Damiani and the International Center of Photography invite you to join Aaron Stern signing copies of his new book I Woke Up in My Clothes tonight, June 13th from 6-8PM at the ICP Store.
Liz Sales: Could you tell us about some of your earliest experiences with photography, as both a viewer and a photographer? What initially drew you to the medium?
Aaron Stern: My grandparents kept everything in immaculate condition, especially their photographs. Both sets of grandparents had pictures of family and friends from all over the world. I remember pictures of my grandfathers in their uniforms from World War II, pictures of them all on the street in New York, in the Catskills and of my parents as kids. My parents had lots of pictures of themselves as a young newly married couple and of my sisters and me as young kids.
I remember being 8 or 9 and in my grandparents apartment in Queens. My grandmother used to have a slide projector to show me pictures and tell me stories of what New York was like in the 30s 40s 50s and so on.
All of those images influenced me to try and make a picture that makes one think of their own memories.
LS: Rich Appel touches on the title of your new publication, I Woke Up in My Clothes, in the introduction, could you expand?
AS: I was flattered that Rich wrote the introduction because he verbalized a lot of what I am expressing in my photos. I think he said it best in what he wrote. Sometimes you wake up in your clothes while trying to figure everything out.
LS: What led you to continuing to shoot film (35mm and medium format) into the digital age?
AS: I started using film and I still haven’t been able to get what I’m looking for with digital for color. I think I also like the idea of using a more traditional medium. I do shoot some digital though. The Leica Monochrom is a great camera. I have been using that a lot over the last eight months or so.
LS: Could you tell us about your intentions and process in the sequencing and editing of I Woke Up in My Clothes?
AS: I spent about six months editing and designing the book with Roger de la Rosa. The order of the images is really important to me. It is meant to be a visual narrative of how one feels in and out of relationships, how a person experiences loss and love. I hope that when people look at the book they come away with that.
LS: You included a poem by David Wagoner. Could you talk about how this poem was chosen and how feel it speaks to your work?
AS: I saw the poem in an April issue of The New Yorker magazine from 2010.
“taking the easy way out,
which is of course what water does
as a matter of course always
taking whatever turn
the earth has told it to”
That really struck me when I read it for the first time and it stayed with me. It reminded me of someone and also of a lyric from the Billy Bragg song “Must I Paint You A Picture”
The lyric is, “this would never happen if we lived by the sea…”
Something about water, the ocean, that has this impactful effect on us and I felt that the poem really fit my narrative of images, it completed the book so much so that I spent six months trying to track down David Wagoner.
This led to a really nice email exchange with David after we finally connected. He always responds effortlessly and eloquently, and quickly. I am and will be forever grateful that David allowed me to use his poem in my book. It would not be the same without “Following a Stream.”
LS: What is your personal relationship to Rockaway Beach after Hurricane Sandy? And to downtown Los Angeles?
AS: I have always liked going out to Rockaway and Ft. Tilden. After Sandy I was frustrated that FEMA and the Red Cross were not out there immediately or even after a full week. There was no power, no water, no subway, no gas, no heat etc… homes were completely destroyed, gutted leaving people with nothing. Rockaway is part of New York just as much as anywhere and it is my home, I took it personally.
Along with several friends and members of Occupy Sandy we helped to rally people to go out there and volunteer.
We were out there two or three days after the storm hit. I took pictures and posted images on twitter and Instagram. I was inundated with emails from musicians and music managers and publicists about organizing a show to help raise funds for relief. My old friend Geoff Renaud and I, with the help of Bowery Presents produced a show with Grizzly Bear, Sleigh Bells, Antlers and Cults who all played for free. With Ticketmaster waiving their fees and Converse and Urban Outfitters matching ticket sales and covering production we raised $300,000 together.
It was important to me to have those images in the book to keep what happened out there top of mind. But they also fit the narrative of loss and love – symbolizing a destructive relationship.
Downtown Los Angeles is interesting and fast developing now. When I was wandering around taking pictures there in 2009 – 2011, the landscape was bleak but the California light can make anything look good. I was in a bad place and really just driving aimlessly around trying to equate what I was feeling into a picture. I was drawn to that area because it felt beat up and lost.
LS: Your portraits are quite intimate and yet collectively your images depopulate these heavily peopled spaces. Could you talk about the dichotomy between attachment and isolation in your work?
AS: Well I think we tend to isolate when we are reeling from loss. We are attached to people and when things break down we isolate and search for answers. I think I was doing that during the time when most of these images were captured.