I have been the fortunate recipient of James Luckett's postcards for years and have always been drawn to their mysterious content. At one point in our lives we each had a post office box that contained the same numbers but in a different order. His was easy to remember because of this and I tried to drop one in the mail in response semi-regularly though mine were nowhere near as profound. The card I remember most prior to James joining the Postcard Collective referred to a request for me to continue to use twitter, comparing the experience to the night sky. I kept that card on my refrigerator for weeks until I received his first entry for the Collective.
Jacinda Russell: I would love to know more about your process particularly with your decisions in materials. In the five postcards I have received, two feel like they are on single weight paper, one on double weight and the other two commercially printed. Do you have a preference? Were certain cards meant to be original photographs and others not?
James Luckett: Nothing too complex. I’m simply trying, with my limited range of skills, to craft the best postcard that I can. The very first card, the double weight you refer to, was my attempt to make a passable entry. It consisted of a single-weight gelatin silver print spray mounted to cardstock and then trimmed. While it made a pleasurable object, it unfortunately over time was susceptible to warpage and separation. A pretty awkward mess. During that first exchange I saw a few others were using digitally produced commercial type solutions, and since I don’t have access to an inkjet printer and following the labor put into that first card, I figured this could be a welcome process. The next two cards were done this way, organized in Photoshop and printed by cardstore.com. I really like how they turned out and have used the service many times since then for other purposes, however the downside is the expense – about a buck a card. That fact led me back to my darkroom and to contact printing negatives on single weight paper and mailing them out as is. I’ve been collecting outdated gelatin silver printing paper for a few years and so I have a lot of it on hand. So far this has been the most satisfying solution to the problem – lending a fragile feeling and unique sense to each card - and this will likely be how I make the majority of cards for future exchanges. However, the next card, for the November 2011 exchange, in deference of the theme of “Newness”, will be a something completely different. There won’t even be a picture.
JR: How important is anonymity with this project? Curious people want to know who David, Jim and John are (two Davids or the same David)? Only two (Craig and Bee) reference a website and gives this anonymous face an identity but the rest are ambiguous. Do you send them the same postcards (as nonmembers of the collective or at least this is what I presume)?
JL: From the very beginning it was important to me that every card I make for the Collective be addressed to a specific person and that the card should function first and foremost as correspondence. All my life I’ve written letters and mailed postcards and so the editions I make for the Postcard Collective’s exchanges are a way to acknowledge and honor the importance of ongoing and long-term dialogues with people in my life. Anonymity doesn’t matter as much as reifying the idea that each card represents a real communication that is occurring outside the exchange between the Collective’s artists – that each card does indeed, at least to someone, function as a postcard traditionally should. To this end the first card in every edition is sent to the person the text on the back is addressed to. The second card in the edition is then mailed to The Postcard Collective for the archive and then the remainder of the edition is sent to the exchange participants.
There are antecedents that inspire this way of working. The first is Fluxus and their dissolving of the wall between art and life, and in particular Joseph Beuys life-long endeavor to imbue everyday objects with a confluence of cultural, historical and personal meaning, particularly in his crafting of multiples. Another, stronger influence for me is a book by the poet Richard Hugo titled 31 Letters and 13 Dreams– a series of intimate letters addressed to friends and colleagues interspersed with descriptions of nighttime visions, all written in the form of poems. There are a great many aspects of this book I admire and admittedly I’ve mined them all. I’ve always sought ways to merge the personal with the public and The Postcard Collective has provided a welcome opportunity to explore this desire.
JR: I love the autobiographical quality of the written content. Your indirect references to Marcel Duchamp after visiting Philadelphia connect your visit with a particular place. Others are more poetic, as in the reference to the "Phaedrus Incident." Are all the stories the same on each postcard? Are they fact or fiction? Which story was the most difficult to tell?
JL: I’ve never been very good at making things up; likely why I’m a photographer rather than a painter and so it follows: the messages on the cards are true – though I feel the texts generally function more evocatively than concretely. I like puns and alliteration and I defer to words that might resonate, despite the implied context, a multitude of incongruities. The first postcard concerns the aesthetics of Duchamp’s Etant donnés, and in homage to his mischievous methods really goes overboard with double entendres and the like and I even managed a backward allusion to Nude Descending a Staircase. This is my most playful card and I’m afraid the succeeding posts have been increasingly maudlin. Somewhere along the way the messages became less concerned with aesthetics and increasingly more personal and psychological. The most difficult card to make is always the last one. That might sound odd, given the effect some of the more confessional type cards might’ve had on those who’ve received them. Shocking with revelation and/or garnering sympathy through narrative is an age old survival trick of the wounded. While I feel they’ve been successful, I also realize the revelatory nature of melancholy is a much easier effect to put-on and pull-off. It’s more difficult to elicit affections with other methods. With the next card, in an attempt to get back to aesthetic issues, I’ll be doing something completely different. Though really, when I think about it, aesthetics is just another way of talking about the personal, but in safe sounding abstract terms.
JR: With the exception of the photographs taken at the Great Serpent Mound (Min. Northern Moonset and Max. Southern Moonset), all of the images reference the temporal nature of a once living subject: a dead bird, decaying sunflowers, an old wasp nest, and a deformed vegetable. There are ties to your series Practicalities but in some ways, they are less abstract than many of the photographs in that series. Do you see a direct connection or do you consider the images something altogether separate?
JL: I liken Practicalities to x-rays – as if one were looking through the surface of the print to see the underlying semiotic structures of the images. There’s the idealized snapshot, the perfect portrait, an absolute grotesque, the seminal surreal, a resurgent sublime. These images aren’t meant to relate so clearly to the real world as they do to the world of photography. They function something like a typology of photographic use and are intended to be liked, to hit the viewer’s sweet spot. Does the project accomplish all that? I don’t know – just that’s how I think of them. It’s a series of images I’ll be adding to for a long while. Practicalities is by no means finished or complete.
In the meantime other work goes on. As I get older I seem to be less interested in understanding, in having to know just what it is I’m doing. There is what I think, and then there is what I feel and that open-endedness is increasingly enough. The camera is becoming more a tool of discretion rather than of exploitation. A process less about transformation and rather more transmutative in character; less about making the world right for me and more about making me right with the world. I’ve no idea where this new relation to the medium is heading and yet I’m not all that concerned. My practice is becoming less circumspect and a lot more fun. Cameras don’t worry too much. I’m trying to learn from them.
JR: Will the typewriter make any more appearances?
JL: Indeed. While answering these questions I’ve been working on the card for the November 2011 exchange and was at an impasse about how to formalize my concept. This very question about the typewriter struck at just the right time, figuring these machines to be the very thing I need to get out and through. I’ve this recent sense that the bottleneck to communication in the photographic process is the photograph. It’s this thing that has to stand between me and you and the notion that any meaningful signal can be conveyed through anemic modalities of visual tones increasingly feels like a bad bet. So I’m going to see how far I can get with words alone. Words and the hammering of clacking type.