Driven to Collaborate: Photography, Poetry, Fiction, Dance, Film

An interview with featured artist Paul Rabinowitz

by Kristin LaFollette, Mud Season Review Art Editor

“Purposefully, I had never seen most of the artists before meeting them to take their portraits—only witnessed their art.”

Paul Rabinowitz

We’re so excited to have your photography portfolio as the featured art in #60 of Mud Season Review. When and how did you first become interested in photography?

I started photographing about 12 years ago. Although my primary medium is writing, I found that the camera afforded me a different view and perspective to tell a story. Setting up compositions during a photo session allows me an opportunity to slow down a story’s action. Body language and facial expression are amplified and framed. This is similar to what I hope to achieve with my writing, but with photography it’s more immediate. When I look through the lens before I press the button, it’s like looking through a microscope. I see things that might not be evident otherwise. My hope is that the viewer will feel a sense of stillness and calm on the surface, but something always bubbling underneath.

The images in the feature are part of a series called Limited Light. Talk to us about this series. What is the focus of the images? What is your process?

I wanted these photos to be raw and stripped down, but to have a mysterious quality as well. I wanted the subjects to be artists, from poets to dancers to painters. I decided to call the series, “Limited Light” (For some reason I usually have titles before anything else, and sometimes build my entire project around a love of a title!!) “Limited Light” was born from a desire to photograph these artists in a way that captured the essence and emotion of their art, rather than focusing solely on their physical appearance. Because of “Limited Light’s” unique aim, the portraits often grew to become a collaboration between myself and the artists. The final product came out of a mutual trust and shared understanding of the goal. This back and forth allowed me to find that ‘relatable mystery.’

The process of taking these photographs adapted over time, but each photo featured here was taken in a sixty-minute session. Purposefully, I had never seen most of the artists before meeting them to take their portraits—only witnessed their art. When I started looking at the results in the postproduction phase, I saw stories developing and trusted my process. There’s no manipulation of the photographs, so what you see is what I saw when I took the photo. The name “Limited Light” came from the fact that the only equipment I used is camera; therefore, I had to rely on natural lighting and embrace how the subject is transformed by the changing light. This project taught me how to accept uncertainty and see beauty in the variables I can’t control.

You are the founder of the nonprofit organization, ARTS by the People. How did this organization come about? What are the goals of ARTS by the People?

ARTS By The People (ABTP) was born in 2009. I envisioned a non-profit that would give folks (artists or not) an opportunity to explore their creative side through free workshops and events. We also support working artists by giving them a platform, to open up opportunities for collaborations with other artists working in other mediums. It’s been an amazing journey for me and over time we’ve built a wonderful and diverse community with so many incredible folks. This includes teaching artists, board members, supporters and workshop participants. This is the community I am most proud of. 

ABTP started in a small warehouse space turned art studio in New Jersey, and now we reach folks from all over America as well as globally. Our goal has always been the same, to empower individuals through collaborative acts of self-expression. We believe that self-awareness and communication come forth in shared creative acts and that the arts offer universal benefits for people of all ages and backgrounds. My long-term goal is to bridge communities of different experiences to strengthen understanding, collaboration and acceptance of all peoples. I urge your readers to spend a few minutes on our website: www.artsbythepeople.org to learn more about what we do and join our mailing list.

You are also the founder of The Platform and Platform Review. Tell us about these projects and the work they promote.

Although it’s an ABPT project, I must give full credit to the amazing editors who are involved. We see a lot of growth potential in this arts mag as another platform to promote literary and visual artists. We started it as a print journal, and in 2019 moved to an online journal. Platform Review is published every three months and includes a featured artist, poetry and prose from both established and emerging writers, plus interviews. 

The Platform is a literary open mic featuring first time readers, early career writers and seasoned, published poets and authors. We are now in our 10th year. We encourage original poetry or prose, and you’ll always find a supportive literary community ready to listen. This is very important as many literary open mics have a reputation of having an attitude that makes it less conducive for less seasoned writers. 

In addition to being a photographer, you are also a poet, fiction writer, written word performer, and film/performance producer. How did you become interested in these different areas of the creative arts? How do you see these interests intersecting?

The best way for me to explain my complex artistic journey, including photography, performing and producing, is through this video: https://youtu.be/oino3mGCe30

What creative projects are you currently working on? Where can we find more of your work?

I’m currently finishing up the last edit of my novel, Confluence. I’m working with a dancer and choreographer to explore the novel in an interactive format, whereby at the end of each chapter you’ll be able to see the main character, also a dancer, as she develops her work and builds the arc of the novel. We’re still in the experimental stage, so I don’t want to reveal too much. But we think we’re onto something with this format, so stay tuned. 

I’m also finishing up three short films based on my poems and short stories. The first to be released in 2022 is called Little Gem (based on my prose poem Little Gem Magnolia) This is my second of three film collaborations with director and choreographer, Georgia Usborne. The release will take place mid-May with a launch party in Brooklyn. Georgia and I are discussing a new short film project called The Lines In Between

We’re also set to shoot with cinematographer Angelo Vasta a new short experimental dance film called Confessional. This will be my first collaboration with dancer and director, Matilda Mackey. I’m also working on a live performance of my prose poem, “Villa Dei Misteri.” This is a written word performance where I read the work with dancers Caleb Patterson and Michelle Thompson Ulerich. We’ve performed the piece as a work in progress, but this summer we’ll go into the studio for a few months to further explore the correlation between spoken word and dance. I’ve returned to the Brooklyn studio to start shooting a new photo series. This will be part of my next show in early 2023. I’m also traveling to film festivals that are featuring my films. I find this is a great opportunity to network and see what other artists are doing with film. All my personal work and art can be found here: https://www.paulrabinowitz.com/ My work with ARTS By The People is here: https://www.artsbythepeople.org/

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