Eva O’Leary and Harry Griffin on Photographing the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of GettysburgEva O’Leary and Harry Griffin are photographers who work together. Last year they funded a project called Devil’s Den using Kickstarter. For it, they photographed reenactors and spectators at the 150th-anniversary commemoration of the battle of Gettysburg. Juxtapositions within their images lay bare the differences between then and now. The project is featured in Mossless Issue 3, which is also currently on Kickstarter. We spoke with Eva and Harry about preconceptions drawn from history books, crowdfunding as a strategy for self-publishing, and the nature of collaboration.
JONATHAN CHERRY: What did you want to be growing up?
JESSE CRIMES: I grew up playing soccer and always dreamed of playing pro in Europe. It’s an immensely fun sport that I’ll surely always love.
JC: Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
JC: Oh my, so many people and things. I’m reading Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle right now and that’s been incredibly influential to me in how I’m interpreting my work and the place it has as a tool of interpretation/investigation and as a spectacle in itself. As to a person who inspires me, now and always, is Robert Adams, both as a writer and as a photographer. The spirit and articulation of his words come out equally so in his photographs and serve as a guide for me as to the level of craftsmanship and concern I hope to embody as a photographer. In a different manner, my friends Harry Griffin and Eva O’Leary, Dan Swindel, and Lance Brewer are all kicking ass and I love seeing them succeed in their crafts, pushing me to excel in mine. I recently found out about Ken Graves and Eva Lipman's work and I'm absolutely floored!
JC: What are you up to right now?
JC: Right now I work as the head assistant for a commercial photographer named Robert Herrick. He’s a pretty awesome guy, teaches me a lot, and we get to travel all over the place, allowing me to make my own work in places I’d otherwise not get a chance to. I’m also helping out a filmmaker by the name of Lonny Shavelson on a documentary, the first I’ve worked on, and I’ve learned so much and I’m having a great time. I’m on the last stage of developing all of my film from last year, which came to around 250 rolls of 120mm, mainly black and white. There’s a book being crafted in the back of my head so I’m working towards getting that completed this year. And I just turned in an application to a local artist residency so I’m crossing my fingers and looking forward to 2014.
JC: Have you had mentors along the way?
JC: I’ve definitely had some amazing mentors over the years. Like many people, I was in Community College not sure what I wanted to do with myself when I happened to take my first black and white photo class. That’s when Becky Brister took me under her wing and showed me the incredibly expressive capabilities that photography possesses. Bought my first 4x5, a Crown Graphic, during winter break after my first photo class and jumped feet first into learning everything I could. A few years later I transferred to California College of the Arts in Oakland and fortunately had Abner Nolan and Jessica Ingram as teachers for multiple formative semesters. The two of them are invaluable to the program there and the students that are fortunate to learn from them. I had learned to love photography before I met them, but they taught me how to speak with images, to push myself ever harder, and to take risks.
JC: Where are you based right now and how is it shaping you?
JC: I live in the SF Bay Area. Been here for about 5.5 years now and I absolutely love this place. I get city life, forests, ocean, mountains, amazing food, diverse cultures all smacked right up next to each other. It’s great! I particularly love First Friday in Oakland, especially as an artist. A ever-widening array of Bay Area artists and collectives get together to enjoy art, food, music, and each other. That’s the kind of place I want to live in. Being informed by a politically active, environmentally concerned, and overall rad community in the Bay Area definitely informs the photography projects I’m concerned with, even if they aren’t based here.
JC: One piece of advice to photography graduates?
JC: Hmm, it’s hard to only give one. I’ve learned so much in the handful of years since I graduated. I think the best advice I could give has less to do with being a photographer and more to do with being a person: Don’t be an asshole. Which is another way of saying: Be kind. You want to assist a photographer? You won’t get called back even if you are technically apt if people don’t like being around you, especially if you are pompous or condescending. You want someone to pose for you? Every portrait is a collaboration and your attitude and how you make them feel will come out in their body language. Your peers from school or your boss from your internship won’t recommend you for a job or show if you’re not at least a decent person. You’ll like yourself better too. You’re you first and then a photographer second, and you’ll be a better, more respected photographer if you’re a better you.
JC: If all else fails - what is your plan B?
JC: If all else fails, I’m definitely gonna get my Master’s in Library Science. I absolutely love reading and the prospect of being surrounded by books all the time, exploring the mysteries encased within each one, and promoting the appreciation of books, especially in the era of quick, easy satisfaction, is an exciting one. I’d say I got into photography largely because of literature actually. The way we can connect with people across time and space under a banner of shared ideas and values, and even foreign, potentially challenging ones, is something that literature and photography share in common. So, in a way, Library Science is just another way to do what I already want to do: connect.
JC: Is it important to you to be a part of a creative community?
JC: Definitely. Even when my peers and I would totally disagree or have wildly different tastes, being able to flush out our thoughts and ideas about this or that was incredibly beneficial. I haven’t had a formal critique in a few years and I can feel it in my gut that it’s something I miss and crave. Luckily, I have friends near and far I’m able to ask for help with sequencing and writing about my work, even if not regularly. And I definitely reciprocate for them. We’re all half sure of what it is we’re trying to convey until someone asks us the right question or recommends we look at a particular artist or tells us that it’s simply not working and we need to try from a different angle. I’m looking to go to grad school in the future largely for the communal element, being able to create my work with the input from others.
We’re working hard through the holidays to get our third issue done. It’s a behemoth, the document is over 300 pages at present, featuring the works of 115 photographers who post work online. We’re doing our best to get it done as a limited special edition for the LA Art Book Fair and for the Kickstarter we’re launching soon after to raise funds to publish a wide edition. What you’re looking at is a very early draft of the contents with notes from the past two weeks. Expect the design to change quite a bit.
We’ve also just gotten confirmation from Vice that we’ll be doing an interview series for their website in conjunction with this issue. It’ll be good to get back into the swing of doing online interviews, which if you weren’t aware, we used to do every two days.
Even if the Kickstarter falls through, creating this project has been an incredible experience. Grace and I are humbled by the work we’re able to publish here and we can’t wait to show everyone how fantastic all of these photographers are, and just how important their work truly is. Happy new year everyone!
Harry and I are excited to have several images from Devil’s Den included in this