Q&A: Gus Powell


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? Optimism and humanism . . . combined . . . like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich . . . What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Those U shaped “pillows” everyone walks around the airport with. Are you aware of any conspiracies? I have moments when I deeply do believe in the lessons of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. What is it that interests you about photography? Its relationship to time . . . it freezes a very specific sliver of time but can also create something timeless . . . That it is generous . . . stretching its arms wide when it reaches . . . That it is easy . . . That it is hard.  What is the worst thing about city life? Parking. What part of the planet would you like to explore? Hokkaido. If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? Jaques Tati. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Viticulture.

What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? I was in 7th grade or so and on my way home from school on the 5th Avenue public bus. As I was heading downtown I looked out the window and saw my mother drive by. I have no idea where she was going or comming from. My bus and her car (our family car) traveled side by side for about a quarter mile. It was such an simple and amazing thing to watch her through the frame of the window . . . just out there on her own. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. Arrange and deliver flowers. What was the last crime you witnessed? I saw a woman who had just shoplifted something running away on the corner of Spring and Broadway . . . She had a huge smile . . . her smile made me smile . . . then the shopgirl came rounding the corner to try and catch her . . . she did not make me smile. What is the best way to educate yourself? Friendship. What object do you want? I do want one of those Joseph Beuys felt suits. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? It’s like MACY’S Department store and the New York Public Library main branch all rolled into one tiny place you can keep in your pocket . . . only there are no sales people or librarians.

Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Why do you ask? . . . Will there be a follow up to these questions that will require physical strength? Describe a cheap thrill. I once found a dozen hardboard eggs in a container on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village . . . it was around 1am . . . I wanted to see if I could throw one hardboiled egg all the way up and onto the roof of the 8 storie building that was next to where I found them. I got three of the 12 eggs onto the roof. Now 20 years later . . . I have mixed feelings about it . . . but the pride outshines the shame . . . it was thrilling to set an arbitrary goal and succeed at it. Pick an historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. The first “Thanksgiving” in America. Are impulses more important than consequences? Yes. Which talent would you most like to have? To speak all languages . . . I suppose that may be linked to my interest in photography . . . it can at times communicate across (or perhaps between) those lines.

Gus Powell was born in New York City in 1974 and attended Oberlin College where he majored in comparative religion. In 2003 he was selected to be in PDNs 30 under 30 issue and also published his first monograph, The Company of Strangers (J&L Books). His work has been exhibited internationally, including a solo show at The Museum of The City of New York and group exhibitions at The Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts Houston and FOAM, NL. His photographs have been published in Aperture, Harpers, Vogue, M le mag – Le Monde, Wired, Fortune and W, and he has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine for a decade. He is a member of the street photographers’ collective In-Public and is faculty in the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Arts, NY. His work is included in the books Bystander: A World History of Street Photography and Street Photography Now. Powell’s second monograph, The Lonely Ones (J&L Books 2015), was inspired by the work of William Steig and is a return to his earlier practice of using image and text together.

The Lonely Ones — Inspired by the late, great cartoonist William Steig and his classic book, The Lonely Ones (which pairs Steig’s line-drawn characters with simple one-liners of dialogue-to-self), photographer Gus Powell (born 1974) made his own “lonely ones”—quiet but evocative color photographs of interiors and landscapes, inhabited by people, animals and inanimate characters. Every photograph is paired with a suggestive text, functioning here as the opposite of a caption—each of the 40 color photographs in The Lonely Ones is hidden by a gate fold, on which is printed the single phrase. Every photograph is revealed individually behind its gate fold. “Which way to the symposium?,” paired with a photograph of a butterfly in midair. “Let’s not ruin it by talking.” “Mistakes were made.” “This might hurt.” “Another small victory.” “I am the host of this misadventure.” (Source – J&L Books)

See more of Gus Powell’s work at: guspowell.com / pick up a copy of the Lonely Ones at: lazydog.eu