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Interview: Parker James Reinecker's Then & Now

Interview: Parker James Reinecker's Then & Now

Lives and works in Salisbury, North Carolina

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

It just really kind of happened. In the beginning when I was going to school for writing, I enrolled with a minor in photography. I was never super good at skateboarding, but I always enjoyed photographing and looking at the images in old Thrasher and Transworld Skateboarding magazines. Even as an educator, I'm not one to encourage all to go to art school, getting immersed into an art program as an undergrad at Marywood University, a small College in Northeastern Pennsylvania and diving into the history and theory of photography I had the realization that I wasn't doomed to make senior portraits. I really became interested more so in utilizing photographs and lens based media as a research tool with a focus on "why" not just an aesthetic "how".

Thrift Store, Mt. Gilead, North Carolina

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I was born in central Pennsylvania in the capital city of Harrisburg. After getting into trouble as a young teenager after being in an institution, I was sent to a group home (where I was the youngest one) in Northeastern Pennsylvania outside of Scranton. I feel this experience of being from and involved in this certain culture, in a place like Central or Northeastern Pennsylvania where it's really hard to see past the mountains that surround the valley, if you know what I mean, is such a driving force in my work, especially early on when I was learning how to photograph and form a project.

Image by Zora J. Murff

It has such a tendency to be portrayed as a sad and bleak place. If you watched that show recently Mare of Easttown, that’s kind of the vibe but even more so. BUT with that being said, there is no place like it and I love it with all of my heart. This idea of having to work hard and really make the best out of what you have is so engrained in this place that it's almost like a blessing. The history too, it's like you can run your finger along the siding of a house and you'll wipe off coal dust from the 1950's and that history of a lower working class environment really echoes throughout the region. good and bad. Then to move away from that place to pursue art, I really focused on what was relatable to that, so my current practice for the past 5 years has really delt heavily with the theme of "place" and I just tend to seek out those types of environments. Even though I may not be from North Carolina, New Mexico or Northern Georgia, themes of those projects were really born out of my connection to where I'm from. Now, I feel like despite growing pains I've come into this role as a southern artist in a lot of ways. Even though I've formed a relationship with the South I still feel like A. I'll never begin to scratch the surface and B. my work will always be rooted somehow, even if it's just relatability, to my connection to PA coal country.

River Access Campground, Yadkin, North Carolina

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

Similar to what I mentioned in the answer before, my work has always been rooted in this idea of an identity of a place and in the beginning, I was just photographing what I would see every day. Then after about a while, probably 2012, my sophomore year as an undergrad, I really began to focus on building a narrative within the frame and the way a photograph could hold a maintain a narrative or symbolism. For example, what does a back turned toward an American flag represent or something like that. I had begun working on my first long-term project "The Then, The Now, The Everything After". I was really invested in working with deep highlights and heavy shadows, so this idea of light and dark, or even further good and evil, or again further, this idea coming out of the shadows reaching for something more or even reaching for an idea of hope. Now, this was when I was younger and I feel the work has matured in a lot of ways but I was beyond grateful to have the experience I did as a student and was pushed to question what the photographs were really saying and what I wanted them to say.

Image by Niko J. Kallianiotis

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

In the beginning, obviously Robert Frank's "The American's" that was really when the switch was flipped when I dove into that and I thought to myself "wow, this is what I want to do..." but as I progressed I was really into Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz early on. I read a lot and still do. I became obsessed with this idea of the development of the "why" in photography, not just the how. Although it may not seem relevant, John Divola's work is super influential to me, I was super into the Zuma Series and Vandalism work, and this idea of the alteration of space. Paul Graham, an the influence of repetition within a series. More contemporary influences, Stacy Kranitz (recent Guggenheim Fellow) in my opinion is one of the best doing it right now. I base a lot of discussion around her work with my students, given a lot of the blow back she has received over the course of her career, but hey, haters gonna hate. Zora J. Murff came out with the project a few years ago titled "Corrections" which focused on a more conceptual take of the juvenile justice system in Iowa, and that project really dove so deep into building narratives within a photograph. I can relate to that experience in that subject matter as well so that work always really stuck with me. Niko J. Kallianiotis was one of my professors early on and I am honored to call him a friend today. Niko taught me how to build a frame and experience and read a situation. We talk a lot about how the photograph is almost a secondary entity, transcended by the experience of making the image. This is just a few but there's so many great photographers currently working. As an image maker, while the history is of course important, it's equally as important to be paying attention to what is going on now.

Images by John Divola

Where do you find inspiration?

It really depends, when I am different places, I tend to work in a pretty straight forward manner depending on what themes are present within current work. I always work on a project basis in which I revisit locations a lot. Looking at how light changes etc. Talking with people and getting to know the history of a place is super important to me, and not just the history of the town as a whole but the history of locations. I like questions about certain area and diving into research. I feel the research is just as important as the images. But literature and music always play a role and influences how I might approach photographing at that point in time or that day. Often times, when I go out looking for an image, I usually tend to fall short. When I go out just to see what I find, I tend to make better images in this sense of them coming to me rather than "hunting" a photo. That manner of working also allows me to be more open in ways I might frame an image. I'm a big fan of developing rules for yourself but I can tend to do it to a fault sometimes, so if I'm going to a location or area where I'm going to make pictures and allow myself to work fluidly, I feel a lot freer and often times make better images... but getting out of your own way can be easier said than done.

