An Interview with Kenneth Shevlin

Meet Kenneth Shevlin: artist, former commercial photographer and participant in Dickerman Prints' artist-in-residence program.

Kenneth's unique and varied photographic works range from the surreal to the hyper-real. His Places In-Between | New Landscapes series emulates the style of 19th century impressionism using a homemade pinhole camera. Meanwhile, My Space takes an intimate look into that most personal room in our home: the bedroom.

Recently, Kenneth was kind enough to spend some time chatting about his photography and career. Here is that interview...

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DP: What does photography mean to you?

Photography is a complicated subject for me. In a day and age when everyone has a camera in their pocket and the ability to broadcast every moment of their lives, I find the amount of images I encounter on a daily basis overwhelming. The over saturation of imagery in the world maybe even threatens the medium of photography to be taken seriously. As far back as 1977 Susan Sontag had already written in her book, On Photography, that - 

Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing—which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

Photographers today seems to relish the idea that “there’s an app for that…” or “Don’t worry about it, I can change it in post…” Expediency and convenience seems to be king in the medium, robbing it of a kind of specialness. I’ve always loved photography and the potential for it’s meditative process in making art.

I think that’s why photographers like Ellen Susan and Sally Mann use the 19th century collodion process. Aside from the unique images that are created through this process, I imagine the cumbersomeness of that process slows them down and helps them more deeply engage with their subjects.

Photography is a complicated medium that skirts the line between a means of art making and a mechanical reproduction process - (Think Walter Benjamin). So what does photography mean to me, or rather why am I a photographer? I like the process of using a camera as an investigative tool and hopefully uncovering new ways of seeing and interpreting the world. That and I can’t paint!


You have spent most of your career as a commercial photographer. How does that work differ from your passion projects?

To clarify, I only spent a relatively small amount of time as a commercial photographer in the early to mid 1990’s … and most of that time was spent as a first assistant to a very successful commercial photographer here in San Francisco. He specialized in fashion and table top. It’s safe to say that experience killed most of my interest in commercial photography and almost killed my interest in photography in general. After quitting my assisting job and any commercial photography pursuits, I didn’t really pick up a camera again until 2010.


To answer the second part of your question, although quite a stretch in time, the way my photography differs now from before has everything to do with having gone to college and studying art history and conceptual art practice. Art history taught me how to think about art aesthetically and how to appreciate art and its trajectory in a social and historical context.

The conceptual art practice part taught me how to challenge conventional thinking around materials and what art could actually be outside of mainstream interpretation. The experience taught me to think about the “why” and “what" when considering what I was doing. I think without that experience I probably would never have come back to photography… up until then it had seemed so devoid of meaning for me… other than a way to promote products.


Can you describe the idea and inspiration behind your My Space project?

The My Space project came about in late 2014 while recalling my childhood. I had these memories of hearing nightly muffled interactions between my parents through our shared bedroom wall. Usually devoid of any discernible content because of the wall separating us, my parents bedroom became a mysterious place where private things were spoken about, done, and kept hidden away.

Being left alone quite a bit as a child, I would enter their bedroom as a kind of anthropologist any chance I got. I would search through their drawers and closet trying to find clues as to what was going on in that room during those nights. I came across allot of things I shouldn't have: A gun, war medals, pornography, money, cigarettes… It was both fascinating and frightening to me that my parents were one thing on the outside and two complete strangers to me when inhabiting their bedroom. So it got me thinking about the bedroom as unique space, the things we do in that space and the artifacts we keep there. So as a subject, photographing bedrooms seemed it could make an interesting series.

I’m still working out how best to present the spaces in terms of the amount of room to photograph and composition. Once I figure out what seems to work best, I plan on doing as many rooms as possible for a future show and maybe even try to self-publish a coffee table book of the images.


If you could photograph the “spaces” of any five people – living or not – who would they be and why?

I’m not sure. It’s the same issue I have with “if you were marooned on a desert island, what album would you want to bring with you?”  

