Interview / David Brandon Geeting

Is it just me or is everyone taking pictures of every day objects? The ones where the narration of the image is pooled in the immobility of the object itself? I don’t know what the trend stems from – be it the transcending obsession with the kitsch object or the prevailing popularity of snapshot style quality but whatever it is, I like it and lucky for me it’s everywhere.

In photography, objects as subjects is definitely nothing new but rather, what’s worth noticing is the obsession that rises throughout the medium’s history. New York Times critic Hilton Kramer and MoMA curator John Szarkowski famously said William Eggleston’s photographs were “banaly perfect” and that his object-subjects were noted by their presence. Likewise, I read recently that Ansel Adams started taking sharply focused photos of found objects like lichen-covered anchors to showcase the magnification of his lens. So whether the nature of this reemergence of object-centered images is just art school standard or a cycling of trends, as always it’s most important to pay attention to who is doing it best.

In that sense, there are few photographers who I think are reinterpreting this style well and that includes David Brandon Geeting. A contemporary of Peter Sutherland’s, Geeting holds his own and proves his ability to transfer a mood to whatever object-subject he photographs. As he quotes one of his photo professors at School of Visual Arts (SVA), “‘snapshot’ photographs are only exciting if the photographer’s life is exciting”. Geeting’s life is “boring” and he likes it that way.


What were you like as a child?
Whenever I think about childhood, a few prominent memories come to mind. The first one is being outside during recess in elementary school, watching the majority of the dudes in my class play football in the grass while I stood on the pavement, wishing that either I was interested in sports or they were interested in standing on the pavement. The second memory is me utilizing my OCD to roll a small transparent yellow lego (normally used as a headlight on a lego vehicle) an equal number of times around each nostril, eventually landing the lego in my right nostril, and pushing it further upwards with each attempt to pry it out. This resulted in a visit to the emergency room, where the transparent lego didn’t show up in the x-ray because it was transparent. Long story short, the doctor spread my nostril super wide with pliers, yanked it out, I took it home to wash it off and hang it on a necklace, it fell down the drain while I was washing it, and I’m still bummed about it to this day. Oh and I was eight when it happened. The third memory is finding a bunch of JPEGs of Stu Pickles (Rugrats) on AOL, printing them out on copy paper, and stuffing them in my neighbors’ mailboxes. I think I was nine for that one.


Why did you pick photography and what first drew you to it?
When I was in my early teen years I used to take a lot of walks around the block with my Dad. He would always ask me if I had any idea what I wanted to do as a “career,” and I would always tell him that I honestly had no clue. I think this frustrated him a bit, because it frustrated me a lot. Some of my friends took photo classes in high school and I decided to take one my sophomore year because it seemed like something I would enjoy. I didn’t think very much about “style” or “ideas” back then, I just shot whatever. Friends, trees, the sky, you know, whatever was around. This is basically the only thing I enjoyed in high school so I decided it would probably be the only thing I would enjoy in college. I got accepted to SVA with a portfolio of friends, trees, the sky, and whatever.

To elaborate, let’s talk Ennui – the series and the concept – because I’m a archetypal melancholy person and I feel that the term ennui describes a very heavy-laden sadness that can only be achieved through a personality that’s already sad. Your photographs are comprised of subtle objects that carry heavy emotional weight. For example, your series Ennui. I saw that you used that word to describe your images in a 01 Magazine feature and am curious if you sought out photographs to depict that word/feeling? Or was it something that fell together naturally? How did this series develop?
I have always been more keen on the dark side. I don’t know what is so attractive about things that suck, but I have always been drawn to them over things that don’t suck. The first time I heard the word ennui was at a party in Bushwick. The vibe that night was pretty terrible, and I was sitting next to my friend Stewart in the corner of the room. Neither of us were feeling particularly social, and my memory is pretty hazy, but for some reason he asked me if I had ever heard the word “ennui” before. I said no, and he went on to explain it in a pretty gorgeous way, though I would later find out that his definition wasn’t totally accurate. He told me it was a French word that meant, “the beauty of apathy.” According to Dictionary.com, ennui actually means “listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.” My series Ennui is sort of based on a combination of Stewart’s definition and Dictionary.com’s definition.
About a year before I heard “ennui” for the first time, one of my teachers told me that “snapshot” photographs are only exciting if the photographer’s life is exciting, since it is entirely derivative of his/her life. At the time, I was primarily making this sort of effortless “on-the-go” work, and he told me that I would need to make my life more exciting in order for the work to be exciting. One year later, when I was photographing for Ennui, I found myself wanting to do less and less, appreciating simple things more and more. I recalled what my teacher had said to me and realized that I didn’t want my work to be about excitement at all. I wanted it to be boring if I was bored and cynical if I was feeling cynical. If the work seems vague, well, I am pretty vague by nature (sun in Pisces), and I opted to take advantage of my true colors instead of shrouding them in excitement.
So on that note, since it seems like you focus on objects often, how do you decide what you want to take a photograph of? Are they candid or posed? For example,  your series Household. How does this series go beyond the literal label of “Household”?
I look for human traits in almost everything, so deciding what objects to photograph always seems pretty obvious. Certain objects just have this undeniable energy. You know when you walk by a mannequin and it feels like you walked by a person? It’s like that, except I don’t think I’ve ever photographed a mannequin. The candid/posed question is hard to answer, because whenever I hear the word “candid” I picture someone jumping out in front of me, or screaming in a public place, or walking around half naked, etc. No inanimate object has ever jumped in front of me, so I don’t know how to answer the question, but I will tell you that I rarely have an idea for more than ten minutes before I take a photograph, and I have no shame in changing the placement of a found object if I think that it will make for a better picture. I’m not sure if the series does go beyond the literal label of Household, though there is something super meta about taking the time to make photographs of things as they are and then presenting them as photographs instead of presenting them as they are.

