PHLEARN MagazineLiving Outside Society: Matthew Genitempo’s Photos of Isolated Mountain Life

Living Outside Society: Matthew Genitempo’s Photos of Isolated Mountain Life

For his new book, entitled Jasper, American photographer Matthew Genitempo went deep into the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri and lived among the isolated men who call the wilderness home. He lived like the residents he was photographing, camping or sleeping in his truck, to capture beautifully striking portraits and landscapes depicting hermitic life.

Shooting with a large format view camera on black and white 4×5 film, Matthew slowly built up trust with the sequestered men as he documented their world. Inspired by the poet and land surveyor, Frank Stanford, Jasper is a compelling look into an otherwise distant and misunderstood way of life.

“By capturing the foggy landscapes, cluttered interiors, and the rugged men that are tucked away in the dark woods, this project explores the fascination with running away from the everyday.”

– Matthew Genitempo

We recently had the pleasure of talking to Matthew about the project, what it was like to run away from the everyday, and what he learned in the Ozarks.

Can you tell us about your new book, Jasper? What was the inspiration behind it and what impact are you hoping it makes?


Jasper is a project that I began and completed during my time at the graduate program at the Hartford Art School. The project explores my fascination with running away from the everyday by focusing on the men who have chosen to live a life sequestered in the Ozarks.

It’s a long story but I sort of ended up in the Ozarks by chance. I guess to keep it short, 2016 was a comically bad year and I wanted to be away from everything, and the book is the result of that. Jasper is available for pre-order from Twin Palms and will be officially released this month.

What was your experience like in the Ozarks? What was your biggest takeaway from the people you met and photographed there?


It varied quite a bit. I went in with very little trepidation and quickly learned that that didn’t really fly in the Ozarks. I knocked on a lot of doors and met a lot of great folks, everyone with their own unique burden. I guess the one thing I took away from my experience is that you can disappear but you can never escape.

You’ve got a lot of exhibitions on right now, and you’ve won many awards. What’s your proudest moment as a photographer so far?


When my father saw the dedication to him in the back of the book.

How did you get started in photography?


I had taken a couple photography classes in high school, but it didn’t really stick. I learned how to process film and use the darkroom, but I was busy playing in bands and doing other things. When I got to college, I decided to major in design and took a few photography courses as electives and that’s when I was hooked.

At what point did you begin to consider yourself a photographer and artist?


I think it mostly sunk in when I was admitted into graduate school. I remember thinking, “Okay, I’m really doing this.” I guess I probably considered myself one before then, but that was a milestone.

What artists or photographers do you most admire? And how has their work influenced your own?


This is a little difficult to answer because there is just so much that goes in. Frank and Shore had a hold on me when I first began making pictures that I didn’t shake for awhile. I think in some capacity they will always have a hold on me. Their work really opened up the idea of photography and travel to me.

Since then, there have been countless artists that have influenced me. When I was making Jasper, I was watching a lot of Tarkovsky films and reading a lot of Frank Stanford’s poems.

Do you have any particular habits that are a part of how you begin your creative process?


Have a good breakfast and be open.

What do you do when you hit a wall during your creative process?


I wish I had the answer to this. There’s really no surefire way to get out of a rut. Usually it’s just showing up and being consistent in making pictures. You don’t have to be successful all the time, just consistent.

What’s the one quote that always gets you motivated?

“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”

– Ed Abbey

What book would you recommend any creative person read?


The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo.

What’s your favorite photo you’ve ever captured and why?


When I was making pictures in the Ozarks, I was driving around with this guy that I had met and he insisted that I see his grandmother’s cabin. On the drive there, he pulled out a pipe and I remember thinking it didn’t seem like an option, so we smoked.

I was extremely high when I made this picture of a Jean-François Millet knockoff painting. It took forever to make the photograph because I was being so careful. I thought the cabin was the most magical place I had ever been. I made so many awful photos that afternoon in the cabin, but that one worked.

What impact are you trying to make through your work?


There’s a wonderful quote by Robert Adams that good photographs “reinforce a sense of meaning in life.” That’s something to aim for.

What are you focusing on right now in your work and photography?


I moved out to Marfa, Texas about a year ago. I haven’t figured out what my next project will be, but for now I’m just enjoying the quiet and making pictures when I can.

Jasper is Matthew’s first completed major project, but there’s no doubt we will see many more great things from the artist. You can pre-order the book now. And, be sure to keep up with Matthew by following him on Instagram and visiting his website.

Jennifer Berube

Jen is the Editor-in-Chief of PHLEARN Magazine, where she helps shape inspiring stories and handy tips for aspiring and seasoned photographers. She has worked as a photography writer for many years, contributing to numerous industry-leading publications. Proudly Canadian, sometimes globetrotter, self-taught photographer, Jen is temporarily settled in Spain.

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