I’ve found every room I’ve photographed so far to be fascinating in some respect.  I go into every environment excited by the challenge of how to compose the photograph and how to light it.  What I find fascinating are the participants reactions after seeing the completed shot of their bedroom. It ranges from them really liking the photo to feeling it looks like some kind of forensic crime scene … filling them with a kind of dread … I guess I couldn’t ask for a better reaction!


Your landscape series attempts to emulate the look and feel of 19th century impressionism, what draws you to that particular art style?

For this body of work, the impressionistic look is a result of having used a pinhole camera. I felt the landscapes needed a particular visual style in order to explore the idea I was having about them. Namely, rapidly diminishing open spaces resulting from resource extraction and the expediency of wholesale development.

I felt Impressionism as a recognizable style was both in concept and technique best suited to the look I was trying to achieve. In this approach I’m trying to blend the scene, allowing light and natural forms to subsume the disfigurement caused by human imposition. My hope for these images is that they create an abstracted landscape existing somewhere between the literal and the imagined, encouraging contemplation around more thoughtful use of these spaces and the need for their conservation.


You developed your own pinhole lens for full frame digital cameras. Can you talk a bit about how you made it and how you use it?


There was a lot of trial and error getting the pinhole lens configuration to work correctly. Lots of gluing, drilling, step up rings, ND filters …etc. Even with the final lens configuration, it’s still a very hit or miss process trying to capture the image when shooting, but I love the process.

One of my favorite parts of being an artist is experimentation. I think most good ideas come from the “happy accident” when trying to solve creative problems. Recently I bought a new camera body from a different manufacturer … now I have to make the lens all over again!


You recently returned from a long photographic trip along the Northwest coast of America and Canada. Could you share a few of your favorite stories and photos from the adventure?

Indeed I did…last summer. It was an amazing trip. I try and get out onto the road each summer for a month to recharge and do the landscape work. It’s also a time I like to think about new photo projects. This trip though, I did more thinking than photographing.

My hope this last trip was to focus on the West Coast. Photographing the sea and the surrounding area from the tip of Washington State down back into California. Unfortunately with the strange weather - El Nino and The Blob (large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean) most of the trip the entire coast was blanketed in fog.

So short of a meditation on the color grey through photography, I opted to do a bunch of reading on photography and exploring coastal towns. Many of those towns relying on tourism (now that logging is mostly gone) reminded me of something out of a David Lynch film …. scenes of desperation mixed with anxiety, fear and secrets. Could be another body of work!


On your Web site, you claim to have “no interest in whether analog photography is better than digital.” This begs the question, “why not?” Also, which do you prefer and why?

Well I’ve since removed that from the web site as I am not sure how much it added. But to clarify… My relationship to photography has always been a bit frustrated by the tension of its need for supposed precision, science and loyalty to purism and tradition. That and there’s a certain machismo around “gear” and the medium as if it were a kind of sport. It’s a real turn off and ultimately has no real bearing on the making of meaningful images.

It seems, unlike in other art forms, there’s this perceived notion that photography has a set of rules that need to be followed: One must use the correct shutter speed and exposure. There’s a particular lens or manufacturer that’s better than another. Adherence to “classical” composition is mandatory for a proper photograph. Lighting ratios … needing to follow development chemistry exactly (mostly during the days when I worked in the darkroom)… Pro vs Prosumer… A full size sensor is better than a cropped. It goes on an on. As far as I’m concerned these divisions are meaningless and do nothing to further photography as an expressive art form. Mostly it seems to relegate the camera’s use to an elite class of technicians working within a set of confining parameters.

With the development of digital photography there were the arguments between the purists and early adopters about how analog was better than digital…. how film had more fidelity or dynamic range or resolution. In the meantime most of these detractors were still doing the same stultifying work they’d always done. I don’t know… maybe the same arguments went on between those early photographers doing daguerreotype, ambrotypes and tintypes. Ultimately it all just seems like a bunch of noise.

