Summer may be winding down, but these hot and humid days I’ve grown accustomed to will surely last till at least early October. Summer’s never long enough, it seems, to get everything you want to do. The longer daylight hours for making pictures is truncated a little more each day. I think it’s important to bottle up those hours and save them for a grey winter day. While working on my larger projects this summer, a small 35mm camera has never been far out of my reach. It’s a practice I’ve never really tried until last year, but even then I was frustrated at its size for my large frame, tiny viewfinder, and cutting those minute negatives after processing. I’d always end up cutting into a frame. Maybe I’ve gotten better at it this summer. With my camera almost always accompanying me, these images were taken through the course of late May through just last week, the first week of September. It’s a mode of working I haven’t worked with extensively since my freshman year of college and I have a feeling it might make a comeback.
It sat in my top drawer in my bedroom for a few years. A roll of 800 ISO Fuji Superia 24-exposure 35mm film. It sat in a box with a few coins in it, it sat in a box to through half of high school and all of college and sat in a moving box and later a drawer in a closet used for storage. And there it sat. Searching for some 35mm negative sleeves, I found this roll of film with the leader sticking out, thinking it unused. So I shot it. I took my film to a locally-owned film processors’/dry cleaners’ in town and when I got the film back, “Double Exposed” was written on the outside sleeve, containing the 4″ x 6″ glossy prints.
And double exposed it was. Every 24 frames were exposed nearly directly on top of each other. The two pictures in one frame are separated by six years. I took these pictures back in 2006, I believe. Or maybe 2005. I don’t recall what’s happening in them, why I was taking them and the fact that pictures I took a week ago sit on top of them, make the reasons harder to uncover. I was astounded for a number of reasons. Not just in how some of the pictures directly correlate like the two cameras or the ever-present self portrait in a reflected object, but in the separation of themselves by time. Time is of course a major factor in photography, but, more importantly (especially in film photography) there’s luck. It’s true I wanted some of the recent pictures on this roll to turn out, but the gift I was given in forgetting outweighed the expected; the luck of happenstance made me appreciate the act of photographing even more. It got me to notice how my vision was and still is evolving, yet my mind’s eye hasn’t changed much in six or seven years and may not ever. That, I think, is innate.
I don’t know how I got away with it. Carrying that little Canon AE-1 camera around during high school — which I got at the flea market. Much like today when I go photographing, I think most of my peers and teachers wrote it off as just me doing my thing and let me about my way. There’s some pictures I could see me taking now, beneath the expected and posed ones. There’s some pictures where I don’t know what is happening, or who I was photographing at the time, where I’m at, or what season it is. I’m even fuzzy on the exact year. Why was I photographing at the time? Why was I doing it last week? Because we have to.
This unexpected lesson in the traits of photography as a medium, what it represents, got me thinking about its importance in regards to memory. Since some aspects of photography are memories, what happens when we don’t remember them? I’m slightly nostalgic, but it’s in a dense fog of layers, transposed with current images, their reasons, and reasons I took pictures six or seven years ago. I like to remember, but I can’t with these. What does this nostalgia mean? This grey area is very enticing.
I had been familiar with Sean Litchfield’s work for a little while. It was when I saw the above image, I became enamored with his pictures and began to discover more of what his mind’s eye was saying. Sean’s strengths lie in photographing the suburban landscape, as well as the cities in which they’re a part. His work regarding the suburbs has been solidified in a body of work called The Tragic and Picturesque American Suburb. He’s been working on it for a while and after having time to live in one of those suburbs, I really began to understand his intentions. He depicts an overstuffed and overflowing American dream strictly for the 21st century that appears cautionary and bit humorous. Sean’s humor is also seen in the every day with thought to classical composition and drama in color in mind. I was glad to have had a talk with Sean about all this.
Empty Stretch: Age/current location/Three favorite activities:
Sean Litchfield: 24/Boston. I like riding my bike, thrifting and eating at diners.
ES: In your series, The Tragic and Picturesque American Suburb, your images are taken a lot in South Carolina. Do you see the American South as a face of a larger, changing America? Is this a theme you’re particularly drawn to?
SL: With that project, Zachary Violette, who, I might add is also my boyfriend of almost 3 years and a brilliant architectural historian, and I knew we wanted to work on a project together in the South. It’s an area we knew about but never really had a chance to explore. I had visited my parents several times a year since 2007 after they moved there and never thought too deeply about it. It was a huge unfamiliar place with very good barbecue. So we gave ourselves a week at first to just drive around and take it all in. It wasn’t until the 2nd trip down there where the idea came to him. I was just making pictures of things I saw interesting at that point, which was quite hard to do not because there was nothing interesting to photograph, but because I didn’t have any slightest idea of a concept but Zach assured me that it would come after the pictures were made, and it did. I was seeing things almost subconsciously. I was looking for something that I was unaware of. And back to your original question, I do see it as a face of changing America. It’s always changing down there. Nearly everything is new and none of it is built to last very long. It’s a type of place that’s completely new to this country and likely the entire world.
