Interview by Coral Martin

Abby is a Freshman. Undecided concentration. Intro Photography with Sharon Harper is her first photo class at Harvard.

CM: What was the inspiration or driving force behind your project?

AS: I have always had an interest in portraits but I have felt that I cannot take peer portrait photos that are interesting. As a result, I became more interested in the backgrounds of my photos. The backgrounds, or settings of my portraits, became the focus. Ultimately, the backgrounds I picked helped guide the vision of what the entire photo should look like. I picked the locations carefully. I scouted them out with an interest in how my subjects would interact with their settings. That’s the basic gist.

CM: I’m curious about your subjects. How did you choose them? Who are they? Did you give them any directions or did you let them do what they wanted to do?

AS: Well, my subjects are my friends and roommates. One is my little brother. As far as giving them directions, I would give them a basic gist of what to wear. I’d say, “wear this coat” or “wear solid colors,” but nothing really strict as far as direction is concerned. Sometimes I would tell a subject, “think of this” or “pretend like you’re waiting for someone” or “hop on one foot” – that is, if I wanted them to look off balance.

CM: Is there a mood or type of feeling you want your photographs to evoke?

AS: For me, what makes an interesting photo is the process behind it. Yet, I also feel if a photo doesn’t inspire any emotion it is not an interesting photo. I would say that the only real emotion my photos evoke is playfulness. In my photos, I also wanted to represent a quality that something is slightly off, but only slightly. I do not want my photos to be strange. I like to see bizarre photos produced by other people, but I prefer my own photos to be more grounded in reality.

CM: Are there any photographers who influenced your project? If not, I’d like to know about some photographers you admire.

AS: Well my work is nothing like his, but I really like Wolfgang Tillmans. There is something so compelling about his work. He has such a wide variety of photographs, from these party-going, really young urbanites, to photos of flowers, to soldiers. His work depicts all kinds of things, really. He even took a series of photos from the window seats on airplanes and I even find these really interesting. Tillmans’s work has a real dynamism and it is something I tried to capture, but I think I failed. So, I am really emphasizing what comes to me naturally in this project. That is why I focused so much on location.

CM: Since the locations are so central to your project, I’d be interested to know a bit more about them. Where were you? How did you choose them?

AS: Most of them are taken in Cambridge, around MIT, Kendall Square, Inman Square and Arlington. One is in Missouri, where I am from (central Missouri – Columbia). When I scout a location I am looking to see if there is something interesting going on. I look at the light and shadows and architectural features. For example, in one of my photos, there is a guy jumping up and he is touching the two pipes behind him. Some of the settings are a little stereotypical, but I wanted to keep them interesting enough. Most of what I was drawn to in choosing locations was purely aesthetic. For instance, I tried to avoid the red bricks that Harvard is so saturated in. There are no bricks in my project.

CM: I wonder about the frustrations and challenges you ran into along the way? Were there any?

AS: It was a challenge to keep my photos looking different. When photographing with the background in mind and also telling people how to position themselves, a lot of my photos ended up looking similar. Like these photos I took of one guy. I took two sets of photos of him a month and a half a part. It turns out I posed him in front of a yellow wall both times and even though I liked both shoots, I could only use images from one because they were just too similar. I also was told some of my photos were veering toward fashion photography, so I did not end up using a lot of the ones like that, even though I liked a lot of them.

CM: Any closing remarks? Inspirational quotes?

AS: No, no inspirational quotes. As long as people find my photos interesting I am happy!


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