I realize in the stridency of my response I should probably differentiate between my impressions of commercial photography and art photography. My experience working in commercial photography taught me it was important to represent the product or brand idyllically (realistically?) at any cost - regardless of the inherent falseness of the final “hero image”. This most of the time required manufacturing shots by using professional models wearing tailored clothing or in he case of table top … glycerin and water to emulate water droplets on a beer bottle. In these instances maybe it does call for a kind of science, being there is a need for consistency and repeatability.

On the other hand, with art photography (my opinion), it’s not always just about the final image, but the creative process of working towards the desired idea independent of the accepted means and conventions of getting there. More of a free and exploratory process of trying to create something unique in look, texture and feel ….something one of a kind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the reluctant say, “I’m not a good photographer … I don't know how to use a camera” …. It’s hard to imagine the individual(s) who did the cave paintings at Lascaux having such an ingrained notion of proper technique and skill!

So as to which do I prefer… analog or digital photography? Neither … they’re both great. I do more digital photography as it affords me the opportunity to experiment economically.

What projects are you working on during your residency at Dickerman Prints?

For the residency at Dickerman Prints, I will mostly be working on the pinhole landscape series. I did however work with Seth for one session on a “My Space” photo… discussing how I might do some adjustments to the image before printing. If time permits I’d like to work with Seth and print more from that series before the end of the residency. 

What advice do you have to those among us who dream of following their passion and turning photography into a career choice?

If you're talking about advice on how to become a commercial photographer as a career choice …. do NOT spend $100,000 to go to a art school to become a commercial photographer. Find the commercial photographer who’s work you admire and figure out a way to assist with them. You’ll learn more about technique and business that way than all the classes you could ever take at the Pasadena Art Center.

If you want to follow your passion as an art photographer …. get a skill … wait … get a few skills that you can use to make a living while pursuing your vision and personal style. Don’t be afraid to break rules. Create projects for yourself and figure how to bring them to fruition. Figure out what your work is about and why you’re doing it … it will help as a guide in realizing the look, feel and content of what you’re exploring.

Finally try and get into a residency program like the one offered at Dickerman’s. The ability of being able to work with an artist and master printer like Seth would be invaluable in helping you to get closer to whatever vision your trying to achieve.


To meet Kenneth and experience his pinhole landscape series, be sure to stop by opening night of The Residents: Volume III - Friday, December 4, 6-9pm at Dickerman Prints Gallery - 1141 Howard Street, San Francisco.

8 Questions with Preston Gannaway - a Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer

As an independent documentary photographer and filmmaker, Preston Gannaway focuses on intimate stories about American families and subcultures. Her story on the St. Pierre family, Remember Me, was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. 

As a participant in the Dickerman Prints Artist-in-Residence program, Preston completed a new series of photographic prints from her Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea project. We recently sat down to chat with Preston about her life and career, as she prepares for the upcoming The Residents: Volume III event.


Bathing, by Preston Gannaway

DP: What does photography mean to you?

PG: Photography for me personally is a language, a creative outlet, a way to affect social change, a livelihood, a shared human connection, a reminder of beauty, a way to understand the world. It’s so many things.

. . .

You spent years working in the newspaper industry before moving on to freelance work and passion projects. Can you speak a bit to that transition?

Twins, by Preston Gannaway

I was frustrated with the newsroom barriers I hit while trying to do work I felt was important. I realized that too often my goals were at odds with the newspaper’s goals; it seemed like the right time to leave. My partner got a job in San Francisco so we decided to move West and and for me to give freelancing a try.

A lot of the work I do is still the same, most of my clients are newspapers and magazines. But I have so much more Flexibility to choose how I spend my time. Almost three years later, I miss the paycheck but I can’t imagine going back. Ultimately, I don’t want anyone else to be able to claim ownership over my work.

. . . 

Your work focuses on documentary photography; specifically, intimate stories about American families and subcultures. How did you become drawn to this genre of photography?

