“Photographs are forever in mourning”: an interview with Doug Rice

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In anticipation of the 2015 edition of 580 Split, we are releasing an excerpt from an interview with Doug Rice as told to Rebecca Woolston. 
Doug Rice is the author of An Erotics of Seeing, Between Appear and Disappear, Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist, and other books. He has been a Literature Fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude and teaches at Sacramento State University. 

DR: Photographs are forever in mourning. They tend to be trapped by a desire that has disappeared, a desire, a moment past, but one that suffers from being neither here nor there. We have yet to discover a tense for a photograph. Grammar, in a photograph, at best is a wound that cannot heal. In every photograph there is always a sensation of the just missed or the not-yet appeared. A waiting that is trapped by time but also loose from time. Why does eroticism remain such a secret when it is so visible?

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RW: What started your interest in photographing people of/in San Francisco? Was it the proximity of the city to Sacramento? Is there something about the way people move themselves through the city, or social/economic dynamics?

DR: San Francisco has a lot of diversity in many different ways. And San Francisco is going through a radical gentrification now, which also transforms how people move in the city and how they are living in the city. Much of what is happening in San Francisco is similar to, but on a larger scale and at a more accelerated pace, what was called Renaissance II in Pittsburgh, not simply a displacement of people but an almost complete erasure of people, as money destroys the possibility of living. The people who lived and, in some cases built, their neighborhoods can no longer afford to buy a cup of coffee in their neighborhoods. And obviously, a big draw to San Francisco is that it is the largest city near Sacramento and that it has wonderful neighborhoods. It also has an almost east coast quality about it, the artistic and intellectual environment of the city. And people do move differently in San Francisco than they do in Sacramento and at different times of days it is always interesting to see how people’s bodies are moving through the streets.

We forget our daily movements. We go from here to there. We do not chronicle these fugitive movements. I like trying to unlock the epiphanies in the everyday. In a day, in an hour, we will forget what our bodies experienced walking down Market Street, or Mission Street, or up Clay Street. We will forget what we were thinking about and feeling. I like to open and stop this time of forgetting by capturing these moments, which are not meant to be remembered. The never of always.

RW: What type of actions/looks/light seem to attract the most shots from you while in San Francisco?

DR: I like capturing a moment when someone looks away from their own world and toward the lens of my camera, the moment when they think that perhaps they are being photographed but are not sure. Something at that moment emerges from their eyes, something can never be planned or performed.

RW:You’ve  taken photos of people in other countries, Germany, France, here. How do the bodies and the movements differ from cities like Paris to cities like San Francisco or Stuttgart?

DR: Photographing in cities in which I have no past creates new possibilities for seeing and for understanding movement and bodies. Nothing I was seeing, particularly during my first summer in Stuttgart and in Paris, had my “own” past or sense of my own past embedded in my seeing. It was not “charged with thoughts” in that Proustian remembrance of things past sort of way, so it seemed easier to lift veils. But I say, “seemed”, because in the end, of course, all that I was seeing, even in the cities I was visiting for the first time, was still covered by my own desires.

I was very curious, and remain curious, about the way people experienced time and lived inside time differently in different cities; that is, the ways that they walked the streets and moved through the streets. There are different rhythms in different cities, and I feel the rhythms make new meanings possible. In Stuttgart, for example, people in the city tended to wander more, almost as if they were lost or not so concerned with where they were going or how they were going to arrive.

Once I have worked in a city for a while, I discover that I have to create ways to unnerve my own expectations, to defamiliarize myself to seeing. This is even true with my return to Stuttgart and Paris. Even being away from Stuttgart for nine months, I found my own memories intruding on how I was wanting to see in some other way.


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