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Ryan Mathieson

Today we’re talking to our second interviewee, photographer Ryan Mathieson, in a series of daily interviews this week for the relaunch of our magazine Of The Land & Us, formerly Eyes Forward Magazine. Ryan’s project ‘Infinity Beaches’ is what caught our eye, and our curiosity was piqued by his way of experimenting with film and photographic techniques. Read our interview with him below!

Please introduce yourself.

Hello my name is Ryan Mathieson. I am a visual artist working in Vancouver BC. I studied design, majoring in photography then went on to do an MFA in interdisciplinary studies. I work in an art gallery and I am responsible for the installation of exhibitions in the gallery. There is quite a bit of painting and photography, and there are some sculptural installations too. I am also a bit of an adventurer. I am in a band and have a solo music project too. I think I am a fun person. I have the capacity to make things fun or find the gems in our surroundings. I search for it; the magic.

What is it that draws you to photographing landscapes?

I have an interest in map-making and the interpretation of land use. I am into intimate places, places that require distance to find, places without too many people; I think of remote places as intimate places.I think about photography as a form of map-making. It frames a territory and provides an index for interpreting a space. I think about photographs as maps: as a fragmented index – not topographical, not comprehensive or complete.

Do you have a favourite type of landscape?

A driving force in my practice is the need to find what lies under the surface and find what may not always be expressed in a visual manner. Especially with seeking remote places – I often take a critical stance on the expectations many place on using photography to relay or tell of experiences. I am interested in photographs that hint at something that is present, yet unexpressed in the image. Something outside of the frame; something akin to the feeling of early spring – when everything is about to change. That is an exciting tension.

The series ‘Infinity Beaches’ really caught my eye. What is the story behind this?

‘Infinity Beaches’ started with a single image I took in Iceland. I then took this image with me to the desert regions of New Mexico and Arizona, and tried to recreate the same composition over very different geographies. The concept speaks to projecting one place over a variety of areas, with photography.  The landscapes are all identical yet totally different.

Do you have a favourite image or project of your own?

It’s interesting how the images that I feel something for don’t get any likes online. Also, my very favourite photos are yet to be posted or shown anywhere. It’s too soon sometimes- I am trying to resist posting images before I understand what they are about. Is placing images online closer to depositing money in the bank or closer to spending it? I feel that the Infinity Beaches has potential to be unfolded into an important future project for me. I’m working the idea into a larger body of work in the Canadian Rockies and in my studio.

I really love this image – was it taken with unfrared film?

Yes that is infrared. I was looking at work from Irish-born photographer Richard Mosse and I experienced a brief obsession with it. Green turns magenta with colour infrared film, and I tried it on icy landscapes, frozen waterfalls and the like but nothing happened. I wanted to make photos of purple ice-falls but the green of the ice still looked green.

It was a moment when I thought I knew something about light and colour, then I realised that actually I didn’t know anything about light. It was a good learning experience. I took this photograph on my waterfall mission, and it ended up being the best shot of the roll!

What do you think about Mosse’s winning series for the Deutsche Börse Prize?

I think Mosse’s work is visually stunning and remarkable. I am very interested in artistic practices that work with transitioning the invisible into visible. Have you seen ‘The Enclave’? The 16mm colour infrared film? It captivated me and that is hard to deal with.

Mosse’s work is complex. I’m concerned about the risks of the work sensationalising territories, like the area of Kivu, East Congo, through showing them in a psychedelic hue. I feel tension with his work when I get caught up in the process of colour infrared film and the location becomes secondary.

Still, in drawing a connection to the content, location and the form of the work, it slows me down and inspires a conversation and this is a good thing. Hearing him talk about his process as “aggressively intuitive” reinforces my appreciation for the work and reminds me that his position is “not a reaction to journalism”.

I can see that you have got a lot of film in your work. Do you think film will ever truly die?

I do like film very much. Using film slows down my process of looking; waiting and thinking about what is happening – that is something important for me. Honestly, I’m just bored with that debate of film versus digital. Is it happening still? It’s more important to ask how photography is being used.

I’m not sure if film will live on, but the language of sharing with images will certainly continue to accelerate and evolve. A part of this language is embedded with the history of film. Seeing an ‘Xpro’ filter on instagram and knowing it refers to cross process is a good thing.

We are in a special time where film and digital facilities are mingling. Lots of film-based elements are already out of my reach in the present but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from them.

I wish I could print photos on the same types of Kodak paper my grandparents would have had photographs made with; heavy, textured, almost waxy. I think it’s ok to have the debate of film and digital so long as it doesn’t stray into a nostalgic place or a place of championing the latest technology as the most important component of being creative.

Do you do a lot of experimentation?

Yes, I experiment to get an understanding of what I am working with. Film, ceramics, sound or cooking… anything really. It is important to not to be too cautious. Go for it and fail and learn. Lots of light leaks, expired film, poor exposures, personal struggles and missed moments led to a way of working for me today. Then experimentation can taper off and become part of my vocabulary for speaking about a topic.

Where do you find inspiration?

Something interesting is changing for me in terms of finding inspiration – I’m spending more time with photography, sculptures, painting, music and new media through shows and studios than through screen-based/book-based interactions. Some of this is due to working in a gallery- it’s leading to being familiar with work in the context of a collection, the collection of a gallery, the collection of a client. Sometimes it’s an isolating experience. Sometimes it’s a genuine pleasure, becoming familiar with the work of an artist through knowing what the artwork is like in real life instead of seeing it work online. At the same time, I have been going to music shows, I have been playing music shows and I have been seeing exhibitions and having studio visits; all this is contributing to conversations for improvised, intuitive thinking where the end result is yet to be discovered.

Who are some of your favourite photographers and artists?

I’m going to present pairs of artists here and imagine them competing in a three legged

  • Emmet Gowin & Juergen Teller
  • Cindy Sherman and Ryan Trecartin
  • Thurston Moore and Missy Prince

I know Missy Prince’s work through Flickr – I have a feeling that she looks at Eggleston’s work a lot. Maybe she looks at Stephen Shore too. I saw a photograph of hers, taken in Arizona, tagged with the location and I ended up driving there to find it. It took a few weeks to get there. That was a response that I feel very strongly about. I’m thankful to know her work.

Lately I have been also looking at Juergen Teller’s work in phases where I’m into it then I get frustrated by it… then I rediscover it in an advert and it re-triggers my interest. I like how his images look in terms of flash and I like how this look washes out some very privileged encounters of location, celebrity, family or travel. The work speaks with a pronounced voice. The work wanders to many places and he re-photographs his own photos, which is a big place of interest for me.

What projects do you have planned?

This April I am showing work in the Capture Photography Festival in Vancouver. I just came back from a stay at a remote marine science centre at the edge of the world. While I was there I started photographing seaweed specimens with a microscope.

I came back with beautiful, sci-fi looking photographs which I plan on making into large wall-sized murals. I’ll be generating a big image, using the micro-vision of the ocean universe. Move over landscapes, hello seascapes!

That sounds wonderful – where should we keep watching to find out when it’s open? should be listing plenty info soon about the festival. I’m showing in the Glissements de Terrain show- opening early April at Toast Collective – a sweet artist run centre in East Vancouver.


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