Interview 02 – Rachelle Mendez

Rachelle Mendez is a photographer living in the quiet hills of Orange County California devoted to her long running series Minimal and Contemporary Landscape Photographs of California.

What are the three search tags that describe your work the best?

Well, this is really difficult because I hate being #’ed, but my reasoning for the three descriptions of my work would be: I am a landscape photographer that focusus on altered landscapes with a sacrificed approach.
I photograph urban landscapes and altered rural landscapes in a very straight forward way.

New topographic photography has a lot of the same philosophies as the minimalist movement of the 1960’s. In my humble opinion minimalism is more that the exclusion of the unnecessary, it is a sacrifice of what is expected without the support of a metaphor. I don’t shoot the images in hopes that someone will see it as something else. These are the landscapes here and now, they are of our time and I am documenting them.

So, put me down for: #contemporarylandscapephotography #newtopographics #minimalism

I’m not sure the purists of each of these #tags would fully embrace me, but I identify closely to them and pull philosophies and inspiration from each.

How did you first experience the world of photography? Was it through a picture you saw or a picture you took?

I am extremely fortunate that photography and exposure to “high art” have always been a big part of my life. I remember being a kid driving from Northern California to Southern California to see Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Umbrellas installation in hills of Gorman California. Seeing these art installation pieces interplay with the landscape made a big impression on me. When I am out photographing I look for sculptural elements that are juxtaposed with the land. I have at least three photographs on my Instagram board that I have taken around the Gorman/ Lebec area, the site of those modules.

My dad studied photography in college, he used the camera to get the results he wanted in an artistic way. The family camera way always set to manual mode, so it was really a rite of passage to use the camera. I also still have my first Polaroid camera I received as a gift with I was about 9 years old. It is sitting on a shelf in my office today.

There was a time that I took photographs to paint them or to make composite images with them because traditional landscape photography sometimes looks to expansive or too much for me to look at. I had a revelation when I came across landscape photographs like Ansel Adams’ “Ice on Ellery Lake” and Edward Weston’s “Shell”…seeing these landscapes shot so graphic and concisely composed was a real starting point to build on the idea of making my contemporary landscapes in a bold way. Later studying artist like Michael Heizer and Donald Judd’s work and how they master the intersection of landscape and large scale installations..I am trying to push that graphic and sculptural quality with found structures.

Do you prefer taking pictures now or when you first picked up a camera?

Art is not a race. Art is exponential and we all build on it from history, peers and our own life experiences.

Having said that, life is very unpredictable, inevitably we will all have very creatively productive and unproductive times in our lives. I have had many cyclical up and down times from burn out, self doubt and life events.
Obviouly, I like taking pictures now…I not only know how to think faster and handle my cameras in different situations, but I also know how to pull inspiration from different genres to feel more satisfied with the results, and that has all come from experience.

What’s your favourite thing to see when looking through your viewfinder?

- Genuine complex moments
- Interplay of color, distressed texture and negative space
- Frank Stella said his Protractor series came about because he didn’t like the edges of abstract expressionism paintings, all the paint was built up in the middle leaving the edges neglected. I couldn’t agree more. When I am composing an image in camera, I don’t want a focal point dangling in the rule of thirds. I want strong shapes that run off the edges. All the components must play off each other with equal importance.

What direction would you like to explore next if any with your image making?

Keep pushing. Like I said before, art is exponential…it is an idea and you build upon it. I will seek better application of my philosophy, better execution and more creativity.

I always sketch the photographs after I take them…it’s good practice to see the breakdown of how you are consciously or unconsciously constructing your images…you will see patterns emerge in what you focus on. I encourage all photographers to do this. Sketching your pictures will help your overall composition and help you see if you are taking the same photo over and over again.

I wholeheartedly believe in devoted long running series. I am a Californian and I have been photographing California my whole life. I will continue with Minimal and Contemporary Landscape Photographs of California, it’s my life’s work.

All images © Rachelle Mendez, for more please visit her website or Instagram.

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