Andy Chen's nature photography you might sense an intuitive knowledge of
another plane of reality—a spiritual realm, perhaps — overlaying
our own. The sci-fi/fantasy novels of Charles de Lint, of which Chen is an avid
fan, are set partly in such a world. But in many respects the existence of such
a shadow world isn't a fantasy at all, although it would be a stretch to define
it in spiritual terms. Entering into this world is a daily reality, in
fact, for anyone who spends any amount of time on the Internet.
Social Currency, the show that Chen is
curating at StutzArtSpace opening Friday, March 4, deals with the
interaction of our physical world and of the World Wide Web; more specifically
it focuses on the effect of social media on photography in the Internet
Chen graduated Purdue University with a degree in Computer Engineering in 1996.
Four years later, he started a successful dot-com. While he's moved on to a
career as a full-time photographer, Chen still spends a lot of time in the
digital world, blogging, maintaining his website and communicating with friends
met up recently with Chen and we talked in his study on the second floor of his
northside residence in which he lives with his wife Hannah and two-year-old
daughter, Ruby. We started off by Chen talking about the upcoming Social Currency show.
Chen: I wanted to get involved
in all this social media stuff going on that's having an impact on basically
how photography is viewed. Some people call Facebook a glorified
photo-sharing site. But then if you look at photography as a medium, it's
really had much more of a social aspect than some of the other mediums.
part of people's everyday lives and we use it to document vacations and
significant milestones like birthdays...senior pictures... so those things have
always served as a kind of social currency when you exchange them and show them
to your friends and family... it has an impact on how you relate to people and
how you share your life, maybe even how you want to establish your reputation
especially like when you keep giving a senior picture to somebody. You're
really trying to make a mark [to establish that] this is my identity. And
now that's really moved online.
really a great time to explore the progression of how photographs are used as
social currency. So that was the idea for the show.
NUVO: Can you talk about
some of the other artists and their work for this show?
Chen: Matt Sommers
is making postcards for fictional tourist attractions. So his
piece is actually going to be a postcard spinner. And I really love it
because of the aspect of sharing your travels. Holly Sommers' piece is
going to be like a mobile. And then Ron Kern's piece is about portraiture.
So it's going to be a multi-paneled thing and each panel will have some vintage
Victorian images all the way up to a portrait of himself.
NUVO: What are you looking for
when you put together these photographers? How do they complement one another?
Chen: Really, what I'm looking
for is how they explore different aspects of the social currency theme and so
portraiture was certainly one I wanted to capture. Ginny Taylor Rosner's pieces
are more about this transition into the online world; and so one of her pieces
is actually going to be this photo album. Both of her pieces are
books. And if you think of the [typical] family photo album with the
cling static pages where you have pictures with the handwritten
captions, but rather than pictures she's going to put CDs in them. I'm really
pleased that it came out that several pieces in the show aren't traditional
framed photographs on the wall.
NUVO: You're having the
show at StutzArtSpace. What's your history with the Stutz?
Chen: I moved into the Stutz
with my studio two years ago. I think last fall they were starting to look
for shows for next year. So I had this idea and I proposed it and they
were like 'Oh yeah, let's do it.' So that's how it came about. And
then in January, I became the director of the StutzArtSpace Gallery.
NUVO: In your previous work you
have natural settings, spaces devoid of people — a beam of sunlight
entering a clearing for example — and there might be a symbolic content
in that work. I guess I don't see a connection between that work and your
upcoming show. Is there a connection there, though? Something that
Chen: Well, regarding the
work you've seen before: I've always been interested in notions of story and
journey. And especially since I've had a kid, the expression of how do you
capture someone in images I've been more intrigued with and so of course I've been
taking lots of pictures of my kid. And I think even especially after having
Ruby I haven't been able to go backpacking as much and I've been spending more
time in the city. And so a lot of the project ideas that I have coming up
are actually more oriented around the city or with people.
NUVO: Before you were a
full-time photographer, you developed software?
Chen: Yeah. I have a
computer engineering degree from Purdue (1996). Right when I got out of school
I worked for a consulting company for a few years. And then a friend of
mine and I started a dot-com in 2000. It was called Quobix. And we had
that company for five years, until 2005. We made collaboration software
that ran on the Web. We deployed it ourselves for people to use for software development.
another startup actually liked our platform and built their whole business off
of it. That other company's called Innocentive. We basically ran
their technology side for several years... So I still do some part-time software
development, but now most of my time is spent on the art side.
show is really a combination between all my background on the social aspect of
the Internet and photography and I'm really excited to be able to bring them
NUVO: In addition to you
and your family, a number of other people live in your house including a single
mom and her three-year-old daughter. On the first floor there's community
living space. Does the physical space you live in, as well as your notions
of Internet community and culture, have some effect on this show?
Chen: A number of
different people have lived here over the five-and-a-half years that I've
had the house. It's not a traditional living situation. So people
are attracted here or have some time of interest to live with other
people. I certainly had my reasons.
think everyone here now is really distant from their immediate family or they
don't live close to their immediate family. So we have kind of a family
feel to the house... we celebrate holidays together. We help each other
through struggles and conflict. We've also had a numbers of guys going
through divorces staying here for a few months just trying to sort out where
they're going to next.
something that I'm thinking about, how people are connected. And that's
something that's important to me in this exhibit is how people connect to each
other in their lives.