Collecting Words: Interview With Brian Fouhy

Collecting Words: Interview With Brian Fouhy

Brian Fouhy is a photographer and digital concept creator who has grown an international following with his efforts to transform the internet into one big friendly neighborhood. Injecting all of his work with a shot of humor, Fouhy offers a unique take from behind the viewfinder. 

As a constant observer, Fouhy has taken notice of the words surrounding us every day that go unnoticed. The storefronts, graffiti, city signage, and art of which they are a part give them a richer visual experience, opening up the imagination to interpret words beyond their dictionary definition. 

Wherever he goes, Fouhy makes an effort to see what he can find, and enjoys getting "lost", which is where the most interesting words are often found. "I like the words I don't see coming, which I'll sometimes pass only to realize I need to track back, photograph, and collect." Throughout this project Fouhy has learned that words and objects in the world are more ephemeral than we realize. Often thinking we'll catch it next time, but it is important to remember there may not be a next time, and remind ourselves how important it can be to live in the moment. 

Fouhy currently resides in Boulder, Colorado and travels extensively. He has been collecting words for the past 7 years, amassing well over 600 photos.

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Give us a little bit of a background on how you got started in your art career.

I received my BFA from Syracuse University, so you could say it started there, but I didn’t really start to get serious about my art career until 7 years later when I moved to Boulder, CO for grad school and I embraced the iPhone and the convenience of having a camera on me at all times, this was also when Instagram launched. The combination of having a camera in my pocket and regularly viewing photographs and absorbing different techniques for composition, color, and content, was a great learning tool that I was able to apply to my own work in real time. Instagram is also where I began #CollectingWords. Creating a theme to work with I feel was really beneficial in helping me to become a better photographer and motivated me to consistently be taking photos with the byproduct of also becoming a better observer of the world and things that surround us. From Boulder I moved to New York City, which allowed my collection to really grow, from there I moved on to Pittsburgh. It was while there, through coolhunting.com, that I discovered a publishing company in Sweden called New Heroes & Pioneers. I pitched the idea of creating a book from my collection, which had grown to around 500 photos, I also added an extra conceptual layer for the book, utilizing the words in the photos to create a series of short, visual stories, in a bit refrigerator magnet style, and becoming a little poetic in nature. I now find myself back in the Boulder/Denver area continuing to collect words, travel as much as I can, and experimenting with different ways to display my photographs, including projecting them on old tube televisions (https://vimeo.com/171496652) and with 35mm slide projectors.

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Tell us about your process. Do you have to be in a certain mindset to explore and discover the images you are after?

I don’t set out looking for any particular word or types of words, I try to let the words find me, and allow myself to let things happen. Maybe I take a right 2 blocks early, or pass the left I am supposed to take and inevitably take the “long way” to my destination. I suppose what draws my eye to the words I end up finding is subconsciously affected by my mood or the state of mind I am in that day, but ultimately the process I most like to employ is putting myself places I might not have intended, combined with some happenstance.

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Your practice sounds like it has meditative and mindful qualities. What advice would you give others who are interested in pursuing a project that involves exploration and elements of surprise? 

Don’t overthink it, don’t have any kind of in-depth plan, and don't put any unnecessary pressure on yourself to find anything specific. Just let it happen, go where your gut leads you, and trust you’ll find something, even if it isn't what you were trying to find.

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What was your favorite place which you traveled to up to this point?

This is a tough one. I haven’t done nearly enough international travel, but I loved Copenhagen. I also loved Asheville, NC. And going back to New York City always inspires and leads to finding something unique and unexpected.

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Share a favorite quote or piece of advice that has helped you on your journey so far.

I have always enjoyed this Warhol quote “I Never Read, I just look at pictures.” I Feel like my Collecting Words project exemplifies this and also slightly subverts the meaning Andy intended it to have.

Another good quote or piece of advice that ties back to Warhol comes from this interview (https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/how_i_collect/how_i_collect_peter_brant-52192) with Peter Brant and what he references having learned from Andy: "Beauty is all around you, and you just have to open your eyes and look at the architecture and the clothes and the magazines and the movies—that’s the culture. Creative things are being done every day in all of these mediums, and if you're aware of it then your life will be more beautiful.” I think this is a big one, and important to remember, culture is what we are experiencing every day, it’s in the streets, it’s not just in museums, and movie theaters or coming from the TV. Essentially we are all "the culture."

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What contemporary artists or creatives inspire you?

I really like the work Sebastian Errazuriz has been creating. I love the way he subverts objects and words and presents them in ways that cause you to think about them completely differently than you would ever expect. 

I also recently saw the Stephen Shore exhibit at the MoMA in NYC, and fell in love with his work from the 80’s and his “Uncommon Places” series. The compositions and color palettes are what I aspire to create with my own photography.

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What's next for you? What should we be on the lookout for this year? 

To bring it back to the Warhol thought, combined with that same Dada, Duchampian philosophy that beauty is all around us, I am planning to start exploring bathrooms and capturing the spectacle that is the urinal. From their dirtiest forms to their most beautiful. I find we often use bathrooms without giving it much thought, by photographing these spaces my hope is it will cause people to think about those environments more and realize that even toilets can be beautiful and unique. Focusing on urinals also has a pretty obvious tie back to Dada and Duchamp and his Readymades, which I was inspired by while in school at Syracuse. 

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Sarah Winkler

Sarah Winkler

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