ES: How is your book project regarding your series The Tragic and Picturesque American Suburb progressing?
SL: Well, I’m pretty happy with the edit I have for the project. Zach has a lot on his plate right now. He’s working on his dissertation for his PhD and may be writing another book, too. It will happen soon. I’m not sure when but we don’t want to rush anything. There will be a big announcement when it’s nearing completion!
ES: As someone who balances their time between New England and the Southeastern United States, which part of the country is your favorite to take pictures? Do you feel living in each area influences how you approach the other?
SL: That’s tough. My heart is in New England because I’ve lived here for my entire life. The South is new to me which makes it a very exciting place to photograph. Since I’ve learned everything I know about photography up here, it strongly influences how I make pictures down there. I work on my feet up here. All of my projects, with the exception of TPAS, were made by walking around. It was incredibly difficult to be in a place where you need a car to get around. It completely changed how I think about composition and I’m sure I’ve missed dozens of opportunities for great pictures by driving but there’s simply no way around it. I kept thinking, “Is this worth stopping, putting the car in park, unbuckling my seatbelt, retrieving my camera from the back seat, opening the door, getting out and trying to remember what it was exactly I stopped for in the first place.” Rather than when I’m on my feet and my camera is slung on my shoulder and I can very easily make the picture I want. Working in both places has taught me how to make pictures in near complete opposite situations and I can start to see them blend together now.
ES: Do you find any common ground between commercial and personal work? Or, do you see these as separate entities?
SL: I think of everything as personal work, even if it’s something I’m not super excited to be doing. I always want to be making the pictures that I want to make and sometimes that means doing something different than what the client wants while still making sure I get what they want, too.
ES: Are you influenced more by painting rather than photography? How so?
SL: With TPAS, I didn’t have much to go off. I didn’t want to clutter my brain too much with photographer’s work who shot a lot in the suburbs. I wanted to make pictures that were my own. So I turned to Hudson River School paintings for inspiration. Breaking them down in to different elements helped me see the landscape down South in a similar way. It’s all there, you really just need to dig for it. With my other work, I keep a constant flow of new/old/iconic/camera phone work coming in for inspiration. There’s so much great work being made right now and you can’t stay in your own bubble too much.
ES: How do you feel color is important in your photography?
SL: Color is just as important as light and composition. A good composition means nothing without strong color to go along with it. It’s often the color in a scene that triggers something in my brain to reach for the camera and that becomes the predominant part of the image.
ES: I’ve noticed you’re blogging a lot of interesting portraiture you’ve taken. Do you feel a series of these pictures evolving or another body of work in progress?
SL: Portraiture is something that has always been, I’ll say, a “side dish” in my work. I’ve always been much more drawn to the place rather than the people in it (one says a lot about the other). I’ve gained much more confidence in approaching strangers and asking to photograph them. It’s becoming a lot like how I approach landscape work. I see something interesting and I photograph it. Now, I’ll see an interesting person and photograph them. It’s something I was never looking for and now that I am, it makes photographing that much more exciting.
ES: If you could change careers, what would you be?
SL: That’s hard. I can’t even picture myself doing anything else. It would have to be art related. I often think, “If I were to become blind what would I be doing?” Sculpture seems like a good option. I like making things with my hands and sculpting would allow me to still make art that I can feel.
Thanks, Sean! Connect with more of his work on his website, blog, and Flickr. Make sure also to support his and Zach’s book project, The Tragic and Picturesque American Suburb, by buying prints and joining his mailing list.
I’ve been fortunate enough to keep tabs on Andrew Marino through his Flickr site for quite sometime. His pictures not only bring back some fond memories and scenes of my home state of North Carolina, but show me a side of the state I don’t get to see too much. But he doesn’t stop there. There’s something beautifully hidden about what Andrew is showing us, moments caught in time that’s not specifically reliant on a place like NC, but in his own aesthetic wherever he travels, back to his native New York or anywhere in between. Andrew and I have struck up a dialogue regarding his work.
Empty Stretch: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Andrew Marino: My name is Andrew, 23 years old, born and raised on Long Island, New York. Currently residing and working between Raleigh and Greensboro, North Carolina. A few things I enjoy are good beer, web design, beekeeping, and entrepreneurship in the arts. You could call me more of a collaborator than anything. Nothing is better than making something awesome with your friends
ES: How did you get in to photography?
AM: I feel like it was significantly rooted in moving to North Carolina from New York in the summer of 2004. I got my first 35mm shortly after I arrived here, and I found it to be a positive way to cope and adjust with my new surroundings. Since then I had dabbled between shooting with both film and digital cameras, photographing the house shows my friends hardcore and noise bands played, and messing around with some abstract shooting. This was on and off though. I hit a lot of dry spells.
