These two photos from Christopher Woods were a part of the March Issue. Now Christopher answers our questions about them.
1. What made you get started with photography?
I have always been interested in visual art. In fact, years ago my wife and I owned a small art gallery. But I have always been a writer, and I wondered if personally entering the visual arts might hamper the writing. Wasn’t writing vice enough for one person? Then, in the last few years, my attitude changed. For one thing, my wife and I bought an old farmhouse in the Texas countryside, between Houston and Austin. This transformed our lives. I had always lived in a city, so the new setting, both the beauty and harshness of nature, made an enormous impression on me . My wife is a very fine photographer, and she gave me one of her old cameras. So I began taking photographs in earnest.
2. Who are your biggest influences?
Earlier photographers, like Eugene Atget for his architectural images, certainly impressed me. Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans made me keenly aware of the social statements one could make with photographs. But honestly, I look at the work of all kinds of photographers. I have been impressed with so many of them. As a writer learns by reading the work of other writers, photographers have much to learn from both classic and contemporary photographers.
3. How did you conceptualize these photos?
The two photos that appear in PANK, while different in subject matter, have much in common. Both are from small town life, and both are night photographs. I love nights, and I always find it intriguing when looking for subjects. Nights are mysterious and illusive by nature, aren’t they? I like to capture the sense of that when I can. “Boots” was taken at a county fair. Two girls moved through the midway crowd. Their boots made a statement about them. In fact, between the boots and their skimpy western clothes, they gained some attention. The close-up of them was my intent to capture their elemental appeal. The other photo, “Yellow Building, November,” is an urban image perhaps, but it was actually taken in a small Texas town, right off the square. Once again, night is the overall theme. The variations in light and shadow give this building a sense of magic. In both of these photos, I try to frame my subjects, much like one does in a poem or a story. I attempt to make them the whole of their world, separate from everything else that so often clutters our field of vision.
4. How has your geography influenced your eye?
While I enjoy taking photographs in a large city like Houston, I am drawn to small town life and its images. I am probably addicted to fairs and midways as my work often ventures into those settings. Traveling fairs and carnies are relics of another time, but they are still out there, at least for now. Taking photographs is a way to capture and preserve what is, before it disappears – like a house that is torn down later, or trees that die in a drought.
5. What would you trade your photography skill for?
I can’t think of a thing.
6. How has poetry influenced your photography?
Interestingly, I have discovered that poems can work with photographs quite well. So if I worried for years about adding another vice, I have now more or less rationalized a hybrid vice, as it were. I also make visual poems, which combine writing and image. As a writing teacher, I always provide visual prompts for my assignments. I learned early on that we all see a different photograph, even when looking at the same one. That’s also a curious thing for a photographer to consider. I am drawn to a subject I wish to capture on digital film. When you see the resulting photograph, you are probably seeing something similar, but also different. We each bring our own memory baggage, emotional and physical, with us when looking at photographs. No getting around it. But then, shouldn’t it be this way?