Contemporary Photographer Series - Cole Barash

All Images © Cole Brash
Cole Barash (b.1987) is a visual artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Barash works in digital, analog, and archival photography. Barash has published a number of books and zines in recent years that have a contemporary approach to the practice of photography by pairing imagery that opens the viewer to an engaging take on the subject matter. He was interviewed by MFA candidate Jordan Whitten for our Contemporary Photographer Series. 

You worked hard to become a staple in snowboarding photography at a young age and achieved that, what caused your shift into what would be considered more of a documentary approach to photographing?
My time in snowboarding (age 16-24) was nothing but learning to work really hard in the absolute worst and extreme weather conditions (blizzards, 18 hour days in sub temps, etc), making something out of nothing, as well as learning to travel efficiently and be prepared for anything.  At the time I was also given a huge amount of trust from the magazines and brands to essentially go out, create and deliver.  This also gave a large area for experimentation- visually.  However the only outlet during this period were the magazines- Transworld, snowboarder etc.  They were great however very limiting in terms of art direction.  One time the person laying out the mag cropped my photograph very terribly and ran out without my permission.  This really pushed me over the edge as that specific image I worked for three straight days to get and they had no right to do that. Instead of flying off the handle, I took this as a sign, it was time to move on and to exist in a place where you create your own world- for me that was NY.  Incredibly challenging, as well as a very competitive place I was soon pushed by my peers to really elevate my work.  This put me at the bottom fast but it felt good.  No one cared about snowboarding in NY, no cared about this cover or that pro or that photo annual- zero interest which gave me zero street cred. Which was so good- I had to completely stop and realize all my existing work meant nothing here and I had to start from scratch.  This is when I decided to block off six weeks to just go out and make work.  No idea about what I booked a ticket to Iceland (this was just before it blew up everyone chasing waterfalls over there on instagram ha).  While over there I was planning my route around the island and on the map I found this tiny spec of land; Grimsey, an island of 95 people- 4 miles wide located 40 miles north in the arctic circle.  This was it- so I hopped on a ferry that ran twice a week at the time to start my time up there.  Then I spent two years going back and forth to create a body of work that was then published by Silas Finch two years later.  This was heavily “documentary” based but I made sure that it still has a feeling of the abstracts and odd objects in the sequence to offset just enough to not be total “doc work”.
When I look at a lot of your work I see a strong connection to historical photographers. Who are some of your biggest influences?
Lars Tunbjörk for sure.  Tillmans without a doubt.  Ralph Gibson as well.  Recently, Kerry James Marshall and Gerhard Richter.  I guess some Eggleston, as well as Larry Sultan, however not as heavily as the first.

What are your biggest creative influences outside of photography?
Films, paintings, music, nature.
What is the most difficult part of your process when making books/zines? What is the most satisfying?
Probably the initial idea - not the actual idea but the confidence to go for it or not and whether or not it will “work” or not.  It's hard and terrifying these days putting new work out on the internet even as a finished tangible piece.  However, once it comes off the press and you are handling it, showing it to a friend or someone you respect,  it definitely feels good.  As does most work in real life.

We all find interests in new stories or facts we learn regarding different towns, events, and people. What pushes you past everyday curiosity to make your projects like Grimsey, Smokejumpers or the pictures made in Nucla, Colorado to take shape?
I think just general curiosity is the initial push, however, I then think what is the obvious approach here and then try to steer clear of that. Which is often much more challenging and sometimes doesn’t end up working out but its part of my practice. I also try to be very conscious about the fact that as an artist you must stand by the work you are putting out. You must believe in what you are saying and showing as it is a true comment on something and not just a news documentation.  With this I mean you must be very conscious of exploiting something especially these days. Why are you making this work? What are you trying to say with this work?  It's not hard to go photograph bums on the street or go to a shanty town and make portraits - they probably will look visually interesting - however unless it is your initial direction to show someone in poverty then you must be conscious of it. It must feel genuine, real and honest above all.  Making work that matters in the long run, to you most importantly, but also that connects to the world as well.  I guess that is why I am having such a good time making a lot of recent abstract work as it has nothing to do with anything documentary. I am more free to experiment and just react from my gut.  


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