Stay In Between

Leafy Yeh on how photography can be used to understand identity, culture and place 

American Home

Photography has many purposes. For Leafy Yeh, they make use of the camera as a means of exploring their identity. Born in China and currently based in LA, Leafy studied Media at The State University of New York and pursued roles as a designer and freelance photographer while working on their own art practice (not to mention the fact that they’ve recently joined Activision as a game capture artist). At the very beginning, Leafy centred their image-making on the more conceptual. Further down the line, however, and as they started to “grow”, Leafy began to steer more towards documentary, transfixed by its ability to “slow down and observe life more closely”. 

Applying this to practice, Leafy’s ongoing series Stay In Between encompasses their ethos as a photographer – and ultimately the reasons why they take pictures. It’s a long-term project that explores their traditional Chinese and Chinese American identity, having spent a decade in the US and constantly feeling adrift between these two cultures. Toeing the line between familiarity and disconnect, Leafy responds to feelings of unsettlement by taking pictures, using their lens to produce almost surrealist photography that channels their interests in heritage, place and the environment. Below, I chat to the photographer to find out more about the series. 

Chinese Takeout

What inspired you to start working on this project, what stories are you hoping to share?

This project comes from my experience as an immigrant. I live and work in the United States but China will always be my home. When I first came to America for college, I allowed myself to be very westernised so I could blend in. I started to loose a big part of myself and this has brought me a lot of pain. As I grow, I am embracing a unique space – where I am in between traditional Chinese culture and Chinese-American culture. My photos reflect the complexity of this journey through abstract forms in natural and urban settings. 

Having not been back to China for three years due to Covid-19, I’ve spent a lot of time at San Gabriel Valley and Chinatown to feel the familiarity again. Documenting these places evokes a lot of memories of my childhood, from ordinary objects to the architecture and language; they are reminiscent of China in the 80s. Based on my memories, I photograph this liminal space to imply concepts of continuity, isolation, transition and the overlapping of two cultures. This project is a way for me to navigate through them in search of a reconciliation of my inner juxtaposition: a home and a trip into normality. 

Courtyard

Can you share a few key moments from the series and explain their significance?

My favourite combinations are the bright red tree in the forest and the centre planter inside an office building in Chinatown, occupied by Chinese businesses. They’re the opposite of each other. One is so alive and outside, while one is trying to breath through the open air from inside. I love the connection and contrast between the two. 

Another two photos I really like are the long exposure of an airplane flying through electrical lines and the fan on fire. They share a sense of surreal-ness in reality. I photographed the fan when it was just lit so the original form is still showing. As the fan is burning away, the fire is opening up a gap. It’s reminiscent of the light beam slicing through the electrical lines and the sky over time. Both of the photos have a feeling of division – the power to break through space. 

Fan on Fire

How important is the environment and sustainability to your practice, is it something that you consider while making imagery? 

I try to keep a minimal impact on the environment when I am going into the nature. If I create something, I make sure it’s not harmful and very easy to remove. As I photograph more landscapes, the smaller I feel and the clearer I see the space inside. Environment and sustainability are more metaphorical elements in my practice – about finding balance in internal and external worlds. 

I think a good balance is finding a flow that overlaps the two worlds; I keep these themes in mind when I work on projects. But this could be a roadblock if I am overthinking. For a while, I didn’t know how to move forward, and I learned to let go and photograph with instinct. The action of photographing brings me inspiration later on when I see the connection to other photos in the series. I think if you are overthinking about the meanings, the photos lack flow. Overtime, as I go deeper into the project, some meanings change or I encounter other perspectives to talk about it differently. This is what I am still learning from this project. 

Cultural Publicity

What message do you hope to evoke from the work?

Most of my projects focus on looking inwards and finding a sense of home from within. The narrative of this project is a process of accepting and finding beauty where I am. I hope this project can speak to others that are like me – feeling in between things. When you can find a place inside, you can reflect that onto the outer world. There will be people telling you that you can only be one thing, but that’s very limiting. I hope you can find that space for you. 

