The Richard McCabe Mixtape
As we head into a week that celebrates all things photography in New Orleans with the annual festival, PhotoNOLA about to begin it’s festivities, Curator/photographer Richard McCabe will be a major presence at many of the events. I’ve gotten to know Richard over the years, in his role as Curator of Photography at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and his role as a reviewer at many Southern photography festivals, most recently, the Click! Festival of Photography in Durham, North Carolina. He is an engaged connoisseur of photography, having spent almost 20 years between New York and places in the South, achieving a deep understanding of the photographic image.
Richard has a lot to celebrate this year–he was the juror for the CURRENTS 2017: Nopa Member’s Showcase Exhibition that will open at the Ogden during PhotoNOLA, and he has also curated a beautiful exhibition, New Southern Photography, featuring some of the best and brightest Southern photographers opening in October of 2018 at the Ogden Museum. But most importantly, Richard has just released a monograph of his own work, LAND STAR, a “four-year photographic exploration along roads less traveled throughout the hinterlands of the American South. The project began in 2014, as he set out with a Polaroid Land Camera and a road map to make instant souvenirs of the place where he grew up and continue to lives”. Richly saturated and well-seen, this monograph of quintessential Southern road trip Polaroids is published by Aint Bad. The book can be pre-ordered here.
It’s with great pleasure that I present THE RICHARD MCCABE MIXTAPE!
Richard McCabe was born in Mildenhall, England and grew up in the American South. He received an MFA in Studio Art from Florida State University in 1998. That same year he received a fellowship to the American Photography Institute, National Graduate Seminar at New York University. Over the last 19 years he has lived and worked in New York City and New Orleans, Louisiana. His art has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums throughout the United States. Mr. McCabe works primarily in photography, painting, and installation art. Currently, Mr. McCabe is the Curator of Photography at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.
My father was an officer in the U.S. Air force so I moved around a lot as a kid. I come from a large Irish American Catholic family – six kids – I’m second to the youngest. I was born in England and grew up in the American South. I am a proud Southerner. After England – I lived in Panama City, Florida then Montgomery, Alabama. In 9th grade my family moved to Pensacola, Florida where I went to high school. My Dad and oldest brother were very good amateur photographers – they got me interested in photography by seeing the photo’s they made; also I was totally fascinated by the family photo albums.
My dad had acquired some great cameras in Europe after WWII and my brother worked at a Photo Lab in Montgomery, Alabama – Fox Photo. I remember my brother taking me into the dark room there when I was a kid – the smell of the chemistry is what I remember most and the safe light. The Fox photo lab was walking distance from our house. I spent hours sitting on the side of the dumpster outside of Fox photo – looking at the hundreds and thousands of photo prints the lab had thrown away for some reason or the other. It was surreal to look at all these discarded images of people and places I did not know.
Photography was something magical to me then and still is today. Santa Claus brought me my first camera – a GAF 126 when I was 10 years old. My favorite subjects to photograph were my little sister – Shawn and my dog – Patton.
In elementary through middle school I was pretty good at art – I was making “Art” before I could spell art – but I never thought of what I was doing as art or I was an artist. I could draw and paint – I won a few best – of – show awards in elementary school art contests. Photography eventually became my main focus along with skateboarding, football, playing in the woods, and listening to music.
When I was 15 – My dad bought me my first 35mm Camera – I still have it – A Nikon EM. I was a photographer on my high school yearbook staff. In high school my interest in photography is what set me apart from the other kids. There were 4 groups of kids in high school – Jocks, Chewers (redneck kids), Stoners, and Surfers. I kind of got along with all of them through photography. Its hard to imagine now but back then – 1980s –not everyone was a photographer via the cell phone or I should say took pictures – they might of had a cheap disposable film camera – but a 35mm camera – that set you apart – I was the photographer in my growing group of friends who were mainly musicians, skateboarders, surfers.
I won a regional high school yearbook photography competition my senior year and went on to junior college where I floundered in school before eventfully getting a degree in Film from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?
I have a dual position with two titles at the Ogden museum – Curator of Photography/Chief Preparator – on a typical day I could be meeting with a photographer – planning an exhibition, researching and looking at work, followed by driving a 26 foot truck to deliver paintings for the museum – followed by striking, prepping and painting a gallery for an upcoming exhibition. I seem to spend about 50% of my time on each job. When I organize and curate an exhibition – I have my hands on every part of making that exhibition happen – from start to finish on the curatorial side – formulating the concept and research for exhibitions, studio visits, choosing work, fundraising, writing text for publications, press, and labels for the exhibition. On the preparator side – shipping and packing artwork, gallery prep – exhibition design and layout – patching and painting walls – choosing wall colors, matting and framing photographs, making labels, installing or hanging the photographs and lighting the exhibition. I love the cerebral side of curating and the physicality of being the chief preparator. Meeting and working with photographers I studied in school and photographers whose work I admire is my favorite aspect of my job. I also enjoy the travel required when looking at and delivering work – gives me a chance to see the country – the South at least, meet great folks, eat good food (sometimes) and make pictures on the road.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
I’m really proud of my recent book published by Aint-Bad – LAND STAR and the LAND STAR project – 4 years of photographing – a focused body of work. I feel I accomplished one of my main goals when I left NYC for New Orleans 12 years ago – that was to make more art and produce a body of work about the place where I’m from – the South. I get the same thrill, feeling of satisfaction, and pride from both organizing and curating an exhibition as I do practicing my own photography. The act of creativity gives me purpose and meaning.
