Tainted Lens" is a solo exhibition of the fine art works of this sought-after architectural photographer. With few exceptions, the works on view have been neither previously exhibited nor published. The selections have been culled from Hursley’s series of photographs that capture the interior and exterior architecture of scenes of obscurity including, his photos of the brothels of Nevada, the architecture of polygamy in Utah, a dilapidated silo in rural Alabama, and rundown funeral homes dotting the deep south. Absent of people, these gentle narratives, bear no hint of judgment.
“The photographs are stronger without people,” Hursley said. “They are like footprints of a subculture."
FAi: How did you start - at what age did you acquire your first camera?
Timothy Hursley: When I was 17, I began a nine-year apprenticeship with the Hungarian architectural photographer Balthazar Korab in the suburbs of Detroit. My first camera was an old Hasselblad that Korab gave me to use in 1975. Soon after, he set me up with a Sinar 4x5 view camera. My early years were spent shooting architecture in the Detroit area. One of my early Detroit photos was selected to be the poster and cover image for an exhibition at MoMA, Transformations in Architecture. During that time, notable solo assignments included Philip Johnson’s study in New Canaan, Corning Museum of Glass, and an Aga Kahn project in Karachi, Pakistan.
FAi: What artists/photographers were early influences on your work?
Timothy Hursley: Balthazar Korab introduced me to the world of architecture and architectural photography. I was influenced by Joel Meyerowitz’s book St. Louis and the Arch. I liked his use of color and context and the informality of his compositions. After I relocated to the South, I discovered the book Ghosts Along the Mississippi by Clarence John Laughlin. The photos were taken of abandoned plantations in the forties. He had created a small portfolio at each location. I replaced the southern plantations with the Nevada brothels. In 1982, I started a series documenting Andy Warhol’s last studio, which continued up until his death in 1987. His irreverent persona influenced my interest in photographing the sex industry of Nevada.
FAi: When did you first feel you were successful as a fine art photographer?
Timothy Hursley: Fine art was never a preoccupation of mine. I was just constantly making photographs, on assignment and not. In 1988, I showed my brothel transparencies to Ivan Karp at OK Harris in SOHO. I then had two years in which I continued shooting the series and commissioned a set of dye-transfer prints for the 1990 show Brothels of Nevada.
FAi: How do you choose subject matters and environments for your series?
Timothy Hursley: The current series based on southern funeral homes began on a day trip to Helena, Arkansas to see the flooded Mississippi River. I didn’t find a photograph of the river but as I was driving through the near-collapsed downtown, I noticed two white hearses parked under a canopy. The hearses seemed to be the emergency lifeline to a city that was near death. That was my first photo for the series. Later that day, I focused on searching for other funeral homes in small towns en route back to Little Rock.
FAi: Do you feel a connection to the people that inhabited the spaces you photograph?
Timothy Hursley: In all the series, especially the polygamists and Nevada brothels, I feel I carry a banner for the subculture. I give them a voice while I discover my own.
FAi: What is the greatest challenge you have faced?
Timothy Hursley: Gaining access to the polygamists’ families was difficult. In the beginning, in Colorado City, Utah (the capital city of polygamy), I enlisted the help of an apostate living there. I additionally shared my Rural Studio books in order to gain trust with one of the FLDS sects.
FAi: What are your plans for the future?
Timothy Hursley: I see at least three more books: my architectural work, the polygamists, and the southern funeral homes. I plan to continue following and documenting the work of Rural Studio, which I’ve been involved with for twenty-three years, compiled in three books by Princeton Architectural Press.