Patrick Pilkey is a writer and photographer from Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently working as a First Assistant and Studio Manager to National Geographic photographer Robert Clark at his studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Patrick curated our Instagram account and shared work from his series in progress, This is Not Firewood.
How did your interest in your medium begin and how did you arrive at your current style?
My father gave me my first camera when I was about 13 years old. I spent almost all of my time skateboarding, and my interest really began with a simple desire to document my friends. The camera was a 35mm Canon AE1, which wasn’t the best to shoot skating but it was enough to spark my interest in photography. I began to carry it with me everywhere I went and started photographing anything that caught my eye. That was where my style really developed. I was more inclined to make images that I “found” rather then constructed.
How do you feel about the relationship of an artist to their city or surroundings?
It is imperative where an artist chooses to call home, especially for a photographer. I think it is important for an artist to act as a sponge, absorbing the culture around them in order to create informed work. Where a piece of work is created is contingent to how it is interpreted, so location is always imperative to consider.
How do you choose your subjects?
Most of my subjects are people close to me, people I have relationships and history with with. It really depends on the angle that I approach the work from. For example, if I am shooting portraits, I bring in anyone that I have a genuine interest in photographing. It could be their face, their charisma, anything that I find captivating. For more personal works I photograph based on a core intuition. Once I’ve found something that interests me, I’ll create wide parameters around the work and photograph as the subject unfolds in front of me. From there I work like a detective and try to get to the center of what I'm after until I feel I have found it.
Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?
Aside from my parents and family, who gave me everything I needed to begin my career, there was one person that really influenced my passion for art. My high school art teacher, Dorsey Sammataro, was the greatest catalyst in my pursuit of serious photography. She gave me Diane Arbus and Mary Ellen Mark books to look at when I was very young. It was the first time I had ever seen what photography could really become; she pushed my world outward. She implored me to make my craft a part of who I was and to try my hardest at everything I did because if I didn't care about what I was doing nobody else was going to care.
I think in many significant ways she changed my life. She had seen me as an artist with potential, then she brought it out of me and showed it to me. This all really stuck with me and still does today. I would not be where I am or who I am today without her. I went on to college at the Maryland College Institute of Art and had very influential mentors in many different aspects of my education, but I think Dorsey just gave me the key.
Do you have a creative or artistic peer group in your area that you're a part of? What opportunities are there for artists like yourself in your area?
Well, I live in Brooklyn now so there are almost innumerable opportunities for one to get involved in the arts here. It's really just a matter of what you can find and how hard you look.
I currently work at a photography studio owned by National Geographic photographer Robert Clark as his first assistant and studio manager. There are also several offices in and around his studio that are rented by many successful photographers such as Sebastian Kim, Chris Anderson, etc. They're photographers that I genuinely looked up to when I was in studying undergrad. Now I consider myself very lucky to be here in the studio creating and learning among these amazingly talented artists. I have learned much more then I had ever anticipated when accepting the position.
Where do you go to draw inspiration?
I draw my inspiration from many sources, most of them not being physical locations but rather relationships or stories from films or books I've read. I keep up with many photographers online my current favorites being Tim Barber and Scott Pommier, I also keep a few photo books by Wolfgang Tillmans, Sergio Larrain, and Diane Arbus by my desk.
If I had to name a place that I receive great inspiration from I would have to say Atlanta, Georgia. Every time I do go back I get a huge rush of energy. It allows me to return to a feeling I had when I first started photographing, an unaffected state of wonder and engagement with the world. Anyone one from the South can tell you there is a certain spirit at play there.
Are there any aspects of the Southern aesthetic that you embrace or ones that you consciously avoid?
The Southern aesthetic is something I consider a great deal in my work, especially in my recent photographs. There are aspects of myth and deep rooted legend that I warmly welcome into my work but there are definitely other cliches that I avoid. The “abandoned and poverty stricken South” is a trope that I try to steer clear of. That being said, some decay ultimately makes it into the work because it still exists there. The American South has changed a great deal in the past 50 years and is still rapidly evolving.
Do you feel creatively satisfied?
Yes and no. I would say yes, I feel proud and happy with where I am in my career at the moment, but generally I would always say no. I feel fulfillment from my endeavors, but I am too worried about becoming complacent to ever be fully satisfied. I am fueled by a constant anxiety to improve and refine my work; it's what keeps me moving.
I always just want to make a better picture.
Tell me about a recent, current, or upcoming project or exhibition.
I am currently working on a body of photographs titled This Is Not Fire Wood which, when finished, will be edited into a book. All of the images I included in this feature are some of the images from this collection that where taken in the Southern states. I have been working on this book for about a little over a year now, and I would say that I have at least another year or two to go but am not planning an end date as of yet.