© Raymond Meeks


1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a photographer?

My aim has always been a visceral and spontaneous art life along with storytelling. Photography was the most accessible portal and the medium I still prefer. I knew I would fail at any day job with routine and predictable pattern and a set schedule.

2. Could you tell us something about your working process? How does a project usually start and evolve?

I'm in between projects now and wish I had a reliable method for beginning new work. My recent work has been personal and emotionally charged and like many projects, end at a "buffalo jump" where it seems nothing else could follow. "That's it, I'm done". And then a few months pass and the antennae rise again. I want to do a project that is less personally guided, where there's a rigid structure I have to follow. Perhaps, scientific and less subjective than work I've made in the past. I don't surrender control easily and have a problematic impulse to dictate to my subject, so adhering to a formal structure might be informing. Some projects begin by answering such questions as; "Where do i want to go now? What experience(s) would I like to have and where can this work take me?". I've been reading Thoreau's writings on "seed dispersion" lately, so perhaps I'll be spending long, days in the woods? Projects and pictures tend to find me, so i try to be receptive and aware and ask questions--most often of an empty room.


© Raymond Meeks


3. What is your main goal when you produce a new body of work? Do you think of it in terms of a book from the beginning, or is it something that comes later in the working process? What are, in your opinion, the main differences that a photographer has to consider between creating a photo-book and an exhibition?

I'm rarely aware that I'm producing a new body of work. I'm often well into editing a series of pictures before I discover a narrative and lately, this goes directly into a book edit. My goals for an edit; sequence, layout, pace, length, etc., are always shifting. I usually end up working with two complimentary but resistant bodies of work to shape a narrative and define one another in a less deliberate, often ambiguous way. I want a viewer to invest in the story and so I try to leave space for them to enter. I try to provide a fluid, evolving narrative which will, hopefully, allow them to return. I worked on my first exhibition in three years and it was difficult to not think in terms of pairing and tension/resistance, pace and sequencing. In my experience, a gallery cannot usually offer the same liberty as a publisher in terms of using a collection of pictures to construct meaning. I'm speaking in contrast to a commercial gallery, where each picture often stands alone and occupies real estate. You're invested in a different way.

4. In your photographs the ideas of family and place are essential. Looking at your photographs we feel a certain intimacy and distance at the same time. In your latest publication ”Pretty Girls Wander” for example, you tell us the story of your daughter who is in the process of becoming an adult. Could you tell us something more about this specific publication and about your relation to family and place in general regarding photography?

Family and place have been the cornerstone of my work but this focus is shifting as my son and daughter leave home for college. There are a few railroad lines with passing trains near our home in Portland. These represent enormous possibility for Abbey, my daughter, at a time when she's gripped by an active wanderlust. We've relocated or changed homes nearly a half-dozen times since she was a young girl and with each move, I've been aware and concerned that our children would lack a connection with place. I grew up in Ohio and even as I knew I didn't wish to be buried there, I still return and am tethered to my past through this landscape and setting, which is a springboard for the work I've done and am doing still.


© Raymond Meeks, from "Pretty Girls Wander"


© Raymond Meeks, from "Pretty Girls Wander"


5. In “Pretty Girls Wander” you mix color with black and white photographs. In your opinion, when does such a combination work and what was your personal motivation?

I work primarily with film but also a small digital camera that shoots raw files and even though I program my camera to make b/w exposures, the digital files upload in color. This causes me to consider each picture in color before converting the file to b/w and occasionally, the color picture serves the subject in a more compelling way than b/w. For me, combining color and b/w works when each picture is considered individually as to how it resonates and then how it fits with the rest of the book. But overall, the photo book conversation is expanding beyond considerations of color and/or b/w pictures and will begin to include the use of video and sound as well as other media. For me, this expansion is both exciting and dubious.

6. Your produce very few copies of your artist books; they are not accessible to all. On the other hand, you share your work online with everyone who wants to know more about your projects. For whom do you conceive your photo books? What do you think about the photo book market nowadays?

Ultimately and through new technology and devices, I'll aim to make my books accessible to a larger audience. it's not my interest that my books become exclusive. There are certain editions which are limited due to the number I can make by hand and the amount of handwork that goes into them. But with most editions, I try to structure the edition and pricing to allow access for a college student as well as collector. My self-published books tend to be more of a hybrid of photo book and artist book.

I’m less comfortable discussing photo book “markets”, especially where supply and demand equations enter the picture. However, the photo book industry appears to be experiencing hyper-drive, fast-forward refining. With so many entries into the market from publishers to self-publishers, we’re inundated with books and a variety of methods used to distribute this material . There is limited space in the market, of course, and collectors are having to choose what to buy and support. The bar for what makes a compelling book is constantly being raised. There are blogs and forums on the web devoted to this discussion. For me, it’s tempting to engage in this discussion and a lot of it is valuable, as long as I don't abandon intuitive direction.

© Raymond Meeks, Mark Steinmetz, "Idyll", Orchard Volume 3

7. Would you tell us something about the series of collaborative journals “Orchard”, and your recent publication with Mark Steinmetz?

