Taran W is a student and minimalist photographer based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. I first became aware of their haunting work via his Flickr account.
Shooting in a minimalist style his images are sparse, deliberate and masterful;creating moody atmospheres in ways that transform the everyday and intimate into surreal terrain.
Tarans process and approach to the artform are as fascinating as the images that he creates. Much like his work, his answers to my questions left me with many points to ponder and consider.
In our conversation he discusses the importance of the present moment, censorship in social media, avoiding bias as an artist, and the importance of experiences.
Taran was kind enough to participate in the following interview:
How long have you been a photographer? I believe I’ve been taking photos for about 2 years now.
What kind of gear do you use? I have a few different pieces of equipment but it is pretty uncommon for me to use anything other than my camera alone, which is a Nikon D5500 with an 18.0-140.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, and natural light.
I love “technical” lighting (like studio lights) I just don’t use it very often.
How did you discover photography? I go to a very artistic high school so the beginning of my freshman year I was absolutely thrown back by all the amazing and high quality art being produced around me.
The people here made me want to construct something with whatever talent there was that I had, I just didn’t know exactly what it was.
First I started drawing, then I moved more into writing, etcetera, etcetera… All these things met a degree of my inclination, but for some reason none of them made me feel the way photography does.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love to draw and write, but when I found out that my Crew teacher was offering her intro to photography class I knew it sparked a deeper interest than the other art classes I was taking my freshman year.
Because our school is so small we don’t get offered anywhere near the same amount of classes and if we happen to get a certain class on the schedule it may take 1-2 years before it will be available again. I tried so hard to get into this class, but it was completely full.
At the time this was real upsetting to me, and I even thought that it may make my interest in photography fade a bit, but now I think that it just percolated my curiosity in the subject.
As a freshman I missed the cut, but my sophomore year I made sure I grabbed a spot in Cree’s class. After that, I was hooked. I signed up for advanced photo.
And after those two classes photos became a lot more casual, and I haven’t really returned to a class since. It was a good place to mess up and discover though.
How would you describe your style? I’m not quite sure. If anything I would say my stuff is pretty minimalistic and moody, but other than that I don’t really have a legitimate word for it.
I guess I’m trying to capture the whole “youth and nostalgia” feel along with that moodiness as well. I would definitely say that I photograph moments more than concepts.
What does photography mean to you? Damn that’s a loaded question. Uhh, fuck… I don’t really know. Well it’s interesting because for some reason photography engrained itself in a way no one really thought it would.
I’ve heard others say that when you are a photographer you are painting with light which makes a good bit of sense since you are actually recording light along with other electromagnetic radiation.
But I don’t know; painting, recording, capturing, creating are all synonyms in this context. When you think about it, the future and more importantly the past are just ideas or concepts. They don’t exist.
The only thing that will ever be real is the present moment. So I guess the reason why photography is so important to me is probably the same reason why it’s so important to anyone else, whether it be conscious or not.
Photography is my personal best effort at physically capturing the past and making it a part of my present.
What makes you reach for your camera? A lot of things make me wanna take pictures. Sometimes it’s just so that I can remember things.
I like really intimate moments that just happen while being with people, especially with the ones that you love. Other times it seems like I just do it to get away from my day. Photography and art in general feels more like escapism than sedation.
Is there any subject matter that is off-limits to you? If so, why? It’s fascinating because I see a lot of social media platforms struggling with this. With what exactly they will allow on their sites.
Flickr for example is a social media platform specifically built for art and even more specifically photography. And with photography it can be very challenging whether or not you should label something as artistic, erotic, or just plane pornographic.
One of the reasons why these images can be so difficult to label is because a lot of the labeling is done by the creator themselves and then by the viewer. And since everyone’s opinion on what is what is so subjective it can be almost impossible to tell someone otherwise.
If someone makes a photo or video claiming it to be art and another claims it to be the opposite there is nothing the viewer can do to label the creator’s work as anything else.
