Over the past four years, Azikiwe Mohammed has taken bus trips across the country in order to recreate Stephen Shore's photographs from the book Uncommon Places. While on the road, Azikiwe takes tons of photos of the food he eats. These pictures and recreations of Shore's photographs comprise Frequent Aberrations, Azikiwe’s series of images that will be on view at 7 Dunham in Brooklyn starting October 19th. We talked to the New York-based photographer about his iron stomach, how his father’s death prompted this journey-in-progress, and what he thinks about his former teacher Stephen Shore.
VICE: So, what’s the deal with all the food pictures, dude?
Azikiwe Mohammed:Since 2009, I’ve been traveling around America mostly by bus to a bunch of pretty small towns. While I’m on the road, I document everything that happens during my day, especially the food. It helps me remember.
But you were retracing Stephen Shore’s trip from Uncommon Places though right?
Yes. That is what takes me to the places that I go. He kept a journal in 1972 and ‘73 when he started making Uncommon Places. The names of his photos are the addresses of where the photo was taken. I just go from address to address. I figured if I’m gonna be reshooting this, I might as well go all the way.
Why did you choose to retrace Stephen's trip specifically? Why not Robert Frank or someone else?
For one, Uncommon Places is more awesome than The Americans, but I also have a personal connection to Uncommon Places. Stephen was my teacher at Bard College. We had a misunderstanding that led to me leaving the photo department. After that, I read some more on him, and it became clear to me he started working on Uncommon Places in response to death of his parents. The misunderstanding between Stephen and me was about the passing of my father and the death of Stephen’s parents when he was in his 20s.
So what was the misunderstanding?
My advisor told me that Stephen found out my dad had died six months prior to my application to be a photo major. I guess Stephen thought I should have been over it by then. He accused me of knowing about the death of his parents and trying to use that knowledge to manipulate him and appeal to his softer side, because I’m lazy or something.
So, he kicked you out because he didn’t think you went through the grieving process quick enough?
Do you still harbor ill feelings towards Stephen? Do you think he's an asshole?
I was mad at the time, of course. That one small decision changed the whole trajectory of my life. But am I mad now? Nope. I guess he’s looking for answers to his pain the same as I was. It’s just a shame he still hadn’t found them when when I was his student.
Wow, OK. Interesting. So you then decided to go on this road trip.
Dude, so brutal. I’m still doing it. I’ve been three years now, about 55 percent done, 35,000 miles approximately traveled. There have been four planes over the three years, but the rest of my travels is by bus with a bit of commuter rail sprinkled in there a few times.
All following Stephen Shore's itinerary?
For the most part. Since I’m taking the bus I can't go in a straight line, which is good. It allows space for me and the photos to breathe.
There seems to be something so romantic about road trips to a lot of photographers. Do you feel that photographic pull for the open road?
Yet, you’re out there anyway.
While I have been making this series, I haven’t found the answers I was looking for, but I have been posing new questions. And those questions have proven to be answers for some of the people I meet along the way. I would like to keep trading answers for questions with others, because I had no one when I lost my dad. A lot of these people don’t either, which is why they’re on the bus.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen? On the bus or otherwise.
A state Marshall pulled us over and started questioning all the black dudes on the bus. A dude with gold fronts and cornrows cursed in the proximity of the cop. The cop smashed his face into the overhead compartment, dragged him off the bus and, with the help of another dude, beat the fuck out of him. All for his ID, which he was holding. I have photos of the whole thing. I had two people flank me so the Marshall wouldn’t see. He was not a very nice man.
Do you ever worry you're putting too much emphasis on those that came before you? I mean, it's tough getting out of the shadow of your influences sometimes, especially after those influences kick you out of school.
Nope. The purpose of this body of work is to help me cope with a pain that I live with everyday.
It’s more about your dad and less about Stephen Shore? You’re just using Stephen’s trip as a framework?
It sounds like this is very much an ongoing project, huh?
Yes, though I think I can't eat a meal now without taking a photo of it first. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.
7 Dunham and Heyadele present:
Azikiwe Mohammed: “Frequent Aberrations 2009-2012”
October 19 – October 24, 2012
If you want to help Azikiwe on his project, visit his Kickstarter campaign page. He promises he won't spend all the money on food.