Multimedia Laboratory

Interview with photographer | Jay Muhlin

When did you first become involved in photography and why?

I have been fascinated with photography for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I would use the family camera–my early work mainly involved out-of-focus photos of squirrels and pigeons at the zoo. In high school, I worked at a one-hour photo store; I got the job because I asked so many questions during the interview. In college, I thought I should take photography more seriously when I was cutting my classes to have more time to print in the darkroom. It’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t thinking about photography or how images describe thoughts without words. The original magic that made photography mysterious has kept me intrigued.

Who are some of your favorite photographers and why do you admire their work?

When I was starting out, I could easily geek out with photography’s early history. Anything Victorian captivated me; it was like looking at images from another world. I was mostly interested in formal qualities of the work, so photographers like Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston used to captivate me. I became obsessed with Alfred Stieglitz and that opened a broader interest with photography. I fell in love with Andrea Modica’s work for its ability to touch on an emotional truth. The more photography I look at, the more I appreciate different points of view. My list of favorite photographers is quite long. Photographers that didn’t interest me in the past, like Robert Adams, are some of my favorites now. Artists who use photography, like Ed Ruscha, offer an important and unchained freshness to the medium. Finding inspiration outside of photography is also really important; for example, while writing this response, I’m listening to the new PJ Harvey album–her music has been a long time inspiration.

What is your greatest experience as a photographer?

It might be simple: concentrating absolutely while making a photograph and surprising myself with the result.

What equipment do you prefer to use and why?

I am a reformed equipment freak. But I still use a lot of different formats of cameras from 35mm to 8×10. It really depends on the project I am working on. I mainly used a Hasselblad when I was an undergrad at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and after when shooting for editorial jobs. I have been using a Hasselblad for over 15 years; it’s second nature and travels very well. I used it for photographing my circus work in Switzerland and most recently when in Japan photographing for a new book I am currently working on. I use large format cameras frequently as well. Cameras are just tools. I am now working on a few projects and finding a new pleasure

in using an old 35mm point and shoot. At the same time, I am grinding my teeth and coughing up the cash for film to feed my 8×10 camera.

Describe your editing process (i.e. How do you go about selecting, retouching and printing your photographs?)

I am my own worst enemy. I compulsively make images and am then left with a lot of choices. I am currently editing images of landscapes made at 55mph or faster from 18-wheel truck. I shot this project with a Cannon 5D Mark 2 and I have over 20,000 images. I have been using Adobe Lightroom to edit, and it is taking a little while.

I worked at a magazine retouching; it was a great education working with other photographers’ images. It offered a chance to problem solve with a variety of issues and think about images mechanically. Good retouching requires particular skills and is a different way of seeing images. I don’t retouch my images for the most part–just subtly finesse them. A few of the photos from Japan are composite images.

What sets your work apart from that of others?

It’s an interesting question- I think if I saw photographs that spoke for me I wouldn’t have a need to make my own. I change my voice to fit a project or idea. I don’t feel the need to define myself by having one signature style. I want to push myself into new territory- I love how the medium of photography is so versatile.

What are your plans and aspirations for the future regarding photography?

I am currently working towards finishing an MFA in photography at Syracuse University. It was been wonderful to have time to focus on my art. I have been able to push myself out of my comfort zone by taking a poetry class and working with video. I am obsessed with photography books. I would like to try to put out a book a month for a year as a challenge to myself.

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