Interior America revisited

I was interested to read ‘A Second Look: Chauncey Hare’s Interior America‘ by Jörg M. Colberg on his Conscientious Photo Magazine, and I recommend it to you.  As might be expected, its a thoughtful and considered view of a man and a body of work which for various reasons the photographic world has rather forgotten and who himself gave up on photography and the institutions of photography to become a therapist.

I was introduced to Hare’s work by Lewis Balz when I went to a workshop Balz gave at the Photographer’ Place in Derbyshire a year or two after Interior America was published (Aperture 1978), and went to buy his book immediately after. It wasn’t that easy to find in London and I don’t think the Photographers Gallery had it in stock, but I managed to get a copy and both the pictures and the introductory essay by Hare made a great impression on me.

I didn’t start going out to try and make work like his, but it did have an influence on me in terms of the wide-angle view that he used. Balz’s work also got me working with ultra-slow emulsions, though I never liked the isochromatic films he used, but worked instead with Kodak’s Technical Pan, a film with extended red sensitivity, and one of the most frustrating emulsions ever made. Developing it for pictorial use – at least until Kodak made its Technidol developer available was rather hit or miss, and you could get great almost grain-free and incredibly sharp negatives – but some films I pulled off the dev tank spiral straight into the bin as they contained only the ghosts of images.

But I couldn’t afford a quality wideangle for my 4×5 camera, and Technical Pan offered comparable quality from 35mm, if only at ISOs between ISO6 and ISO32 depending on your choice of developer and a little luck. And the Zuiko 21mm f/3.5 was a fine and affordable lens that became a ruglar part of my equipment.

Around 2000 I wrote a short note about Chauncey Hare for the web site I was then working for, where, among other things, I had a guide to several hundred photographers of note. It got updated a little after Hare himself got in touch with me, initially I think suggesting firmly I should remove it. We exchanged a few more e-mails, and I tried to get him to agree to my writing more about him and to include some of his pictures, but without success, but eventually I think he was reasonably content with the short note I wrote about him, which incorporated a little of what we had discussed in our messages. So here it is, from around 2002:

Chauncey Hare

Chauncey Hare is known for one set of work, and a chilling one at that. He qualified and worked for as an engineer for a large oil corporation for over 20 years, becoming increasingly alienated from his work and the attitudes it forced him to take and at the same time more involved in photography.

Eventually he quit the lab and began a journey into many people’s homes to photograph them in their rooms. Some were people he knew, others total strangers who allowed the photographer with his large format camera into their homes, thanks to credentials from various museums and the Guggenheim Foundation who supported his work. At times they were unaware they were in the view of the extreme wide-angle lens he used, while some others pose for the camera. Often they are caught awkwardly by the blast of a flash, pinned to a wall by their shadow.

These are pictures, as Theodore Roszak wrote in his note on the cover of Interior America, that chronicle not just the spiritual desolation at the heart of an industrial society, but also reflect Hare’s own despair.

We can also see in them echoes of other work in photography, perhaps most notably the interiors of Walker Evans some 40 years earlier. They give a fascinating if somewhat depressing insight into the psyche of a nation from a highly individual viewpoint.

Hare’s 1985 book ‘This Was Corporate America’ accompanied a touring exhibition of his work showing photographs of the Social Security Administration, subway riders in San Francisco, and people working in the electronic industry in silicon Valley. These pictures complemented his earlier work on people in their homes.

Although curators – including John Szarkowski of MOMA, NY – recognised Hare’s work for its formal qualities, they failed to respond to the need for changes in society the pictures made obvious. The galleries and the art world were a part of the problem, enmeshed in and supporting a sick corporate world that denied human potential.

Hare decided he needed to leave photography, as it no longer allowed him to make the statements he wanted to make, and to work on the problem in a more direct way. He is now a licensed family therapist and Co-director of Work and Family Resources, a not-for-profit community-based business offering “personal coaching” and group seminars for people who are, or have been, abused at work.

Today I might add a little on the end, mentioning of course the 2009 Steidl republication of his work, Protest Photographs, and perhaps articles like Two Slight Returns on Afterall, and articles elsewhere. THe LIbrary of Congress has 8 of his pictures, but none of them available on line, and their restricitons page has the message: “Publication and other forms of distribution:Restricted. Mr. Hare has stipulated that his photographs may not be copied by researchers in any way or for any purpose.”

You can however see an number of his images on line by going to Google and doing an image search on the name ‘Chauncey Hare’. Its generally pretty obvious which are his from the rather mixed set that is returned.

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