If you’re an idiot, you might look at Jason Nocito’s beautiful new book, designed by Ari Marcopolous and Camilla Venturini and premiering sixteen new photographs, and say, “It’s a bunch of pictures of puddles.” And you wouldn’t be totally wrong. Aptly titled PUD, Jason’s new book does heavily feature stunning large format images of iridescent pools filled with cigarettes and leaves, but it a lot more than that. It’s an ode to Charlie Brown, death, and American street photography, for starters. I called up Jason while he was working in Los Angeles so he could explain it to all the idiots.
CHRISTIAN: I got a look at the book. It’s beautiful. It’s shorter than what I’m used to but I think that really works well.
JASON: I guess it’s shorter but I don’t really see it as a one-off, done deal. I don’t think of it as a conscious project, it’s just a body of pictures that I put together.After making I Heart Transylvania, which was a larger body of work, this is like the beginning of something else for me. I Heart Transylvania was very personal, and so is this work, but in a different way. It’s personal without showing any humans, which is really different than I Heart, which showed a lot of close people in my life.
You shot the whole thing on an 8×10 view camera, correct?
Yeah, it started a few years ago when I as talking to a friend about Ten Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, the Ed Ruscha book. I guess it started before that actually, when I moved back to New York from Vancouver. Every place I am, I want to make photographs. I’ve never been the person who says I’m going to go to this place and do this project and do it and be done. I’ve always kind of hated that, it’s not what I’m about. I was living in New York and I was burnt out professionally and emotionally. I would walk around the city all the time with my head down, like a lot of people do, and I would see all these things. That’s what I was looking at, so that’s what I photographed. A lot of that stuff is made right in my neighborhood in Chinatown. I tried it a few different ways with different kinds of cameras but at one point I met with my friend and photographer, Danny Gordon, and we talked about 8×10 large format camera. Its a different process and a different microscope to look at things. I started playing around with it.
I’m also really interested in the 8×10 process and the way that, in five or ten years, the process will probably be gone. It’s sort of a slowly-dying way to make images and the film will probably be impossible to get in the near future. I was really interested in using it as of an extension of thinking about death.
Did that idea of transience or impermanence play into what you chose to photograph at all?
Yeah, I guess. The theme to me is kind of Charlie Brown, looking down all over the city. I also took this trip cross country because I wanted a break from my commercial work. I had never really driven across the country, but I wanted to do it in a way that was relevant to how I work, instead of thinking about it in the classic sense of a photographic road trip. I just wanted to look at things that I would normally be interested in looking at. There was very little agenda and it ended up shooting the same sort of things in the end.
Yeah, if you had never told me that you took any of the photos anywhere else but New York City, I would never have guessed.
I kind of like the locations to be invisible in a way and it became an extension of what I had already started doing. I think it’s the start of something new for me. Part of me likes the idea of starting over all the time; it’s fun and interesting. I always really found it hard to make beautiful pictures and these, to me, are beautiful. Which is so silly given the subject matter.
Oh, they’re totally beautiful. They’re so crystal clear and sharp. I guess the first thing I think of when I think of large format photography is someone like Ansel Adams using an 8×10 to photograph stuff that’s outwardly or obviously pretty, like a mountain range or something. And here you are pointing it down at the ground to photograph shit on the street. But it’s definitely beautiful in it’s own right.
Yeah, I mean I don’t want to tell the viewer what to think but there definitely was a concerted effort on my part to make a beautiful picture in my own way.
I like to think about it as street photography too. When I was going to school, all those guys, Walker Evans and Garry Winogrand and Atget were my ideal photographers, so I’ve always thought a lot about them. I’m not out there on the street, getting in people’s faces, trying to point stuff out about society. But it still uses some of the same concepts: the light, the time, the moment. I would get up at 5:30 in the morning and walk around for hours with an 8×10. I’d take six or ten or one picture, but, if you see it, you have to take it right there. A car could park in that spot or the street sweeper could come by. If you wait, you’re fucked. So, time is important just the same. When you think about 8×10, I think a lot of people would say, “It’s so slow, you have to work so painstakingly!” And yeah, they’re mostly right but if you don’t react immediately to what you see, its gone in minutes. It’s slow to set up but the process of actually making the pictures was as intense if not more than using a small, 35mm camera.
It’s also interesting that you work like a street photographer, yet you never photograph any actual people, which is the focus for much of the classic street shooters.
Yeah, I have very little interest in people, I guess. Like I said, I just photograph whatever comes natural, really. A lot of my work just happens like that. I don’t set out and say, “Yeah, I’m going to make a book about puddles.” I’m just in the zone and I always have the desire to make work for myself. I like to photograph things and then draw the connections later. It’s sort of freeing, to have this pool to play in and to figure things out as you go.
You talk about Ruscha being an influence on the book. Does that come from the idea of variations on a theme? Instead of parking lots or swimming pools, you’re doing puddles?
It was that originally, in a way, but I began looking more closely at his ability to use a concise and specific point of view. In my previous books, Loads or I Heart Transylvania, it very all over the place, with different formats or lenses, different people or things or still lifes. I was trying to do it all. Digital photography gives you endless options but it can be tricky. It’s nice to have one lens, one camera, one focus. There’s something really nice about just doing one thing and not try do everything all the time.
Christian Storm is a photo editor and creative professional located in New York City.