An interview by Daniel Rolnik — an inspired blogger who brings you stories and interviews from talented local Southern California artists, here at Hurley.com.
DR: Austin Irving is a photographer who travels all over the world to capture her images. From secret beaches in the Philippines to the majestic Carlsbad Caverns, all of which Austin transforms through her lens to look like still shots from cinematic epics. And if you’re in Los Angeles on March 3rd, you should definitely check out the opening reception for her exhibit “Portals” at Curio [324 Sunset Ave., Venice, CA] to meet the artist and see her photos in person.
DR: Where is El Nido?
AI: It’s a town in the north of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. Think five-dollar-a-night bungalows on the beach.
Was it sketchy though?
No not at all, but I mean it was definitely a village and there were chickens running around everywhere. Which was awesome.
How did you make the beach look so surreal?
It’s actually a 40-minute exposure at night when the moon was unbelievably full.
Did you plan to take the photograph around a certain tide?
I had been there for a week or two so I knew when the tide would recede to reveal all this amazing coral.
What’s been one of the best places you’ve photographed?
I’m drawn to the bizarreness of the architecture in Singapore. Many of the public housing blocks are comprised of five or six of the exact same 25-story buildings all clustered together. They look like a gang. And the tropical plant life coupled with these sterile, almost corporate looking apartment buildings is so beautiful to me.
Why are you drawn to photographing entranceways?
This body of work is entitled Portals and I am drawn to photographing doorways, hallways or stairs because they are all in some way negotiating a transition of space. I'm also really into the idea of these images providing a sort of exit route where the destination lays just out of sight. The lack of cultural signifiers to place these locations in a specific city or country is really exciting to me – a hallway in a mall in Katmandu could just as easily be a hallway in a hotel in Vermont.
What kind of camera do you use?
The lion’s share of my work is done with a 4x5 Toyo Field camera and I also use a Sinar Monorail.
Is it hard to get film for those cameras?
Kodak and Fuji are still making sheet film, but sadly my favorite film stock has been discontinued - Kodak Ready Load 160vc. RIP.
Do you edit your pictures in the darkroom?
I don’t print my work in the darkroom any more, I scan my negatives and print my images digitally. I generally don’t do that much retouching, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t do any. I usually just do some color correction and get rid of any dust that could be on the negative.
Do you build the windows in your photographs?
It’s funny you should ask that, I used to only build dioramas and sets when I was in undergrad, but the images in my latest series are actually real windows. I think what gives them that sort of surreal look is that they are really long exposures in completely dark rooms. It’s daylight outside and so whatever light comes through the cracks is what illuminates the rest of the room.
Do you travel alone to all of the exotic places you shoot?
I usually go with my family or friends because it’s too intense to go alone - I wish it was easier for a girl to run around the world.
What are some of your favorite art books?
American Prospects by Joel Sternfeld - his attention to detail is just phenomenal. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Industrial Landscapes has been hugely instrumental in the way I look at and photograph architecture. Bruce Davidson’s Subway series inspired me to become a photographer in the first place. He shot this work with color reversal film, so the saturation is outrageous. I have this huge Egon Schiele book from the Neue Galerie and man, what an amazing artist – his figures are tortured in the most beautiful way possible. And I love Philip-Lorca diCorcia - he’s unbelievable and his Hustlers series from the early 90’s is one of my favorites.
How do you make your prints?
I work with Carol Sayter who owns Lux Lab in New York and to whom I pay dire allegiance.
Have you eaten any weird things on any of your trips?
The weirdest thing was actually the most delicious! When we were in the Philippines we had balut, which is a fertilized duck egg. It’s so good!
Would you actually eat it again?
OMG Totally. It tastes like chicken broth. You should try it.
No way, I don’t even think I could hold it.
Well once you hold it you get into it, you’re like I might as well just eat this. I mean look at all those people who like Blue Cheese and that’s literally mold.