"Orchard" was conceived and directed towards collaboration and a desire to bring together two or more visual voices in dialogue and conversation. It began with a few of the questions I outlined earlier; "where do I want to go--what experience would i like to have?" I have no formal art training and am curious to know how other artists work and enter into creative process, so I’m calling upon a few fellow artists {who also happen to be my heroes} to engage in this experiment. I tend to work alone and in the past, would rarely invite someone to edit my work. The work I’ve contributed to Orchard has been made stronger through editing and involving a trusted critical eye other than my own. Volume 3 is with Mark Steinmetz and combines his landscapes of forest and vines near his home in Athens, Georgia with recent portraits of my daughter. For me, the tangle and ordered chaos of Mark's photographs can also serve as metaphor for the metaphysical landscape my daughter currently inhabits, this narrative could be overtly sentimental if I were to shape it on my own. The journal is also an opportunity to champion the work of a fellow artist and showcase a series or body of work which hasn’t been shown prior. It gets tiring to always be promoting one’s own work and the idea of a collective is much more appealing, especially as resources tighten and more photographers work solo creating independent bodies of work.


© Raymond Meeks, from "watching waiting here?"


8. Your artist book “watching waiting here?” has really attracted my attention. It combines together images and text. Erasing parts of an already existing text (I don’t know the source, but I would love to know more about it), you create another level of reading, using words as instruments for your images. This technique reminds me of contemporary poetry, especially of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry. I’ve recently discovered “Radi Os” by Ronald Johnson, a revision of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” by excising words; or the more recent “Tree of Codes” by Jonathan Safran Foer, an experiment based on Bruno Schulz’s “The Street of Crocodiles”.

I’m irrationally fascinated by this technique, which allows artists to understand other people’s words, possess them, and use them again in a creative, personal, and introspective way. But I’m also wondering if these creations are only exercises in style. What is the idea behind your book “watching waiting here”? How does the text cohabit with the images? What is the relation between photographs and (creative) writings?

The process of redacting text and re-appropriating an existing book is an exercise I began a few years ago with a book of poetry titled "minna and myself". I've enjoyed skip reading technical manuals and informative texts for many years and discovering lyrical sentences buried in the formal piece. Redacting prose or poetry creates limitations by reduction and working with a limited vocabulary while trusting what drew you the original work in the first place. In terms of creative process, I find a "blank canvas" to be daunting, preferring instead, a foundation of clues or pointers that inform direction and impose a narrative. It's up to me to decide if the narrative is one I can merge with a body of existing pictures. It would be more accurate to say that I use my pictures as instrument for the revised narrative. I try to achieve a delicate balance of ambiguity and pointed reference when selecting pictures to illustrate the story.

I really enjoy being placed in a corner, creatively, and having to work my way into the center while yielding to a process that offers much more, for me, than if I were to invent my own way.


© Raymond Meeks, from "Pretty Girls Wander"


9. Looking at your photographs it seems that there is a lot of darkroom work involved and your books are essentially hand-made. Would you describe us the spaces you work in, where you produce your prints and books?

I set the conditions in the darkroom and studio to allow for accident and serendipity. I try to avoid formula in the darkroom and keep very few notes and rarely measure out chemicals (except fixer). It's interesting to find my way to the finished print by taking a different path each time. Bookmaking and printmaking involve repetitive tasks and it's sometimes nice to slip into a zone and work out a creative rhythm. But in general, I prefer making one-of-a-kind works where some detail is unique to each object. I have a small studio a few feet from my home and try to use this space exclusively for making things. Surface space is a premium, so lots of desks and tables, some flat-files, printers, presses and trimmers. A decent sound-system and occasional stray cat.

10. What are you working on right now?

I’m back at square one with those essential two questions, “where” and “what”? I’ve also given up resisting electronic media for bookmaking and just bought an ipad and am trying to get my hands around the many ways multimedia might be engaged to tell a story. I'm also planning to return to Ohio this spring and summer to do self-portraits and landscape along with my son and best friend. We met in 4th grade just after I transferred schools and we'll be best friends to our last breath. He's the most decent and honorable person I know and the person I most respect. All of this despite our major political, social and religious differences.


© Raymond Meeks


11. What are, in your opinion, the possibilities that new media offer and bring to photography? In what direction would you like to explore this new way of making and/or showing photographic works?

I like to consider how photography might expand storytelling with new media. Material that's accessible on the internet is expected to hand the controls over to the operator while providing vast avenues and options built into the experience. I imagine creating a more fixed multi-media experience with sound, still photography, as well as video. The story would unfold and be told in a deliberate manner with multimedia introduced and experienced throughout, but in less of an interactive way with the exception of the pace of turning pages. I don't know, but I also suspect that this new media and presentation will create a desire for ink and paper along with the tactile experience of holding a book and turning pages. I was at a small gathering of photographers and photobook enthusiast recently in San Francisco where each guest brought a few books to share and I noticed that, like me, they all buried their noses in the book they were holding open to smell the ink and paper. This is considered eccentric behavior in most circles but not so in this room. On this night, I found it difficult to imagine us passing around an ipad or staring at tablet screens, but it's likely not an either/or scenario for the future of the photobook. I believe we'll have both and it's best to embrace it all.





Interview by Anya Jasbar and Daniel Augschöll