- Todd Deutsch, Oscar(Vader) , 2007 Courtesy the artist
Since I first saw them on his website, I’ve found Todd Deutsch’s photographs of family life absolutely captivating. I’ve caught myself studying the images for the evidence of everyday life with kids: spaghetti in the living room, scattered shoes, chicken nuggets and naked noodles, a couch stripped bare of its cushions. And toys – LEGOs – everywhere. Chaos and mess and play, all anchored – or set loose? – by intensely focused kid energy.
The photographs – and my interest in artist/parents – made me curious about Deutsch, his work, and his home life. How do his kids feel when dad’s camera is focused on them? With three kids, how does he get any work done?
Deutsch will be speaking about his photographs of gamers and family, and how he keeps it all in balance, at the Walker next Tuesday, May 5 at 7:00pm. A few weeks ago, I met Todd at a coffee shop to talk a little about his life, work, and what he’d be discussing at the Walker.
Todd and his wife have three boys, and are expecting a forth. Todd works primarily at home – he does not have a separate studio. During the academic year, he teaches at the College of St. Katherine, and between teaching and the time he spends with the kids at home, he doesn’t have much time to make work. In the summer, he’s off, but so are the boys. Finding time to make photographs is always tricky, but because the studio is at home, he’s always around and being with the kids is just part of his working process.
About being an artist and a father:
The two roles – dad and artist – are always in tension, always competing. But the camera also provides a perspective on daily life: it slows things down a bit, gives you a chance to revisit and reflect.
Where is your studio?
It’s at home at the kitchen table. My workspace is in my house – I work on the computer. The boys have taken over most of the house. It would be nice to have a separate space, at times, but for now, this works.
When do you work? After bedtime?
Mostly I work when the boys are around – I am not an evening or night person. I get a couple of weeks each year when they’re still in school, but my teaching has finished, otherwise, they’re with me when I am working.
How do you get work done with the kids around?
I used to work sculpturally – building three-dimensional, sculptural objects out of photographs. Now, I am working at home, and there’s no time, no money for a studio, no money for those kinds of materials.
I’ve learned to work in smaller blocks of time. With the boys, I can work for about 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch, but I’m always getting interrupted to go put out fires. Working digitally has made that possible. When I am working on a series, I edit work with small prints that I spread out on the table.
How do the kids feel about being photographed?
I’ve has been photographing the kids for years, since my first son was born. When I get out the camera, they’re interested in the camera at first, but get bored, and then stop paying attention to it and go back to their own stuff.
They’ve grown up with me making photographs. It is all happening at home – I ‘m making the photographs, and doing my work – but once they’re printed and leave the house, it’s a different thing.
About making art with the kids:
We have the family camera and my camera. We’ve made some stop motion movies – take photos with the lowest resolution possible, and put them together into a movie. With some help, they can do it. If I start making something, they’ll get interested – but if we are really into it – they’ll back off. They want to get their own interests.
How do you stay connected? Who do you talk to about art?
I always worked alone, even when I had a studio with other artists around. My wife is an RN, but we met at art school. So I can run work by her and she’ll understand and be able to respond both as a parent and as an artist. And she understands how important it is to me to keep making work, even though it takes time and attention -– she understands that side of being an artist.
So, how DO you balance everything?
Making art is kind of a selfish activity. You’re constantly conflicted, constantly in a process of choosing how to spend your time. So, choosing to spend a couple of hours in the studio is hard. I know the kids are around – I can hear them in the next room. It could be different with a separate studio, but then I wouldn’t see them.The key is having a partner who is supportive – it is a miracle that anyone would help you with this!