Gary Csuk, Photographer, Downers Grove, IL, US

 

EWW:  Gary, we would be interested in knowing what serves as inspiration for your work?

Gary: I recently went through a personally rough period in my life, with my marriage of 25 years ending in divorce. We were doing a “picture a day” project at my work, and I took the opportunity to document my life and my emotions during this period. I poured myself into it and used my photography as therapy to get me through the rough days.

I exposed myself to the world (literally and figuratively). And as I showed more of myself, I began looking deeper into the places and people around me. I’ve always felt like I was on the fringes, never really fitting in. But I knew I had good things inside me, it was just that most people couldn’t see them. I looked for the hidden beauty all around me. I found a lot in the people and places around me that most others seemed to pass by.

I met a lot of people. Some I have never seen again, but some of them I still talk to regularly. I know a lot of homeless people in my work neighborhood, and I realize that I am no better than them, I’m just luckier.
EWW: Besides subject themes, are there any other themes that consistently occur in your work such as style, color, perspective, lighting movement, etc.?

Gary: The main consistency is reality. When I am shooting in an abandoned house, I don’t have to shoot the setting as it is, I NEED to shoot it that way. It’s not my place to change the way things have been left for me, it’s just my job to document them, and leave them, as they are.

My portraits are the same. I photograph people in the environment I find them in. Whether it’s a street portrait of a total stranger, or a Mother’s Day portrait with my mother, the photo must come together naturally. While the shot may BE staged (with the person looking at the camera), I don’t stage them. They stage themselves.
EWW: Gary, what comments would others make about your work?  Is that consistent with what you would say about your work?

Gary: “Different”.

“Bizarre”.

“What the f…?”.

“Where did you find this?!?”.

Those are the kinds of reactions that I like. I like finding the obscure grace and beauty that others don’t, and I like it if people are drawn to what they see. I would probably say the same thing about my work because that is what I like. I like to have the off-kilter, the “against the grain”, the kitschy/campy/eclectic artwork/movies/music around my house. I’ve always been that way, and I’ve heard the same comments all my life. I don’t go out looking for something simply to get those reactions, but they are a natural reaction to what I like.

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EWW:  Your portfolio includes many subject categories.  Is there one that in particularly you like to work with?  Why?

Gary: Abandonment has always been a source of inspiration to me. I can wander around in an abandoned house, barn, or basement for hours, just investigating every room. It’s literally “You never know what you’re going to find.” That’s the fun of it. Stumbling into the hotel room that has been overrun by Mother Nature for the last 15 years, and seeing the power that nature and time really has over this world is amazing.

Yes, the places can get rough, smelly, and pretty dangerous. But the effects of time never cease to amaze me. The things that are left in its wake can be amazingly beautiful if you look at it the right way.

 

EWW: What advice would you give to artists that are just beginning to work with photography as an art medium?

Gary: Do what you like. If others like it, great. You’re lucky. If you can make a living at it, you’re even luckier. But don’t do it thinking that it is going to be financially lucrative. Do it because you have a passion for your subject matter. If you don’t, it will be obvious. The work will be cold and emotionless.

Someone asked me “What is your end game with your work? What do you hope to achieve?” I had never thought about it that way. I had to answer, “I don’t have an end game. I achieved everything I wanted to my work. I got through one of the roughest periods of my life with my sanity, and I took some pictures that I’m Proud of. If I make a few bucks off them, great. That’s icing on the cake. If I don’t, I’m still way ahead.”

Click on an image to enlarge it.

 

EWW: Do you use social media platforms to generate exposure and the marketing of your work?  If yes, which social media platform(s) do you find to be the most successful for you?

Gary:   I’m just really getting into social media. I’m 54 years old, and since social media wasn’t even a thing when I started shooting, it’s taken me a while to get into it. Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, my own website is the most common for me.

The problem with social media to me is that your work is flung out into the ether, people “enjoy” it for about 15 seconds, and then it’s on to the next one. There is very rarely anything that really resonates with someone, something that strikes a chord, something they keep being drawn back to look at again and again.

If someone asks me for a copy of my work to hang at their house, that is the biggest compliment I can get. That means someone wants to look at a piece of art I made daily. They want that artwork to essentially, be a part of their life. They are going to see it every day. It is not forgotten in 15 seconds.
EWW:  Just to wrap up this interview.  Do you have any final thoughts about you and your work, which you think would be important for others to know about?

Gary:   I try to accompany all my photos with a story or description. I don’t consider the photo complete until I write down all the pertinent information regarding the picture. I like to talk, and I like to explain my thought process. Sometimes I talk about what drew me to the subject, or what happened while I was shooting, or what the subject means to me.

I look at the photograph as being just a part of the whole. There is a story behind just about everyone. Sometimes it can be done in a few words, sometimes it’s a Long story. But to me, it means more if a person can look at the picture and see the real meaning of the picture and what it means to me.
Website:  http://www.justsayshook.com/

 

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