I think I grew up always feeling like an outsider. I suppose many of us did. Because of that, I’ve always been drawn to people who operate outside of the mainstream. Even as a child I felt that way, so it was a natural thing to be drawn to in my work life as well. In terms of the intimate work, I was lucky to be trained by a photo editor I had at the Concord Monitor named Dan Habib when I was first starting out. Getting photographs of intimate moments was a job requirement. And then I saw how effective it could be.

. . .

To create such intimate portraits, you must spend a lot of time with the families you photograph. How do you choose your subjects and develop these relationships?

Sledding, by Preston Gannaway

Relationships are crucial to my work but they can be built over a span of minutes or years. Being genuine and honest is a big part of it.

I find if I’m comfortable with myself and what I’m doing, it helps put people at ease. I try to be non-threatening and unassuming. I don’t carry a lot of gear with me. That said, some people are open to being documented and some aren’t, it’s important to spot the difference. I try not to push people.

. . .

Can you tell us one of your favorite stories from your career?

I got to spend a day with President Obama while he was still a senator campaigning for the New Hampshire presidential primary. He was very personable, as was his staff. It was one of those days on the job that was filled with seemingly insignificant details that I’ll hold as cherished memories for a lifetime.

. . .

What projects are you working on during your residency at Dickerman Prints?

I recently published a book on my project, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. During my Dickerman residency, I’m focusing on creating an exhibition of the work. I’m really happy to have this opportunity.

. . .

Watermelon, by Preston Gannaway

Winning the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography is an incredible accomplishment. Congratulations! How did that come about? What was the process like?

Thank you! Yes, it was an amazing honor. From 2006 to 2008, reporter Chelsea Conaboy and I documented a family as they dealt with the mother’s terminal cancer. We following Rich and Carolynne St. Pierre, and their children, through her sickness and during the grieving process.

The award was for that photo story. I submitted it for consideration. Though I must admit, I was in total shock and disbelief when I heard it won. Rich came with me to the newsroom as the news was made public. He also attended the ceremony at Columbia University in New York with me. We’re close friends now and I’m still documenting the family today.

. . .

What advice do you have to those among us who dream of following their passion and turning fine art photography into a career choice?

Oysters, by Preston Gannaway

What advice do you have to those among us who dream of following their passion and turning fine art photography into a career choice?

I’m still trying to Figure out if fine art photography can become part of my career! I mean, at least from a business standpoint. I’m grateful to have editorial photography help pay the bills. But one of the things I’ve learned recently is how beneficial it is to connect with people one-on-one. It’s really tough to make those connections from a cold call. I’m a big proponent of portfolio reviews as a way to get your work in front of someone you’d like to work with.

. . 

Thanks so much!

Thank you! And thanks again to everyone at Dickerman Prints for supporting this project! 

Plankers, by Preston Gannaway

To meet Preston and see her latest work from Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, be sure to stop by opening night of The Residents: Volume III - Friday, December 4, 6-9pm at Dickerman Prints Gallery - 1141 Howard Street, San Francisco.

Click here to learn more or to RSVP


Jason Hanasik’s Portraiture Projects

We first discovered Jason Hanasik’s work through his submissions to our recent exhibition at the lab, “The Americans 2013.”His portraits of youth NJROTC participant Sharrod have a pensive, authentic feel to them, and we were interested in learning more about his process.

Take a look at our interview below to learn more about his project with Sharrod, “I slowly watched him disappear,” and other works in “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore” and “My father (and other men).”

Kim Sikora: How did you first become connected with Sharrod as a subject? What inspired this project?

Jason Hanasik: During my first semester of graduate school, I started a project that would become my thesis work called “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore.” By the end of my first semester, I realized that I was working with and on a larger idea about the evolution and devolving of the military body. So, when my father asked me what I wanted to do during my winter break, I told him that I’d love to meet someone who was going through the same NJROTC program that some of the men in my project had also gone through. To my surprise, he said that a coworker of his had a son who was at my alma mater and was just starting NJROTC.

