Writer Aidan Johnston talks to photographer Corey Olsen about growing up in Maine, going to punk shows in the basement,  and blasting Black Sabbath in the car with his dad.(Portrait by Aaron Wynia)

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What’s the best excuse you ever made up?

It could have been “forgetting” to answer this question.

Where do you look at other peoples photos the most?

I look at Instagram the most.

What part of your upbringing has the biggest influence on your photographs?

Growing up in Maine  has been a large influence on my art and what I am interested in. Growing up in a woodsy small town and on an small island on the coast has given me a diverse view.

I moved to Maine when I was 6 from Long Island. I was very happy to live there as a kid. I was in boy scouts for my whole childhood and did a lot of intense hiking and camping  all year round. Like most families in Maine, we had snowmobiles and a small motor boat which was really cool. Do to financial reasons we had to sell them around the time I became a teenager. Also as I got older I became angst and very bored with Maine.

Maine is known as “Vacationland” as stated on the license plates. Most of the people I’ve met outside of Maine who have been there said they were vacationing there and have only gone during the summer to go to a beach or lake house – which is definitely the first version of Maine I would suggest to someone – but is an idealistic narrow perspective of Maine as a whole. A lot of the Maine I knew was a brutal winter which would usually span through Halloween to Easter; and maybe do to Maine being pretty far from most other states, lacking cities, the population being small, spread out, and the least diverse “whitest” state in America, there is a lot ignorance and intolerance to things outside their “norm”, substance abuse, and a lack of job opportunities specifically in the arts.

I think because of Maine being a beautiful place to live but having some issues, there is a great “punk” community in Maine in response to the highs and lows. I spent a lot of time going to basement shows, many of them at a collective called “Thebang(a)rang” in a town/small city called Lewiston. In punk/hardcore music you often can’t understand the lyrics at first but often times when you read them for the first time you’re like “yeah, that’s how they felt!” and they stick with you when you hear the song again.

I think this idea of making music that portrays a particular feeling paired with almost indiscernible vocals has influenced me to try and make pictures that are lyrical yet have a difficult but rewarding surface to fully penetrate. Also my ambivalence for Maine, along with my experiences there versus knowing what most peoples first ideas of Maine are has a significance in my interests of idealism, disappointment, desire, iconography, and wholesomeness within my photography.

Your images are often a blend of people and place, do you find yourself trying to draw connections between the two in your work?

I believe where you grow up has big influence on who you are but doesn’t dictate that.  When I first make a portrait I attempt to  meet people’s expectations of  what their place should look like to them, but later  when the work is finished  it means something different. I try to use my portraits and non-portrait pictures to play off of each other to encourage the viewer to read them like a painting or as fiction to find a further meaning or feeling.
What time in your life do you think ‘those were the days’ about?

Probably between the ages of 9 to 14 years old. When my main concerns were climbing trees, jumps on my bike, catching frogs, drawing aliens on stuff, digging holes, sledding/snowmobiling, blasting Black Sabbath in the car with my dad, video games, smashing then reassembling things, swimming, stuff like that. I love nostalgia but I’m more excited about the future.

Which photographers do you look up to?

I have a lot of friends, peers, and professors I’ve met in the last few years through school and the internet that I look up to but I won’t list them incase I miss someone.

What do you spend your money on?

Student loans and rent.

What everyday skill are you terrible at?

I’m terrible at putting my thoughts into writing

Why are photographers so into basketball nets?

I’m into them because of the of the difference in materiality of the rope net and the orange metal rim. and how they visually age at different rates and have different individual meanings as materials. I’m also into the driveway ones specifically because they can move around, fall, and symbolize suburban life to me. Which sometimes while living out in the woods I wished I had experienced – other than when I visited my cousins in Long Island because of the possibility of community, specifically of kids, because they were in walking distance of many other kids, where as in more rural towns you need to drive to get from house to house.

What do you hope to do more of next year?

I always want to take more pictures and go to more places


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