When Doug Aitken approached me to participate in Station to Station and told me what it was, I wanted to think about what I could do that would be relevant to the project. A lot of the other participants were performers and I thought, Is there some kind of performance I could do as a photographer?
What I decided to do was go to a city on the route before the train got there and spend the day taking pictures. Rather than do what I typically do -- edit the work down to the best and essential photographs -- I thought, What would it look like if I went in knowing I'd use every picture I took, making it into a kind of live improvisation? It was a little frightening to consider.
This idea was based on knowing how I've worked in the past. Using my old 8x10 camera, I never took two pictures of the same thing. Because of the slowness of the operation of the camera and the cost of using 8x10 color, I'd have to decide on what I really wanted before I took it.
The day I shot in Winslow, AZ, I had breakfast at the La Posada hotel, parked my car, and just started walking. I covered the area, then drove, and shot more. I didn't have a plan, but I knew what was going to happen to the pictures: They would be turned into a slideshow projected on a drive-in in Barstow, CA. Knowing that, I still didn't want to orchestrate it. I wasn't trying to build a narrative. I was just spending the day photographing.
I love the Southwest and find that I'm inspired being there. There's something about the light and the architecture. I spent the day thinking about how the city should be represented. Downtown, there were a lot of old buildings boarded up and a lot of stark, bland sixties architecture. I knew on the north end of town, there were more modern developments.
I don't want to say I was doing a portrait of the city or trying to do it justice, but I was trying to represent what was there. I found that as I was working, there was this balance I arrived at between what I bring to the situation -- my understanding, my visual strategy, my expectations -- and what's there already. If I just impose what comes from me onto the setting, it won't be interesting. I have to be open to respond and discover.
What I discovered was that I was taking a different kind of picture than I'd taken before. I was emphasizing the foreground and leaving the background a little out of focus. It's an approach I'd never used before and found that I returned to a half dozen times that day. I can see now how that could effect how I do things in the future.
It was a very good day shooting. I felt like I lucked out and was very happy with how it turned out. There's a little over 180 photographs in the shoot.
Because Station to Station is performance-based, it presented a challenge that I had to figure out how to resolve. If it weren't for that challenge, I wouldn't have gone against my natural inclinations. That's what I like about taking on projects like this: I have to confront new challenges, and it ultimately shakes me out of my own habits in terms of working method and vision.
This blogpost is transcribed from an interview with stationtostation.com
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Station to Station. Station to Station is a public-art project conceived by Doug Aitken. This series will feature artists from the project sharing their thoughts and ideas related to Station to Station. For more information about Station to Station, click here. And to follow the conversation on Twitter, see #TrackSTS.