I met Sharrod and his mother Angie a few days later and made the first few images for what is now known as “I slowly watched him disappear.” Sharrod (balcony) is actually the first image I ever made of Sharrod.

KS: What changes have you seen as your project progressed?

JH: When Sharrod and I first started working together he was shy. As we found our groove, I became a big brother of sorts and in between photographs he’d ask me questions that I imagine would normally be reserved for a father figure or a very close confidant.

About midway through the project, seeing the frustration in his mother’s eyes, I ended up teaching him how to drive in the city hall parking lot. And when we were done, I could see that both he and I were tired of the fantasy that the uniform and ROTC afforded. He was tired of playing their game and I had lost him to other curiosities. He’s now a sophomore at a college in Atlanta studying mechanical engineering.

Apart from the relationship progress, as an artist, I realized that I was becoming very interested in the movement of the body across multiple frames and through video. Midway through the project, I made “Sharrod (Turn/Twirl)” and when I look back, I see my move to making still image triptychs in the project as a direct result of figuring out how to capture movement in time via still imagery.

KS: Can you speak a little bit about your photographic relationship with your subjects? We’re interested in learning more about how photographers use different methods or techniques to get the images they want.

JH: I develop a relationship that is birthed out of trust or we eventually arrive at that place. When I was shooting “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore,” I had the voices of some unfortunate people in my head saying things like, “these are your surrogate boyfriends.”

These people/voices were incorrectly mapping a sexuality onto these men in pretty one dimensional ways. So, when my friend Steven (one of the main protagonists of that project), asked me what I was doing with the images, I had this moment of panic because I thought he had heard something or was starting to go down that same path. I breathed and said what I thought I was doing and in the end, he trusted me even more. So much so, that the next morning he said, “I have some images you might want to see.” The images and video clips he showed from his time in Iraq were the final piece of the puzzle for that project and I doubt I would have ever found/been able to make images that did the same kind of work. I also don’t think Steven would have ever lied down in his uniform in a bed of flowers had that trust not already been established.

KS: What is the future of this body of work?

JH: “I slowly watched him disappear” is slated to be published this fall by the newly formed imprint, Kris Graves Projects. Kris Graves is a colleague of mine from undergrad who opened a gallery in Brooklyn and has now turned his boundless energy towards the world of publishing. But really, this body of work is a part of a larger project that is still untitled and still unfinished.

In the larger project, the viewer will be invited to focus both on the individual narratives and stories as well as look at the whole series as a way of thinking about performance of the (male) military body. We’ll see the fantasy of it, the acculturation into it, and finally some form of the destruction of that body.

KS: Do you have any new projects you’d like to tell us about?

JH: I have a few new projects which I’m slowly working on. The first is called “This is the Hanasik home” which is an extension of an installation I showed a year ago at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. This project looks at the idea of the family home, the expectations therein, and how we imbue a place, much like we do a photograph, with meaning that isn’t necessarily present for anyone but the family or individual viewer.

I am also working on a publication that will better represent my thesis work called “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore” and a novella titled “My father (and other men).”

KS: We all struggle at times, balancing our personal work and professional lives. How have you made time to photograph and make work?

JH: Well, I don’t think we all struggle. Fortunately for some, there are trust funds or lucky investments or hard earned savings accounts which afford the time to just make. Sadly, I’m not in that position so, for me, it’s about priorities.

Last year was a year where two major things happened in my life. The first was a life long dream was attained when I exhibited “Sharrod (Turn/Twirl)” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. I was also in talks twice to move back to the East Coast and take a fairly well compensated but highly demanding position with two different companies. I walked away from all of the employment offers when I realized that it would be a long time before I would make “my” work again. When I was at the Hockney exhibit at the De Young a few months ago, a woman was amazed at how many drawings he had made over the course of a year. I thought to myself, this is his job and a major part of his life.

