Photographic Repartee: Irina Rozovsky’s and Mark Steinmetz’s Years-Long Visual Conversation

December 29, 2017

By Holly Stuart Hughes

During the six months they collaborated on the exhibition “Talking Pictures,” Manjari Sharma and Irina Rozovsky exchanged photos in a call-and-response dialogue that gave them insights into each other’s lives (see our story Manjari Sharma & Irina Rozovsky on their Camera Phone Collaboration for The Met Museum). “I’ve always thought of photography as a kind of language,” says Rozovsky, “and in this case it’s almost literal conversations.” Rozovsky has taken part in a similar visual conversation since 2014, when photographer Nat Ward invited her to contribute to A New Nothing, the website he started with friend and fellow photographer Ben Alper.

She recalls, “Nat told me to ask a photographer to engage in photo ping-pong where one person posts a photo on A New Nothing and the partner posts a response.” Rozovsky immediately asked photographer Mark Steinmetz: “We’d been texting photos back and forth for some time.” They shot the first images they posted on A New Nothing while Rozovsky was visiting Steinmetz in Athens, Georgia. They each photographed the same car they found abandoned next to a pedestal with a crystal ball on it. “From then on, we posted frequently, plucking photos from both of our daily routines, travels and archives,” Rozovsky says. “For me it was from the start very exciting and intimate, to see our visual brains respond to each other—running with a formal theme, swerving this way and that, little jokes sprinkled lightly among the images.” She and Steinmetz have continued collaborating: They now live together and have a baby daughter. “Maybe the crystal ball in our first images had something in mind,” Rozovsky says.

Ward and Alper began exchanging images as a way of staying in touch. “More specifically, we wondered how our friendship might continue to grow and expand in communicative, albeit non-verbal ways,” says Alper. In 2014, they decided to make a site where other photographers could share their own conversations. A New Nothing now hosts 119 conversations, some lasting for years. Ward says scrolling through the exchanges offers “such a fascinating window into the way other photographers interpret the images they confront in the world. No two photographers would respond to the same thing in the same image.” Alper adds, “A New Nothing has allowed me to think about image-based communication in similar terms as written or spoken language.” The conversations include many visual puns and “the photographic equivalent of dad jokes,” Ward says. “And I can’t complain about that.”

Alper says Rozovsky and Steinmetz produced a “playful but also revealing exchange.” Knowing now that they were a couple, Ward says, “I think it is wonderfully sneaky and charming that Irina and Mark were hinting at their proximity from the very beginning.”

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