Artist Atis Puampai is focused on observing perceptions of time through the lens of his modified cameras. By taking pictures that display the motion of the earth moving around the sun, Atis uses photography to observe the way humans experience time. He also takes photos of his surroundings during his daily journey from home to work to focus on the banality of time. Instead of using digital cameras or computer programs to edit his photos, Atis constructs film cameras from recycled camera parts to create his desired effects. His personal philosophy towards his practice is to use any resources you have to observe everything around you. In this vein, Atis taught himself photography by using his friendʻs old camera and learned photo techniques through trial and error. Though Atis has been mostly self-taught, he recently received his Masters in Fine Art (MFA) from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The MFA program gave Atis a better understanding on how to fully conceptualize his artworks. I asked Atis to sit down with me in the BoxJellyʻs conference room to further discuss his art practice.
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your passion for art?
Atis: After I graduated from high school one of my friends gave me my first camera and I immediately got hooked. I just kept taking pictures of my buddies, skate friends, and anything in general. I was the typical shutterbug. During that time I took rolls and rolls of film. Everything I know about photography is from trial and error. All the worst things that can happen when you pick up photography happened to me. For instance, I used to load film incorrectly into my camera to the point that I wasn’t able to wind my camera. I had to learn to deal with different light sources without a light meter. I ruined a lot of photos discovering the difference between sunlight and sunlight on a cloudy day. I tend to learn things better when I make mistakes. I also learned a lot from my friends who were photographers. I would show them my photos and they would tell me what was wrong and how to fix them. .
How does the materials you work with inform your art practice?
Atis: Going through the MFA program at UH really taught me to be critical on my thoughts towards photography and my process for creating photos. For example, when people take pictures they say “Iʻm going to shoot a photo.” I remember my old photography professor would say “Its not shooting photos, you’re not capturing the images. You’re making pictures by collecting information around you.” So the whole idea of photography for me is about observation and collection. My artistic vision comes second to the observation. Also, I’m always trying to figure out how I can keep things simple and work with materials I already have. I create photos from cameras that I craft from salvaged camera equipment. One comment I got when someone saw my modified cameras was “Itʻs like seeing a caveman discover photography for the first time.” I took that comment and thought, how do I move through the history of photography using my intuition? I make my cameras and “discover” various camera effects and craft my camera to achieve desired effects. In the act of making I often wonder do I need a shutter or other basic functions to bring my ideas into reality.
What ideas are you exploring with your art?
Atis: Iʻm exploring different perceptions of time. For my project titled “Earth at 970 mph” I took photos of the sun to show the earth in motion in relation to the sun. The sun is something that is constant and anybody can locate. We watch it rise and fall everyday. However, we rarely think about the motion and the rate we are moving around the sun. As the sun stays the same, we humans are moving and evolving. This calls into question our human significance. I took these photos at Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is monumental and a specific location. Iʻm also trying to find the magic of being at Mauna Kea in my everyday routine. I take photos of my route from home to work. By taking pictures of my daily route, Iʻm also exploring the mundaneness of time.
What is your work flow for doing art and how do you project manage
Atis: My workflow is sporadic. I go on these spurts where I work everyday. It’s like pringles. Once you start you can’t stop eating them but once your done you can go a long time without pringles. While working on a photo series I try to explore numerous ways to approach the concepts I’m interested in at the time. Once I feel like I have said everything I can about the concepts, that is when I known a photo series is completed.
What does it mean to be an artist in Hawaii?
Atis: Being an artist in Hawaii has made me very resourceful. Hawaii is in the middle of the ocean and has a very iconic location. Hawaii also has a strong connection to the themes of an idyllic paradise and tourism. As an artist I take it as a challenge to create photographs in Hawaii with concepts that can be applied anywhere.
Is there a piece you would like to be known for?
Atis: I would like to be known for my concept of exploring different perceptions of time and my modified cameras. My thesis series “Project: ANCIENT LIGHT” focuses on the fact that the light coming from the sun is 10,000 to 100,000 years old. The light that the earth receives now is older then all of written human history. With “Project: ANCIENT LIGHT” I’m exploring time past our human experience.
Do you have a favorite book, film or artist, which inspires you?
Atis: Artist Hiroshi Sugimoto is a big inspiration. He’s a photographer and he also explores the themes of time and space. His work is super polished. I see him as a foil as I work the other way; really rough and raw. Stylistically, my photographs are inspired by Sugimoto. Sugimoto lets the concepts of the work take over so what visually comes out is purely the concept.
Have you ever doubted your art practice?
Atis: I have always doubted my art practice. I believe there will always be doubt. Anyone who is a creative, musician, or artist will doubt their practice at some point. I feel like I’ve done my best work when I felt the most doubtful. If your so sure of the work you create it might be too formulaic. If I doubt my work but I’m honest with it, I think people will be able to at least resonate with what I create.
What advice would you give to an inspiring artist?
Atis: Get ready to struggle, but as artists we will struggle together.
Check at more of Atis Puampaiʻs artwork at http://www.atispuampai.com
06/023/2017. Seven second exposure. Elapsed time: 0 min.
30″x40″. Archival Pigment Print from Fujifilm FP-100C Instant Picture.