Through the lens, photographer Matthew Pevear sees life and motion in scenes that appear inertly every day in nature — a gift he passes on to viewers looking for meaning in the ordinary panorama they view from a bedroom window, a mud puddle or a plate of kiwi slices on the kitchen table. He’s that subtle, yet full of life as an artist, catching the glow of a simple life lived. It’s a shame he’ll be leaving Colorado soon for grad school in Ohio, but we still hope to see more from him (and his talented partner, artist Marsha Mack) in Front Range galleries.
How did Pevear develop his natural eye and mad skills in photography? And where does he hope to take it from here? Learn more from his perceptive answers to the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Matt Pevear: This is a tough one, but I would say my creative muse is the in-between moment, that time when nothing is seemingly happening, but also everything is happening all at once. This is where I find my inspiration, and where a lot of my images are made. It’s hard to imagine these times because they are often so mundane, but I really try to be always visually present, constantly considering my world and the small bits of space and time that are part of it.
I often think of this section from Paul Graham's famous Yale Photography commencement address, "Photography Is Easy, Photography Is Difficult," where he writes:
“Ok, so how do I make sense of that never ending flow, the fog that covers life here and now? How do I see through that, how do I cross that boundary? Do I walk down the street and make pictures of strangers, do I make a drama-tableaux with my friends, do I only photograph my beloved, my family, myself? Or maybe I should just photograph the land, the rocks and trees — they don't move or complain or push back. The old houses? The new houses? Do I go to a war zone on the other side of the world, or just to the corner store, or not leave my room at all?
“Yes and yes and yes. That's the choice you are spoiled for, just don't let it stop you. Be aware of it, but don't get stuck — relax, it’s everything and everywhere. You will find it, and it will find you, just start, somehow, anyhow, but: start.”
I really love making photographs. It gives me a reason to stop, think and look. I will say that working in this way is a privilege, and it’s always important to consider the intent behind the images you make.
The three would be:
Joe Strummer: A hero of mine since a very young age, and whose music I look to in daily life. Marsha and I actually first met because I sang “Lost in the Supermarket” a cappella on the mic in between acts at a basement show in Syracuse. Thank you, Joe Strummer.
David Sedaris: His writing has always given me great comfort.
Annie Pevear: This is my sister, Annie. She’s a Farm Teacher for a school in Upstate New York. She’s great fun to be around, and is charming and disarming. She can often ask people incredibly deep and personal questions, and people will answer! It’s a magical skill.
Oh, and Garry Winogrand!
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Denver’s art community is incredibly welcoming and supportive. The opportunities to show work and collaborate with major institutions are amazing, and perhaps a unique quality of this city. I have been lucky to have several amazing opportunities in this city that perhaps I would not have in other places.
With that being said, I would say the lack of critical discourse negatively impacts the art scene here.
My interest in using a camera actually came from photographing birds as a child. My childhood dream was to be an ornithologist, and I still love birds and birding. I first used the camera to record the birds I was seeing. I was shooting on film at the time and was a terrible photographer. So I’d always get rolls back with like four images out of 36 properly exposed. Or I would take 36 exposures of the same bird, and my dad would ask me things like, “Did we really need 36 images of that bird?” (The answer is maybe — we just don’t know yet!)
My parents were always supportive of my image-making. My father was a sportswriter in Boston, Massachusetts, for almost forty years, and when newspaper budgets were slashed in the mid-2000s and the paper only had two photographers to go around, I was occasionally his photographer for stories. I had a couple front-page photos as a teenager.
The first time I ever realized that photography had power beyond just taking pictures as a document was seeing Philip Lorca Dicorcia’s “Ralph Smith; 21 years old; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; $25” at the ICA in Boston when I was fourteen. The image is from his Hustlers series. I knew nothing of the backstory to this series of images, but was simply in awe of the object and power of the photograph. It’s a massive C-print. The image shows an incredibly recognizable space, that area in front of a fast-food restaurant, where maybe there is some concrete or a patch of grass, the light of the sign illuminating the subject’s body. It’s an amazing image. The photograph also has this dynamic where it is both time-stopped but feels like time moving. Very cinematic in that way. I was like, whoa, I want to make pictures like this.
I was lucky in that I had a lot of mentors growing up who gave me guidance. My aunt is an artist, and she really pushed me toward thinking of my images more critically, to be considerate of what I am doing. Her partner, Luke, was also a huge influence at the time (and still is). He was the first person I had shown my photographs to who asked me “Why?” Why was I making these, why were they made in this way? Why did they matter? This was a huge moment for me as a photographer and an artist, teaching me to consider everything I make or do. After that, I really took making images seriously.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Latoya Ruby Frazier’s work lately. She’s someone who tries and sometimes succeeds in making change with her work. I read an article recently that described her as “radically empathetic.” That’s amazing, and I certainly feel that when I look at her work.
Making work that is both brutally honest and empathetic is a magical combination not many artists have. I suppose a dream would be to reach that level of making. To push empathy and caring with my work. Caring is important. We should all care!
My other dream would be to be introduced in the starting lineup of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center, game six of the 1996 NBA finals.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver has been great to me, and the people have been amazing. This city and the art scene here are so supportive, and I’ve had so many amazing opportunities!
That being said, I’m not sure the western USA is my home. I love rain, humidity and big green trees, and those things are lacking in this geographic region. Honestly, if it was rainy and cloudy like 30 percent more in Denver, it would be ideal. I know — funny to complain about the sun!
My favorite Colorado Creative is of course Marsha Mack. Marsha is incredibly smart, and the hardest-working artist I’ve ever met. She’s always thinking, and our morning walks are regularly filled with conversations about making work. We don’t always agree, of course, but that keeps things fun!
I also love Juan Fuentes’s work. Amazing photographer and artist, making timely work about his home.
I also have to shout out all the great Colorado-based artists I talk to daily, of which there are many. The group texts are always going off. You know who you are.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
Well in a few months, Marsha, Carl (our cat) and I will be packing up and moving to Columbus, Ohio, so I can begin my MFA studies at Ohio State University, which I am very, very excited about. I’ll have three years to experiment and work on my practice with the wonderful faculty at OSU. I’ll of course miss Denver and all my people here, but the world is smaller these days, and we will be back and traveling through regularly! Denver will always be a place we come back to.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Brooke Tomiello is a creative worthy of more attention. With her curation of Lane Meyer Projects and LMP PDA, she brings together interesting artists from both inside and outside Colorado.
Follow Matthew Pevear and his work at his website and on Instagram.