Monday, December 17, 2012

Hans Gindlesberger

Hans discusses his performative photographs from the series, I'm in the Wrong FilmThe work creates psychological narratives about small town America, and the places we belong.

Hans Gindlesberger has been exhibited widely in exhibitions, festivals, and screenings. He is the recipient of national and international awards and grants, including a 2008 Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts and is a 2011 recipient of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fellowship. He earned his MFA in Photography from the State University of New York at Buffalo and currently holds the position of Assistant Professor of Digital Imaging at the Virginia Tech School of Visual Arts. 

View more of Han's work here:

Do you feel there is a connection between performance and constructed narratives? The performance in your work feels influenced by theater and film. How do you feel these ideas are transformed into photography and what power do you feel these qualities posses through this transformation? 

Theater and cinema, particularly silent film, were significant influences while working on the I’m in the Wrong Film series. What I wanted from the images was for the performances and construction to coalesce into a single narrative, where the character is always operating in a state of futility and the scenes he appears in are also faltering in their construction, like a poorly designed stage set. Those two components are always mimicking and reinforcing one another in a sort of tragicomic loop. The Theater of the Absurd informed the work, in that each scenario finds the character in an irresolvable situation. He’s seemingly dislocated within these rural and postindustrial landscapes, which have also lost their place and their status. In the face of the significance of that downward trajectory, the character’s performances are all very slight, more like gestures. He often appears caught as a bystander or, when he does attempt to recover some agency within the landscape, his actions are always truncated by the stillness of the photograph. I like how these images are aware of the photographic moment and how they capitalize on the immobility produced by photography. The performances play into the idea that the photograph further suspends the action, so on its surface the whole scenario appears more futile and the character even more impotent. But on the other hand, it shifts some of the determination of the narrative to the viewer. They can pick up where the photograph arrested the narrative and lend the character a future or complete the gesture he began. The relationship between stasis and movement in an image and the imagination of the viewer is something I continued to explore in Gone to Seed, a project completed after the Wrong Film series.

Why do you choose to construct the elements of the photograph separately instead of finding or building tableaus for the character to physically interact in? 

There are varying degrees to which each photograph is constructed. Some use a single shot of a landscape or space. Others are composited from just a few or possibly dozens of photographic fragments that stitch together elements from various places and times. What’s consistent is that the performance is always photographed separately, in the studio. The title, I’m in the Wrong Film is a translation of a German expression that’s meant to indicate a sense of disorientation on the part of the speaker. My thought was that even if the scenes appear coherent and continuous on their surface they still convey, in a more latent way, a sense that the figure is not really a part of the scene. He’s an actor performing in front of a false d├ęcor. So the photographs challenge the character’s physical presence, which also implicates his psychology. In this work, I felt that the decision to compartmentalize figure and ground acted as an illustration of the work’s title. And it connects to the places themselves – the small town and postindustrial communities where the work is set. They’re places that have struggled economically and become less viable, which destabilizes identity. So the dislocation that’s performed by the figure is also indicative of that larger social narrative.

While the images are clearly imaginative and narrative, I think there’s an interesting aspect of documentation in the work. In the early stages of the project I traveled throughout the Midwest to amass an archive of photographs to work from. Each one of the constructions begins from a set of documentary photographs of actual places that did appear a certain way. In terms of forming narrative within the landscape, it’s done through juxtaposition of documentation rather than by setting up a tableau or staging pictorial effects. And that practice leads to a curious duality to my role in the project. I’ve been to each of these places, witnessed and experienced them, but later on I step into the neutral, abstract space in the studio to create an interaction with a place that’s both simulation and documentation.

What draws you to creating narratives about small town America and what significance do you connect to this landscape and the idea of not belonging?

A lot of it comes from the experience of being raised in a small town in Ohio. Since then I’ve lived in several other places in the Midwest, so it’s a landscape I’m familiar and have a relationship with. I’m interested in the image of the small town and the way it’s been appropriated and used socially, politically, and aesthetically in forming a national image and identity. But also how that image can bear little resemblance to, or be in opposition with, the actuality of those places. I want the series to be situated in the space between the reality of a place and its mythology and nostalgic image, which, if it ever did exist, has long since passed. The experience of the individual existing in that social landscape and how they cope with the tensions at play within it is what the narratives are concerned with. I think the photographs, rightly or wrongly, look at the social circumstance of the small town as an irresolvable issue, so they turn to the interiority of the character operating within his own absurd theater that’s been brought about by the decline of these places.

In all of my work I’m interested in how small and discreet stories, often times personal or autobiographical, can intersect with larger cultural narratives. At the start of this project, Sherwood Anderson’s novel Winesburg, Ohio was an influence. It does a similar thing; taking a series of vignettes, short character studies, that explore the internal dialogue of the inhabitants of a small town. The stories are intimate, but find ways to bleed into one another, touch on concerns of the time, and reflect a sense of isolation brought on by a reticence that’s perhaps unique to the experience of the small town. Later on I found something similar with things like Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet that peel back the veneer that covers a place to become the voyeur to what’s below the surface. The photographs in I’m in the Wrong Film are very much about presenting a surface in the form of a constructed image, but the surface is allowed to falter and come apart as a way of identifying with the character and challenging the image and idea that have been created for places like this.

What is your process of self promotion? How do you create a balance between promoting work, creating it, and living life?

I don’t go about it in a way that’s particularly calculated, other than to keep up a practice of daily work. Whether I’m in the studio or not, I try to do something to keep momentum and stay plugged in. More than anything, working in the academic field has helped with this. It demands that you continue to exhibit, but also provides the time and resources to create, and you always find yourself being introduced to new people and ideas, so for me staying in that type of environment as a teacher has been a good stimulus for the work. 

What do you think of constructed narratives? 
Share your thoughts on Han's series in the comments below! 

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