Alan Richards has more on his mind than he cares to consider. His photo-digital mash-ups of frumpy, funny, everyday people and their weirdly manufactured private moments are amusing on the surface, but they are not shallow. Richards’ ideas about life, death and the journey between the two are all in there: His passion and concern for nature, his trust in freewill and self- determination and his borscht-belt, bemused distaste for the lower frequencies of the human existence. Until now, all of this was lost on the audiologist (by trade) from Roslyn. He was happy to make funny, funky art using high tech tools. When Pulse got him thinking about his process and his work, it all came pouring out.
Long Island Pulse: Can you describe your process specifically? What is the technique and technology and how do you manipulate it?
Alan Richards: The images I take of people and places or things very often sit in my archives waiting for inspiration. The person or persons in the picture are my primary focus. The background is not as important and is more easily obtainable. Often my images of people are with their backs to the camera. I think it makes the viewer do a bit more wondering about the subject.
Pulse: In “Time Travelers” you have a funny way of using these elderly couples to take on big, existential ideas. Is it their wisdom, their frumpy humor or both that make them ready for the journey?
AR: I don’t think it’s their wisdom that’s driving them down that alleyway. They obviously have issues with time since they are trying to relive their past by dressing up. The alleyway is the direction of travel whether they like it or not. It is unknown and dark and the sign on the wall tells it all. I think the dog knows better than to go down that alley.
Pulse: In “Chutes and Ladders,” what do you think is behind all those doors?
AR: Everything that life has to offer: Success, failure, happiness, depression, opportunity, family, tragedy, marriage, divorce and myriad other things that happen to an individual can be behind any of the doors on any level of the pyramid. In addition, the ladders and chutes provide a means by which an individual can transition between levels in either direction. Good can turn to bad, bad to good—and any other combination.
Pulse: There’s a Dylanesque character in “Deep Purple Gaze.” We’re watching him watch. It creates a depth of contemplation. Solitude on solitude. Can you talk about the quiet moments your work depicts?
AR: Solitude and quiet contemplation seem to be recurring themes in my pictures. This is the first time that someone has pointed this out to me and I certainly do not approach my work with that in mind. Apparently, there is something in my psyche that encourages me to work with quiet and peace in mind. I like order in my life and it’s apparently reflected in the images I produce since these people have the time to enjoy their surroundings and to take in the environment. I have had a pretty hectic work life and maybe this is related to my desire for quiet.
Pulse: The doors come up again in “Life Cycle.” These doors—of perception perhaps—seem to have significance for you.
AR: The doors are entry and exit points to life’s successes and challenges. One door closes and another one opens. I think like this because of my business and life experiences with failures and rejections and the successes that often follow. I suppose this attitude follows me in the production of art. There are more than a few persons who do not “get” my art or what I’m trying to portray. They don’t know if it’s photography, drawing or painting. It’s a hybrid and being difficult to classify leads to rejections. However, the successes are great and rewarding. I view these events as doors opening and closing and sometimes revolving.
Pulse: Many of your pieces are light and funny, but you take on big issues as well: aging, global warming, solitude versus engagement, the meaning of life. Are we a species/culture on the rise or the decline? Is the best we can do is just laugh?
AR: I’m not sure whether or not society is on the ascent or descent, but my bet would be on the latter. Bad things have always occurred in the world but we were not exposed to the bad by the hype of TV news, the decline of true journalism and the garbage that we are exposed to via reality TV. We are interconnected twenty- four seven and that gives us little time for reflection. Maybe that’s why my pictures show solitude. We need it.
My pictures may be humorous or satirical, but my underlying feeling is quite a bit more serious. When I think about the art and my life there appears to be a parallel in tone and content. My best friend, my wife Ellen, pointed this out to me. I guess I believe it too. Maybe I’m deeper than I thought.
See more of Richards’ work at alanrichardsart.com.