Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,
From a construction worker in central Texas to a touring musician in New York City, Jordan Sullivan seems to have done, and seen, it all. The Houston-born photographer’s exhibition at Clic Gallery in New York, Roadsongs, is a documentation of this nomadic life. Sullivan’s faded colour images of America’s desolate landscape, largely shot in Polaroid and expired 35mm film, depict the lonely highways and deserts of New Mexico, Texas and California. Accompanied by Sullivan’s prose, Roadsongs amounts to a body of work that is both autobiographical and an ode to the solitary wanderlust in all of us.
Roadsongs is combination of photography and prose. How do you find these two mediums connecting with each other and how did your interest in both start?
I’m not sure how photography and prose are connected aside from being modes of storytelling. Writing was my first love. I’ve been writing stories and poems since I was 13. I used to photocopy zines at my mom’s office that were filled with weird drawings and stories, and give them out at school. Even as a teenager it was sort of an unconscious thing for me to pair text with pictures. Photography came later and actually happened as a result of not being able to write whenever I was traveling or just as a way to remember a color or a place or something. It took me a couple years before I figured out that all these pictures, which were supposed to be used as reference for paintings or sculptures, had become a body of work in their own right.
What different modes of expression do photography and prose give you respectively?
Prose carries an emotional range that photography can’t and vice versa. My pictures are all fragments of a much larger narrative, which is why I love making photo books. I need my images to all sit next to one another. When it came time to having gallery shows and making prints it was difficult for me to just have a single image sitting in a frame, so I started juxtaposing the pictures with sculptures or collages, or placing text on them. Often the text came before the images, so I’d end up sifting through all these archives trying to find a picture that fit with whatever story I was trying to tell.
How did these two mediums come together for Roadsongs?
In the case of this show, I included handwritten text on all the prints. I like the two together because the prose pieces are sort of intimate, mostly about a person or a relationship, which provides a nice contrast to these vast and empty landscapes. The stories give each landscape a specificity, a character, and a context it may not have otherwise.
What is the story behind the collaboration with Pamela Love for the exhibition?
Pamela and I collaborated on a book together called The Ghost Country. It is sort of a love letter to New Mexico. Some of the prose pieces I wrote for that book are incorporated into a few of the pictures in this show.
How has growing up in a variety of places such as Ohio, Michigan, and Indonesia shaped you both artistically and personally?
Growing up in different places and moving at formative times has left me feeling pretty rootless. I never know how to answer the question of where I’m from. I spent most of my childhood in a small town in Ohio, where I was one of the only kids around who wasn’t born there, and one of few who probably wouldn’t die there. So a lot of what I explore in art and fiction has to do with the bleakness and beauty of being stuck somewhere, whether it’s on the road or in your hometown.
You’ve said that you have “spent a good deal of time moving around, chasing something from one city to the next”. What profound experiences did you have during your life on the road and what essentially do you think you were after?
Too many to name. Every city or town I’ve lived in or passed through has stuck with me in some way. Traveling around reminds you of how weird and rad life is, but also how fucking sad it is. Last year I lived in Texas, pouring concrete for a construction crew. All the other guys on the crew were from Mexico and most had lived some of the hardest lives you can imagine. I learned so much about survival from those men. But I don’t know what I was chasing in these last years, some sort of weird experience I guess, maybe a different way of living, but mostly I was probably just chasing girls.
Is photography there to capture a moment or does the art hold any other meanings for you as well?
I heard another artist say that photography makes the past present. I agree with that. A
photograph keeps those moments from being eternally lost. The pictures and stories in this
show mean so much to me personally and have to do with a range of subjects – love and
death, home and travel – but I want the show to remain open ended. I rarely know what my
work means until after it’s done, and even then I often still can’t pinpoint it exactly. Usually
the meaning of each piece is always changing. As I grow up, I keep seeing all this stuff I
made in new ways. But, if anything, I hope the pieces in this show create a spiritual response or pose some sort question.
Being New York-based, how do you find the vibes of the city mimicking a nomadic life and in what ways does it inspire you?
New York’s a great place for people who can’t figure out where else to live. There’s sort of everything here. All the contradictions sit right next to each other, and that in itself keeps everything pretty weird and interesting.
Do you still have the desire to go back to your traveling life or is the city your permanent home?
I’ll stay in New York for a little longer, but I need more trees and stars and quiet around for me to call a place home.
What future projects are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been working with some found photographs, as well as printing on alternative materials. On May 17, I have another solo show opening at Underline Gallery in New York City. The exhibition is called Natural History and is mostly sculptures. I’m also putting a together a novel which is out in this coming year.
Clic Gallery, 255 Centre Street, NY, NY
April 19-May 15, 2012
Read the interview in full here.