I think the narrative for every artist is different but for me, leading an engaged, mindful, generous and “creative” life is my number one priority. When I’m not actively making something, I’m thinking about the world of images and ways to play with them so I kind of feel like I am making work all the time. Given that disposition, I don’t feel so bad and I don’t feel like I am wasting my time when I walk into my 9-5 Monday through Friday. In fact, I kind of look forward to it.

David Egan Exhibition at 4×5 Gallery

We came across David Egan’s work in his recent show at our favorite Lower Haight photo space, 4×5 Gallery. We felt David’s photographs conveyed a beautiful sense of stillness and untold stories, and so we contacted him for a short interview on the images in The Long Way Around.

Kim Sikora: Can you talk about your recent work?

David Egan: In the summer of 2012, I drove across the United States from San Francisco, CA to my child hood home in Fort Washington, MD and I brought my large format camera and 140 sheets of Kodak Portra 400 4×5 film along for the ride. In the beginning, the trip was just a way to get out and make photographs. As I made my way across the US, I found myself photographing the land, architecture, objects, and random strangers that I encountered. … The vision is about transformation. The project is titled The Long Way Around. This series of photographs is my search for places, people, and things that demonstrate the shift in the American landscape and my own personal search and transition. This shift specifically is a change in the appearance of the United States, things across America look identical.

KS: What kinds of situations or environments inspire you?

DE: I find everyday situations and places to be intriguing if captured within the right frame of time. I photograph real environments. I am often inspired by objects and places that offer feelings of nostalgia and hints of the past.


KS: You have a solo show currently on view at 4×5 Gallery. Can you describe some of your editing decisions in what you included in the show?

DE: Working with Gordon Szeto and Hung Tran of 4×5 Gallery, we edited images from my series The Long Way Around to work in a cohesive manner for their gallery space. The show contains 15 total images all of which are landscape photographs. We originally had discussed having portraits in the show as well but I personally decided to exclude them from this showing. Editing work is always a tough process as I find myself wanting certain images for personal reasons and it can be difficult to be objective at times.

KS: How has your imagery changed in the past few years?

DE: I have been fascinated with the changing landscapes in the US for awhile now but my work has certainly evolved and progressed over the past few years. It was not until 2009 that I truly got serious about making photographs and enrolled in graduate school to pursue an MFA in photography which I completed in 2012. I am very much of the mindset that hard work and dedication gets you places so I just continue to work on my photography. I study a lot of photographic history as well as currents trends within the art but nothing compares to getting out there and just learning on the job.

KS: Is there a new project you’re working on you’d like to tell us about?

DE: There is a new project that I am just starting to work on but it is in the very beginning stages. The series focuses on the theme of winter and my nostalgic feelings and memories.

Check out David’s website to see the portraits from The Long Way Around, alongside some of his other photographic work.

Artistic Identity

Two local photographers share their views on forming a photographic identity.

I mage © Doug Birbaum

Image © Doug Birbaum

Kim Sikora: How would you describe your aesthetic?

Doug Birnbaum: I would describe my aesthetic as having a reference to classic hollywood films. I love shooting people and I like to plan series and shoots around cinematic moments. I love old films. I was a filmmaker before being a still photographer so I like to dream up shoots with people based around locations, props and wardrobe. I always dream of being able to direct bigger and bigger crews to achieve large scale production.

In photography so much of our aesthetics derives from the equipment that we use. Many times photography is dated because of the state of the art equipment available to the artist. I shot a series a couple of years ago about the golden age of California surf culture. We took some old Woodies down the beach and I shot up and down the coast on old film cameras, from 4×5 to Medium format on Ilford Black and White film. By stepping back into a photographic process that more closely matched the era of the historical piece that I was trying to create I found a harmony. This series really informed what I would try to do moving forward, to use current digital equipment to come closer to a film look. I needed to shoot a series on film to inform myself how things should look.

