Interview // Photographer Curran Hatleberg

Something more felt than known: a conversation 

Curran Hatleberg

Your two projects, The Crowded Edge and Dogwood, seem to share an overlapping concern with the character of stoic resilience shown by Americans enduring acute hardship and inequality. However your images don’t simply identify the visible traces of the erosion of the American inner-city, for instance, but also refrain from making arbitrary moral judgements about its inhabitants. So I suppose I’d like to start by asking you how you understand your work within the broader context of documentary photographic practice at this particular historical moment? What do you take it to serve, and how did your developing views about it influence the progression of this work?

Both projects are partially anchored by concern with the current state of the U.S., although I don’t think my photography is dependent on our economic situation. That being said, it’s difficult to ignore the strange panic we’re in. America is synonymous with the American dream, but the reality of the American social landscape is not so simple. If you follow the news it’s easy to track the disintegration and loss. I simply tried to get out in it, to see what I could understand about the country’s pulse.

What I found (unsurprisingly) is that the realities of the issues facing the country are infinitely more complicated and out of control than what any picture can represent. I would never assert that my pictures offer any solution to the problems of such significant scope facing many Americans, nor am I interested in a visual illustration of the problems. The photographs I make, either found or invented, are my own fictionalized version of America and its inhabitants. My work strives to mediate and reimagine the American experience, in hopes of communicating a personal understanding of our shared time and place.

I should stress that I don’t see my work as philanthropic, fighting for social justice or bent on advancing progressive change. All the same, I am intrigued by the juxtaposition that arises when contrasting American ideals to the reality on the ground. Ultimately photographing for me is about unearthing something unexpected and learning something from it that was previously unimagined. It is about discovering something through immersion in an experience, prolonging fascination with a moment. In the end, of course, the photographs we make are never the real thing represented but are what we wish to see, the thing we want to believe exists.

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