Maciek Jasik is half philosopher, half photographer. Ethereal and unreal, his work is as much a question as it is art. His interview delves deep into his philosophy as a person and artist. Check it out.
Do you ride public transit? How do you spend your time on the bus/metro? What do think about?
Yes, I ride the subway in New York and any city I travel to. I try to think as little as possible while on the train in New York, try to clear my mind. I like to read books. I do look up and wonder about the lives of the other passengers, what makes them happy, what their dreams are.
What have you noticed about New York, and more specifically the United States, that you don’t think it’s citizens are aware of on a daily basis?
I think most Americans are not aware of the rest of the world. America is huge, sprawling across the continent. You can feel content within these borders that America provides everything you could ever want. Most Americans have never been overseas and aren’t aware that the rest of the world is just as, or nearly as, ‘free’ as the USA. Or that you can buy all the same products overseas. That, ostensibly, America is not unique, its brand has been successfully exported. New York is different, because it is so diverse and because many more New Yorkers are either from outside the US or have raveled overseas. New Yorkers love to complain and they love to talk about real estate. I say that only half seriously.
Where did you come up with the idea behind Bypassing the Rational? How did the series change and mature as you pursued it? The colors you have chosen seem to fall everywhere from blue to purple to red to orange and pink and yellow, all the colors that one would associated with warmth and coldness, but it seems your photos are almost devoid of the stereotypical colors of nature, brown, green and gray. Was this a conscious decision?
‘Bypassing the Rational’ was a natural outgrowth of ‘A Thousand Souls.’ I applied to bodies what I had done with faces. The catalyst for the project came from a visit to the Post-Impressionist room at the National Gallery in London. I was overwhelmed by how incredibly emotional and effective just a few lines and splotches of color could be. How our mind made the link from these vague shapes, how powerful this indirect method really was. So I attempted to replicate what I felt through photography by employing the same methods of vibrant color and inconsistent focus. The ideas behind ‘Bypassing the Rational’ came together the more I read the history of Francis Bacon and how he considered painting a medium for expressing the essence and emotional core of things, rather than the details that a new medium, photography, could transmit. At first, the figures in ‘Bypassing the Rational’ were much more abstract and out of focus and over time, they came into focus more and more as I received feedback from peers and curators like Elizabeth Barragan at Finch and Ada. I realized the images were more powerful when at least some of the image was in focus so the viewer had
something to latch onto. The more abstract it became, the more the brain had to connect the dots, the less effective it became. I also became more interested in the form of the nude model, and how to differentiate what I was doing from the long legacy of the nude, in photo, painting, sculpture and dance. What were the forms that we haven’t seen? Or, in other words, how have we not seen ourselves? I asked the models from the beginning to jump for some of the shots, to create images in a dynamic, spontaneous manner. Like many before me, like Avedon or Sims. But I didn’t want it to look like jumping, I wanted it to look like FALLING, like the disembodied figures in Odd Nerdrum paintings.
Over time, I heard a common question: are you shooting underwater?
This made me laugh, I was pleased to have created such an effect, but I realized this was an important point that I should consciously incorporate into the process. So not only were you falling, you were descending underwater. This meant that I had the best of both worlds in my project: the split second space of a movement that no one ever sees captured by the camera, but also the emotionality of the colors and movement without the detail to distract or remove you from the movement.
Hahaha, I like your question about my use of colors very much. My colors tend to be vibrant and bright because of the physical materials use. I love the subdued earth tones in the work of someone like Odd Nerdrum, all browns and tans and blacks. I never consciously decided to exclude the colors of nature.
In Bypassing the Rational you discuss the inability of people to fully understand each other, and considering this idea you substitute color for definition. Some people react the same way to a joke, to a story and to an idea, others do not. Are you close enough to anyone that you can tell their emotional response to something without asking them? Do you think emotional synchronicity is not a kind of knowledge or understanding? How accurately or deeply can you convey emotion through color? Or were you more concerned with obscuring the detail of the subject?
Yes, I do know and have known people, mostly ex-girlfriends, that I could gauge their emotional response without asking them. I could sense their mood just by hearing their voice. I think we all have, if we keep ourselves open and listen. I think emotional synchronicity comes from understanding and emotional intelligence. Being connected to someone comes from building trust and communication, but it also comes from listening, paying attention, and in a more abstract sense, sensing their energy and feeling it and responding.
