Jani Zubkovs is a Brooklyn-based photographer and touring musician, recording and performing with the progressive post-rock band, Caspian. The continual work-life balance between both music and visual arts influence his photography, which most often focuses on subject matter from his time spent traveling around the world. A selection of this body of work was first exhibited at Mingo Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts. PLAYGROUND DETROIT has invited Zubkovs to Detroit where he will continue his photography series and present another installation of his solo exhibition, THIS IS NOT A DARK RIDE, opening September 8th, 2015 at The Playground.

Zubkovs explains,

“This series is a collection of images that recount the passing of time and celebrate the moments sometimes too quiet to recognize. The American landscape is constantly changing, but these places, often old and decrepit, contain memories from decades of life. With the fading of these memories also comes the fading of the American landscape as we know it. By giving these places a face and a name, I hope to give passersby a reason to pause and admire their place in the world.”

PLAYGROUND DETROIT spoke with our artist-in-residence about his work, process and travels.

Where are you from?

I’m from Huntington, NY, which is about 30 miles east of New York City. Growing up in such close proximity, I was always taking trips into the city. When I was younger, I would sneak in on the train to catch punk shows on the Bowery, and as I got older, my affinity had grown and it seemed like the natural progression. I got my first apartment in Williamsburg in 2006, and I’ve been hanging around town ever since.

How often do you travel? 

As a touring musician and someone with a serious travel bug, I’m out of town for most of the year. Given the chance to see the country numerous times over is what led me to develop the theme for my most recent body of work, This Is Not A Dark Ride. It became a natural companion to the work I was doing on the road as a musician; documenting the beauty and banality of the many places I’ve seen in my travels. What began as something to work on during long hours in the van now leads me to travel when I’m not touring. For example, two of the pieces in the exhibition are from a recent solo mission down the west coast, stretching from Seattle to San Jose.

Lost Hills, California 2013

When was the first time you visited Detroit?

I’ve played in Detroit many times over the past decade, but I was able to really explore and grow a fondness for the city during a two week trip taken a little over a year ago. What struck me on that trip was the love for the city its inhabitants had, as well as a resolve to restore the city back to its glory. That love for Detroit and the state of Michigan is evident in many aspects of the culture, be it shirts printed at a local press for a business, or potatoes grown in someone’s backyard for a restaurant. I’m really looking forward to spending more time in the city and getting to know its inhabitants. And doing Slow Roll!

How do you balance your music and photography as an artist?

I’ve spent much of my life as a touring musician, and that has influenced all of the photographic work I’ve made over the past years as well. I try to keep a healthy blend of the two, rather than choosing one over the other. While it has it’s pros and cons, it keeps me excited about both aspects of my creativity. This will be my second solo exhibition of the year, but I also have a new record coming out at the end of September… Keeping the balance and keeping busy keeps me sane to some degree.

What inspires you?

“I think I’m most inspired by memory and nostalgia. There is that pang in your stomach when something strikes a chord in your nostalgia bone, and I hope to create these feelings through my photography as well as my music.”

Looking at some of my images, the viewer might think to themself, “I know this place, I’ve been here before”, but when they look at the title, they quickly realize that it might be in a place they have never thought about visiting. It’s almost a manufactured version of nostalgia, created by the experience of viewing photographs.

Who are influential artists in your life?
The artist that really got me excited and shifted my artistic direction was the photographer Richard Renaldi. I was lucky enough to be loaned a copy of his monograph, “Figure & Ground” by a college professor, and it completely blew me away. From that moment, I began moving in the direction that led me to the place creatively I am today.

What about your creative process have you found to be the most successful for you?

I found that slowing down and taking my time with my subject matter has really changed the way I take photographs. I always shoot on a tripod with a shutter release so I can compose carefully.

Can you pick one piece of work that you would consider your favorite?

That actually changes from time to time, or maybe just depending on my mood. I’m usually the most excited about recent work, so with that in mind I’m going to say my favorite is “Orick, California, 2015” [image below]. It’s also attached to a really nice memory… I shot that very early in the morning at breakfast before venturing into Redwood National Park.

Orick, California 2015

What is the concept behind the show you are installing at The Playground?

The show I’ll be installing at The Playground is a continuation of my series, and every aspect of the exhibition is extremely personal to me. The printed images are painstakingly created, but even the frames are made of wood that I picked, cut, and finished myself. In my last exhibition I created an installation of a Midwestern living room in the 1970’s, complete with wood paneling on the walls, loosely based on my travels. I’m planning on creating something similar for The Playground but with a Michigan twist.

Do you have more projects and shows on the horizon for you?

I have some serious touring plans coming up, so I’ll be continuing with my current project. I’m in the midst of pitching the exhibition to a few other cities, so we’ll see what becomes of that!

What are challenges for you as an artist?

The biggest challenge for me is the ability to keep a nice, comfortable place to come home to. Since I travel so often, it’s nice to know that a really nice bed is on the horizon.

Describe what you imagine Detroit to be in 10 years.

I imagine Detroit becoming a new cultural destination in the United States. It has all the attributes including a strong artistic identity – space, enthusiastic locals, and a creative mystique.


The Playground presents Jani Zubkovs September 8