The London-based photographer Anthony Gerace knows the visual history of contemporary arts for sure. And he knows it probably quite well. Gerace’s collages recall the avant-garde movements of the ’30s and ‘40s, and his photographic series American Homes, Some Cities and Mountains seem to be influenced by the classics of American photography from the ‘70s as well as the Northern American landscapes of his native Toronto. However, Gerace doesn’t produce plain copies or repetitions of what has already been done before him. He is able to learn the lesson, metabolize it, and then translate everything he has seen through his contemporary gaze.
While the visual style of his works can be assimilated into history, the contents and narratives behind the images cannot. Those are genuinely researched and represented by Gerace through his aesthetically fulfilling photographs and collages, producing a sort of abstract-figurative art. We discover more about his interests, creative process and future plans.
Why and how did you first approach photography and visual art?
I first began making images in high school when I was convinced that I was going to be a poet, and they were simply backdrops for poems that I’d put in the zines I made. So that was how the work began, I guess, but it was several years before I latched onto image making as the thing I wanted to do. And that came about because of booking and playing in bands: I began to make posters and used my own collages and photographs as the basis for them, and from there began to build what’s now my practice.
When you work on a new project or series do you have any artistic referent in mind?
No, categorically not. Whether it’s collage or photography or whatever I’m working on, I try to approach the work as its own thing, not beholden to any idea I might have for it. Even something as prescriptive as the work I was doing in Utah a few years ago, which had a very mandated ‘idea’ behind it, changed and morphed as the project was undertaken. The ideas come later through formal repetition. I find that doing something over and over and being drawn to that kind of repetition begins to evidence an importance (as much as I hate that word) in the work, and something worthy of thinking about and forming into a coherent series.
You work with photography, but also with collage. Do you think that there is any common point between the two languages?
Definitely, and the longer I work with the two and switch between them the more I’m seeing the parallels and similarities and beginning to work with them. That’s actually what the next big body of work will be, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around exactly how to execute it. But it’s exciting.
What kind of technique do you use to make your collage? Does it take a lot of time or is it an instinctive process?
There are a lot of different threads to my collage practice, and a lot of it is very finicky and planned out, specifically work like my series There Must Be More to Life Than This. But alongside that, I’ve tried to do more gestural, intuitive pieces that rely less on an idea of what the image ‘should’ look like. I’m more engaged with that way of working, actually, even if it isn’t necessarily always successful.
Especially in your collage there seems to be present a contemporary translation of the aesthetic created by the avant-garde movements, like Dada or Cubism. Is there a conceptual dimension in your work?
There’s definitely a conceptual dimension to my work, but I think that Cubism and especially Dada are an easy touchstone for collage and not really what my work is about. My work has a lot more to do with the narratives encoded into physical objects through their use, and how those narratives and inherent qualities can be exploited and distorted through the act of destruction that collage entails. While I think Dada incorporated a lot of those ideas, I think they did it in a far more politicised, contemporary way than I do. I endeavour toward something more melancholic and image-death driven. And I think that’s something that carries through my entire body of work, whether it’s photographic, collage, or both – if there’s any concept behind what I do it’s that all images and objects are in a constant state of decay, my own work included.
Your project American Homes is a series about, indeed, houses in the United States. How did the idea come up to you and what did you want to show through these images?
The idea came to me on my first run through the United States, when I travelled from Toronto to Savannah and back through Tennessee and Ohio. I became really interested in how suburban homes, for all their aesthetic and structural repetition and their regional styling, manage to speak to the personalities inside, personalities that I can never know. In a way the houses became a stand-in for the portraits that I would have liked to shoot, and after a while this is how I began to approach the images – as portraits without people. So in some ways it’s a series about houses in the United States, but it’s also about certain suburban tropes and the inherently mysterious and unknowable aspects of those places. I’m a child of the suburbs, and I find them endlessly interesting.
Your pictures seem to share the same atmosphere and subject of the classic American art and photography, like gasoline stations or small convenience stores in the middle of nowhere, perfectly and almost scientifically shot by your camera. What attracts you of this type of subjects?
I think probably the same thing that attracted the people who inspired me, namely that there’s a sense of use and engagement with these objects, buildings and locations that speaks to a presence, even when the presence isn’t there. I like it when you can see the traces of life without explicitly seeing the life that resides.
How do you choose the places and people that you will portrait in your works?
In a lot of ways. For portraits, I like shooting friends and friends of friends, people who I could conceivably have in my life as a result of portraiture and art. For places, I bring my camera everywhere, and try and pick a location at least once a year that intrigues me, which I want to go to. A lot of these places end up being in the United States, only because it offers endless interpretations of its own mythology, from state to state and within state, but there’s really no metric that I employ to choose where I’m going to go. I’ve always got my camera with me.
Your first book, And Another Thing, was released this year, congratulations! How do you feel about it?
I feel great about it! I’m really excited. And Another Thing is the product of seven years of thinking about paper, off and on and endlessly, and my publishers gave me a huge amount of freedom in how I approached the book, so I’m not just proud of the work but of how the work is presented and what that presentation says about it. This is a cliché, but it’s my most complete work to date. I really hope people take something from it; I’m lucky to be able to share it.
Could you give us a sneak peek into your future projects?
I’m hoping to have my website updated within the next month, but suffice to say: the remainder of 2017 and into 2018 will be very much taken up with the darkroom, snapshots, smaller cameras, collaging prints, exploring how collage and photography can engage with each other as surfaces rather than as juxtapositions. I’ve included an image from my newest series, which is new as of this year, and is called Misprints. I’m excited about where it’s going, and where it could go.