Friday, May 23, 2008

Art Space Talk: Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts in 1996 with a focus of photography, design and offset lithography. He has been working for the past eight years as an Art Director and Photographer for various well-known companies in Boston, New York City, and New Jersey. He has recently begun a new series of landscapes and refined his career to focus on his art and photography.

Brian Sherwin: Matthew, for the last eight years you have been the Art Director and Photographer for various companies in Boston, New York City, and New Jersey. You recently decided to begin a series of landscapes and it is my understanding that you refined your career so that you are able to focus on your personal art and photography. Why did you decide to make this career shift?

Matthew Arnold: My years working as an Art Director (AD) have been very rewarding in many ways, most especially monetarily. It is a very rewarding career. It is creative, interactive, thoughtful and requires a lot of problem solving skills. The main issue for me is that it tends to keep you indoors behind a desk most of the day and on top of that I am not totally fulfilled in being just an AD. I believe I was meant to be a photographer.
Photography is hard but it does come more naturally to me and more fulfilling creatively. I could stop working as an AD tomorrow and be fine with it but if I were to try to not pick up a camera ever again I am sure I would have some sort of mental disturbance. That said, I have not completely stopped doing work as an AD. I doubt I will ever totally stop—economically it is not feasible right now. A career in photography is not easy these days, what with the current photography market saturation and its degrading pay structure throughout the industry. My goal is to gradually move away from being an AD and pursue a career based solely around photography but right now it has to be a combination.

Slowly, though, the transition is happening. I am currently doing more work as a photographer where only last year it was the opposite. My goal as a photographer is two-fold—doing editorial and advertising photography as well as being able to focus my career as a fine art photographer. Right now my fine art work is the focal point of my website and I am using that as my style of working for commercial entities interested in hiring me. I would like to continue to work from that angle—being able to use my vision and style as a fine art photographer in campaigns and editorial work.

BS: You studied at West Surrey College of Art and Design and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Can you discuss those experiences? Did you have any influential instructors?

MA: The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was really the place where I grew up as a person and of course as an artist. I went to school with the idea of being a fine art landscape photographer. Once I arrived I thrived in the curriculum of self-determination and discovery. You were able to move through the school at your own pace and discover all sorts of mediums that you may not have had an opportunity previously to involve yourself. In fact, I came from a rural high school in North Carolina without any art program whatsoever so this school was both eye-opening and freeing. My focus was certainly photography but I was able to move into mediums that were related technically such as Graphic Design and Offset Lithography.

The school at that point was heavily weighted towards post-modernism and the photo department was very much the same. My work began to follow that line of thinking and eventually I stopped shooting landscapes and began creating photographs in the studio. The work was very personal but nonetheless left me unfulfilled as an artist. It felt very good to be able to "discuss" personal politics in a visual medium but looking back I believe I lost the ability to see beauty in the world around me. This really is what brought me to photography in the first place. I feel I was a bit lost at that point.

Part way through my studies at the Museum School my girlfriend at the time and I, with the help of Jim Dow, an instructor at the Museum School, organized an exchange program with West Surrey College of Art and Design, just south of London. The idea was that a pair of students would come here and stay with us for a while and then we would travel to Surrey to study there. This program worked out well as we were able to get to know the people we were doing the exchange with and this would allow the group of us to introduce each other to the schools.
Interestingly enough though the pairs just went off traveling. The brits took off on a road trip across the United States and my girlfriend and I jumped on and off the train from London to Athens, Greece photographing people and landscapes the whole journey. The school seemed great but I don't believe we were there long enough to truly get to know it. I do remember having a few critiques with Martin Parr as he was an instructor there at the time. The best part was living amongst the young brits in a good size house warming ourselves in front a coal-burning fireplace.

The only instructor that truly influenced me greatly was Carl Sesto at the Museum School. He taught traditional photography, digital imaging as well as offset lithography. Carl taught the traditional fine print class as well as a zone system course. I believe these were the first classes that I had with him. The black and white darkroom was an oasis for me and technical aspects of the zone system allowed me to hone my skills as a photographer. It also allowed me to get back outside to shoot.
Carl and I just clicked and I was soon working as his teacher's assistant in quite a few of his different classes including running the school's Heidelberg one-color offset press, printing photography books for students at the school. His focus on the traditional as well as not being afraid of new technologies is what defines me as a photographer today. He was also instrumental in varying my interests in different mediums and key to me doing both art direction and photography. We are still in touch today and he is a huge influence on me.

