Sarah’s Words

In Interview on December 22, 2010 at 5:11 pm

I had been following Sarah on Twitter for a while and always enjoyed peeking at her photos and reading things like, “taking tonight off from my boyfriend. there will be sweatpants, there will be needlepoint, there will be a million sour patch kids”, which was both from a long time ago and hilarious. I asked if she’d show me what she saw, and she kindly obliged.

What’s your first photography memory?

(This one is by my dad, JD Sharp)

I clearly remember the first time I saw a Cindy Sherman photograph – it was at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. and I was probably 9 or 10 at the time. It was one from her early series of Untitled Film Stills; she was dressed as a housewife with a jacket draped across her shoulders, kneeling down to pick up the contents of a broken grocery bag. She’s looking up and off camera as though someone is in the kitchen with her – perhaps the torn grocery bag was the result of an altercation? This was before I knew anything about Cindy Sherman, but I instinctively seized upon the implication of a story in progress, wanting to know what just happened, what was about to happen. She doesn’t talk about the meaning of her work very much, preferring to leave such things open to the viewer’s interpretation (even the phrase Untitled Film Stills was assigned, not attached to the images by the artist). I continue to be interested in her work, but that first encounter with such an evocative image (paired with the later revelation that all her works are self-portraits) has had a tremendous impact on my own experiments with staged photography.

Do you usually carry a camera with you?

(This one is by my friend Holly Dekyne)

Yes. During the six years I lived in New York, my camera was a constant companion. Living in Detroit now, which is much more of a car culture and also one where people are less accustomed to having their picture taken in public, I’ve had to downgrade from my DSLR to a smaller, high-end point-and-shoot that I can fit in my purse easily and without worry of damaging the camera. It’s good to have nice equipment, but I tend to work candidly and catch events unfolding around me; for that I need to have something small, handy, and unobtrusive…and be quick on the draw with it.

How often during the day do you stop to take a photo?

It depends on a lot of factors. Some of them are internal, like my mood or my level of interest in my surroundings, or how familiar I am with them. Some are external – the weather, if I’m carrying a bunch of groceries or late for an appointment, if I’m walking with someone who is getting annoyed because I’ve already stopped 15 times, if there’s particularly good light.

On a low-flow day, where I’m mostly sticking to my routine and unlikely to cover new ground, I take maybe 6-20 photos (some of those are likely duplicate attempts at the same image). On a big day, when I have found something interesting or covered a lot of new ground, I will probably end up with 200-300 pictures to sort through. Those are the best days.

What was the last thing you paused to take a photo of?

Could you tell me about your lovely pattern of taking photos of public modes of transport?

I guess there’s a couple ways to look at this. Having spent most of last year on the road (during my 50 States project), I had a lot of time to think about how much the question of “who” I am has to do with “where” I am. I think it’s pretty normal for people to take on different roles depending on the situation – you might act one way at work, another at home alone, and yet another when you go out with friends. Moving as quickly as I was, sometimes covering more than 700 miles a day, really stripped away the parts of my personality that were location-bound, leaving a much more stark version of myself.

So then, from a philosophical viewpoint, traveling between locations is a transitional state, and a “where” that lacks a formal set of rules about the role one should play. This makes it a good place to observe people being “how” they are instead of “where” they are, because where they are is constantly changing.

A more simple way to look at it is that waiting for the subway or flying on an airplane is pretty passive and boring, and taking photos is often my way of preventing boredom from taking over.

Here is a video I took of me on the subway:

What would happen if you stopped taking photographs? (Would you clog up or take on another medium?)

I jump between mediums a great deal, actually. The last several years have been very photography-intensive for me, but before that I spent a lot more of my creative energy writing and just took photos as a hobby. It does seem like I draw from a general desire to create things, and that energy can surface in a number of different mediums, which then occasionally sublimate and I don’t feel like doing them for awhile. When that happens, I try not to force myself to do things. Following my road trip, during which I probably shot about 15,000 photos, I had a year where I just didn’t take that many photos. Lately, I’ve been making a lot of work with a secondary process; my web comic, for example (, which takes photos, cuts them up or juxtaposes them, and adds writing. I’ve also been taking photos or bits of media or writing that I’ve already amassed, and using them as parts of more involved pieces…I’ve been calling them Complex Useless Objects, and they are different than work I’ve done before, but feel like a pretty logical extension of certain creative impulses of mine.

What’s your favorite thing to photograph?

There are a number of objects or situations that I’m drawn to and photograph often. I enjoy abandoned buildings a lot, and will go out of my way to break into them and take photos. I also like miniature things, and lots of repetitive little objects. Bears. Fire escapes. Chairs and couches left out on the street. Toys. Functional or dilapidated neon signs. Myself.

If you could photograph anyone, who would it be?

In a sense, I can photograph anyone – at least anyone I see in the world – and when I find someone interesting, I usually do try to take a picture of them. There are a couple of people who I photograph a lot:

My friend Tom

My friend Amy

If you mean a celebrity or something; I have very little interest in photographing people who practice being in front of the camera all the time.

What’s something you have to remind yourself often?

It’s important for me not to think about what happens once something I create goes out in the world. It only matters that I take the time to make it to my satisfaction.

If you could give your high school self advice, what would it be?

Until you understand yourself, you will always be susceptible to what other people think.

Nothing gold can stay: True or False?

What do you make of fate?

Isn’t it more what Fate makes of me?

Finish these sentences:

I wish I didn’t: have to do work I don’t care about to pay for the work I do care about.
I’d really like to: see Japan.
I hate when: I pick up a tangerine that is getting moldy on one side and my finger sinks into it.
I am in love with: just one person at a time.

  1. […] Submitted by Trixie Bedlam […]

  2. lovely interview. really well structured, and a fascinating look into a person I have never heard of before.

  3. I wish the pictures were a higher resolution, nice though.

    • I know, man. I’ll work on that in the future. Thanks for checking the interview out. I loved receiving her answers back after sending out my questions. The way she answered a lot of them was really unexpected from my point of view. She turned them around a lot.

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