What’s in the pipeline for you?

I am working on a story about a Shanghai hair salon located in a strip mall in San Gabriel. Strip malls are quite unique to American urban planning in my opinion, so it’s interesting to see how the Chinese community adapts the look of the architecture and turn that into a mixed style. I want to use this hair salon as a centre to document the people and surroundings as they look like they are stuck in time from when they immigrated. 

Lunch Break

Overtime

Self-Portrait

Water Pond

Overture

Guilherme da Silva’s new zine provides a vision of utopia and safe space for the LGBTQ community  

In 2019, when Guilherme da Silva took a picture of his friend in Venice, he knew instantaneously that he needed to build a wider series. Perhaps it was the aftermath of being broken up with by his boyfriend – enduring a somewhat sensitive outlook on the world – or maybe it was more of an inherent drive hidden deep inside, that only needed a little nudge (or picture) to be let out. Either way, it was this very moment that sparked the idea to produce what would later become Overture, a zine which encapsulates Guilherme’s deep truths both as an individual and as a photographer: to support and provide a safe space for the LGBTQ community.

Nodding to the concept of Arcadia – a vision of utopia – and inspired by the work of Thomas Eakins, Guilherme has collated an intimate documentation of queerness in Brazil. As a country that’s less than accepting of the LGBTQ community, Guilherme turned towards photography as a way of understanding his own identity and experiences; he urges those who see themselves in his pictures, and those observing this works, to do the same. It’s not been an easy ride for the photographer, having experienced LGBTQ-phobic attitudes in the industry which sparked a bout of depression. But having self-published his own zine, Guilherme is taking matters into his own hands and hopes to continue building on this empowering body of work. In fact, it’s in the zine’s name Overture, which alludes to the opening of an opera. This edition is an introduction to a longer body of work in the future. I chat to Guilherme to find out more below. 

Dries at the park, 2021

What’s your ethos as a photographer, and what stories excite you?

I think it’s diversity to say the least. When it comes to my work, everything is so deep inside me that sometimes I can’t explain in words. But what has been driving me to create since the beginning is the people that I’ve met throughout the years; the connection I created with them. Part of what I’ve been doing lately in my work (and what I did with the zine) is creating this sort of tribe of young people who live in this utopian land away from the corruptions of society. And this is not just in the pictures; we ended up creating a community where everyone supports each other. What excites me about being a photographer is what comes after the photography.

Ayrton and Matheus at the park, 2021

What inspired you to make this zine?

Well, when I’m not doing my personal projects, I work as a very commercial fashion photographer in Brazil. What inspired me to start the zine was the frustration I had with people who wanted to shape the way I was supposed to be photographing – not just the technique, but also who I was photographing. I heard so many LGBTQ-phobic speeches during meetings and work that sometimes I felt like I was not welcomed, that I was there just to press a button. I ended up with anxiety and depression and, to pull me out of that dark place, I knew I had to find a place to be safe. During the process, the pandemic hit and I had to postpone the beginning of the project. The situation in Brazil has been awful because of the government and I knew this was another reason why I should start this project. The zine is about this group of queer people that I wanted to portray in this place that nobody knows where it is but everyone wants to go there. It’s Arcadia, it’s a scape. 

Heart-shaped tongue, 2021

Who are we meeting in the zine, where are we visiting, what stories are we hearing?

All of my personal work feels like a self-portrait to me, so the zine is pretty much about the feeling I was talking about in the answer above. We are meeting this group of queer people who lives in this utopian land, like the concept of Arcadia. I was very inspired by the ‘Arcadian’ paintings of Thomas Eakins, the political view behind the work of Justine Kurland in her book Girl Pictures, and also the works of Nan Goldin and David Armstrong. 

Tell me more about the people you’re photographing in your zine, and how you strive to represent them? 

I think everything happens so effortlessly. Most of them I meet online first and then we meet to take the pictures, most of the time with their own clothes, sometimes I use some of mine. It’s so simple and beautiful.

