Interview – Roxana Azar

The rate at which images are proliferated by the Internet is both awe-inspiring and disgusting. Internet culture as it relates to the arts is oft debated and inspires an evolving visual dialogue that forces us to assess what we believe about originality, distribution, and attribution.

Photographer Roxana Azar’s latest project, a blog called Grapevine/Soramimi  is a thoughtful response to this cultural shift and is an encouragement to the role of curation. By using Tumblr as a creative tool, Azar carefully selects images that relate to each other aesthetically but she does not ignore the fact that the work is somehow tied together by an unconscious association.

The result is a finely crafted selection of photographic art by a variety of artists where the audience’s role is paramount.

I spent most of the Spring and Summer hounding Azar about her fresh-eyed tumblog as well as her own work which is brilliant unto itself. In her images, Azar’s exploratory style is articulated by the precision of her taste, making her that rare breed of artist that doubles as a sharp curator. Azar dismantles the idea of duality and assembles work that describes the space between the organic experience of being a human and the digital plane we interact on.
 


How was Grapvine/Soramimi  born and what do you feel is the thread that binds all these images together? Or rather, what is the movement behind each connection?

Grapevine/Soramimi was created because I wanted to see artists whose work I adore and personally respond to displayed in a way that encourages the viewer to read and make connections between different artists’ photographs. The work is unique to the artist, but it’s also connected to someone else who could have a totally different style and process.

The initial idea was that an artist would post an image, then another artist would respond to that image with their own interpretation of that image, but I found that process too slow for the blog aspect of Grapevine/Soramimi. I have been using photo-sharing websites to collect photos and work from there. There are so many great photographs floating around on the internet, but it can become redundant at times, so the blog is a solution to that. Eventually the images will be published in a printed zine.

The connections bring to mind subconscious connections, and the process of how you get from one thought to another and how important one little detail can be. The connections right now are purely about visual components in the image: colors, shapes, compositions, and objects that relate. I am interested in displaying more narrative and emotive connections between images. I’d love to see submissions created with that in mind in the future!
 


So in that sense, it seems like the series or project overall is based on nuance. It’s interesting to infuse a share-site like Tumblr which can stack your dashboard with random images that have no original intent to their order other than time. This almost seems like a solution to the randomness of the Internet.

What have been some of your favorite progressions as well as some of your favorite work? A lot of times interviews focus on which photographer influences one’s work, but I’d like to talk about specific images as they stand alone.

It’s really difficult to pick a favorite, but I especially look forward to the sequences where the viewer would be perplexed by the transition from the first image to the third without having seen the second image. As far as individual images go, I tried to include pieces that stand alone when taken out of their original context and placed into the context of this photographic conversation. This isn’t hard to do, though, because all of these artists make very inspired work.

I’m really fond of Marina Richter’s images  because the details and moments she chooses to photograph are intimate and dreamlike in a way that’s fresh. Marija Strajnic is cut from the same cloth, her work is beautifully strange and warm, yet somehow can be tragic. Daniel Ribar manages to convey a sense of vastness in a close frame, combined with great color relationships. Van Robinson, Wouter van de Woorde, the list could go on. Each artist has a different understanding of the spaces they occupy, relationships, symbols, significant moments, color, and light that interact in really wonderful ways.
 

I just went through Grapevine again last night and got excited about it all over again. Of course it’s difficult to pick a favorite and almost inappropriate as  the images begin to take on an amorphous essence. How do you see this influencing your own work? I also saw that you are having an exhibition? Can you tell me more about that?

Recently, I had the opportunity to display works from Grapevine/Soramimi in a university gallery space. There was a last-minute showcase of a random sequence of images from the blog. This is the beginning of looking at the idea beyond an endless scroll, while reaching an audience with real photographic objects in a real space. The way people react to the image and with each other is also dependent on the space. A few of the pieces were missing with the color palette of the image in place of it, promoting people to try and connect the images with a piece of their own imagination. After viewing the images outside of a computer screen and seeing how the images interacted on a white wall rather than a never-ending stream of images, it brought to fruition how important it is to have an huge element of this project separate from the internet. It’s interesting because this idea is in its infancy right now, and since it’s a simple idea, it can go in many different directions. It’s so exciting! The input of the artist is going to play a much larger role, the way it was initially intended, rather than the “curation” of one person.

What’s really encouraging is that most of these artists are fairly young, yet they have a consistent vision for their image-making. The project has really made me think about the meanings behind certain aesthetic decisions, whether they are made consciously or not, because it’s primarily about a visual language specific to the way the artists view the world.
 

