressing as they probably were to the cubist painters a hundred years ago. But rather than painting reacting to photography, now we've got photography reacting to itself, to its own explosive ubiquity! But I don't know if most photographers will get it in a deep way. I think your photographs sit pretty squarely in the territory that would usually appeal to painters. But many painters are uninterested in photography, if not outright dismissive or hostile towards it! I feel for where you're at, where you've been, and probably where you're headed: this weird intersection between the two disciplines.

 
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