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The New York Times Lens Blog Turning Point Series: Justin Maxon on Antoine D’Agata

Multiple Realities, Multiple Exposures
October 6, 2010, 1:55 pm

Justin Maxon was born in California in 1983 and attended San Francisco State University. In 2007, at 24, Mr. Maxon won first prize in the World Press Photo Daily Life category. Two years later, in 2009, PDN called him one of 30 emerging photographers.

Mr. Maxon’s conversation with Kerri MacDonald has been edited and condensed for space.

Q. How was this picture taken?

A. While working on a long-term project in Chester, a small town outside of Philadelphia, I was besieged in witnessing issues weighing on the lives of the community. I grew frustrated that my work didn’t have the dimension or complexity I felt was necessary to unfold the overlapping issues.

So I took a bold leap and began experimenting with multiple exposures. Placing interrelated moments next to each other, I attempted to create images that had layers of understanding in them, where one could see more of the true complications of life in Chester. People must endure a tremendous amount of weight to survive growing up and living in this community. I wanted my images to reflect that burden, and carry a weight of their own, so that viewers them could get a sense of what I felt working there.

Q. How has this image changed the way you worked?
A. This image changed the way I approach much of my work today, pushing the boundaries of my method of storytelling. I allowed my emotional reaction to tell the story. Most of my new work comes from this internal space, where my own emotions are dictating what I choose to photograph and how it’s represented. This experimentation gave me the tools to achieve a more liberated approach.

In my future work, whether it’s journalistic or conceptual in approach, I will not confine myself to one particular way of storytelling.

Inspiration: Antoine D’Agata (Magnum)
Image: “Japan. 2004.“

Q. When did you first come upon this image? How?
A. I have sought D’Agata’s work for inspiration over the years, but I don’t remember the first time I came across this particular image. Viewing his work recently, though, this photo struck me. His work reaches some deep reservoir of emotion, leaving the viewer feeling unsettled, unsure and questioning — but always better for it.

Q. What do you like about this image?
A. People tend to have walls protecting their vulnerabilities. These obstructions can bend our perceptions of reality to where the familiar becomes unrecognizable. We become phantoms in our human skin, hiding from the world around us. D’Agata’s work exposes these secret parts of himself; the spaces others guard.

When viewing this type of work, those barriers come crashing down. I look at this image and see myself bare, stripped of my armor and shield. I’m forced to look at my own imperfections as a human. This reaction is a rare opportunity for self-discovery in a world full of distractions and indifference. People can’t hide themselves from his work.

Q. How has it influenced your work?
A. This image stirs something meaningful both in photographic terms and in personal terms. It exemplifies the relationship between spirit and feeling that encourages me to photograph, and more importantly live, by and for my emotions. It inspires me to seek out the sensations of life, where we often get a better glimpse into the true nature of things.

“Turning Point” is an occasional series featuring images by young photographers. The column was conceived by the 26-year-old photographer Amanda Rivkin.

Previous Turning Point Columns:

Wednesday, Aug. 4
Amanda Rivkin, 26.
Inspired by Dorothea Lange.

Wednesday, Aug. 11
Aga Luczakowska, 29.
Inspired by Stanley Greene.

Wednesday, Aug. 18
Robert Caplin, 27.
Inspired by David Alan Harvey.

Wednesday, Aug. 25
Yana Paskova, 28.
Inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Wednesday, Sept. 1
Ayman Oghanna, 25.
Inspired by Alex Webb.

Wednesday, Sept. 8
Newsha Tavakolian, 29.
Inspired by Naser al-Din, the shah of Iran (1848-96).

Wednesday, Sept. 15
Maja Hitij, 26.
Inspired by Kevin Carter.

Wednesday, Sept. 22
Ed Ou, 23.
Inspired by Finbarr O’Reilly

Wednesday, Sept. 29
Mustafah Abdulaziz, 24.
Inspired by Richard Avedon.