What does photography mean to you, what’s its purpose?

Photography for me is my joy, it’s what allows me to understand more about the world and more about who I am. It’s what makes me feel sane.

Kenzo at the park, 2022

What can your audience learn from this zine?

They can learn how important it is to create communities when you are LGBTQ+, where you can meet people and talk about your experiences. It’s important to have this safe place where there’s no judgement and you learn more about who you are. We spend so much of our lives trying to hide ourselves when we were kids that when we are adults we have to discover our true selves. Being inserted into a community that protects you can help a lot.

What’s next for you?

The title of zine means this one is just the first, I’m already working on my next publication and I definitely want to work more collectively with stylists, make-up artists and creative directors who are open to accept my view. 

Leo at the park, 2021

Lucas and Leo kissing at the monument, 2021

Pedro at the park, 2022

Common Place

In his ongoing series, Scott Rossi highlights the importance of public space for building community

Lily, Reef, Kane, and Luci, Central Park, New York, USA 2022

Capturing the world around you is one thing, yet doing so in a way that’s not only mesmerising and memorable but also rich in context and history is another. Scott Rossi, a Canadian photographer based in New York, does this utterly well in his photography work. With an ability to lens the moments of daily life around him, Scott draws from the quieter parts – those that are smaller and often missed to the untrained eye – to build stories about the people of the world. In this regard, subcultures and public spaces are the two key pillars to his practice, which have naturally informed his latest series, Common Place. A project that commenced during the pandemic while out and about on his daily walks, Scott set out to photograph the local community in Central Park and their relationship to the natural world. Below, Scott tells me more about the series and the importance of public space – a relationship that will continue in the future.

Untitled, Central Park, New York, USA, 2021

What’s your journey into photography like?

I grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver, B.C. When I was five years old, my father arrived home one evening with a go-kart. I spent the next 13 years racing go-karts around the world, from British Columbia to the streets of Monte Carlo. 

Photography was not always on the cards for me. After my dreams of becoming a professional race-car driver were over, I studied Psychology at university. I only began taking photographs in my final year by chance. In that elective photography course, my professor introduced me to the work of Garry Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz, which derailed my plans. I couldn’t shake photography away. It gave me a new purpose. I spent the next two years primarily photographing my surroundings without much intent or reasoning behind my actions. I simply wanted to capture beautiful, fleeting moments. 

In 2018, I started making long-form projects. In them, I discovered the power of visual storytelling. I began to value not just the results, but the process of engaging with my subjects, establishing an intent to the work that previously lacked. In the first two projects I worked on, Burned Out (2018-19) and Jazz House (2018-20), I documented coming-of-age stories. Whereas Common Place (2021), which I began shortly after moving to New York City, explores the history of Central Park and the relationship between New Yorkers and the public space in the context of a global pandemic. 

Quinceañera, Central Park, New York, 2021.

What inspired you to start working on Common Place, what stories are you hoping to share?

In Vancouver I was surrounded by nature. After I arrived in New York City, in the height of the pandemic in 2020, I began to miss nature and felt lost and uninspired, so I started going on long walks through Central Park. I began photographing during those walks with a point-and-shoot camera. I was studying at ICP at the time, and I thought this point-and-shoot idea would be a good side project to my thesis, which was still undecided. Eventually, I realised the side project was worthy of the main thesis idea. I bought a new pair of shoes, switched to a medium format camera, and began photographing Central Park every day. I hoped to share the stories of the people I met there through photographs. 

The work highlights the importance of public spaces, especially in a city like New York, for the overall wellbeing of its people. This city and Central Park, have a complicated but also rich history. Today, despite its history, I think the Park is seen as a sanctuary and a place to be yourself and I hope that comes through in my photos.  

South of Sheep Meadow, Central Park, New York, 2021.

Who are your subjects? Did you spend much time getting to know them?

I meet all my subjects while wandering around the park and typically photograph them as they were. It is that level of comfort and intimacy that piques my interest in the first place. Most of my subjects happened to be New Yorkers, with a few exceptions. 

