Richard Anderson, B. 1992, is an artist living and working in Chicago. He received his BA from Columbia College Chicago in 2015. Since then, he has released two publications: City of the Century (2016), and Blown Transmission (2018). Last summer, Anderson debuted a new body of work in Guatemala City, produced in collaboration with Andrés Vargas: El Centro De América—The Center of America.
AB: Thanks for doing this. I wanted to interview you about Blown Transmission in particular because I think it does a nice job of keeping one foot in the world of art and one foot out, as well as making for a quality yet affordable book. Let’s start with you telling me about your general relationship with cars and how that led to you making this work.
RA: My dad and his dad both worked fire and rescue for Indycar. My grandpa did it for 44 years, my dad did it for 15 and moved on. It’s kind of always been around, I just enjoy cars as they are. I enjoy a ’98 Civic, and I enjoy a Mercedes 190 EVO the same, but I don’t necessarily enjoy driving. Not In the city at least, outside of it being a place of solace and quick transportation. Motorsport, just in terms of visual language, really has something to offer. It’s almost overwhelming the number of design changes for every season between different racing leagues. Think about how F1 public opinion completely changed recently when they introduced the Halo (cockpit safety device in F1 cars) people were just like, I’m out of here.
AB: It’s crazy because the Halo is such a small and important thing to their safety.
RA: These are things that are put in place to save people’s lives and people are more concerned over design changes – that’s how important visuals are to these things and their relationship to fans as well as other consumers.
AB: You seem to like cars new as much as you like them junked. They find a common ground the series. How’d that come together?
RA: The name came from this video this guy uploaded of him just blowing the transmission in his mom’s Astrovan…
AB: …like on purpose?
RA: They were just doing front wheel burnouts and it just gets laid to rest on the spot. The sound of a blown transmission is like a tin can rolling down a hill, to me, that’s a dead car. Cars are a sexy commodity and they’re also just complete dog shit, it’s funny to me that they can exist as one. And I feel like there is nothing in any car that I can’t find some value in stylistically, in its production history, or the way that people interact with it…like what’s happening right here *multiple car horns honking dramatically in background*. The horn is so annoying. There’s something very human about this little can. Going to some of the junkyards, crawling around in the back of conversion vans, it’s like a house. It’s basically someone’s living room and it’s interesting to wander through a once lived-in space. You find their old possessions stuffed between the seats and thrown around haphazardly, old cigarettes, that smell of what lived in there, it’s interesting. There’s really nothing like a dead car. The Chevy Luminas are something I’m really drawn to, same goes for Astrovans, conversion vans, Econolines.
AB: Like America’s fleet vehicles but not necessarily for businesses, but because people just defaulted to some of these cars.
RA: Exactly, and there’s quite a bit of Americana that’s relevant to how these things are stylized. For this work I was really looking at pre-9/11 vehicles primarily. GM shot themselves in the foot after panicking over consumer confidence as it had dramatically gone down after 9/11. The American automobile sort of just changed its face in the coming years, especially after 2008. I’m noticing larger grills for more road presence lately, a much more defensive face.
AB: I could see this in a collection of art books and I could also see it in someone’s dad’s garage. Obviously, we tend to see those things separately. How organic was it for these worlds to coexist? Did you preplan it?
RA: The idea came beforehand. Sometimes it’s not discernible between what’s original and what isn’t. I wanted it to feel like it could be a couple of different things: a magazine, a manual, an art book, etc. while doing it as cheap as possible and maintaining a unique quality.
AB: What did that look like?
RA: Laser printing. I think laser prints look great for what they are and hadn’t seen a photo book made with them either. I enjoy the way these images break down into that raw format.
AB: Would you do it again?
RA: I probably wouldn’t do it again. My last book was made with a Risograph printer and I enjoyed that too. It’s not that I don’t want to use laser or Riso again but I just need to do something different every time. I want to do a *nice* book eventually, it’s just a money thing for most people. I was just trying to make an inexpensive book that felt really good and had some replay value. I laid it out in probably seven hours, my friend Charlie designed and screened the cover overnight at his school, the gray pages in the back were done at staples, and we sent it off to print the next day. It came together super quickly. We spent like $500, that’s sixty books with spines. I can spend 10-100 bucks and get a bunch of these printed (as zines) but I don’t know… my relationship with zines is that they usually end up in a milk crate underneath a bunch of other books that I actually take off of a shelf. I enjoy them just fine but no more zines for me at least.
AB: I’m curious about the amount of content that you used. A common mentality among photographers, especially in academia, is to only use the images necessary to convey the message, nothing more, nothing less. You kind of embrace the opposite of that. What were your thoughts on editing in regards to this project?
RA: It’s not enough.
AB: So if you could have more you would?
RA: Yeah I’m still editing down quite a bit, but If I’m going to throw laser prints at people there needs to be a decent amount of content. I just wanted it to feel like something you flip through like TV channels, something to pass time with. The way people engage with art books should be a little more accessible generally, no need to break out the white gloves.
AB: You work any notable odd jobs?
RA: My last gig was contract work for a company that does E-Commerce photography, not always ideal but you go where the money is.
AB: Have you had any struggle in particular stick out recently?
RA: The work can always be better, just getting frustrated with myself over the work not being good enough. You just have to be confident that you have something to offer and that you can always get better by going out and doing it over and over. I make work that I want to look at and hopefully others do too along the way. One trend I don’t mind is the muddying of highlights.
AB: Yeah, film emulation is used much more thoughtfully nowadays and it helps mitigate some of the extremities of digital.
RA: People overdo it, turning exposure like 40 points down, like yo I can’t see any of the subject in this picture! I can’t even see where a highlight MIGHT be. My friend told me some stuff I shoot looks like it came out of a 4K TV. Pretty funny and probably true for some other people.
AB: I don’t know that I agree with the 4k thing but imagery, in general, is in a weird spot right now. You can look at thousands of images every day on social media, but a lot of it still represents what the craft is capable of being in terms of subject matter, making books and prints, etc. What are you working on now?
RA: I’m writing a story for The Chicago Reader about a group of surfers in Whiting, IN near the Chicago border that are part of an organization called The Surfrider Foundation. They’re suing U.S. Steel in Hammond, IN in the district court over the pollution of Lake Michigan. They have some legal backing by the city of Chicago now so the story might pan out in like an Erin Brockovich style situation.
AB: Did you reach out to them or did they reach out to you?
RA: I just send editors story ideas, and I had been reading about the pending litigation on U.S. Steel in this particular story as it developed so I said “let me just go shoot these guys and get some quotes out of them”. Made some pictures, told them what I was thinking and they were just like “well, do you want to write it?”
AB: Well, this might be a cliché final question, but music/artists you’re enjoying?
RA: I don’t know… I’m definitely listening to a lot of Redman. I’m listening to so much Redman.
To view more of Richard’s work, please visit his website.