Q&A: M L Casteel — American Interiors


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? I once considered myself an anarchist and a punk rocker devoted to DIY ideals. I dropped out of school to travel around the world with a camera and play loud rock n’ roll in sweaty basements and piss soaked squats. These days, I aim to put things into the world that question authoritarianism in more subtle ways. My current approach is that of whispered monkeywrenching. What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Future generations will be baffled by our wanton disregard for the health of the planet its most vulnerable species (humans included). Are you aware of any conspiracies? I believe that there is a 20% chance that Andy Kaufman is still alive. What is it that interests you about photography? I am most interested in the complex and contradictory nature of the medium. Photography can be extremely personal, yet photographs are typically made to be shared. Photography can appear as an objective document, while simultaneously being extremely subjective. Images can present the facade of truth while reveling in fiction. Pictures can make you feel something. What is the worst thing about city life? I live in a small city in Southwest Virginia. The worst thing about living here is the relative void of good music and art. Food is overpriced and there is no record store. What part of the planet would you like to explore? Australia! What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? I believe that we have only begun to scratch the surface of science and cosmology. Thus, I feel that there may be explanations for many of the things we now consider supernatural. If humanity can persist we may in time gain knowledge of what undergirds our current notion of existence.

If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? Emma Goldman. “Patriotism is a superstition artificially created and maintained through a network of lies and falsehoods; a superstition that robs man of his self-respect and dignity, and increases his arrogance and conceit.” -Emma Goldman. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Quantum Physics. I dig the idea of studying the hidden elements that comprise the universe. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? I wish that I had gotten to make a better portrait of my grandmother before her passing. I have photographed my family quite extensively, yet I was never able to create a worthy portrait of her. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. Photography. I do not make pictures to pay my bills, so I suppose I’m already there. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. Impossible for me to answer, sorry. How often do you take other people’s advice? Not as often as I should most likely. Describe a personal hell. Normal society. Which living person do you most admire? I greatly admire my uncle, Channing Carroll. He is an incredibly selfless individual that has displayed a tireless sense of empathy, compassion, and dedication to others. He spent 25+ years providing care for his ailing wife and I’ve never once heard him complain. On what occasion do you lie? Job applications and when speaking to the police. What was the last crime you witnessed? I ain’t no snitch.

What is the best way to educate yourself? By reading books and articles in print, with confirmed and trusted sources. What is the next book you want to read? I have just started reading “Photography Against The Grain” by Allan Sekula. Not sure yet what I will be reading next. Ultimate camera? I would like to own a Shen Hao 4×5 one day. If I had the cash I’d buy a Hasselblad X1D, but it’s a bit out of my reach. Most used camera? Film= Mamiya 7 Digital= Sony A7r. What object do you want? The 1978 7” EP “Move” by PLUGZ. What object do you need? Thankfully all of my needs are currently being met. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? As a dangerous and alluring weapon for mass communication, a corrupted oracle. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Not entirely. Describe a cheap thrill. My nightly ritual: booze, weed, and rare 45’s on the turntable. Pick a historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. Stretching the timeframe a bit, I would bring a camera to the 1886 riot at Chicago’s Haymarket Square. Are impulses more important than consequences? Absolutely not. Which talent would you most like to have? I wish that I could play the drums! What is your plan for the next 24 hours? My plan for the next 24 hours is meet with my family in rural Tennessee for a relative’s funeral. I hope to make some photographs while I am there for a new project I have in the works. There is a good chance that I will stop at a bookstore along the way and perhaps grab lunch at my father’s favorite Indian buffet.

American Interiors depicts the psychological repercussions of war and military service through images of the interiors of cars owned by USA veterans.
Through working with veterans over a five-year period, Casteel became aware of the subtle indicators of past traumatic experience. He also recognized that the condition in which we live can often be a signifier of our well-being, and that even the state of car interiors can be seen as a manifestation of human interiors. American Interiors explores the area between “the circumstantial and the evident” and it is in the space that separates the slickly produced military recruitment ads from the statistics about rates of veteran homelessness and suicide that this work resides. Casteel balances the empathy he feels for those who have survived the military experience, with a deep sense of outrage towards America’s industrial-military complex and the institutionalized violence of warfare.

American born, M L Casteel (@mlcasteel) is an award-winning photographer and educator whose work focuses on the perils and triumphs of the human condition. Casteel attended the Hartford Art School International Limited Residency Photography Program and gained an MFA in Photography in 2015. His work has been featured in TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, CNN, and The Guardian, amongst other publications. Casteel’s first book, AMERICAN INTERIORS, was published by Dewi Lewis Publishing in 2018 and was shortlisted for the Paris Photo- Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards: First Photobook Prize. Featuring essays by Jörg Colberg and Ken MacLeish, the book is available at www.dewilewis.com.

To see more of M L Casteel’s work visit — mlcasteel.com