Michael Adno is a photographer and writer who hails from St. Petersburg, FL. His ongoing, wide-ranging project Cracker Politics, the Limits of Colonial Knowledge is accumulated from historical records and images and his own photography to examine how colonial attitudes and frameworks are still manifest in Florida's realities and myths.
How did your interest in your medium begin and how did you arrive at your current style?
I didn’t make photographs at all until after college. A dear friend of mine taught me how to use a large format camera in a studio, and then we went on a trip together and worked with a field camera. And at that point, I just began working on something that ultimately became [my project] Cracker Politics, The Limits of Colonial Knowledge, but I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I basically had a DSLR simply to document information within archives or historical societies that I had only so much time in, so it was a way to revisit all that material afterward. There was no artistic impetus really, but then I started making these compositions with all the documents, folders, ephemera, and at that very moment I started making photographs inadvertently.
Now I work with a large format camera and a 35 mm rangefinder because of what the two can do, and I think those two approaches to making a photograph determine the way in which I work: one fast, one composed. I’m also a fan of a certain kind of vernacular photography, where images are understood cumulatively, in exhibitions, in books, over lifetimes, so I believe that plays a role in how I use a camera inevitably, evading any idea of the "one" photograph. As to writing, that was also a total fluke coincidence of falling into it. The same friend that taught me to use a camera passed along my name to a magazine editor, and that magazine cold-called me to try my hand at writing, to my surprise. I obliged and here I am. Thank you, Rob!
How do you feel about the relationship of an artist to their city or surroundings?
I think it’s important. I mean my heart is very much in the South, but I live in Brooklyn. With that said, it’s also strewn across other places where my family comes from and still lives, South Africa, Austria and so forth. I’m starting to fall in love with Brooklyn after more than four years there, but I don’t see New York ever being the place where I make photographs. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised considering I had no inkling of working as an artist or writer beforehand either. It’s undeniable that my work wouldn’t be where it is unless I had moved to New York, so that’s the ultimate note to make.
The city is incomparable in so many ways, which sounds low-lying, but it truly is an inexhaustible resource to mine as a young person. I’m still ineffably fond of my hometown in Florida and of my other "homes" abroad, but I know that New York remains integral to my becoming the person and artist that I have become. There’s something about floating through Chinatown up to a Jewish delicatessen and to feel as comfortable in southern dive bars shrouded in a miasma of cigarette smoke or out on a back road in the sticks of some county. I like that difference very, very much.
How do you choose your subjects?
It’s usually the result of conversations, research, little bits and bobs you come across, sometimes intentional and deliberate, sometimes serendipitous and unlikely. I try to make both the composed and thought out photographs but to let myself be a bit looser with my rangefinder, the same goes for working with the large format camera. Sometimes you look for something for weeks, months, years, or you happen to drive past it, make the photograph immediately, or write it down and try to return another time.
Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?
Rob Kulisek taught me how to make a photograph, so he is number one. My two mentors Meleko Mokgosi and Nina Katachdourian are paramount to all that I’ve done along with a whole host of other friends, peers, and colleagues who have taught me volumes on volumes. But honestly I hate to answer this question with specific names as it always evades any kind of sincere, accurate response unless it could be 5,000 words. I love Southern photographers, which there are very few of in the canon of art history. I truly respect a number of writers that I often seem to draw from more than visual artists, but I also love to draw from the everyday.
The vast majority of my friends are not artists or writers, and I tend to have the most productive conversations with those outside my own sphere of influence. I try to practice that in New York, because it is so counterproductive to fall into a group of carbon copy peers in which conversations just deteriorate into a cyclical echo chamber of political, social, and cultural ineptitude. I like difference and find that it tends to evoke some of the most compelling conversations. I also have a tight-knit community of mentors and dear friends who guide me in countless ways regarding work, my practice, and more importantly in life. I’m most grateful to those people who are always available to parse apart my pedantic concerns.
Do you have a creative or artistic peer group in your area that you're a part of?
Yes, but you would be hard-pressed to find any semblance of it. I hate boy's club-like communities, but I inevitably find myself falling into those groups, especially as a heterosexual white male. Fortunately though, I have such a wide swath of friends spread across the world, and that tends to shorn me from any one specific set. Even growing up, I felt like I could move fluidly from clique to clique, and I still do. I just want to be friends with everyone and to be a citizen of the world more or less, establishing divisions only as a means of determining limits but not to embolden them by any means.