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Q&A: UNT Photography Professor Paho Mann

by Tina Aguilar 3 Jun 2010 10:27 AM

This week, Paho Mann, Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of North Texas, discusses his recent work that explores how we consume.


Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.

What do you touch and collect on a daily basis? How do we consume, and what might some inherent, personal and public tendencies be in our homes and neighborhoods. This week, Paho Mann, Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of North Texas, met with me about his recent work. This spring, his work with the Phoenix Public Art Program on the North Gateway Transfer Station Project was spotlighted on the Places Journal Web site. His work is a collection of urban fingerprints and encourages the viewer to muse and probe self and the nature of our collective patterns.

Tina Aguilar: Can you tell me about an early public art project and how you worked?

P.M.: One early project was in Phoenix, Arizona, for the 7th Avenue Streetscape Demonstration Project, where artists created streetscape panels for an urban setting. This work is a photomosaic panel documenting a local neighborhood. The images were compiled from Google satellite image searches, my photography, and research I conducted by walking through the neighborhood and asking residents to describe their spaces. I would download those area images, conduct independent searches, and then organize them. The work is made out of several small images to give a pixilated effect in total with a few enlarged images of key locations. My research process was really a lot of fun, and it was important to me to connect with the place where the art would be located.

Re-inhabited Circle Ks, 16 Archival Inkjet Prints, 2006

T.A.: This sense of identification of place and landscape is close to you. What about your Circle K explorations?

P.M.: The “Re-inhabited Circle Ks” started when I was commuting to school in New Mexico and I started noticing how many new businesses relocated inside of former Circle Ks. After a corporate initiative in the 80s and 90s, Circle Ks started adapting their spaces into new business opportunities. I found it interesting that you could drive and see a range of developments in this key architectural site. When you look at the area on a satellite map search, the footprint is pretty easy to spot. As I worked on this project, I found old phonebooks from the 70s, city directories and used satellite imagery to find different locations.

T.A.: Can you tell me about the North Gateway Transfer Station Project and the urban dance of collecting your samples?

Straws, Archival Inkjet Print, 2009

P.M.: For part of the process with this public art project, I spent a week at a solid waste transfer and material recovery substation with two assistants, where I photographed over 6,000 randomly selected objects. This collection facility operated with a conveyor belt system, garbage truck deposits every several minutes, and ran in sync with a front loader. Items were sorted with a systematic process, and later I made categories of things that I noticed with colors, materials and items like children’s toys, thrown away homework and drawings, and drinking straws attached to lids.

T.A.: Can you remember the early moments when the concept clicked for you?

P.M.: For the North Gateway Transfer Station, the project clicked at a few different moments.  I remember visiting the site before I started shooting and being excited about the sheer quantity of things to photograph. When I was back in my studio, the concept really started to click when I started to learn things by sorting the images by the different keywords I had tagged them with. I have always been very systematic and I depended on a system of finding the objects, photographing them and presenting them. The key wording is where most of my interpretation came through.

T.A.: What is Phase II for the North Gateway Transfer Station? Describe the kiosk concept and who will experience it?

P.M.: The second phase of the North Gateway Transfer Station Project will be an interactive Web site and touch screen kiosk. The idea grew out of the practice of archiving and cataloging that I used in the “Sort” project, a project where I documented all the objects in my apartment and archived them as a digital database. On the Web site and kiosk, users will be able to look at digital versions of the print work from the first phase of the project as well as sort though the data base I created for the work, making their own groupings of images. The kiosk will be installed at the Transfer Station, and the Web site will be available to anyone online.

T.A.: What are some key impressions that fascinate you about consumption or our collective consumption?

P.M.: I am fascinated by the place between active and passive consumption. The place between the need to buy groceries and the specific social and cultural act of, for instance, buying fashionable clothing. It is in that in-between place where I see a real sense of individuality.

T.A.: On a profound level you entice the viewer to consider public and private layers of existence and accumulation. What is it about the exploration of individuality that drives you?

P.M.: I’m not sure how profound it is, but my interest as an artist has always been the physical manifestation of individuality, places where I see a push and pull relationship between the mass-produced world and the effect of individual humans on that mass produced world.

Paho Mann continues to work on the next phase of the North Gateway Transfer Station Project this fall.

Plastic By Color, Six Archival Inkjet Prints, 2009, Commissioned by the City of Phoenix through the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture's Public Art Program