John Prince is a third year MFA candidate at Georgia State University. His current practice explores the idea of place, community, and the evidence of human activity in the landscape. Prince’s work has been featured in the online publications of Oxford American, Humble Arts Foundation and The Latent Image as well as published in Southern Glossary and Code-Switch Visual Journal. His recent work has been exhibited at the Thomas Deans Fine Art Gallery and Mint Gallery in Atlanta and the Darkroom Gallery in Vermont.
Interviewed by Lauren Cantrell
Q: How does this series compare to your previous works?
A: The common thread in my practice is the exploration of place, community, and the evidence of human activity in the landscape. My other series “The Near and Elsewhere” looks at the anonymous qualities of a familiar landscape, while “Aluminum City” explores the social fabric of a town carrying the weight of Post-Industrialization.
Q: Why New Kensington, PA?
A: New Kensington is a place that I have visited since I was a child, long before I began making pictures. The town of New Kensington exhibits many of the classic signs of wear and effect from American Post-Industrialization, but offers its own unique account reflected from its exceptional origin story. It is a town that continues to struggle, as it has for decades, under the weight of economic forces beyond its control and far exceeding its carrying capacity.
Q: You mentioned the town as a “modern” place, could you go into detail about what
A: I wouldn’t consider New Kensington a “modern” place, but it has modern threads woven into its history. Aluminum could be considered a modern material when compared with steel, which PA is known for. Aside from aluminum production another large thread is New Kensington’s connection to Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer who were commissioned to build the housing project for the Alcoa aluminum defense workers.
Q: Time plays a large part in the concept of your series and the time you spend in New Kensington is usually relatively short. How does this affect your approach to the spaces and people?
A: Not living in the place in which you’re making work is always tough. The parameters caused by time constraint make me more productive since I know I will not be there as long as I’d like. This time constraint doesn’t have as much effect on photographing the landscape as it does when photographing people. I prefer to talk to and spend some amount of time with the people I photograph, which can be limited with short trips.
Q: By introducing portraits into your work, how has this affected the overall series?
A: I am in the process of learning more about how the portraits will be a part of the project as a whole. I’m interested in the human condition, more specifically when desires are incongruent with actuality.
Q: You describe Aluminum City in terms of “documentary-style” photography. Could you discuss why you chose this style?
A: The “Documentary style” or “Documentary aesthetic” term is used to free the work from the constraints of the traditional definition of “Documentary” photography, which one might assume is in some way relating the truth. I really like a quote by Geert Goiris [where] he says, “My images are not ‘Documentary.’ They do not claim to show things as they are, but more as they seem or as they might be.” There is no real “truth” to the project since the work is the result of a number of subjective decisions, so I think of the work as more of a factual fiction. The subject matter benefits from the representational qualities of the “documentary style” which allows me to move through the city with a camera and respond to the landscape, the people, and the way time has affected the idealized visions for this community.
Lauren Cantrell is a 2nd-year MA Art History candidate at Georgia State University focusing on Self-Taught and Folk Art. She received her BA in Art History at Columbus State University in 2015. Her master’s thesis focuses on the self-taught visionary art site Pasaquan in Buena Vista, GA where she interned with the Kohler Foundation, Inc. during her undergraduate career.