How do you feel the nature of Grapevine/Soramimi’s movement and language translates or works with or contrasts to the fluidity of the work you see coming from the artists you’ve  mentioned?

Also, what do you feel this generation of photographers is moving towards?


This generation of photographers are going in many different directions because photography is incredibly versatile, so many ideas in photography are being challenged by artists.  Some artists think about photographic functions beyond composing an image and taking the picture, such as viewing the photograph as an object rather than an image, which is getting harder to do these days with the use computers. I’m thinking of someone like Letha Wilson who creates sculptures using photographs of colorful landscapes, or Marlo Pascual who enlarges found images to a monumental size and places them in situations with banal domestic elements like a coat stand, or a fluorescent lamp, creating something extraordinary to experience. Another way of viewing images as an object is through the photobook, something more accessible yet tangible to the viewer. Since photography is new to the art world and the technologies seem to change rapidly, artists will adapt and change with it, or create something in response to this change. People are integrating digital processes in their work aside from photo-editing, and others are exploring the wet darkroom. Traditional ideas in art are constantly investigated in new ways, such as the still life and the portrait. What visual artists today are doing is exploiting both the limitations and the accessibility of photography for their own message.
 

Do you see your work as objects because you digitally manipulate and edit them in a way that makes them more like paintings or prints? Can you elaborate on that?

I like that photographers can be painterly because there can be more instinctual elements to use. I’m working on different ways of expressing one idea — a way to piece my memories, emotions, and anxiety together through different processes. It’s been very personal. So far, focusing on details and enhancing them by digital manipulation is an act of illusion, isolation, and deceit, but there’s a truth that I’m searching for. There’s a disconnect even though what I’m photographing, personally, carries some emotional weight. People can manipulate their emotions so much just to hide themselves, and that idea has been the starting point for some of these photographs.

I don’t see the images as objects, because I haven’t handled them enough yet. I’ve been thinking about them more like collage, either to piece ideas together or to focus on particular objects or images. That’s one of the next steps. Photographs are so precious to me when you can touch them, so there’s this fear of bending the photograph or spilling tea on it, but to get past that fear, I think, can be a way to get closer to an image. It also brings to attention what’s underneath the surface of the photograph.

I’ve been playing around with that and the idea of unraveling an image.

Regarding that idea – unraveling an image, what do you mean by that and what are you most interested in exploring in your own work ?

It’s weird because I’m always going back and forth between making really personal work, or making work that’s mainly about form and color. I’m slowly introducing more aspects of my culture into my work. This is a conscious effort on my part, because I feel like I had avoided addressing my Persian-American background for years. I was born in America, and there are many aspects of the Persian culture that I have trouble integrating into my life. It’s also hard to fit in that culture — in fact, I barely speak the language — even though it’s such an important part of my identity. It’s difficult to express that. There’s a sense of pride, especially through my family, the biggest connector to my culture. I’m deeply connected to the women in my family, especially my mother.  We’re close, although there’s a big cultural and generational gap between us. For instance, my grandmother is pretty spiritual, and in a lot of ways my mom is, too, and I’m definitely not. I can really see the differences between us. My idea of home is also, of course, super connected to my mother, like the way she decorates the house — the colors, the objects, the houseplants. Otherwise, I find it hard to connect to the culture, especially to the expectations it places on women, so there’s this deep, confusing isolation outside of home and family. I want to find new ways to express this.
 

Do you consider yourself to be a part of the New Aesthetic movement? What would you call your style and genre of work if you had to?

I’m not yet comfortable with contextualizing my work in terms of movements, so I would say no. I can take pretty traditional photographs along with manipulating digital art. As an artist, I feel young in that I want to continuously investigate ideas without necessarily locking in to one way of doing so. Photography is changing constantly and I find myself generally willing to adapt, although sometimes I fight it. One thing that is consistent is that my style is colorful. Whether it’s taking a photograph with a 4 x 5 camera, or making a digital collage, using color is always significant. That comes from a variety of places: my background, daydreaming, film (like The Colour of Pomegranates), and the Internet. Poetry and arrangements of words are also influential because the language is visual and it can relate so much to collage. So to answer the second part of the question: I don’t know how to put a name on it, but I just want to create poetry without words.
 

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Roxana Azar is a photographic artist based in Philadelphia. You can view Grapevine/Soramimi here and her own work here.