MOSSLESS: Flint used to be one of the country’s largest car manufacturing city and now in its decline it’s become one of the country’s most dangerous cities. How are the people of Flint dealing with this decline?
Juan Madrid: People get by. That’s the way it seems to be everywhere—you do what you need to do to survive, at least in the poorer neighborhoods. It’s difficult because most of the people in Flint have no way out of Flint and realize this. It’s the type of situation that forces crime to become the easiest way of survival. It seems as if the downtown area is becoming more robust, but I’m wary of that kind of growth. It addresses a symptom of American capitalism, rather than the disease, while compartmentalizing the poverty and violence. But people are helping the downtown area to grow and the presence of colleges definitely make that area safer and more prone to economic growth. There are also community organizations that try their hardest to fight the rampant poverty, whether it be youth groups, homeless shelters, or other types of aid.
MOSSLESS: Your images have a transient quality, do you travel a lot for your work?
Suzanna Zak: Taking photos isn’t my main objective for traveling, but the two go hand in hand, like they do for most people. That being said, having a camera in hand has brought me to certain spots that I don’t think I would have had the initiative to end up in otherwise. I guess what I’m mostly talking about here is minor trespassing.
MOSSLESS: It makes perfect sense for you to go after American deserts. A lot of scenes in your photographs are quiet, desolate at times. Why is that?
Missy Prince: I’m not sure, but here’s a theory: I am a fairly quiet person. Perhaps I seek out such scenes to match my surroundings with my inner state, to find some kind of stillness. When I go out to look for photos I’m also looking for mental space. Somehow I end up in places that serve that purpose.
MOSSLESS: What attracts you to this kind of landscape?
Sebastian Collett: I have a really deep connection to my hometown, and it’s grown stronger over the years. When I returned for my 20th high school reunion, something clicked. It was as though a long planetary orbit had come full circle. I felt called to immerse myself in my childhood landscape, and in so doing, to reconnect with some parts of myself that I’d almost forgotten. It was an incredibly powerful experience, and it’s still going on. Every time I return to my hometown, I feel a kind of energetic buzz, like I’m passing through a portal in time. I’m still my adult self, but I’m able to see through the eyes of the child that lives inside me. The process of photographing allows for a really interesting interplay of these selves. I find myself drawn to people who evoke specific emotional states or childhood experiences. Sometimes they serve as “stand-ins” for characters or archetypes from my past. As I approach and talk with them, my adult self is steering the situation, but at the same time my child self is using the encounter to resolve and integrate these past emotions and experiences. It’s a strangely healing process.
MOSSLESS: After the time you spent with the US Air Force, you started to document the lives of US military families. What about your time serving alongside the US Air Force compelled you to start this series?
Yeon J. Yue: I became very interested in vernacular photographs and family snapshots when I was living in Glendale, California, attending Art Center College of Design. The family album is very basic form of photography, and I was interested in its unique qualities and characteristics. It has no style. It has no message or direction. It just exists. I liked it. I liked the simplicity of it. So I started to photograph my neighbors. And after a couple of years spent on the West Coast, I decided to study further in an MFA program, and luckily I got accepted at Columbia University. I always wanted to do this cross-country. And I started it as an expanded project of the family album photographs.
When I thought about America, and what America meant to me, it always reminded me of my childhood, when I first moved to Osan Air Base: Scary K-9 dogs stood in front of the main gate. Visiting an officer’s house that had a nice staircase and a huge fake chandelier above my head. His magic show, where he pulled my mom’s underwear out from over her pants, which I thought was very cool. McDonald’s signs, Kentucky Fried Chicken signs, and all the drunken soldiers at night. And lastly, the smell of Tide from the laundry.
MOSSLESS: They certainly have an impact. I can’t stop thinking abut those communities like at Nome, seeing their own settlements slowly wear away. Well, what’s the mood up there in Alaska?
Dana Lixenberg: Just before I went up there, I was about to move. For many years I had lived at a place on Broadway, and it was sort of hanging over my head that I had to leave at some point. But that is nothing compared to losing your community, where your ancestors have lived for 2,000 years. I think they’re also slowly losing their culture and their history. It is slipping away. The kids are becoming a little bit more Americanized, and that makes sense. They are going to be sensitive to different influences like we all are.
They have a subsistence lifestyle—they still have to hunt for food, because it is very expensive to buy food from the store. A lot of Alaskans live in depression. People are isolated so there is a lot of freedom, but in the winter they don’t get light, so there is a high suicide rate. I do feel a sort of heaviness, and I do see people feel maybe a little bit stuck, where it is hard to move away to another place because this is their community. There is that sense of being in limbo that I think definitely has an impact… a lot of people fear climate change.
MOSSLESS: Does their way of life appeal to you? Will you return?
Lucas Foglia: Well, no one I photographed was completely off grid. Everyone chose parts of the mainstream to bring with them: a car, a cell phone, a laptop, and other things like this. Similarly, I like having a camera and a van with a bed in the back. I also like growing food and coming home to a community of friends on the edge of a city. So will I return to the area I photographed in A Natural Order? Sure, to visit.