INTERVIEW: Shawn Cheatham & Jeremy Chandler
Tell us a little bit about yourselves as artists. What is your practice like; how do you work?
SC: While I have experimented with performance, photography, and sculpture, I am primarily a filmmaker. Filmmaking in any capacity is much different from more traditional studio art practices. There is a considerable amount of pre-planning involved in any motion picture endeavor and much of your work tends to be collaborative. There are many video artists who do work alone, but for narrative films or documentaries, there are several roles to fill in order to make a successful piece. I enjoy collaborating with other artists, actors, and subjects so it’s a positive experience for me.
JC: I am primarily a photographer in my individual practice. I shoot with a large format camera, which is a very formal and deliberate way of making photographs. I oscillate between staging fictional narratives and creating portrait-based documentary style series, rooted in the process of participant observation. While I approach aspects of each one of these ways of working differently, the process of going out and doing some activity and making art along the way remains consistent in most everything I make. For example, I will organize a group of friends to go on a trip and make photos along the way or I will take my dog swimming in summer and photograph the people I meet at the places we go. I allow my process to guide what I make and recognize it as an important component in my practice. Moreover, I like that my art making becomes the catalyst for a shared experience with other people and that experience in turn become part of the work.
Please describe your work on Coventry from your point of view.
SC: Jeremy is a photographer and as mentioned, I typically work with motion pictures, so we come from different perspectives when telling a story and tend to use different tools. I learned a lot from Jeremy in the process because he orchestrates ideas in a much different way. For example, he thinks though ideas using simple sketches in a notebook to define visual landscapes. For me, I tend to be interested in visualizing the entire picture, which can sometimes be a detriment to the creative process in many art forms. I subscribe to the theory that a filmmaker or director has an overall vision for a film, and the success of that film depends on realizing that overall vision through the trials and tribulations of production. My role on Coventry was to bring my experience as a filmmaker to this unique project. Jeremy had these incredible still images he wanted to animate and I did my best to help facilitate developing these images into motion pictures.
JC: As Shawn or I would have initial ideas for shots or scenes, those ideas would be refined through discussion and even during shooting. We would typically start a shoot with general parameters of what we wanted to achieve, often make adjustments while on location, trying different versions of what we had in mind. This was my first creative collaboration and also the first time working with Shawn. I enjoyed having another person to bounce ideas off of and we were each able to contribute our own knowledge and skills to the project. Shawn is the experienced filmmaker out of the two of us and brought a great deal of knowledge regarding that process. I knew the area where we shot Coventry intimately having grown up and made many photographs there and was able to suggest spots that would be good for the scenes we had in mind. We were also able to recruit friends of mine that I had worked with previously, so I was able to contribute a great deal in regards to casting.
Have you had any memorable responses to this piece? And if yes, please describe.
SC: We’ve had many great experiences showing the film and receiving thoughtful feedback. But there are a handful of times when folks watching are not expecting to “unpack" the film, since it’s made in a different way. At a film festival in Wisconsin, for example, Coventry was shown with another film which was much more conventional and direct in terms of subject matter and production strategies. The crowd responded very well to the other film, but they were quite perplexed with ours. Coventry aspires to activate the viewer and force more complex dialogue between the audience and ourselves than traditional films focused on entertainment. It was interesting to see how if folks are not prepared to watch a film by employing different viewing strategies, it’s sometimes difficult to communicate with an audience.
Who are three artists you are influenced by and why.
SC: Since I’m a filmmaker, I tend to gravitate to other filmmakers who inspired me with their work. Folks like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard of course are important to me because they challenged the institutional modes of cinema production in the 1950’s. I also am very influenced by people like Werner Herzog and Chris Marker because they resist categorization.
JC: My work draws from a wide range of influences. I enjoy storytelling in any format, whether it’s through visual art, music, film, spoken word or writing. I think Cormac McCarthy is one of the great contemporary storytellers and the visual nature of his writing has been helpful for sparking ideas for photographs. Early on as a student, I loved looking at many of the major practitioners of photography from the 70’s such as, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld and how they used color. John Pfahl is another artist I have always admired, especially his landscape interventions. Narrative painters such as Thomas Eakins, Andrew Wyeth, Casper David Freidrich and Eric Fischel have also influenced my visual style.
What are you currently working on?
SC: Jeremy approached me with a very strange and curious documentary idea about the rising python population in the state of Florida. We are calling the project Invasive Species and we’ve just begun shooting and looking for funding.
JC: Shawn and I have plans to complete Invasive Species over the next year or two, and I continue to make photographs and have recently started making videos. Moving to Connecticut from Florida two years ago has allowed me to work with an entirely new landscape. I continue to be in interested in themes such as hunting and hiding, and the metaphorical potential of those topics. I just completed a short film titled Prone Positions, which centers around two hidden figures communicating across a wintry landscape through a system of cryptic visual cues. I also continue working on my Ghillie Suits series, photographing people wearing constructed camouflage suits, blending into their surroundings. This series has also prompted me to think about others ways of cloaking figures or methods of obscuring what’s visible in a photograph.
What is your dream project?
SC: It seems evident, to me anyway, that many filmgoers are bored with what they see in the cineplex and would prefer to be more engaged by riskier films. I have written a series of challenging narrative films that would definitely be too unconventional for most film studios. My “dream” project would be to somehow convince someone to produce at least one of them and unleash it upon the masses to test my theory.
What is one of your favorite 4D artworks, or pieces of design, and why?
SC: Not that I’m a huge Matt Barney fan, but I really adore his Cremaster Cycle. It’s so overwhelming and ambitious. The fact he acquired near limitless funding to create such an arcane, sprawling motion picture experience staggers the imagination.
JC: I had the pleasure of seeing Issac Jullian’s Ten Thousand Waves installed at the Bass Museum in Miami a couple of years back. I thought that was a pretty spectacular piece. The entire exhibition was primarily lens-based work with stunning large format color photos sprinkled throughout. However, the main piece was a room filled with video projections on hanging screens in various positions throughout the space. There were often multiple videos running at once bouncing from different screens, but all informing the same narrative. The videos, sound, sequencing of the video and installation all worked together to create a truly beautiful and engrossing art viewing experience.