My Brother’s War is an eleven chapter series (so far) of personal photographs reflecting my investigation into the circumstances of my brother’s early death after the war in Viet Nam. The work is about loss, healing, hope, and living in the aftermath of war – both for a veteran and for his family and friends. Gary was sent to Viet Nam at the height of the war in 1967. He arrived in Qui Nhon on November 4th. It was my 8th birthday. Honorably discharged from the army in 1969 with a “service connected nervous condition”, we later came to know his plight as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My pre-war brother, a normal and well-adjusted person, had become, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration, 50% disabled. He took his own life about ten years later. Determined to find more information about what happened to him, I contacted his comrades 35 years after the war, traveled to a reunion of his platoon, found the home where he died, his burial place, and twice traveled to Chu Lai, Viet Nam, where Gary was stationed during the war. I used his photographs and letters to serve as my guides, sometimes combining his photographic vision with mine. The project, nearly twelve years of effort, has evolved and changed with time, using a variety of formats to tell the story. In titling this work My Brother’s War, I make reference to other families worldwide that have lost, and are presently losing loved ones to war. My works seeks to inspire, as the only alternative, a peaceful coexistence.
For almost 50 years I have created conceptual multimedia artworks exploring the friction between our interior lives and public selves. I have secretly observed, listened to, photographed, filmed and recorded strangers in public places while remaining largely invisible. When using myself as subject, I have appeared masked or hidden, as in several recent series.
After graduating Carnegie Mellon, I moved to New York from the suburbs of Cleveland and found myself in a densely populated metropolis. For me, each person was a matchless original as well as a stereotype. In 1970, with a small, cheap camera, I began surreptitiously photographing people on the streets, often listening to their conversations. In an attempt to tease out patterns of human experience, I aggregated thousands of photographs.
For years, I repurposed my street photographs in many forms: books, videos, photographs, installations and sculptures, and even created Who I Saw in New York from 1970-2000, a book and gallery installation consisting of photographs of thousands of people.
When I moved from SoHo to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2008, I became dependent on the L train to visit Manhattan. This made it easy to go to galleries, museums, visit friends, see doctors, etc. I now found myself in close quarters with a vast and, for me, new, population. As a pastime, I began photographing other passengers with my iPhone. At the same time, I continued my art in the studio by developing several series of myself behind masks.
In 2017, it was announced that the L train would be closed for 18 months for repairs. What would this mean? How would my life be affected? Would my work practice change? It would not, but the focus, the idea would have a different urgency. I decided to start a new project, painting portraits of the passengers I had photographed. With free, quick, gestural strokes and a palette of both muted and intense colors, I tried to bring life to the gray underground. The speed of my painting reflected, for me, the crowded, ever-moving population of passengers; hurried, contemplative, sometimes angry, occasionally musical and lyrical. Almost half a million of us would be dislocated or stranded every day.
Underground became integrated with above ground. Everywhere I walked, construction crossed my paths. I photographed my altered landscape. The images became backgrounds on which I mounted several of the portraits. This recombination created context which has always been crucial to my art practice. I called the series L Train Bye, Bye. But then, overnight, everything seemed about to change. The governor had somehow discovered a new technology at the last minute. No shutdown, he said. No fast track. But my work would stand with a new title, They Rode the L Train.
I am a strong believer in place, and how a region, community and a home will shape who you are. The place I know, where I was raised, is the Black Belt region of the American South. It is how I was raised, as a Southerner and as a Jew in a small southern town, instilled with belief in family and tradition that motivates me to document the place I call home.
You have left for tomorrow
like the rhythm of rust
gasping, fleeing the day
we pressed our hearts
against the glitter
of wisdom, our being
choked on a voiceless
be pliant, be the words
translucent as dust.
The Waiting Room
It must be rain inside the walls. The rain of a child’s cries, a red swing against the grey sweetness of sky. A hollow to stifle, rocking in the cold front. Of ciphers discarded on the doorsteps, lips bleeding into porcelain shards to let live. Come back, come back, to the call of faceless drinkers pleading for histories, in a room of dust singed by erasure. For I will wait, I will wait to touch their voices, punctured by rain.
from Pages from the Frozen Sea
The “pages” in Pages from the Frozen Sea are photographs of ordinary objects or materials suspended in ice, or artworks made by working with ice. This collaborative project is a celebration of the beauty and constantly changing nature of ice, and embraces an experimental, process-oriented approach to art-making. The project was inspired by a quote from Franz Kafka: “A book must be an axe for the frozen sea within us.” The images selected were done during the winter of 2017. The project will continue during the winter of 2018: it requires cold weather. This year Sarah Stengle and Eva Mantel hope to extend the scope of the project by inviting other artists to also contribute pages. The project can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.
This photography series is focused on capturing the last vestiges of the vibrant street culture, the traditions and lifestyles that are quickly being eradicated due to the aggressive gentrification that’s invading almost every corner of NYC. For the past twelve summers, Ruben Natal-San Miguel has traveled around New York City by bicycle searching for what it’s like to live in these parts of the city. The artist has been able to find not only a vibrant and colorful vision, but also a happy and very meaningful life lesson.
