Mossless in America is a column featuring interviews with documentary photographers produced in partnership with <i>Mossless</i> magazine. This week, we speak with photographer Morgan Ashcom about his series <i>West of Megsico</i>, which documents a...
Mossless in America is a new column featuring interviews with documentary photographers. The series is produced in partnership with Mossless magazine, an experimental photography publication run by Romke Hoogwaerts and Grace Leigh. Romke started Mossless in 2009 as a blog where he interviewed a different photographer every two days, and since 2012 Mossless magazine has produced two print issues, each dealing with a different type of photography. Mossless was featured prominently in the landmark 2012 exhibition Millennium Magazine at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and is supported by Printed Matter, Inc. Their forthcoming third issue, a major photographic volume on American documentary photography from the last ten years titled The United States (2003-2013), will be published this spring.
Morgan Ashcom was born and raised on a farm in Free Union, Virginia. From an early age he used a video camera to document his friends skateboarding, but over time his interest turned from the moving image to still photography. His series West of Megsico uses Skatopia, a small anarchist skateboarding community in rural Ohio, as a space to synthesize the natural world with his own imagination and experience.
Mossless: Do you skate?
Morgan Ashcom: No, not anymore. I skated from the time I was about 12 years old until I was 26. I had broken a lot of bones and was starting to feel twice my age, so I stopped.
What did you make of the atmosphere at Skatopia?
I can’t really give a proper description of the atmosphere, and I am sure that my photographs don’t either. I was interested in making photographs at Skatopia not because of a cohesive atmosphere that existed, but because I felt free to take risks.
How is Skatopia perceived by its neighbors?
There appeared to be a general environment of live and let live.
You attended Hartford’s photography MFA program. Can you tell us how that works and what you thought of it?
The program is designed as a limited residency, meaning you have a great amount of freedom to choose where you want to live and make new work. My year was a particularly international group: there were students who lived in Iceland, Japan, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and all over the United States. Everyone got together three times a year. We met at the University of Hartford for two weeks in the summer, New York City or San Francisco in the fall, and Berlin, Germany during the spring. Wherever we met, the faculty would arrange studio visits or critiques with artists and curators in the area. Outside of the in-person sessions, we were shooting and working on our own while video conferencing online for critiques or meetings with our thesis advisers.
The experience I had at Hartford will go unmatched for a long time. It offered challenging feedback on my work, and ultimately helped me change the way I make pictures.
Do you consider your work to be documentary photography?
To me, the word documentary implies a primary concern with things as they are: concern with the social landscape, psychology, politics, history, or activism. I don't think of my work in that way at all. I am a photographer, and that's it. Elements of the scene at Skatopia provided some useful dramatic material, but they serve a different purpose in West of Megsico than they do at Skatopia. The resulting photographs and their sequencing came from a mixture of imagination, observation, and my experience. I work like this because I am interested in looking at photographs in a way that includes the most possibilities. That is, I like them to appear as facts, while at the same time suggesting something beyond the visible world.
Morgan Ashcom is an NYC-based photographer.