I don’t exactly remember when and where I first came across Baltimore based photographer Ben Marcin’s famed photo series ‘Last House Standing’ as I’ve been seeing it in all mentionable art and photography magazines and blogs. I could well sense the underlying irony of these idyllic row houses standing isolated for ages. The sombre and matter-of-fact appearance of the houses always strikes me with a bitter-sweet nostalgia and confusion.
Born in Augsburg, Germany more than five decades ago, Ben’s work deals with observation and assessment of habitat, architecture, and spaces. The inclusion of surrounding landscape in his photos draws viewer’s attention to the relationship between the unaltered and built environment. The photos selected for this feature belong to his series ‘Last House Standing’, ‘Out West’, ‘A House Apart’, ‘The Camps’, ‘Landlocked’, and ‘Rootballs’ and I am convinced that you can identify them without any captions.
I’d strongly suggest those in and around Baltimore to visit his gallery, C. Grimaldis, and see these fantastic images in large archival pigment prints. Please click here to see his artist page. Ben’s work has been exhibited in scores of solo and group exhibitions. It is also held in several public collections including the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Ben gladly responded to some basic questions about his photography, preferences and opinions on different subjects. His replies have been arranged in pointers below:
About me : I started relatively late, around age twenty-seven. I am entirely self-taught. I couldn’t afford art school so regrets are not an issue. If I had gone to art school. I think I would have learned more about art history and technique in a shorter, more condensed period of time. As it is, I travelled to New York over a hundred times in the last thirty years to see the top photography shows – that was a huge part of my education.
My photography : Some photographers work out a theory or plan in advance and develop it very carefully over a long period of time. I work a little differently. At its most magical, photography is about discovery and I like the freedom to explore and find unexpected things out in the field. When I go out shooting, it’s amazing what can happen in two hours – even in a parking lot. Of course, over time different interests and subjects start to take hold so I am both improvising as well as working on very specific projects.
I am attracted to the solitary outlier: the grand rootball; the boat abandoned in the middle of the woods miles from any body of water; the solo row house in a destroyed neighborhood; or an epic hobo camp. There’s something about being completely alone and dignified that I find very poignant.
My influences : There are a number of excellent photographers that I admire, especially Josef Koudelka and Bresson, but I find most of my inspiration through music and the great 20th-century painters like Emil Nolde, Helen Frankenthaler, and David Hockney. Musically, it’s a mixed bag in my studio – some free jazz, some eccentric sound “organizers” like Charlemagne Palestine and Christoph Heeman plus a number of contemporary bands like The Fall and Todd Rundgren. Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” changed everything for me at twenty-one and I can listen to Karol Szymanowski’s Mazurkas for Piano (Op. 50) all day long. His second violin concerto is colossal and had a huge effect on me when I first decided to become a photographer.
My gear : I use a Canon 5D Mark II for everything. At some point, I would like to go back to large-format but for now the Canon is working beautifully. I have started a long project focusing on street scars and sidewalks that the Canon is very well suited for.
On contemporary photography : Regarding current trends, I think some of the camera-less photography that has taken hold during the past ten or so years is quite interesting. There is a tremendous amount of potential here and several photographers are using this to great advantage, in my opinion.