Dear Matt,It’s 1 a.m. Italian time, and I’m only now making a dent in the blank screen I’ve been staring at for the past week. I have tried—and tried—to write a brilliant introduction for this Q&A, but everything I’ve typed has been an embarrassment. How the hell am I supposed to pitch my best friend and brother-from-a-cosmic-mother to unacquainted readers?
I mean, I can open with a dazzler about how we first met (almost a decade ago WUT?) at Return of Rococo, you playing the cello in a powdered wig while I ate fire a’la burlesque. I can detail our countless urban explorations and NYC pick-your-own-adventures, our creative collaborations, and moments of shared sorrow and bedlam laughter. You and [your wife] Kate have witnessed me at my lowest and likewise highest, and like true kindred spirits have neither judged nor imparted any faux pearls of wisdom, but simply strapped yourselves in for the ride with unwavering faith in my ability to turn it all around. I think I did, or at least I’m getting there, or maybe just getting better at disguising it.
From The Williamsburg Bridge
So when you visited me in Italy this past summer it was the perfect reverse homecoming. You were every bit the thoughtful soul and intrepid trekker I remember and continue to miss so very much. You’re no tourist my friend, not in life and certainly not in travel. You observe and immerse yourself, interact with modesty and an open mind, and somehow manage to simultaneously balance a drink, cigarette, and camera without missing a shot.
Sharing the results of our transatlantic reunion has been an honor, being your friend an even greater one. Blood may be thicker than water—or wine or your nonna’s pasta sauce or whatever, because #italy—but it’s the family you choose that makes this world worth inhabiting. May your visit to my corner of the ‘boot be the start of many more.
Ciao for now,
Q: How long have you been a photographer?
A: I got my first camera when I was four - a bright blue Fisher Price toy camera that always seemed to be near at hand. It was fun. So much so that my parents had to restrict me because of the cost of film and processing. It was a good lesson in being more selective with picture taking. In high school I learned the foundational skills of film developing and darkroom printing, then went digital for many years before coming back to analog. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but there’s something seductive about capturing a tiny moment of time and place.
Q: What do you typically shoot on/with? What are your preferences?
A: I love shooting with a Hasselblad, a masterpiece of mechanics and optics. As a bonus it also has the most satisfying “clomp” of a shutter sound. On the go, however, the Nikon F3 is quicker and you don’t have to change the film as often. I don’t like auto-focus and auto-exposure, and will set everything manually as much as I can. (On the Hasselblad you have no choice).
A: For me, analog and digital technology complement each other naturally. Maybe because I missed the great analog die-off, I don’t subscribe to the “it isn’t what it used to be” sentiment. It’s so tired and stifling. That said, I would like to have had the incredible variety of papers and films once available. I do get anxious when I consider that my favorite films might get discontinued. It’s a reality. But it’s also important not to get too precious about the future of that medium. There will always be a way to make analog photos even if it comes down to buying raw chemicals and paper. I’m beginning to produce cyanotypes and albumen prints which involve doing just that.
Q: How does film compliment your travels (Italy, urban exploring, street photography)? How do you feel it represents your POV and experiences?
A: Whatever you shoot sticks with you longer. It’s easy to delete digital shots on the spot, but with a film negative you have to physically destroy it to delete it from existence. So it gets personal.
In traveling, urban exploring, on the street, or wherever else, the relatively slower pace of film opens up space to experience the non-visual parts of a place—the sounds, smells, hidden stories, and supernatural that you might not experience when constantly blasting away. Being an observer hidden behind a camera or phone is boring. Trying super hard to get a perfect shot is frustrating and distracting. I don’t want to sacrifice experience for the “perfect shot,” or bagging pictures that have been shot a million times before.
Q: Let's face it, travel has become an Instagram sport: aim your fancy phone, shoot, filter, post. Natural progression of time and technological convenience, or travel being treated as just another disposable—albeit elite—consumption? Let me know your thoughts, if any.
A: Among so many people, travel is less an experience and more of a consumerist pursuit for bragging rights. Status in travel often equates to what you consume: restaurants, fancy cruises, five-star hotels. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s backpacking, eco-tourism, swimming with endangered sea turtles in third-world nature preserves—trendy tourism with a conscience. And I get it, because we all operate this way in some fashion. It’s like those dreaded family slideshows of yore; you want to share with other people and impress. But there’s a fine line between wanting to share and wanting to elicit envy.
Q: What is your process for developing your film? To be more precise, how did you go about selecting and processing pics from Italy?
A: I develop film in a canister over a sink, then scan the negatives to digitize them, then do minor adjustments like spot removal. (Heavy processing in photoshop defeats the purpose of using film, in my opinion.) Then I go to the darkroom and print from the negatives that stick with me the most. Often I’ll do a couple of versions of the same print.
