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Featured Artist: Larry Treadway

Editor’s Note: Larry Treadway (simply known as “Tread” online) is one of the few photographers who works primarily with film. While new technology continues improving the field of digital photography, Tread embraces the the natural vignettes and streaks that come from using cheap, plastic cameras. He brilliantly captures perspectives of everyday life in Kentucky using Holga and Diana cameras. After reading our interview, check out more of Tread’s work at -Steve

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a dyed-in-the-wool Kentuckian; born, schooled and employed here my whole life, in the central part of the state. I have been a graphic artist/designer geek for the past 28 years. Which sounds like a long time when I say it but it’s true.

How did you get into photography?
I got a Pentax ME Super for Christmas around 1983. I never really stopped shooting although I have never really done it as a profession on a real level. I bought a Holga after seeing some images that Nancy Rexroth had taken with a Diana. Must have been late 80s. I took a few rolls with it but was not impressed with my images and put the thing away for about a decade before digging it back out…within a year I had probably ran through 100 rolls of film with it and had purchased a half dozen old Dianas and Diana clones and a couple more Holgas. I haven’t stopped shooting with tired old plastic cameras since.

You work primarily with film and analog cameras that some might regard as old or junk. Why do you prefer film?
Well, as a working graphic artist I spend 8-9 hours a day in front of computer, manipulating words, photos and drawings with a mouse. Over the years my profession has gotten less and less hands-on and much more perfect and precise. As much as I like my job, it lacks a lot of reward artistically, I mean, I basically try and sell my part of the world healthcare services. It’s a conservative market, so I still feel I need an artistic release beyond what I get professionally. Photography gives me that.

I have given much thought to why I use cheap, archaic equipment because I have been asked interviews and have taught toy camera workshops and the best answer is that I enjoy the limitations the cameras afford. So much is just out of my control that I have more time to think about the moment, to study the motivation of that “click.” With my digital camera, I have knobs and nice lenses and so much control that I rarely “make” a good photo. But with my old Mark L (a Diana clone) I look at what I am shooting a whole lot more, and I don’t mean I look through the viewfinder longer, I mean I just look. Sometimes I miss the photo because I am just looking and thinking about the photo I want to make and it never happens. But it is all part of the process and to some extent that Is what makes photography art and not just science.

I have been vocal in the past about film vs. digital but I have softened a bit. Digital is here, digital has increased the interest in picture taking again, digital has been responsible for great imagery. I will continue to shoot film because it’s what I enjoy and if ultimately it’s viewed in a vacuum only by other film users I’m fine with that but I don’t want film use to ultimately just end up a gimmick, which to some extent, because of Lomography and Urban Outfitters and some of their hipstercentric marketing out there, toy cameras have been reduced to.

Do you post process any of your images?
I have been using Photoshop literally since it’s inception. It’s a tool for photographers. I scan and have to clean up all my photos. I try to stay fairly true to the image that the camera captured but I am of the mindset that it’s the image that matters not some line in the sand I have to draw for or against post-processing. So if the images needs something to appeal to me more I will do it, it might be increasing contrast or sharpening or something. Basically the same tricks you have performed 25 years ago in your home darkroom, I just do it at the desk now.

Your images document seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life in a unique way. How do you describe your work?
I am a huge fan of all of the work of Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s work. He is from right here in Lexington, where I work. He photographed his family, his friends, and things in this area. I used to fantasize about heading out west and shooting images like Robert Weston or down South and become William Eggleston and one day it hit me, “do more of what YOU know.” So I turned the camera on my two kids. I shot things I see everyday and I tried to make art out of the things that had a space somewhere in my life. Sometimes it works, but I don’t pretend to know how other people view any of my work. I would imagine that they may dislike as much of it as I do, and maybe now and again like something in some of it, again, as I do.

You use the word “ephemera” when referring to your image galleries online. Can you tell us what this means and how it relates to your work?
If you just kinda go by the definition of Ephemera is any transitory written or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved. I think it derives from a word meaning things lasting no more than a day. So it’s easy for me to explain why some of my images fall into that description.

Featured Photographer and Artist Larry Treadway

My images are merely thoughts, that moment, not meant to be retained or preserved with their original meaning. The viewer can choose to place whatever meaning they wish on the image, or for that matter, no meaning whatsoever to them if they choose. That sounds sort of lofty but it isn’t, just think of my work as “temporary stuff.” Doesn’t mean it isn’t permanently captured just means that the meaning can be fleeting or in constant transition. Much like the images of my sons, in transition, always as they change to men. My most widely “known” images are of them and the best of those are the ones that give a glimpse of the transition.

A lot of new photographers have never worked with film. Do you have any advice for someone interested in experimenting with traditional film?
My best advice: buy a Holga, just a cheap, plain black Holga. Put 400 ASA film in it. Put some duct tape on the camera to guard against like leaks. Grab your best friend, your mom or a stranger and on a clear day go outside and stand 5-6 feet from them and click, advance the film, and click again. And do variations of this same thing until the film is all exposed.

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Find you a film processor or drop it in the mail and wait. If you aren’t happy when you get the film back, figure out why, was it the subject, did you do something wrong or is it just not thing. Don’t give up on it though, keep trying, keep thinking about what you want to say with your photography, the beauty of using film is there is little instant gratification beyond the click. So you must learn to feel gratified by the action of picture making, not digital screen checking. It may not be for everyone but it is for some who are looking to tell different stories with their imagery.

Are there any other projects that you would like to tell us about?
Forever ongoing as a project is 9700 days or the amount of time some say it takes a boy to become a man, it’s just documenting moments of my boys existence and beyond that I have a project that will actually include them more in the image making. I don’t have a name or anything for the project but involves both them being photographed and them photographing…and of course, the loose thread of images that constitute ephemera in my life.

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