Jason Montano is a fine art photographer living and working in Oakland, CA. His work is playful, yet serene, and often employs ambiguous subject matter to evoke multiple references simultaneously. We are incredibly excited to welcome him to our Oakland location for a solo exhibit opening Friday, September 1st! As a precursor to his show, I sat down with Jason to talk about his inspiration and technique.
Jessie Z: CAN YOU GIVE US SOME INSIGHT INTO THE SERIES AND HOW THESE SPECIFIC PANORAMAS ATTRACTED YOUR ATTENTION?
Jason Montano: The ten photographs selected here are from my “Nothing To See Here” project, taken during and around summer road trips through California, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Western roads. Southwestern roads. I usually road trip with my family for the summer, but there are also times that, for whatever reason, I travel alone. I drive hours with the windows down and develop a wind-whipped exterior. I develop a wind-whipped interior. Both me and the car go unwashed. I let the desert, the thunderstorms, the land and all its mystery both frighten and excite me. It's usually alone and traveling that I am at my most frenetically creative. I buzz with heightened awareness . . . as many of us do when traveling alone through vast lands.
I’m attracted to images when I either connect as the protagonist to the scene at hand, or when I see clearly a protagonist that can then connect with other animate, or even inanimate travelers along the way. Anthropomorphically, cactus and mountains can come alive–or threaten our horizon. Horses can rise above containment or proudly be the very land itself. Giving a deeper sense of meaning to the journey and the amount of space traveled, literal or metaphoric, if any.
Jessie Z: IN THIS EXHIBIT YOU DANCE BETWEEN SHADOW & LIGHT, POSITIVE & NEGATIVE SPACES, AND UNIHABITED & POPULATED SCENES – WHAT ARE YOU CONJURING BY MIRRORING OPPOSITES? IS WORKING IN BLACK AND WHITE MORE CHALLENEGING THAN WORKING IN COLOR?
Jason Montano: I like negative space, it's true, and I feel that it helps reduce the narrative to its initial source and focus. The project is a work of fiction for me. It's open ended and I'm asking my audience to write it based on the clues that are provided. I use large sections of low to no information in the hopes of conveying mood, mystery, danger; but also, I want my reader to do some lifting – put something in that negative space and make it theirs.
The population of the image concerns me only in a way that it must convey ideas of estrangement versus connection and ultimately, the journey at hand.
The balanced answer to color versus black and white is that they both present their challenges. However, I come down on the side of color being the harder and ultimately, the more sophisticated of the two. And yet, I also feel color can easily distract from the way I like to tell a story with low information. It's more difficult to present negative space in color, though I just watched again, an older French film by Jean-Pierre Melville called Army Of Shadows and its color noir sensibility was a great success to me! I'd like to work a bit in that direction one day and add another layer of nuance, possibly, to my low info tendencies.
Jessie Z: YOU HAVE A REALLY AMAZING LIVE/WORK SPACE IN OAKLAND, CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR STUDIO PRACTICE AND THE PHOTOGRAPHIC PROCESSES YOU USED FOR THIS SHOW?
Jason Montano: Thank you, I'm rather fond of the little garden apartment and studio that I am lucky enough to inhabit alongside my wonderful partner and daughter here in Oakland. My darkroom and studio are connected to my living space which helps me so very much because I suffer from the same acute lack of time we all must feel during busy times.
I moved to a digital camera very late. In fact, 2017 is the first year where I haven't worked exclusively in film. Some parts of my workflow have changed – mostly on the front side: I can shoot and edit very quickly and this allows me to experiment more, test more ideas. Whether it's a film camera or a digital camera, however, I like to collect as close to the final image as possible in the actual creation of the image. The more I collect in the initial shooting of the image, the more of the initial impulse ends up on the page and – maybe more so – the less I have to suffer in post-process.
My darkroom has ceased to be a dark room. I’ve removed two of the three enlargers that once occupied, like palace guards, the space of the dark room. The only remaining guard is my little Leitz Valoy which I intend to use for personal correspondence prints; to me, it’s like writing with a fountain pen versus a typewriter or computer. But the truth is that digital printing has caught up and surpassed our older practice of darkroom printing – and so I am learning a new practice. I let the light into my studio and move forward with this work. It’s still very much DIY and innovative and a hack in the way I work; and here's where I cannot move forward without thanking, greatly, my dear friend and fine art printer Josh Partridge. Without his support, endless patience and skill, my work would be less, far less.
I form a project, collect, edit and print. The process remains the same even if the tools change, I suppose. My studio becomes my little space, a place of safety where I can play music and create and find my voice from project to project. And, my water bill has come down, so that’s a good thing.
Join us for the opening reception of NOTHING TO SEE HERE on Friday, September 1st, 2017 between 5:30PM - 8PM
at ESQUELETO Oakland. Light refreshments will be served.
482 A 49th Street
Oakland, CA 94609