“I had to leave this place before I could truly see it. I am still learning what it means to me.”
-Matt Eich, “The Seven Cities”
If you’ve been following Blurb for a while, you’re probably familiar with photographer Matt Eich. In 2010, his book, “Carry Me Ohio,” won the Photography Book Now People’s Choice award. He returned to PBN in 2011 as a judge. He’s now looking to complete the cycle he started with “Carry Me Ohio,” with a crowd-funded project called “The Seven Cities.” It will find its final form in both a museum exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary art and in a limited edition of Blurb books.
Matt’s work captures the economically depressed realities of the American heartland. No, it’s not a cheery subject. But Matt’s work is astounding in its intimacy and sensitivity. There’s no exploitation or poverty tourism here. Matt knows these places too well. Talk to Matt for a few minutes and you’ll hear it in his voice: a deep concern, an involvement with his subjects.
I recently talked to Matt about “The Seven Cities” and about crowd-funding with books.
Blurb: How does “The Seven Cities” develop the themes you set out in “Carry Me Ohio”?
Matt: In all three of my main projects (“Carry Me Ohio”, “Sin & Salvation in Baptist Town”, and “The Seven Cities”) I am interested in looking at places that represent microcosms of the American experience, and particularly places where the past continues to influence the present. In “Carry Me Ohio” I looked at socioeconomic landscape in southeastern Ohio nearly 50 years after the retreat of coal, the region’s primary industry. In the Baptist Town project I am documenting the town of Greenwood, Mississippi, where the community still lives divided by a self-imposed state of segregation more than 40 years after the Civil Rights Movement, with an enormous disparity between white and black. In The Seven Cities, for the first time I am exploring my home in Virginia. It is a place that is influenced by the region’s economic reliance on the military industrial complex and is home to the world’s largest naval base. This third chapter is much more layered and nuanced than the previous two, as this place has a wider range of socioeconomic and racial diversity. I will also interweave my own family’s narrative into that of the community.
Blurb: Is this the first time you’ve focused a large part of a project on your own family?
Matt: Yes and no … I have been creating work about my family for years, but it is the first time I’ve placed photographs of my family alongside photographs of strangers in a body of work. That’s always been a bar in my mind when I make pictures, that I should be able to photograph strangers with the same level of intimacy and respect that I would my own family.
Blurb: Do you feel like the same photographer when you’re photographing your family?
Matt: That is a good question, and it gets another yes and no answer. I make the same kinds of photographs and am drawn to the same qualities of light, moment, emotion, etc., but I must be attentive to my surroundings and adapt to the situation. When photographing strangers, my purpose is usually to be there in the role of a photographer. But when I am making pictures of my family, sometimes I need to shift roles (photographer to father, photographer to brother). My family “gets” what I do in a sense, because it’s an extension of who I am and my chosen means of communication, though it doesn’t mean that they always appreciate being scrutinized by a camera, or having every moment recorded for posterity. I try to be conscious of this.
Blurb: Can you talk just a bit about how the different cameras you use affect the way people perceive you?
Matt: When in the field I tend to travel pretty light, usually with one body (Canon 5D Mark II with a 35mm f/1.4) and a small Domke bag with three other lenses (24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2 and 135mm f/2). It’s always pretty obvious that I am a photographer, (or another weirdo with a camera) I just like to not scream it with what I carry. Sometimes I’ll use my iPhone, to create mobile dispatches and to engage a wider audience for projects as they are being developed. Occasionally I’ll break out other tools like my Hasselblad Xpan, Contax T2 or Fujifilm X-Pro-1, but it depends on the situation.
Blurb: How are you using Blurb books to help with your crowd-funding efforts?
Matt: Books are the ideal way for me to communicate with my work, because I can distill a long period of time and a lot of questions into a sequence that has a rhythm and flow, like a song. It takes years of work, tens of thousands of images, and lots of blood, sweat and tears, but when it’s all boiled down to 40-60 images in something tactile and real, it starts to feel as if all of it was worth something.
When working on these long-form projects, I always start mocking up a maquette, or book dummy once I’ve gathered enough work. It allows me to start seeing what is there and what isn’t. It’s the closest and most intimate glimpse I can give people into my creative process. For the purpose of crowd-funding The Seven Cities project, I am offering four (4) different rewards to backers of the project that are in book form.
01 – $150: 7×7 softcover book of mobile dispatches. For this book, I will create an edit/sequence of mobile dispatches from The Seven Cities project that I have posted on Instagram under the hashtag #TheSevenCities and print it using Blurb’s ProLine Uncoated paper.
02 – $250: 8×10 hardcover book of The Seven Cities project. Drawn from work spanning 2005 – 2012 this edit will be the groundwork for what I create in the coming months, as I hope to delve deeper into my community and finish gathering the stills, motion and sound necessary to complete this project. The book is approximately 120 pages and will be printed on Blurb’s ProLine Uncoated paper.
03 – $500: I am selling two of the remaining Limited Edition copies of “Carry Me Ohio”, published in 2010 with a run of 100 books. Each of these two remaining books comes with three (3) 8.5×11 prints of new images made from this project in 2012. These were printed through Edition One in California and originally sold for $85/ea. without a print.
04 – $1000: A set of three books (“The Seven Cities”, “Sin & Salvation in Baptist Town” and “Carry Me Ohio”), all 8×10 hardcover, printed on Blurb’s ProLine Uncoated paper. This set is the most comprehensive printed collection of my work from 2005 – 2012 in three different projects that are all connected by theme and design.
For each of these book-related rewards, I will only print the number of books that are ordered, so if there is only one person who selects it, that will be the only person who ends up receiving these collectible books.
Blurb: How are you using video in concert with your photography? And can we expect an ebook?
Matt: I try to be pretty intuitive about what content is most relevant to the project when in the field, though my heart still belongs to photography. Oftentimes I will see something and think, “that is a moving picture” and my brain will instantly switch into video mode. I’ve been commissioned by some clients like TIME and BusinessWeek to produce video content along with stills, and it is something that I’ve been gathering for these three main projects as well. This summer I am hoping to begin editing the projects while participating in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residency program in Syracuse, NY and the designer I am collaborating with is planting thoughts in my head about an e-book. I’d love to see all of the imagined content in a really fluid and interactive form in addition to the more traditional print.
Blurb: How does working with a photo editor help you to see the shots that you would otherwise miss?
Matt: In so many ways. When I’m out making pictures, I just try to have my eyes on, and I go into hunter/gatherer mode while remaining emotionally receptive, which is a difficult balance. When I return to the studio and begin going through images, I do several tiers of tags and will sort things into various organizational folders. After a few months of letting images pile up, I’ll send the work over to freelance photo editor Mike Davis and give him some structure for what I’m looking for in his edits. He’ll take 10,000 images and boil it down to his top tier, and begin working on sequences that he finds effective, depending on the length of the essay.
Thanks to Matt for sparing some time to talk with us. To contribute to Matt’s “Seven Cities” project, visit his page on emphas.is.