Seventy Flights in Ninety Minutes: ISEA2012 Interview with D. Bryon Darby

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Building on the ISEA2012 Albuquerque: Machine Wilderness (September 19 – 24, 2012) photo essay posts, Temporary New Mexico regional editor Nancy Zastudil has organized ongoing coverage of the symposium with the ISEA2012 Insiders, a group of (ISEA2012′s Artistic Director) Andrea Polli‘s University of New Mexico students who attended the event. This interview is the second in a series of posts from the Insiders in conversation with several ISEA2012 artists about their artistic practice, exhibition projects, and overall experience of the symposium.

D. Bryon Darby‘s creative research investigates perceptions of place as mediated through technology, photography, and personal experience. His work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally including recent exhibitions at the International Photography Festival in Pingyao, China, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, and as part of the 2012 International Symposium on Electronic Art at 516 Arts in Albuquerque. His work is held in private and public collections including the Tempe Center for the Arts and the City of Phoenix Portable Works Collection for which he was awarded a public art commission in 2009. Darby currently resides with his wife and daughter in Lawrence, Kansas where he is Assistant Professor of Photo Media at the University of Kansas.

Justin Nolan: Your photograph, Seventy Flights in Ninety Minutes in the 516 ARTS ISEA2012 Albuquerque: Machine Wilderness exhibition, is just one of many explorations of both time and air travel. From where does your interest in documenting planes come?

D. Bryon Darby: My interest in photographing aircraft comes from my experience living in the Phoenix suburbs. Most all the work I do is centered around personal experience. I’m always trying to work from what I know and what surrounds me each day. For three years, my family lived directly in the flight path of Sky Harbor International Airport. I vividly remember my first day in Tempe and being struck by the volume of air traffic overhead. It’s not unusual for an aircraft to land every 30 seconds. The constant roar of 737s is embedded into the fabric of that place unlike any city I’ve ever experienced. It’s what was around me each day and became a sort of fixation.

JN: In another series of images featured in the book Encountered Aircraft, you have pixelated aircraft by tightly cropping into images from a small point-and-shoot camera. By embracing the vernacular qualities of the low resolution images you are also abstracting the images to a barely perceivable form. Is this notion of mediated vision important to your work?

DBD: Yes, in the sense that contemporary experience and vision is increasingly mediate through tools, technology, and photography. We interact with the contemporary world in a very different way and consequently, visual language has evolved. Much of the appearance of Encountered Aircraft is the result of simply embracing the limitations of the tools at hand and reconsidering the aesthetics of an evolving medium. Conversely, I am also interested in how photography–in terms of both making and reading–is mediated through ones own experiences.

JN: Issues surrounding commuting are frequent subjects of your work. Whether documenting the flight paths of aircraft or your personal commute by car or bike. What are your interests in commuting?

DBD: My interests are primarily in place and experience. My experience of Phoenix involved a daily commute, so I attempted to make artwork around that aspect of my life. To me, both of those series have more to do with Phoenix and contemporary urban existence than they do with commuting.

JN: A number of your aircraft images are shot at night and show only the light streaks left by the aircraft rather the the planes themselves. It would seem that these images are more about the passage of time then trying to identify the planes themselves. How does the passage of time inform your photographs?

DBD: Different aircraft images are exploring different aspects of the experience of that particular place. For example, some speak in terms of persistence while others speak about volume. At the core, what I am after is recreating in visual form what it feels like to inhabit a given space. Time is a strategy for touching on that experience.

JN: In many of your projects you switch between using color and using black and white. How are you choosing your method of display?

DBD: The answer is much less cerebral than people might hope. My choices concerning color versus black and white are mostly practical. For example, I know I can make just about any lighting condition work with black and white film–early morning, noon-day sun, back lit, night, etc. On the other hand, color is much less forgiving. Though, now and then, things just need to be in color. At times, I shoot black and white simply because it’s more cost effective. And I do enjoy the additional level of separation from the literal world provided by black and white photography, but I rarely, if ever, convert digitally captured files from color to black and white.

JN: Your concern with movement and duration in time lapse and composted images point to an interest in how time is rendered in a photograph. How do you see the still image versus the moving image in terms of how it can capture time?

DBD: I don’t think in terms of moving images at all and am really very much in love with the still image. I am still surprised at just how much can be contained in one single frame–stills are much more analogous to poetry in that sense. A good photograph can say so much with so few words. I suppose I see the world in terms of many very small moments.

JN: How did your interest in aircraft began?

DBD: My interest in aircraft is a mix of awe, fear, frustration. I didn’t step foot on a airplane until I was 22. Although my previous job often required traveling on several flights each month, I am still absolutely terrified of flying. It never occurred to me to make photographs of airplanes until I moved to Tempe.  Of those first moments in Arizona, nothing sticks out so vividly as the constant air traffic and the thought of, “My God, people live here?” Yet, I am still truly amazed each time I see a 400-ton jumbo jet gently hanging in the sky, gliding in for a landing.

JN: Do think that your earlier career as a commercial artist informs your current work?

DBD: No, not really. I’ve never been very good at providing what I think people want. I make much more successful photographs when a client is not involved.

JN: Do you think that the ubiquity of digital image making is changing how we see the world around us?

DBD: Absolutely. I don’t think digital imaging, itself, had as much of an impact on photography as people might think. Related advancing technologies like the internet, cell-phone cameras, and print-on-demand, however, have turned photography on it’s head. The changes in just the last few years have been astonishing as cameras have become the nearly exclusive means through which we interact with the world and each other. Cameras are the filter through which we see the world and our photographs are how we represent it.



Seventy Flights in Ninety Minutes is at 516 ARTS as part of the ISEA2012: Machine Wilderness exhibition through January 6, 2013. Images courtesy of the artist. 

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