- Your project The North Fork accentuates an intimacy that fluctuates between human elements and a landscape. What is the premise of the project?
The North Fork is a place in my imagination. It is also a valley in my home state of Colorado. It is a farmland of mesas and plains sheltered by deep wilderness, precipitous canyons, sloping forests, and ragged peaks.
When I was seven years old, my dad brought me to the North Fork for the first time. My dad’s brother, my aunt, and their seven kids lived there in a large rectangular army tent assembled at the base of a mountain. Their backyard had three ponds and a garden, where they grew their own food, and beyond that a dense forest of juniper trees where I imagined coyotes, black bears, and mountain lions lurked.
I marveled over my cousins’ world and I envied their freedom. It seemed as if they were on a never-ending adventure that was both exciting and terrifying, and — most striking to me — it was an experience shared by their whole family. However, in the years that followed, my dad and his brother had ongoing personal disputes, which led to a falling out. Disappointingly, I would no longer visit the valley, but my memories of it remained.
Almost 20 years later, I returned to the North Fork. I have since used photography to piece together a map of my experience of the valley’s landscape and inhabitants—paralleling my own complex terrain of memory and family.
- I find it interesting that although the project is about a particular place, you are omitting the obvious clues as to where we are. What was your decision to follow that direction?
The North Fork landscape in my pictures is as much of a character as the people who inhabit it. Part of the valley’s temperament is based on its seasonality and wide-ranging topography, both of which have inspired me photographically. As a viewer of this work, I want to encourage you to formulate your own imaginative sense of place.
- There are allegorical, melancholic and poetic qualities in this body of work and even though each photograph works independently, all of the images are connected organically. Can you talk about your criteria for editing the project?
I always consider how my pictures operate en masse—individually, sequentially, and side-by-side. While considering pictures for The North Fork, I’ve been interested in blurring the line between ambiguity and familiarity as if navigating a string of suggestive memories.
- When you are thinking about a new project, are you interested in working within the familiar space of your life experiences or simply making pictures that are visually interesting, and why?
Neither. It’s not productive to constrain yourself too much. I value fluidity and allow my work-in-progress to have evolving conditions. Also, given the excess of photography today, I think it’s implicit that pictures should be visually interesting.
- As a young photographer, you worked with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb. What did you learn from that collaboration and how has your relationship with them influenced your work?
I was lucky to be Alex and Rebecca’s assistant for three years while they went on press for The Suffering of Light and My Dakota. I also saw the progression of work that became their joint book, Memory City. This position gave me a unique insight into their photographic and bookmaking processes as well as their studio practice. I wore a whole lot of hats as their assistant, and we even travelled to Spain and Cuba together. Even though the Webbs and I now live on opposite coasts — in Brooklyn and Berkeley, respectively — we maintain closeness and joke that they’re my surrogate parents. Their influence on my life and work has been invaluable.
- Who is the photographer you identify with the most and why?
As a Colorado native, I’ve long identified with the work of Robert Adams. I share his reverence for Colorado’s rivers and trees as well as his adoration for the state’s open lands, small towns and natural light. I admire his ability to maintain hopefulness and his desire to find beauty in the world even when he’s confronted with situations he finds deplorable.
- Amidst a noisy and dense visual world — particularly on social media platforms — how do you promote your work?
I prefer not to get too caught up with the real-time urgency of social media. My main outlet on social media is my Instagram account, @trentdavisbailey.
- Do you think it’s productive for an artist to participate in the constant upload of imagery in order to promote their work?
Actually, I think it can be counterproductive. The currency of likes on Instagram and Facebook isn’t a viable indicator of an artist’s achievements. There’s an indispensable quality and physicality that gets lost when viewing a jpeg on a backlit screen. If you want to truly understand an artist’s work, go experience it in person.
- What advice would you give art students and emerging photographers in order to create a successful body of work?
Your ideas should overwhelm you. Question what is possible and make work that seeks to resolve your ambitions. Above all else, your work should gratify you. Use that — your own gratification — as your gauge for success.
- What is your opinion on the current state of American Photography?
I subscribe to the belief that photography is universal.