Shane Rocheleau was born in Falmouth, Massachussetts in 1977. He received a BA (1999) in Psychology and English from St. Michael’s College in Vermont, a Post-Baccalaureate Cerificate (2005) in Fine Art from Maryland Institute College of Art, and an MFA (2007) in Photography and Film from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). He has taught as an Assistant Professor of Art at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, as an Adunct at numberous institutions, and presently serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at VCU.
Rocheleau has exhibited in the U.S., Spain, Russia, Brazil, Australia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, India, and Germany. He has been featured in several publications, including The Reservoir Quarterly, Aint Bad Magazine, Dear Dave Magazine, Lensculture, Lenscratch, It’s Nice That, Rocket Science Magazine, and Humble Arts Foundation.
His first monograph, You Are Masters Of The Fish And Birds And All The Animals, was published in April, 2018, by Gnomic Book.
He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: YAMOTFABAATA
YOU ARE MASTERS OF THE FISH AND BIRDS AND ALL THE ANIMALS, 2018
For several years, I have been making work about White American Masculinity. It is a construct I am scarred but privileged by and thus responsible to address. It undergirds our politics and religion; it permeates our homes. And it’s scary. If you aren’t white or man enough, they’ll put you through hell: tease and shove you and feel better for beating you. So am I winning yet? Have I won the American dream? I know what I’m fighting against: myself.
While I've both benefitted and been duped by my whiteness and maleness, I don’t always feel like a winner. Celebrating the cowboy or war hero means obscuring the emotional neglect, violence, and physical injury that a man embodying (or seeking to embody) this construct will experience or produce. My internal contradictions are a microcosm of our nation’s. Founding fathers such as Patrick Henry ("Liberty or Death!") are memorialized in myriad, public ways, while their anonymous slaves died liberty-less. On one front, we fought a war for independence while on the other we did so to deprive Native Americans of theirs. And now, we continue to elect leaders who perpetuate the racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and xenophobic language that traces a history of profound othering, subjugation, and injustice.
I don't know how to say it's scary to be a white man in this country, because it’s scarier to be a woman or a minority. I’m conflicted, confused, ambivalent. This project – a portrait of my psyche – is the language I’ve thus far conceived.
When and where did YAMOTFABAATA begin?
I often begin a project with general ideas. In the case of YAMOTFABAATA, I thought I wanted to weave both stereotypically liberal concerns (LGBT rights) and stereotypically conservative concerns (Second Amendment rights) into one, coherent narrative. I made pictures with this in mind then sat with those pictures to learn from them and refine my ideas. I recycled this process over several years until those general ideas distilled into very specific ideas about American masculinity and contradictions and how each relates to both my constructed identity as a white male and my nation’s psychological inheritance. (And I love how much my projects change if I give in to listening to the pictures rather than imposing myself on them deafly.)
Congratulations on publishing this series as a monograph! What was your experience like making the book?
Thank you! Making the book was exciting and scary; sometimes it felt improbable, impossible, other times it felt so natural and obvious.
I’m not exactly sure how long it took to finish this project. I made the earliest pictures from YAMOTFABAATA back in 2012. But it didn’t begin then. It may have begun March 14th, 2014 while I was working on a collaborative project about Petersburg, VA. A prospective portrait subject walked me around to the front of the motel where I’d been spending time. The police, medics, and press had gone, but the murder scene remained, seemingly untouched (Site of the Death of Edward Jones). The rich red vestiges of a man’s life left me drained and scared and liminal. I didn’t make a picture for another month. My guess is that when I picked the camera up again, it began turning away from Petersburg and toward myself. Slowly out of this inflection point rose YAMOTFABAATA. I’ll call April, 2018 the end point. That’s when Gnomic Book released it.
Gnomic Book is run by photographer/artist/designer/factotum Jason Koxvold. Our mutual friend, Stanley, used to host photographer gatherings at Jason’s Brooklyn studio. On occasion, I’d drive up from Richmond to partake. Stanley and I would arrive early, and Jason and I invariably hung-out before the raucous arrived. We became easy friends. The very last one of these gatherings, Stanley snuck my book dummy. Jason was the first to look at it that night. Soon after, he started Gnomic. I received an email one morning about a year later; he asked if I might consider that YAMOT be its second project. I was close to publishing elsewhere, so I felt immediately reticent. Jason is driven and smart and talented. And he’s my friend. I wanted to work with a friend, with someone I knew I could trust. In the end, it felt obvious and simple to publish with Gnomic Book.
Jason and I Skyped or met almost weekly between December, 2017 and early March, 2018, when we departed for our printer in Germany. Each time we had a general agenda and discussed those items: design, sequence, materials such as paper type and fabrics, distribution, the Kickstarter campaign, where to print, whether to take a boat or a plane to Europe, font, the sources of my anxieties as best as we could identify, size of letters or pictures or drawings or run, whether this thing or that thing should be centered or just look centered, and so on. We beat to pulp any detail bigger than a quark.
Though we each gave the other lots of feedback: ultimately, our roles were fairly distinct. I sequenced the pictures, chose the text, and prepared the files for printing. Jason designed everything. He chose the font and the fabric, designed the layout, created and kicked-off the Kickstarter, and planned our European caper. I’m so thankful to have found such an energetic, talented, and supportive partner in the realization of YAMOTFABAATA.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been so nervous as I was in the days leading to press. Ultimately, while on press, we asked for a very small change in density in one picture. ONE! It went smoother than I could’ve ever hoped.
Where do you see this project going?
I'm already surprised its gone as far as it has. Though I've dreamed of publishing a book for years, I hardly felt it inevitable. If YAMOTFABAATA is never more than a book, I'll still feel really satisfied. With that said, if an exhibition opportunity presents itself, and it feels right, I'd love to see this work all together on walls.
Where can interested parties purchase YAMOTFABAATA?
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
I was a "full-time" adjunct professor most the better part of a decade. That life can be unsustainable with a family, student loans, adult responsibilities. I still teach one class a year at VCU, but I work a "real job", full-time, all year round. I'm able to finish my paid work by Thursday evening so always have Fridays to go out and make pictures. I also hit the studio every morning for a couple hours. Teaching once a year keeps me inspired. Plus, I feel I owe it to the students to be a passionate maker; otherwise, I don't know what qualifies me to teach them about making art.
Rock climbing also inspires me. Up on the wall, what I'm doing feels a whole lot like my art process.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m deep into my next project. Though it’s still shape-shifting too fast to capture, I’m really excited about it. It’s about the smallness of a human being, paranoia and his ascetic’s loneliness, oblivion and artifacts, spiders and webs and life-cycles…if any of that makes any sense at all. Other than that, I'm just trying to enjoy whatever success and exposure YAMOTFABAATA gets. It's been really fun so far.
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
To name a very few: Brian Ulrich, Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, Curran Hattleberg, Ron Jude, Heikki Kaski, Dana LIxenberg, Alec Soth, Katrin Koenning, Bill Henson, Cig Harvey, Greg Halpern, Robert Bergman.