Q&A: Brian Ulrich

© Brian Ulrich

Kathryn Kmet:When you started your Copia project, where there any struggles that made it difficult to get the images you wanted, such as unwilling store owners etc? What were your beginning processes of gaining permission, and researching locations?

Brian Ulrich: Certainly. It became clear quite quickly that the stores were not going to allow me to take candid photographs of their shoppers, so after much practice I developed some strategies to take the pictures without any sort of permission. Nothing very fancy, moreso patience and a waist level viewfinder. As far as researching locations, that came rather simply. I've been lucky all along to have my subject in so many places that one doesn't have to look real far.

Kathryn Kmet: I really enjoy the cohesive nature of each of your projects and how they all feed off of each other. What interests you about the consumerism that has kept your attention photographically for the past 7+ years?

Brian Ulrich: Many things keep me invested in this topic. In many ways I see what's been happening in the first decade of this century as effects of the many decisions made from the mid 20th century: rapid manufacturing of disposable goods; re-purposing the nation to judge quality of life with ability to buy; creating a society that values illusions in the highest regards; ingraining capitalist ideas as patriotic and so fundamental that without the capitalist structure, Armageddon must surely come (perhaps the disaster and zombie crazes as of late? )
To be honest I didn't necessarily start out to make some epic, historical, polotical art project. Most of the ideas come from a sort of curiosity in how things function and how people think. With more research on my consumption, comes floods of new ideas of which it can be daunting to attempt to think I could include it all.

© Brian Ulrich

Kathryn Kmet: I recently saw your print of "Kids R Us" at the Milwaukee Art Museum. This series of images of closed retail spaces is ghostly and erie. These images are taken with a large format camera, What esthetics of film do you feel don't compare to digital in your work?

Brian Ulrich: I would say that in most cases the aesthetics of the digital camera are as good or sometimes better than film. Each instrument functions quite differently and a point and shoot is going to render things uniquely different than a DLSR. I like to think of it more as each camera has it's own visual language. The 8x10 forces me to work more methodically. To meditate on an idea of an image for some time before even making it. Some pictures happen quickly others over months/years. Their is also a optical fidelity that that camera renders which is quite unique. It allows me use small details in a very loud way. I've attempted to use some of the very expensive digital backs to do some of this work but I just didn't like the process of using that camera. I'd prefer not to scan if I could and imagine at some point a new project will demand that process.

© Brian Ulrich

Kathryn Kmet: Which photographers are your greatest influences and how much have they effected your style and or processes?

Brian Ulrich: Very hard to say here. When I first discovered photography, I got a job at a local library in the fine arts department simply so I could spend that much more time understanding what had been done and what was being thought about in the arts. I spent countless hours looking through as many photography books as I could find. It seemed important to know. This led to a certain obsession with really looking through the medium and I learned many things from so many differents artists, known and unknown.
Early on it was:
Ralph Eugene Meatyeard's experimentation
Harry Callahan's quiet dedication, love of making the work, and lack of expectation of anyone affording him the luxury to continue
Duchamp's prankster sensibility and his comfort with not making work if there were no ideas
Warhol's gathering of an army of supporters
Winogrand as the consumate bachelor
Later some who had such a profound effect on me were:
Walker Evans
Paul Graham
Robert Adams
Saul Leiter
Diane Arbus
Dawoud Bey
Rineke Dijkstra

There are simply so many from friends to some of the mall security folk I come across. I think it's important as an artist to remain open to who you come across out in the world.

Kathryn Kmet: What has kept you in Chicago rather then New York? Was it easy to make a name for yourself in Chicago or was it more of a struggle?

Brian Ulrich: I had long been enamored with the history of photography in Chicago. From the ID school to later Heineckin and Barbara Crane, etc... Something about this city seems to force people to confront the social world within a certain language of realism. It's powerful stuff when done right. I came here for graduate school in 2001 at Columbia College and enjoy the way the community works together here. There is also less of an emphasis of flash in the pan success here and more of one on longetivity. Chicago also has a lot of venues for young artists from small apartment galleries to the 12x12 series at the MCA. These things are a lot more accesible than what one might find in NY. Of course the work has to be there but if it is the venues are happy to take notice. Chicago is a bit smaller so word can spread fast of things.
Having grown up right outside of NYC, it's a place I hold fondly but find it real tough to live there as an artist.

© Brian Ulrich

Kathryn Kmet: Are there any future projects that you are excited about?

Brian Ulrich: Currently plans are to edit all of the Copia work I've done next year in some book maquettes. If it's done it may be done which might see me changing directions or perhaps not at all. I like to let the work drive those decisions. Though lately I've been excited about some neon sculptures I've been making.

Kathryn Kmet: What are your favorite parts about being a photographer?

Brian Ulrich: I love that in my work I'm forced to get out into the world and confront people, circumstances and places I would normally never confront. Moreso I have to feel comfortable in them enough to work.

Kathryn Kmet: What advice would you give to a young photographer from the midwest?

Brian Ulrich: It's hard not to sound cliche without knowing someone specifically:
may sound easy but ask yourself what you really care about.
Become more patient with yourself. If you make good work and work hard to get it out into the world something is bound to happen.
Take advantage of the time not being in NY affords. One can really take the work very far before it's seen outside a classroom, that's a good thing. (Case in point; bands who put out several great albums vs. ones who have a fantastic debut followed by a tumultuous demise).
Photograph in the worst weather.

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