World Photography Network
March 24, 2014 interview

Photo Credit: Paul Matzner ©

Photography Spotlight News!

We are extremely excited to announce that this week’s interview will be exposing the creative sources and forces behind the works of the talented photographer Paul Matzner!

WPN: Please start with a little background information. Your bio states that you have a passion for music as well as photography. Why has photography become the dominant passion? 
PM: The short answer is that I am better at it! Playing piano and guitar at home is therapeutic for me, but photography gets me out into the world and interacting with people. I decided about eight years ago, (at the age of 52), that I wanted to be more disciplined and focused on making photography a major part of my life. I had taken a high school photography class and had observed a lot of famous works over the years, but I had only dabbled in making my own images.


Photo Credit: Paul Matzner ©

WPN: You have quoted a writer once calling Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work “the poetry of human encounters on the street.” Besides this master, who or what else inspires you? 
PM: The images by Elliott Erwitt inspire me through their display of humor, and Helen Levitt’s works enthuse me through her images of children playing in the streets. I am also drawn to the portrait works of Danny Santos with his images of strangers in Singapore, and to Brandon Stanton for his “Humans of New York” project in which words of wisdom from his subjects are incorporated with their images. Walks with my dog also provide inspiration because they allow my mind to wander in addition to feeling the pleasure of being outdoors. Photography is about feelings or emotion as much as it is about light, composition, etc. So, for me it helps to be invigorated physically, mentally and emotionally.

WPN: You are a participant in the “Featured Member” Exhibition currently on display at the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA. Congratulations on this achievement! Tell us about the images you have presented for this display. 
PM: Thank you. I was chosen for this exhibit by a juror last fall who had viewed three of my NYC street photography images. I chose seven black and white images for this current show that are representative of what I enjoy shooting as I walk around in New York City on my somewhat annual trips. For example: a close-up of a woman's torn tights, a portrait of a heavily tattooed and pierced man sitting with his dog on the front stoop, and a scene on a subway platform of just two men who are both standing and texting and are oblivious to each other. The one image which has received a bit more attention is of a man holding his "smiling" dog while riding the subway. National Geographic chose it for one of their “Daily Dozen” images online, and it was juried into a show in Vermont. David Carol, a columnist for PDN, wrote this inspiring FaceBook post: "the dog photo handles a more complicated situation than the others. It's humorous and interesting. It also has some intimacy and a little bit of mystery. I like it the best. I'm guessing you like humor, oddness and a bit of juxtaposition in photos. This is the best of the seven at accomplishing that."


Photo Credit: Paul Matzner ©

WPN: It has been written that your art “exudes humanism and approachability.” What is your reaction to this comment? 
PM: I am flattered, of course. My goal is not to record big news events but to show people doing everyday things. So, when viewers can relate to these fellow humans, that is wonderful and quite satisfying to me.

WPN: Please talk to us about your “Faces Project.” Is this an on-going piece of work or is there to be a “Faces Project, part 2?” During this mission you state that you asked individuals not to smile. That must have been difficult for the subjects, as some do look like they are slightly smiling. Would you say that is just part of the “human encounters on the street?” 
PM: Like most photographers that I know, it is intimidating at first to directly approach a stranger on the street and ask permission to make a portrait of them. There is a risk factor for both individuals. So, gaining trust in a very short time span is the key. I just approach people and say, “Excuse me, I'm working on a photo project of close-up images of people’s faces. Can I take your picture?" If they have further doubts, I hand them my business card and let them know this project will be posted on my website. So far, I have only done this in Milwaukee and Chicago, but the acceptance rate is about 85%, which pleasantly surprised me. Asking people to not smile is important because I'm not looking for typical snapshot poses. I am more concerned with the actual face, especially the eyes. As a result, in this series, we get to examine people in a way we can't do in person. We allow ourselves to stare at their features, study their face and maybe think more deeply about who we are as individuals and collectively as humans.


Photo Credit: Paul Matzner ©

WPN: What’s next on your agenda, and what are your future goals? 
PM: I will be photographing more faces from an up close perspective; that's for sure. I am really enjoying getting out of my shell and having these short, but satisfying connections with strangers on the street. Also, I will be finishing a series I started in 2012 which is called“Transformation.” It shows the stages of one particular house in my neighborhood that had been vacant for years and then foreclosed. A friend of mine bid on the property and has since transformed it into her home. Once it is completely painted outside and the interior work done I will be able to take more images and complete this project.

Paul Matzner Photography 
E-mail: [email protected]