Jeremy Liebman’s images reveal what happens when you let things happen, and the results are near-perfect. Brimming with evidence of his enviable ability to capture happenstance, and free from the constraints of predetermined intention, the photographer’s portfolio is an accomplished balance of honesty and spontaneity – a body of work completely at ease with itself. We caught up with the New York-based image-maker to talk prompts, John Cage, and much-needed sabbaticals…
What prompts you into taking a photograph?
It starts as a very instinctual process for me. I’m interested in amateurhood and vernacular uses of photography and in what makes a demotic photograph into art. So I shoot for all of the reasons, both banal and exceptional, that I imagine anyone would shoot for – to document, to arrest an important time, to finish a roll of film. From that cache of source material I edit with a more opaque hand in order to force connections or raise questions.
Are you interested in pursuing specific themes?
Yes and no. I try to avoid doing anything that’s too pre-meditated, but I naturally come back to some of the same ideas. My first introduction to photography was through street photographers like Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand, and that unmediated, undirected style still influences what I do. I want that element of surprise and discovery but with a bit of direction toward a greater whole. I admire photographers like JH Engström and Torbjørn Rødland who make the exterior world a vital part of their work, but maintain a self-awareness and subversion that prevents them from being predictable or fitting into any one particular genre.
Can you explain the John Cage project you recently finished?
The John Cage work is a series of 4×5 Polaroids taken of a screen that is streaming a Cage film called one11, originally shot on 16mm film in 1992 using randomly determined projections of light in a studio. By the time I saw the film online it had been through a number of conversions – both analog and digital – that had introduced scratches, dust, digital artefacts, and new types of grain and noise. There was a tension that I saw between the abstraction of the original piece and the specificity and indexicality of the new visual information.
Starting with the most basic and essential photographic subject – light projected on a wall – the process introduces new visual data that exists in a space between abstraction and representation. Converting all of this back to an analog format (the Polaroid) seemed to close the loop, but of course they’re now mostly seen as jpegs.
So what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on some drawings right now that are based on existing text. I’ve always been interested in the way that language functions, and I’m excited to be using another medium to investigate that.
You’ve been away from Brooklyn, where you’re based, this summer. Where and why exactly?
I’m in a small town called Rosendale, about two hours outside of New York city. I’d read about Stefan Sagmeister’s sabbaticals and decided I could use some time away from the city.