When photographer Dylan Hausthor’s friend met with him to recount the details of a notorious local event, he wasn’t sure what to expect. The friend, while 7 months pregnant, had lit another friend’s barn on fire. “She set it ablaze out of spite, simultaneously provoked by gossip while inciting more gossip herself,” he explains. After a few minutes of standing there, observing the flames lick up the sides of the structure, the woman felt her water break – she was going into labour early. “She ran across the street to the property owner’s house, demanding a ride to the hospital while the result of her arson was a backdrop of smoking proof behind her.”
Immediately inspired by the emotion and drama of the story, Hausthor decided to make a photographic series about it. A collection of images akin to flickering memories and visualizations between frantic blinks, the series Wilted acts as the fragmented retelling of his friend’s story. “Elementary humanity, relationships to land, the feeling of a fern brushing against your leg along with all the facts-turned-legend are what inspire the images in this series. The characters and landscapes in the photographs are documents of the instability found in those stories, all told by an even more precarious narrator.”
Hausthor’s larger body of work ebbs and flows throughout Wilted, and all the images are brought together through his affinity for illuminating black and white visuals with jarring lighting. This method is, of course, intentional, and it mirrors the immediate experiences and surroundings the photographer looks to capture in his work. He explains, “I mostly photograph on an island in Maine and in the backwoods of Vermont. At night, everything is only lit up by car headlights, a weak headlamp, or the pop of a flash—nothing looks quite real. It just barely looks familiar.”
This aesthetic mirrors Hausthor’s conceptual goal, which grapples with photography’s contentious history as a vehicle for objectivity. “I’ve been thinking specifically about the tropes of a documentary aesthetic during a time when journalism and truth-based documents are becoming more and more problematic. I feel very little journalistic integrity with this project, which actually frees me to find a different layer of storytelling. It’s something more in line with Werner Herzog’s ‘ecstatic truth’ [the filmmaker’s blurring of fact and fiction]—poetic and filled with mystery.”
While photography is the foundation of his creative process, Hausthor also runs Wilt, a book press and music label, out of Maine with his friend Paul Guilmoth. Together they published Wilt Magazine, a periodical that invites artists to display contributions of their own work across twenty pages without editorial constraint, in what Hausthor describes as “an effort to showcase a fully-conceived project.” As a firm believer in the intrinsic link between bookmaking and photography, establishing Wilt came out of Hausthor’s impulse to publish photobooks of his own work. “Sequencing and editing are such powerful ways of providing the nuances in stories, acknowledging the warped space between field-recording and myth.” He claims this compilation is a necessary facet of his artistic practice, and is perhaps the defining feature of the messages he sets out to address. “An individual image’s beauty seems to come from its lack of specificity and reliance on interpretation. Perhaps my job as an artist is to implement a conceptual framework: to constrain ambiguity to find something meaningful.”
Dylan Hausthor was chosen by Michael Mack—Publisher of MACK Books—as his Juror’s Pick in the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2018.