PetaPixel

Interview with Larry Treadway of gotreadgo

Larry Treadway is the photoblogger behind gotreadgo.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Larry Treadway: Brief history, working graphic artist since about age 19, I took an early “retirement” from local government to host a talk radio show for a couple years when the “internets” hit and I went back into graphic arts doing web design and advertising. Somewhere in there while doing some of that I managed then owned a bar that featured bad music and cheap beer. Ultimately landed in the field of healthcare doing marketing, advertising and design. Analog photography is the disconnect from my digital work life. Bad plastic cameras are my kind of rebellion to the glut of computers, monitors and peripherals required for me to make a living. I’ve tried to be an artist of some sort most of my life, from photography to a stint screaming in a loud punk rock band I’ve had that need to express something…basically I’ve failed at a lot of different things. Trying to be a decent father, Internet instigator and creative-type using photography as a tool to help that along.

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

LT: I’ll try and keep some of the sentimentality to a minimum here but as a child I was raised by my grandparents and my grandmother kept a box of old photos, black and white mostly. I was somewhat obsessed with looking at this box of scattered family history. At about age 11 I got a camera for Xmas. At about 17, I got another one, a 35mm SLR. I shot stuff, read a lot, shot more, looked at Edward Weston books and images constantly, discovered Arbus, Meatyard, Bresson…started listening to more extreme musicians, reading about tortured artists and ultimately ended up with a part-time job developing black and white film for a Public Information office which allowed me access to doing my own stuff. From there I took on some freelance photo work and as I continued with school and learned more about design the two things, in the end collided for me professionally. I’m draw to imagery and design in much the same way but I don’t do any commercial photography that looks anything like what I consider “my art.” I don’t know if I really answered the question, the simplest answer, I just got myself into it, studied, practiced and shot…and I am still doing all of those things 25 years later.

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PP: What was your first camera?

LT: A Kodak “the Handle.” A crankable instant film competitor to Polaroid. My first 35mm was a Pentax MESuper. I loved it, ultimately became a Nikon geek but came back to Pentax of late with a big ol’ Pentax 67.

PP: What equipment do you use now?

LT: For most of my personal photography work I keep it limited to antiquated little shitty 120 cameras like the Holga, Diana and the clones of the Diana. I also love old 35mm rangefinders. I have a couple fantastic old Canon GIII QL17s and that Pentax 67 and a Kiev 60 and an old Rolleiflex. Throw in some old Polaroids and a Lomo LC-A and those things capture most of the images I show the world. I just love shooting with equipment with limitations. Don’t get me wrong new cameras are great tools and capture beautiful images but personally I like having parameters placed on me. Toy cameras don’t focus well, the viewfinders suck, the exposure compensation is nil and in the end nothing I do shoot is about the camera, it’s just about the subject and whether I was capable enough to capture it provocatively enough to matter…at least to me.

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PP: What, in your opinion, are the biggest pros and cons of shooting with toy cameras?

LT: Well I’ll start with the cons, there’s many, most all of them relating to lack of camera controls. If you’re lucky you get a couple apertures, not a very dynamic range of options and when you consider you have one shutter speed controlled by a cheap little spring that ultimately will wear out and lack real consistency of speed. You have to guess on focus based on distance, your viewfinder aids you very little in framing and the fact that your aren’t viewing what the lens is seeing is definitely problematic. You throw in the fact they are difficult to load quickly, they allow light in, you can drop them and they bust and “real” photographers snicker at you and you have a lackluster tool at best. But you can take all those cons and try and make those into pros by learning what your camera does, each one seems to have individuality, the cheap plastic lenses blur in different areas, the cheap film transfer system might not hold the film plane as level as it should which also causes aberrations and who knows where the light might come in. These things can make for interesting in camera effects. The lack of control is the beauty of it all, there’s a freedom to it, all you can do is shoot and try to get an image, it’s a lottery, you may or may not win every time. That might not be for you if tend to be a perfectionist, shooting with toy cameras will frustrate you, there is no perfection.

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PP: What are some common mistakes you see people make when using toy cameras?

LT: There’s a lot to think about initially when using a toy camera, remembering the little things…removing the lens cap, setting the focus, remembering to advance the film. Making mistakes is all part of it. If you haven’t wasted more than a few frames or rolls you probably haven’t shot enough with your toy camera. The biggest misconception is that these crappy cameras might make your crappy photography somehow better. The same rules apply, the camera is just a tool, you still need good light, composition, subject matter — it’s no different. I think toy camera see great images online made with Holgas or Dianas and fall in love with some of these shots and decide it’s all the camera. Believe me the people doing the best work with toy cameras would be doing the best work no matter what camera is in their hands. Warren Harold, Bill Vaccaro, Gary Moyer, Susan Burnstine, Annabelle Texter, Gordon Stettinius, these folks I love their work dearly, they have been using these cameras for years but believe me, they all have a wealth of cameras at their disposal and they all create great images not matter what tool they are using. You can’t depend on your camera to make you a photographer that really is all on you.

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PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

LT: I love the band Jesus Lizard, David Yow, the singer, was always asked, “what kind of music do you play?” His simple answer was “loud rock.” My simple answer I guess would be “fine art without the fine.” Shit, for the most part the pictures that have the most impact on people seem to be the ones that I can best describe as “blurry, sad stories of boys growing up.” I guess that works pretty well.

PP: Is there any background behind the name “tread”?

LT: My last name is Treadway. I went to elementary school in the 70s and it was common for male teachers to refer to male students by their last name down here in the pseudoSouth where I was raised. I got called “trailway,” “treadwell,” “trailwood,” “turdway,” most of my young life except by friends who just sort of shortened it to “tread” as an easy to pronounce, one syllable alternative to my last name. It just kind of stuck and although it probably plays like some egomanical one name “madonna,” “cher,” or “prince” thing it’s really not, it’s just something that works well online, quick, dirty and a little easier to remember…the go tread go thing is well, just that, a cheer, a motivational chant, an urging to myself…to go, to make something happen, to say something…to continue.

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PP: When, why, and how did you start gotreadgo and your photoblog?

LT: I guess I’m about at 800 posts on the blog. So it’s about 4 years old I guess. I have to blame ToyCamera.com for really making me realize that there might be a method to my madness. Back in the late 80s I discovered a magazine called Shots…it’s the same great magazine that Russell Joslin publishes but back then it was published about 20 miles away in a small town called Danville, KY. I saw black and white images that were blurry, framed oddly and just plain different featured in those pages. That’s when I bought my first Holga, like everyone else, it frustrated me at first, not as quick and durable as my Nikons so it stayed stored away for years until I pulled it out one day and loaded it…and then I found ToyCamera.com. Talented people were sharing insight, motivation and images at the forum and I looked in on them for a while before diving in submitting to a World Camera Day gallery thing that Mike Barnes at the site had put together…from there I got a better scanner and started building a portfolio of work and expanded that to the web and started submitting to gallery shows and applying for grants and fellowships and the like that artists ultimately wind up doing. It’s worked out pretty well and I have no doubt it’s because of my online presence. The blog is just a way to stay motivated, to vent, to talk out loud. I have no real idea who is listening, I have some rudimentary web tracking to the site and blog and it gets a little traffic but that’s the mystery of the web, you don’t know how to measure successes or failures relating to web traffic unless of course you’re hawking porn or seeing how many hits you can get for your chimp washing a cat video clip. Not that I don’t like the occasional monkey doing something funny video. I guess it’s just about keeping myself interested.

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PP: What role does text play in your photoblog?

LT: Text in the photoblog? Well, I’m not very good at just letting images tell the complete story I guess. Too much of a big, dumb mouth. Sometimes the words are about the pictures, sometimes the pictures just illustrate something to do with the words. Sometimes the picture is just the picture and the words, well the words are just a rant about my world. That could be political, artistic, music related, but it’s always personal and hopefully, at least a little, thought provoking. I think it works sometimes, I get a fair share of emails from supporters and detractors. I try and educate and entertain if I can, edutainment I guess but I don’t take myself that seriously but art and words and being caustic and confrontational is all that sort of old schooly punk rock thing. I love zines, fanzines from the 80s and 90s that provoked a bit while reviewing whatever, music, movies, culture. So my photoblog is a rip-off of old zine culture a little I guess. But I’m cool with that, I hope it’s my own slant on obnoxiousness with better photography.

PP: How do you approach photography? What is your mindset when shooting, and how much do you shoot at a time?