How long I spent with them really depended on the person. With some people we would spend hours talking, while others gave me only five minutes. Regardless of how long, I was always transparent about what I was doing.

Aaron and Eralissa, Central Park, New York, 2021.

Can you share any personal favourites from the series?

Aaron holding his baby daughter Eralissa has always been a favorite. There is subtext in this image, but for me, the cutest part is thim holding his daughter on his dog tag necklace. Once I noticed that, my heart melted. 

Then of course, Dave. He is a Latin professor and track and field coach at an Upper East Side high school. I think it’s his oversized tie and baggy suit that made it all come together so well, along with the fact that he is marking student’s papers while they run laps around the reservoir. 

A third favourite of mine is the trees with afternoon light passing through. This is exactly how I feel about Central Park. It has been my home away from home. I feel a warmth when I am there and am constantly “invited” down new pathways. This picture, with the pathway leading us into it, invites the viewer. 

Spring Bloom, Central Park, New York, 2021.

How do you hope your audience will respond to this project?

I hope people feel something when they look at the images. Whether they feel love, hope, or sadness, it doesn’t really matter. I just hope people feel something. As with all photography, for me, an emotional response is the most important.

Untitled, Central Park, New York, USA, 2021

Dave, Central Park, New York, USA, 2021

Geese, Central Park, New York, 2021.

Untitled, Central Park, New York, USA, 2021

Geoffrey Leung: Utah

On the road with his father, the photographer documents the rocky landscapes and sprawling hillsides of the mountain state

Cloud, uncropped © Geoffrey Leung

The road trip never ceases in becoming a muse for photographers. For Geoffrey Leung, a photographer born in Saint Paul, Minneapolis, he recently satisfied an itch to visit Utah’s National Parks with his father by means of the car. Resultantly, he birthed a documentary series capturing the mountainous landscapes, rocky hillsides and creeping fauna of the American state. “Seeing Utah’s National Parks was the reason for this road trip and the photos that came from it were incidental to the good fortune I had to spend time with my father as an adult,” he shares. “It feels vulnerable for me, but it’s a story about heritage and habit.”

Growing up in what he deems a “great place” with top tier photography in the area, Geoffrey was influenced by his “practical” parents and was particularly good at maths. More in the way of academia, it wasn’t until around 2018 that he started picking up a camera seriously. “Up until then I was another liberal arts grad (Carleton) playing at being a professional,” he adds. Now based in New York, the photographer has rooted himself in the medium of image-making, to such lengths that his portfolio encompasses all sorts from motion to videography, personal series to commissions. All of which is influenced by the “sacrifice” of his practical parents, and their parents before them, as well as the essays from Susan Sontag, words from John Berger and many others who “take risks and are afraid to follow their gut but still do both anyways”. And Prince, of course.

Sharing a view © Geoffrey Leung

So when it came to Geoffrey’s own excursion across the desert roads of Utah – with his father by his side – he proceeded to create something that was immensely personal to them both. Not least a risk of their own as they ventured into the unknown. Although the road trip isn’t a new or surprising subject matter, to Geoffrey (and his father), it’s a narrative that they hold closely. “I think that doesn’t make this story unique, but the more personal the photos are, the more relatable they may be,” he says. Taking a picture is more like an experience for Geoffrey, who marks the process as an “interruption of experience”. Whether it be formulated in the studio or on the road, each picture crafted through the eye of this photographer is one that’s been created with rawness, care and love. “I want to photograph instinctually to avoid thinking about a moment, or worse, changing it,” he adds. “The story can only be true if I did not really influence its capturing.” In this regard, the longer he spends with a subject, the more he’s able to learn and “deeply see” about their character and being. “Experiencing something beyond its physical appeal is necessary for conveying anything beyond aesthetics.”

