Michael E. Northrup,
The intimate diary of a sincere primitivist.
Michael E. Northrup, an american, originally from Maryland, published his third book in 2018, Dream Away. In 2016 the British publishing house Stanley/Barker discovers his work, modifies the editing and decides to publish it. The book is an unorthodox story of love for a woman, Pam, the former wife of the photographer, his muse from 1976 to 1988. Twelve years of life together and the arrival of a child. Irony, mystery, humor, eroticism. So much fun against the backdrop of an America with its identity stereotypes, its exasperated idiosyncrasies, its repeated clichés. The story of our comfortable and terrible daily life. Good things of bad taste or things of bad taste but good, sometimes saving: lightness, love, the most honest and innocent feelings. A surreal aesthetic with its bright and brilliant colors or dark and oppressive. The elementary and primary forms of objects in relation to the background. This balance between the parts, this relationship between focal plans continually changed, these fun experiments in the body of the images lead us to travel quickly with the mind. The seductive power of perception influences us and guides us entirely in the vision of the book.
A universal look on family relationships and on the time that flows inexorable.
Michael E. Northrup
Gianpaolo Arena: To what extent is your childhood imagery still present in your photographs? Michael E. Northrup: Excellent excellent question. I had a friend who taught Graphic Design and said he thought all the dedicated people who pursue visual arts most likely had childhood experiences that got them looking at their world. I still remember when I was a child in the summer my parents made me go to bed before dark. And I would lay there looking out the window at the leaves on the tree between the houses and make faces and cartoon characters out of their design. I think that is still alive in me today. I know every time I take a photo the last thing I’m looking at, just a fraction of a second before pushing the shutter, are the most basic shapes of objects in front of me and how they work on a “field” (background). The way I do that is to blur everything in field of view and only the basic shapes stick in the mind.
GA: Do you think your approach is close to that of other photographers, contemporary or from the past? MN: Absolutely. I was first influenced by the formalism of the West Coast photographers (Weston. Adams) and others (Paul Strand, Harry Callahan). I later was influenced by Diane Arbus, Les krims, Atget, Lee Friedlander, Wegee, The Snapshot Aesthetic and the use of on camera flash. I still try and combine those 2 major groups of influence, i.e. the formalism of the earlier influences and the spontaneous work in those later influences.
GA: Could you tell us something more about the creation of the book Dream Away? MN: My first book Beautiful Ecstasy was published in 2003 and edited by Jason Fulford, who was the publisher of J&L Books, and my good friend Paul Sahre, book designer extraordinaire who lives in New York City. Once they had grabbed a bunch of images and took them back to NYC for review they noticed a lot of images of my former wife Pam, showing up. At which point they both said “Michael you’ve got to do a book on your ex wife one of these days”. It started there. Five years later I made several dummy books and sent them off to 5 major publishers. No one bit. I did another book 2012 with J&L again, titled Babe which focused on my views of the Americana Family. I was still determined to do a book of my work on Pam and once I started uploading to Instagram in 2016 I was discovered by Stanley/Barker Publishing in the UK and they immediately wanted to do that book on Pam. As with all my books I let the publisher do the edit and just ok’d it at the end. I learn more about my work from others than I know of it myself.
GA: What has been your favorite photo-book in the last few years? MN: I slowed down my purchase of photo books years ago and I haven’t bought one at least in 3 years until a couple months ago. I was compelled to buy it. It is Face by Bruce Gilden. The edit is tight, the perspective is simple and consistent. The scale of the book is perfect. And the subject matter challenges me as I grew up looking at my dad’s medical and Coroner field manual and plastic surgery books. The other photographer I’ve been very supportive of in buying books is Joel Peter Witkin. Again the subject matter is what I found fascinating growing up, showing corpses and freaks in situations that look like 19th century painting themes.