Todd Deutsch is a professor of photography at Saint Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota, yet finds time for personal projects. His artistic eye allows the viewer to explore the personality of his family through games, dinners, and the universal chaos of everyday life. Simultaneously, the frankness and humor in his style, informed by a child’s world, immediately captivates the viewer’s attention. We’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Todd and Heidi, his wife, on the birth of their fourth son.
How and why did you start photographing ?
I started making photographs when I was about twelve years old. My dad got some darkroom equipment from a friend who was no longer using it. We built a space in our basement. I learned a lot about plumbing and scrounging building materials. I think my construction skills were helped more than my photography skills at that stage. Later I picked it up again when I went to college. This time more seriously.
Do you prefer photographing “old school” or in digital ?
Right now I prefer working digitally. It makes the family and work balance much easier. The darkroom requires chunks of uninterrupted time that I just do not have right now. Working digitally is the only way that I am able to continue producing images at a reasonable pace.
From the recent exhibit at St. Kate’s, your photos present a very realistic glance into your family-life. What reactions have you gotten from the public ? How did your wife and children react ?
The reaction from the public has been reassuring. One of the reasons I started making photographs of my family was that my experience did not exactly match my expectations. More precisely, I felt that my daily experience was far more chaotic and tenuous than that of other parents. The outward image that many project is that of control and confidence. What has been reassuring is that many parents comment on the similarity between what I photograph and what takes place in their home. It has helped me to be more comfortable in my own skin. One of the best comments I have received came from a kid in a school group. It came to me second hand from the curator guiding the tour. A little boy said that it looks like it would be fun to be part of my family. You can’t beat that.
Heidi and the boys are very tolerant subjects. They have been incredibly patient with me over the years. The intensity with which I photograph goes in waves. Sometimes everyday, sometimes not for weeks. It is hardest on everyone when I pick it back up after a break. It takes awhile to get back into the groove. Eventually the camera just fades into the background.
How would you explain the title of your exhibit/book ?
As I was going through the images and thinking about family, fatherhood, my way of working, and so on, it became clear that I was not concerned with telling a story in the traditional sense. There really was no narrative present in what I was trying to do. Collectively the photographs provide an impression, but they do not follow a coherent narrative path. They follow more of a trajectory than a path. In that sense, the photographs mirror my experience as a father. There is no linear path in fatherhood, only constant movement. A drift. Hence the title.
Are you currently continuing work on “family” as a subject, or are you exploring in other photographic directions ?
Yes. Family is currently my primary subject. I always have other things bouncing around in the back of my mind that I have yet to start. Family is the one that I am able work on a consistent basis.
How do you manage your time between being a photographer and a professor ?
It is tough sometimes. Being a professor does have some built in work time, however. I am able to make strides during breaks. Summer is a challenge because my kids are not in school either, so I am not able to set aside the larger chunks of time needed to really evaluate the photographs I had made during the busier times. There is also such a strong connection between my work and what I teach that very often I am working on both at the same time. Looking at photographs, providing feedback, and trying to explain what can be found in an image is as much a part of my creative process as it is a part of teaching.
As a professor, are there recurring themes you see in student’s work ?
Sure. I see many of the same landmarks and sections of town initially. It is a function of geography as much as anything else, I think. Early on there is enough to worry about in getting to know the camera, so photographing what is immediately available and comfortable is a natural choice. Friends, family, and campus buildings such as the chapel feature prominently. However, there is a strong desire among a lot of students to start using the camera to engage in the world differently. It offers permission to spend time simply observing.
Is there one piece of photographic wisdom that you always pass along to students ?
Shoot and shoot some more. Think about what you have done after the shooting is over. Too much planning, too much “thinking” while shooting can kill the process of genuine observation.
How do you view photography’s evolution ? In general, what perspective do you have about photography ?
Hmmm. I am not sure how to answer this question. In general I would say that my essential interest in photography is its value to the future. Photographs almost always become more interesting with time. We are collectively making more photographs now than ever. What will flickr, facebook, and youtube show us about ourselves in 100 years ? More importantly, will we be able to view them ?
Interview by LG