Pastoral 1 © Geoffrey Leung

Pastoral 2 © Geoffrey Leung

Speaking of some favourite moments from the trip, Geoffrey points us in the direction of two photographs : “one with people spreading across a rocky outlook, one of cows grazing in a green field.” Both are luminous in their depictions of greenery, emphasised by the photographer’s decision to up the contrast and focus on the finer details. But, there’s more to these works that beautiful landscapes. “I’m not saying that people are like cows, but it is a funny trickery of language that one might consider,” he explains. In another entitled Sharing a View, Geoffrey has captured his father standing on the popular Zion hike. “This is the only frame I made of this moment,” he says. “But it expresses his youthful side, which I have never really known since he’s been a parent as long as I’ve been alive.”

Not only does Utah depict the wild and uninhibited lands of the the Mountain West state – where bushes grow free and water is somewhat scarce – it also portrays the relationship between two kins, a father and son. Geoffrey plans to turn the work into a book and will continue to build on this “instinctual experience” found in his photography practice. “One of my lifelong photographic goals is to make the women in my life feel beautiful, so I’m working on that too.”

Family friend’s end table © Geoffrey Leung

Famous for its pies © Geoffrey Leung

Motel objects © Geoffrey Leung

Our van leaving Zion © Geoffrey Leung

Sioux city diner © Geoffrey Leung

Utah campsite © Geoffrey Leung

Badlands © Geoffrey Leung

A Certain Movement

Soft and meditative, Sam Laughlin captures the ebb and flow of the natural world

Wood Ants (Formica rufa), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

It’s not uncommon to hear of an artist’s key influence as being that of a parent or familial figure. Growing up, Sam Laughlin’s father, a zoologist, would hand over an abundance of field guides for him to look at – Sam would sink into the contents, memorise the illustrations, and identify the different species of insects in the process. His dad would also joyfully spout out many interesting facts about the natural world which, inevitably, had a large impact on Sam – later inspiring him to study documentary photography at university. What’s somewhat surprising, though, is that although nature has been a primary pillar for Sam, it wasn’t until 2014 that he started working creatively in this field. “I found my way back to that childhood fascination through books and walking,” he tells me, “and my work quickly followed suit. Now, I can’t imagine my life without walking and birdwatching.”

Alongside various photography commissions, Sam pays extra attention to his personal work – the side of his practice that enables him to explore his deep-rooted interests in nature. He also cites The Jerwood/Photoworks awards as being hugely catalytic for his photography, which is how he debuted his most recent accomplishment: a project named A Certain Movement. Lensing topics of the environment and how animals interact with the space, the work is a quiet, meditative depiction of the world, albeit a curious contemplation of the cyclical nature of earth and its inhabitants – the type of relationship that’s in a constant rhythm, flow and movement. Currently on show at Serchia Gallery in Bristol, I chat to Sam about the project, what his personal relationship is like with the environment, and why it’s such nature has become such an enduring muse.

Adders basking (Vipera berus), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

How would you describe your own personal relationship with the environment?

My personal relationship with the environment is probably a blend of love, fascination and obsession. Some of the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have border on the ‘religious’, like listening to a dozen nightingales singing in the dead of night last week, or standing in a vortex of 5,000 terns forced into flight by a peregrine falcon. These are just some of the ‘happenings’ in nature that go beyond words and enter the realm of the profound. The world is – for now and despite us – still full of such happenings and most go unseen. I think essentially I walk around in awe half the time, simply because I always try to be receptive to what’s happening around me day-to-day, particularly in relation to birds. Incredible things happen all the time which it seems most people miss entirely.

Nature is an enduring subject for me because my fascination only deepens the more I discover and experience it. But the word ‘subject’ is slightly problematic for me; I take great pains not to turn nature into a ‘subject’, but rather try to let things speak for themselves through my pictures. 

I continue to focus on it out of love, but also concern, at the rate of disappearance and decline – the ‘thinning out’. 

Deer browse-line (various species), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

And similarly, tell me more about the relationship between animals and the environment. Can you describe the synergy and how they affect and shape each other?

