art & design
webesteem magazine | nr 6 | presentation
art & design


Mike Slack


Photo by Tricia Gabriel

Mike Slack

Age: 33
Location: Los Angeles
Schools: Indiana University
Day Job: Southern California Sales Rep For Several NY Book Publishers
Hobby: ? Running Long Distances
Favorite Music: (At The Moment) Kraftwerk, Neu!, Eno, Mission Of Burma, The Fall, Isan, Public Image Limited, Gogol Bordello, Trans Am, Stars Of The Lid, Gato Barbieri, T.Rex, Soft Machine, Silver Apples, Dj Shadow, Mouse On Mars, Boards Of Canada, Cockamamie, Popol Vuh, John Hassel, Tom Waits, Jim O'Rourke
Cinema: Werner Herzog, Andrei Tarkovsky, David Lynch, Various American Films From 1969-74, Salesman, The Killers, Three Amigos, Dead Man, Bob Le Flambeur, The Killing, The Conversation, Wings Of Desire, Blow Up, Vanishing Point, Gerry, Gummo, Fireworks
Pets: None (my ex-wife has the cats)


New Works

© 2004 Mike Slack

Mike Slack on the web

www.polarama.co.uk »»
www.jandlbooks.org/OK.html »»
www.idanda.net/talent.php?article=4 »»
www.untitledmagazine.com »»

Interview With Mike Slack

By Adam Szrotek

Why polaroids? And how did it start?

It started by accident, more or less. I got an older Polaroid camera a few years ago and it sat around for a while without my knowing much about it. One day I took it with me on a long drive to phoenix and started shooting random stuff out the window to amuse myself. The results took me by surprise - the color quality of the film especially. This was a much better camera than I had realized. I was hooked immediately and soon began to experiment on an almost daily basis. The more pictures I made, the more I thought about the medium and how I might use it in an interesting way. It never really occurred to me to use anything but this camera. It's portable and uncomplicated. I can make images quickly and easily. The feedback is immediate. I also like the fixed size of the images (3"x3") and the fact that there's no negative to print multiples from - you get one positive image and that's it. You can't reproduce the thing. In that sense, there's an existential purity (or something like that) to Polaroids that you don't find in other types of photography. This is an important part of it for me - the camera as existential device, a way to really zero in on the present moment. It's also a challenge to make really thoughtful, precise images in a medium normally considered cheap, disposable and lo-fi.

Are you Polaroid-maniac? Do you collect Polaroid cameras? What model do you prefer to use?

I wouldn't call myself a maniac or a hobbyist but I am very strongly attached to this particular Polaroid camera. It's an SLR 680 with a sonar auto-focus - very similar to the SX-70 but uses 600 film instead of Time-Zero. It's one of my favorite inventions of the 20th century. I've been using the same one now for a couple years now, but I have two others on deck in case this one stops working. You can usually find them in good condition on eBay for about $100.

Please tell us about your book "OK OK OK".

OK OK OK came about because I was compelled to do something with all these Polaroids I was making. A book seemed like the best way to go, and I happened to meet Jason Fulford of J&L books at a good time. We became friends and quickly decided to make a book. The whole thing came together in a matter of months. I sent him laser prints of about 400 pictures and he edited those down to about 35. We played around with those for a while, added and subtracted a few, and he designed the book around that small collection (41 images). The design was kept very simple. We both felt that any text would be totally unnecessary - the idea was to suggest relationships or narratives between the pictures without really specifying or explaining them. I like the idea that someone might enjoy the book without having any clue as to why it exists.

People rarely appear in your pictures, why? What is your favorite subject?

There's probably a good psychological reason for that... I'm really more attracted to shapes and forms and space, objects, colors, that sort of thing. In a way, the pictures are about how I experience those things when I'm alone - which is almost always the case when I shoot. People are a distraction; I would prefer to wander off on my own like I'm picking up a signal of some kind. I'm also interested in paying attention to things you might ordinarily overlook. If the human form is in any of my pictures, it's usually as a graphic detail and not as a person per se. I don't have a favorite subject and I don't really seek out specific types of subject matter, but I do tend to explore the same themes over and over, or the same types of composition. I naturally respond to certain kinds of ambience in manmade public spaces - the sounds of vending machines in empty rooms, the hum of fluorescent light tubes - and I guess there's a certain emotional response to surfaces and sounds that I tune into when I'm awake. The camera has a way of heightening this response. In the end, I think any subject matter can make an interesting picture. It's a matter of arranging things in the space of the picture in an interesting way, or creating tension, either graphically or thematically or both. Lately I pay a lot of attention to public architecture, strip malls and stuff like that, which is not really the kind of architecture you're supposed to pay attention to. These cheap, featureless, multi-function buildings are designed to be ignored, like Muzak. It's there and you just hum along unconsciously while you're entering your PIN or validating your parking stub. You can visit one of these bright new retail complexes anywhere in North America and have absolutely no idea where you've been. It's an enormous Nowhere and most of it will end up in a landfill within 50 years. I despise it, and yet I'm also amused and intrigued by it. We're surrounded by all these subtle absurdities...

