Monday, March 25, 2013

Logan Rollins

Logan Rollins is a photographer whose work explores issues of homosexual identity and camp. He received his BFA from Texas Women’s University and is currently pursuing his MFA at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Inspired by historical paintings and photographs, his images provide a cultural context through which he explores his own sexuality. His work has been exhibited throughout the South and in various magazines, as well as online publications. Rollins recently contributed to a panel for the LGBTQ caucus at SPE Chicago, discussing gay and queer artistic identity within academia today. He currently lives and works in Savannah, Georgia.

View more of Logan's work here 

Ashley Kauschinger: What is the process of constructing the performances of identity in these photographs? Is it a collaboration with the subject? How much do you direct them?

Logan Rollins: With this project it became especially clear that I was walking a fine line in terms of taste and that I had to be very careful in how I constructed each image. Each piece initially begins as a sketch, or thumbnail, making my process pretty straightforward and deliberate. I often find that when I pre-visualize an image it gives me a clearer path than when I just go out and shoot. As the work developed, each image often, but not always, changed from its original plan. This is where collaboration with the model became key. The models would often bring their own ideas and personality to the shoot, knowing that the resulting image wasn’t necessarily about their own individuality. This resulted in some interesting experiences and enlightening moments. In terms of constructing these “performances”, the titles became integral to the piece itself. Sometimes a title would even manifest before the idea of the image itself.

When it came to directing the models it really depended on the person in question and their level of comfort with sitting in front of the lens. Those who were more active and participatory really helped me understand the project better. Their questions often led to a deeper insight into the project.

AK: What are you thoughts behind photographing stereotypical ideas of homosexuality?

LR: This work has allowed me to better understand my own gay identity. I have often felt like an outsider within my own community. Because of this, I wanted to play with stereotypical representations of gay subcultures. While it doesn’t change this outsider feeling I have, it does give me a way to exist and participate within the gay community in the best way I know how. Playing with these perceptions is what I find interesting as it really questions the push and pull of masculine and feminine modes of expression. This in my mind forms a core of what it means to be homosexual; are you masc or femme? 
There is an idea within the basis of camp culture that it is sincere in its insincerity. I am using stereotype to subvert these perceptions of what gay identity is and should be, at least from my own perspective. Instead of stereotype I should use the word archetype since it becomes less sociologically loaded. I call them stereotypes, or archetypes, because they aren’t really representations of who the model is, but rather that they are characters representing what I consider gay representation.

AK: I feel a tension created between the raw energy of the photographs and the staged quality that they possess. How do you balance this? Do you ever take documentary photographs?

LR: It becomes a very careful balancing act, but I really tend to follow my instincts. I went into the project knowing that I wanted to break fundamental rules of image making. To do so, my post-processing became an interesting mix of pushing the image too far and then having to pull it back to create a visually interesting composition. I seldom work with the full image frame. The power to crop an image is one of my most valuable tools. I have found that balancing the work requires a lot of trial and error. Knowing when to abandon an image to strengthen the body of work as a whole is just as important as the images that remain within the series. This is something I still struggle with. It can be hard when you are so close to the work. My work tends to be conceptual in nature so to me it is about as far as you can get from documentary. The closest I’ve ever gotten to it is the occasional street work. I prefer to construct a image than to search one out. Speaking only for myself, I find more truth in the staged image that explores a message rather than a project that directs me to a codified conclusion. The beautiful thing about photography is that it often raises more questions than it answers, and I am okay with that.

AK: Is working in a "so bad it's good" style liberating? As a graduate student, I'm often directed to perfection. Did you have to fight against this?

LR: This project has become quite liberating. We are told that we have to learn the rules so that in the end we can know when to break them. Makeshift Theatre is my testament to that idea. Before this project started I was trying to do everything “perfect”, or at least my perception of that ideal. And it was all a miraculous failure. In my frustration and desire to really find an idea I could share, I stumbled upon this project. It no longer resembles its beginnings, but it has shaped me in more ways than I can really express, and that is where my liberation comes from.

Sometimes I think people who see my work initially believe that my skill is sub-standard to what is required of a graduate student. Yet, most people seem receptive to at least discussing the ideas behind the work so this thought is most likely a matter of perspective. In the end, I have found that the fight is often within myself. I have a desire to take photos in a manner considered traditional and “correct” and with other projects this is appropriate. But I think the conflict means that I am not playing it safe, which I believe is what graduate school is really teaching you. To be a master in my mind is to dream, to dare, and to not play it safe. Admittedly, you do need to know and understand the technical skills of your chosen medium, but it is the path that isn’t safe that becomes the most rewarding.

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