Matthew Genitempo is an North American photographer and book publisher currently living and making work in Marfa, Texas. His first book, Jasper, published by Twin Palms, was photographed in the Ozark Mountains and is inspired by the poet and land surveyor, Frank Stanford. The poetic, caption-free sequencing, bounces between fact and fiction and suggests a double escape: from contemporary society standards but also from yourself in. Jasper is completing his graduate thesis for an MFA at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and will be at the heart of our conversation.
What was the starting point of Jasper? It feels like you didn’t have a “storyboard” in mind before start photographing and you dove in the subject without predefined ideas.
I sort of fell into everything all at once. Escaping preconceived ideas for pictures was something that I dealt with quite a bit before beginning Jasper. I had spun out on a project out West and I was trying to redefine my practice. I had switched to black and white, I started including flash, and I quit thinking about making pictures. Coincidentally that time matched up with meeting some people that were living in the woods. I never really stopped to question what I was doing. It felt right, so I went with it.
Would you consider yourself a land surveyor? How did you manage to keep this wide body of work both documentary and conceptual?
By my understanding of that occupation, I wouldn’t consider myself a land surveyor. However, I spent a considerable amount of time being in and being aware of my surroundings while making the work.
Keeping the work both documentary and conceptual wasn’t something I was consciously after. Maybe it’s just something that photography is inherently successful at doing. I think if there was any conscious effort, it came later when I was sequencing the book. There are a lot of pictures that didn’t make the cut that fall on either end of that spectrum.
“There were folks that I spent time with every single time I visited the Ozarks and others I met once, photographed, and never saw again”.
What drove you in the woods of the Ozarks? All these people look very intimate near you and your camera. How was your relationship?
Before I got to the Ozarks I was making work in a small forest called The Lost Pines. It’s a disjunct belt of pine trees that is separated by over one hundred miles from the Piney Woods region that runs through east Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri and eventually connects to the Ozarks.
Subconsciously I think I wanted to end up in the Ozarks because at the time I had a small obsession with the poetry of Frank Stanford. My relationship to the inhabitants there varied. There were folks that I spent time with every single time I visited the Ozarks and others I met once, photographed, and never saw again.
I see that you clearly prefer the photobook medium for your narrative. Could you tell us more about this way of presentation? How difficult was it to select smaller number of images for your solo exhibition and for other appearances?
I believe that the photobook is possibly the best way to ingest photography–at least the type of photography that I’m usually interested in. That’s not to say that I haven’t been moved by pictures in a gallery or on a screen, but I love the simplicity of sitting down with a book of pictures and having an experience or exchange that’s roughly defined by the photographer and the rest is up to you.
Picking photographs can be tricky, but that’s where curators come in. Some photographs are just better than others at conveying the entire narrative of Jasper.
Why did you decide to use black & white film instead of color?
I was primarily working in color before I began Jasper. I started using black and white because I needed more restrictions and I needed to make less decisions. It also helped build a more convincing world, in my opinion. Color is tough. It can be distracting. Black and white also never really grounds one in a specific time or place and that was very important to me.
Was there any particular poem/book of Frank Stanford that you had in mind while forming Jasper?
Mostly I carried his collected book of poems with me. There was no particular poem that stood out as a major influence for the project as a whole, but I did find a few times that I would make a photograph and then later discover that I was almost illustrating scenes from poems. His words became fixed in my subconscious.
Do you listen to music while editing your series?
I tend to play what I was listening to at the time while I was making the pictures. I suppose in attempt to reenter the same or similar atmosphere, but most often it doesn’t work.
What are you working on now?
The wheels are in motion, but I haven’t committed on any sole direction.
More on his website.