Paul Guilmoth & Efrem Zelony-Mindell

In conversation
⍭    ⍭    ⍭
Magic fists of fawns and finds feel slick in the exposures of Paul Guilmoth. They are a kind of finder, fleeting in the forests of Maine. Those deep greens and dark spots must feel like fires crackling in the folds of Guilmoth’s mind. I don’t doubt for a moment that they live a life all that different from anyone else's. But I do think they see on a beautifully thoughtful slant. Something slightly in reverse; all strung up in silks and webs and thin legs. Guilmoth builds their mound on the limbs and leaves of those that are familiars and neighbors and natures. Exposed in the breeze of those lands a sense of the naked is formed. Naked not in body, but nude in reveal and vulnerability. The finds are found in the feelings that are deeper than what is knowable.

What is unknowable becomes a subject of study and of wonder to both the maker and the viewer in these black-and-white frames. From underneath what comes out is a boil in the cauldron of Guilmouth’s examination. Mystery and mystique. These are the tools that flutter around in the works as if on paper thin wings. They are agile and distinct. They are bold and finessed. They are a mass of symbiotic contradictions. Just like life. A life is lived in angles and ounces and pressure points that embrace with love and relief. In these works so much is revealed and so much is left to be found. Finding oneself in them is their bounty.

Efrem Zelony-Mindell: Out of the spines of a forest, located on an island, spun in the web of an insect . . . seems like a pretty decent way to start speaking about any one of your pictures I think, Paul. There are so many fiends and finds flirting around in my head when I look at your frames and I wonder so deeply, where do you find the imagination that you fasten in your pictures?

Paul Guilmoth: yum. That description is it, really. I almost want to deny having an imagination, because it’s all there. It just needs to be found, and maybe re-assembled: but most often, just found, exactly as it is, under a different light, maybe.

a few years ago I stopped dreaming completely. all of a sudden. It was weird after a year passed with no dreams. I figured all the magic was sucked out of me, but soon after: I started seeing ghosts, and having brush-ins with what previously was mere superstition. Sometimes an invisible presence, or a specter over the shoulder, just out of sight, disappearing as i turned to look. I was getting goose-pimples all the time, awaiting a visitation in any form. I couldn’t photograph these experiences, and I wouldn’t want to, but it made me eager to create something that could resemble them, because I missed them all the time.

The way in which certain places make me feel is everything to me, and everything might be determined by my own history, or histories so vague, and distant that I have no choice but to inevitably re-interpret them as I navigate the soil they live within.

Zelony-Mindell: OK! At some point, perhaps privately, you and I need to chat a little more about not having dreams because I too, mostly, do not dream either and folx think I’m crazy and just not remembering the dreams. Which, for the record, is aggravating both the disbelief, but also the lack of having that experience. Or maybe not, maybe not dreaming is simply a way to relieve something, or engage deeper thinking and appreciation for the things we experience in waking life. Dreams have a long history of interest and I personally dislike too much over analysing of dreams as it more often than not leads to Freud. BOO FREUD!

It’s also interesting how you speak about no imagination, but rather finding what’s simply there. Your images feel like myths or fictitious and what’s exciting about them being “straight” photographs is it puts concepts of “truth” in photography on its head in a lot of ways. There’s something supernatural and other worldly happening in your images and the way all these elements play together push the medium of photography. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s your goal or driving factor necessarily, but it is present in the pictures. I’m not sure I have a second question, yet, but I’m curious how these points might get things brewing in your head? Am I on the path here or am I off lost in the woods? Maybe these two metaphors cohabitate somewhere.

Guilmoth: Lets! Even if I was dreaming and couldn’t remember the dreams, they now have no significance, or at least I’m not letting them play a part in my life. I don’t have to waste my time analyzing Freud n’ shit. I feel better ever since I took a foot out of that world.

It’s been a long while since I’ve heard the term “straight” photography. It’s a surprising thing to hear.