I also collect some old vintage photographs that I find in garage sales and thrift stores. I am usually looking for quirky stuff that is beyond anything that I could dream up on my own to shoot. I just love the richness of old photographs and I really love the way that the paper looks as it starts to discolor over time. In the past I have been known to soak my own photographs in tea to get more of an old fashioned look to them after they dry out. This process takes some of my photographs outside of the time that it was created and places the image further back in the past, it suddenly feels more nostalgic.

Anthony Kurtz: Painterly, atmospheric, cinematic, raw, adventurous and hyper-realistic. My goal has never been to perfectly represent reality because I’d like to think of myself as an artist. I need to apply my “paint” to make it my artwork. I think I might be a failed painter or director of photography because I’m mostly inspired by cinematography and European fine art painters like Rembrandt and Caravaggio or the American landscape painters of the late 1800′s.

When I was starting out, people were talking about “shadow detail” but I was going the opposite route, pushing the blacks to dominate my photos. Now, as I’m getting more experienced, I’m toning it back a little because in 2013 everything is starting to look the same. I want my work to evolve while staying true to my values

Image © Anthony Kurtz

Image © Anthony Kurtz

Image © Anthony Kurtz

Image © Anthony Kurtz

Jeremy Sachs Michaels’ Moments of Intimacy

Photographer Jeremy Sachs Michaels has a body of images documenting life with his girlfriend, Lauren, over the past few years. Here he is in a short interview about his motivations to capture the intimacy of relationships.

Kim Sikora: Photographing someone so close to you, are there any boundaries surrounding moments that can be shared?

Jeremy Sachs-Michaels: There are boundaries, but not the kind that are imposed by her. Lauren trusts me and I photograph her constantly. I find that I impose the boundaries upon myself when it becomes editing time. I want to show her in certain ways and not in others. There are photographs of her that I’ve taken and absolutely love, but I don’t think anyone else will ever see them. A mentor once told me, “Just because somebody wants something from you as a photographer, it doesn’t mean you have to give it to them.” I think he was talking in terms of business, but I feel like it applies to my editing process. I can include nudie pics or things that are more lusty, or even trashy or dirty, but sometimes those things distract from the rest of the images. I love quiet subtlety.

KS: When you are shooting Lauren, are there specific moments you hope to capture? How do you decide which times are meaningful vs. not meaningful?

JSM: I usually don’t know until I see it. Often times we’ll be somewhere, or even home, and something about her and the light and what’s happening comes together and that make it meaningful. Other times I feel like something meaningful is happening and I take a picture of it and it doesn’t feel meaningful in the photograph. In some ways it’s a crap shoot. I spend lots of time looking at my photographs, as well as other people’s, and I have ideas about what I feel works and what doesn’t.

KS: What are your strategies in balancing your time for commercial vs. personal work?

JSM: This is something that I think is hard for me, but in the end always works out. Often times the personal work leads to commercial work. Lauren and I just shot a fashion lifestyle piece together. They hired me as the photographer and loved how I photograph her, so they hired her as the model. The answer to your question is that if I have “commercial” work that needs tending to, I tend to it. If I don’t have to work on that I do my personal work. All I need for most of the Lauren pictures is a camera. This is the farthest things from technical photography here. There’s no tricks. I just try to feel my way through the pictures. If it feels good I keep going.


KS: Also, are there specific photos in this group that have a story behind them?

JSM: All of these pictures have a story behind them.

We were snowshoeing last winter in Grand Teton. No one was around and we were walking on top of over 4 feet of snow. Lauren was showing off her walk and fell through and couldn’t get up. I couldn’t help pull her up because I would fall through as well, so I just took a picture instead.

The image with Lauren crying was right after my grandfather died. We went upstate to be with my family and on the drive she had lots of feelings. It was a bittersweet moment. She was sad and something sad had just happened, but at the same time she was crying about my grandfather, which in some way showed me that she had become part of my family and that made me happy.

Lauren has two cockatiels, Angel and Dennis. She loves them very much and they required baths occasionally. This moment could be any one of many, but I love this photograph.

