Matt Eich is a photographic essayist born and based in Virginia. He makes long-form projects related to memory, family, community, and the American condition. He is a Professional Lecturer of Photography at George Washington University and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with his wife and two daughters. In his newest monographs, I Love You I’m Leaving published by Ceiba Editions, we can see his family, during a time of big and stressful changes for both himself and his close relatives. Clearly avoiding to look like another diary worth only to its owner, the series constructs a universe where every viewer is welcome to recognize the intimate human traits of sadness, joy, futility and evolution.
What do you think about the relation of peripatetic life and the action of photographing?
Most of my work requires me to leave the place I call home, and the people I love, in order to visually translate the experiences of others into photographic form. This constant pull certainly causes relational friction and can be disorienting. I rarely feel like I belong where I am. Making photographs is a means of grounding oneself and slowing down. It also serves as a reminder of the passage of time, and how feeting our lives are.
Could you tell us more about the sequencing/editing stage of the photographs of the book which manages to stay open to interpretations?
The selection and sequence of images is often the most challenging part of creating a body of work, but it’s where you can begin to see nebulous ideas take shape. The most diffcult part for me was separating myself from intimate knowledge of the individuals and events depicted. I had to realize that the viewer brings none of this backstory or information to the reading of the photograph, so if it does not speak clearly on its own, then perhaps it does not belong. While the images speak to a very personal experience and time in my life, I also want the work to be accessible by a wide range of people, so it is less hinged on my individual experience and allows the viewer to project their own experiences and feelings onto the work.
“While the images speak to a very personal experience and time in my life, I also want the work to be accessible by a wide range of people…”
We can notice that you are working on long-term projects. How do you decide the perfect timing to put down the camera and publish the work?
I really don’t have an answer to this question. It’s hard to know when something is done. Especially something that burrows itself in your brain for years. Sometimes you just burn out on a project, sometimes you run out of money or time, sometimes there’s a reason to hurry along and publish something. Usually I’m in no rush. The work is done when it’s done, and it’ll tell you when it’s done. The I Love You, I’m Leaving series is one of the more consolidated bodies of work I’ve published, because it spans about two years. Most of my projects drag on for 5-10 years, maybe more. Even as I’m preparing a book for publication, I’m constantly thinking about what I don’t have that could make it richer, deeper, or more meaningful.
Why did you decide to use black & white instead of color in this series?
I’ve been a color photographer for most of my professional life. During graduate school, a professor suggested that if I was struggling to reinvent how I communicate with photographs to consider everything that is “working” for me, and to strip that away. So, if color works, strip it away, if mobility is something I lean on, lock the camera down on a tripod, if having some distance from the work is important, collapse the distance and include yourself in the work. Basically, evaluate your creative crutches, and then take them away. That’s largely how I ended up making this work in b&w. For a while I intended to mix color, but it wasn’t communicating effectively.
What are you working on now?
These days I am wrapping up publication of The Invisible Yoke, which is a four-part series of monographs with Swiss publisher Sturm & Drang. We have two previously published volumes (Carry Me Ohio, 2016 and Sin & Salvation in Baptist Town, 2018) with two forthcoming volumes (The Seven Cities, 2019 and We, the Free, 2020). While preparing those books, I’m constantly making new photographs and have been publishing those in the form of small-run zines/booklets that I am calling Seasonal Blues. The first volume, Seasonal Blues V1 is pictures from winter of 2019, Seasonal Blues V2 is spring 2019, etc. There are two more volumes in the works this year. I’m also preparing another body of work under the title, Say Hello to Everybody, OK? This series might conclude in 2020, or it might run through 2024, I’m not yet sure.
Do you listen to music while editing your series?
All the time. I was listening to Zoe Keating, Volcano Choir, Gem Club, Apparat, Bon Iver, Reid Willis, Isbells, Chris Staples, Fog Lake and a lot more while making this work and editing this book.
More on his website.