Roger Generazzo earned an MFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts, NYC in 2012. His work has been exhibited across the United States, including the Photo Center NW, New York Photo Festival, Katonah Museum of Art, and the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2013, his work won first prize in the 3rd International Photography Exhibition at Viridian Gallery, NYC. In 2012 his work was a finalist in Critical Mass, Photolucida, the New York Photo Awards, and the 32nd annual Spring Photography Contest by Photographer's Forum Magazine. His work has been published in Art Photo Index, Fraction Magazine, The Photo Review, Visual Arts Journal, and the Best of Photography 2012 Annual by Photographer's Forum Magazine.
Can you tell me about your most recent project?
I’m currently working on a project in Fontainebleau, France, where I’m photographing the forest, where artists from the Barbizon School, such as Courbet and Rousseau, and the Impressionists, such as Monet and Cezanne, had painted en plain air, or in nature. I’ve been going there for four years, usually around early spring. The forest landscape is so diverse. There are not only large expanses of oak and pine trees but also swaths of humongous eroded sandstone boulders as old as the Earth. What I find fascinating is this mix of different kinds of landscape across such a small area. I don’t think people have seen the Fontainebleau Forest outside the perspectives of the Impressionists. Before doing this project, I had never really seen it myself other than what I saw in paintings and photographs.
What about landscapes interests you? And what drew you to photographing them?
Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the land itself and how we don’t take care of it. I grew up in a small suburban area in New Jersey, which historically goes back to the 18th Century, and was filled with farmland. As I grew up, I noticed that the farms were slowly sold off to develop large residential communities, and I felt that part of our historical past was just gone. How do you replace that? In addition, my father led a large waste disposal company, and I always lamented over how much the waste contaminated the land and water. When I started my photography project on New York City’s waterways, I immediately realized that no one knew about the former landfills and dumps along Jamaica Bay in Queens, and how the waste there contaminated the sandy beaches and our city’s water. One former landfill along Jamaica Bay, in particular, was literally – and still is – breaking apart, and all its gross contents are rolling via the waves into the bay. Walk along that beach today and you could pick up a rusty iron, twisted clothing, or old Clorox bottles. Seriously. Only in the last ten years has New York City actually tried to fortify and improve some of the land that surrounds us. But not all, especially that particular landfill. Through my photography, I’m just trying to promote the care and sustainability of our land.
How has the urban development of New York affected you as a landscape photographer?
Urban development has affected my work enormously. I started out as a street photographer and I loved to photograph long street scenes with towers and highrises. Photographing scenes like this clearly demonstrate how we live in cities today. However, with the wild increase in tower and urban development, especially in New York City, the landscape of the city has changed dramatically. In my opinion tall towers have gone up like sudden erections, destroying the skyline, and because of this I don’t like photographing these scenes any more. I know architects consider how their buildings will look like in the midst of the city skyline, however do city officials actually consider how a city’s skyline will change? Or do they just let these “star-chitects” take over and do whatever they want as long as they bring in huge tax revenues? Also, going back to the landfills on Jamaica Bay, if those landfills didn’t have toxic and harmful chemicals buried underground, that beachfront property would already have large residential towers and commercial development everywhere. Ironic, isn’t it?
How does your strong dedication to land preservation and sustainability play into your work? Do you believe your photographs carry political statements?
My work always tells a story. Most times that story is about the land in focus, whether it’s about the dangerous, complex or pleasant use of it. The story of the photograph is always political. The view of the photograph takes a strong side.
Many of your projects consider the history of the places you’re photographing. Why is history so important to you as an artist?
In my opinion the past is as important as the present. History tells us what happened before so that perhaps we might make the future better or prevent the harmful past from happening again. But, unfortunately, we have short memories and tend to forget what happened in the past. I choose places to photograph based on the history of the place or the history of what happened on the land. For me photographing the landscape today could enlighten the future so we might not forget it.
There’s recently been a lot of debate about “ruin porn,” artistic work that romanticizes the decline of built-environments. How do you distinguish your photography, particularly in regards to your New York City waterways project, from ruin porn?
Honestly, I don’t like those words in terms of photography. I may photograph the decay of a building, a former landfill or former army base (another project) because they are what they are, places we once used in the past for specific reasons and I’d like to show them to you. Coincidentally, however, that empty, unused, crumbling space or peaceful, overgrown landscape – taken over by nature or not – looks aesthetically beautiful. I can’t help that.
Why is it important for you to be part of an artist community?
When you’re alone all day, working on your art, you want to be a part of a group to discuss what you’re working on and to talk about current ideas and how you weave those ideas into your art. And Artists Equity can do that.
Interviewed by Madeleine Le Cesne