BS: You have stated that your work explores personal movement in "our smaller but more complicated world". You focus on the culture of the tourist and how tourism defines each of our home cultures and the longing for a personal space. Can you go into further detail about the thoughts behind your photography?

MA: I find it fascinating how easy it is to get from point A to point B today. That being said though there is always going to be an awkward and uncomfortable relationship in a new and unknown place. There are language barriers, odd foods, different ways of doing things in those new places. Different people respond to those experiences differently obviously but most people will hold onto their culture and to whatever makes them feel safe without actually experiencing the culture at hand thus building a glass wall of security.
The young traveling in their vibrant band of individuality find comfort in a partying lifestyle of people from other nations experiencing the same cultural divide. The older groups traveling in packs tend to seek the comforts of home in the faraway land. The work is not meant to be critical. I believe that most of us do this and that it may in fact be almost impossible to fully immerse oneself in another culture unless one has a limitless amount of time and money to do so. Unfortunately this mode of travel sometimes does not have the ability to enlighten the traveler if in fact that is what they are after. It could separate the person even more by going home without the feeling of getting outside that wall of glass that was kept in between the traveler and the culture at hand. This can in turn give the traveler a colonialist feeling or a feeling of superiority.

The interest in personal space is pressured from an unending din of chatter, hum of lights and mechanics that pollute our everyday. There are very few places left in the world free from man-made sound or visual distraction of some sort. Even in the jungles of the world one will hear the sounds of man, whether it be the buzz of a chainsaw, the hum of a passing plane overhead or maybe even the lights of an encroaching encampment. Finding solitude or peace in a future of exponential population growth will become the strongest longing in more and more people's lives. The creation of the images for this series is almost like taking the space within the image and sealing it in a can for safekeeping. It is finding an area of time and place and taping a square outline around it claiming it for your own. These images are my spaces. I may not have spent a significant amount of time in some of these physical places but they are now with me and are my own.

BS: What else can you tell us about the social implications of your work?

MA: I don't know that there are social implications to my work. I am just an observer. That is all I intend to be. Capturing people queuing to buy fruits and snacks from a rowboat that pulled up to the edge of a beach in Halong Bay, Vietnam. What makes them feel they have to queue up for that; when other cultures, in fact the culture where they are standing, would possibly just gather around the boat waiting their turn or possibly not. The queue itself on the beach is what fascinates me.

I am not so much interested in the politics of the queue or telling people what is right or wrong. I am interested in showing the queue. It is up to the viewer to decide how to engage the image.

BS: What about other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists?

MA: You know when I was younger I was afraid to look at other photographer's work. I was concerned that I would unconsciously begin to adopt their style of work. Maybe that happens anyway but it does not bother me any longer. I guess one is drawn to a certain style of work. That style probably has a certain language or base to it and so it becomes your own base and you develop a style that is your own and hopefully differentiates yourself from the others that work in a similar vein.

The people that influence me the most are listed below.

Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sylvia Plachy, Guy Tillim, Wolfgang Tillmans, David Goldblatt

BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you give our readers some insight into the direction you will go next?

MA: Right now I am really trying to get more commercial work. I am very interested in getting my work into the hands of people that would allow me to take my style of personal work and use it for them in an editorial or advertising context.

I am also putting together a cohesive set of landscapes that look out over a specific line of site. Horizons with direction. It is something I am piecing together.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

MA: It has made me so happy to create this current work. This is truly the first time that I have felt wholly confident about the work I am creating. Of course we all want to be recognized for the work that we do as well. We all want that gallery show, the online or printed recognition, the patron that wants to hang your art on their wall. I just want to say how difficult it is to be an artist in an environment with so many wonderful artists. The competition is strong. I have given in and stopped working a few times but in the end I can't stop because it makes me feel so good to create it. I just want to thank MyArtSpace for recognizing my work.
You can learn more about Matthew Arnold by visiting his Matthew is a member of the community. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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