(Interviewer: Kaitlynn Slaughter, Editor for SPACES)
Omnipresence–Talking About the Story: Reid Elem
Omnipresence is a fictional account of a life consumed by personal electronics and hidden behind the veil of new media. Contemporary society is built on a foundation of communication that depends on connectivity, thus forming a symbiotic relationship of reliance between humans and their digital machines. With the advent of personal electronic devices, this phenomenon is permeating our daily activities and has become an integral part of daily sustenance. Ultimately, this dependence contributes to a social community devoid of physical, interpersonal discourse and has led to an interactive and consumptive cultural obsession. The byproduct is a global culture seeking tangible things in a ubiquitous virtual world while living in a perpetual state of disconnected connectivity.
Kaitlynn: What is your personal photographic process?
Reid: My process tends to be cyclical. Research, write, photograph, repeat. In no particular order. In the beginning, I tend to have very lucid thoughts about different types of subject matter and then they evolve as I work through the concepts. I suppose the arrival at the finished series is a progressive and sometimes different version of what I had first imagined and I think that is a good thing. The work takes on its own clarity in that sense. If I am creating a staged photograph, I like to make crude sketches of the idea and work from those. Naturally, when I go to make the photograph, these sketches evolve and take on new meaning. This is one the things about photography that I love so much: its practice can change the way you see the world and how you process your thoughts and feelings. Critiquing with friends, family and colleagues is also essential to any new work I create. The way people react to my work helps influence its outcome.
Kaitlynn: Your series Omnipresence deals with the idea that our culture is consumed by and dependency on our digital devices. Considering that we are conducting this interview via e-mail, do you ever find yourself too reliant on your own electronics?
Reid: I grapple with my feelings about technology all of the time. The topic is a double-edged sword. I am happy that I can answer these questions via email…. I don’t have to worry about looking presentable, if there is gas in the car, or how to find the place I am going to meet you to chat. However, I believe interviews and other forms of human interaction have been diluted because of the barrier of technology. It is a barrier that has increased communication and eliminated it all at the same time. It scares me to see young folks wandering around the world with their faces pressed up against portable communications devices. When I was young, I used to climb trees, ride bikes and hang out with friends between meals and school. Although these activities are a staple of youth, they seem to be occurring less and less. That said, I am not free from the grip of it all. I check my email, Facebook and the weather almost every morning in bed.
Kaitlynn: You also do commercial photography. How do you balance your time between your more “fine art” and commercial works?
Reid: As of late, the commercial business that I co-own with my wife has occupied quite a lot of time. Between that and beginning a job as an adjunct professor of photography, it has become difficult to find the time to do my own work. However, I can say that it is always on my mind. If I am not working, I am writing down ideas to be revisited and expanded upon later. I continually make personal work to satisfy my creative urges and to keep up with my practice so as not to get rusty and to act as a model for my students. I just moved to a new city and am hatching ideas for a fine art documentary project, which is something I have never tried before.
Kaitlynn: Since SPACES is also a literary magazine, what are some of your favorite written works, or works that influence your photography?
Reid: I have always been a sucker for adventure books that provide great written visuals. I really enjoyed reading Flying South, A Pilot’s Inner Journey, by the late Barbara Cushman Rowell. Her husband was famed National Geographic photographer Galenn Rowell. Her story is a great one and his beautiful photographs are scattered throughout the book. I will read anything written by David Sedaris. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer also satisfy my urges for adventure. I am fascinated by stories of personal struggle. They seem related to the personal process of making art. My classic favorite is Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. Storytelling is also at the heart of a photograph, and I believe these books do a great job painting a picture. Books that do that are always a fast read for me.
Reid Elem is a photographer based in mid-coast Maine. He received his Masters in Fine Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, and centers his career in the photographic arts as an artist and educator.