Q&A: Michael Ashkin — Were It Not For (FW Books)


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? Full socialism.
What will baffle future generations about our day and age? That we accepted its appearances as reality.
Are you aware of any conspiracies? Yes. What is it that interests you about photography? That its relationship to reality is ambiguous.
What is the worst thing about city life? That the forces beneath its surfaces are obscured.
What part of the planet would you like to explore? That which is invisible until understood. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? Our sense of the supernatural derives from what we repress.
If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? Gerrard Winstanley was a good one.
Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Epistemology.
What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? So many, but I only see photographically when holding the camera.
Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. Collecting rusty objects.
Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. Robert Smithson’s The Fountain Monument: Bird’s Eye View.
How often do you take other people’s advice? Not often enough.

Describe a personal hell. Cancer recovery.
Which living person do you most admire? This week: my wife, my daughter, and Bernie Sanders.
On what occasion do you lie? With or without my awareness?
What was the last crime you witnessed? The US healthcare system. What is the best way to educate yourself? Actual books.
What is the next book you want to read? All of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory.
Ultimate camera? My new camera, the Fujifilm X-Pro2.
Most used camera? My old Hasselblad X-Pan and X-Pro1.
What object do you want? A better hat (a lifelong obsession).
What object do you need? Better gloves (another lifelong obsession).
How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950s? An endless montage that supplants reality, eclipses meaning, and keeps people from action.
Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? No. You can never run fast enough.
Describe a cheap thrill. Trespassing.
Pick a historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. An historic moment not deemed historic.
Are impulses more important than consequences?
Which talent would you most like to have? Better memory.
What is your plan for the next 24 hours? It’s a quarantine Saturday: coffee, reading, photo-editing, watching Bong Joon-ho’s The Host with my wife and daughter.

Michael Ashkin works across a range of media – painting, photography, sculpture, video, and text. Uniting these diverse practices is a conceptual focus on the way that notions of space and place, landscape and self, are shaped by wider political and economic forces. ‘were it not for’ is combining a 670-line text with 218 photographs of the Mojave Desert. This combination creates a powerful sense of unease throughout the document, which is exploring the idea of fear and haunting as an effect of the violent legacies contained within the landscape, and as a function of the technologies that we use to represent it.

Ashkin’s ‘were it not for’ is available for purchase now through FW Books, visit fw-books.nl / michaelashkin.com for more information.