Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Conversation with Garie Waltzer

Shanghai, Overpass #1 and Paris, Eiffel Tower ©Garie Waltzer

Rona and I had the pleasure of seeing Garie Waltzer's photographic prints in person and were instantly drawn to the entire series of wonderfully crafted urban landscapes. Garie has traveled extensively throughout the world, exploring the the dense histories with modern complexities. We're honored to present a conversation with Garie, a photographer who is recipient of many artist grants including the National Endowment of the Arts and from the Ohio Arts Council.

Nymphoto: Tell us a little about yourself.

Garie Waltzer: I grew up in New York- first the Bronx, then Long Island. My father had a music store (Banner Music) on Broadway between 48th and 49th street, where he sold and repaired instruments, gave lessons and did a lot of schmoozing. My uncles were all musicians - a few who played Broadway musicals, so backstage passes were dreamy highlights of my childhood.

I don’t remember ever not thinking of myself as an artist – I was always drawing or painting. I had a painter friend when I was 15 who thought of the German Expressionists as his soul mates, and we’d take the LIRR into the city, go to the museums, hang out in the Village, and talk about art. I still have a great painting of his from that time, which I’ve carted around with me everywhere I’ve ever lived! A close friend when I was 10, was Arthur Leipzig’s daughter. I had no idea at the time that he was a magazine photographer, with work in The Family of Man. I remember going to her house and looking at his b+w photographs hanging in their living room, one in particular of my friend. I knew these photos were special, and mused, “I wish my father took pictures of me that looked like that”! Years later, I went to a retrospective of Leipzig’s work at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, and hanging in the entranc eway to the show was the small photo of my friend as a child – the same image that had hung in their living room long ago.

Istanbul, Street and New York, Coney Island ©Garie Waltzer

NP: How did you discover photography?

GW: When you look back, the path is pretty clear. I can see myself with my new Brownie camera at age 10, a Sinclair dinosaur sticker on the back. I still have my very first photos taken on a 5th grade field trip of the tugboats around the Statue of Liberty. I remember sitting for hours, nerdy as hell, with a huge National Geographic book my family had of American landscapes. After high school, my plan was to study painting, but I was repeatedly drawn to the power and immediacy of photography during the volatile years of the late 60’s when I was a student at SUNY Buffalo, a large state campus that came to national attention in ’68/‘69 during the anti-war demonstrations that surrounded the trial of the Buffalo Nine. I would have long conversations with fellow students about what it meant to be an artist during these times as I struggled to find a way to make work that was connected to what was happening in the world. It was at that time that I saw an exhibit of photographs by Milton Rogovin, made in the Lower West Side neighborhood of Buffalo, and was blown away by their tangible power. I also saw a wonderfully idiosyncratic exhibit of collaborative images by the painter Charles Gill and the photographer Donald Blumberg, both faculty at Buffalo. They were very huge photographs on canvas that had been painted into. I knew this was the arena for me. During my last year at Buffalo, I took a photography class with Donald, and when I finished school, the first thing I did was buy darkroom equipment and move back to the city.

Tokyo, Hanayashiki Amusement Park ©Garie Waltzer

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

GW: There is nothing I like better than exploring a new city. Wandering its streets, looking for keys to understanding the place- studying its energy, synergy, physical peculiarities, the magic of its people walking their daily paths. I am often inspired by books- by other artists’ work- and by good conversation over a glass of wine - but the thing that really gets me going is a crazy busy chaotic place to photograph.

Tokyo, International Forum ©Garie Waltzer

NP: How has teaching influenced your work?

GW: I taught for about 30 years at a large county community college in Cleveland. I loved the students, and loved getting to know them through their pictures. The richness and breadth of human narrative oozing out of a really diverse classroom of students was almost operatic; turning students on to thinking critically about their images and their power was endlessly compelling. I learned a lot over the years about balancing something you value (teaching students) with the necessities of survival in an increasingly bureaucratic educational system. A lot of change happened in those 30 years: the role of photography in our culture, its position in the art + communications worlds, its technological morphing, not to mention the ways we teach photography- the pace of change only increasing, and the traditional boundaries between media shifting and blurring. Being in the midst of all that change was gratifying when it wasn’t making me nuts. Teaching takes you out of yourself, it’s endlessly collaborative, and that’s what I loved the most and miss the most about it.

Odessa, Gazebo ©Garie Waltzer

NP: How did this project come about?

GW: I had been working in a radically different way before I left teaching: using a color electrostatic printer as a camera and making large allegorical images that were cut and collaged and painted into- very physical, and evocative. And then there had been a period of about ten years in which I was consumed with running the photo department, building new facilities and dealing with technological change, during which I had not made much new work. In returning to my studio, I revisited old impulses to make work that was more concretely connected to the world I saw, more observational and outward looking. I had never thought of myself as a landscape photographer, but in fact, that’s where the work took me. I had amassed a large inventory of images made over that decade, primarily of the made landscape, it’s structure and spirit. Determined to “catch up” on my printing, I went back to these images and picked up new threads in the visual narrative. This was the jumping off point for a continuing body of work that is about the inhabited landscape.

I am photographing civic spaces - parks, plazas, pools and busy intersections - recording the confluence of time, place and populace. The images explore place as an intricately detailed organism with structure, flow, synchronicity, and collective narrative. They often use elevated vantage points and deep vistas, creating bird’s eye views that hover above the fray. I am interested in capturing the gestalt of a place simultaneously with the specificity of detail that is abundant, embedded and particular to the ways we inhabit a place.

Kunming, Street and Shanghai, Overpass #3 ©Garie Waltzer

NP: What's next?

GW: I have a show of this work coming up in Miami, Florida at Chelsea Galleria, 2441 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami (opening Feb. 14 - March 10) and another at Akron University Galleries, Akron, Ohio (opening March 2 - April 17). Akron’s "Seen in China" will include work made in China by five photographers, including Daniel Traub, Linda Butler, Peikwen Cheng, and Joe Vitone. I’m also working on a project with Leslie Rose Close, a landscape historian, photographing cultural landscapes in New York. She just wrote a wonderful essay to accompany my work in Light Work’s Contact Sheet 2008 Annual, due out soon. Inspired by Philip Lopate’s Waterfront : A Walk Around Manhattan , I recently photographed the Hudson River landscape near the Statue of Liberty, homage to my first tugboat pictures.

Last year I worked on a great project to photograph the University Circle neighborhood of Cleveland for the George Gund Foundation’s annual report. Photographing in my own town, something I haven’t been doing for a while, was inspiring, so when I was recently asked to participate in a project called Lake Effect, to photograph Lake Erie, I gladly agreed. The light is wonderful today, two feet of snow covers the ground, and it’s 5 degrees below zero- the crusty post-industrial landscape of Cleveland is so beautiful it could break your heart.

NP: Thank you very much, Garie!

To see more of Garie's work, go to :

Also, opening on Saturday, the 14th:

Garie Waltzer: Walking on Air
Chelsea Galleria
February 14 through March 10
2441 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami, FL


nina corvallo said...

I have been looking forward to this conversation. This work is so exquisite & inspirational!
Thank you.

mariamotorina said...

Gorgeous and inspiring work! I love the "Istanbul, Street" image.