Bail Bond Office, Albuquerque, New Mexico - From the project Running from the Sun.

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

I would have to say the project I am working on now "Two Cardinals in the Thicket". I really set out to break away from boxes I had been putting myself in with the Route 66, New Mexico work titled "Running from the Sun". RFTS featured a lot of banded and more formal compositions. Even in a gallery space the work really became linear, which worked well for that project as a theme was somewhat this idea of a journey. But after working on that project for three + years, moving from Georgia and getting situated in a new area of the south in North Carolina, I really wanted to work a bit differently. I wanted to move closer and really break a lot of rules that I had set for myself. Two Cardinals in the Thicket really became this more conceptual study of landscape and class in the Yadkin Pee-Dee River basin in the Central Piedmont region of NC.

Indian Jewelry Store, Gallup, New Mexico- From the project Running from the Sun.

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

When I really committed to "Two Cardinals in the Thicket" and begun the project, the numerous themes (there's a lot) didn't happen all at once, they came about one by one. So again, I felt the need to work closer so when talking to people I began to take images that were almost more confrontational with a subject. Then I started using the flash to isolate these "portraits" from the background of their environment. I began pairing these images with photographs of flowers at dusk and so began this idea of a "study." To me the images of the flowers although appearing almost in these scientific collective compositions (centered in the frame, tack sharp detail) They really symbolized a sensitive or intimate pause, then paired with the harsher portraits that contrast began to stand for roles in this conflicting relationship for the viewer. So now that I had been working close, I was thinking about class this is region and how it stood for so much of the rural south. Instead of a more formal documentation, I began to use satellite imagery of digital maps (google etc.) then I was removing vital points of navigation (street names, highway titles, names of towns) and only left Dollar Stores and their descriptions, dotted in this "landscape". The idea was to challenge a viewer to navigate this region with only these resources or more literally without resources they might need. These "maps" are often projected in the gallery space. Closer photos of the surface detail of rocks became a part of the project too and I find that they mimic the "maps" in a lot of ways but become a more literal symbol of erosion to the landscape. I was making these really cinematic images as well drastic lighting situations like sunsets or heavy fog, read as added value to the landscape then I was making these abstract landscape images using movement with a film camera and begun inserting these into the more dramatic photographs. I always read these as a piece missing from a puzzle in a way and speaks to a theme of isolation within a region. That's also where the graffiti and Abroglyphs came into play as well, this idea of permanence and significance to space and need to make a mark. Finally, throughout my research I came across a database of yearbooks throughout North Carolina. I began looking through these yearbooks page by page and began looking through the year books of segregated schools throughout the Yadkin Pee-Dee region from the 1950's. As a child growing up white in the north, education about segregation and the Jim Crow South was next to nothing and similar to the history of coal in Northeast PA, this history of segregation still echo's heavily in these rural areas of North Carolina. So, continuing this investigation of space, I began to Desegregate these Black and White spaces of a segregated era. Some appearing awkward and uncomfortable the goal was to challenge viewers and myself of how these spaces can exist today.

Car Wash, Thoreau, New Mexico - From the project Running from the Sun.

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

It was a struggle to work in a new manner and come out of a pattern of working, but it was so fresh and good to work through those challenges. Although it is scary I feel like I opened the door to new ways of working for new work to come. Can't wait to see what my work is like in 5 + years, I hope it's a new experience for me, just want to remain open and teachable.

Fake Gun Store (Flea Market), Salisbury, North Carolina- From the project Two Cardinals in the Thicket.

What are you working on now?

Working on laying out a book edit of the new work. I'm really close to a final layout. With Two Cardinals in the Thicket, because there are so many themes going on under one umbrella, I feel a book is a good option for this work, it also speaks to the interaction and reflection from the viewer as well.

White Azelea, Lexington, North Carolina - From the project Two Cardinals in the Thicket.

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

It would be three things. One would be don't be afraid to step outside of boxes and try new things within your practice, the second would be to read and soak up advice where ever you can. Constantly challenge yourself and your work, don't be afraid it's just art. Also and third defend what you believe in. I always make it a point to tell my students that if they believe in decisions or something within their work and if they can defend it... go for it, stick to it. Now of course, be open to suggestions that's super important, but it's kind of a way to stay true to yourself. Either way, whether those decisions change and do something different, of if your work grows into something worth while you'll know where you stand.

Field Trip to the Museum- From the project Two Cardinals in the Thicket (Pt. 2 Desegregation Series)

About the Artist

Based in Salisbury, North Carolina

Parker James Reinecker is a visual artist, photographer and educator based in Central North Carolina and Atlanta Georgia. He is currently working in the Central Piedmont Region of North Carolina. His work focuses on themes of Human Ecology, Navigation and the Identity shaped by a Landscape.

Parker’s work has been exhibited in various galleries and museums in the United States including the Colorado Photographic Art Center, the Academy Art Museum and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. His work has also been featured in various national and international publications/platforms including C41 and Eyeshot Magazines, Dodho Magazine and The Photo Review. Parker is an MFA recipient from Savannah College of Art and Design and is a full-time Visual Arts Instructor at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in Salisbury, North Carolina

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