Welcome to DELVE Interviews, a look into the unique paths of artistic and creative individuals. These conversations are a branch of our DELVE Workshops and Networking Events, where we celebrate and discover everyone's unique paths as artistic and creative forces. Join us for DELVE: Architecture + Art on Tuesday, December 9th at MEx in Brooklyn. Tickets here (before they sell out!)
Today we're excited to be speaking with Brooklyn-based photographer Miska Draskoczy. His photographic series, Gowanus Wild, is a wonderful project that we wanted to explore a bit deeper as we think about the intersection between architecture and art.
Thanks, Miska, for sharing your insight and process with us!
Miska Draskoczy fell in love with cameras at age 14 and has been behind them ever since. His photography has been widely exhibited in the US and abroad and is the recipient of numerous awards. His urban wilderness series, Gowanus Wild, has been exhibited as a solo show at the Vermont Center for Photography and Ground Floor Gallery in Brooklyn, NY as well as in group shows such as THE FENCE at PHOTOVILLE 2013. He was recently named a Photolucida Critical Mass finalist and his work has been featured in the press by The New Yorker's Photo Booth blog, Time Out, PDN, Gizmodo, Featureshoot, Hyperallergic, Brokelyn and many others.
What prompted starting the project Gowanus Wild?
I live on the border of Gowanus but more importantly (as a New Yorker with a car), it's where I park. Walking home at night I was always intrigued by how empty and eerie the streets are at night. At first I just wanted to capture the mood and see what the images would look like, but as I kept shooting I realized a lot of the shots had these odd bits of nature in them and I was unconsciously shooting the way I would on a wilderness trip. So I thought this idea of an 'urban wild' was an interesting paradox to explore, especially in a place as antithetical to nature as Gowanus. More importantly this approach had a personal connection for me as someone who has always been keen on outdoors adventures. My working question became something like 'what if wilderness isn't just about the external qualities of a place, but about how we perceive or choose to experience a landscape?' I think at a certain point I realized that the work wasn't so much a documentary but more a subjective vision of how I felt in those spaces, or how I wanted to feel; a longing, a stillness. Of course now that the neighborhood is changing so much and some of the pictures no longer exist, the series is taking on a historical dimension as well which I also find interesting.
What has the project taught or revealed to you about the changing landscape of your neighborhood?
I tended to think of change in neighborhoods as happening on a large scale; big buildings go up, others get torn down, stores open or close, etc. But what began to fascinate me was discovering how the urban environment changes on the micro level. When I looked at Gowanus with the eye of a naturalist, the way a scientist may set up a camera in the jungle and look at the same patch of dirt for months on end, the environment revealed things I might not normally have noticed. Plants of all kinds find purchase in unlikely spots and blossom, mature, then wither and lie dormant. Trash and refuse ebb and flow, collect and disperse in odd ways, and all this interacts with the built environment itself which eventually crumbles, is destroyed, and then repaired or replaced. It all has a very organic feel to it, a rhythm, that made me realize I can connect to this idea of wilderness and something bigger than myself even here in the city.
How has this project allowed you to connect in a deeper way with this community?
It's been an interesting and rewarding journey for me on this front. I started shooting this project in 2012 but had already been living in the neighborhood since 2008. Despite that length of time I didn't have any connection to the art community in Gowanus when I started, I just went about shooting things for my own little personal project. Then in 2013 as Gowanus Wild was starting to mature and go public it dawned on me that having shot all this work in Gowanus, it would probably be a good idea to reach out and connect with the local art scene here, suspecting it would be of interest. I was only dimly aware of Gowanus Open Studios at the time, but took the plunge and ran a pop-up show for it in fall 2013. It was an incredible experience as not only did I have hundreds of people come through the show, but I got connected to the Gowanus Open Studios team and began to volunteer and become involved in the art scene here. Since then, it's been such a great resource, I love having this base of a local community to be a part of. This fall I had a show for Gowanus Wild at Ground Floor Gallery in neighboring Park Slope which felt like a great way to tie it all together.
What is your favorite art making tool?
My brain, my spreadsheets, my notes. I'm a big believer that great projects have at their core unique and well conceived ideas. I spend a lot of time researching and developing ideas before and as they become projects. I'm just now moving forward with a series I've been shooting on and off for two years because it took me that long to finally find the right title. Two years to find the right two words! It's so worth it though. Once a project starts to take off and move from the personal and private phase to the public one, I can make little course corrections but ideally I want it to be set up in a way that people can lock into it right away. Otherwise I risk doing a lot of work that may fall flat because I failed to find an effective way to communicate what I'm doing. I think of my role primarily as a communicator and I try to keep that in the forefront regardless of what medium I'm working in or whether it's personal or client work. What am I trying to convey? What will people get out of it? How can I say it more effectively? I don't think this means being literal or obvious, but having cohesion and purpose. Creativity most definitely has to come from an intuitive, unconscious place where often nothing makes sense at first, but then it gets dragged into the light and editor vs creator push and pull against each other. I'm always fascinated by this process and the challenge is often to not get stuck too much on one side of it or the other but let them dance together.
What music/band/artist are you listening to the most right now?
I recently got the new Aphex Twin album (Syro) and have probably listened to it about a thousand times already. Then I found this obsessively long and detailed interview Richard D. James did where he goes into great detail about the techniques and gear behind making the album and his process in general. I did a lot of electronic music in college so it brought back fond memories of geeking out over analog synthesis, gear, and that fixation of going super deep into process. It's such a great feeling when I've really worked and re-worked over a piece of gear, a shooting location, color correction tools, a set of possibilities, such that it becomes encoded in my unconsciousness, I can create from this really rich space of fluency with material. Also, with electronic music specifically I just love getting all nerdy and hopped up on math. There is something very pure and spiritual to it. I think I tend to gravitate towards abstraction and design in my photo work for similar reasons.
Where is your next dream travel destination?
Hmm… I do a lot of rock and ice climbing, so these days I fantasize mostly about great alpine climbing destinations. Top of the list for me right now is the Bugaboo range in Canada. They're these monstrous granite spires that rise up out of an endless wilderness of glaciers like some sort of jagged alien teeth. The whole place looks so otherworldly and sci-fi, and it's just crazy to think about getting to climb all up and down these things. Alpine climbing is a little bit like a religion to me. Every time I do one of these trips something big shifts in me, these experiences are so intense and unforgettable. Taking on risk and commitment and stripping down life to its barest essentials while surrounded by natural beauty with my buddies, it's just the best. The memories add so much to my life.
ABOUT GOWANUS WILD: I aim to turn concepts of nature photography on their head by finding the beautiful in what most consider to be a man-made environmental catastrophe. The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York is one of the most polluted waterways in America and the neighborhood has seen continuous industrial use since the 19th century. My vision is to capture a marriage of opposites; the organic in the industrial, green within blacks and grays, stillness and peace in urban chaos.
As our urban communities grapple with how to connect with the primeval in an environment that offers sterile potted plants as an outlet to nature, I see Gowanus Wild as an urban hiking manual, a continuation of generations of landscape photography, updated for our technological age. If only we adjust our perception of what is ‘nature’ and ‘wild’ around us, a fascinating wilderness can be found in the fringes of our decaying cities where nature and chaos conspire to produce a new type of wild beauty.