Carson Sanders: The States Project: Georgia
This week we are looking at Georgia based photographers as we continue The States Project. Carson Sanders, one of the founders of Aint-Bad Magazine, will be curating this state, showcasing some very thoughtful and strong work. Carson himself is based in Savannah, and he shows great interest in the community and culture of his city. Somewhere Southern is a great reflection of Carson’s interactions with the people and places in Savannah, and how he has continued to make new discoveries of his home.
Carson Sanders is a cowboy from Dallas, Texas, who has found a home in the southern tip of Georgia. He graduated in 2013 with a BFA in Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design. His work is a blend of documentary photography and visual anthropology. His passion for cultures and locations that are not his own motivate the images that he creates. A southern gentleman at heart, Carson strives to photograph in both a traditional and contemporary aesthetic to appropriately capture the beauty of the American South.
In 2011, Carson co-founded Aint-Bad Magazine, an independent contemporary photography publication that focuses on emerging photographers from all over the world.
Today he lives in Savannah, Georgia and focuses much of his energy and efforts on the growing success of Aint-Bad Magazine. He is also in charge of the Savannah College of Art and Design’s imaging lab in the photography department. He spends most mornings processing color film of all shapes and sizes and enjoys being surrounded by chemistry and negatives while blasting hip hop in his lab.
Carson shares his perspective of being a Georgian photographer:
After living in Georgia for six years, I feel that this part of the south is a unique place to be a photographer. You have the opportunity to focus on a historically rich past, or focus on a transitional period that is currently taking place throughout much of the Southern United States. Old buildings and landmarks are being removed to make way for modern architecture and new homes. While the past is not being forgotten, it is being removed from much of Savannah. My love for the older side of the city is growing stronger every day. I am making an effort to document more of these buildings and neighborhoods. Hand painted signs and brightly colored houses are fixtures in Savannah that are starting to disappear.
If you decide to take the commercial route as an artist in Georgia, Atlanta has plenty to offer and is only a 3.5-hour drive from Savannah. The stark contrast between the two cities is quite great. I enjoy visiting Atlanta for a few days at a time to remind myself that Georgia isn’t all small country towns.
The art school that dominates both cities, but especially Savannah, forces you to be constantly looking at what is new. What are the students producing and what are the current trends in all mediums, not just photography. This is great because the city doesn’t allow you to fall behind.
This project has been evolving for a few years now. I fell in love with instant film at a young age and have enjoyed trying to incorporate it into more formal bodies of work. When I started documenting the West side of Savannah, specifically the barbershops in this part of town, I found that the instant film allowed me to access establishments and characters that would otherwise be unsure of my presence. The instant film allows my subjects and myself to immediately see what image has been created. There is nothing quite like the feeling of peeling back the film to see the image beneath. When I first started working with this medium, I was shooting with a 4×5 view camera with an instant back rather than traditional film. I loved the look I was able to achieve, but the camera was so large and cumbersome that I was not able to shoot as I normally do while walking through the neighborhoods. I purchased a Polaroid 600SE with the instant back and all of a sudden I was completely free to move around and shoot handheld without a tripod. This new camera has allowed me to make the images I always wanted to capture. More recently I have been trying to save the negative that is created while shooting this film. Most people throw this away as it is messy and hard to preserve. But if done right, you can get a pretty good quality negative from this process and scan for a slightly imperfect result that is often very beautiful in its own way. I am working on building a series to go along with these images that consist of digital scans of these negatives.
There are various different visual and conceptual directions that you are taking in Somewhere Southern. What exactly are you documenting?
I guess I am attempting to capture all of my favorite locations and characters with this project. My daily adventures around the city often lead me into the west side of town where I find my barber, some of my favorite places to eat, and some of the most unique little corner stores in the city. Then I often find myself biking through slightly more modern neighborhoods on my way to the minor league baseball games that take place most summer nights. Most people would say that Savannah is fairly segregated, and while I can agree with that statement I don’t really notice it as I travel through the city. I find beauty on every street and in every neighborhood. I want to blend the entire city together and attempt to break down these invisible class barriers while photographing.
