An Interview with Brian Allen

Brian Allen is an exhibiting artist in PCNW’s 23rd annual juried exhibition, curated by Kris Graves.

Wallingford Fence – 2, from the series “Small Data Project,” 2019/20
Archival pigment print
Digital capture (trail camera with motion detector)
Please contact Erin Spencer at with questions or to purchase.

Tell us about yourself, where you’re from, and when you first discovered your love of photography.

I’m celebrating my 50th year of being involved with photography. I was doing silk screening in high school, and I was inspired to learn photography so that I could do photo silk screening. I guess I still haven’t figured out photography, because I never got back to photo silk screening. 

Tell us about the work that was selected to be included in Distinction by Kris Graves.

If you are wondering why the juror chose rats this year, it is because I only submitted rats. I’m tired of “cute” animals getting all the attention. And the way the rats hold their tails surprised and entertained me. It is a happy coincidence that I finished this group in the Year of the Rat.

Is the selected work part of a larger body of work?

Yes. People talk a lot about “big data” these days, but I am more interested in “small data” that I generate myself and arrange. I often experiment with repeat photographs from my immediate surroundings. I don’t expect to create a narrative with my photos; in fact, I mistrust narratives. But I am looking for patterns.

These photos were taken with a “trail camera”, which has a motion detector, and the ability to photograph at night with infrared light. Hunters and wildlife biologists use them a lot. Usually, my camera took a burst of 3 photos at a time. The camera was fixed to our rear porch and pointed at the fence next to our neighbor’s house. In 5 months, I got about 2500 photos from that identical vantage point.

Most of the photos are empty because the camera is slow to react. To slow the animals down, I added a hurdle, which helps, but does not solve the problem. I sort the photos by animal and position, using keywords, and print the photos in chronological order. Viewers may remember an earlier grid of mine, shown in the 21st Juried Exhibition, which featured raccoons. 

Who / what are your biggest influences?

I have had many influences on this project, including Eadweard Muybridge, Marion Faller & Hollis Frampton, John Baldessari, the Rephotographic Survey Project, Frank Gohlke, Mike Mandel, and my mom, Ann Allen, who taught junior high science.

Are you making work in response to the current pandemic?

I’m continuing with this project, which has always been home based. Now that we are all hunkering down, I guess the meaning of the project has changed, but I’m slow to react to current events. For what it is worth, I think I am still dealing with issues of “Big Data”.

PCNW’s annual juried call for entry provides exhibition opportunities for artists and directly supports our programs, scholarships, and labs at PCNW. This helps ensure access to photography for many future generations of creatives. We know you have many options for submitting your work, so please tell us why you chose PCNW? What are your thoughts and experience with submitting your work to different calls?

I prefer shows that are curated around a theme rather than juried. Among juried shows, I prefer ones that show two or three pieces from each artist (otherwise, it is such a jumble of styles and ideas). But since I’m associated with PCNW, and some people already know my work, I’m sometimes OK with just having one piece shown.

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