I don’t intend to convey specific emotions through the colors, I build a collection of colors that are powerful one way or another. It’s an organic process that derives from how I interact with the model, how they look, how they carry themselves or how I’m feeling that day. Depending on the match of colors and movements, the effect can be completely different. The shots have elicited a wide range of emotional responses.
Definition to me is overrated. Definition is the words we use. But in conversation, tone and body language often demonstrate far more than content, which can be rote, usual, banal, especially if someone feels repressed. But indirectly the person will communicate, through their energy, their voice, the way they carry themselves. It’s pleasing to our brains to connect the dots, to use our imaginations; obscuring the details of the subject enhances the power of the colors and movement.
Do you think that the prevalence of photography is affecting our judgement of people as a society? Is it shifting the focus to aesthetics over moral or personal worth with the constant exposure to “beautiful people” or “celebrities and strangers we will never know” as you state in your artist statement? Photography is about photos, and though they may be manipulated or edited, the core and most pronounced facet of the photograph is the image, do you think there is a point when a photograph stops being a photograph because it is more digital art and affects? Does that degrade the intrinsic character of the piece or is that just part of the process of making art, of telling a story?
Photography is affecting us, definitely, in a range of ways. But it’s one of many factors, all of which are changing us, imperceptibly. The changes can’t be isolated; it’s like a symphony of influences playing simultaneously. One way I see it is how we experienced a moment; we don’t just look, listen, feel, we pull out our camera phone and we document it. We see it through a screen even as it’s happening. When I travel, I feel a strong urge to abandon my camera, because with it, I feel the pressure to take photographs, interesting photographs, sometimes not for myself, but for friends and family.
I lived in Japan for a year and I was fascinated by the Japanese tendency to go to a place, often a wonderfully beautiful place in Nature, take a picture and leave immediately. They had no intention of staying to enjoy the place. This is of course not just a Japanese phenomenon. I experienced the same when visiting places like Arches National Park in Utah.
I experienced a beautiful moment in nature with two other travelers in the jungle in Peru several years ago. I went back to the river the next day, wondering if I should take a photograph should it happen again. And it didn’t. But I realized that no photograph would do it justice, and more so, the story is beautiful and powerful because it captures the imagination of the listener in a way a photograph or a video never could.
To specially address your question, I think photography, in concert with magazines and TV and the internet, has redefined our ideas of beauty for both men and women. It was both hilarious and troubling to see young Japanese women cover themselves in make-up and tanning oils to look like young superficial women from Miami. There’s a magazine dedicated to this lifestyle—EGG magazine. Yellow on the inside–white on the outside, get it?
For millions of Asian people, having a single eyelid is unattractive, so they have plastic surgery to be more Western. One hundred years ago they would have never known there was anything wrong with the single eyelid, they might never have seen a double eyelid. But images of Western eyes in glowing terms changed that. When huge media conglomerates push certain ideas of female or male beauty onto the world, especially for young people, perceptions change. I don’t blame photography for these changes. They are part of far broader trends; photography is just a tool for propagating these images and selling these products.
There is more and more 3D imaging and rendering done for car and still life photography. It’s not photography to me, it’s digital illustration. It’s just another means to an end. Commercial clients don’t have a romantic attachment to photography. It’s about dollars and cents. If it can be done by a team of designers and programmers in a room in India for half price, they’ll do that. They don’t care. But of course, what value will our lives have if we’re all just in rooms in front of screens and no one ever photographs or sees the real thing anymore? Maybe it’s just a romantic notion shared by myself and a few dreamers.
I think people are drawn to what’s real, in the end. We’ll see how much of an effect that has in the face of declining budgets.
Technology enables us greater options; I shoot digitally because the trial and error of my process demands it. I take advantage of the advances. But an over reliance on technology removes us from the foundations and basics that we need to tell stories and connect with each other. Where do we draw the line? I’m not sure, personally.
What was your experience like in Lima, Peru while taking the photos for the series Pueblos Jovenes? What did you experience there that you had never seen before in your life? How did the travels affect your ideologically and personally?
