We’re pleased to kick off F295 Photobook Week with a feature interview with poet, writer, and photographer Joshua Edwards. His vernacular travelogue photography project turned book is reminiscent of Robert Smithson’s Monuments of Prosaic New Jersey as well as Edward Ruscha’s various book projects. The poetry of Edwards voice comes through in the images as he takes us along on his journey (on foot) from Galveston to Marfa Texas.
Published by Edition Solitude, the limited edition (1,000 copies), 8.4×5.4×0.9″ 237 page, soft cover book collects 230 photographs from the 1,000km journey.
TP: Can you tell us about your background and the origins of your interest in photography?
JE: I’ve been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. My dad is a photographer, my mom is a librarian and worked as a photographer when I was a kid, so I was surrounded by images and literature growing up. I started to write and take photographs as a teenager, as a way to process travel and learning, and although I chose poetry as my vocation, photography has remained integral to my work. My first book, Campeche, was a collaboration with my dad (my poems and his photographs); my second collection of poetry, Imperial Nostalgias, includes thirteen pictures I took in Oaxaca; and my third collection, Architecture for Travelers, is the literary counterpart to Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals…, and includes a travelogue for the walk.
TP: What path did you take to creating the body of work for Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals During a Walk from Galveston Island to the West Texas Town of Marfa?
JE: In October 2012, my wife, Lynn Xu (also a poet), and I moved to Germany to spend a year at an interdisciplinary residency called Akademie Schloss Solitude. Being surrounded by artists of many disciplines helped us think of new ways to approach our own work, and I quickly figured out that I wanted to do something besides write poetry while I was there. A lot of walking projects came up in conversations, and I remember in particular a talk with our friend Yang Licai that got me thinking that I’d like to do something. I reread several books about journeys, including Werner Herzog’s Of Walking in Ice and Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, and one day it dawned on me that I should walk from my birthplace to our future home. I told the idea to Lynn, some friends, and the director of the Akademie, Jean Baptiste-Joly. They all liked it, and Mr. Joly offered the support of the Akademie. The plan for a photograph each hour developed because I figured I’d likely only write at the end of each day, and with photography I could remove myself as much as possible from at least one element of the trip’s record. I also liked the idea of durational landscape and the prospect of moments of acute attention. In each photograph, I hope that something about the walk is compressed in the way that poetry compresses.
TP: Can you tell us about the experience of creating the work?
JE: The walk itself was very often quiet, sometimes incredibly stressful (cars, dogs), arduous (injuries, inclement weather, long distances), and very rewarding in the end. The act of stopping each hour to take a photograph was helpful because it helped me to look around and it reminded me of why I was traveling across Texas. It gave shape to the experience.
TP: Other than having the free time, can you tell us why you decided to walk to Marfa from Galveston?
JE: Since I was 17, I’ve lived in at least ten states and six countries. I think the count is about the same for Lynn. Both of us are curious about the idea of home, and part of us making a project about settling down is to discover a sense of belonging somewhere. I figured that a walk from my birthplace to our property would add to this.
TP: Did you ever regret the decision to walk 1,000km? Can you tell us about the logistics of the journey?
JE: I never regretted it, although I did regret some of my gear choices in the beginning. For the first 500-kilometers, I carried a backpack containing a few changes of clothes, bivy sack, sleeping bag, water, food, first aid kit. At the halfway point, since I was traveling into the desert and needed to carry a lot of water, I loaded my things into a very durable jogging stroller. About half the time I stayed in motels or with friends, and the other half I camped, usually near the roadside or in culverts. Whenever I passed through towns I’d load up on calories, nearly always at Mexican restaurants. Otherwise I ate jerky, granola, almond butter, chocolate, pistachios, and other high-calorie snacks.
TP: How rigorous were you about making each photograph at precisely 60 minute intervals? did you ever find yourself lingering at a site waiting for the hour?
JE: I allowed myself 5 minutes before or after the 60-minute mark. So if I took a photograph right when my alarm went off, then saw something a few minutes later that was better, I’d delete the first photograph and take a new one. I tried to stay as close to the hour as possible, however, and usually it was within a minute or two of my target.
TP: I noticed that each of the 230 photographs lack other people. I know Texas is a large landscape, but surely you saw at least one other on an hour interval. Can you share the reason(s) behind the aesthetic decision to not include people in your images?
JE: Basically, I don’t like to intrude into other people’s lives and I’m more interested in shapes and tones than figures. With a figure, it seems one always tries to interpret action and narrative, which are things I’m not very interested in as a photographer. I was tempted to photograph Lynn, who walked with me for about 100 miles, and my friend Mike, who accompanied me for two days, but in the end I wanted to keep the journey out of the landscape as much as possible.
TP: What story are you trying to tell with this work?
JE: I’m not trying to tell a story, I just want to show what I saw. That is to say, the work came out of a story and a story will follow it, but in the book itself I’m more interested in the capability of each image and the compositional problems that I dealt with while taking them. As Garry Winogrand said, “The thing has to be complete in the frame. It’s a picture problem.”
TP: Why did you decide to make the Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals During a Walk from Galveston Island to the West Texas Town of Marfa into a book? Did you always envision it as a book project ?
JE: I didn’t always imagine this project as a book, but the idea arrived pretty early on. As a poet, my work aspires to the book form and finds new life there, and because I direct a poetry press (Canarium Books) and sometimes work as a book designer, I think a lot about arrangement and format. The concept of a book as a conversational object is very important to me. This was my first photobook to design, and I knew I wanted it to feel more like a paperback travelogue or a poetry collection than a book of photographs. I wanted each image to use a modest amount of ink and present itself somehow like a poem.
TP: What are your feelings regarding the multiple ways – online, phones, prints, books, in a gallery, etc – the public consumes images today?
JE: I haven’t really thought about it much. The eye’s limitations will perhaps save it from information. In the end, all that matters is the experience of seeing.
TP: How do you prefer to look at images – and why?
JE: Depending on the image, I prefer books and prints. For books, I like the intimacy. For prints, I like the texture and tone. I especially love books that have strong physical presence and concept, such as those of a young Japanese photographer named Shitamichi Motoyuki.
TP: What project(s) are on your horizon?
JE: I’m working on a long-term project called Castles Islands (www.castlesislands.com), which is partly a photographic travelogue and partly a meditation on the ways that culture, nature, and history are monumentalized and idealized. I’ve completed two sections, Giapan and Formosa, and will be working on a few more while traveling this year.
TP: What drives you to create photographs?
JE: I enjoy solving formal problems of time and composition with a camera, and I really love the surprise of capturing an image. Also, the world is beautiful.
Poet, translator, and editor Joshua Edwards was born in Galveston, Texas. He earned his MFA from the University of Michigan. His collections of poetry include Campeche (2011), which includes photographs taken by his father, the photographer Van Edwards, and Imperial Nostalgias (2013). Edwards’s translation of Mexican poet María Baranda’s Ficticia (2010) was nominated for a Northern California Book Award.
Edwards is director and coeditor of Canarium Books, a small press devoted to publishing innovative lyric poetry and translations. He was a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University, and he received a fellowship from the Akademie Schloss Solitude. With his wife, the poet Lynn Xu, Edwards divides his time between Marfa, Texas, and Stuttgart, Germany.
His book Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals During a walk from Galveston Island to the West Texas Town of Marfa is available at Marfa Book Company, Photo-eye, Printed Matter, and Amazon
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