Nic Persinger: The States Project: West Virginia
It’s around 11:30pm, and I am sitting on my porch, smoking, assembling the image files for the States Project. Nic Persinger calls me on the land line. We share some key common ground: humor tinged with sarcasm, a love of dogs, motorcycles, and ornery old men, and a reverence for West Virginia. Although Nic lives in Baltimore now, and I moved here later in life, the both of us recognize West Virginia as home.
Having grown up in Richwood, West Virginia, one of the towns badly hit by the flood of 2016, he reminisces about home. Persinger has been photographing in and around Richwood for the past 10 years. These photographs have become a static view. “It’s funny, I just got this work back from an exhibition, and, looking at the work, I realize that, even in my short time of photographing, there are places in my photographs that are no longer there. There are things that I photograph now that won’t be there soon. It’s interesting, as time goes on, what photographs carry a different weight, and how you view your own work.”
Nic Persinger started out in a makeshift portrait studio in a local warehouse. Outfitted with hardware store lights, he would utilize his camera to meet new people. “I like the dynamic of making a portrait with someone rather than snapping their image, unknowingly.”
Persinger has a quick wit that is evident in his photographs. He finds humor in the mundane, the odd: a beloved stuff dog with glass eyes, a full ashtray on a dashboard, a holy spring behind a trash can. Nic says, earnestly, “I don’t consider myself a documentarian. My photographs are my own personal narrative.”
Photographer Nic Persinger, raised in Richwood WV, began taking photographs at 16. In the years since, Persinger’s photographs have been shown in museums and art galleries and published internationally. His work has appeared or received notice in publications including The Wall Street Journal, Verge Magazine, and The South Art Collective, among many others. He produces series and single photographs drawn from his own personal history in and around Appalachia, frequently guided by a drive to preserve and present the stories of the people and cultures of his home.
Nic Persinger’s subjects—the people, landscapes, and cultural products of rural Appalachia—speak directly through his photos.
In Persinger’s photos the real Appalachia speaks openly—neither the romanticized, bucolic paradise of pop culture, nor the relentlessly beaten-down depiction we often see in national media, but the place itself: wide and vibrant, filled with life. In each subject, a true story. In each photo, the strange echo of it, if we listen carefully.
Nic Persinger’s credits include solo and group exhibitions, book cover and book-art work, and one-off publications and journal interviews. He is available for workshops and guest-artist lectures.
Educated at the Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington, D.C. (2010), Nic Persinger currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland.
Nic Persinger’s STRANGE NATIVE, a series of color landscapes and subject portraits, is drawn from the artist’s deep travels in and around his childhood home of southern West Virginia. Natural light, found compositions, odd objects, and spur-of-the-moment portraiture of everyday people form the core content of the series, which seeks to evoke the strange in the familiar, and the trace of the familiar inside the odd.
Perhaps the hardest things to see clearly are, paradoxically, the things we see most often. The common rhythms and patterns of quotidian life blind us to the odd, the unique, that crosses our field of vision each day. STRANGE NATIVE aims to record and present true subjects as they appear in the world, using natural lighting and with minimal technical processing, in order to allow their peculiar clarity to manifest on film.
At first glance the people and items we see in the photographs comprising STRANGE NATIVE seem commonplace—the cherry-red passenger door and side panel of a pickup truck, a town glimpsed through a stand of trees along the side of a two-lane highway, a plastic deer’s garish face poking from the thick tangle of a hedgerow. As we continue to look, however, we note how the recognizable world is presented “slant”—at an unexpected angle, with a surprising point of focus, or from a vantage point that obscures the subject or frames it in a nontraditional way. The attention to subtle, precise details of framing and perspective represents the series’ most deliberate compositional method; the world is allowed to appear in its natural forms, shapes, and colors, from a perspective that permits its most unique elements to take central focus.
As its title suggests, STRANGE NATIVE acknowledges the primacy of the photographer’s viewpoint in its recording project. To see a home country, a familiar space, in this way, one has to begin to see it not with the everyday eye but with the eye that perceives its singularity—the strange shades, lines, and textures that make it new each time it’s seen.
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