Dustin Houston | Issue Nine Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work

I'm a photographer and filmmaker from a small town in the Midwest, I moved across the U.S. to Portland, Oregon four years ago after I finished animating a stop motion short. Since then I've compiled a body of 35mm photographs and numerous music videos.

What potential do you feel artists have to help bring about change?

A greater potential than most acknowledge. Whether it moves one to tears or conjures a laugh, art seems to demand a response. I think truly engaging art is a collaboration between the artist and the spectator, a feedback loop. It should be transformative, take you some place you've never been or frame it in a way you hadn't thought of looking at it. Art can incite a riot or inspire one to save the planet. Regardless, if it's strong work, it reassimilates one's perspective; it seems our most beloved mythology.

Tell us about the themes you pursue in your work

Last year I began documenting various forms of waste. I committed a roll of film to the theme when asked by the world's greatest band, Teton, to shoot a cover image for their EP, DUMP. Most of the images you see here are part of that 36 exposure narrative. A few months later I revisited the subject for another collaboration with Teton, essentially a PSA in the guise of a music video, it compounds six garbage-hunting urban hikes. I typically only apply themes to my video work, for me, photography is a nice break from thinking in a conceptual way and a great means of balancing long form projects. It wasn't a conscious thing, but after a while I began to notice a unifying principle in my photography, to project a sense of personality onto inanimate subjects, making the inanimate animate. DOOMTOWN is my series of photos that explores the uncanny valley, it's inspired by the eponymous Nevada Test Site where in 1955 a town was constructed and populated with mannequins before recording the nuclear devastation. The footage from the test is so breathtakingly poignant. My ongoing photo series depicts a dystopia of impending nuclear catastrophe wherein mannequins live among humans, alone in the indelible trauma, with a sort of "genetic memory" of their radioactive past. PSYCHOPOMP is another recurring series of mine, on late night walks I started observing this apparitional quality in certain cars and found myself inspired by the wrinkles in car covers, their metallic glow emanating in the night. The esthetic is my attempt at Edward Hopper in the Netherworld, I guess I like how picket fences and cars look when they're all foggy and barely exposed.

What art do you most identify with?

It's hard to explain, it's not a question of style, I like so many vastly different periods of art. But when you feel it in your gut and it's so visceral you can't deny it, that's the best feeling.

Is there something you couldn't live without in your studio? what is your most essential tool?

My Tiffen fog filter #3, my 28mm Zeiss Distagon, or a roll of high speed film depending on the scenario.

What place do you think artists have in the political sphere?

If you have a platform, you have the unique opportunity to shed light on injustices and reach minds beyond the barrier of politics. I think Marvin Gaye would've achieved world peace with a little more time. On the contrary, in a world of subjective morals it can be a very dangerous power, a propulsion of propaganda.

What do you feel the role of artists and photographers is in society?

To hold up a mirror, to offer another perspective, to tell a story, to dream, or maybe just to play around. I recently saw an exhibit of Pulitzer winning photos, it was truly captivating to see what an impact one click of the shutter can make. I wholeheartedly feel that art can save the world.

Are there any upcoming exhibitions or projects in the works?

I'm writing my first feature-length film, Hot & Cool, a film about everything and nothing, the self and the other, borne out of years of rumination on duality and monism. It is my wish to secure funding and start shooting it next year. Who wants to be a benefactor or benefactress?

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