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Joshua Lutz: Beyond the Meadowlands

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday April 14, 2010

Speaking about the Meadowlands in the epilogue of his book of the same title, Joshua Lutz said, "For most people, the Meadowlands is a place to pass through and forget on their way to someplace else. Not unlike a neglected child, the Meadowlands has grown up without guidance, constantly unsure of what the future holds. It is this loneliness and solitude that continues to bring me back year after year."

This Thursday, Lutz will give a talk on Meadowlands and his most recent projects in the CCNY Lecture Series at School of Visual Arts, with a Q&A and book signing following the talk. For a sequel to the first feature in DART about his work, the following exchange took place this week by email.

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Two images from the Amsterdam | Borders series by Joshua Lutz; copyright and courtesy the artist.

Peggy Roalf:How do you know when a "view" can be a photograph - and when to snap the picture?

Joshua Lutz:I wish I had a better answer. It took me ten years to do the Meadowlands project. Ten years, forty-eight pictures. I am probably the wrong person to ask. But honestly, if I knew the answer to this question I would stop making work. Lately however, its been more important for me to think about how images function and less about how they are created.

PR:What qualities tell you that a particular person will be a good subject for a photograph?

JL:You know when you're talking to someone and you ask them how they are doing? Well, I stay away from the ones that always respond "great!" I tend to be drawn to people that are "OK," sometimes "Great," and sometimes "Not so good." Often I'll meet someone and arrange to photograph them and no matter what I do they are unable to let their guard down. Other people wear their emotions closer to the surface and can allow themselves to be vulnerable for a few minutes. So, back to your questions, how do I know? I generally don't until I start photographing them.

PR:When or how does some aspect of a documentary project start looking more subjective to you? How do you decide when or where the boundary begins to crack?

JL:My feelings on photography are that it is entirely subjective. It's inherent in the nature of framing one specific moment over another. Once there is a decision making process involved it is no longer an objective medium, if there is such a thing. Now whether or not my work falls into a documentary project boils down to how you define documentary. My definition of it is extremely broad, but I do understand a much stricter approach and the importance of it. I am a firm believer that there should be some "code of ethics" when it comes to new- related photojournalism. My work is not that.

PR: How did the Netherlands commission come about?

JL:I basically got a call one day asking if I wanted to come to the Netherlands for a month to make work and then back again a few months later for the exhibition.


PR:You spent a long time on Meadowlands. How did it seem to work for - was it just a month? - on the Amsterdam project?

JL:Meadowlands was spread out over ten years so I had a tremendous amount of time to reflect on the work and change my practice along the way. Working in the Netherlands was quite a bit more intensive, with the time constraints of producing a museum show in a month. For this commission I was asked to respond to the idea of borders. With that in mind I knew I didn't want to make some broad declarative statement about a place I knew so little about. If I couldn't come to any conclusion on the Meadowlands after ten years clearly it was not going to happen over the course of a month in the Netherlands.

PR:Given such a brief time span, how did you decide what to pass over as you traveled around?

JL:I made up these little systems and rules in order to structure the day. I would spend my evenings looking at maps and trying to find places I wanted to take my son to see. These places had to be on the borders and each day had to be in a slightly different direction so that by the end of the project I would have a series of pictures taken in places that surround the city. Other than that, I was also looking for small vestiges of American culture as it was indirectly responding to the 400th Anniversary of Henry Hudson leaving Amsterdam for New York.

PR:Was your son a good travel companion?

JL:Hudson (we named him before we knew of the Henry Hudson Commission) is the best travel companion! At two months old he napped quite a bit and would wake up in different places each time. He forced me to slow down, take breaks and provided a certain renewed sense of importance to each day. However, getting all his stuff, my camera equipment and film through international security is not entirely a pleasurable experience - years of therapy go out the window pretty quickly.


PR:What is the most amazing combination of gray sky with bright sunshine raking in that you have experienced recently - with camera at the ready.

JL:Are the gray skies that obvious? Winter in the Netherlands - I don't know how they do it - there is no escaping those gray skies and the constant mist of rain. I struggled with this one quite a bit. There are so many connotations that come along with grey skies. Think about all the references to gloom and sadness while blue skies almost always conveys a positive reference. There was a small window of time each day when the sun would just be about to set and you would get a hint of warmth to the light. I was pretty determined to be set up and ready to shoot during this period each day.

PR:Do you have a new book coming out soon?

JL:I guess soon is relative. I am looking at fall of 2011.

Joshua Lutz at the CCNY Lecture Series. Thursday, April 15, 7:00 pm. School of Visual Arts, 209 East 23rd Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues), third floor Amphitheater, New York, NY. General Admission: $5; Free to CCNY members, SVA students, faculty, and staff; $3 for other students with ID. CC NY is celebrating over 125 years serving the photographic and art community through this and upcoming exhibitions, lectures, and special events. For more information, contact John Stanley info@cameraclubny.org or call 212.260.9927.

Joshua Lutz is an artist and educator living and working in New York. He received an undergraduate degree from Bard College and a MFA from ICP/Bard CollegeIn 2008, Lutz's first monograph Meadowlands was published by PowerHouse Books. He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including American Photography 25, Hudson Year Fellowship, Tierney Fellowship, Communication Arts, PDN 30, and American Photography 20. He currently teaches at the Bard College/ICP MFA Program and the International Center of Photography. Lutz is working on a new book and a film to be released soon.

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