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Brian Kaplan’s striking 24”x 30” color photographs, revealing a different side of Cape Cod from his series I’m Not On Your Vacation, are currently on exhibit alongside aerial photographs by Neal Rantoul in Views From Cape Cod and the Massachusetts Islands at Panopticon Gallery in Kenmore Square, Boston through May 13, 2013. Brian’s unusual and often poignant interpretation of this familiar tourist destination resonated with me, and made me want to learn more. Here’s a part of our conversation.
Elin: How did you come to choose a large format camera for your work? How does this choice determine what you photograph and your relationship with your subject?
Brian: I started using a large format camera because of the resolution. I wanted to make big prints, with lots of detail. I still like large format for that reason. But, I’ve come to really appreciate the pace of large format photography. It takes work just to put the camera together, frame the image, load each piece of film, and take the picture. It forces me to slow down, and carefully think through each photograph. I like that.
Elin: What types of subjects and themes attract you? What elements prompt you to make an image?
Brian: I try to look for subjects that feel different. Interesting in some way. Things that seem off. In disarray. Out of place. Things that might make viewers think, make them wonder, “what’s going on?” Subjects that create or hint at a narrative or story.
Elin: How did your I’m Not On Your Vacation series come into being?
Brian: I don’t live on Cape Cod, but I spend a lot of time there, year-round. It’s a fascinating place, partly because it feels like it consists of multiple, contrasting worlds. There’s the summer versus the “off-season.” In July and August, the population of the outer Cape explodes tenfold. Beaches and towns teem with tourists. Traffic comes to a crawl. The weather is beautiful.
When the winter rolls around, the population plummets, cottages are boarded up, motels and clam shacks shut down, and it’s quiet, lonely and raw. Winter can seem apocalyptic. Dead dolphins, sea turtles and sunfish wash up dead by the hundreds. Powerful nor’easters pummel the coast, sweeping away sand dunes and the million dollar homes that sit on top of them.
Even within the summer itself, the outer Cape can seem like two different worlds. On the one hand, there’s the tourists and summer residents, who flock to the Cape by the thousands. And, then there are thousands of people who come to the Cape to work and support those tourists and summer residents: eastern-European students and Jamaicans, who scrub floors, sweep parking lots, and make sandwiches, often working multiple jobs, sometimes earning more money in one week than they can in a month back home.
I thought all of this would make for an interesting narrative. I wanted to explore some of the scenes and people that are not immediately obvious when one thinks of the Cape. And, I thought it would all lend itself to some broader themes, such as death and rebirth, loneliness, and the tensions between man and nature.
Elin: Why did you choose to shoot your series entirely in color?
Brian: I like color. And, I thought I could use color to help tell the story of the contrasts on the Cape. More muted colors in some photographs would contrast with more vibrant colors in others.
Elin: There is always a story behind each image. Can you tell us one of your favorite stories about an image in this series?
Brian: I spend a lot of time driving around, looking for people and places to photograph. At 6:30 one summer morning, I drove by the Red Barn, which is a combination pizzeria, souvenir and candy store, and miniature golf place.
Vacuuming the mini-golf course behind the building was Natalia, who came from Siberia to live and work on the Cape for the summer. She vacuumed the mini-golf every morning at 6:00 AM. After that, she made sandwiches across the street at the Box Lunch all day. And, at night she worked at the Friendly Fisherman, a clam shack, until 11:00 PM. That sort of workload is typical for the eastern European students who come to the Cape every summer.
When I first asked Natalia if I could take her portrait, she said “no.” My heart sank and I asked, “why not?” It turned out she felt self-conscious because her face was sunburned. When I asked if I could come back in a week or two and take her portrait, after the sunburn was gone, she said “yes.”
Photographing Natalia at a mini-golf place – a quintessential Cape Cod tourist activity – made sense. I knew I wanted to photograph her by the giant bunny sculpture. I’ve taken my nieces and nephews to play mini golf at the Red Barn many times. The giant bunny always strikes me as odd. It has a sinister look to it. If I were a child, I think it would give me nightmares.
Elin: What are you working on now, or planning next? Do you hope to expand upon the series I’m Not On Your Vacation or take your work in another direction?
Brian: I continue to shoot images for “I’m Not On Your Vacation,” but the project is nearing its end. I’ve begun another project, called “Adults Should Not Swim Alone.” It mixes color with black-and-white, and consists of a mix of portraits, landscapes, and still life’s. I don’t want to say much more about it yet, because it’s so new.