JONATHAN CHERRY: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
MATT EICH: A toasted everything bagel with ham, swiss cheese, some honey mustard and a cup of coffee. That’s because I’m home, which makes me happy. When on the road I eat kind of sporadically.
JC: Last photography book you flicked through?
ME: The Long River by Nadav Kander. My kick-ass in-laws got it for me for Christmas and it just showed up.
JC: How is Virginia treating you?
ME: So far so good. My family relocated here after graduating from undergrad in 2009 and are just starting to feel like we’re getting settled. Assignments are feast or famine but I’m within easy reach of most of the regions I’m interested in photographing right now and there’s a really vibrant little photo community starting to sprout up in Norfolk. It’s great to have passionate artists close by that challenge me to grow. We’re not sure where we’ll end up in the next few years but we’re being challenged here in good ways.
JC: Is 2011 set to be a good year?
ME: It’s been a whirlwind so far - definitely the craziest start to a year that any of us in LUCEO have had. We’re making small steps away from the editorial market and trying to understand our place in the fine art world and continuing to diversify our business in other ways. There are a lot of exciting things in the works, so I’m hopeful it will be a productive year. The bottom line is continuing to grow as a person and as a photographer while still managing to keep food on the table. If that is accomplished then I’d say it’s been a good year.
JC: What is your current project all about?
ME: Since April of 2010 I’ve been documenting the Baptist Town neighborhood of Greenwood, Mississippi. It is about 500 residents that live cut off on all sides by train tracks in a pocket of poverty, crime and violence, not far removed from an affluent white community. I’m trying to understand what creates an environment like this but in the process have really become attached to the people in this place. I don’t know why they accept me, but they do, and I keep returning with the naive hope that the images might do something to better that community. If I can depict them as human beings instead of the issues they embody, hopefully they will become relatable to viewers that have no concept of what life is like for them. The end goal is to visually introduce neighbors to one another, dispelling fear and fostering understanding.
JC: Any tall tales from the road?
ME: Not really any tall tales, but occasionally while in the field you are forced to step back and look at the absurdity of the situations we find ourselves in. The last trip I made to Baptist Town was with a musician/audio specialist named Tyler Strickland who is a LUCEO partner. We had been trying to track down one guy for an interview and finally got lucky the day we were supposed to leave. We’re sitting in the living room with a microphone in his face when there’s a knock on the door from the cable man. He walks in to two skinny white boys sitting on the couch in the hood, facing two gangsters smoking a blunt with a knife on the desk, a box of drugs under the computer, guns within easy reach and the wall behind us is covered in pictures (mostly mine) from the neighborhood. The cable man seemed a bit taken aback but kept about his business like it wasn’t the weirdest thing he’d seen that day.
JC: Any pearls of wisdom for recent photography graduates?
ME: To make pictures you have to eat, to eat you have to be able to pay bills, to pay bills you have to understand the business of photography. It’s not sexy but its crucial if you’re going to do this. Diversify your business and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Be open to collaboration, you aren’t an island. Find something you care about and run with it. A significant body of work that is topically or conceptually linked and showcases your vision and dedication will go miles further than a collection of nice single images.
JC: Other thoughts?
ME: Not really, other than the advice a professor of mine from Ohio University named Julie Elman would always tell her students. Dare to suck.