Some Things Last A Long Time by Adam Mathieu

Today the singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston passed away. This has nothing to do with my actual art, but in some ways, it has a lot to do with me as an artist. The day is also immensely loaded as it is the eighteenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. However, that isn’t my story to tell. It would be wrong for me to even begin attempting to assume those raw emotions as I was only a seven-year-old child at the time. What I can speak about though, is the loss of a very talented lyrical genius whose music managed to inspire and empower me. I can speak to what I think it means to exist and make impressions, to create echoes of yourself which will outlive you and hopefully have a positive effect on those who live beyond you.

Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston

It is fair to say that a lot of my work is musically inspired. At the very least, I can admit that a lot of my ideas are conceived when listening to music. I myself am not a musician. I played guitar in high school like any other long-haired misfit, but I never actually committed to becoming a well-trained and skilled guitarist. I was merely searching for a tool to help me spit out all of my thoughts – the guitar and subsequent lyrics I wrote for songs did just that.

Daniel Johnston, 1990

Daniel Johnston, 1990

Somewhat narcissistically, I’ve always enjoyed seeing myself as John Lennon did in this quote:

"I'm an artist, you give me a fucking tuba, I'll get something out of it."

Sure, it is an arrogant statement, but I think if you are the type of person who needs to express themselves, you’ll at least try with whatever tool you have within reach.

Back to Daniel Johnston. He sounds like he is singing alone in a room and taping everything in some homemade studio. You get the impression that he is a man who needed to get some words out of his head, and he used the nearest tools he had. His recordings sound unpolished and blissfully childlike. Of course, like almost all modern art, it can be tricky to make something so simple be so impactful. Yet, Daniel can sing in a stripped down fashion on the track “Some Things Last A Long Time” and it hits me in such an emotionally tender place. Losing someone and still clinging to any relic you have of them, in this case a photo on a wall. You want those happy moments to last forever and you allow them to get close to immortality by simply conjuring them in your mind over and over.

I remember the day Bowie died, where I was at and who I spoke to about it first. That was heartbreaking, but I never necessarily shed tears over these artists. I didn’t know them personally and I’ll never be without them as they left behind their music and those songs are the only way I’ve ever known them anyway. I would say that’s what we all strive to do as artists, we want to create something to say, “this is me and this will be me when I no longer can be.” A little existential, I know, but I think that’s a fair assessment.

Look at all the great artists and how they are still spoken about and revered today. I’m not saying I deserve to be in that pantheon. I’m saying that, like a musician, we have the ability to let our voices echo long after we can no longer speak, and I think that is the most powerful tool with which to last a long time.

On Loss by Adam Mathieu


Artists can have many different themes or subjects they revisit over and over. I’m one of those artists that keeps talking about death. To get specific, it’s always someone I knew and how it sticks with me.

Joe, my brother, died 11 years ago to this day.  I’ve used art as a means to air out the sadness, guilt, and questions that have been in my mind since that day. Sometimes it actually helps. Other times it doesn’t make a lick of difference.

I’ve mostly stuck with performances about his death to help me come to terms with the loss. Of course, I don’t anticipate any one thing to reconcile this loss but I do believe it helps me deal with it in piecemeal.

This Cyanotype was made in 2015 and it was my quick attempt to show the loss of a family member. In this case two younger brothers losing the eldest. I want to say the inspiration came from a line in the Arcade Fire song “In The Backseat”:

“My family tree's

Losing all it's leaves

Crashing towards the driver's seat

The lightning bolt made enough heat

To melt the street beneath your feet”


On Gathering Images by Adam Mathieu

In photography it is thought that there are hunters and gatherers. Almost every photographer I know would be displeased to be tossed into a box, but that doesn’t mean I can’t toss myself into a box on occasion.

Self-Centered #1 , 2013

Self-Centered #1, 2013

Looking back at my more successful images, I see that I do a little of each technique. At times I was the hunter who went to a field and set about my props to capture the perfect image such as in my Self-Centered series. That method worked fine and was certainly necessary to get exactly what was in my head.

However, lately I notice more of a gatherer approach in the images I am happy with. I have allowed myself to wander in new environments and actually play with the scenes. By “play,” I mean loosening up and documenting the open world. This technique is how most of my You Don’t Belong Here images came about. I walk around, camera in hand, and look for the right quiet moment – a real life punctum that exist only for me until I capture it.

Man Hole , 2018

Man Hole, 2018

In recent months I’ve done much more exploring, typically with Katelyn as my travel companion. We’ve been wanting to push ourselves to shoot more and one way to encourage that is to drive and walk around in new environments. Of course, coming from a concept-based art education, it can be difficult at times to shoot single images and not consider them in a grander scheme. There isn’t much room for concept or theory when presenting a fairly banal hole in the ground.

At times I find it tricky to let my guard down and simply “play” with the camera. I’m too busy overthinking and wanting every image to have a “wow” factor. I have to admit to myself that not every image will be stellar. In fact, most images in a session will be lackluster. I’m sure when Robert Frank was walking around making photos for The Americans he created a library of reject images that aren’t as compelling as the final product. Lee Friedlander probably had a stack of images of photographs that he enjoyed but realized didn’t cut it. Still, they persisted and kept document the world around themselves.

As a photographer, I think your job is to document at free will. You have the power to stop time – so why wouldn’t you? Each photo I make contains a scene that for some reason I decided to freeze and steal from Father Time. That’s why I enjoy traveling to new locations to gather my images. I am allowed to return to that foreign land and remember the small moments that called out to be documented.

The joy of playing and gathering images is that you become a documentarian of the open world. The misery of it is that you need to location and time to be on your side to capture something worthwhile. I could walk around all day and not see something I deem worthy of capturing. That’s part of the process because you are opening yourself to the real world. For now, I’ll just have to keep gathering.

Palm Tree Apparel , 2016

Palm Tree Apparel, 2016

Current Work: We Shared A Year by Adam Mathieu

“We Shared A Year” is a photographic series in which I appropriate imagery from both family photos and public photographs from the same year, starting with my birth in 1994.

The family photograph is typically a tight crop on what I find to be the punctum of the image. The found public images depict a single large-scale event that occurred in the same year as my family photograph and call on the collective memory of the audience. This combination of imagery results in a micro vs macro effect for the viewer. The family image serves as my recollection for that year of my own life, whereas the public images represent the experiences of a large sum of people in that year.

Each year the number of public images increases to reflect my age at the time. The images are then merged with a series of crops and overlays to further address the public memory being a collective experience.

1999 (5 Layers of Columbine High School)

1999 (5 Layers of Columbine High School)

I first toyed around with this idea almost 4 years ago while I was still attending USF. We had an appropriation project, and this was one of my initial ideas for how to tackle the assignment. In the end, I abandoned this idea and it has gathered dust ever since. Recently, I’ve noticed a return of my anxiety over death and the progression of time and so I thought a way to cope with that would be to revisit this project.

I am typically unsure of how to maneuver in the field of appropriation, but it is so foreign to my practice that it feels refreshing. I am allowed to become more a researcher and archivist than creator. It is also exciting to know that with the passing of each year I will be tasked to add another chapter in this series. With that I come full circle to realize that one day the series will end, and that the world and I will no longer share years. Instead, the world will move on without me just as it did before me. The footprints I created will eventually sand over and my time will be only what images survive to depict the past as a frozen snapshot in history.

2012 (18 Layers of Hurricane Sandy Aftermath)

2012 (18 Layers of Hurricane Sandy Aftermath)