The myriad relationships between animals and their environments can be almost overwhelmingly complex. In simple terms though, as I see it, other animals are ‘at home’ in the world in a way which we humans no longer are. We radically alter the surface of the earth to suit our needs, taking far more than we need. But most animals live in such a delicate balance with their environments that they are inseparable from them–  they live within and are part of their surroundings, usually altering them only in subtle ways that are actually a natural extension of the places themselves. Birds nests are one perfect example of this: materials gathered from the immediate area are made into a structure that supports life there. A manifestation of the bird’s way of living, its behaviour and a material expression of the locale and of the bird’s relationship with it. Then, when you’re talking about migratory birds, the nest is also an expression of those annual cycles of movement, and by extension the tilt of the earth on its axis and the seasonality this causes.

A snail could be seen as an expression of a set of relationships, and so could the song thrush which feeds upon the snail by first breaking its shell on a rock, which it uses as an ‘anvil’. The snail is, in a sense, made of plants, just as the song thrush is made of snails, but that rock is part of the equation too. It’s all inseparable and this is what interests me. So I try to make pictures where interconnections express themselves, often manifested through the movements of animals and the traces these movements leave behind. 

Honeybee swarm (Apis mellifera), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

Can you give some examples from A Certain Movement, are there any favourite pictures that you could tell me more about?

Water Striders (Gerridae) is a favourite picture of mine, chosen for its subtlety and for certain elements of the composition, but mostly for what it symbolises. Water Striders (also known as Pond Skaters) live much of their lives on the water. Their lives are defined by surface tension, which prevents them from sinking. If one looks closely at the picture you can see the ‘meniscus’ around each of their legs. Their movements cause ripples in the water; each one represents a movement and moment in time, with a significance that is briefly visible before it dissipates, rippling out, as I feel all things do. The title of my new exhibition comes from a text written by Adam Nicolson to accompany the project, in which he references this picture and all that it symbolises about the quiet events unfolding through time – Ripples in the Surface of Things.

Then there is a picture which is more ‘obvious’: Tawny Owlet Branching (Strix aluco). I love this picture because it results from one of the purest and most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. After hearing some unusual bird calls emanating from a thicket, I ventured inside and found two fledgling tawny owls (owlets) perching on branches. A phase of their lives known quite poetically as ‘branching’, where after leaving the nest they wait on nearby perches to be fed by the adult. One of the owls was in a good position for a picture, but I had to edge very close to it. I work mainly with large format film and therefore don’t use ‘zoom’ lenses. In those moments as I made the photograph, the owlet was no more than two or three feet away from me, but remained completely still. Time stretched out, and although I didn’t linger so as not to disturb the birds, it felt like an eternity as I stood face to face with it.

Lime Hawk-moths Mating (Mimas tiliae), 2021 ©Sam Laughlin

What’s the purpose of the project, what can the audience learn?

I hope that my audience will feel the same sense of quiet awe that I do. There’s a kind of reverence in the way I approach my work, which stems from the way I feel about the natural world, and I want the viewer to feel that; not a ‘quick fix’ of the spectacular, but a slow-burning sense of wonder. My work has been called melancholy, but I simply don’t see that. That’s the nice thing about art though; people can get different things from it.

I don’t really want to reduce my pictures to ‘illustrations’ with captions that say ‘here is X doing Y and they do this because… ’, but I do want people to understand better the beautiful intricacies of the lives that are lived all around us, that go on regardless (or despite of) our human activities or our awareness. I think if people understand more, and are more aware, then they might cherish these small things as I do, and hopefully try to do a little more to stem the tide of losses.

