Q&A with the Man of the Hour, Jeff Rich

FLP is really excited about to host Jeff Rich’s artist talk and book signing tomorrow for many reasons.

One being Jeff is a rock star, and all around awesome person.

Two being we believe in his long-term documentary project Watershed, of which the book is based. Jeff’s goal is to document the Mississippi watershed, and how that landscape is changing for better or worse.

Three being his new monograph focusing on the French Broad River great photo book. The sequencing allows certain images to really shine, and helps give a complete picture of all the components that make up the French Broad River watershed.

Bookstore Manager Meghan Walter asked Jeff some questions to give you a taste of what he’ll talk about tomorrow at 3 PM. We hope you will join us to support Jeff and learn more about his award winning project!

Meghan Walter: For those maybe not as familiar with Photolucida, can you tell us a little about the organization and their annual book award?

Jeff Rich: Photolucida is a very unique (and important) non-profit based out of Portland, Oregon. Their mission is to “provide platforms that expand, inspire, educate and connect the international photography community.”

The Critical Mass book award is part of the Critical Mass program, which is an annual event that aims to make connections within the photography community. Photographers at any level, from anywhere in the world submit a portfolio of 10 images. Through a pre-screening process, the field is narrowed to a group of 200 Finalists who go on to have their work viewed and voted on by over 200 esteemed international photography professionals. From the finalist group, the Top 50 are named, and a series of awards are given, including a least one Book Award each year. Photolucida publishes and distributes the titles, giving copies of the books to all participating photographers and jurors.

They also run the Photolucida Portfolio Reviews, which are very popular and competitive. These reviews happen every other year and bring in a great group of reviewers.

MW: In your book, there is a map of the area you photographed and extended captions for some images. Why did you choose to include these?

JR: The extended captions were included so that the background stories of some of the photos could be told. All of these places have such a detailed history. I found the extended captions were very important in helping them fit into the larger story of the Watershed itself. I included the map for a few reasons, but first and foremost so that people could visualize the boundaries of the French Broad Watershed and see how it fits into the larger Tennessee Watershed. I also wanted readers to see how the river changes as it moves through the landscape of North Carolina and Tennessee. As a side note, I’m currently working on a map that shows the precise locations of each photo on a Google map, which can be see here.

The extended captions were included so that the background stories of some of the photos could be told. All of these places have such a detailed history. I found the extended captions were very important in helping them fit into the larger story of the Watershed itself.

MW: What did you find most challenging about making the book?

JR: Editing and sequencing. It was very challenging not just to include all the photos from the series! With the help of several friends and colleagues, I think we though around 12-15 edits of the work before I was satisfied. A big thanks should go out Justin James Reed and Lauren Henkin for making this final edit and sequence happen.

MW: Being from North Carolina, and having definitely been rafting down the French Broad River on several occasions, I can’t say I knew the river was so polluted. We’ll blame part of that on being a teenager, but do you think of your photographs as a means to helping bring awareness to the situation? 

JR: I think that photographs can help bring awareness to a situation that some people would rather ignore. I think they can also connect people in ways in which they were not aware of. One of the things that I wanted to emphasize with this work, is that a Watershed is actually a very complex system, with many smaller creeks and rivers feeding into larger rivers and lakes. Many people in Western North Carolina view the heavily polluted Pigeon River as completely separate from the French Broad, but it is actually part of the same Watershed, because both rivers end up feeding into Douglas Lake and ultimately the Tennessee River. So this ends up connecting an entire region of cites and communities in a whole new way, and can make us think about our environmental responsibilities in a new way as well.

MW: Photo books present your work in a new light rather than hanging on a wall or on a computer screen. How do you think a photo book enhances your work?

JR: In my work, the photo book can really tell the complete story, where a gallery show is usually just the highlights from the series.   

The inclusion of nearly 40 photographs, as well as the essays by Rod Slemmons and Hartwell Carson really help put the work in a context that might not be so obvious in a gallery show.

MW: What are some of your favorite photo books?

JR: That’s a really tough one!  But here is a preliminary list: 

Landscape Stories, by Jem Southam
American Prospects, by Joel Sternfeld
Sleeping by the Mississippi, by Alec Soth
Meadowlands, by Joshua Lutz
Family Business, by Mitch Epstein
Desert Cantos, by Richard Misrach
Manufactured Landscapes, Edward Burtynsky
Motherland, by Simon Roberts

Yangtze - The Long River, by Nadav Kander 

Small Wars, by An-My Lé 

Landscape 2, by Toshio Shibata 

Westward the Course of Empire, by Mark Ruwedel

Hungry for more? Come see us tomorrow at 3!