David Pritchett is a photographer, educator, and the latest Evanston artist to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. His fascinating show Daily China was on display at EPL’s Main Library throughout November and explored China’s careening city buses, rural Buddhist temples, and street-side restaurants in an effort to “reflect a shared humanity amid the unique present of an ancient culture.” We recently spoke with Mr. Pritchett via email about how the Peace Corps inspired his art, his creative process, and his conviction that “there is more in cultural diversity that unites us than separates us.”
Evanston Public Library: Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist? How did you get started in art? Was there something specific in your life that sparked a need to create? What drove you in the beginning? What drives you now?
David Pritchett: My day job has been “teacher,” though “artist” has a nice ring to it. Peace Corps service in Nigeria, 1964-1966, triggered my serious photography. Anything prior to that was snapshots. After two years in Africa’s largest sub-Saharan country, I wanted to share a sense of that culture in my classrooms. During two year’s service I took only about two hundred and fifty images using a Kodachrome ASA 64 which allowed me – using the slide technology of the day – to share what I had seen. I later lived and worked in the U.S., Vietnam, Wales, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Germany, and China. What has subsequently driven me is a continuing desire to share what I have seen and to enlarge my personal understanding of what I witness as it passes before my lens.
EPL: How do you describe your art? Do you see yourself as fitting in with any particular artistic movements or styles?
DP: My photography preserves, documents, and to some extent, interprets my life’s dynamics as I have experienced them. Public exhibitions of the works may provide some connections to the viewer’s experience, though this is not my original intent. Boxes of prints, sleeves of slides, and envelopes of negatives of my work comprise a personal narrative. In its current fragmented state, my collection of images could be likened to the raw material upon which the genre of visual memoir is based.
EPL: Can you give us a window into your creative process? How do you choose your subjects?
DP: My creative process is summed up by Shakespeare’s line, “The readiness is all.” I’ve traveled with Kodak Retina III, Pentax Spotmatic, and Pextax LX 35 mm cameras. Since the advent of digital cameras, I keep a Lumix 10MP at the ready in the left breast pocket of a sleeveless vest. If I have the opportunity to spend time framing landscapes, still lifes, events, or people, I use a Canon D40 SLR with a standard 35-50mm lens. Instinct and experience cue much of my content, and I shoot what I anticipate – upon later viewing – will evoke a response from me or an observer. Serendipity also brings images to me, not always waiting for me to select the correct settings. With no false modesty, I admit that some of my best images are only the result of being in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.
EPL: What are your future goals and plans as an artist?
DP: My future goals are to develop and present exhibitions along thematic lines drawn from a virtual warehouse of images. My future plans are to keep adding to the inventory of that warehouse.
EPL: How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?
DP: Evanston, Lake Michigan, and Chicagoland comprise as rich a venue for the art of photography as any on the planet. Capturing some essence of that venue is an ongoing challenge. The inspiration of living in such a culturally-rich, ethnically-diverse community is – for me – the challenge of creating exhibitions from my own experience in a variety of foreign settings that reinforce my conviction that there is more in cultural diversity that unites us than separates us. In a sense, my exhibitions invite viewers to examine and participate in that understanding of our shared values and humanity.
Interview by Russell J.