A Certain Movement is on show at Serchia Gallery until 17 July. All photography courtesy of Sam Laughlin

Linnet (Linaria cannabina), 2018 ©Sam Laughlin

Nuthatch at nest (Sitta europaea), 2020 ©Sam Laughlin

Seabird Colony #2 (four species), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

Tawny Owlet Branching (Strix aluco), 2018 ©Sam Laughlin

Water Striders (Gerridae), 2019 ©Sam Laughlin

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis), 2021 ©Sam Laughlin

The Golden City

Mimi Plumb’s new book documents a world grappling with climate change, war and poverty

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

There are countless reasons why someone might refer to San Francisco as The Golden city – the consuming, orange sunsets; the constant rolling fog that heats up the air between the buildings; or its involvement in the California Gold Rush. But even before it was nicknamed The Golden City, San Francisco wasn’t even called San Fransisco. It was only in 1847 that it was given its title, just a year before the Gold Rush which sparked a surge in the population. Then, in 1906, California experienced what’s deemed the worst earthquake of all time, shaking miles upon miles with impact reaching the Bay area. In fact, it’s noted that some remember it as the fire that ripped through the city, giving it a misleading title of San Fransisco Earthquake. San Francisco has an interesting past – its history still looms and is felt in the hills, landscapes and even the people.

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

Mimi Plumb, is an American photographer currently based in Berkley, California, beholds distinctive memories of the area of San Fransisco. So much so that she’s now compiled these past thoughts and snapshots into a book, aptly named The Golden City and published by Stanley / Barker. Mimi grew up on the edges of the city, where the rents were cheap and humdrum of city life was more diluted and dispersed. “San Francisco, known as The Golden City, truly is a golden city,” Mimi tells me. “But, as with most cities, it has an underbelly, which is where I lived and what I photographed in the 1980s.” The city during this time was rife in radical activism, with inhabitants taking to the streets in opposition of gentrification and the policies coming from the White House. It was a tumultuous time for politics and society, which caused sharp contrasts to those living in a gentrified, inner-city world and those on the fringe. Protests and anarchism subsequently forged and the arrival of a more underground, DIY culture, music and art stared to grow. But it wasn’t without its downside. 

“I was an art student working at a minimum wage job,” explains Mimi of the time. “I lived on the edge of the city where the rents were cheap. I photographed the environment around me, often taking daily walks in my neighbourhood of Bernal Heights; Dog Patch, along the bay; and the Mission District.” In one part of the neighbourhood named Warm Water Cove, located on the bay, Mimi observed captured a pile of tires and abandoned cars. In another spot, she climbed the chimney of a power station that was positioned above the 25th Street Pier – she’d sit and watch the planes swooshing above. Mimi is an observer and this becomes explicitly clear in her photography, that which steers from bleak landscape shots to the more intimate, candid portrait. All of which is shot in signature black and white and features a distinctive luminous tone – an ominous hue that probably couldn’t be captured anywhere else apart from The Golden City. “I actually began this project in the early 1980s using colour film,” says Mimi, “but the blue skies didn’t convey the edgy content of the work.”

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

To accurately (and artfully) tell her stories, Mimi has divided the book into sequences. The first half features notes from The Golden City itself, “predominantly of landscapes in and around the city,” she says. The work in this part is particularly distinguished as she documents the link between “wealth and power to climate change and poverty” – that which is pictured through angular cliff edges framing the city, almost like a colony of concrete ants in the distance; or busy streets peppered with suited city dwellers juxtaposed with the stark, deteriorating landscapes. Then, you reach the middle point: “The breaking heart and the two spreads that follow represent the heart of the book for me,” she adds. “The second half of the book, mostly portraits of both friends and strangers, reflects the psychological angst that I felt in myself and my community, both then and still now. One of the last pictures in the book – the girl in the polka dot dress hiding her head – is a stand-in for me not knowing what to do about it all. And my cat, Pearl, waiting and crouching is a portrait of me, as the world grapples with climate change, war and poverty.”

What’s most interesting, however, is that although the work in The Golden City was shot between 1984 and 2000, the topics, themes and issues explored are especially relevant today. The world over continues to tackle the warming climate, the dangerous policies imposed by the government and increasing poverty, not least in San Francisco. Mimi’s work, then, reminds us of the cyclical nature of things – that life and history tends to repeat itself. She concludes: “I see this book as a testament to the time and place that we are all experiencing.”

