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)