Eye On: Bryan Formhals
12 November 2012
Bryan Formhals began his pursuit in photography while wandering the streets of Hollywood after writer’s block inhibited his ability to write screenplays. In 2007, he founded LPV Magazine, which features documentary and fine art photography as well as critical essays. Bryan now lives and works in New York City where he continues to cultivate his photography projects.
If you could describe your aesthetic and approach towards image making in terms of a meal eaten in a certain location at a certain time of year, what would it be?
I'd be in West Hollywood and it'd be a Thursday afternoon in the fall. After waking up late, I'd get myself together and make sure my brain is ready to function. I'd take a nice stroll through the neighborhood, and up onto Hollywood Boulevard. I don't really have anywhere to be so I keep walking and eventually find my favorite cheap Mexican place on Santa Monica Boulevard. I order a carnitas burrito and a side of chips and salsa. On my way home I pick up a six pack of Tecate.
After I finish my meal, I fall asleep, and when I awake I'm standing on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint wondering what I'm doing in New York City. It's a nice day so I go for a walk, letting the flow of the city take me away for a few hours.
Do you consider yourself a voyeur? Is that a trait inherent to photographers?
Sure, I suppose. I enjoy looking at things. When I was a kid and we'd go on long road trips I'd stare out the window for hours. I was mesmerized by the scenes flying by my eyes. The same is true for many photographers. There's just something about the act of looking that hooks us like a drug. But it's not just about looking, not by a long shot. It's much more about feeling and the experience of making photographs out in the world. That feeling is what drives the work and I think most good photographers know how to connect that feeling to the way they look at the world. I guess the term voyeur seems too passive, or too distant for me. I think good photographers are active, and engaged with their subject matter. In my case, sometimes the people I photograph have no idea what I'm doing or why but I think they can sense that feeling and understand the cultural power of photographs.
Are you seeking to answer questions?
The questions are everywhere, and you need to constantly be answering them. The technical questions about composition, perspective, color palette and light are certainly important, but answering the bigger questions is when photography gets really interesting for me.
Why are you making photographs in the first place? That's a hard one. I don't know any photographer that doesn't stumble up on that one every now and again. What is the point of making photographs when we're all making them and producing them in a volume we can barely comprehend?
There are all sorts of motivations and I respect many of them. Photographers that spend their lives telling other people's stories are heroic in many senses I feel. There's little reward within our culture for that type of documentary work.
I've thought deeply about my motivations and the conclusion that I can come up with now is that I need to make photographs because I want to show people how I remember the world, and my experience in it. The wonderful thing about human creativity is that it can be used in so many interesting ways. I find photography particularly interesting because it's not only about art, but also about recording history, communicating, and on a personal level, remembering. Nostalgia and sentimentality can be noxious but I also think at a deep level remembering our lives and the people we encountered along the way is one of the most important aspects of our lives. What we remember and what we forget are interesting. I'm curious how photography might impact both.
One big question I struggle with is what good does this do other people? I guess my hope would be that my photographs evoke a certain feeling about living in a large North American metropolis in the early 21st century. I think maybe the biggest question I have for myself right now is why I'm attracted to these cities.
Is there a subject or topic that you're dying to explore? If so, can you tell us a little about it?
Living in New York right now it's hard not to think about the impact of Hurricane Sandy. New York is a city of bubbles. My bubble wasn't really impacted by the storm which creates a strange type of dissonance. I don't know that I could go out and document anything right now, but I'm thinking about how things might change in three to six months, and how I could potentially explore that.
I'd also like to spend a few months in London and Tokyo just roaming around.
Does your work with LPV Magazine inform your own photographic practice and serve as inspiration?
The primary reason I started LPV was to share work that I wanted others to see. That's a pretty common motivation. But another aspect of my motivation was to educate myself about what other photographers were doing. There's probably no bigger influence on my work than the photographers I collaborate with on LPV. The magazine and my work will forever be entwined. It's all apart of a desire to share stories, perspectives and ideas, which hopefully inspires and educates an audience, no matter how small it might be.