Photos by Kevi Gutierrez Haugen
Kevin Gutierrez Haugen grew up among the corn and the cows in rural Minnesota. After short flirtations with film school in Wisconsin and California and prolonged exposure to university life in South Dakota, he ended up in Oregon and took up photography. Since then, he has presented his work internationally – Call It Modern Guilt being his first major project – and traveled extensively across the United States in pursuit of the unknown. When not taking pictures, he has been known to dabble in comics, cats, and buffalo hamburgers. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.
The purpose of the Call It Modern Guilt project, which arcs through several stories, is to explore the comedy inherent in American culture and the guilt that is associated with the illusion of place. Richard Brautigan wrote about it; Jack Kerouac lived it; Call It Modern Guilt is my take on it.
1) When did you start to think about photography?
I must have been 15 or 16 years old when it really dawned on me as something that I wanted to do. My parents pushed movies on me pretty hard when I was kid. I remember watching Humphrey Bogart films and Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia when I was 6! In fact, the first film I ever saw in a theater was Star Trek V. I originally wanted to go to film school for cinematography, but I let it go and a few years passed before a thrift store Kodak Pony 135 came along and got me taking pictures again. I moved to Oregon later that year, and I bought a camera with money that I had saved from years of taking online surveys. In retrospect, I should have just forgotten about film school and taken up photography. I would have saved myself a lot of time.
2) What does photography mean to you?
I have a pretty wild imagination, and taking pictures has been a good way for me to calm myself and make sense of my surroundings. It’s kind of like the endorphin high that runners get from racing; except I don’t have to run 5 miles and I get to read comic books at the finish. I usually get pretty anxious if too much time passes without a camera in my hands.
3) Which kind of photography do you like best?
I’m the kind of guy that’s naturally drawn to street photography, although I definitely have an appreciation for those who take the time to layer things. The cinematic quality of that type of work is incredible, but I enjoy getting out in the city far too much to move on just yet. On a side note, I once came across a 2×3 picture of a vomit colored hotel room in a public library copy of Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Maybe they were trying to hide its horrid existence from the world? Whatever their reason may have been, I found it, and I love it. I’ll also admit that postcards of vintage French erotica are kind of a guilty pleasure of mine.
4) When you take a portrait, what is important for you?
I’m more concerned with capturing the personality of the moment than taking a technically superior photo. I’ll jump over fences and fall down ditches right alongside the best of them. If the picture ends up a few stops overexposed, so be it. It’s all about embracing the flow of things. I also love omitting the elements that comprise a traditional portrait. There’s something to be said about the empathy of eyes, but the body also communicates so much about an individual’s personality. A lone pair of legs can be far more intriguing than the whole deal. Why deny it?
5) Do you think it’s important to follow a school to learn how to shoot?
I’ve had pretty negative experiences when it comes to art school. I tried it out twice and wound up incredibly discouraged. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for artistic education, but when my instructors started calling me a failure because I chose not to follow the “rules,” it was time to jump ship. Technique is overrated, and it certainly won’t guarantee a great photo. It’s both wonderful and unfortunate that photography has become such an accessible form of expression, but what’s the consequence of it all? I feel that some of the spirit has been diluted away – my instructors being a great illustration of that. In the end, take the pictures you want to, for yourself, and on your own terms. That’s what I ultimately learned from art school.
6) What’s the photo you wanted to take and you never did?
I usually don’t kick myself over missed photos, but there’s one particular moment that still gets to me. I was in Minneapolis over the New Year, and I found myself heading downtown the afternoon of the 31st on the metro light rail. I happened to sit across from an incredibly feeble looking old woman who, quite frankly, looked as if she had died. I was completely mesmerized by her, and, as we sat there, I noticed the Fort Snelling National Cemetery slowly coming up on the right side of the train. Of course this sent my heart racing, and, as morbid as it may seem, the chance to juxtapose this woman against thousands of war headstones in the last hours of the decade seemed far too good of an opportunity to pass up. We rolled on, and the distance between us vanished. I readied my camera as the memorial loomed up before me and engulfed my view…and with 200 feet to go, the train suddenly veers off to the left and heads into the heart of the city. I got off the train a short while later, and she finally looked up and left me with a teasing smile. She knew what had happened.
7) What’s your photo-mission?
Keep shooting, show work when and where I can, and keep on keepin’ on.