Today is my 14th day quarantined in my small apartment near downtown Los Angeles. Like millions of other Americans, I’m without paid work. All the stability I’ve built in my life over the past 7-8 months has vanished, and the best way for me to cope with change and uncertainty is to make art.
If photography is a tool to think, then for the past 8 years or so, I’ve only been thinking about people, social structures, and social life. Isolation has been a real challenge for me because it’s forced me to stop looking out at the world and start working within. I guess these are sort of like self-portraits.
These are the images that keep popping into my head at 2 a.m. when I can’t sleep.
I’m inspired by gelatin, water, flowers (fake and real), the color red, hardware in my toolbox, glitter, domestic spaces, spread, shiny beads, death, The Conformist, chihuahuas, horror films, candy, maiden-hair ferns, lockets, gray stones, the Eight of Wands tarot card, and yellow diamonds.
These are images I would have never (literally) dreamt of making, had I not been forced to slow down. To stop thinking about when my next paycheck is coming in (it isn’t), to stop thinking about what lessons I have to prepare.
To wonder, “Wait, am I living my life the way I want to, or am I just living the way I think I’m supposed to?”
I’ve spent the past three Januarys in my hometown of Danville, Illinois for a few reasons. The first is because my artist’s compass draws me there to tell stories and make art. The second is to see my family. The third, though not the least important, is to stay humble.
I love to talk about Danville and its role as a straw man for America’s mainstream media outlets; it’s a rustbelt city that’s fallen victim to the tech revolution, among other sociological buzzwords. But that’s not what this post is about.
This post is about how using my iPhone has allowed me to simultaneously experience ‘home’ and document what Danville looks like in the late 2010s (+2020).
Danville is where I go to feel real and free myself of LALALand-isms (i.e. self-doubt induced by an over-saturated art market, self-importance, living in a liberal bubble, etc.).
In Jan. 2018 and 2019, I spent the month documenting the lives of my former fifth-grade classmates for the project 5th Grade Dreams. I photographed my classmates on 35 mm and 120 film. This year I took a crack at making a documentary film (coming soon!!! maybe!!! I kinda wanna figure out how to make it legit).
Using my iPhone’s camera to document all those non-work/in-between moments has yielded a really lovely series of digital images that express the grittiness, surreality, charm, and ambiguity of my hometown. iPhone photography is also very cheap compared to film photography and motion pictures (quite fitting).
I hope to make these images for all the Januarys to come.
I was in Danville last week when my dad encouraged me to go into the basement of our family home and look through my photographic archive from high school. I’ve done this before, but this time I was looking for early indications that I was going to pursue a career in documentary arts.
During high school, I compulsively wrote in my journal - sometimes three times a day - though I can’t quite bring myself to read through them yet. I know I often wrote something along the lines of “I’m writing down all these details from the party last night because I never ever want to forget them!”
The disposable cameras let me relax from memorizing details about scenes… I just had to snap and then I could return to being present in the moment. And it was effective, because I remember everything that was happening in these images.
This is a curated selection of thousands of images I took from 2006-2010. I picked these based on how vivid the memories were. Like these:
My best friend Bridgett and gathered bunch of gifts from our respective ex-boyfriends and buried in the park in her neighborhood. Someone called the police. It was thrilling and funny and something I would have forgotten about otherwise.
There were other images from a the “summer of alliteration” in 2007, when my friends labeled each day of the week as a day we’d convene. There was Movie Monday, Trailblazing Tuesday, Water Wednesday, Ultimate Frisbee Friday… But these memories are precious and somehow live better in my head than in the photos.