By M Sebastian Araujo
It takes a lot of imagination to be a photographer…imagery can be so ordinary. It takes a lot of looking before you see the extraordinary…recently I had a chance to find out just how Robert Siegelman makes it all seem so effortless…
What in your world affects your creativity?
There are so many answers to this question. There are large things that affect me, as well as small. In many ways, I believe that it is the big issues, which touch our everyday lives and affect us on very intimate levels that I work with. One of which are the many ways that violence is continuing to wear down our sense of humanity. Violence is both a reality and an abstraction. We read and see pictures of horrible and nearly incomprehensible acts of violence all the time. Yet these acts are coming closer and closer to home. There are global acts of violence and there are those that occur in our own communities. My photography is about the vulnerability we have, hide, camouflage and expose. My photographs are about the tenderness of touch and the dangers of being oneself. I’m looking at the dangers that exist in a very real way, both in the world, in ourselves, psychologically, metaphorically and in our relationships.
How do you think technology has changed photography?
Photography and technology go hand in hand. Photography is a technological medium, from the simplest of cameras, to the most electronically complex.
What we are seeing is that photography has a new place in our lives, and many new roles. For decades cameras have been simple enough for anyone to operate.
Now, however cameras are integrated into tools that we use for other purposes. Our lives are being recorded regularly in ways that are both intentional and unintentional. The ability to capture “professional looking” photographs are more possible than ever before. Sharing pictures with family, friends and strangers is easy and exciting, and seems to bring a new kind of intimacy into our lives. This is a cultural phenomenon. With its invention over 150 years ago, photography started changing the way the world could be seen and interpreted. This changed the game for painting and art making. As the world advances technologically, and we have more options at our disposal, the artist and photographer have bigger questions than ever before. For me, it is not just to show what is in front of the camera, but also to make statements and intimations on that which can be felt and exposed, through the use of the medium.
Was there an Aha! Moment in life when you knew you had to be an Artist
As a child I was pretty withdrawn, and I drew. I remember using found objects as playtime stand-ins for cameras. When I did acquire a camera, I took lots of pictures. My family had little interest in cultural matters. In my last years of high school my artwork was for the first time taken seriously by others, and that made me think about it more seriously myself. It was the first time that I had received praise and support for anything I had done or made. I was surprised to find my pieces getting recognized by my teachers, and receiving prizes in small local art exhibitions. In deciding what my college path would be, I wanted to study and make art, and I was pretty naïve . I went to New York University for one year, and then transferred to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I took a full-time six-week summer workshop before matriculating in the regular program. This summer program was an eye opener for me. That September, I felt serious in a new way. During orientation the then Dean of the School, welcomed the new students by saying “This is the first day of your professional lives as artists.” That was probably the moment that I started to define myself as an artist, and to start to figure out what that would mean.
What makes people respond to Art?
Many things make people respond to art. Art has the ability to touch intellectually and emotionally. For some art is merely decorative, for others it is a way to be stimulated and challenged. There is no one way in, which we “should,” respond to what we see in a work. Art also has the incredible capacity to make people angry. When people don’t understand a work, they often feel baffled, and some even feel taken advantage of. Art making is like a language. It takes time to understand what is being communicated. Many feel that this understanding should be automatic, and instantaneous. If you follow certain sports, you probably understand the strategies, structures and players. This is necessary in following art as well. I believe that people connect to art in which they see something that makes them pause for a moment. An image might show them something in a new way, or it might reflect themselves. Many have told me that they see aspects of their lives in my work, and in this way an image can be very affirming.
How do you know just when to click the shutter?
I click the shutter a lot. I look hard and deeply, and make many decisions. I click the shutter, in the moment with intention, also arbitrarily, sometimes randomly sometimes accidentally, and sometimes rapidly. “Taking” the picture is just one part of the process. Editing the pictures after a shoot, to find which ones have meaning, is even more difficult, and a harder process to explain. Sometimes I look at my work, and find a picture that speaks, sometimes I am surprised by what I find. Sometimes I know right away that I have something that works. While many speak of the immediacy of photography, it is a very intuitive process for me, that unfolds both quickly and slowly, over time.
Amid the flurry of images that seem to be swirling about this old world of ours, sometimes one sees an image and pauses and looks and looks again…That’s what happens to me each time I see an image of Robert Siegelmans…I pause and look and look again. There is a classical idea amid the moment in time, that has made his work timeless.
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