I purchased my friend’s Hasselblad a year ago, and I started taking things more seriously. Medium format was a refreshing change of pace at the time and having to learn everything manually, how to meter, how to scan negatives – all those challenges became really engaging. I don’t have a formal background in photography, but Flickr has been a really great community to share your work and get feedback. The past year or so I’ve been making an effort to connect with others and forming friendships from it.
ES: Why do we keep using film?
AM: Good question. For many of us, it’s a preference of aesthetics. It’s a process that requires patience, something that’s quickly fading away in today’s high-speed digital world. I’m glad to see people still taking the time to shoot film. Perhaps it’s similar to the renaissance happening with vinyl records, where you appreciate a tangible object instead of the same thing in digital form. There’s no right or wrong really.
ES: I noticed on your Flickr stream, your photos float in and out of North Carolina and New York. What are the biggest challenges and successes about shooting in each setting?
AM: North Carolina is a lot more spread out than New York, and that was kind of hard to get used to after the denser areas I grew up with. Despite this, there is so much in between the cracks to explore. Lately I’ve been checking out the rural landscapes of Chatham and Alamance counties, getting lost on the old state highways and stumbling upon the remnants of the older traditional life. It’s just damn beautiful out there and it took me long enough to finally appreciate it.
Funny story… when I was taking that shot of the foggy home in Chatham County, I misjudged the shoulder I had parked my car on and ended up getting stuck in the mud all alone in the middle of no where. There must have been at least 10 people passing through in the span of a couple of hours that stopped and asked if I needed any help. A gentleman in his pickup was generous enough to haul me out and wouldn’t accept a donation as a thank you. I didn’t think to snap a portrait of him at the time because I was absolutely stunned at the hospitality Southern folks have for complete strangers. If this had happened on the side of the Long Island Expressway, no one would even think twice to stop.
Each visit to New York puts a small dent in the amount of things and areas I want to photograph. It’s important to really keep tabs on your equipment at all times. Things can get lost or stolen if you aren’t careful. On the upside, there’s so many great people to meet and work with. There’s really a great variety of places to shoot at. Outside of the city, I really enjoy going back to the coastal life of eastern LI, and upstate holds a lot of natural beauty.
ES: In what ways have you noticed the changing social landscape of the South, specifically in North Carolina?
AM: I haven’t spent hardly enough time with the rest of the American South, so it would be difficult to answer for it as a whole. Something I have noticed are great strides in the arts community around North Carolina. My friend Tristin Miller has curated a wonderful annual gathering called the Hand-to-Hand Market out in Greensboro, NC. Beyond local artists showcasing their work, it has a nice variety of workshops and educational talks. The philosophy behind the whole thing really reaches out by connecting on a deeper level with one another and I’d love to see this sort of thing spread to more places. This year it’s on May 20th at The Blind Tiger in Greensboro, NC – go check it out!
ES: Does it take a special eye to see the square format image?
AM: The square format image not take a special eye necessarily, but it sure does require a different approach than other formats in order to be used effectively. The confines of 6×6 medium format photography makes you slow down and compose your shot more carefully. It also makes you pick and choose your shots differently. The thing I appreciate most is the symmetry and balance that the square image can offer.
ES: Do you feel as though music fuels your photography or vice versa?
AM: Absolutely, photography and music (sound in general), go hand in hand in both ways with my experiences. While each can stand its own ground just fine, they can compliment each other by filling in the gaps with other senses. My collaborative work with Andrew Weathers, and the record label Full Spectrum that we run together, are my main outlets that merge sound and image. We generate a lot of creative energy and there’s a great deal of inspiration through the artists we work with and feature.
The minimalist and ambient nature of some of the music I enjoy listening to influences my work to a significant degree. Albums such as ‘October Language’ by Belong, or ‘And Their Refinement Of The Decline’ by Stars of the Lid are two good examples. While they are beatless, have no lyrics, and are sparse at times, they can create vivid imagery and rich atmospheres. It’s kind of hard to describe it in words. I never really provide much more than a title, if at all, or a caption with a location. These songs, like the images, are really meant to speak for themselves and for the audience to interpret their messages.
ES: Where is your photography going this year?
AM: This year I have a few trips and projects in the works. I’m heading out to San Francisco & Oakland in May. I’ll also be spending some time in New York, and of course more Carolina explorations. Wherever I end up this year, I’ll be sure to bring my cameras along for the ride. Andrew Weathers and I are currently working on a book titled We Don’t Get Sun Like This. It consists of Andrew’s music, and some photograph pairs of ours. It should be ready sometime this summer.
Thank you for spending a few minutes with me.