Showcase: Aaron Nett

Aaron Nett grew up in the NW on the Oregon Coast. Moved around Oregon and California for school over the past ten years or so, and now splits his time between Portland and Salem. You might consider him to be in the “lifetime student” category, and will probably continue to drift in and out of school for the rest of his life. There’s always more to learn.
Howl is his current project and is a series based on the poem of the same name by Allen Ginsberg. Since reading it the first time at the age of 16 it has always stuck with him as something that he connected with. As the years passed, the more and more it seemed relevant to life. This series is a way for Aaron to connect with the work on a more personal level. When it’s finished Aaron will have covered the first part of the poem and have around 80 images.

Interviewed by Rodolfo Barradas
Edited by Chiara Costantino
Aaron Nett lofty incantations640

Hi Aaron! How did you come to photography? 

Around 20 or so I got my first camera (that wasn’t disposable) from my dad. The basics came fairly quickly, but my subjects were never more than documentary in content. Road trips, events, concerts; nothing more than showing “we were there”. The past three years or so, after looking at work from other photographers, it suddenly hit me that the camera could be used to show ideas. Since then my photography has become more a form of artistic expression, rather than a tool for documenting.

skeletons up 620

Why did you decide to share your work now, rather than from the beginning? 

Mostly because of the more recent change in the style of photography. Before, it was more just to show friends and family what was going on. Now that it’s taken on a different purpose, I think there’s probably more people that would be able to connect with the work on a personal or emotional level.

joy 620

You’re work seems rooted in stories, in drawing a narrative (out) of fragments almost – not just Howl, but also your Conceptual Portraits series. What is it that attracts you to storytelling?

Interesting you ask this; it’s a topic I’ve been thinking about quite a bit the past month. I’ve both noticed this in my work, and thought of a different series I’d like to do based around this idea. Storytelling is something all of us do; through spoken or written word, artistic medium, or even our mannerisms and the way we interact with people around us, we’re telling a story.

instantaneous lobotomy up 620

The way I experience things around me, everything is connected, but I only get fragments, and have to try and put it together and make sense of it. Sometimes I get it right, usually I get it wrong, and I have a terrible time trying to put it all into words. Photography lets me tell a story by showing the fragments I see, then letting the viewer put them together, similar to the process I experience daily. This leads to different interpretations, but I think that’s one of the strengths of it.

Eastern sweats up 640

To finally answer your initial question, it’s the ability to communicate the things that can’t necessarily put into words.  

Hopeless, hoping

How would you define your aesthetics? 

This was by far the most difficult question to answer; I even had to sleep on this one to even begin to come up with something. It’s hard to try and describe something without taking the opinions and interpretations of others into consideration. If I were to pick though, I would probably say a combination of cold, distant, and pensive.

final light

How did the Howl project came about? 

A class assignment actually; we had to come up with five images that had to be based on a film, book, or poem, and used color to express emotion and mood. Howl was an obvious choice for me; “expelled”, “walked all night”, “cut”, “disappeared” and “around and around”, all came from this initial push. From this I had the idea to do an entire series based on the poem, line by line.

Failed tests

Your photographs try to capture the visceral images of Ginsberg’s writing – how has it been working with such powerful material?

In short, extremely challenging. Most of them are the fourth, fifth, or further iteration of the initial idea. Usually I start with a general layout, sketch it, find the location, plan the shoot, and finally go do it. Almost always, the initial sketch isn’t what I end up with in the final shot, and I’ll end up trashing multiple ideas and trying repeatedly before finding the right one. Even if it the final image is really close to my initial sketch, there are a ton of shots leading to the ‘one’ all with slightly different lighting, angles, or composition. The difficulty comes from attempting to do Ginsberg’s work justice, in making an image that is both worthy of being connected with Howl, yet also evoking the same emotion and tone I feel when reading that line.

ecstatic and insatiate 620

The current project comprises of Part I of Howl, but do you plan to work with Parts II & III after?

I do. Part III will probably be the first one afterwards because I already have some ideas for that one and the feel will be very similar to Part I. Part II will take a little more time though; it will be a bigger production, more manipulation, and a different feel than I and III. A bit of a psychedelic trip gone wrong.

Aaron Nett smashed 640

And what other projects do you have planned, if any? Any more literature ones perhaps?

There are a couple ideas I’m playing with that will end up being projects after Howl is finished. One I mentioned above that has to do with fragments. The second is more tied to literature in a way, inspired by Dante Alighieri and Auguste Rodin. Right now I’m also working on a 52 week project which lets me experiment with different editing techniques, ideas, and processes that I typically wouldn’t use, especially within Howl.

Aaron Nett Expelled 640

Besides literature, what are the other big influences for you as an artist and on your work?

Just about everything has some sort of influence. Some of the top would have to be films, especially certain directors, other artists, both current and past, and daily interaction and relationships with the people around me.

Aaron Nett disappeared 640

Since you use both digital and analogue depending on the project, is there anything always present in your camera bag? Or do you just grab a camera and head out? 

Two things: tripod and sketchbook.

Aaron Nett cut 640

Aaron Nett yaketayakking 640

Aaron Nett walked all night 640

Aaron Nett waking nightmares 620

Aaron Nett unshaven rooms 640

Aaron Nett Crowned 640

(Images © Aaron Nett)



 Rodolfo Barradas lives in Leeds, UK where he studies History & Italian. He’s interested in  languages, words and everything remotely cultural. Occasionally he tweets about all the  above @RodolfoBarradas
2 Responses to “Showcase: Aaron Nett”
  1. Wow. These pics moved me. The drama, use of shadows, light, color and textures, and the great use of dust/ashes leaving traces of life/things. The sense of alienation and aloneness, distance, and the possibility and probability of pain, emotionally as well as physically, glass shards, plastic wrap, vomit. The pictures are compelling. I wanted to look at them again and again. Great works. Thank you. Randy

    • says:

      Thank you for the kind words Randy. Glad you got something from the work. So much effort, thought, and emotion goes in to each one, it’s very nice when others appreciate it.


%d bloggers like this: