Between the shell

Paul Salveson, the winner of the photographic First Book Award, makes icons out of domestic drudgery

Photography Q+A
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Selected work from Between the Shell, published 2013 by MACK Paul Salveson

American photographer Paul Salveson was recently named the winner of the First Book Award for his project Between the Shell, which is out this month from MACK. Paul's polychromatic world of still lifes brings forth ideas like “alien-minded advertisement photography”, “a microscopic view of Alejandro Jodorowsky's apartment”, or something in that fashion. Dazed spoke to him about the new book, skipping class and how he makes icons out of domestic drudgery.

Dazed Digital: First of all, congratulations on your new book! How did it come about?

Paul Salveson: I was contacted by Stephen Shore, who is a former professor of mine from Bard. He said I was nominated to submit a book dummy to the First Book Award. So I put together a dummy and sent it to MACK. A couple of months later I got a call from Michael Mack who said he wanted to publish it. From there I was really a collaborative effort designing the book. It was Michael's idea to make it a board book and he even made a pre-production dummy to convince me it was a good format for the photographs.

“The camera exists as part of the game of my process, as a tool to obfuscate and re-form the subject"

DD: Let’s trail back. How did you get into photography?

Paul Salveson: I got into photography in high school where I had a really great teacher who gave me tons of leeway to make whatever I wanted, even if it involved leaving school for hours and missing all of my other classes.

DD: What sort of photographers inspired you when you started out?

Paul Salveson: John Divola's Vandalism and Zuma Beach projects really inspired me early on both by their production value and their altered, constructed subjects. Most of the photographs I've taken have been of personally familiar objects in familiar places. I can walk by something 5000 times and on the 5001st time I decide to photograph it. This means I'm often photographing in my house or in the homes of friends and family. Through repeated exposure, these places or objects become personally iconic and begin to take on a significance that drives my impulse to photograph. Once I've chosen a setting or object, the execution of the image becomes much like a puzzle or a game. Sometimes I take hundreds of pictures of a scene, moving and manipulating the frame and subjects before I arrive on a finished image.

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Selected work from Between the Shell, published 2013 by MACK Paul Salveson

DD: The work is somewhere between performance and still life photography. How do you classify it?

Paul Salveson: I come from a photography background, but I like to think the work in Between the Shell is equal parts photography, sculpture, and performance. Usually I am the only one who gets to experience the more sculptural and performative part of the process, but I'd like to think that some of it comes through in the final image. My main interest is in the objects and contexts represented in the images. The camera exists as part of the game of my process, as a tool to obfuscate and re-form the subject.

DD: Are you working in other mediums than photography?

Paul Salveson: At one time I was only making photographs but now I've started making video and sculpture too.  I became fascinated by toothbrush design over the last few years and made a video of myself playing vibrating toothbrushes as instruments. I will be doing a live performance version of this work at Human Resources in Los Angeles this December.

DD: That’s interesting, because that’s another thing I’ve seen kids play with. Between the Shell also reminds me of how I saw objects as a child.

Paul Salveson: As I mentioned, most of my images are taken in domestic settings, and often photographed on the floor. Many of the arrangements appear as if they were born out of the restlessness of being left home alone or unattended. Objects are imbued with personalities and significance beyond their purpose and alternate invented systems of logic dictate their formal relationships. I think kids, especially at an early age, have close, intense relationships with the familiar things around them. Banal objects become meaningful and come to represent platonic ideals of the things we encounter in the future.

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