Interview: Joshua Dudley Greer

Jordan Leitner: How did you get into photography? Was there a deciding moment that made you want to follow a career in photography?

Joshua Dudley Greer: I don’t recall a specific moment in my life where I actually made a decision to pursue photography. At a young age, my artworks were almost always based on photographs or were somehow replications of other things I had seen - comic books, album covers, etc. I rarely invented my own characters or places or narratives, but I had this innate ability to recognize when things looked a certain way and were worth copying. This seems to be one of the underlying principles of photography so it wasn’t a big transition for me to go from drawing and painting to photography. I wanted to be outside in the landscape, responding to what I saw, thinking about the greater culture, and photography enabled me to do those things. College came and went and I didn’t give a career much thought, but I knew I wanted to make work for myself not for others. I had no interest in editorial work or journalism so I really just hoped that I could continue to make photographs and that something would happen for me. I worked odd jobs that enabled me to take significant time off and travel to shoot but after four years I needed something more. My work was essentially being made in a vacuum and no one was really seeing it or helping me make it better, so I decided that grad school made sense. From there I became involved in teaching and I saw that I could have a career that was demanding and engaging and I could still make the work that I wanted to make.
Craters of the Moon, Idaho, 2011 © Joshua Dudley Greer

Jordan Leitner: What other photographers do you most enjoy looking at? And which photographers’ work do you most enjoy showing your students at East Tennessee State University?

Joshua Dudley Greer: I look everywhere for inspiration and I find that many of my influences don’t come from photography but can be found in more populist mediums like cinema, sports, literature or television. There’s something about having a little separation from the source that I find incredibly stimulating and liberating. Some of these things figure directly into my work, like cinema, but for others it's not always about implanting a specific idea but more about seeing incredible people do incredible things. Creativity in any form can motivate me to think about what I want to do and how I can do it. As for photography, t here is no shortage of amazing artists that have had an impact on my work. I am particularly interested in books and some of my favorites include American Prospects and On This Site by Joel Sternfeld, Passing Through Eden by Tod Papageorge, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar by Taryn Simon, Maze by Donovan Wylie, and We English by Simon Roberts.

Path S7, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 2010 © Joshua Dudley Greer

Jordan Leitner: How did you learn about the deep history in Point Pleasant, West Virginia? What interested you about this place?

Joshua Dudley Greer: I first discovered Point Pleasant in 2008 while I was working on my American Histories series, which has to do with the convergence of cinema and history. I was initially interested in the Silver Bridge collapse that killed 46 people in 1967 and its strange relationship to a mythological creature called Mothman. My research led me to this remote area outside of town called TNT where the sightings had taken place and once I began to investigate the area, I learned that the place had a more complex history related to military weapons and environmental contamination. Sometimes the internet just doesn’t cut it and you have to do primary research, so I started asking locals about the area, digging through the local library and learning as much as I could. I hooked up with the Army Corps of Engineers who oversee the cleanup efforts and they were incredible transparent and forthcoming with information. Then in 2010, when one of the remaining igloos exploded and the area was closed off, I was able to work with the state’s fire marshal to continue my work. Because of the distance between my home and Point Pleasant, I only get up there every few months so the history and context of the place have been slowly revealed to me over time. Each time I’m there, I feel like I learn a little more about the place.

Pond 34, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 2011 © Joshua Dudley Greer

Jordan Leitner: In American Histories you document sites where specific occurrences have affected the landscape in varying ways. These stories had previously been reported by the media to be made known by the public. Where do you see the role in your photography with this series?

Joshua Dudley Greer: The role of photography is extremely important to understanding the sites and events described in American Histories . On the one hand, you have places where the presence of documentary photography has been felt - Three Mile Island, Dealey Plaza, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, etc.. The photographs or videos that are linked to these places could be anything from crime scene photographs to first-hand reportage, but they are acting as evidence to a particular event and are meant to inform, to record truthfully the details surrounding the event. Then you have places where the cinematic image has been intentionally constructed to entertain and to exploit this relationship between photography and truth by seducing the viewer into believing that what they’re seeing is real - Monument Valley, Martha’s Vineyard, Brackettville, Texas, etc.. And yet neither of these photographic formats are immune to the characteristics and practices of the other. Evidence can be staged in photographs like Alexander Gardner's Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter or Roger Fenton's The Valley of the Shadow of Death. Films like JFK , United 93 or A Perfect Storm are modeled after real life events that we may never know fully. What we’re left with are these kinds of hybrid events that simultaneously exist as fiction and as truth. The places that are left behind are forever linked to those narratives and to the images that have brought them to popular consciousness.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, 2007 © Joshua Dudley Greer

Jordan Leitner: How do you balance (time and finances) your personal fine art work with any commissioned or professional work you may do?

Joshua Dudley Greer: I think juggling personal and professional work is the number one obstacle that most working artists face because very few of us can actually earn a living from our own work. As a teacher, I have access to invaluable resources and facilities and I get extended breaks for summer and holidays where I can make a lot of work in a short amount of time. But the money isn’t much and I often have to sacrifice my own desires and ambitions for the responsibilities of my job. I think the danger for a lot of people is that making work eventually becomes secondary to earning a living, which is understandable but regrettable. If you’re truly committed to making work, you have to keep it a priority.

TNT Storage Igloo 24-A, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 2009 © Joshua Dudley Greer

Jordan Leitner: What’s the best advice would you give a photography student about to come into the real world?

Joshua Dudley Greer: I would say don’t rush it. Make the work that is important to you and do it at your own pace. Don’t expect anyone to give you the world right away, be patient and find a way to support yourself so you can do exactly what you want.

Pond 3, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 2009 © Joshua Dudley Greer

For more work of Joshua Dudley Greer, visit his website at http://www.jdudleygreer.com/welcome.html

All Images © Joshua Dudley Greer. Obtained with Permission from the Artist.

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