Indiana Photographers, Coming Home

Note from the Editor: I moved to Indianapolis 6 years ago from the NYC area. In my time here I’ve noticed that Indy natives often speak wistfully about leaving, and there is a common perception that moving away is always moving up. As an expatriate to Indy who has lived in a lot of places around the world, I find that attitude fascinating–because in my view there is so much to love about Indianapolis that is missing in the shinier corners of the world. In this issue I wanted to feature the work of photographers who had moved away from Indy for a time, but then returned and are elevating the scene here with their craft. -Nasreen Khan, Art Editor

Ben Rose

Ben Rose is a multi-disciplinary artist born in Indianapolis, who was adopted and grew up in an Indiana farm town. Cultural identity has always been a driving factor in his pursuit of many artistic mediums. Having gained a reputation as a spoken word artist in the late 90’s as well as a professional stage actor and videographer in the early 2000’s Rose has spent time cultivating his skills in Theatre, Photography, Filmmaking, and Community Building. Currently with a grant from 16Tech he is in production on a documentary of Haughville USA in Indianapolis, where he has been doing community work for the past 3 years. In 2022 he was awarded the Creative Renewal Grant from the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

“Photography absolutely gave me a better eye, and forced me to break my concepts and images down into a single frame. If you can communicate in a provocative way through a single frame, it’s much easier to expand through other mediums from there.”

Interview by Nasreen Khan

NK-Tell us a little about yourself, your connection to Indiana and your start in Photography. Why did this medium draw you?

BR-I was born in Indianapolis but adopted and raised in Tipton County. Most of my adult life has been in Indianapolis, but mid 2000’s I had been living in Atlanta, Georgia and was moving back to Indy when I started my photography journey. I was a 38 year old student at the Indianapolis Arts Institute and created a lot of portrait and landscape photography. I’ve always been a multi-disciplined artist, and self-taught videography was how I made a living. Studying photography changed all my sensibilities around composition, lighting, and color theory. I had never studied those elements in a formal way, but already was working as a videographer. Understanding the mechanics of a camera helped me understand how the human eye worked and helped me translate that into a deepened understanding of the art form.

NK-Can you share a little about your photography practice? What are subjects/techniques/ formats that attract you? What does a typical session of shooting look like for you? What do you admire in other photographers’ work?

BR-I utilize a lot of slow shutter and lens pulling in single exposures without photoshop, layering or post digital manipulation. To break down these techniques for the lay person–the longer that you leave the shutter open, its like holding your eye open instead of closing the lid. It produces a blurred image you wouldn’t get with a faster shutter speed creating a distorted image. I have played with this technique to get  abstracts of murals, buildings, and people.

NK-What draws you to the abstract?

BR-I like the ethereal look it creates–it seems like it is pulling a spirit out of the picture, a fourth dimension type of representation. I think it captures or visually pulls the soul of a piece into the frame. My work is often built off public murals and manipulating other artist’s work. Some might find that plagiaristic in ways similar to a Hip Hop producer sampling music, even though my images turn out vastly different from the original work.

I think it’s worth discussing how in some ways all photographers are capturing or stealing other people’s work, down to the actual physical bodies presented to the lens. Photographers are artists who create, but so much of the platform is based on capturing things that already exist-when you create a painting you are making something that doesn’t yet exist, a photograph is retelling of something that already exists. A lot of the time people don’t think that when you let someone take your picture, they are capturing your face or body, a body that you have in many ways created and sculpted over 30 years or 80 years in a much more reproductive way than a painting or drawing. Photographers are often capturing the creations of other people -the understanding of the mechanics of the camera is the art form, but the base material is someone else’s creation wether that is nature, a car, or a human body. The art is in the manipulation of image technology and what that yields is different from photographer to photographer. 

NK-When you left Indianapolis where did you go? Why did you go there, why did you choose to return? and how did moving away change your artistic practice?

BR-The second time I left Indy was for California outside of Los Angeles. I felt pretty accomplished in my photography technique at that point, but there are amazingly talented photographers on every corner there so competition pushed me to focus on creating my own style and that led me to explore abstract photography. I chose to go to California because I had always been drawn there-it seemed imprinted on me as a young person that you were supposed to be drawn to the entertainment industry, and California was the Mecca to those looking to get experience in screen. I was looking for opportunities that didn’t exist in Indianapolis, not that there aren’t opportunities to be had here–but you get desensitized to the magic of home . When you go to a new place, that place is new, and inspires something in you you didn’t have before. I found that when i returned I had renewed desire to create differently. I realized i hadn’t explored Indianapolis the same way i did out there. In California everyday I was looking for something new. Moving away but coming back provides a fresh perspective on how you see your city.

NK-We would love to hear about your two photography submissions. Tell us in words the story told by your photograph, or the story hidden behind it. 

BR-My work in the first photo is more of an editorial fashion piece about external beauty in different forms and different ages [model credit: Liz Collar}. This is an example of my much earlier work circa 2010. I was graduating from the Arts Institute at the time. I wanted to put someone young and beautiful near an aging car that was in its heyday a classic and still has a beauty to it despite its state of decay. The magazines were a statement about contemporary standards of beauty that exist in the media messaging we receive. The beauty of the natural world in the background provided a third juxtaposition of various types of beauty. It was about putting lots of different explorations and statements about beauty in one frame.

BR-My more current work is about viewing the inner more transcendent shape of people or things. I usually share a realistic photo of my sources to help viewers understand the journey of where the images started and pay homage to the original artist. (Source for image above can be found below this paragraph). The mural below is one I came across in Santa Monica, California. When I apply my abstract technique the first step is finding a source I find aesthetically pleasing. What I am after is to create a 3d image out of a flat one. The technique pulls the colors off the wall and streams them off the wall to give a dimensional perspective and it merges and stretches the various elements of the image.

To me it is the insides or the heart of the image, like it came alive and you can see its soul. There are a lot of different styles of abstraction that produce other after-images. The technique is about timing the shutter speed and pull to achieve the specific type of 3d abstraction you want. When I shoot during the day I have to use a filter to darken the image to stop it from overexposing. I can get more clarity during the day but the nighttime gives you a darker and richer vibe. I’m drawn to this abstraction technique because it also mirrors my journey away from my physical and mental comfort zones in my travels within and out of Indianapolis. Anytime you pick up and move there is a bit of discomfort from new surroundings, and even in the things you found easy you have to start all over again. However, in the process you discover new things like getting lost and having to ask a stranger for directions. Having to navigate the new shape of things and having to create new relationships–this is the physical process of a move and this is also how i do my art.

When you are stuck in one rhythm or rotation without the tension of change, this creates the same artistic repetition. Coming to a new place creatively that is uncomfortable can create new space for looking at things in a new way. My creative work now is an exploration of seeing things in a new light, taking something your natural eye sees in one way and then manipulating it to expose another version of it, its mirrors our personal journeys of our starting point to a point further down the road.

I admire photographers that can tell a story through a single frame. Not just capture a face or structure, but capture energy and intent that will never exist in that same way ever again.

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