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Demolition Democracy: Jeremy Charles and the Capturing of Small-Town Oklahoma by Carolyn Deuschle

Jeremy Charles, Tulsa, Untitled, Photography. Derby cars compete until they can no longer run. Exhausted cars are either dragged or carried from the arena by tractors.

Jeremy Charles, a 33-year-old photographer originally from Oologah and currently living in Tulsa, creates photographs that are not only masterful representations of their subjects, but also acutely aware interpretations of the poetry inherent in photographing a human subject. From artists and musicians to athletes and politicians, Charles’ passion for his subjects— their narrative, their character, their emotional baggage—is rendered with the kind of colorful precision that echoes the acutely intense portraits of Michal Chelbin and the respectful yet insightful portraits of Dawoud Bey. Though his primary focus is on editorial work, with a special affinity toward music photography, he’s recently embarked on an independent documentary project, which has him aiming his camera lens at the participants and audience members of small-town Oklahoma’s demolition derbies. With his self-effacing nature, the documentary form seems to be a natural fit for the soft-spoken artist. The series, selections of which are presented here for the very first time, is both an incisive portrait of rural life and a striking commentary on small-town America. I spoke with Charles recently about the development of his career, his demolition derby series, and his love of Tulsa.

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Carolyn Deuschle: You worked first as a graphic designer starting in 2000, and didn’t start photographing professionally until 2007. Do you remember what initially drew you to the medium? Jeremy Charles: As a graphic designer, I worked with photography all the time and I realized how integral it was to good design. There is a mysterious quality about great photography. I wondered “How did they do that? My photos don’t look or feel anything like this.” So, eventually I felt driven to unlock the mysteries. I’ve always been fascinated with vivid characters, people with rich stories and personalities whether they be artists, performers, musicians, athletes or public figures. I soon found that photography was a reason to meet and befriend these people. CD: Where did you learn to photograph? JC: Though I don’t necessarily like the label “self-taught,” that’s pretty much accurate. I never had formal training in my first career as a graphic designer, and I approached photography in the same D.I.Y., learn-as-you-go way.

Profile for Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition

Art Focus Oklahoma, January/February 2011  

2011 January/February Art Focus Oklahoma is a bimonthly publication of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition dedicated to stimulating insight i...

Art Focus Oklahoma, January/February 2011  

2011 January/February Art Focus Oklahoma is a bimonthly publication of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition dedicated to stimulating insight i...

Profile for ovac