Accra Shepp is an imposing figure. He’s tall and lanky with a quick smile and a melodious voice. I met him late one afternoon at the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York City. I there to do an interview with another photographer before the opening of his show at the Kasher Gallery. (CLICK HERE for more on Chip Simone.)
Accra is a fine art photographer based in New York. He was exhibiting his photographs of the “Occupy” movement in the front window of the gallery there. He was there to talk with people as they moved between the two walls of photographs, filled floor to ceiling with images of people putting their bodies on the line to protest. The photos were captivating and I admit that Accra Shepp himself is a force of nature. Listen to an an edited clip of our conversation about his work on “Occupy” and his ongoing project photographing “The Islands of New York.”
Click on the audio player below to hear the interview.
His work on the “Occupy” movement began at the beginning of the protest. He continues to document the protestors even now after the encampment has been dispersed and the media hype has cooled to the point that most people don’t even think that the protest continues. His images are deeply intimate but so contextually significant that it’s hard to imagine that he shoots these photographs on a 4×5 camera using film. This is a process that takes time. It slows down the process of photography. It demands that the subject and the photographer spend time in relationship. And this comes through in the photos. “I was blown away by the intensity of effort and the concern that the people had brought to bear,” said Shepp. “When I go to the site, I have no idea what I’m going to find… I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking at until I get there.” This leaves him open to really observing, addressing, and documenting whatever happens. “I’m interested in the people who are making the protest,” he said. “Because they are the protest.”
I was blown away by the diversity of people that Accra captured in this project. People from every race, age, class, and educational level were and continue to be part of this political protest. The portraits that he has been able to capture right in context there on the streets of New York City is phenomenal. Each photo tries to tell the story of the person or persons in the photo. The images are intimate split seconds captured by the camera’s aperture that will live on to inform our memories of the Occupy Movement. You can see more of this work at the Steven Kasher Gallery and on his own website www.accrashepp.com.
Accra Shepp is also in the middle of another very interesting project called “The Islands of New York.” This project attempts to photograph all of the islands that make up New York City. I was amazed to find that the city is made up of dozens of islands some only accessible by boat. Shepp’s work on this project often spans more than one panel of large format film. Then the images are scanned and printed on ILFORD GALERIE Prestige Gold Fibre Silk.
“I heard an interview with a person who was talking about the various islands of New York,” he said. Shepp had been living in and documenting aspects of Chicago. As a native New Yorker he had not known about this interesting fact of New York being made up of a collection islands. “To be ignorant of one of it’s most salient features seemed like a problem that needs to be addressed. And its a cultural issue obviously so that’s why I’m addressing it with art…. There are many, many remote parts, I’m thinking about …. some of the parts of Staten Island … you would hardly recognize as New York.”
This is territory that will never run out of things to photograph. And a fine art photographer like Accra Shepp is concerned with the print. “I’m very much aware of the print being the final arbiter between the viewer and me. And I take great pains to make sure the image is just want I want it to be,” Shepp said. For many years he didn’t work in color because he was not happy with the image he could achieve with a color C-print. “The Islands of New York” is all in color. “There are some things that I can do digitally, and specifically on the GALERIE Gold Fibre Silk which is a beautiful paper, that allow the prints to be seen as they ought to be seen.” The scans are wet mounted scans at a high resolution so that each image is 250-500 MB each, large enough to make a 20×24 print. ILFORD GALERIE Prestige Gold Fibre Silk photo paper gives Accra the color gamut that allows him to express his vision in the print.
We talked a bit about the weight and the permanence of ILFORD GALERIE Prestige Gold Fibre Silk. When museums discuss acquiring prints for permanent collections they are very interested in the archival properties of the paper and inks. “When the Museum of Modern Art was acquiring [a piece of my] work they asked me for a great deal of information….I was very pleased to be able to tell them that I am using materials that are on the… archival end of the spectrum,” he said. “These are works that transcend my generation to the next generation and on after that.”
Take some time to enjoy www.accrashepp.com there is information on both of the projects that we’ve discussed here as well as additional galleries of photos and information on other projects he has worked on the past. And enjoy all of the great information, videos, interviews, articles, and a link to the Wilhelm Imaging Research studies that show the permanence ratings of ILFORD GALERIE Prestige Gold Fibre Silk at FutureNow.ILFORD.com.
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All images in this posting are copyright Accra Shepp and may not be used without the permission of the artist.