How do you feel your time at SVA has affected your work specifically?
A lot of the friendships I made in the past four years were with people working in a similar manner, with similar ideas about art and life in general. A lot of these people were colleagues at SVA (Bobby Doherty, Jake McNulty, Avi Katzman, Sam Murasko, and Bryan Krueger, to name a few) and a lot of these people were their friends, or friends of friends. It was really inspiring to be around people that I admire all the time, seeing a constant flow of fresh work and being able to bounce ideas off of each other. I had some really great teachers too, but I already name-dropped enough for one interview, and to be honest, I think the main benefit of art school is the critique and camaraderie of fellow classmates.
What has been your favorite art experience? Sounds cheesy, but it could be anything from a class to a good day taking snaps or an exhibition you’ve been apart of.
It’s weird, I don’t think I have ever thought about this. I actually never think about “favorites” because I don’t believe in them. It’s like, you’re telling me that people have “favorite songs” or “favorite foods?” But there are like, one trillion songs and one trillion foods and you are a person with one trillion moods. I will also admit that I actually hate being challenged and this question seems way too challenging for me to answer right now. It’s not cheesy at all, it’s probably the hardest question you’ve asked me, but I am not sure if I will ever have an answer for it. I will say that as a kid, I hated art museums, but I always forced myself to act like I enjoyed them, because deep down I felt really guilty for not enjoying them.
As far as contemporaries go, who or what inspires you?
I have been working for Peter Sutherland for over a year now and I really admire that dude’s ambition and utilization of the “gut feeling.” He does not require much pondering before the art-making process, and it almost seems like he doesn’t even consider the “meaning” of his work until it’s already been made. I really dig that. I am also a big fan of Fischli & Weiss, and their odd arrangements of such ordinary objects. Even though their work takes a lot of planning, it still seems a bit haphazard and unrefined, and I relate to the human quality of their semi-successful attempts. In general, I tend to favor artists who make art without the weird hesitation beforehand. You never really know until you try, you know?

Which cameras/equipment do you work with or like working with best?
During my last year at SVA, the majority of my photographs were made with a Mamiya 645, but it was rented from school and I have since graduated and lost access to that camera. I also carried multiple variations of the Yashica T4 around everywhere for the past few years, but my latest one bit the dust in the middle of summer and I have coincidentally been unemployed since then. I was lent an original Canon 5D (thanks P. Suth) in order to continue making work and not having to pay to see the results. I used to hate on digital photography, but as I get older I am starting to care less and less about how a photograph is made. I might feel more guilty about abandoning film photography if I still walked around listening to my Walkman, but alas, I’ve had an iPod for the past nine years.
What are you currently working on and where would you like to go next?
I have been working on a series of photographs that is tentatively titled, Morning Person, consisting mainly of still lifes. The title stems from my recent transition from being a schedule-less apathetic night-time zombie to a dude that gets a full eight hours of sleep, wakes up promptly at 8 AM every morning, eats a bowl of cereal (with banana on top!), drinks a cup of black coffee, and makes new work every day despite the fact that he is unemployed. Most of these photographs were made during morning hours, and all of the subject matter is influenced by being low on funds, home-ridden, and more inspired than ever. A sampling of this work will be exhibited in the E. 21st Street building at SVA from December 4th – 18th, opening December 8th! I am also very excited to announce a group exhibition that I am curating at Ed. Varie in NYC, opening January 19th, but it’s a little too early to spill the beans (more details to come)! Not sure where I’d like to go next; I don’t really like to think about the future. One time I used a tea bag that quoted something along the lines of, “Anxiety stems from thinking about the future, Depression stems from living in the past.” I like to believe everything I read on tea bags.
David Brandon Geeting is a photographer based out of Brooklyn, NY and is having an art show!