Every time someone finds out I'm a photographer, I get a variation of the same two questions: "What kind of photography do you do?" or "What do you like to take pictures of?" I usually answer the first with an answer of art photography--I hope that doesn't sound as pretentious as I think it does--mainly as a way to distinguish what I do from portrait or nature photography. Both of those obviously are very often "art" as well, but they have a specific function alongside their identity as art that my work generally doesn't fit into.
The second question is tougher for me to answer. I feel more like I have a certain style than a particular subject matter I'm drawn to. Even describing what that "style" is can be difficult though as I try to think of what ties together some very disparate scenes and objects that I feel drawn to. I have often used the term Americana to describe what I like to shoot, but that is such a vague term as to be almost useless. I love to shoot scenes of decay. Sometimes these are technological decay as in abandoned factories or junkyards, and sometimes they are human decay as in cemetaries and the statues and markings we put up in those places to find meaning in death and loss. However, this is only one facet of a wide range of subjects I find myself wanting to capture and explore with the camera. Like I said, a question I struggle to answer succinctly.
I bring up this topic because I've been struggling to write an artistic statement that will be placed on the wall next to my photos at the next Tamarack show, starting in May. In a couple of paragraphs I needed to summarize my work and my approach to photography generally. I wanted to post what I came up with to see how it sounded to others. I've gone through about 5 drafts of it and don't think I can change it anymore without getting some outside input. These types of documents of self-promotion are the toughest things to write, and this has been no different.
Here it is:
To steal a phrase from William Eggleston, as a photographer Riley Vann is at war with the obvious. His art engages the mundane objects of everyday life, the things that have become invisible to us, and rescues them from the background into which they vanish. This may involve more abstract studies in texture and light or a cultural anthropological “dig,” focusing on objects that act as signposts and touchstones for a range of social values and concerns. While his subject matter may vary, all of his images strive to find the beautiful in the strange and the strange in the beautiful.
If nothing else, you now have a little window into what I try to do as a photographer, or at least my struggle to define what my vision is for my art. As you see more and more pictures on the blog, you can judge for yourself how accurate this statement is. Take care.