We had the good fortune of connecting with Charles Ingham and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Charles, as a parent, what have you done for your children that you feel has had the most significant impact?
I hope that one of the most important skills that I encouraged in my son was to look at things (any thing), to ask questions (of me or the person that he was observing engaged in some activity), and thus see what was going on in his world. I’m sure that, as I am a visual artist, it’s no coincidence that I should try to foster such a skill in my child. And now, at 34, Lewis is a filmmaker and producer: His job is to show us new things and to remind us of things that we have forgotten. I remember us being at San Diego’s Santa Fe Terminal one day, just nosing around, when we came across an Amtrak engineer standing by his locomotive. My eight-year-old son asked me a question about the engineer’s job and, totally unqualified to give Lewis an answer, I told him to ask the professional. Lewis asked his question, the engineer answered, and they struck up a serious conversation, a conversation that continued when the engineer invited Lewis up into the cab. This story would be a cliché, of course, if Lewis had grown up to be a train engineer. I am a great believer in the photographer Walker Evans’s instructions for life: “Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a conceptual photographer living in San Diego. Born in England, I received my undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Essex before moving to California and teaching at SDSU and Palomar College. As a conceptual artist, my photo-narratives are hybrid forms, transgressing distinctions between the verbal and the visual: the image as text. These photo-narratives explore invented spaces, alternative histories, internal narratives, and visual fictions. My art represents a combinatory aesthetic; each work constitutes a whole made up of parts, creating something of a symbiosis: the words, the images (abstract and referential), the space between images, the subjects, the reference to specific places or times. Some visual references are obvious; some of the bones, sinews, and other connective tissue that hold a particular narrative together work within the piece’s own logic, a logic that viewers find for themselves. Here, the artist makes the work, and that work has an agenda, but a significant part of that agenda is for the viewer to find something of (or for) themselves within these images and words. The artist will always have times when they question the value and originality of their work. I feel that to push forward in one’s work, it is important to belong to some sort of artistic community: to receive intellectual stimulation, criticism, and encouragement. The Cubists had Au Lapin Agile, the Dadaists the Cabaret Voltaire, the Abstract Expressionists the Cedar Tavern; I am proud to have San Diego’s SnowCreek Collaborative.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
If a best friend should visit in this time of Covid-19, I would turn them away at the front door, shouting at their back, “Get a grip on yourself, fool!” One way or another, it would probably be the end of a beautiful friendship. However, should life return to some kind of normal, I would welcome them in with open arms. In the evening, we would watch a band perform on the tiny stage at Casa De Oro’s neighborhood bar the De Oro Mine Company. But first we would have stopped in at my local 7-Eleven so that I could introduce them to Frank behind the counter. I’m a vegan, so we would hit the Oreos. We would eat at Tacos Libertad on University Avenue, where all profits go to that month’s charity. And we would go through the refrigerator door at the back of the taco shop to drink in the speakeasy, Caché. We would visit Chicano Park, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the gallery Distinction, where I am a studio artist. We would cross the border into Tijuana and visit the grave of Juan Soldado, unofficial patron saint of undocumented migrants, in Panteón Municipal #1. We would not go to Sea World. But we would ride the carousel in Balboa Park. We would drive from Windansea beach through the back country into the mountains on our way to the desert, where we would visit Salvation Mountain, Leonard Knight’s visionary environment, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Folk Art World. Down the dirt road aways in Slab City, we would pay a visit to East Jesus and show our respect for another of those Seven Wonders. And then back to the De Oro Mine Company to drink a toast to those we have lost during the recent plague.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Teresa Houska, my wife; Lewis Smithingham, my son; Herbie Butterfield, my inspirational teacher; Walt Whitman, who brought me to America; and my friends and colleagues at the SnowCreek photographers’ collaborative.
Photo of the artist: Teresa Houska