LT: I ebb and flow as approach. Sometimes I set out to photograph. Photography being the goal. I need to shoot. But as you know doubt have personally witnessed it doesn’t always work out creatively. You’ll have camera full of film, something in mind to shoot or a place to go and in the end, there’s something lacking. I hate that, but it happens, there just isn’t any thing magical that’s going to get captured. I shoot my kids a lot, it’s an ongoing project of sorts, documenting them and the sometimes banal or boring aspects of growing up a boy. Those things don’t require a lot of planning. Of course, they aren’t always into having a shitty camera in their face, so it can wait, the art can be put on hold or I can try a different approach. I like to shoot a roll at a time. 12 or 16 frames on 120 of the same mood, same set-up, same filters or lighting or whatever then reload and try something different if possible. I’ve learned what my cameras can do, I think it’s important so I don’t have to use the viewfinder much. I point the lens, it sounds silly I know but I set the focus at the distance it needs to be and I point the lens at the subject. I don’t always get what I want, but sometimes I get something better than what I wanted. I still like the surprise, that surprise affirms my less than conventional approach. I can just point and wait till I want to click while looking at my subject unfettered by the viewfinder. Sometimes it’s weeks before I get to process the film — that multiplies the surprise. Gene Meatyard would shoot all year and process and print on his two week vacation from his business. I imagine that had to be quite an experience when he saw the negs. I like that feeling of forgetting what I had shot.

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PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

LT: I load. I tape the hell out of the camera. I shoot. I develop. I scan using a nice Epson film scanner. I clean up dust in Photoshop save a hi-res and make a lower res version for online use. It’s not very exciting as far as technical geekery goes. I wish it was. I like to do stuff with old close-up diopters and some homemade filters and sometimes I just fog the lens with my breath and wait for it to begin to dissipate or I lick the lens and slobber it up and then click. But my workflow doesn’t include must glamour. I’m old, my equipment is old…but I do have a 30-inch monitor and a 24 monitor at the office so I look pretty hi-tech. This Mac is sporting about 16 gb or ram so I can get some nice negative scans…

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PP: What are some common questions or comments you receive from fans?

LT: I don’t know if I have fans. Honestly, I don’t. I have friends I have met online or photographers who say nice things but I don’t know if they are fans. I get a lot of newbie toy camera emails, I teach a couple Toy Camera workshops a year locally so I’m cool with sharing info and how-tos and camera mods. That’s a big thing, folks always want to know how to get close-ups with a toy camera since they only really focus down to about 3 feet. So as I said, I share what I know. I get a lot of comments about the politics. I’m liberal, I’m not militant or anything but I guess I offend some while sometimes saying things folks wish they could say or say in private. I like being that photoblog guy who rants like a lunatic. I’m cool with that. I hope though I that I have the photos to back it up in the end. The ones that might end up on a gallery wall or in a living room or something. Just being the town crier isn’t really what I want, I still want to be considered a decent photo artist. I think people connect with pictures of the kids despite my loud mouth or bad taste. So maybe that is a testament to the images.

PP: What is the most annoying thing you’re asked?

LT: This happens more away from the web. It has to do with carrying around toy cameras. I have to explain them a lot. Taped up, plastic and cheap compared to the digi-nightmares that are all the rage. I get sick of explaining the “why?” and “what does it do?” questions about the toy cameras. I don’t mind if there is real curiosity and not just the typical “my ***** is bigger than yours” photographer talk. If it comes off as that, I usually just say, “they do the same thing yours does…just slower…and better.” I’m the same lovable asshole in person that I am on the web. I smile while cutting them off at the knees, so it’s not really annoying…it’s just an opportunity.

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PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

LT: I consider myself a student. I’m learning every single day. I love so many shooters, so many artists. My favorite photographer, hands down, is Ralph Eugene Meatyard. He lived and worked here, in Lexington, Kentucky. They’re just so much to love about his work, the kids, the surrealism, the work ethic, the constant striving to establish photography as art. Had Meatyard been a New Yorker he might be considered one of the greatest photographers in the world during his life. But he was content to make his art in Kentucky and work as an optician. I mentioned Weston, again, incredible inspiration for me although I don’t try and shoot anything like him. I love Diane Arbus. I love Nancy Rexroth. Those are all name you know. Right now I love seeing what many of my online “friends” are doing. You’ve interviewed Shannon Richardson here, he’s phenomenal. I mentioned Warren Harold, Bill Vaccaro, Gary Moyer, Susan Burnstine, Annabelle Texter, Gordon Stettinius, they all continue to amaze me because of their vision and how it is transferred to their ongoing work. There’s so many others shooting today, all different styles. I’m not just boxed into toy camera photographers, Shen Wei, Otto K, Aline Smithson, Polly Chandler, Beck, Blake Andrews, Rocky Schenck, are all deliver imagery worthy of any wall. I’m not good at this because I love so much work and I’ll always forget someone who means something to me.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed by PetaPixel?

LT: I’m going with Gordon Stettinius. He seems to have something to say about things that I like.

PP: Anything else you would like to say to PetaPixel readers?

LT: Do as I say, not as I do… Shoot more, gripe less. And in all seriousness, thanks.


 
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