EK Interview: Matthew Brandt

Matthew Brandt has done some incredibly innovative and inventive things with photography.  By developing his photos with different substances he has achieved something different, something deeper and more meaningful than an image, he has made his very subjects a part of the physical photograph.  But enough talking, read his interview:

While in your formative years, what professions did you fantasize about having?  How did they change as you matured?

When I was younger (pre teenager), I wanted to be a comic book illustrator. I was always drawing and coming up with superhero characters, figuring out their powers/outfits/history etc. I realized that I actually just ended up drawing a lot of comic-book covers and wasn’t so much into drawing the inside pages. This is what perhaps directed me to then make singular paintings as a teenager.

How much harder is it to get a book, ‘Hands Up’ for instance, published than to get a series into an exhibition?  What different hurdles did you encounter in each instance?  How did you address and then learn from them?

In my eyes, it is much easier to get works in an exhibition rather than try and publish a book. Though, exhibiting work has always been more of a focus for me.

art blog - Matthew Brand - Empty Kingdom

‘Hands Up’ was shot all around the world, with what looks like the same t-shirt in every photo.  Is it you in every photo too?  If it was, how did you fund the trip?  If not, how did you get the shirt around, did you ship it?  How long did the entire series take to shoot?

That is actually me in every photograph, wearing the same shirt in every picture. At the time I was interested in tourist photography as a conceptual crutch, and was taking a lot of pictures with that Hawaiian shirt. I was also working for the architectural photographer Robert Polidori, going with him to exotic places with my shirt packed in my bags. I was also doing a lot of traveling myself, funded by various photo related jobs.

art blog - Matthew Brand - Empty Kingdom

In 999 Cranes, the info says the photos were taken throughout China, what was your experience like?  Were you inspired at all by the Japanese fable of the ‘1000 Cranes’?  According to the fable, whomever completes a thousand paper origami cranes would be granted a wish by a crane, what would your wish be?  Did you feel connected to the fable while in China?

For 999 Cranes, I was traveling in China around the summer of 2005. There was a lot of looming optimism for China to be the next biggest super power. This was visually manifested for me with all of the construction cranes that were everywhere. Construction is a very simplified equation of progress. I simply photographed each and every one of these cranes that I encountered. Upon my return home, I was shocked to find out that I had photographed over one thousand of them. I knew of the 1000 cranes story and its implications, and decided to work with it to tell a story of a not quite there state. I have also heard of this story in relation to making cranes for people who are sick, and making them well.

art blog - Matthew Brand - Empty Kingdom

Tell us about your series ‘Houses ‘.  Why did you chose gum to depict the houses?  How did you experiment with gum and figure out how to use it?  Was it a medium you would return to?  How did different brands or types of gum, stick, candy coated pieces, thick chunks, act differently?

The images for houses are taken from Ebay listings of houses for sale, then I translate those images into bubblegum. It is a project that was stimulated from the U.S. housing market effects on the global financial market. But more importantly it’s about the changing ideas of the symbol of a house. It’s no longer this stable dependable thing that one dreams to have, as it once seemed to be. I was interested to represent this symbol in a tenuous unstable material. Bubble gum seemed to work out. I am more and more interested in the strange associations with bubblegum as a material, and I plan to work with it more. And yes, each gum brand is a little different than another, but all are sticky and smell nice.

art blog - Matthew Brand - Empty Kingdom

In ‘portraits’ you have a number of eclectic and in many ways personal substances that you have incorporated into the photos.  How did you decide what to ask for?  How did the subjects react when you asked?  How did you find the subjects?

I was essentially going down a list of all the body fluids in a human body that I could print with. The subjects were all close friends and family, so in a way they were all very comfortable with me already to give me their fluids.

art blog - Matthew Brandt - Empty Kingdom

How did the conversation with ‘Jordan’s father go?  How did you arrange to take a portrait and Jodan’s father’s sperm to develop the photo? Why did you choose that as the particular additive for the photo?

To me it was important to make that particular photograph about reproduction, and it made sense to have a child printed with his father’s sperm. I think this work is particularly compelling because of photography’s inherent reproductive nature. It was easy to get the father’s sperm because the father is my cousin Jason, whom I am very close with. He simply laughed and said ‘ok’.

art blog - Matthew Brandt - Empty Kingdom

By asking your subjects to give something of themselves, how do you think it changes their perception of the photographs?  How do you think it changes the viewer’s perception and ability to relate when they that a piece of the subject has been incorporated into the photos, and that the photos have been changed by the subject?

It is more about collaborating with the subjects in order to represent them, and seeing what happens. I think a viewer understands that there is a more complicated process involved to make the picture than most conventional forms of photography.

Why did you choose the North Face of Half Dome as the background for your series ‘taste test’?  Did the sauces have the affect that you expected?  Why did you choose the sauces that you chose?

Most of the ingredients for taste tests I got from my own refrigerator, I was looking for very common ingredients that one has familiar relations to. The idea was to reintroduce these ingredients as photographs. Yosemite is a particularly neutral place of making photographs because of its pre-established stature as subject in photography. It is somewhat hard to deny its kind of beauty, and for me it was a way to package this idea as separate flavors. It was also a way to test out the materials.

Peanut butter and jelly:

art blog - Matthew Brandt - Empty Kingdom

Mole sauce:

art blog - Matthew Brandt - Empty Kingdom

What do you think it says about our culture that we rely on so much sauce and flavoring to come from a bottle, to be applied to food, instead of appreciating the food itself?  What have you sought to ask or call into question by covering such an iconic landmark, especially one that the average person sees at least once a week on clothing, with different sauces?

I am very interested in the uncanny, to defamiliarize the familiar.

What are you working on now and what are your goals for the rest of this year?

I just finished a show in New York and am back in Los Angeles, playing around in my studio. I hope to play around more and perhaps make some new things.

What is your favorite sauce?

To eat: soy sauce (depending on the dish)

To print with: Mole sauce (depending on the image)