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Episode 27: I had not met Sasha Wolf previously before speaking with her on her excellent book with Aperture entitled Photowork: Forty Photographers on Process and Practice. What struck me immediately in our conversation were the layers of bleak New York humor that I have come to love and appreciate. I cut my teeth on this kind of humor while living in London and it is rare that I get into conversation with someone who can flex that kind of dark muscle (potentially good band name).
Sasha’s book is an incredible asset to the field. I find that as a community, we are sadly lacking in this kind of one to one experience of practice. The whole of artistic output is often quarantined (yes) into the category of genius and mythology. This notion provides a sometimes disturbing exclusivity to outsiders with artists finding it difficult to articulate their process. I for one, think this is a grave mistake. Why should we not open up about our work and interior thought process in creating? Are we worried that we are not intellectual enough, that our inability to explain ourselves will de-merit the proven acceptance of our process by merely speaking on it? Artists who have managed to move up the ladder of a career are often confronted with how best to present their thoughts. Letting the work do all the heavy lifting is in my mind problematic as it in effect tries to demigod the artist into an elite position in which they are not accountable to their suggested genius. Instead they are often seen trying to rely on the myth of genius to act a conduit for their thoughts however stimulating that they actually are.
What Photowork does is to lift the veil on this problem. By encouraging 40 well-known and established photographers to speak about their work, what Sasha has done is to de-mystify the notion of process, to shed some humanity on the status of artist as human and to add layers to the world of photography that are sometimes anecdotal, but are in every way, extremely useful to the rest of the people who enjoy the medium. You can read the character of the artist, you can sense their vulnerability and you can also see in some readings where the justification of greatness lies. This book is entirely valuable to those trying to grapple with production, with art, and with their own inner thought process. We need more of this transparency in our community, not less. It is time to begin the process of humanizing art production again and this book paves the way for that challenge. Massive shout out to Sasha for seeing something of the puzzle that was missing. I very much look forward to more!