One of Texas-based photographer Bryan Schutmaat's most recent honors is inclusion in the impressive lineup of semi-finalists in this year's Hey, Hot Shot! Competition at Jen Bekman's 20x200 Project. We recently interviewed Schutmaat to learn more about his profound connection to photography and its place in his life.
Many of your photos are shot in the Great Plains region of the United States. What is the history of your relationship to that part of the country?
I don't have much of a history with the Plains. Only in the past few years have I started to spend time there. Prior, I had merely driven through on a number of occasions. But it was then, in passing, that I came to admire the vastness, the calmness, and the strangeness of it all, prompting me to later make photos there. My series, Heartland, is a response to that impulse, and by taking pictures I've become even more fascinated with those landscapes, which at first glance seem to contain so little, but if investigated, offer so much.
What aspects of yourself — your personality, world view, ways of relating — are reflected in your photographs?
This is a tough question, one I'm grappling with and one I could better answer after living longer, and shooting and maturing more. It's unclear to me if my work reflects — or if it even ought to reflect — much about me. Someone else might say otherwise, but I don't really think my pictures are imbued with a sense of my personality or views; for the most part, they're neutral. Heartland, for instance, contains a lot of photos of churches and Christian content. From those images alone, it would be hard to determine my worldview, political opinions, thoughts on religion, and so on. I think religion is nonsense, but I don't want to say that through my pictures. I'm more interested in giving the audience an impartial atmosphere to exist in and explore on their own. They can bring whatever they want to the pictures. Still, I understand I'm painting a portrait of American culture, and the photos often reveal things about the people who live in the areas I depict. But I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. The only thing I'm pushing is a sense of vision (however, this could change in the future).
What is the last film (movie) that you saw? Please give us a mini-review.
Most recently, I saw Anthony Asquith's The Browning Version. It's has some overly sentimental scenes, which are to be expected from a 1950s movie, but with age comes forgiveness. It wasn't a fantastic movie, though, I must admit it had beautiful parts that got me choked up. It's one of the those films that reminds you that you can't relive life. Recommended.
What is your earliest visual memory?
I can't answer this question with any degree of accuracy. Memory is hazy and indistinct. Interestingly, photography changes how we perceive the past. Often, when looking at childhood photos, I can't discern if I actually remember an event, or if I think I remember an event because I have a tangible trace of it before me. This happens with stories families tell as well. With early memories, I never know what's real or what's an invention of mine based on pictures and family conversation.
You mentioned in an interview last year that, when you first discovered photography, "taking pictures got me excited, not just about photography, but about living." Do you still feel that way? Why?
Yes, totally. Photography brings steady excitement to my life. It's an obsession that makes me glad to wake up in the morning.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, my girlfriend and I are proud owners of an adopted, mixed-breed dog who resembles a labradoodle.
Imagine an "ideal day taking photographs." What would that day look like?
An ideal day photographing would probably just be goofing around taking pictures of the aforementioned dog rolling in the grass or something. I love photography as a whole, but sometimes the actual act of taking the pictures fills me with apprehension, especially when I'm trespassing or dealing with strangers or shooting something I really don't want to screw up. The best day of taking photos would be a relaxed day after a really taxing and productive one.
Where has the photo journey taken you lately? What projects are currently in the works?
I don't want to divulge much, but I'll tell you that I'm taking pictures of strangers in Montana, and this has put me in contact with a number of unusual people with remarkable stories.
You note on your website that you're pursuing an MFA in Photography from the University of Hartford. How's that coming along?
It's going well. It's a limited residency program, so I only have to be on campus for a couple weeks every few months, which allows me to be out west, shooting in areas better suited for my interests. The faculty's comprised of my heroes, and my classmates are entirely praiseworthy. I feel like a guy who wandered off the sandlot and somehow ended up in the big league dugout.
Prints can be purchased directly from Bryan — contact him for pricing, sizes and availability. There are also small selections of the artist's work available through 20x200 as well as Galerie Wanted Paris.
P.S. If you don't already know, the Hey, Hot Shot! Competition Finalists will be announced tomorrow evening (Friday, October 29) at the first-ever Blurb Pop Up/NYC at 60 Mercer Street (between Broome and Grand). You can still squeak in today with an RSVP. Get to it.
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