Lauren has two cockatiels, Angel and Dennis. She loves them very much and they required baths occasionally. This moment could be any one of many, but I love this photograph.

The hand print is one that I took early one morning when I was leaving for a shoot before she woke up. I guess she’d slept on her hand and then rolled over while I was in the shower. I noticed this mark on her face while I was getting dressed. I think it’s both beautiful and quiet because she’s sleeping and the light, but the angry redness of the hand print is really shocking and unusual.

Unexpected Joy via the Art of Eric Staller

Kim Sikora: Your light drawing photographs are full of questions about your process. Especially after seeing that these were created in the 70s. Can you share some info on how these were created?

Eric Staller: New York City at night was an enchanting place for me. The plazas, bridges, parks and monuments, empty and eerily quiet at night, were dramatic stage sets waiting to be transformed. Transformed by my magic wand: the 4th of July sparkler. Late at night I drove around in a beat-up station wagon, looking for places and ideas to jump out at me. When the moment was right I set up my Nikon on a tripod and planned a choreography with light. One of the first light drawings was Walker Street:


Each sparkler lasted about a minute, so that was the amount of time I had to make the drawing. I would lock the camera shutter open, light the sparkler and quickly walk down the street, holding the sparkler at curb level, to complete the composition before the sparkler went out. I felt a strong sense of exhilaration, like running the 100-meter dash with a flaming torch! Getting the film back from the lab was even more exhilarating: it was magic, my presence was invisible! There was just this trail of liquid fire.

Suddenly I was drunk with the possibilities. I proceeded to outline everything for my photos: cars, trucks, streets, monuments. The energy was packed into one-minute performances. I worked through the night and although I was alone and even lonely, my romance for the city was sweet indeed. At dawn I would go to Fulton Street to watch the fishermen come in, or to the Lower East Side for the first hot bagels of the day.

My dreams in 1977 were taking the forms of fantasy architectures of light. … By then I found that a 10-minute sparkler was available on special order. I attached one to the end of a broomstick and, using my arm as a compass, scribed arcs overhead as I walked up the middle of the street.

The challenge now was to take it intellectually further with each photo; to wonder what effect this or that choreographic device would produce; and then, to be continually surprised by the result. For Lightubes I spun the sparkler on the end of a string as I walked toward the camera; then ran back and did it again.

I mounted 5 sparklers on a broomstick and held it vertically, at arm’s length for the 5-minute exposure Ribbon of Hanover Street It occurred to me more than once that these were performances with light. Crowds of curious garbage men, night watchmen, workaholic Wall Streeters and the homeless gathered to watch the lunatic with the blazing broomstick!


KS: We love your “urban UFO” series. (Especially when Big Bang Theory drops by the lab!). Have any of these pieces grown to become your favorite?

ES: I guess I would have to say that my Lightmobile is my favorite, as it was the genesis of a 27 year-long series of mobile public artworks. It has travelled the world and is the most widely understood and loved of the series.
The Big Bang Theory I built in Amsterdam in 1996 and since moving to SF in 2010 it has become my town car. I never tire of watching the double-takes, mouths falling open, people going: “huh, what the –?”

KS: In your writing about Fish-o-vision you say that you sometimes receive questions about “the alienation of being an artist in this material world.” Are there any works of yours that speak to this idea intentionally?

ES: All of these pieces ask more questions than they answer. I want to challenge people to think and feel, to come up with their own meaning, or to allow for the unexplainable. In fact, I can’t entirely explain where my ideas come from. They bubble up from my subconscious and it is often the idea that appears the most absurd at first that I become obsessed with and end up building.

KS: Artists in this city face some tough obstacles when it comes to creating the time and money to make new work. How do you manage your work and your time?

ES: Well, if you want/need to be an artist and also want to make a living at it, you might as well buy a lottery ticket every week as well! A lucky outgrowth of the Urban UFOs is my patented circular 7-person ConferenceBike, which I manufacture in Germany. There are now more than 300 of them putting smiles on faces in 18 countries.