The way Flickr has avoided this is by making it so you can upload anything you want as long as you acknowledge that your work may not be safe for all viewers and adjust your settings accordingly so that your work becomes unavailable to some.
This means that on Flickr there is everything between flowers to straight up pornography. Flickr needs to represent EVERYONE who considers themselves to be an artist, so for them to ban nudity of any kind would be seen as contradictory towards what art really is.
So yes, I understand their position and reasoning but at the same time it makes me kind of sad and disappointed. I hope there is no confusion, I support Flickr’s policies and viewing filters because again they need to represent EVERYONE.
But to me our bodies are already magnificent pieces of art that should absolutely be captured, accepted, celebrated, and so on, but once you start to sexualize our bodies especially in exaggerated ways it really starts to take away from the innate beauty and maturity that our bodies already possess.
As well as this, I see a lot of focus on sexual organs and activity as opposed to our bodies as a whole, which also seems unnecessary. For me pornography is taking something beautiful and reducing that beauty in an immature and degrading way.
I have also noticed a progression towards selective focus. It is as if you were looking at a beautiful sunset yet being blind to everything that wasn’t a cloud. Instead of seeing the mountains, sky, sun, birds, etcetera, it focuses on just the clouds.
This becomes so extreme that soon the only things that exist in this universe are clouds. Of course everything that isn’t a cloud still exists, but they sadly get disregarded and ignored. For me, sex is just another part of life as the flowers and mountains are. All of it is equally amazing and mesmerizing unless specifically presented otherwise.
I don’t really understand why it becomes something to obsess about especially within an artistic view, but this is just my opinion on the matter. Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder so everything I’m saying can be perceived as anything from acutely accurate to completely incorrect.
So I guess my simplified answer would be anything that I myself consider to be overly sexual and/or violent I will not observe or participate in.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos? I honestly don’t remember much from the photography classes I’ve taken except for the rule of thirds. So I wish I knew that almost all of photography (in my experience) is just having a good understanding of composition and shadows as well as having an artistic eye, which comes natural to some, but can be developed.
What is one question nobody has ever asked you—that you wish they asked you? “What are your life circumstances and how do you deal with them on a daily basis?”
I’d like to see the answer to this question from everyone I’ve ever met, but that would be an awful lot of content to collect and would be very challenging to obtain. I am curious though because I (like everyone else) have found myself making observations about people.
Based on these observations I have made assumptions, sometimes these assumptions are fair and other times they can be quite biased and incorrect. Over time I have learned to make just as many observations in life, but have tried to decrease the amount of assumptions I make in order to represent that individual in my mind as fairly as possible.
I do not forget examples, but I try not to fill an unknown space with assumed content. I am learning new things everyday, and (in these terms) I would prefer that the newly found information would help explain rather than contradict previous thoughts.
Sometimes I can be quite surprised with what I find out about others to the point of changing my entire perception of their identity. That’s what I really like about this question, the fact that I could have all the information about a certain someone or something and still wouldn’t have the authority to pass any type of judgment on them or it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? I can’t really answer this question because I have so many memories of things that were either said or written to me that it would be impossible to choose the “best” or most impactful one.
On top of this there are more pieces of insight that I can’t remember, but those inputs entered my mind and have changed me as a person forever whether I remember them or not.
Even in everyday conversation it is rare if nothing happens that holds some type of effect on me whether it be subtle or significant. Every experience has the capacity to change the way we feel or think forever.
The most concrete answer I can provide is a message that I saved from one of the most beloved and influential people in my life. She told me:
“None of us know it all, you are aware and that is the beginning. Of course you are a normal school person, trying to fit in and belong. High school is about throwing out all you have learned and deciding what you believe by exploring.
Then you go into adulthood with a clearer vision of who you are! Sometimes it’s similar to your parents and sometimes it’s different. Some kids miss this time because they are too consumed with fitting into a group and don’t think any broader. You think broader.”