My proudest achievement is the satisfaction that comes from curating an engaging, interesting and visually stimulating exhibition. Also, promoting photographers whose work I believe in – fostering their career –I’ve really tried to democratize the photography programming at the Ogden by championing and opening the door to a wide range of photographers –established, mid-career and emerging. I’m fascinated with creativity – how the creative process works from the beginning as an abstract thought or idea to the realized product. It’s hard to pick my proudest achievements in particular but in general just the chance I have been given to curate and influence the photographic arts today and at the same time being able to continue to explore my own photography and make photographs myself.
“McCabe’s LAND STAR photographs – in both technique and through their content – sit before us out of time, deeply modern in their light, color, shape, and composition, and also so visibly marked by climate and wear of time.” —Tom Rankin in LAND STAR
LAND STAR is my four-year photographic exploration along roads less traveled throughout the hinterlands of the American South. In 2014, I set out with a Polaroid Land Camera and a road map to make instant souvenirs of the place where I grew up and continue to live. LAND STAR is an attempt to capture the vanishing vernacular signage and architecture of the region. Part journey, sojourn or road trip, and part exercise in time travel, LAND STAR offers up forty images – fleeting glimpses that aspire to weave a non-linear visual narrative. This is a Southern Gothic tale of loss, isolation, and desolation – the side effects of modernity. For me, this work represents an escape to an alternate realm, a fantastical locale, a tactile memory of a perfect world saturated in color – a place that still exists within a parallel universe far from the complicated, hyper-digitized, and gentrified world of today. — Richard McCabe
What are best practices for photographers to approach a Museum Curator and how does the Ogden acquire work?
I think the best and most formal and or official way for photographers to approach curators is via portfolio reviews – such as photoNOLA. I meet a great deal of photographers I exhibit or champion via portfolio reviews. A lot of photographers send me books, exhibition invite cards or e-mails introducing themselves and their work to me. In most cases – its great to be introduced to their work that way. As a photographer you have to get your product out there – to be seen. I would caution on being overly aggressive – because in the end I think I’ll find you. I’ve had photographers friend me on social media then immediately start bombarding me promo stuff and wanting to meet me, etcetera – which can be problematic, having said that I’ve contacted photographers via social media – because I had no other contact for them. In the end it seems I mostly seek photographers out – I learn about their work via the exhibitions, the web – websites, photo blogs etc.., magazines, books – word of mouth.
At this point the Ogden acquires work mainly via donations from the artists and or collectors – usually when a photographer has an exhibition at the museum, that photographer will donate a print to the collection. I also like to ask or have the photographer ask their collectors to buy a print from them and donate that print to the Ogden collection – that’s one way I’ve been able to build the collection which now includes over 1,400 photographs.
Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
Be prepared, dress nice, and be polite – kind of like a job interview. Know how to talk about your work – know how to defend your work. Ask questions. Research the reviewers so you can engage them more effectively. I might be in the minority here but I think especially if the photographer is not sure of a body of work – my advice is bring a couple bodies of work. On many occasions I’ve had photographers spend ¾ the time showing me one body of work that was not really happening then they say – I’ve got this other work and bam! This body of work is so much better than the work in their primary portfolio. So if your not sure bring multiple bodies of work but not too many – 2 at the most. As a reviewer I try to be nice and give only positive feedback and I usually don’t get a reviewee who has taken offense to constructive criticism– one time I did and it really turned me off – so don’t take offense – if a reviewer is being a jerk that’s another matter. A nice take away or follow up thank you note really means something to me personally and helps me remember the photographer and connects me to their work. I always want to see prints – exhibition quality prints not work prints! And I’m not a fan of looking at work on a laptop screen – unless it’s a video in context to the rest of the body of work. Ask questions – seek advice.
What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
I’m a huge history buff. I love History – my Dad became a college history professor when he retired from the Air Force so I spent allot of my growing up going to battlefields and forts throughout the South. I’m fascinated by how art history parallels social, economic and political history. Besides photography my other great love in the arts is – folk art or outsider art – I have a pretty good collection of outsider art I’ve collected over the last 20 years and I love visiting outsider environments and meeting the artists – outsider/folk artists are so interesting and inspiring. Also, I have a what I think disproportional love of music – Which I’ll get into later in the mixtape.
