As part of Joanna Lehan’s class this semester we took two artist visits where we had the chance to meet and talk with artists in their studios. We met Yola Monakhov Stockton, who actually teaches at ICP, and followed up with her about some outstanding questions. You can check out Yola’s beautiful work here.
1. How did you become a photographer? What is your personal history using the medium? I first took a darkroom photography class in high school, and loved the feeling of walking around with a camera, and of spending time in the darkroom, often during the lunch hour. I wrote and photographed for the university newspaper in college, but did not take studio courses, rather majoring in literature. (I regret not taking undergraduate studio courses.) But I did get a job my senior year as a darkroom printer for a university lab, and completed jobs ranging from printing pictures of specimens photographed through a microscope to printing large glass negatives from the historical society archive, and a lot of other archival material which came to me in the form of internegatives (medium format), after the archival pictures were rephotographed. It was a wonderful introduction to the range of materials and processes, and also to the many uses of the medium. Later, when I started considering leaving my PhD program in Italian literature to pursue photography, I took two classes at the ICP (uptown), one of which was a project class with Lauren Greenfield. After that, I had the basis of a portfolio that got me my first editorial work (for Time Out New York), and I decided to pursue photography instead of Italian literature.
Anti-Taliban fighters from the Eastern Shura force survey a plume of smoke from a round dropped by a B-52 bomber on their enemy lines in the foothills of the Tora Bora mountains, where they are on the front lines of the fight against the remaining Al-Quaeda fores in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan on December 5, 2001.
2. How do you feel like your background as a photojournalist has affected the ways that you work in the studio? What elements of that practice have carried over into the work that you are doing now? I look to my background in photojournalist for its concerns, bodies in peril, places in transition, and for its curiosity about the world. Journalism teaches its practitioners to perform research and become educated about a subject of inquiry, which I continue to think is important, and to pursue access, and see unfolding events in terms of a narrative. It also teaches about mise-en-scene, as filmmaking does, about what must be in a picture in order to clarify a meaning. At the present moment, photojournalism may be more of a metaphor than an actual practice in my work, but this may not always remain the case.
3. Your bodies of work are very strong, but so disparate. For example, your photographs of birds versus your post office project. Is there any specific contemplation that connects these two? The disparity among my projects suggests an attitude toward the role of subject matter in photography. It may not be birds or post offices that are the points of interest, but strategies of investigation, the sense of being trapped, and the conditions of flight and travel. One of Josef Koudelka’s acclaimed books is called Exiles. For a long time he photographed gypsies throughout Europe, perhaps because, among other reasons, he felt like one, or struggled to make sense of how cultures become displaced, but still perpetuate themselves. Now he has photographed the wall in Israel/the West Bank. Again, the exile and banishment theme is at play, but in a new context, and with new materials. My shifts may seem more radical, because the materials change even more than the aspect ratio of a frame, but the trajectory of thought is similar. Perhaps the shift in material approaches is also a way to reflect on the melancholy qualities of the medium. Tonight, I was in the darkroom, and I reloaded an arsenal of pinhole camera boxes with different sizes of film and darkroom paper, and the combination of them felt appropriate, and I also loaded a five-reel tank with ten 120mm rolls, taped back to back in pairs, for later developing. These different ways of working may signal greed, or desperation. I find that replying to this e-mail is also a form of working in photography. Many ways of being involved in process, production and contemplation may make a fragmentation meaningful and generative.
4. How do you feel like motherhood has affected your work? With children, there is less sleep, and more high-pitched emotions all around. And growing up and learning to see and to know and to become moral agents and the care for others and for work and the acute awareness of the passage of time all play into the process. The love of children challenges and, I hope, augments the love of work.