A N I N T E R V I E W W I T H E D W A R D C U S H E N B E R R Y
I don’t know that many artists like Edward Cushenberry. Take that however way you like. Maybe there are some unpolished points, some devil-may-care cavalier attitudes that invade his work from time to time, and for that I’m a little bit grateful.
No artist likes to hear that they don’t put thought or effort into their work, and that’s not what I’m saying about Cushenberry here, though nor am I singing his praises simply because I’ve decided to feature him on this site.
What exemplifies his images are how raw they are. That aforementioned unpolished nature of Cushenberry gives the viewer, or at least I feel gave me while viewing, a rare feeling nowadays. It’s a feeling that indicates maybe what we’re seeing is unrestricted, that there aren’t many shots that ended up on the cutting room floor. Not that this work is a bevy of poor self-editing, it’s more that his work has a certain flow of intentionality that indicates that every shot really mattered to this guy. At a time when the finnickity nature of photographers is most likely at its peak (or God forbid, still rising), it’s refreshing to get access to something a bit more real. This is a body of work composed without melodramatic flair or ironic mesh screen.
It would be easy to fall into all sorts of traps analysing Cushenberry’s images under archaic banners such as ‘the snapshot’ or ‘the family’ but none of that is interesting at this stage, not for fledgling artists still trying to find their footing. Nothing here is new, but what’s fresh about Cushenberry is a firm standhold in not dressing his images as something they’re not. And as an oversaturated viewer dealing with copious amounts of artist statements and vague declarations of departure from previous artistic institutions, it’s a bit nice to get something devoid of artificiality.
What are the people in your photographs to you?
On the surface the people in my photographs are just family and friends.
But on the whole, they play a big part of who I am and the work that I make. My work is extremely personal, invades peoples’ privacy, and allows me to live vicariously through my camera. I first started shooting this way when I was in school at Art Center College of Design. My friend Josh Schaedel and I were sneaking into an abandoned office at school to sleep because we both lived far away from school.
Soon I found myself being on campus 24 hours a day and seven days a week. I began taking pictures as a way to leave the office, and eventually the photos transformed into a way for me to share experiences with people who were close to me. I found myself living through my camera. The more I shot, the more intrusive I wanted to get because I was interested in others and the way they thought, behaved, looked, and how they lived and existed. A lot of my subjects gave more than others but I was able to get really personal and intimate, and create narratives that were a mixture of intense and quiet moments.
Right now, postgraduation, I pretty much shoot the same but I’m also looking for commercial work so I’ve been doing test shoots and shooting a lot of digital and a lot portraits. But I’m still interested in my friend’s lives, especially now because the majority of them are out of school and are in the same boat as I am. I’ve also been documenting my relationship with my girlfriend and my relationship with my friends who are women.
What are the challenges of photographing in your space?
One of the challenges of photographing in my studio is that after a while the work becomes very repetitive and constrained. I’m currently working on this portrait series that takes place in the corner of my studio only because that’s where the best lighting is.
But as of late, all of the portraits have been looking similar because I’m shooting at the same time and location. The goal of this series was to take very minimal portraits but at the same time trying to convey the personality of my subjects during these shoots. Some of them work, some of them don’t. So I’m finding myself using different areas of my studio, shooting at different times a day/night and using on camera flash with my point and shoot in order to have some variations to the project.
Watching for light in and around my studio has become a little easier but it’s still hard to get people’s schedule to match with the best lighting situations. 7am-8am has beautiful lighting but it’s hard to find someone who wants to come to my studio that early, especially on a Monday.
Tell me about ‘The Weirdness’.
Man, The Weirdness was and is still weird.
It’s a documentary of my friendship with Emily who was also in the photo program with me. We had color theory class together and we eventually started spending a lot of time together. Soon I started shooting very intimate photos of her and it became this project about pushing the limits of what a friendship was. Even though the photos were sexual in nature, that’s the furthest it ever went and it never went past taking pictures. I’m not bummed about that part it, but I feel that it’s important to state that only because people always ask me that question.
On the other hand, in order to get some of the photos, limits were definitely pushed, there were nights I was questioning why or what I was doing with her and I’m pretty sure she thought the same thing too. I never intended it to be a separate project, for me it was experiencing something new- the majority of the project took place during my days in the office and it gave me something to look forward to when I was staying on campus. The Weirdness was shot over two years and began to slow down, especially when we started our own respective relationships. Besides the obvious, it was a fun project and very important part of my work. I called it “The Weirdness” because that’s the only way I could describe it, it’s some of my rawest work that I’ve made.
Even though the work has a lot of sexuality in it, I never meant for it to be anything more than just a documentation on a friend. A lot of people like the project. I had a teacher tell me that I made being a pervert “beautiful”, in fact a lot of my teachers liked that body of work once it was finished. My mom and dad have seen some of the work, they get it.
Forgive me if this is an opportunistic question, or a leading question, but what are your views of minority representations in the Art World?
When I was at Art Center, I was lucky enough to have a few knowledgeable teachers and friends who introduced me to “different” artists. I’ve always been in a position where I felt somewhat under represented.
I grew up in the suburbs, went to private schools and that feeling didn’t go away when I went to art school, especially when I had teachers and students question my “blackness” and the majority of those teachers and students were white. I get really stoked when I see galleries that have group shows or solo shows by black and/or minority artists.I also get excited when I see black artists who have work that speak to my experiences of being black. Like I said, I grew up in the suburbs and I feel that my work is a result of living in Orange County.
So my idea of what it is to be black is different from others’ ideas of what it is to be black. So, as much as I’d love to be “I’m not a black artist, I’m an artist” I do get excited when I see artists who are like me. It gives validation to what I’m what doing. I still hate myself for missing Henry Taylor’s show at Blum and Poe, and the Blues for Smoke show at Moca Geffen Contemporary was amazing. Come to think of it, I always get stoked when I see black contemporaries.
I grew up listening to Punk and Hardcore and I felt that Bad Brains made it okay for me to listen to that music without having to question myself. I also love skateboarding and I remember years ago there was an all Black issue of either Transworld Magazine or Skateboarding Magazine and every article was an interview with a black skater. I had torn out pages of the magazine and had them taped on my wall until my dickhead cousin took them and threw away the pages calling them “Whiteboys”.
Getting to the point, 30 Americans is the best example I could give to answer that question. I love that book.
"It was weird, but hopefully we like each other and trust each other so it was simpler to be with a woman who I consider like my sister. I knew Léa like I knew no one. Our relationship was so intense, and we had to give everything-body, soul, everything." -Adele Exarchopoulos
Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” in Interview Magazine. Photos by Mikael Jansson.