I spent the last week in Richmond, Kentucky, at the Living With Animals conference at Eastern Kentucky University. I had such a great time, and I look forward to sharing all that I learned. For today, though, I’m excited to share this Q&A with the wonderful artist Serge J-F. Levy. While it’s long, I encourage you to read through to the end. And I won’t say anymore so you can get started now!
Describe your process in creating the series The Fire in the Freezer.
Just before starting The Fire in the Freezer, I had moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona. I had tried to work in the “streets” of Tucson, utilizing the same street photography methods and approaches I had been using for 20+ years in New York City, my life-long home. Those methods didn’t translate well. Instead, I felt people were really hostile toward me and my camera; more so than working in New York City. That kind of bummed me out. At any rate, I had already been expanding my outdoor life as soon as I arrived. I had met someone who was sort of my guide to the wilderness. They introduced me to a part of myself I didn’t know existed. I mean, I knew I loved the outdoors, but we found ways to travel deep into the backcountry; into places where my mind felt alone. Places where I was totally immersed in a new landscape and I was developing a new set of senses to internalize, reflect upon and understand the beauty and rich metaphor that I witnessed. This enlightenment came at a cost, though; I injured my Achilles tendon in one scenario, and on another occasion, while canyoneering down a set of seven waterfalls, I fell 15 feet and fractured my hip in three places. As life would have it, during this time period I also watched my dear cat Jackie die over the course of 8 weeks. The relationship with my partner had its difficulties. It was a time filled with ripe emotions, to say the least.
The Fire in the Freezer was a digestion of this time period. It was my way of understanding how seemingly disparate experiences that often happen in vastly different spaces, and at different ends of a chronology of time, are related. That’s the beauty of a book. You are creating a sequence and compiling ideas and images in a space that by virtue of its binding, draws them together.
Of course, there is the writing component, too. I was concurrently working on the creative non-fiction writing that makes up the second and inseparable volume of the book.
The landscape featured in your work changes significantly, and your photographs transition from black and white to color. Aside from a geographic move, what prompted this shift?
My choice of black and white vs. color has always been a really intuitive transition. Well, actually, let me backpedal from that. If it were truly intuitive, I would probably make the transitions more frequently; on a momentary basis. Something that digital photography uniquely affords the contemporary photographer. But let’s just say, when I envision a project, I choose to use either a black and white or color mindset and the relevant materials (if I am working with film).
I wrote a lengthier response to this question trying to further delaminate the thinking behind my choice to use black and white verse color. But I ended up finding so many contradictions in my explanation, that it didn’t seem logical. The lack of logic behind my choice indicates to me that I am indeed relying upon intuitive choices; which is really to say, there is some buried inspiration, but I’m enjoying not knowing exactly what it is.
I also want to address your observation that the landscape in my photographs is often changing significantly. I consider this type of shift in scenery a hallmark of how I think and approach the world. I am interested in finding a process of creating and communicating that appropriately reflects the significant changes that I feel in response to circumstances in my life. In other words, I feel really strong emotional shifts as I navigate daily life. The state of the world, interpersonal relationships, professional circumstances – these components of life are an uncontrollable and vacillating outside force. One of the beauties of hiking in some desert areas is that the landscape can shift so radically over the course of only hundreds of feet. At one point, you can be in a slot canyon with high walls and a silty floor, only to turn the corner into a plush riparian forest choked with cat’s claw and canopied by giant sycamore and cottonwood. If that isn’t what global politics, interpersonal relationships and professional circumstances are like, I don’t know what is!
Visit artist's site: sergelevy.com