Oyster River Pages: What role does research play in your work? How much do you research prior to creation?
Michael Hower: A lot. My work thrives on research. “Acyriggs Falls” is slightly atypical of my finished pieces because of the subject matter, but it still developed out of research. I photograph mainly abandonments and historical landscapes and at the time I shot those pieces I was working on photographing remnants of the Union Canal Branch Feeder. I had heard about this waterfall and wanted to give waterfall photography a shot. Also, Acyrigg was an engineer on the canal, so there is the connection. But, to get back to the broader point in art school they always said ‘you have to be able to talk about your work.” With that thought in mind I will not just shoot any abandon place I find, it has to have a story, a history. I may fine the most interesting place ever, but if it doesn’t have a story, it becomes uninteresting. I have made good pictures out of places with less visual excitement because they have a story and I know that story ahead of time.
ORP: What are you currently working on?
MH: I am currently working on two shows. The first one will appear at Central Penn College this winter on the jail cells of Eastern State Penitentiary. That is leading into a long-term project of photographing abandoned prisons. The second show will open in the spring of 2019 at the Art Association of Harrisburg of my work of graffiti landscapes, places like the Graffiti Highway in Centralia, the Trolley Graveyard in western Pennsylvania and Concrete City, PA.
ORP: Does having work published alter the way you think about it? And yourself?
MH: Yes and yes. It is validation that there is someone else or several other people independent of you who recognize your vision, and that feels good. Since I am a visual artist the same applies to exhibitions. The more affirmation you get from being published and exhibiting is like fuel to me to keep me moving forward.
ORP: What is the most unexpected place you have seen great art?
MH: The Graffiti Highway in Centralia, PA. It’s not just the graffiti and it’s the witty little sayings and social and political commentary you find littered amongst everything else. I am amazed at pure cleverness of people manifested on an abandoned rural highway in the middle of nowhere.
ORP: Who are your biggest influences?
MH: In photography, Matthew Christopher. Art in general, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and Jasper Johns.
Michael Hower is a photographer from Central Pennsylvania where he resides with his wife and two boys. His experience with digital photography began five years ago. Over that time, he has amassed a resume of over a hundred exhibitions and publications. His work has been featured in shows at the Pennsylvania State Museum, PA; Biggs Museum of Art, DE; Masur Museum of Art, LA; Marshall University, WV; and the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, OH. Current projects include documenting abandoned prisons and he his working on show of graffiti landscapes for the Art Association of Harrisburg in 2019. You can see his piece, Acyriggs Falls in our second issue.