How does location integrate into your artistic practice?
I think it is safe to say that I have found an affinity with Savannah and the south as a region. So in that sense, the American South as a location is crucial to my current work. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to travel pretty frequently, and I usually travel out of the south to Boston, New York, and sometimes even the West Coast. I always bring my cameras, but I never feel as comfortable or as motivated to make photographs in these regions. Maybe I am just spoiled to the beautiful southern light that I have fallen in love with. Or maybe its the smell of BBQ that influences me to snap a portrait of a stranger. Whatever it is, I’m not fighting it. I am just trying to find new areas in the city that I love so much.
What is one of the newest area that you have fallen in love with?
I recently started photographing in a part of West Savannah that I hadn’t really thought about until earlier this year. Bay Street is a very touristy street with bars and restaurants on the north end of the city by the river. If you go west on Bay instead of east like everyone else, you end up driving over a bridge which really does act like a divider for tourists and locals. On the other side of the bridge you find old Savannah, but it isn’t disappearing as fast as other parts of the city because its not prime real estate. I have come to enjoy the small neighborhoods with unique houses and all of the restaurant serving soul food with walk up fried chicken windows. I plan to spend more time exploring this part of town during the rest of the summer. It will be very hot, but the chicken will help get me through the heat.
Because of the camera you are using, an aesthetic emerges that creates a dated effect. There are few queues that would truly mark this series as being in the present. What is this timelessness?
I agree that this medium gives the “dated” look to the work. Although I am not choosing to shoot with this camera for that reason. My decision to shoot with the Fuji FP-100C stems purely from my love of instant film, specifically instant color film. This format also forces me to slow down while photographing and not waste a shot on every nice composition I find. I do enjoy the juxtaposition of photographing a modern artifact with this older format. I think that seeing these images may cause viewers to do a double take and really look at the photograph to decipher and how why it was created.
What are your interactions like with the strangers that you are photographing?
When I am out photographing it is inevitable that someone will approach me and ask what I am doing, or what old camera I am using, or why am I wasting my time photographing that old building. I always answer them with a smile on my face, and then usually proceed to ask if I may photograph them. Using the Polaroid I am able to make two pictures, one for me, and one for them. This is always my favorite way to meet a stranger. Everyone loves to see the results of a portrait just a few minutes after it is taken. Most people I meet don’t stay strangers for long. I always try to write down their name and make sure they remember mine. I tell them to think of Carson Daly or Johnny Carson so they won’t forget. The next time I see them walking down the street they usually remember me, and I ask how they’ve been. If I have my camera, I always ask If I can take another picture of them.
Are you working on a new Georgia related project?
I am currently only working on this series. I don’t consider it finished just yet. My plan is to wrap this up in the next few weeks and move onto something I’ve had in the back of my mind for awhile now.
Savannah is hot in the summer. Everyone knows it. This season is also the wettest for Savannah. We get tons of rain in the summer! I have been wanting to capture this wetness for awhile now. I am planning to start a body of work that attempts to show how wet and hot and humid Savannah is from June through September. I will probably turn the images into a small zine or book and have it out by October.
And finally, describe your perfect day.
My perfect day is waking up with my girlfriend and my cat. Grabbing a large iced coffee and getting settled into the lab that I run. I need iced coffee and hip-hop to get any day started right. After work, I enjoy tinkering around on my little truck with my good friend Taylor Curry. We then usually head over to the American Legion Post 135 where we can buy the coldest and cheapest beers in town and play a few games of free pool. If it’s a good day we will run the table all night. Then make a few posts for Aint-Bad and catch up on any emails before crashing for the night. I love waking up to do the same thing again the next day. I’m big on routines.
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