1. Your photographs have this sort of cinematic feel. How much do you care about the construction of your pictures? How important is the preparatory work?

I’m not really influenced by cinema although I love the idea of making a film someday. I have twin 3-year-old girls so I don’t have the time at this point in my life to watch many films. When I’m working on a project, I try to make it point not to have any visual reference and to try and let the project develop as I go along. I will have the idea established before the project begins but each picture needs to come together in several ways before I feel it’s complete. This can happen very quickly or it can take a fair amount of work. The light, subject, and location all need to be in sync or the inspiration won’t be there to even get started. So the construction and preparatory work can be very important but I don’t often have the luxury of time so these things can also unfold as I move through the project. Saying that, every part of what is inside the frame is considered. What the person is wearing. Every object within the frame will have been considered. I’m sometimes given a bag of clothing by a good friend of mine who is and has been a big supporter of what I do. I feel by dressing people according to the situation takes the images somewhere else. It’s not simply documenting youth or my family. It’s that plus taking it a step further. I work on my own and take the clothes with me. Sometimes parts of these projects get published in return but the work is personal and not really compromised. In a way, one could say these projects are approached in a similar manner to making a film. The idea is there and the characters dressed accordingly so in this way, one could say my work is filmic.

 

 

© Glen Erler, from "From Valley Center to Warner"

 
 

2. Some of your pictures tell us about presence and absence. We can see young women revealed by the light and then suddenly disappearing into darkness. Do you think that your choice of photographing the “beautiful and poetic” affects in some way the content of your work?

The youthful aspect to my work goes back to what I think my thoughts were at that age. One of my projects is broken into several titles but falls under the category of my Age 13-18 project. My parents separated when I was this age and I changed schools twice along with moving house a couple of times. This, along with the physical changes we all go through around this time, seems to form me/us as adults and maybe how we view things. I’m not saying that I had a traumatic childhood but I am saying that I feel that the things or events that happen to us during this time in our life can alter or influence the way we see things for the rest of our lives. This feeling can sometimes come through in my work.I thought by photographing boys, this would be trying to represent me or be autobiographical and I don’t really want to do this. Theses images might represent a part of me but I think it’s a something most people can identify with. I think the more poetic images are from several years ago and this project was just in the beginning stages. I need those images to help me get to this stage of the project. There is an image of a girl laying on her side on a table in a garden with her back facing the camera in the chapter, Adolescence. This to me is rather poetic but still one of my favorites. I look at this work and feel like it was another part of my life and a different thought process got me there but I feel it still belongs for that reason, even though I would not take the same picture at this point in my life or for this particular project.

 
 

© Glen Erler, from "Life as I knew it"

 
 

3. When did you first get into photography? Do you think it is important to have a formal training, and could you maybe tell us some anecdotes about what drew you to this medium?

I fell into photography and didn’t have formal training. I felt it was important to learn from mistakes and to become too technically inclined could slow the visual process. However, if I were to do it again, I would go for a formal education. Being American, I developed a desire to travel around Europe when I was finished with University. I ended up spending a fair amount of time in Italy. I started noticing photography then and I knew I was interested. I was given an old 35mm Pentax and started experimenting with friends. I’ve been taking pictures for quite a long time but I feel there are still many pictures to be taken.

4. The light is an essential element in your work. It’s like a sign of time passing by, giving the impression of being melancholic. Your subjects seem to be surrounded by a shadow, thoughtful, almost being unconscious of themselves. Is that, in your opinion, a reflection of the contemporary world?

It’s very important to me that my work is modern and representative of our current times. Much of the work I do is in the place where I grew up and where a good portion of my family still live. The light there is very strong and hard shadows are almost always present. I think there is a certain quality to the light there that kind of creates this quality of timelessness but it’s still very a much a part of the contemporary world. Without this quality of light, these images would have a completely different feel and meaning. I think extremely modern surroundings are very hard to photograph. I think it then becomes something else. I’ve seen the work of contemporary photographers taking pictures within and around this type of environment and it doesn’t seem to work as well. I find it interesting that many of my family and friends are still living pretty much the same way we lived when I was young. Some of them even still live in the same house.  In a way, I’m lucky my family and friends are living in places that are close to me emotionally but are also photogenic.
Because most of my photographs are quite thought through, I still like my subjects to be comfortable and natural. The positions they’re in could be how I saw them right then or several days before but the feeling or appearance of melancholy is never a part of my thinking process. I’ve never been a fan of images that are too romantic. On the other hand, if an image or a painting or a film or a piece of music makes you feel something, then I think that is a good thing.

 
 

© Glen Erler, from "5 days lucky"

 
 

5. Talking about the construction of your photographs and your imagery; how much are you influenced by the surroundings and places in which you grew up?

Very much so. It’s a big part of what I do. I believe in the old, “Photograph what you know”, saying. I’m not always in this situation of being able to do this but I’m very passionate about taking pictures in this area. In a way, because I live in London but was raised in Southern California, being able to be around my family in this way, and in a way, documenting this area and their lives is very special to me. It probably wouldn’t be like this if I still lived there and was around them all the time. Many of the places I’m photographing, I knew as a kid. One of my cousins married a good childhood friend of mine and they are still living on the property where he and I hung out when I was quite young. I did a portrait of his son that is in my A way out chapter. The one of the red headed boy and one of the few closer up shots I’ve done. I was about his age when I left this area and when my parents separated. I took this photograph in the same area where his dad and I played when I was his age.

6. You often work on editorial projects. Does your editorial work differ in some way from your personal projects?

No. My editorial work has been a part of my Age 13-18 project which has now expanded into my family project.

7. How do you usually proceed when you start a new project? Do you think of your work in terms of a book, prints/exhibition or an editorial project? What is in your opinion the ideal form for viewing your work?

Recently, because I’m rather consumed with 2 main projects, I think of these first. They are intended to be books and an exhibition. I had an exhibition of my Age 13-18 project last year. The work on that is continuing and more are in the works but a book will probably come first. However, I did a project in the summer with the singer Roisin Murphy where I confined us to a small room and it’s surrounding area. I found the limitations of that space challenging but I was still happy with outcome.
I find the computer/websites a great way to view work. It’s fast and one can get a good idea of a large body of work and quickly. However, nothing really replaces seeing prints in the flesh. Even better than that, are prints nicely framed and up on a wall with no one standing in front of you.

 
 

© Glen Erler, from "Age 13-18

 
 

8. Could you tell us some photographers that impressed you lately? And, what has been your favorite photo-book of the last few years?

I really like the work of Jeff Wall. I don’t know it that well but I love the thought and the re working of an idea that he puts into the making of his images. I quite like Alec Soth’s book Niagara. I like the idea. I also like his book Sleeping by the Mississippi. I’m not a large format kind of guy but I appreciate the quality. I’m also a fan of Paul Graham’s recent book (A Shimmer of Possibility, Ed.) and also his book American Night.
I haven’t seen anything more recent that I’ve liked but then I haven’t really looked.

 
 
© Glen Erler, from "There is almost always a tree"
 

 

9. Last question. What are you working on right now?

I just finished shooting a small project on my neighborhood in London. I gave myself a week to photograph the people and parts of the area and things along the way. Some of the people I knew and some I didn’t. I was able to dress them and take it to an interesting place by doing so. The light in London this time of year can be nice but is rare so much of the project was done inside their houses and in the evening I just finished printing it and I’m off to California tomorrow for a bit of a holiday and where I will work on my Family Tree project. This project is with Steidl at the moment who are quite interested in publishing it.

 

 

Interview by Anya Jasbar, Daniel Augschoell