Wednesday, November 14, 2007

InnerViews: Doug Fogelson

InnerViews: A Creative Interview with Douglas Reid Fogelson

This InnerView features Chicago-based photographer, Doug Fogelson. Doug is well-known for his architectural and commercial photography as well as his unique personal photography techniques and installations. His work is featured in international exhibitions, galleries, museums and included in national collections. In addition to his photography, Doug is the founder and director of an independent publishing company, Front Forty Press.

Image © Doug Fogelson

JJLJ: Hello Doug - Welcome to this session of InnerViews and thank you for agreeing to participate!

How did you come to work in the medium of photography?

DRF: I started off in photography by taking a class in the first university I attended (Southern Illinois University in Carbondale). Though I was very interested, I still received a ‘D’ grade from the teacher. The following year I took off from college and traveled to England and Australia working on a student visa. I carried my camera to both countries but shot a total of about 4 rolls the whole time traveling. Following that experience I decided to enroll in Columbia College in Chicago and explore my creative side more seriously. It was a toss up between acting (in front of a camera) or photography (behind the camera), as I had no real skills in painting/drawing beyond some crazy cartoons in class notebooks. Photography won and we have been together ever since.

JJLJ: What continues to be a source of inspiration for your work?

DRF: A personal connection/conundrum with man and nature is the inspiration for all of my work. Feeling conflicted about how humans treat nature and each other during the short time alive on Earth informs my work. So does the connection to be found in actual natural spaces without the obvious footprint of humanity as well as the connection found in the idea of such ‘places’ as they exist in my psyche. Living in Chicago I’m faced with a few conflicts just finding the kinds of natural spaces that bring me to a place of native connection with the Earth. The city has parks and forest preserves but it seems like they are all touched by litter or have a highway nearby and airplanes on landing patterns overhead. To get to the most intense nature I have to drive out quite far (or get on an airplane) and I’m finding this increasingly difficult to do. Therefore the nature I enjoy can also be as it exists in my imagination or memory (or document) of such places, even perhaps as I idealize them. The same goes for the human side of the duality.

As a result of years of living in cities I’ve increased the deep longing and love for natural space that became embedded in my psyche as a youth, even as my time physically spent in them diminishes. Couple that with the not so gradual destruction of Earth’s resources on a global scale (the scraping, over fishing and toxification of our oceans/freshwater, the deforestation, sprawl and pollution of our land, and the putrification of our atmosphere via emissions, smog, etc…) and you have a conundrum on your hands. I want to honor and celebrate that which creates the conditions for life on Earth via my photography and this always leads to questioning the choices we make as humans.

JJLJ: Is there anyone who has played a significant role in your career?

DRF: Sure, many people. At the early stages my “aunt” Margie Fogelson (widower of a relative who was not really an uncle but close enough) took me to the museums and gave me coloring books. I sat on the floor of her apartment after visiting the Art Institute and other such places while she and my mom would drink Irish whiskey and smoke cigarettes. Memories of Aunt Margie are like remembering stained glass windows, paintings, and well-crafted woodwork. Connected to her in other formative ways are my mom’s mom who painted in the 60’s (very geometric modern styles) and my mother herself who, though not a visual artist, has a unique sort of creative energy.

Much later (when I enrolled in Columbia) I met an artist named Matthew Schreiber who became my roommate until I graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Matt’s talent and commitment showed me that it was possible to be an artist in a way I never allowed myself to believe before that. One could say he ‘legitimized’ the occupation for me at a time when people are all telling you how to prepare for life as a grown-up, productive member of society. I still have skepticism about full time artists making a living, but I never question the calling and the practice of a true artist since living with Matt Schreiber.

JJLJ: What are you currently working on?

DRF: This year I’ve been trying to get out to natural spaces and photograph them in my overlapping style as much as possible (wish it were more!). I want to round out that section of my work (Biota) before the leaves fall off completely. Biota is not limited to the region where I live so I see this as a reason to get on airplanes and fly to other ecosystems- especially in winter. All of my series are made when the longing for them is peaking and I want to understand more about that category in specific. I spent years working on Ocean (Cush) and Air (Etheria) images in this manner (in-between working my day job and related things). Same goes for when I was strongly in the mode of exploring the built world/human (Intersections) and I continue to shoot each element as is possible on an ongoing basis. Now I’m feeling the strong pull of the ground and of the living non-human systems. When I am out there walking and taking my photos it is about communion with these places and life forms. Back in my studio I spend a lot of time “seeing” the places I walked on the light box and on the screen after the film is scanned. This relates to the psyche again for as I’m so in love with nature so much more of my time is spent with it in virtual way getting cross-eyes on the computer monitor.

JJLJ: How do you see your work influencing others?

DRF: Probably in book form most of all. Gallery and museum shows are great and they are the best way to really see the prints in the proper size, etc… however today I think that the book as a vehicle for communication of visual art is the best method. I should say that this applies only to artists who are not showing in major museums or in major exhibitions be it gallery, public, art fairs or other. The famous artists have books to go with all of their amazing shows already. Regarding my imagery, it looks acceptable online perhaps but that is nowhere near as intense as standing in front of an eight foot wide image. It looks great in person but how many people really get to see it in the month or two it is on the walls of the gallery or museum? In book form it is possible to combine a decent visual experience of the art with supporting materials that enhance the understanding of the art and concepts relative to it. If I want people to value nature more and question our ways of living, sharing in the joy of looking at overlapping images, a book may be a way to reach a larger quantity of people.

JJLJ: What is the strangest or funniest comment or question you've ever gotten about your work?

DRF: Hmmmm. I like it when people say it makes them see stuff that’s not there. Like when they say that photos of waves look like clouds or vice versa.

JJLJ: What is your idea of personal success?

DRF: Success in art is a double-edged sword. On the one side you have a personal engagement with the work and you alone can tell if it is successful or not, if you have done enough to make it what you think it should be, or if it just does ‘it’ for you. On the other side there are the social and public ideas of success. Showing and selling are great measures of success too. This means your work has value to the marketplace and in the arts this is an incredibly challenging thing to accomplish. I hope for a blend of both. I strive to have my art be accessible to everybody (even if I’m thinking of it with my head in the philosophical clouds). I want it to engage the viewer in a dialog between themselves and the subject matter depicted in the photographs. My goal is for the viewer and myself to think about and feel how they personally relate in space and time to these things (not to me as the photographer). If the work facilitates this then perhaps it is successful.

JJLJ: Are there any links you would like to share?

DRF: Sure. Try these:

End Game The Book
Amazing Ribs
RiverBank Neighbors
Forest Council
Einstein Online
Explore Pub

JJLJ: Thank you, Doug for contributing to Inner Views. We wish you continued success and look forward to following your career.


For more information on Doug's work and the Front Forty Press, please visit
these links:

Doug Fogelson
Front Forty Press
Front Forty Press Blog
DRF Photography