And since this is a Mixtape, what is your favorite song, band, and do you dance?
I was lucky enough to have been born in the 60s and have older brothers and sisters. As a child I would spend hours listening to their records – The Beatles, The Stones, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, The Who, The Kinks, Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel, Dylan, Bowie, Moody Blues, Yes, Pink Floyd – All those Bands are still my favorites!
In High School I expanded upon that foundation of great rock-n-roll from my youth by embracing bands like Led Zeppelin, Queen, ELO, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Gabriel… then I discovered punk and new wave – Sex Pistols, Ramones, The Clash, Joy Division, Eno, The Police, DEVO, Elvis Costello, Dire Straits, The Cars, Kraftwerk…when I was in College – College Radio was at its peak so I listened to allot of what later became Alt-rock – U2, REM, The Replacements, Love Tractor, The Smiths, Janes Addiction, The Cure, and Nirvana. Still love and listen to those bands. Going to concerts is still one of my favorite things to do in the last few years I’ve seen – U2, Roger Waters, Yes, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Radiohead, Beck (3 times), The Cure, PIL, Wilco, Father John Misty, Kraftwerk and many more…..Yes I dance – usually alone in my studio. Here are a few of my top albums that have had a great influence on me –
- Brian Eno – Another Green World – Part Ambient sound scape and part art rock manifesto– combined to produce pure genius.
- David Bowie – Low – Maybe my all time favorite album. Bowie/Eno at the peak of their Berlin-era collaboration a masterpiece of sound and vision.
- The Who – Quadrophenia – My post-High School anthem. Sleeping on the beach – teenage angst – I still hope one day to ride a GS scooter with my hair cut neat
- The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour – Maybe not the Beatles best but for some reason my favorite – Strawberry Fields, Blue Jay Way – Timeless childhood nursery rhythms.
- REM – Fables of the Reconstruction – Southern Gothic masterpiece – jangly guitars and ethereal vocals – love this era of REM – when they could do no wrong.
- Kraftwerk – Computer World – Who said electronic music has no soul? Some of the most beautiful pop electronic music ever made – gives me chills – pure joy to listen to.
- Peter Gabriel – 3rd Album – Dark, brooding, introspective, exploration of the dark side of the mind– a psychological drama – songs that conjure up so much imagery – avant – pop at its best.
- Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding – The greatest song writer of our generation at the peak of his power – this album start to finish is flawless –each song flows into the next — his voice, his guitar, those bass lines – every song is a classic.
- The Clash – Combat Rock – Man I love this album – timeless maybe not as good as London Calling but still my fave. Heroin induced chaos both beautiful and unnerving in a good way. Rock the Casbah is still as relevant today as it was 35 years ago.
- The Police – Ghost in the Machine – The Police released 4 studio albums – all classics – Ghost in the Machine is my favorite. Such a beautifully dark record. I’ll always remember the first time I heard it – first year of college, driving my Audi station wagon on the beach, still wet from surfing, wind in my hair, gray cold fall day, slightly buzzed, listening to the song –Spirits in the Material World and thinking – it does not get any better than this.
Richard states, That’s my musical mix – mash – tape. I’d now like to talk about an upcoming exhibition I’m really excited about – New Southern Photography – I’d like to share a photograph from each participating photographer and filmmaker in the exhibition that opens in October 2018 at the Ogden Museum. New Southern Photography will feature the work of 25 photographers and filmmakers – the exhibition is survey of what’s happening today within the photographic arts in the American South. New Southern Photography explores the role photography plays in formulating the visual iconography of the modern New South. Regional identity in an interconnected and global world is central to the exhibition’s narrative. Themes and ideas addressed in New Southern Photography include: memory, the experience of place in the American South, cultural mythology and reality, deep familial connections to the land, the tension between the past and present, and the transitory nature of change in the New South.
The goal of New Southern Photography is to create a space for conversation about the region. This exhibition will not only highlight recent contributions the American South has made to the world through photography, but also serve as a platform to broaden the understanding and appreciation of this complicated, contested, and often misunderstood region. New Southern Photography follows in the rich tradition of Southern literature, where storytelling is paramount.
Thank you so much Aline and Lenscratch for giving me the opportunity to share my love of photography, art, and music with you! Cheers!
Thanks Richard, for all you do for photography!
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
ReCap: Atlanta Celebrates Photography Portfolio ReviewsJune 8th, 2022
The Future of the Photo Festival in the Covid AgeJune 5th, 2022
Richard Misrach: NotationsJune 4th, 2022
scott b. davis: sonoraMay 6th, 2022