This week’s StandardVision artist takeover on the SVLA1 screen at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles features photographer Jesse Rieser. Photography’s essence is capturing a moment, committing it to film, memory cards, and paper. These moments, says Rieser, can take an hour, a day, a lifetime to happen. The subtleties and care in each of his photographs create narratives that draw us in, cause us to look at every detail and nuance in the frame. His featured series, “Christmas in America” is rife with stories from across the western and southern United States – capturing moments of celebration, humor, sincerity, and awkwardness. His journey and resulting images encapsulates a holiday season constructed of contradictions, and makes way for an examination of how people mark meaningful times in their lives. Rieser is the latest artist to be invited to take over the two-week-long recurring 15-second spot to showcase his work to the public. His selected photographs will be on view through December 31, 2017.
What inspired your series on view, Christmas in America?
Back in 2009 my parents relocated from the city in Springfield, MO to the Phoenix area. Looking back at it, I think spending the first 28 years of my life in the same geographical region lent itself to the start. I spent Christmas out west, it was the first time to have my family there and see the holiday with a new sense of optics in a new region. I think it broke way for a different outlook, something that wasn’t clouded in my own family traditions and rituals.
As I was driving in from LA, I saw a four-story tall inflatable Santa in my mirror, blowing in the wind. It seemed to be guarding a tree lot and waving hello (or goodbye) to me. I started to really look at the houses, tree lots, and decorations when I arrived in Phoenix, and the next year I jumped in, picking up a self-guided tour map of Christmas lights. I just knocked on people’s doors and started “Christmas in America.”
So you talk with all of your subjects?
Yeah, environmental portraits come to me by way of showing up at someone’s home, knocking on the door, and talking with them. There is a level of showmanship with their own traditions and they agree. I usually them set up time to come back, scout, interview them, and get a sense of their personality. It’s great, they welcome me in and I spend a half day or a day amongst their things. Since I started about 7 years ago, it’s ballooned into other geographic regions and themes.
Where have you shot for this series?
Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Missouri, Texas, California, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida… I wasn’t aware at the time, but the interesting thing in the beginning was photographing an area that was counterintuitive or ironic to what our commercial visions of the holidays are. These warmer climates afford people more of a luxury to operate their electronics and be “extra.”
You started photographing when you were 17 – how did you get into photography?
My background was actually in drawing and painting, I was more immersed in “traditional” mediums. In my junior year of high school one of my life drawing classes was canceled, so I decided to try out a photo class. There was something magical about being in a wet analog dark room – it was (and is) equal parts science and magic. I found that I liked the speed at which you could work compared to the traditional mediums and that I could exercise themes and subjects more effectively. Sometimes I wonder what other young people’s photographic journey and inspiration is like without that moment.
What are your thoughts on the rise of photography-qua-social media and the rise of technology within artistic mediums?
Images now are easily shared and snackable and consumable. On the one hand, it gives image makers the opportunity to see work and have their work be seen – a digital democracy that has effected film, music, and design, and not for the worse, but in a way that has financially broken down walls that were so difficult to break down before a digital age. On the other hand, photography is being pushed at an expedited space, but how do you wade amongst the muddy waters, stand out from the crowd? This is a challenge for a lot of people in a saturated image-driven climate.
What do you think is the greatest challenge in contemporary photography?
There’s no accidental masterpieces in painting or sculpture, there’s a physicality and intentionality in these mediums. But there can be accidental masterpieces in photography, and I think the most difficult thing is to consistently create these pieces in a two-dimensional medium and have them be recognizable as one’s own.