Q&A: Craig Mammano
By Rafael Soldi
Craig Mammano is an artist and photographer originially from New Jersey. He studied at Hunter College, The City University of New York, and received a Bachelor of Art degree in Art Studio. Mammano worked in the archives of the Black Star Photo Agency in New York, later assisting documentary photographer Joseph Rodriguez. Since then, Mammano has spent time working and photographing in New Orleans and Louisiana, eventually relocating to Seattle.
Rafael Soldi: Hi Craig! Lets talk about your approach to photography. For example, you steer the work away from being precious art objects by presenting it in unconventional ways, like photocopies and zines.
Craig Mammano: My technical approach is: photography by any means necessary. I’ll shoot any camera that allows me to keep making images; it just depends on the situation I’m photographing, and my personal circumstances at the time. The same holds true for getting my work out. Photocopies and zines, just like photography itself, is only a tool for transmitting ideas and self-expression. Everyone’s style of communicating is different and the way we consume information is constantly evolving, so by presenting my work in various ways, I’m trying to increase my chances of connecting the work with someone.
Originally, I made large format laser prints to test how scans were holding up when making pigment prints without wasting expensive ink and paper. I loved the laser prints and wanted to use them, but wasn’t confident enough. The first time I showed laser prints was in 2010 at the Atlanta photo festival. I was contacted by a photographer/curator that I admire, to participate in a group show. I really wanted to work with him and the other photographers so I agreed, but I had no prints or money to make any. I said f-it and sent my laser prints. Besides being a bit surprised, he was cool with it and just asked that I make silver prints if someone was interested. The use of photocopies and zines has allowed me to work with people that I admire, be more productive, and make my work more accessible.
RS: Your portrayal of New Orleans is very real, raw and even stark at times. What is your connection to that place? What about your surroundings inspired you?
About 6 months after Katrina I went on a road trip with my girlfriend Paia. The no plan-plan was to visit some friends in Orlando Florida, drive to New Orleans to gut houses, and quietly get married along the way. In less than 24 hrs, Brian Lewis, a volunteer coordinator who was also a reverend, married us in front of a house we gutted, with a singer, 50 volunteers, wedding cake, veil, garter belt, monogrammed napkins and a photographer from the Times Picayune. The woman whose house we gutted gave us a hundred dollars as a wedding gift…This is like 30 minutes after we threw away everything in her house, including the walls as everything was covered in mold from sitting in the flood waters. This experience was the catalyst to quit our minimum wage jobs and move to New Orleans. We never planned to move back to Seattle, but when Paia was pregnant with our first son we needed family support in all its forms.
On any given Sunday you can wake up to the sounds of a brass band. It’s beautiful, the social clubs have Second Line Parades. They coordinate outfits and walk/dance a designated route playing traditional Second Line music; thats the first line. The second line is made up of people coming out of their homes at the sound of the band and following, eating, drinking, dancing and socializing. It starts with the social club, maybe 20 people, and by the end, many hours and miles later, there could be hundreds of people. That same Sunday you might get a knock on the door by the FBI asking if you know anything about the shooting in front of your house.
Although there’s a long and ongoing history of social/political obstacles in the way of Treme being a thriving urban neighborhood, there is hope…when you know there are people like Stephen, our next door neighbor, who worked two jobs while renovating his house to bring his family back home.
RS: How do you approach and gain the trust of your subjects?
CM: I’m straight up… by talking and mostly listening to people, spending lots of time not taking pictures, and having the ability to empathize.
RS: What does it mean to you to share these images?
CM: It means that I’m possibly communicating with someone, and not talking to myself.
Editor's note: this interview was originally published on August 1, 2012 on PCNW.
All images © Craig Mammano