By Deb A.
Do you know what Thingstaetten are? Agave Magazine: 5-Year Anniversary Edition contributor Daniel Mirer does. From Nazi-era amphitheaters to the American Southwest, Daniel's photography documents "architectural idealism and the interpretation of power and influence in political ideology." Firmly committed to the deadpan aesthetic, Daniel includes Lewis Baltz, Wim Wenders, Thomas Struth, Ed Burtynsky, and Candida Höfer amongst his greatest influences. We spoke to him about the American Southwest, architectural photography, and how his teaching informs his own work.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: You list architectural photography and portfolio photography as specialties; do you have a favourite type of subject?
DANIEL MIRER: My interest is and has always been in space, whether architectural or within a landscape. I am perpetually intrigued by architectural space and how we create these environments to navigate. I suppose it all stems from my father, who was a construction worker in New York City. I would often get dragged along to work with him and assigned some task to help out and stay out of trouble. Later when I was in college, I worked on large construction sites in Manhattan on weekends and in the summer to help pay for my tuition and film. It was during these years of working on skyscrapers, seeing the city from different perspectives and at different times of day, with light gleaming off the glass towers, that I began to have a different appreciation for architectural space and started to figure out new representational strategies that have set the course of my artwork.
The photographs in my architectural art portfolio ArchitorSpace display my specific interest in the banality of urban spaces. I seek locations that are dense with absence; forgotten, deserted non-sites are entirely familiar but reveal no history or functionality, and yet are commonplace within the redundancy of blandness within postindustrial space.
I recognize the individual makeup of the depicted environment, and its diverse intrinsic textures in open foreground and background collapse, reducing the structure to a flat and simplified arrangement of pure line and color. By highlighting form rather than function, I wish to challenge the essence of these non-places. By extracting spaces from their ambiguous nature, I am providing these sites with a new and subjective identity that is separate from pure functionality.
The pictures I create are of spaces in which a building’s facade, alley, or corridor is virtually indistinguishable from another. I enjoy the redundancy of surface materials when collapsed into an architectural singularity of banality. Within my images, the subjects who might otherwise occupy these spaces appear engulfed in the void of here-could-be-anywhere, in the monumental dissolution of space in contemporary architecture.
What drew you to document the American Southwest?
As a boy from the Bronx, Hollywood westerns were always influential to me. My imagination transported me out of my parents' small apartment to the romanticism of open spaces free from the confines of the city. I still enjoy Hollywood westerns, which I now view with a critical eye: They are full of kitsch, Americana nostalgia, and nationalistic self-reference. But growing up in a vast metropolis such as New York, the romanticism of freedom and bright sunlight in a big sky has always drawn me to look westward.
Traveling through the American West, I am an outsider, a tourist in my country seeing snippets of background stage scenes from Hollywood movies. The American West is itself a loaded signifier of Americanness, full of falsehoods and political and economic flux. What interests me as an artist is this loaded metaphorical space.
Indifferent West highlights a part of America that has, in a way, become a parody of itself. What do you think has been gained or lost through this recontextualization?
A parodic contradiction has always thwarted the American West; it continues to be a space of national identity and a site of exploited natural resources built around the mystique of a dangerous barren wasteland. My strategy is to be the tourist photographing topographical landscape and the Americana kitsch with visual sarcasm.
Indifferent West is the perfect vehicle for me to create visual criticism of the photographic process and deconstruct accepted romantic notions of landscape as a recontextualized, post-industrial space that exists in my images. This contradiction is intentional; structures are flattened, horizon lines are invisible, and found signage diverts attention away from the visual aspects of traditional landscape definition.
Do you enjoy teaching, or would you prefer to be taking photos yourself?
My teaching informs my artwork and my photography career informs my teaching, which has become an instinctive impulse. I think I would not have as successful or as satisfying an art career if it were not for the teaching responsibilities I have undertaken. It’s the community and camaraderie of my colleagues I seek.
Teaching in an art program is to approach every class and project with dedication and enthusiasm to inspire students and represent an industry I genuinely care for and have dedicated my life to. I am passionate about teaching and working within an academic environment because of the fulfillment and joy it brings me, but also because it enables me to help shape a new generation of artists and professionals in other areas who have an appreciation for and understanding of the complexity and powerful influence of media art.
What do you believe is the key to teaching photography well?
I believe there is no higher calling for artists than to give back to their community of artists. Dedication and genuine enthusiasm for the medium that you have chosen and that best represents your creativity will always be apparent to your students. Educators must have a willingness to learn and expand their skill sets and theoretical models in their artwork.
My pedagogical approach to a visual arts program is to enable and empower students to engage in theory, practical exploration, and artistic production. Theory and practice in art and photography are dynamic and ever-changing, and the challenge is to connect technical and visual skills with human experiences through individual interpretation, thus allowing for new creative possibilities. I believe it is essential for students to learn the theoretical, historical, and technical aspects of photography and the fine arts so that they can explore from a broad, well balanced, curriculum. I use digital technology and critical theory as hybrid platforms to expose students to their vast creative possibilities.
My aspiration and responsibilities are for students to emerge as skilled and eloquent professional artists and image-makers. For this to happen, I too must always improve my art skills to remain current within the industry. I received a teaching grant at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to continue my professional development and update my technical skills so I may better serve my students.
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