Altered States of Agoraphobia

UK teacher and photographer Simon Kossoff moved to America and started a blog to show others how he saw his new country. In doing so he tapped into a strong current of photographers exploring the quirks of America — and built an online culture all of his own.

I started Altered States of Agoraphobia (ASA) about a year and a half ago. I’d been in the U.S. for about that time and had made quite a bit of work. America came as a great inspiration photographically and I was buzzing with all sorts of ideas. I had taken several long road trips, seen quite a lot of the country and had also kept a few written journals along the way. I was beginning to develop several photo projects that I was excited about and I was looking for a place to explore them further. I had already been posting images at Flickr and was an active member of its wonderful and supportive photographic community, but I felt I needed to focus and edit my projects in a more personal space.

I wanted something which showed my work in progress and to also help me think about what it was I was doing. In the introduction to ASA I state that these images could be described as a collection of psychic co-ordinate points I have plotted between the imagined America that I brought with me from England and the real America which I found on my arrival in 2008. It was my search for a kind of personal orientation between the dream or idea of a place and my actual experience of it in reality. Ultimately it is a journey which explores the destination. ASA has also been for me, the digital equivalent of laying prints out on the floor to see what I’ve got, and it has helped me think about where I’m going photographically. Starting ASA seemed like the perfect place for this exploration and it has since proved to be a valuable tool in my creative process.

Altered States of Agoraphobia (II) is a blog I set up as a companion to the Flickr group which I started only a few months ago. ASA (II) is getting over a 1,000 visits a month and growing in popularity all the time.

The Flickr pool came about at a time when I was unable to get out and make pictures myself after I decided to return to school. At the same time I was seeing all this really amazing work posted on Flickr and I wanted to focus it somehow and starting a Flickr group seemed to me the natural thing to do. I was seeing so many wonderful images made by other photographers from every corner of the United States who were photographing places I had not visited myself but wished I could, and were shooting some really interesting and original work.

It was then when I decided to invite some of these photographers to join the group as a way of extending the work I’d made with my own projects. My intention was, with the help of other like-minded artists and photographers make an extensive psychological, geographical and cultural investigation into the United States by what I call its “Resident Aliens”. In the ASA (II) blog intro I call it a contemporary photographic exploration into both the psyche of the artist and also a document of the world in which he or she inhabits and the forces acting on both. The group has only been running for just a few months and it already has almost 200 members and close to 3,000 images in it, which is pretty amazing.

When I first opened the group I allowed every photographer who joined to submit three images a day and it did not take long for the submissions to build up quickly. I was suddenly overwhelmed by images which I had to either accept into the group pool or deny. Most I denied, because the group was not open long and it took a while for people to tune into what I was looking for. There were however, a handful of photographers, who took up the challenge with ease and I immediately included these images into the group pool to set both a standard and example of what I was looking for and I began building the pool from there. I also then cut down the submissions to one image a day in a hope of making members consider their submissions more carefully and this has worked well.

I never expected the incredibly positive response to this project in such a short amount of time. In just a few weeks of the group opening, for example, I was contacted by Brian Formhals who runs the excellent photography website La Pura Vida, inviting me to make ASA a regular feature in the form a monthly selection of images made from the group pool and accompanied by a text. After I put together the first of these features I decided to hand it over to the group members, because it was about their experiences of America after all.

My initial intention for the group was to produce, once the group was up and running, a quarterly magazine of some kind, but recently I have also been thinking perhaps a book too. I also have designs on having an ASA exhibition at some point also.

In my experience, Flickr has an amazing photographic community and some incredible photographers have accounts there and are posting some of the most interesting, cutting edge, original and beautiful photography I’ve seen anywhere. In many ways I consider Flickr the front line in photography today. Great things happen there all the time and it’s a wonderful place to collaborate, weather it be part of an exhibit, magazine or book (on-line or in print). The ASA project could never have happened without this incredible and talented network of artists and I am glad to be part of it. Before I discovered Flickr I felt very much like I was working in a vacuum and the only work I had access to was that of established artists presenting polished bodies of work. I’ve since discovered that communities such as Flickr are the raw pool from which many talented photographers find focus and emerge with countless and inspiring projects. It’s a true inspiration.

Altered States of Agoraphobia ASA(II) Blog Flickr Group


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Image detail: Gary Ramage