Matthew Brandt is known for his approach to photography through a messy and experimental process. He started taking cliché pictures of New York City in black and white, but now his work has even been called psychedelic because of the colours. In his collection, Lakes and Reservoirs, he soaks colour photographs in the specific lake or reservoir water that they represent. The result is a set of pictorial images, a colourful fusion of the photographic element and its material form. Today, we speak with the photographer blurring the lines between experimentation, art, photo, print and scientific research.
How did you start in photography?
I began as a kid assisting my dad on commercial photo shoots, though I never took pictures of my own, I just helped with the grunt work. And learned about how photographs are made in an advertising setting. It was in college when I started making my own photographs. I liked its relation to conceptual art and its seemingly simple and instant form of representation with a kind of performative nature.I started taking pictures when I attended school in New York City; I took a lot of cliché New York street photographs and learned about that tradition. Yes, mostly black and white with a lot of contrast. Only upon experimenting with the material of photography have I begun exploring the world scientifically.
What led you to become interested in studying the interaction between objects and observing how different elements react?
Because it is important for me to try and let a material and/or subject determine the final work. Experimentation, chance and observation have always been a driving force in how I make things. Photography is so intertwined with observation and I see my work as a kind of extension of this tradition.
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As a recurrent subject in your work, could you tell us about the relevance of nature to you?
The use of pictures of nature began as a ready-made subject. I liked how simple it seemed and it is a subject that is not questioned and hence allowed for an isolation on material. But now I am not sure that I look at making pictures of nature the same way, I have adopted a kind of romance. I have become interested in how one experiences nature and the primordial wonderment of things and processes. It is such a vast and inexhaustible subject.
Your approach to photography is known to be messy and experimental. How much control do you have over this mess and what indicates to you that your experiment has reached the end?
It is in the end when I feel an outcome becomes predictable and has lost the experimental energy and sense of play. The visual subject matter should relate to the material photographic form, and since my subjects often vary, my materials should too.
Do you ever take notes in order to repeat a process and achieve a similar result?
There are always mental notes in gaining a sense of how something works. But I never take any formal notes past a scribble on paper. Though I do draw a lot, I wish I took more notes, I am usually too much in the moment to remember to write things down. And I find that the more insecure I am, the more notes I have.
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In your collection of photographs Lakes and Reservoirs, you develop your prints using water from a lake. Do you consider that the water source makes a difference in the outcome or is it just a romantic part of the process that you like to carry out?
I have found that it does make a difference, but there are so many variables involved in the process that influence the outcome: for instance, the place and the time of the year when I collect the water.
In this same collection, you have a set of pictorial photographs stylised by a degrading process. What drives you to change the reality of those landscapes?
It is an attempt to coalesce two elements of representation: the photographic and its material form. Most of my works are results of this idea.
Do you ever feel guilty for dumping a photograph if after the degrading process it doesn't please you?
No guilt, though sometimes there is disappointment, but it is often recuperated by surprise. It is a balance of expectations, as it would be boring if every outcome pleased me.
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What are the main references that have influenced your work?
Entropy, chance operations, and Sunday painting.
What are you working on at the moment?
I just finished an exhibition at M+B gallery that opened on the 24th of February, where I presented two new bodies of works: Heidelberg Blankets, embroidered used Heidelberg blankets; and Silver, silvered silver gelatine prints. I am flying to Minneapolis this week to explore some of the flourmills along the Mississippi river for an exhibition later this year. I also have been collecting rocks from the Newark Museum’s collection in New Jersey and making work to present in the same museum next year.
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