Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Park Life - An Interview With Tod Papageorge

The new issue of Seesaw Magazine has a worthwhile interview with photographer Tod Papageorge. The discourse largely centers around Papageorge's long-term survey of Central Park and the succeeding monograph, Passing Through Eden: Photographs of Central Park, which was published by Steidl in 2007. Below is an excerpt from the interview. You can read it in its entirety here.

Aaron Schuman: You mention Chaucer, and there certainly is a sense of mystery or danger in many of the photographs. There’s a sort of menacing atmosphere: ‘Do you dare go in the woods?’

Tod Papageorge: Yeah, ‘Sunday in the Park with Papageorge’!

AS: As you explain in the accompanying essay, the book’s sequence and structure are inspired by the Book of Genesis. How did that theme first reveal itself?

TP: Michael Mack said, ‘These little pictures of nature are very good. Maybe you should think about adding a few more.’ So I started to think about how I could do that, and how I would sequence it. For some reason I started with the Creation, but it was totally mad idea. It took a long time for it to make any sense at all, and I’m sure that it makes much more sense to me than anyone else. But it allowed me a certain freedom in organizing the book. There’s a kind of darkness in the beginning, which is undeniable whether you know the analogy or not. For me, one of the great streams in the history of photography is the so-called ‘narrative’ stream, and it was very important to me to reinforce the sense of that. It’s not a good word, ‘narrative’; it’s not the best word, but I don’t know what the best word would be. In any case, it’s very important in terms of the way I read and see photographs. Photography is not a simple illustration, and maybe the most important thing is that it forces an intelligent viewer to think about the relationship of the photograph to so-called ‘reality’ or ‘truth’. If you’re reading a photograph as a tale, then what does that have to do with whatever was out there in the world? It’s this transformed thing. And that’s always been my obsession while teaching at Yale as well, so I’ve had students like Gregory Crewdson and have been an effective teacher, because I was certainly never talking about photography as a deliverer of the ‘truth’. It’s all fiction to me, whether it’s a complex one or an illustrational one.

AS: Was that something you learned from Garry?

TP: I knew it from that first Cartier-Bresson I saw. That’s why it was so powerful to me – because I knew that it was another world; the photograph. It was completely different, and that’s why it was so powerful.

Photograph from 'Passing Through Eden: Photographs of Central Park'

Image © Tod Papageorge