Shawn Gust: Stepping Out/Stepping In
Our life long journeys as photographic image makers and artists, are not straight lines. We veer off when life gets in the way, we take a break when feeling uninspired and unmotivated, and sometimes we simply stop making work. I thought that this would be an interesting subject to explore as I think all artists struggle with the continuum.
Several years ago, photographer Shawn Gust and I were FB and e-mail friends. I was a big fan of his work and watched his success with interest. After awhile, he seemed to disappear and I didn’t see his name out in the photo zeitgeist. Then one day, Shawn send me a request to play Words with Friends, and through our games, he messaged that he had stepped back from the photo world for a few years to deal with life and was hoping to begin his practice again.
Shawn was willing to explore this subject and I thank him for his openness with this post. Having had no formal training in photography, Shawn began working in a professional photofinishing lab and retail camera shop in the 1990s. This experience allowed him to learn at an increased pace. Mostly self-taught on the job, he honed his skills in the traditional black and white and color darkroom, in modern digital retouching, inkjet printing, and studio photography. From there, Shawn went to work as a photojournalist for a 20,000 circulation daily newspaper in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he currently lives.
Shawn shares his thoughts:
Absence. Being displaced or removed from an aspect of my life that is such a source of passion and importance has been both positive and negative. I went through a divorce a few years ago. Sadly, my second. This type of thing has a way of changing a person’s life. With such turbulence, comes lessons in priority, emotional health, financial resourcefulness and survival related to all of these aspects. I have children and so creating an environment for them to thrive was at the top of my list. Making ends meet and making efforts to keep on solid ground required a great deal of work, time, energy and sacrifice. My daily work schedule varies, often working hours that leave little time left of the day. This combination of environmental stresses led to many sacrifices. Topping that list was creating photographs.
Creating work is a very personal process for me. I find inspiration and worth in my close personal relationships, both past and present. People who know me or my work know that I often include family and friends in my work. There is something beautiful in the connection that can be found by including these relationships. During this ‘hiatus’ I would often feel the need to create work that documented this part of my life in some way, but it was unclear to me how I could convey my feelings properly. So, I made a conscious effort to take a step back and accept this break from creating. In this decision, I realized an appreciation for the process of making work that is important to me. I’ve been able to see traits in my own process and my reasons for making art that had not been obvious to me in the past. I consider this an important point of growth in a personal and artistic realm that has definitely affected my vision.
With new relationships and many positive changes my immediate environment, the urge to make new work is beginning take over. I have a few new projects in the works. This new work is an aesthetic departure from my work of the past, but will be complimentary. The idea of the collective working together while conveying such an important shift is interesting to me. That very idea will provide the basis for much of my new work.
Still playing Words with Friends?
Yes. I enjoy keeping my vocabulary sharp while engaging in trash talk and intense competition with my pals.
Let’s talk about the idea of not making work. What made you stop creating for awhile and how long were you “away”?
I found myself dealing with abrupt changes in my immediate personal life and environment. Naturally, I had to turn my focus away from my art and toward my family to restore solid ground before committing time and monetary resources to photography in the same way I had been able to do before this break. I have been making work again at a momentum building rate. It’s been about three years since I was contributing any notable work to my portfolios.
Did you feel the desire to make work, or was the respite a needed one?
The desire to make work has always been at the forefront for me. That said, this recent “hiatus” has allowed, and even prompted, a new perspective on what is important to me and to my photography.
I’m curious, if you weren’t using your camera, did you make imagery with your mind or see things you wish you had captured?
As a photographer, I always see images. Everywhere. Nearly everyday I encounter a scene or face or situation that would make a good image. Sure, I’ve passed up on a few by not shooting as vigorously as I had in the past. Through this, I’ve found an appreciate for these moments and every once in a while I think it’s good to pass on some photographs. It perpetuates a longing of sorts that can serve as both inspiration and motivation.
Does the artistic life feel like a natural one?
I think that being artistic or seeing and creating in an artistic way of course comes from within and quite natural. Pursuing an artistic lifestyle, on the other hand, is an endeavor filled with great intent, sacrifice, hard work and commitment. These traits are personal, meaning, that for some, it comes naturally and for others it does not. I really enjoy the rewards that come with hard work and creating work that is an extension of my life. The art that interests me most is has a strong dialect of personal connection or experience while offering more meaning than the creator may have intended.
There are so many strong images and portfolios on your site–do you want to continue with any of them?
A couple of my projects will remain as staples on my site, at least for now. I have a portrait project in the works that is a bit of a departure from the current work exhibited.
The future. I will continue to create new work and meaningful photographs. Besides the aforementioned series, I am working out the details of a much more long term project that has to do with the infrastructure of family and the roles of each member. I’m considering past and present relational insights to create new work that conveys my perspective into the foundation of these connections.
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