Taking the form of documentary series, multi-image installations, serial works, videos, and online projects, photographer Nat Ward (b. 1983, Philadelphia, PA) questions how American culture objectifies and then discards everything it creates. His work evocatively explores and deconstructs the culture, landscape, and mythologies of America. A recent graduate of the Columbia University MFA program (2013), Ward currently participates in the Sharpe-Wallentas Studio Program in Dumbo, Brooklyn, where we met to drink mezcal and discuss his practice.
Ward mainly works with large-format cameras. As a student at the Tisch School of the Arts, he learned the controlled techniques needed to capture architecture on film. Eventually, Ward transitioned into the more mysterious and expressive practice he is well-regarded for today. Now, instead of solely photographing individual physical spaces, he focuses on the stories found within certain cities or landscapes.
Driven by a desire to incorporate specific places into his life story, he has traveled to and spent time photographing New York City, the Californian desert, and many other sites he has passed through on road trips. One such place he continues to return to, Delray Beach, Florida, is the site of his ongoing series “Delray: Hot and Slow”. The city was named the drug recovery capital of the United States in 2007. In the project statement, Ward comments on the exhausting daily struggle involved in abstaining from addiction reflected in the photographs.
His work shares certain processes and styles with traditional documentary photography. He maintains that while photography is based off of reality, it remains closer to a work of fiction. A photograph, he says, is just an object. However, that in itself is huge, since anyone can view a photograph and be deeply affected by it in their own way.
During the editorial process, Ward repeatedly shuffles a group of photographs and occasionally integrates prints from past projects. He attempts to develop each set of prints into a lyrical narrative. When he finds the right balance, the work resonates with the viewer regardless of their familiarity with the content. For example, while not everyone will have struggled with addiction (like many in Delray), each viewer has the ability to relate the series with their own inner conflicts.
A current project—”twenty-nine palms, one-and-a-half ghosts”—consists of photographs from his participation in Andrea Zittel’s A-Z West Wagon Station Encampment project in Joshua Tree, California in 2012. In addition to photographing with his large-format camera, Ward experimented with a vintage Zeiss camera. When he developed the film two months ago, he found that the mechanism had failed him to a certain extent. However, he has taken the disjunction and atonality of the prints in stride, and has begun to experiment with unconventional but compelling installations.
In addition to the photo-essays and installations, Ward has taken part in a few collaborative projects. His most recent, the site A New Nothing, was created with photographer Ben Alper as a response to the disposable quality of images. The platform pairs photographers together for continuous visual conversations and has resulted in a new kind of artists’ network. The pairings have included Jon Feinstein with Lindsay Metivier, Matthew Connors with Jason Fulford, Susan Lipper with Ed Panar, Morgan Ashcom with Justine Kurland, and John Houck with the New York Times, among many others.
Over the past two years, he has taken part in the following exhibitions: It’s Unlikely, curated by Veronica Levitt at Orgy Park, Brooklyn, New York (2015), In Response – Repetition and Difference at The Jewish Museum, New York, New York (2015), It Follows, curated by Jordan Rathus and Jaime Schwartz at Torrance Shipman Gallery, New York (2014-2015), Mossless at One Eye’d Jack’s Gallery, Brighton, UK (2014), the International Photography Festival, Tel Aviv, Israel (2014), Mossless at TGIF, New York, New York (2014), Soft Monsters at Beverly’s, New York, New York (2014), Pyramid Scheme, a pop-up exhibition with Tribble & Mancenido, Brooklyn, New York (2014), Come Together, Surviving Sandy Year One, Brooklyn, New York (2013), Jew York at Untitled Gallery & Zach Feuer Gallery, New York, New York (2013), Fishing in the Dark at Violet’s Cafe, Brooklyn, New York (2013), and the Columbia University MFA Thesis Exhibition at The Fischer Landau Center for Art, Long Island City, New York (2013). You can find him online at natwardphoto.com.
– by Ashley McNelis