Reed + Rader has been with Dripbook since it seems the beginning. Their work is incredible and progressive. The following is an interview with the duo / collective of photographers (and more...) called Reed + Rader . Stick around through to the end - this kind of work and this kind of discussion doesn't come up often or enough.
Q: You're a collective? A duo? How long have you worked together?
A: We met while going to school at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh about five years ago. Technically, the work was separate in the beginning but even then we were still there to help with each other’s projects. After we finished the two year program we decided to make the jump to NYC and transfer into the School of Visual Arts. A few months after moving we started thinking about formally joining forces and a short time later we made it official and the Reed+Rader collective was born.
Q: Your work in " Portfolio II " is incredibly interesting. You take the idea of innovation into a very rarely explored arena. Your work really reminds me of Gilbert + George and older Soviet Constructivism and MTV generation collage art, but it is all it's own. Can you describe your process and influences and where it all comes together?
A: Working with collage allows us to explore ideas of technological consolidation and multitasking. Collage has always been about pulling from various processes and transforming them into a hybrid juxtaposition. This has been going on for a long time but for the first time ever technology is beginning to be able to mime reality in increasingly captivating and immersive ways. What role is art going to play when everyone is able to customize and create at a whim any sub-reality that they can dream up?
Technology, the internet, stuffed animals, and gaming are our biggest inspirations. Gaming, both video and role playing, is the closest thing there is right now to a simulated reality. Within the framework of a game you are free to exist however you wish so long as you follow the rules. Human imagination has always allowed us to dream of impossible things but technology is going to take those ideas and make them real. Eventually there will be fully immersive virtual reality but right now we have video games and avatars. We have a rather large and continually growing collection of stuffed animals that we call “The Family” each with their own individual personalities. They are almost real life avatars from a cartoon dream world. It would be great if technology would help out so that we wouldn’t have to lower our own voices and wiggle our arms behind their heads to make them talk and move though. Sigh, maybe someday. The internet is amazing because of sheer amount of information it makes available and the access that it affords us all. Reed+Rader would not exist without the internet. Not only wouldn’t we have met but without the internet as a tool it is doubtful we’d have even made it that far. Blogs, forums, instant messaging, and online gaming have revolutionized the social experience. The internet isn’t the television, it doesn’t stunt social skills, it’s a participatory medium that allows one access to venues that they would otherwise never be able to experience. Our flesh and blood limits us. Why drag your body into one specific conversation, in one specific place, at one specific time when with the internet you can multitask between as many things you want with whomever you want, wherever you want, and whenever you want. The internet is only the beginning.
The process itself is both digital and analog. It’s silly because we are both technology obsessed but we only shoot film and use scissors and glue sticks for a great deal of the collage work. This may be the time of computer graphics but there is something special about physically making something. The piece may be scanned and put into storage but somehow it seems to retain the dignity of having been physically processed even after becoming a digital file. This struggle between digital and analog is just another battle in the greater war with reality. Our work is a bit of both because there is no all encompassing replacement for the real world yet. It’s not a rebellion. When it does happen we want our work to have stand as documentation of the transition period.
Q: This work isn't only photography. Sometimes, it isn't even mostly photography. Where do you draw the line between photography and design - between the elements and the construction?
A: We don’t really think there is a line to be drawn. Design is probably the most important part – especially going forward into a future where technology is going to continue to consolidate the individual arts. Of course we are photographers by trade and photography plays a large role in the work but it’s mostly just another form of content creation to us. As romantic as it may be, we are not married to our cameras. What’s important to us is getting an end result using any combination of photography, illustration, graphic design, etc., to get what we want. With that said, design trumps all.
Our generation grew up right on the edge of some really amazing technological changes. We know the music video, computers, and video games but we also know what it’s like to have to go outside and roll around in the grass for entertainment too. Obviously, you are going to have older and younger people savvy to things on both sides, but our generation landed right in the middle as slaves to attention deficit. Technology is changing the world by consolidating everything into pseudo-hybrid spinoffs and totally new ideas of what they once were. This is what excites us.
We are becoming less interested in producing work that is straight up. Maybe it’s just the self professed computer nerds in us, but it doesn’t seem representative of the radically mixed digital environment that we live with. People have always thought about reality, but with modern technology we are beginning to be able to twist it in increasingly realistic ways. In the near future, technology may be able to replace reality completely. In the meantime, we are going to have great fun playing somewhere in between.
Q: Do you do this work commercially? Your work in "Portfolio I" seems more commercially oriented, even though you push the boundaries here a lot also. How do you view the struggle between art and commerce?
A: Whether we’re doing the work commercially or not the narrative tends to remain the same. There are a lot more hands and opinions on the line commercially and unfortunately that work tends to be much safer. This isn’t always true, as sometimes there are people that are really into our work and pretty much leave everything up to us. Usually we get some form of “oh, we love your work this is so fantastic ---- but it’s out there and we are going to have to take it back a notch to fit it within our parameters”. Lots of times it’s like trying to fit the square block into the circle hole.
There is little difference between art and art made for commerce, as both can be equally conceptual and innovative, but at the end of the day in order for commerce to happen the work has to be appropriately saleable. That’s the catch and art is commerce and commerce is art. It’s an absolute nightmare being constrained by the deadlines and social moors of the marketplace but if you want to play in the commercial venue there is little room for choice. We’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of our work transition quite seamlessly to the editorial but more and more we’re running into a creative black hole. This has led us to explore new venues such as galleries and start thinking about creating an online/print zine directed completely by us.
Q: You shoot Polaroid 55 - how do you feel about it being discontinued? It looks like you shoot a lot of film. Have you found ways to incorporate digital photography into your stylistic output?
A: Heartbroken. Apparently it’s time to get a larger fridge and stock up. Hopefully another company will pick up the slack but sadly our niche doesn’t fit into the digital business model. Polaroid’s demise is just another casualty in the continuing death of all film. It’s funny though because Polaroids are the most digital like of all film in the sense that they provide instant gratification. Let us know when Kodak and Fuji stop making 4x5 and 120 film, then we’ll be in real trouble.
Right now we only shoot with film but besides that we already have a completely digital workflow. Everything becomes 0’s and 1’s when it is scanned into the computer. We print digitally and although a lot of the work is hand cut, drawn, and pasted we do a lot of that digitally too. We aren’t Luddites at all, but the magic that happens to a roll of film when light hits it is something that is hard to give up. There is no doubt that digital photography is surpassing and is going to go beyond the technical merits of film, but the magic that comes with getting your film back while never quite knowing for sure what you are going to get is something that digital may never be able to reproduce.
Q: What projects are you working on now?
A: We’re in a transitional period right now. Most of the work has been and still is mostly editorial based but we are looking to move into other venues. Going forward into the future we can definitely see our work in a gallery context and we’ve been working to make that happen. Editorial compromise has led us to begin putting together an online/print zine composed completely by us. It will be interesting to see what happens with recent announcements but we have an ongoing Polaroid project with one of our dearest stuffed animals named Mister Wubba and all his friends. Look him up on Google and Myspace. Recently we finished a formal portrait series of the characters “Big Daddy” and “Little Sister” from the video game Bioshock. The series is part of a larger body of work and is set a few years after the events in the game with the characters having been taken out of all contexts for their formal portraits. The big project that we are working on now is inspired by an older single work of ours that we are now fleshing out into an entire new body of work. The concept is an absurd “Where’s Waldo” multiplicity collage concept set on the verge of the technological singularity prophesized by futurists Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil. Every day brings new surprises so we never know what’s going to be happening. What an unnerving surprise for two kids who would otherwise be perfectly content instant messaging all day.