“I think it’s best to root an approach and aesthetic in well-considered and thoroughly thought out ideas before considering the style or aesthetic. I try to put reasoning and intent before any stylistic choices, and as a result, the aesthetic develops naturally from the reasoning.”
Ross Mantle. Born in 1985, Ross Mantle is a contemporary photographer living between Brooklyn, New York and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied photography at Ohio University.
“Much of my work focuses on contemporary American life, the Rust Belt and the relationships between person and place.”
Interview with Ross Mantle
Ross, what was your first camera and photographic experience?
I had some point and shoots around when I was a kid and as a teenager I started using them to photograph my friends and I riding BMX. It grew from there into something more serious.
Why did you become a photographer?
It’s made the most sense of anything that I’ve tried to do thus far in my life.
The “In the Wake Newspaper Project” brings the photographic work of Ross Mantle and written essays from Ron Baraff and Jen Saffron, to the Monongahela Valley communities that Mantle explores in his series “In the Wake”.
What does photography mean to you?
It’s been a good way for me to make sense of people and spaces, work through ideas and communicate thoughts.
Which photographer has inspired you most and why?
There’s a lot more than one. Gregory Halpern, Jason Fulford and Andres Gonzalez have been inspirations lately. Some of my friends, too: Peter Hoffman and Justin Visnesky have been making interesting work. A lot of writers inspire my work more often than photography, Raymond Carver, Sherwood Anderson, John Steinbeck, Julio Cortazar and Nelson Algren’s work has been influences at different times and for different reasons.
Your favorite photography quote?
I don’t have one about photography, but I do like what the author Philip Meyer said about fiction work in a New Yorker interview, it can be applied to photography and other arts:
“Fundamentally, it has to engage the reader. There are all sorts of ways to do this – emotionally, intellectually, etc. But, if we’re talking what makes the greats better than the goods, I’d say that the greats create a complete world within the book and also take some meaningful stance on humanity, on the way people are. They have something substantive to say and they are not afraid to say it in public. They are driven by their own ideas – they’re not just retailing someone else’s.
If they’re doing interesting stuff formally, that’s a plus, and if they work in an interesting style, use interesting language, that’s also a plus. But both style and linguistic acrobatics get erased by translation and go stale with the passage of time. So I think in the end the ideas have to hold up.”
How would you describe your photographic language?
Wandering, inquisitive, deliberate.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
I hope I haven’t finished developing it yet. It’s always changing, and ideally it’s always growing. I think it’s best to root an approach and aesthetic in well-considered and thoroughly thought out ideas before considering the style or aesthetic. I try to put reasoning and intent before any stylistic choices, and as a result, the aesthetic develops naturally from the reasoning.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work?
I try to work as simply as possible, but this is always changing. Aesthetics and concepts change and develop. The ideas behind each project change as narratives grow and expand or contract. The aesthetic and concepts change slightly as the questions the work asks requires new answers.
What qualities does a good photographer need?
Patience, and frugality.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
It needs to come from an honest and earnest place, with intent and purpose going into its creation.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
Personal experiences, connection to places or stories, history, socio-economics, geography and people’s individual stories all play a big part of what I take on in my projects.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
It’s a mix of digital and medium format equipment. I use different cameras depending on the project or piece.
What’s your favorite website on photography?
American Suburb X.
What photography book would you recommend?
I’m not sure about a book on photography, but reading “Conversations with Nelson Algren” by H. E. F. Donohue and Nelson Algren and Wendell Berry’s “What Are People For?” were big inspirations at a time when I was at a crossroads with my work.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a professional photographer?
Shoot as much as you can and believe in your work, don’t worry about doing anything more with it until you absolutely must.