I guess I understand my own work as being “crooked” photographs that question “truth” because there’s a patina of “straight”ness.

all that “truth” is, in photography, is humanity or relatability. I don’t think it has anything to do with integrity. Maybe with the artist’s intentions, but not with the actual photograph. At least I hope it doesn’t. Does that make any sense?

But, I totally understand what you mean, Efrem. I’ve found you in the woods.

What you see, as far as my photographs go, is very much the result of my real-life situation. I have a really bad memory, that is slowly being replaced by the photographs I make. The people I interact/hang-out with on a weekly basis, which is very few, are the people that are in my photographs: my family, and friends. I love them all, as people, outside of the photograph, but they are totally unrecognizable when I see them in my photographs. It’s a strange thing, and I don’t know what it means.

Zelony-Mindell: “We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative.” This is a favorite quote from Anaïs Nin that I regularly find myself adapting as, “We grow; mostly unevenly.”

Humanity. Relatability. Integrity. Intention. But not the actual photograph. Hope. These are a series of WILDLY fascinating words and concepts that you’ve laid down here. The trench of a home. The base of a world, an earth that already exists, but seen through x-ray specs, gamma radiation, microbes, emotions, feelings that find form in overlapping realities that are the people around you, and the excavation that is what is seen in your imagery. It makes a kind of sense yes, but deeper please. There is a whirring in my ears. Trying to make the connection that looks so endlessly from the outside—looking into your frames.

Where is that sound coming from? Why is my mind wider and more open when I see those barnyard doors flung open looking out onto that fire? I see something beckoning me to take a single step into that ash and rot. Do you ever wonder if it will ever stop?


“…the spiders imitate the paths the geese won’t stray from… and the world thickens with texture instead of history,
texture instead of place…”

- Jorie Graham

There was a moment in time when I thought I wanted to learn the names of wild-flowers. As if by memorizing them, they would be mine, and I would fill up this imaginary bag inside of me, over time, and saying their names to myself would be like addressing reason, a sense of order, at any given time. I couldn’t do it though. I was more interested in how the flowers looked.

“...alien observer in a world that isn’t ours”

- Liz Harris (Grouper)

All of my work is made in two very small, rural villages in New-England. My family resides in both of these places. They are unconditional homes. Rivers flow through one, and the other is a small island off the coast of Maine, where I live: a swamp resting at the center. These facts build a vague landscape, but only outside of the frames. I’m more interested in how places like these inspire such poignant feelings. The long, cold seasons, thick fog rolling onto land, hypnotic fog horn drone, decrepit colonial structures, isolation, candles flickering through windows, wind that makes you swear someones talking, knowing someone lives there but only seeing their silhouette: the villages are ripe with the stuff that folk-horror’s are made of.

The people inside my photographs have life-stories that don’t need fluffing-up to be worth telling, but, more and more I began to realize how absurd it is to think any photograph isn’t only about its author’s psychology, and their subject’s physicality. Empathy will form between the work, and the audience, but what is that connection when you can’t trust its source? This kind of confused empathy is one thing I do love about photography.

(I am expecting to contradict myself throughout this conversation)

“ Landscapes can be deceptive. Sometimes a landscape seems to be less a setting for the life of its inhabitants than a curtain behind which their struggles, achievements and accidents take place.” - John Berger

The world in my photographs is built of layers:
  1. Trauma (because it’s sticky and forever)
  2. Myth
  3. Ghosts
  4. Repeated endlessly in that order.

Zelony-Mindell: Can you share where your pictures hurt? What I mean is where inside you do you feel them ache? What’s at risk, where do these pictures make you most vulnerable?

Guilmoth: My pictures don’t ever hurt me.

There are many stages on which this question could play out, but before I get into it, I think I will address the privilege that I, myself, have as an artist. Photography feels like a necessity to my “survival”, in a way: most importantly it’s a means to heal, and a way to engage with my surroundings, so many other things. But it’s also a very self-fulfilling thing, that requires the time, and resources many can’t access. 

