Joseph Benton Parker is an interdisciplinary artist with ties to acting, sculpture, and photography. As the result of this intriguing blend, his work is powerful, intense, and full of emotion. A Fine Arts major at Virginia Commonwealth University, his photography displays a skillfully deliberate use of light and shadow. When I asked him if he'd be interested in doing an interview for Mildread, he was a little confused but eventually conceded.
Mildread: So I figure the best way to start off is with a really ridiculous question. Fortunately, I'm not bad at concocting those. How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Joseph Benton Parker: I'm an actor who fell into photography and sculpture purely by chance.
M: That's some chance. How'd that happen?
JBP: Well, my high school offered four levels of theatre classes, and I completed them all and even was a teacher's aid for one, but then there was nothing else to do in that department, so I used a prerequisite I had gotten in freshman year to enter into a ceramics and sculpture class. The next year, I moved on to photography.
M: Do you think of yourself as more of a sculptor or a photographer?
JBP: I consider myself more of a photographer simply because I do it more, and have developed an eye for things. Sadly, when I see those things, I generally don't have my camera on
hand. Such is life.
M: Yeah, really.
JBP: When your camera weighs 5 lbs., you don't carry it around constantly.
M: Your camera weighs 5 pounds?
JBP: I haven't actually weighed it, but after a while it sure seems like it.
M: Nice. So who's crazier: actors or artists?
JBP: They're equally crazy, and I love them both. Artists seem to have more varieties of crazy though.
M: How so?
JBP: Well, when's the last time you saw an introspective brooding actor who just couldn't find the right way to express himself with only 2 colors of paint and a massive canvas?
M: I think finding an actor who couldn't express himself would be an issue in the first place.
JBP: Exactly. I think that's where I have an issue though. The need to express myself like an actor at times makes it so that I need to express myself with a physical visual piece.
M: You mean like Performance Art?
JBP: Not really. I still just have urges to perform. I miss acting. I personally find most
performance art pretentious.
M: So you don't necessarily think that just because someone says that something is art, that makes it art.
JBP: Correct. Art should have some thought behind it, provoke thought, or both. A balled up paper towel with dramatic lighting is not art... at least the paper towel isn't. I'm all for dramatic lighting.
M: Speaking of which! There are some really striking pictures in your Flickr set, not the least of which is your shadowy self-portrait in the bathtub. Tell me about that one.
JBP: Really, I just was randomly inspired one day to take some pictures in that setting... The two pictures there have not been heavily manipulated either; I just had an idea and went with it. I personally prefer the less shadowy and more wet version.
M: Do you do a lot of self-portraiture?
JBP: When the mood strikes me, yes. It's hard to find people who understand subtle direction when modeling. I know what I need, so I take some shots on a timer, review them, and tweak. It's amazing how many photos people never see.
M: Self-portraiture seems to have become all-the-rage these days, what with us living in the 'MySpace generation.' Do you ever feel like you have to work hard to establish your self-portraiture as art?
M: So no angle shots for you, then?
JBP: Angles, yes, but good ones. I'm heavily drawn to severe angles, stark contrast, and repeating geometric patterns. What can I say?
M: Understandable! I think it goes back to what you said about having a purpose behind what you do. You also have a portrait series working with your model, Abigail Larson. You know the ones I'm talking about?
JBP: The "Rainy Day" sequence?
M: Yes! They have kind of a dark feel to them. Were you going for a gothic aesthetic?
JBP: I am a bit of a German Expressionist at times. That piece as a whole was remarked upon multiple times as being "too Tim Burton-esque", but frankly, I took it as a compliment. Tim Burton is an artistic genius.
M: I love "Vincent" with all my heart.
JBP: As well you should. Speaking of Vincent, Vincent Price was an amazing actor. I look up to him.
M: Agreed. So one more nonsense question. How much of the artist is his art and how much of his art is the artist?
JBP: I feel that the two things are one and the same. The art is merely an extension of the artist.
For more of Joseph Benton Parker's work, check out his Flickr photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/anubicsquire
(Credits, from top: "Art Book," "Untitled (Gothic Arch)," "La Muerte," "Untitled (Sunset)," "Untitled (Self-Portrait)" Copyright Joseph Benton Parker, 2008)