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New Work from Matt Black: The Dispossession

January 27, 2010


THE DISPOSSESSION LINK

A few months ago I did an interview with Central California based photographer Matt Black. Besides having perhaps the best photographer name of all time, “Matt Black” he is a damn good photographer.

I like Matt’s work for several reasons. One, when I see his work, I can feel his name and know he was the one behind the pictures. In other words, he has a recognizable style. Second, he shoots close to home. I’m sure he has traveled, in fact I remember a picture of his from Bolivia, but he does a lot of work in his own backyard, something a lot of photographers neglect to do or don’t think about. I’m guilty. I dream of foreign lands not Orange County. So when I see something like this, I have a great appreciation.

This is a HUGE story in these parts, but seems to be nearly forgotten by those of us living “downstream” of the Central Valley. Crisis only begins to describe what is happening. I come from a farming/ranching family, at least in part, so when I hear of water shortage, unplanted land, etc, I know the snowball effects.

Imagine skyrocketing unemployment, far higher than most places in the United States, farmers leaving land unplanted and water being withheld or not being there in the first place. Much of our current news is centered on Haiti, our dual wars in the Middle East and the health care debate, but all the while stories like this churn like category five storms in the background.

I thought you might like to take a look. If you have thoughts, please leave a comment and let us know you are all alive.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. David Wissinger permalink
    January 27, 2010 7:14 pm

    Last summer I made the trip on I-5 from Northern California to Southern California. This freeway runs through the western edge of California’s central valley where big time agriculture happens. I was shocked to see miles and miles of orchards dead and endless fields dry and barren. This is the result of some weird water policy change which I don’t fully understand, but I was trying to imagine the human suffering behind what I was seeing. Matt’s work has done a great job of showing that. What a mess.

    • January 27, 2010 7:17 pm

      Yep, it’s bad. There was a fair amount of coverage when it first began, but with all that is going on, it gets somewhat lost.

  2. January 28, 2010 1:33 am

    Wow, the guy is a photo beast. Original and consistent style – mixed in with a compelling topic. Just bookmarked him for a future look, thanks for sharing.

  3. January 29, 2010 10:27 am

    Sorry I got a little wordy on this comment. But at least I picked a good subject to suddenly lose my inhibitions on…

    Dan thanks for spotlighting the work of Matt Black. He is obviously a tremendously talented documentary photographer. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at the Annenberg Space for Photography. Often when you meet a photographer in person, you’re sometimes disappointed because you’ve elevated him (non-gender specific) to a level based on his work. He did not disappoint. Matt Black was humble and articulate and it was very evident that he understood this ongoing story throughly. There are stories that attract a lot of attention such as the recent earthquake in Haiti. And I appreciate the hard, important and often dangerous work that the photojournalists there are doing. But since this is a discussion on photography and tangentially related to current events, I think you’ll understand when I say you’d have to be a pretty lousy photographer not to get compelling and moving photographs from Haiti. In contrast the story that Matt is working on is not easily told visually. I think the current term is: It is not target rich.
    It does require a deep understanding and commitment to be able to tell this story. The amount of time he must devote to this project is admirable (specially in this day and age) and probably incomprehensible to many viewers of the work. First the research, then the time it takes to build trust and a rapport with your subjects, then to be around… a lot in order to be there when those small but telling moments occur. And then from a photographers stand point to be around so much and yet keep a fresh eye. The body of work is impressive but each photograph can stand on its own. Tell Matt thank you next time you talk with him.

    Here’s a LATimes link that might give a bit of insight to Matt Black’s determination to follow a story:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2006/sep/03/magazine/tm-firstandspring36

    Slightly off topic… is that Spelman, Jennifer Spelman? If she’s been anywhere near SoCal and not called I will be very pissed.

  4. January 29, 2010 10:28 am

    Sorry I got a little wordy on this comment. But at least I picked a good subject to suddenly lose my inhibitions on…

    Dan thanks for spotlighting the work of Matt Black. He is obviously a tremendously talented documentary photographer. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at the Annenberg Space for Photography. Often when you meet a photographer in person, you’re disappointed because you’ve elevated him (non-gender specific) to a level based on his work. He did not disappoint. Matt Black was humble and articulate and it was very evident that he understood this ongoing story throughly. There are stories that attract a lot of attention such as the recent earthquake in Haiti. And I appreciate the hard, important and often dangerous work that the photojournalists there are doing. But since this is a discussion on photography and tangentially related to current events, I think you’ll understand when I say you’d have to be a pretty lousy photographer not to get compelling and moving photographs from Haiti. In contrast the story that Matt is working on is not easily told visually. I think the current term is: It is not target rich.
    It does require a deep understanding and commitment to be able to tell this story. The amount of time he must devote to this project is admirable (specially in this day and age) and probably incomprehensible to many viewers of the work. First the research, then the time it takes to build trust and a rapport with your subjects, then to be around… a lot in order to be there when those small but telling moments occur. And then from a photographers stand point to be around so much and yet keep a fresh eye. The body of work is impressive but each photograph can stand on its own. Tell Matt thank you next time you talk with him.

    Here’s a LATimes link that might give a bit of insight to Matt Black’s determination to follow a story:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2006/sep/03/magazine/tm-firstandspring36

    Slightly off topic… is that Spelman, Jennifer Spelman? If she’s been anywhere near SoCal and not called I will be very pissed.

    • January 29, 2010 5:20 pm

      Yep, that is the same Spelman, but no don’t think she is in Socal.

      Your description of Matt and his work was right on the money. I’ve never met him, never had a conversation with him, but I can tell a lot about him buy his work and the stories he chooses.
      This is not easy work, nor is it target rich. I would imagine those covering Haiti might be shooting more in one day than he shoots on an entire project, which is not a way of working that comes easy, nor it is a popular approach. The industry is so fast these days, most photographers do not want to spend the amount of time it takes to make pictures like this. I think this is why so much of what we see in the “documentary” world has been taken over by the urban, abstract landscape and the color portrait series. These bodies of work can be done very quickly and with little attachment to what you are photographing. What he does takes a lot longer, and again, I just don’t see that many photographers wanting to go this route.
      I’ve really turned a page in my ingestion of imagery. I’ve not yet seen any Haiti work that I can really relate to. I can totally relate to the story, I think about it everyday, but I don’t understand much of what I see coming out of there and how it is presented. I used to appreciate that work much more than I do now. I’m not sure what showing pictures of bodies really does anymore? And now with the super slick, motion/still/sound presentations, I feel like I’m being forced to watch a Hollywood production about misery and death. I think a still image is far more powerful and far less self-serving.

      Glad to see you came out of your shell Mr. Chatty.

  5. vegasshooter permalink
    February 4, 2010 9:15 pm

    Nice work

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