In Italy I shot on expired film with a certain aesthetic in mind and was prepared technically. Academia might balk at this, but in selecting what pictures to work on, I go on instinct and feedback from others. A blessing and a curse of using film is that it’s a time-consuming process. The blessing is that you spend so much critical time with the images that you get a feeling for what you like and dislike.
As [the pics] become finished, I’ll post to social media. Perspective always changes when you release your work into the wild for all to see. There’s been a deleted post here and there…
Q: Of the places you visited in Italy, which locales stood out and why? Conversely, how did they transfer to film, if at all? Are there some things you just couldn't do justice to?
A: The northern Italian countryside feels so familiar, at least in August. Rolling roads through rural foothills, the occasional village, homey rest stops (Alva!), a landscape bursting with agricultural bounty. For me, it’s reminiscent of Pennsylvania, but with the stunning backdrop of the Alps. It’s funny how things circle around when traveling. The familiarity of the region made every little thing exotic.
Of course, the stupefying grandeur of Venice was a stand-out. When you’ve dreamt about a place and held its history and culture close to your heart, it’s true amazement to see it in the flesh. I tried to seek out those things and find them in between the tourists and landmarks. I found it hard to do justice to the Alpine mountains and forests. They are just too filled with primal energy to even try to capture (though there are one or two shots I found successful). There was a time when I would have taken thousands of digital shots and missed a lot of what I’m talking about here.
Q: Working at the school of ICP (International Center of Photography) and seeing so many people of all ages and from all over the world coming through, what are your impressions of where photography is headed?
A: It’s a unique community. Some are oriented towards photojournalism, others to fine art, others to emerging media like VR. You have student exhibitions that might simultaneously present work grounded in the traditional darkroom and at the same time, immersive virtual reality installations. The school has state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, and the community is so vibrant and passionate. You have some who buckle down and hone their own vision, and others who are defining what their vision may be. Either way, it’s a compact campus, so crossover of genres is inevitable. You get a great interchange of inspiration and processes, and this is what I find to be the best quality of that environment.
There’s a lot of discussion in this community on the state of photography in an age where everyone with an IG account is a photographer. It’s part of the greater conversation about how we communicate with each other in constantly changing forms of media. It’s difficult to pinpoint these things, and really challenging to keep up with. Any conclusion is immediately out of date.
Maybe this is part of the reason I love the mashup of old and new. Art doesn’t have a lineage anymore, there are no movements to adhere to or rebel against. Now more than ever, you can pick and choose what sources to draw from.
Q: What do you take inspiration from in your life, and not just regarding photography?
A:I’m inspired by compulsion, that momentum of creativity that is all-consuming. Making things, and imagining things that can be made. Also learning. Self education opens a universe of connections among wildly differing ideas and fields, connections that aren’t immediately obvious. I study history, art, science, culture, language, food, etc.…I make little projects here and there. Currently it’s calligraphy. Previously it was architectural drawings and models. Of course, I find inspiration in fiction and poetry—it’s a break from all the “doing.” I’m a maximalist, and love to throw everything into the pot. I’ve had to learn to control that so as not to lose coherency in life and art.
The idea of the frozen moment has always been at my core. Chance glimpses on the subway, fleeting days imbued with poignancy. It’s very hard to describe accurately. That difficulty is inspiring (and sometimes frustrating). I am as much a musician as I am a photographer. In music, I’m compelled to capture moments over a narrative of sound and poetry. In photography, it’s the other way around—I’m compelled to connect with the narrative of my inner world and freeze a moment of it in time and place.
Q: Given the extreme imbalance of our times, combined with the ever-increasing luxury that is travel, what do you try to remain conscious of when traveling yourself? What pitfalls do you try to avoid?
A: I think travel is often treated as clickbait, a passing fancy that people use to inform others of their exotic or cosmopolitan lifestyles. Travel is not just an event, it’s an opportunity to expand horizons of the day-to-day beyond the trip. I don’t want a vacation, I want to live there no matter how short a trip may be. I enjoy reading and learning as much as I can about a place before and after a visit. If you know where people come from historically, it’s inevitable that you find that people share the same fundamentals everywhere. The foreign becomes familiar, and the ordinary becomes foreign.
In that spirit, I’ve learned not to expect too much. The impulse is to squeeze the profound out of a new experience, but a death grip just makes you lose the essence. People hate an intruder, so it’s best to cultivate a sense that you belong in a place. Go with the flow. And common decency and appropriate deference go a long way.
Q: What travel destinations are on your wish list?
A: Hard to pinpoint. When you’re trying to eke out a living in NYC, the world isn’t always your oyster. I try to glean from the quotidian whenever possible. A rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike is not off limits if all else fails. That said, my wish list of places to travel is hard to prioritize; I’d love to go anywhere. Currently Spain, South Korea, and Scandinavia in the winter are on the top of the hit list. And of course, a return to Italy.
Bio: Matthew Logan is a New York based photographer who predominantly works with film. He currently works at the school of ICP (International Center of Photography). Additionally, he is a musician and composer who performs regularly as a cellist and singer.