New York-based photographer and Visionaire contributor Oliver Wasow works mostly with digital photography, having taught it at Bard and SVA. He creates hyperrealistic, crisp landscapes that at times can look like portals into another world. As the artist has created a dedicated online audience by continuously updating a photo stream of images of and by unknown, Wasow has for the first time ever created a studio series featuring people.
We met up with the artist to discuss the move.
Lars Byrresen Petersen: First, tell us about your new exhibition? How did it come about?
Oliver Wasow: A lot of my recent activity has taken place on the internet, or as large scale installations of pictures I’ve sourced from the Internet. This is the first body of work I’ve done in quite a while that was made specifically to be seen as prints, on a gallery wall, so when Stephanie Theodore asked me if I wanted to show them in her new space, I jumped at the opportunity.
LBP: This will be your 24th solo exhibition, how does that feel?
OW: Like I’m old, but grateful.
LBP: You used to separate your personal works and your found image stream different by excluding people in your own work. Why are you now portraying people?
OW: I’ve always stayed away from working with people because of a belief that photographs don’t really tell us anything about the person in the picture. I’ve never really bought into that ‘windows are the eyes on the soul’ thing but then one day it occurred to me, so what? This new work is an attempt to reconcile my general distrust of photographs (and, perhaps, people) with my desire to become less cynical and more trusting. I’m not sure it will help me accomplish either of those things, but I’ll have fun trying.
LBP: Were the image stream the inspiration for this move?
OW: Very much so, yes. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why it is that I have this obsession with found, vernacular pictures of people but no interest in taking my own.
I think it was the realization that the found images, when taken out of the context of their original time and place, had this incredible power and mystery, that motivated me to try to harness some of that in my own work.
LBP: Who are the models?
OW: Family and friends. I wouldn’t be averse to photographing strangers, but it’s easier to work with people I know.
LBP: You’re known for digital manipulation and re-shaping. Do those factors also play part in your new work?
OW: Yeah, this new work, like all of my work really, is very much about painting, so there’s a lot of post-production involved. I just can’t imagine not utilizing all the tools that are available to me for re-working an image.
LBP: What are the different backdrops of?
OW: Mostly the backgrounds are pieced together from fragments of various Hudson River landscape paintings. A lot of 19th C. romantic landscape painting strikes me as being simultaneously sincere and wildly fictional and over-the-top, much like people themselves.
LBP: Landscapes are always a big part of your work, how does nature an effect on your creativity in general?
OW: Nature has always been a place of safety for me, an escape. Art making, while it can sometimes be incredibly difficult and emotionally exhausting, is also an escape for me. When I set out to make a photograph, I approach it with the idea of escape and travel in mind, I want to create a window onto a world that may not be comfortable, but is aways at least intriguing. Landscapes, with their built-in perspective, are an ideal vehicle for what I want a picture to do.
LBP: What is the most spectacular landscape you have ever seen yourself and how did it affect you?
OW: I’ve seen a lot of spectacular landscapes in my life but I think it was the time I spent hiking in the Alps as a child that affected me most. When you stand on a mountain top and looks out at the landscape, is pretty hard not to be affected by the sublime spectacle of nature. I’m a romantic.
LBP: Describe your daily surroundings.
OW: I moved out of NYC 10 years ago and now live in the Hudson Valley with my wife, two kids, a dog, three cats, 16 chickens, five goats and a donkey. I spend my days split between working on three computer monitors, taking walks in the woods, and tending to the kids and animals. It’s a good life.