Interview with photographer Tarah Sloan – A Process of Healing
A series of images by Tarah Sloan were included in the F-Stop Magazine exhibition, Family, earlier this year. The exhibition took place at a time when Sloan was not able to give her input for an interview, but I had the chance to revisit her work; and I am glad for the opportunity. In our interview, she revealed the back-story for her series of images dealing with her mother, cancer, and loss. By dealing with her Mother’s life after the loss of family members, one could presume this work is catharsis for her as well.
Cary Benbow (CB): Why do you photograph? Why did you become a photographer?
Tarah Sloan (TS): I photograph because it is a way of expression and a form of storytelling, for myself and the viewer. The environment I am surrounded by typically compels me to create images. I started photographing at a young age, so over time my skills developed and my love never wavered. After graduating from high school, I knew I wanted to attend an art college to receive my BFA in photography, and that’s exactly what I did.
CB: Your images in this series definitely come across as storytelling. Can you please explain the idea behind your series?
TS: These images are unlike any other project I have created before. My concept behind this photo series is the emotional plunge of grief a person will face in their lifetime. This project is significantly different because it is personal to my family and me, documenting my mother as the subject. I also normally would not have one person as my main focus through a whole body of work. Many of my ideas for my personal work come from observing the behaviors of others in my environment; such as, this work of my mother.
I believe the process of making these images has helped me gain a deeper understand of grief and depression that I never knew before. Not only within myself, but to physically capture the essence of a person who I love dearly going through something I can’t grasp, simply because I do not have children of my own. I hope to continue this work into my graduate program, either with someone who has recently gone through the same ordeal, or photographing my mother as her outlook on life changes and grows from such trying times.
CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
TS: A good photograph should pull you in and make you think, feel, react or respond in some way. Photography, after all, is art.
CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
TS: That’s a hard question for me, because I can be a little too critical of my own work. I want the viewer to gain some sort of emotional connection from the image. Whether that’s from wonder, amazement, sadness, or joy. Within this series of photographs, I documented my mother.
“I started documenting my mother a few months after my brother Daron passed away in July of 2015.I watched her daily struggle with grief after the loss of her husband, sister, and her only son – each who had suffered with cancer; all within 5 years.I watched her put on the daily brave face and try to continue with life as usual.I watched as the feelings of depression kept her in its grip.After many lonely hours, days, and nights, I began to see her gaining strength as she finds new life in the comfort of her garden and the surroundings of her music and art students.”
CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why?
TS: Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Uta Barth, and Shelby Lee Adams- to name a few from a broad range of individually talented and inspirational photographers. There are many people who I draw inspiration from, including my past professors and colleagues. Why are these people my inspirations? The majority of their photographs are captivating and striking on a number of photographic levels. I think it would be hard for someone to not find inspiration in some way.
CB: What work are you currently working on? Any new projects?
TS: This past summer my mom and I spent 40 days straight on the road, traveling a full circle around the US to visit different grad schools I have looked into. From visiting family in West Virginia, we journeyed upwards to the first art school in Chicago, across to the University of Oregon, down to San Francisco Art Institute, across to the University of New Mexico, then back across to Georgia. Of course, we stopped at as many National Parks as we could along the way, including Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It was an amazing, exhausting, and eye-opening experience to see the grand, ever changing landscapes of the United States- totally worth it! As a (mostly) landscape photographer, I was in heaven the majority of the trip. I’m pretty excited to see where my future leads me.
See more of Tarah Sloan’s images at her website: www.tarahsloanphotography.com
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