Interview with Photographer and Smithsonian Associates Instructor Leland Bryant, Part II
(See Part I)
you find inspiration organically when you are out and about or do you
premeditate your subjects if you will be traveling to a certain city, for
Both. If you have a camera when you are traveling you are more inclined to use it. So I have a camera in my bag, and I am always looking. Sometimes something will catch my eye, like a shadow. I like lines that go no place but must mean something. Why are they here? Why are we here? We must be here for a reason. All these things must be here for a reason, so it might as well be for me to find them.
Is there ever an issue with creating commercial work versus work that is more your style? How do you find balance between passion and making a living?
These are often big issues. You have to make a living. I didn’t want to be a tax accountant and then a photographer, and then a father and then a husband. I wanted to be a photographer all the time. An important part of making work is having it seen. I went for 20 years just making art and putting it in folders and binders and saying, I’m not showing it to anybody. It wasn’t until I began to teach and started showing work that I actually became whole. It became part of me, and yet when you show work you release it. You are still responsible for it but now it has a life of its own. People respond to it in so many ways that it effects how you feel about your own work and thusly yourself. So when I could mix [art and work], I did architecture photography. Despite the buildings in DC being plain, there were always reflections and things I would include in the shoot and the client would say, “This is really great, send me a 30x40, I’m really happy I told you to shoot that!” So that way I sneaked [art into my work]. It’s kind of like being an underground guerilla fighter for art. I have a bumper sticker that says, “Make art not war.”
What do you do with the non-commercial work?
Because I’ve done photography professionally, I haven’t really needed to sell the weird subject material that I have: peeling paint, dried up mud in the desert, millions of colors of paint mixed up in a bucket, etc. I make the work for me. It’s still for sale.
Can you explain your statement, “To make art is to make meaning?”
I think that says it all. I’ve heard a lot of people with a lot of flamboyant explanations of art. I had them too, all the way down to the “capital A Art” that the folks of the enlightenment had when all of a sudden this light just showed up in all their paintings. That was capital A Art. These artists – our ancestors – made art of that type for the first time. But everyone needs the “little A art” – how to shoot their children better, so you don’t have that fake smile. They need to know how to capture a boy who is always flaming through the house, who would be best represented by a little blurred face blowing through the Ether. Photographing light - that is what I try to teach.
What is the most difficult thing about being a photographer?
Probably the most difficult things are also the most rewarding. You have to be ready at the moment. If something drops in your lap, you have to be able to shoot it. Also, the arts in general aren’t supported in this country; we have no need for them so we don’t support them. That’s why I sometimes give it away.
Where is art more supported?
Europe has always supported art – even the Soviets to a small degree. People in Congress come out and say, “this is insulting!” Well I say the same thing to them as I say to any other idiot: “don’t look, stupid! It’s not for you!” Not everything has to be about politics; morality especially.
Do you find that DC is a good place to be an artist?
I think it’s a good place. I think it’s kind of cliquey. But I move in and out of those cliques pretty well. I don’t subscribe to any of them. But I like to keep track of what they’re doing because sometimes I don’t understand stuff. People put art on the wall that I don’t understand, but it doesn’t matter! And that is where “to make art is to make meaning,” and the reverse, “to make meaning is to make art,” comes from.
To see more of Bryant’s work, check out his website.