I think to properly speak about pain, in regards to photography, there would need to be a bigger discussion about the pain it’s responsible for.

There’s another type of hurt, though, which is more generalized. It has one foot on earth, and one foot in the land of the dead. Photographs can function as epitaphs for me. The permanence of a photograph turns loss into a physical, tangible thing. I look at the photographs I have taken of my family, and friends, from just a few years ago, and know that those are moments that can’t exist ever again, and they are suddenly older, some have gotten sick, some may die soon, some are dead. It’s those things that make photography always about loss.

Zelony-Mindell: Paul thank you so much for being so candid and creating a space where these realities of loss and trauma can be seen and read. Life and death both feed kinds of memorial. As such it’s interesting to consider these facets of photography as getting into the weeds of these aspects of the medium feel unspoken about a lot of times. It feels like a lot of artists use photography as a means to commemorate their friends and colleagues. A way to say that those people were here on this planet. As important and significant as this form of rememberance can be, it can feel one dimensional if not fleeting or even vapid. We look at these photos of those who are familiar colleagues or friends or folx regarded as “important” figures hanging on the walls of galleries, institutions, or homes with high regard. More times than not, personally I wonder, do I feel drawn to this image because it’s a thoughtfully constructed composition or because I know the person standing/sitting for it? In this regard a portrait can feel like a fear of the unknown, a fear of letting these people go, a fear of death.

In regards to the familiarity of those in your images it’s interesting because you allow something far more imaginative to slip into the frames. The lives of those people you photograph feel distilled, but also extended. They don’t feel like a memorial, they feel more like a celebration of the unknown, like a celebration of death. There’s a quote I think about a lot. Unfortunately I don't remember the source and I imagine it's become quite eroded in my mind. So much so that it may no longer be the original quote, but I think about it a lot the way I have it in my head. “Death is a door. And behind that door there could be nothing. And how great would that be? Because then, I could fill it.” Photography has that potential and it’s something I see in your pictures. There are roots in reality, yet they escape any sort of convention or overly sentimental feelings because they bleed out into a realm of the surreal and extraterrestrial. Again I don’t have a question here, but wonder how reading all this makes you feel?

Guilmoth: I’ve recently thought about a story from my childhood. (I can’t remember what book, or film it’s from). In the story a young girl gets kidnapped by a witch that lives in her village. Her family can’t find her anywhere. One day as they are grieving, in the kitchen, they notice a child looking out at them from the window of a barn, inside of an old painting that they purchased for their house. It looks just like their daughter. The painting depicts this beautiful, idyllic field with a barn, garden, and maybe some chickens, and cows. As the years go by, the girl in the painting grows older, and even changes her position inside of the painting: Often she’s feeding the animals, tending the garden, or staring out the window of the barn. Eventually the parents are elderly, then dead, and the girl in the painting becomes a very old woman, bent-over with age, then finally disappears from the painting completely. We can only assume she dies.

(this narrative is also used in an early episode of the original Charmed)

The relationship between the parents, and this painting kind of embodies the way I want to feel when looking at photographs. Someone, something is there, yet impossibly far off.


paul guilmoth is an artist living on a small island
off the coast of Maine.
they spend their nights with spider silk.
they never leave the island.

Efrem Zelony-Mindell is a white non-binaray curator, writer, and artist. Some of their curatorial endeavors include group shows: n e w f l e s h, Are You Loathsome, and This Is Not Here. They have written about art for FOAM, Unseen, DEAR DAVE, Rocket Science Magazine, SPOT, and essays for artists’ monographs. Their first book n e w f l e s h, published by Gnomic Book and shortlisted for the Paris Photo Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Award 2020, is available now and is in the collections at MoMA, The MET, the Whitney Museum of American Art, TATE, Art Institute of Chicago, and 35 other libraries and archives around the world. Efrem is currently working on their second book, Primal Sight, due early 2021. They work, write, lecture, and live in New York.