Posted: 05.16.13/13:25

Creative Conversations: Ross Mantle + Masood Kamandy

Masood Kamandy (YG5) is an LA based artist, educator and editor. In this interview with Ross Mantle (YGX), Masood talks about his development as an artist and his experience starting a photography department at Kabul University in Afghanistan. 

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Ross Mantle: Your work seems to have progressed a lot in just few years. From pretty straight to pretty conceptual. I was really struck by that. 

Masood Kamandy: I guess I came to photography as an observational medium. I had been doing projects in Afghanistan and just exploring what photography could be. After a while I got really interested in more conceptual art and conceptual photography. I had a few teachers that really influenced me in that direction. 

Ross: So when you started it was more straight documentary stuff? Because I found some of your older work online and it looks drastically different from the work you are doing now. 

Masood: Yeah. 

Ross: There is a consistency to it that really struck me because I feel like you see some artists that do a 180 and their work does not appear anything like it used to. You seem to have managed it in such a way that it all fits, which I thought was pretty interesting. 

Masood: That’s great to hear. The one thing with me is I did a lot of documentary, straight photography in undergraduate. I got out of school and I started working as a photo editor and I was just exposed to so many different types of images, image making and the history of photography in a way that was more hands on and contemporary than studying it in school. It just seemed to me that I wanted to do it as an artist, but explore what was possible with photography and that’s what started to happen. 

Ross: So was it one project leading to the next or how did that progression happen? 

“My work now reflects the diversity of my interests rather than being a part of a photo program, which is how it started out.

Masood: The first step in that direction was a series of portraits called the Secret Diptychs. I took two pictures of people. One picture I would say, “Hey, can I take a picture?” and the second I would say, “Think of something you never would ever tell me”. It sort of goes from being a straight photograph to kind of having a conceptual backbone. I like to engage with the people on the internet. I think my work now reflects the diversity of my interests rather than being a part of a photo program, which is how it started out. There’s such an amazing community of people out there. Maybe they are not a part of the art world or the photography world or any other sort of world we exist in, but you can reach so many of them using the internet and to me that’s a great resource. It’s a great way to feel connected with the world. I’m sort of anti-hermeticism, I want to be able to connect with people and collaborate and the internet is the best place to do that, although doing it in real life is amazing too. 

Ross:Are you surprised by some of the people who have found your work via the internet? Have you found it has opened up more doors for conversations which you probably wouldn’t have before? 

Masood: Yeah it does. Now Facebook is a part that too. I’m connecting with people who I would have never have talked to like a performance artist that wants to do a collaboration or different things like that which open up possibilities for making new artwork and meeting new people. Also there’s places around the world that I wouldn’t think to show my work in or I wouldn’t have the opportunity show my work. 

Ross: There is something you are doing with Kabul University? How did that all come about? 

Masood: I studied at the School of Visual Arts and September 11th happened the first year I started. My family is from Afghanistan and before that I had never been really engaged in my family’s culture, but once that happened I felt this great need to go and do something productive. I had a big tax refund that year, so I took that money and went to Afghanistan to see if I could do something to help. I went to Kabul University and met all these teachers. Then I came back to SVA and asked the Chair of the photography department, Stephen Frailer, if SVA wanted to do anything to help, and he took the project on and organized an auction and raised all this money. I ended up teaching there and building a darkroom and a classroom. 

Ross: What does it feel like teaching and starting a program on the other side of the world? 

“I wanted to build a good dark room, teach black and white photography really well and have a really clean classroom that served as a refuge from the chaos.”

Masood: It was difficult working in Kabul. There are a lot of struggles coordinating and transporting things. Things that are easy here take a lot of more effort there. It was tough, I had my computer stolen. I got through it and it was ultimately great, but I just focused on teaching very basic things. I wanted to build a good dark room, teach black and white photography really well and have a really clean classroom that served as a refuge from the chaos. 

Ross: It seems like you have your hands in a lot of different things. Do you find that they are all influencing each other? 

Masood: First and foremost I am an image-maker. There are all these other things I do to facilitate that like teaching or computer programming. I think it all sort of comes together in a way that helps me feel like a whole artist or a whole human being. I used to take things apart. As a kid I had an Atari and I would take it apart. I had a Nintendo and I would take it apart. The moment I realized I could combine that with my art happened kind of recently and it was like a total revelation. It’s all good because as I get older I have accepted me for who I am and maybe it’s a little frenetic, but that’s okay. 

Ross: So you edited for New York Times Magazine and Art + Commerce. Do you see that experience having influence in the way that you dissect your images now? 

Masood: When you are an editor you have to change your frame of mind pretty drastically because you are editing a lot of different types of pictures. Each of them uses different strategies and different subject matter, so that shifting in the frame of mind is really influential, but then after a while I think you develop a lexicon of image making and that kind of lexicon idea is something that I bring into my art practice. I have the freedom of making any image I really want to as long as that image serves my ideas. That to me is really liberating, that I don’t have to have any form of style. An aesthetic style is not something that appeals to me. I’d rather have a conceptual framework. 

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