A Talk With Matt Eich: On Family, Fatherhood, and Staying Close to Home


We have been working with photographer Matt Eich for nearly a year on his very personal family work.

Matt Eich by Maddie Eich

© Maddie Eich

His eye was able to capture something that attracted us from the start: fatherhood, vulnerability within marriage, and the complications of family life. We’re thrilled with the book that has taken shape, one that we molded with Matt as he continued to photograph. He was able to find the calm within chaos, a stillness amongst the mess, and for that, we are grateful.

 

Pre-Order I Love You, I’m Leaving HERE or the special edition HERE.

 

You’ve been documenting your family for a few years now. How do they feel about being photographed by you?

I’ve actually been photographing my immediate family (mother, father, siblings) since I was a kid. The pictures were less intentional then, but at this point, most family members accept the camera as an extension of my presence, and don’t pay too much attention. Sometimes I’ll feel the mood shift with a family member as I photograph them, if they become too self-aware, or feel that I am visually prying them. My wife and kids don’t have any reservations telling me to “put the camera down” if their patience is worn thin.

You’re in some of the photos. How was it to turn the lens on yourself?

It’s definitely uncomfortable being in front of the camera, but it is helpful being able to relate to that feeling with the people I photograph. I struggle to make self-portraits that evoke inner states beyond a distrustful glare at the camera.

 

What advice do you have for other men out there who are juggling fatherhood with their photography careers?

©Matt Eich

Being a full-time freelance photographer trying to balance fatherhood is kind of a shit-show. Most parents will agree, or they are probably lying to you. The only way most creative folks I know sustain a working career and family is by having a really supportive partner, and ideally one who has a normal job with a normal schedule, and salary. I’m hesitant to give advice, considering that I feel like I don’t know what the hell is going on in my own life half the time. My personal realization, which shapes my decision-making, is that a lot of the mundane family stuff is actually more meaningful, and memorable than the highest accolades a career has to offer. How to balance the needs of family and work is a constant struggle that I doubt I will ever fully resolve.

 

You graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Photojournalism and recently got your MFA in Photography from the Hartford Art School. How have your studies helped shape you as an artist?

Having a photographic education has certainly influenced the work I make, the way I think about it, and how I talk about it. Sometimes having too much knowledge about a medium in your head can muddy the water, making it harder to create intuitive images. In general, I think it makes me more aware of what has come before, what is being made now, and where my work might fit within this expanding world of photography.

My photojournalism studies taught me to make images with a machine-like precision, and how to work quickly, turning around pictures on a deadline. It did not teach me to think about my pictures, or speak about them, on a deeper level. The MFA program is designed to tear you down and force you to rebuild. This process has certainly made me more critical of my own work, and clearer about what I like and don’t like in the work of others.

Much of your work is based in the USA. While many photographers try to develop their voice in foreign places, you’ve stayed close to home. How come?

I’ve focused on my own country, and the communities I am a part of, because I realized early on that I felt like I was not going to be able to do meaningful work in places where I drop in, take pictures, and leave. Places where I don’t speak the language, understand the culture, where I’m a white outsider coming to take and leave. That just didn’t jive with my desire for photographic intimacy. Also, my work started at a time that has been incredibly fraught for my own country, and I want to understand what is going on, and why. Simultaneously, I hate leaving home, and the further away I am from my wife and children, the worse the ache. So, for a number of reasons, focusing on my own country is challenging, and fulfilling enough, to hold my interest.

Last year, and this upcoming year are big for you, with multiple projects being made into books (Carry Me Ohio with Sturm & Drang in Fall 2016 and I Love You, I’m Leaving with ceiba in 2017). How does it feel to rebirth these projects as books?

Matt Eich

©Matt Eich

Putting a photographic project into book form feels more like a culmination to me than anything else. However, I also realize that whenever I put out a book, it’ll have something missing, something incomplete, something I want to change later. The preparation for a book feels like a growing weight … when it gets out into the world, it is often a huge relief, the sensation of the weight being lifted. I enjoy getting the opportunity to rethink and recontextualize work in book form versus on the wall. Both have possibilities and limitations that are fun to explore.

You have the rule of thirds tattooed on your inner arm. What’s the story behind that?

Whenever my siblings or myself would come home with a new piercing or tattoo, my dad would always say, “Stupid is as stupid does.” When I was 19, and on my first internship at The Orange County-Register, I made the impulsive decision to get my first tattoo, and to make it one related to photography. I’d planned to do this with my friend Annie Flanagan from school, but I flaked and got it early. A friend from the newspaper, Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee, made pictures of the tattoo being done.

What projects are you currently working on, and where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

After wrapping up the publication of I Love You, I’m Leaving, I’ll continue making photographs of my family, though without any immediate plans for that work. The Invisible Yoke series is scheduled to conclude in 2020 after the publication of four volumes in total, assuming I stay on schedule. I’ll continue making pictures for each volume up until publication. I’m also working on an essay called, Say Hello to Everybody, OK?, which chronicles America during Trump’s presidency.  

In ten years, I hope that I am in a place less plagued by self-doubt, with a greater ability to focus on one topic, issue or project instead of always feeling scattered and stretched thin. I hope I am home more, and that I am able to continue making work, being a father, and putting my work in the world.

Where does the difference lie between your daily work as a photojournalist and your family work? Is there a difference in approach, content, scope, or goal, and if yes, how do you go about it?

It’s hard to define many of the assignments I receive as photojournalism. It’s mostly portraiture/documentary, and it is largely defined by a lack of control. You show up, make the best of a situation, and bring back photographs. The family work is much different – it certainly isn’t photojournalism, but it occupies a space between candid documentary and staged narrative. A primary difference is that I don’t have to make a usable photograph from my daily life, as is the case with an assignment. Life happens, and occasionally a photograph is born. I much prefer this less prescribed way of making photographs. With my personal work I often begin to discern patterns over time, and use these as clues to find my way forward.

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