Shooting the ‘Pueblos Jovenes’ project in Lima, Peru, was very important to me. You can read all you like about poverty, or shantytowns in particular, but it’s abstract until you see it in person. I hear discussions about small government vs. big government in the USA all the time, but in Lima, you see what ‘small’ government looks like when the government refuses to provide infrastructure for its people. These people have to do everything for themselves. They build their own homes, they negotiate electricity with the utility company, they find ways of getting rid of their garbage or educating their children. Or providing transport. I stayed overnight in one home; the family I stayed with in Lima asked their maid and her daughter to take me to their shantytown. We spent two hours in vans going back to their house. They had dirt floors and just one room for all three of them. No plumbing. Just electricity. These women were warm, friendly and didn’t complain. They worked hard and wanted a decent life for their themselves. All they needed was an outlet–and it was not forthcoming.
The project didn’t change me ideologically. I’m neither a Democrat or Republican. I believe both are corrupt and ineffectual. I don’t intend to offer any answer or opinion on political systems with my work. With ‘Pueblos Jovenes’ I wanted to show what these little collections of shacks out in this bleak desert landscape were about. And who these people were.
What are you working on now? Artistically and philosophically? Do you approach all of your work from both angles? Must there be a greater meaning to art to make it worthwhile?
I continue to shoot portraits and nudes for ‘A Thousand Souls’ and ’Bypassing the Rational’ in advance of my solo show at the Dan Cooney Gallery in New York, which opens on November 1st of this year. I’ve started to do editorial work; in July I did a color portrait of Alan Greenspan for Bloomberg BusinessWeek. I began a landscape project in Death Valley and Las Vegas in March that I plan on finishing early 2013.
The most successful art is multi-layered. It should appeal to you aesthetically. And from there, as you observe it, compare and contrast it to the historical cannon, you learn about its context, you discover further layers. The enjoyment runs deeper and becomes more meaningful.
In The Remaining Thread you almost cast the human environment as almost the antithesis to nature. Order compared to chaos. Is there not order in the structure of pine cones that they will remain inert until a fire liberates them all at the same time? Is there not chaos in the actions of all the individual humans, kings and queens of their own little kingdoms, building their worlds around them without consultation of some “grand scheme city blueprint”? The human environment even has animals that have evolved in tandem, rats, pigeons, seagulls where there is no sea for miles, dogs, cats. Do you think humans have broken free of the order, the very covenants of nature, of chaos?
Nature is built upon both chaos and order. Chaos on a small scale, order on a large scale. There can be earthquakes, wildfires, tornados, cyclones, but Nature will return to some sort of order, some kind of ecosystem.
Humans try to create order, but it’s fleeing because it always requires maintenance. It’s an artificial system, one that can never work as efficiently as Nature, especially now as our society is built upon creating waste, on developing new trends and products that will be sold and tossed aside very soon after.
The book ‘Cradle to Cradle’ amazed me because it was based on the idea that we could modify our society tied to the ideals of Nature–no waste. We could continue living ‘well,’ but we would need to invest some time and funds to redesign everything with that one goal in mind. And it’s not even that hard, it’s very doable. The authors have been working with major multinational corporations and governments like China to adopt this principle into the very core of modern design.
Who is (or are) your favorite artist(s)? What have you learned from them?
Painters are very influential in my work. Many post-Impressionists like Cezanne, Pissaro, Vuillard, Van Gogh, Gauguin. Symbolist painters such as Odilon Redon, Jan Toorop or Gustav Klimt. My favorite Picasso works are all in the Red and Blue periods. There’s a school of contemporary painting that combines elements of abstraction and realism. For me, Ian Francis is the master of this. Justin Mortimer, Adrian Ghenie, Alex Kanevsky, Nicola Samori are all wonderful too.
I love many surrealists too, like Remedios Varo and Dali. Most abstract painting doesn’t affect me, but I am completely amazed and enthralled by Roberto Matta’s semi-abstract parallel worlds. Odd Nerdrum and Francis Bacon must be mentioned here formally, though I’ve spoken of them before.
Recently I’ve been enjoying the unbelievable archives of Alex Webb, a photojournalist who is a master of color and composition. I’ll always enjoy the work of Bill Henson, Joel Peter Whitkin, Guy Bourdin, Nobuyoshi Araki, Philip Lorca di Corcia. I like Ryan McGinley too.
I started from a film background in undergraduate studies, so I should mention Federico Fellini, David Lynch, Tsai Ming-Liang, Wong Kar-Wai, Leos Carax, Krystoff Kieslowski, Ingmar Bergman, Michael Haneke, the Dardenne Brothers.