Is time and place important in your works?

Not really. The specifics aren't necessarily relevant. I hardly ever make a note of where or when I've shot a picture. Maybe I should, but it never occurs to me to write it down, even though I can probably remember the exact location and circumstances of almost all my pictures. I would also never "title" any of my pictures. Less information is always better.

What is the origin of the "stars" on some of your pictures? Do you manipulate with them?

Those sparkles happen when I'm shooting out-of-focus into water or metal or any shiny surface that has that has light bouncing off it. I discovered this by accident one day and then figured out how to maximize it. I never physically or digitally manipulate my Polaroids.

Polaroid is quite unique in Poland; how popular is it in USA?

I think it's very popular in the USA, immediately recognizable. It's maybe so common that nobody pays it much attention any more. Polaroids have always been regarded mainly as a "snapshot" medium, but everyone's got digital cameras now and the classic self-developing Polaroid film is very much a thing of the past, or it's got a kind of "retro" appeal. People find it very expensive compared to digital photography or even shooting with negatives. As a company Polaroid has had serious financial trouble in the last few years because of that and I think at some point this kind of photography could have no market whatsoever. If you look at the Polaroid website, there are all these other high-end technical Polaroid cameras that must still have practical uses, and they seem to market these things heavily to various industries for documentary purposes - dentistry, insurance, scientific research. These are probably excellent cameras but no ordinary consumer would ever carry one around. The newer consumer cameras they make now just don't make very good pictures.

What do you think about the opinion, that even trivial objects shown in polaroids can be interesting?

I think trivial objects ARE in fact interesting to begin with. The Polaroid camera somehow makes it possible to capture this. Why? I'm not sure. It's hard to explain. There's a kind of intimacy I associate with Polaroids, an immediacy and a directness. You can't take good long-distance shots with 600 film or with the 680 camera, so you're automatically limited to looking at things a bit closer at hand. Limitations are good. The 680 camera, for example, forces me to pay closer attention to what immediately surrounds me, even if it's totally nondescript. I get into this headspace sometimes when even the most familiar, mundane objects seem utterly profound, and I think my best pictures capture that weird profoundness. It's almost like the camera has taught me how to look at things in this way... In a broader sense, I think the Polaroid camera and self-developing film were in fact originally conceived and designed to give non-photographers a means of engaging photographically with the world, which is very interesting to me. It provides a way of seeing things, documenting your waking life. The short film Charles and Ray Eames made in the early 1970s to promote the SX-70 explains some of this very beautifully.

I know that your day job involves a lot of traveling. Does it help to create new ideas and projects?

Yeah, definitely. I love to be in a new place, doesn't really matter where. If I had to be in the same office with the same people every day I would lose my mind. My day job not only involves a fair amount of travel, but also gives me a lot of independence and a flexible schedule. Traveling alone, I can always make time to explore and investigate my surroundings - even if it just means checking out the parking garage of my hotel. But I also get new ideas just traveling from my bedroom to my kitchen.

You are working on a new book. How different is it going to be from the first one?

It will be different in two obvious ways. The pictures (still made with 600 film) will be printed much larger than in real life, as large as we can reasonably print them. And the subject matter will be more specifically about architecture, space and geology (all very loosely interpreted).

How many polaroids do you think you took all together? Where do you keep them?

I've made hundreds and hundreds and I keep making them. It's a constantly evolving thing. I keep all the good ones in big black hard-shell notebooks in archival plastic sheets. The rest I have a hard time throwing out, so I throw them into a big box and keep them out of sight. The walls of my apartment have also become a revolving gallery space - I attach pictures to the walls using magnets and long strips of metal.

Any messages for Polish people?

Where can I sell my book in Poland? Where are the good bookstores? Can I stay with any of your friends if I go there later this year? Any cute Polish ladies who can teach me to speak Polish?

Mike Slack
Interviewed by Adam Szrotek




© Mike Slack

wersja polska »»

Mike Slack

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