Cartography is both art and science as well as a powerful tool to control civilisations. Maps and atlases are fascinating because of significant information they can offer within a specific period of time. They are not faithful representations of reality, but they sometimes convey strong ideas which are the keys to understanding historical narratives — a determining element in my selections.
Influenced by my formal architectural training, I use the photographic medium to explore the crossing universes and boundaries of nature and culture. Social changes and spatial structures in a globalized world are at the heart of my artistic reflections; by examining in-between spaces, I propose an open frame where borders do not exist.
Because the Night: from After Dark, Prospect Park and Allegories of a Posthumous Landscape
I began taking pictures at night in Prospect Park in the spring of 2001. I had just purchased my first serious camera and was looking forward to making something technically impressive, as my work up to that point was handicapped by often slipshod technique and always roughshod equipment. We had just come through a great political tumult, with an impeachment followed by an election which saw an intellectually incurious man assume the office of the President after losing the popular vote (and save for the Supreme Court, the electoral college as well). The dot-com bubble had burst and the crisis was beginning to spread to the wider economy. Enron, voted “the most innovative company in America” and one of the sitting president’s biggest financial backers, was revealed to have committed financial fraud on a massive scale. All summer long, I watched with fascination as its share price slid towards zero, waiting for the penny to drop. And then of course it was September.
Like everybody else I was experiencing elevated levels of anxiety, but my true panic was realizing that our leadership, emboldened with the highest approval ratings on record, was about to commit an even greater tragedy: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So what does all of this have to do with night photography? I’m not sure except that I was compelled to look for a place where the truth could not be refuted, and I sought that in nature, where, for the time being anyway, truth was eternal.
In the park I re-discovered history. I made note of the gas lamps lining the pathways and knew that one day the jaundiced light emitted by the sodium vapor lamp would also disappear, and it gave me a strange comfort. I observed statues commemorating past conflicts, listened as men on horseback whispered to me about human folly and found I was a little less bitter. The park revealed to me the present as it has always been, a crossroads of the past and the future. In my work I always strive to sit at that intersection. This new camera of mine, a rangefinder, required me to use the center portion of the lens to find focus, but I recognize now something else was motivating me to hew to the visual center in my frame. As a practical reality, the political center was dead. I think part of me hoped to anchor this expression in the guise of composition, where the rule of thirds reigned supreme.
It’s been over a decade since I’ve made those pictures and I again find myself drawn to night and to nature, tilling the same ground: failure of leadership, arrogance and hubris, a desire to invent our own version of the truth. Barack Obama, an erudite, measured centrist was elected President. Inheriting an economy on the brink (and a constitution under assault) it was his misfortune to have to save the established order; our misfortune was that he succeeded a little too well. His greatest success was his greatest failure, for it gave rise to the Tea Party, which in turn brought us Donald Trump. That Donald Trump could be ushered into office under the auspices of the working class is almost enough to shatter the very meaning of irony, which is now blooming like so much algae, consuming all the oxygen in the pond. The fourth estate, having abrogated their role in the run-up to the Iraq Invasion is now desperate to reclaim the mantle of responsible journalism. Hopefully this newfound vigor on the part of the press corps can help restore the balance of power. In Allegories of A Posthumous Landscape, I revisit the figures that spoke to me in my Prospect Park series, only this time transforming real people into statuettes, in hopes that they might whisper to the future that “yes, we were here once too.”
The photos in this gallery come from two series. Central Structure explores structures of unknown use in relation to their surroundings. Photographed in a static way, the viewer is allowed to create their own dialogue as to what purpose the structure has amidst the surrounding landscape.
School’s Out Forever (Detroit, 2013) was created as schools were being closed in Chicago in early 2013, and the comparison to Detroit arose in the media. What was to become of the physical structures of the schools after they close? If cities began to shutter educational institutions, where would children learn and grow, and how could a community walk away from the citizens of the future? For a child, a school is their second home, where they feel most comfortable. Losing that sense of community and belonging must be a traumatic event for displaced students.
Karson was shortlisted for the 2015 Lucie Foundation’s A Photo Made Scholarship, named one of the photographers for Best of ASMP 2015, and is currently working with High Concept Labs (Chicago) as a 2016 Sponsored Artist. She has been a member of ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) since 2013, currently serving on the Board of Directors and as acting Treasurer and Fine Arts Chair for the Chicago/ Midwest Chapter. mariahkarson.com
The Exploration of Dead Ends
A few years ago I would have said that my work was about structure, or more specifically about how one
constructed one’s world. Over time this has changed to a more simple and basic premise for my work. I
want to explore these little daily moments that we all experience, these glances or gestures, in which
there is a connection made with another. In these moments a small door opens up into a large new world
that, if only for a second, makes us glimpse as what it means to be human.