Spaghetti, Arizona, 2018
The great outdoors. The wide open road. Freedom. Freedom to run around, to get moving, to imagine, to think, to day-dream, to dream big. We may not know where the story is going, but it’s the moment and the journey that are fascinating. And what is equally fascinating is when a photograph awakens all those feelings in you at once. The landscape photography of Kyle Petrozza does that. I have recently talked to Kyle about image-making, about the best road trip in America and about how living a simple life away from the city lights can foster creativity. But the beauty of a conversation is that you never truly know where it will take you, just like that open road in front of you when you set out for a trip; and Kyle’s honesty and unreserve about his life and work and artistic journey have reached much further than to my deeper appreciation of his photography, and they have made me better appreciate certain things in my life, question other things more acerbically and properly acknowledge some of my own struggles for the very first time – it’s probably why I chose not to follow on the question about that place called home.
“The lightness of not having to be creating
something important reminds me of the joy
I discovered when I first picked up a camera.”
What’s the story behind this photo?
This past May, I was booked on a ten-day job in LA. I would normally fly from my home in Virginia to the West Coast and back. The day the job confirmed, I was in conversation with a good friend who asked a simple, but poignant question: when was the last time you traveled solely for the sake of traveling? The next morning, I decided to drive out to LA and back, instead of flying.
On the way back East, a travel partner and I were headed to the Apache Trail in Arizona when we passed by a kitschy, for-profit adaptation of an old mining town-cum-amusement park. I would normally steer clear of places like this, but my partner being from the Netherlands wanted the “full American experience” as she put it. I’m a fan of the desert’s patina, texture, and hardness of light, but the gimcrack surroundings really bummed me out.
I found myself focusing on the surrounding landscape of which this little roadside attraction was a part, instead of the attraction itself. This image was one that was carefully composed and edited to eliminate most elements that would not have been there when this mine was in operation. A practice in escapism, you could say and an illustration of the power we have as image-makers in deciding what we want to say by choosing what to show.
A few images from that day intentionally juxtaposed the landscape with elements of modernity, but I felt those elements controlled the narrative of the images more than I had hoped they would. Those new narratives were constrictive and I feared that they would lead the viewer someplace too intentional instead of allowing the viewer freedom of interpretation.
Do you always carry a camera with you?
Technically speaking, yes. The phone that resides in my back pocket is indeed a camera. And I use it, often. As for cameras of the larger variety, I go through phases. Lugging around a modern DSLR, even with a Zeiss prime gets to be a bit unwieldy and intrusive. When the mood hits, I’ll carry around an old AE-1 for fun.
Is it make or take a photograph? Do you wait for a good photo? Are there times when you simply witness the moment without shooting any picture?
I always strive to be making photographs. However, I realize that there are times, many of them, when simply taking photographs is more fun. The lightness of not having to be creating something important reminds me of the joy I discovered when I first picked up a camera back in 2005.
If I’m covering an event or shooting on the street, yes, I will definetly wait for the moment when the scene matches what I think I see in my head or when all the elements fall into place. Forcing things, in any aspect of life, misses the point.
I had to laugh at this question and will explain why. There are definitely times when simply witnessing a moment is more important, respectful, and magical than trying to photograph it. Apparently this is something I had to learn as I would routinely be reprimanded by an ex to “put the camera down and be more present”.
While some may see this as a discouragement toward my picture making, I was glad for it. There are moments in life when a camera simply won’t do a moment justice. Or, when an ever changing interpretation of a memory of a moment is more favorable, in the long run, than that of a photographic image.
You have lived in different parts of the world. How has that influenced you creatively?
It has fostered a deeper sense of empathy within me. As a photographer of people and to a greater extent, a storyteller, I hope the importance of that needs no further explanation.
Do people make the place?
Very much so, yes. But, only after the place has helped make those people. The best I can do to explain this is point to the experiences of traveling through extremely impoverished places as well as very affluent places. Place and circumstance surely effect how one is raised, what one values, and where one chooses to place their attention and actions. While this isn’t a blanket statement applicable to all people, internationally speaking, I’ve found that the kindness and generosity of the impoverished have made their places that much more memorable to me than those of the more affluent communities I’ve visited.
New Mexico, NM-52
“The best road trip
is the one you are currently on.”
What made you leave New York City and move to a farm?
The answer to that question would require pages and would bore your readers. Suffice it to say that I was desirous of a break from the photo industry since I wasn’t furthering my own creative goals; I grew tired of my social life in the city; I had become very interested in regenerative agriculture and wanted to see if life as a farmer was enjoyable, sustainable, and profitable; and lastly, the universe presented an opportunity that was hard to pass up.
In what ways has living in the country changed your life?
Living in the country has given me the time and space to evaluate my life up to and at this point. To figure out what has worked and what hasn’t. To feel what I need more of (nature, community, simplicity) and what I haven’t missed (small apartments, the dating scene, concrete). It’s afforded me daily reminders that the country of which I’m a citizen is more sharply divided than it would appear in its major cities and has forced me to confront those realities. Most importantly, I think, is that it has allowed me to feel less pressure to create perfect, city-worthy work. The consistent work schedule and bright lights of New York no longer dim my own creative bulb.
Do you feel at home in Virginia?
I’m not sure I feel at home anywhere, to be honest. That said, I feel more “at home” in my current home here in Virginia than I’ve felt in most other places I’ve lived. But, the town and surrounding countryside where that home is located does not bring with it a feeling of being home.
You have criss-crossed America and travelled to and lived in different parts of the world. What is the best road trip one could take in America, and worldwide?
The best road trip is the one you’re currently on. That’s how I really want to answer. But, I’d be remiss if I passed up the opportunity to inspire someone who hasn’t yet traveled this vast land.
In America, if you have the time, resources, and stamina, there’s simply no better way to experience the country than by making the great loop: East coast to the West coast via the northern or southern route and using the entire West coast as your U-turn. Keep off the interstates, out of chain hotels, and an ear to the ground for local knowledge. If you can do it in a convertible that was produced sometime during 1950 – 1975, all the better. If you can’t afford to do all that, I’d suggest a trip across the top of the nation (the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming) in spring or late summer and dropping down into your favorite mountain range.
As for a trip in other parts of the world, abandon the car and get on a train or a boat.
What is your favourite moment of the day for shooting? Do you swear by the golden hour?
I don’t think I have a favorite moment of the day to shoot. Of course, the sun at a low angle filtering through layers and layers of atmosphere and smog is gorgeous light, but maybe that’s not the best light for the story you’re trying to tell.
In this time and age, you wish people appreciated more:
If you could be anywhere in the world right now (old or new location), preparing to make a photo, where would you want to be?
My lack of an answer to this question is indicative of my current creative struggles.