Photographer Alex Hogan, M.F.A. ’13, spent his time at Illinois State University exploring strange phenomena. He used a Friends of the Arts grant during his first year in the master’s program to delve into UFOs, and in his later years focused on those who search for bigfoot.
Hogan comes from a photography family. His father, Bill, is a photographer for the Chicago Tribune and his brother, Ryan, just graduated from Northern Illinois University after studying photography.
Now that he has graduated, Alex plans to return to his native Chicago this summer, look for teaching work, and get into videography. In June, he talked about his UFO project and why Friends of the Arts grants are important.
Why did you become a photographer?
My dad was a photographer, still is. He gave me a camera when I was in high school, and I just kind of stuck with it. It’s a way to focus my observation and helps me become more aware of my surroundings.
Why did you come to Illinois State University?
I came to Illinois State to study with (Professors) Bill O’Donnell and Jin Lee. They seemed like really nice, helpful people who didn’t have an agenda. I thought I would be able to work with them, and it turned out I was right.
Tell me a little bit about the project for which you received the Friends of the Arts grant and what was the forum for your work?
I had been working, my first year, pretty heavily on aand people who had had experiences. I was very stuck in Illinois, so I had the idea that I wanted to actually go to the spots that are the foundation of our idea for UFO phenomena. Roswell and Area 51 are two places that people go to right away when you think about UFOs. And I had never been out into that area, so I actually wanted to make a trip out there. That was my idea for the project. I wanted to do a road trip for a couple of weeks and go to Roswell in New Mexico and make my way out to Area 51, which is just north of Las Vegas. And so on the way I also stopped in Sedona, Arizona, which is like a current hot spot for UFO activity. And it’s actually like a big tourist area where you can go on UFO hunts, paid UFO hunts. The end product was a small handmade book with the images I made.
Why did you choose UFOs and I know now you are working with—I don’t know if bigfoot is the word you would use—Sasquatch? Why are you choosing these topics?
As I said, photography is like an outlet for me to focus my observation and I guess really think about experience in a more focused way because I’m having to looking at what is going on around me and try to capture life in a frame. Initially my attraction to UFOs, on a basic sort of level, is these are experiences that happened to people that they are then forever trying to grapple with and cannot properly explain to people or translate their experience. I thought it was an interesting challenge for me as a photographer then to try to represent these people’s experiences through a medium that is thought to be objective and truthful—a medium that is thought to convey true experience. As I was working on it, it became more apparent that a photograph cannot translate someone’s pure experience. It translates something else. But it is hard to say.
That was sort of the conceptual background to my interest in strange phenomena. But growing up I had always been interested in UFOs and ETs. My favorite movie growing up was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s an amazing film. When I started finding and seeking out people, I was so interested in the idea of wonder, the dream of wanting to connect with something more intelligent than us that a movie like Close Encounters of the Third Kind represents and how that is contrasted when you actually meet somebody who has had a truly life-changing experience. It is more or less troubling. It’s not filled with wonder and awe like that movie promoted. It is something that really affects people in a deep way and sometimes negatively.
Why do you think the Friends of the Art grants are important?
I think it’s great to have a group focused just on our school and trying to give money for great projects. And keeping it to ISU is really a great thing.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m still working on a project about bigfoot phenomena. That’s kind of been my focus. I transitioned from UFOs to bigfoot. I guess the bigfoot thing resonated with me because it got me into the woods more often, which has always been a place I’ve liked to spend a lot of time.