Mimi Plumb’s The Golden City is published by Stanley/Barker

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

Road to Nowhere

Robin Graubard’s debut book is a stark documentation of Eastern Europe following the dissolution of the USSR

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

Besides the long, paisley dresses and other vintage fashions, there really isn’t much dissimilarity between today and the events documented in Robin Graubard’s Road to Nowhere. The first major book of the photographer published by Loose Joints, Road to Nowhere is a stark documentation of Eastern Europe during the 90s following the dissolution of the USSR, conceived through a diaristic manner in which Robin bore witness to the Yugoslav War, Bosnian genocide and Kosovan uprising. She journeyed to Russia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and others, lensing and telling stories of hardship, suffering, war and hunger. And what with Russian invasion of Ukraine and ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, these pictures show that history does indeed tend to repeat itself.

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

Road to Nowhere features primarily unseen imagery shot over the 90s, yet the visuals themselves appear timeless – they could have been taken yesterday, just a few years back or even decades. She worked solo and sought out stories that were close to her heart, revealing the difficulty of these lived experiences and powerfully juxtaposing them with the emerging subcultures of post-Soviet life, such as those seeking joy and normalcy amongst it all. Chores, games or dancing at a concerts are therefore comparatively sequenced alongside the deteriorated urban landscapes and buildings impacted by shelling. It’s a devastating depiction of conflict, but equally one of resilience. 

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

With a career spanning 40 years, Robin’s work is often seen merging the autobiographical, editorial and documentary. She came of age in the counterculture and punk scenes of the 60s and 70s in New York, set against the urban backdrop of revolt and rebellion. She worked as a photographer at a newspaper; there was a strike and it was shut down. Consequently she bought a flight to Prague and met a group of women outside a UN building, who were discussing how no one was covering the war in Sarajevo. Receiving the press credentials from Newsweek, she set up base in Prague and stayed for three years.

“I photographed the war in Yugoslavia, oil smuggling in Rumania, runaways and orphans living in train station tunnels in Bucharest, and a school for girls in Prague,” she writes in the book. Proceeding to travel alone throughout the Balkans, she’d met families, lovers, translators, bus drivers and soldiers. In Belgrade during 1995, for instance, she spoke with a group of soldiers, some “dogs of war” who were the “most elite Serb and Russian mercenary soldiers on the front line”, she writes. “They seemed young and bedraggled.” She spent time photographing them and they were posing with peace signs. “Most of the soldiers in the picture died during the war.”

Robin was often on the front line and at the heart of conflict. Not only did she experience heavy shelling at night in her apartment while in Sarajevo, she also had a near miss when a bullet shot past her head during check in. “The man at the front desk seemed to be in some sort of trance and just ignored it,” she pens. On one occasion, she was walking to the hospital in Sarajevo through what was sniper alley, accompanied by a translator who’d been shot four or five times. Usually walking around on foot through Sarajevo, Robin recalls, “Somehow, I made it out”.

An impactful debut from the photographer, Road to Nowhere sees 130 photos compiled over 228 pages. The book is published by Loose Joints.

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

Images from Italy

Henerico Rossi captures the sun-drenched faces and places of his home country

2020 was the year of alterations, with many fleeing the cities in search for space, greenery and calm. Henerico Rossi was one of those, having abandoned his post in London (he’s lived abroad for 13 years) to return back to Italy. “Since then, it has been like looking at my home country for the first time,” he tells me. “What a stunning place on earth.”

Sometimes a little space for reflection is all you need to view the world with a different lens. This is exactly the case for Henerico, a photographer who’s released an ongoing series named Images from Italy, a tranquil and sun-drench project documenting the faces and places of those living across Sicily, Puglia, Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Liguria and Friuli. After returning to the country, it was like a flash back in time as he began mingling with the local kids that “would spend their days at the beach until the sun sets,” just like he did. The project is still in the works and, enlivened by his new found inspiration, what keeps him going is “the idea of creating a body of work that can be timeless.”


There’s something so effortlessly nostalgic about Images from Italy, which, by the way, is an apt title for such a series. Doing what it says on the tin, so to speak, Henerico has angled his camera at the daily lives, moments and meetings of the local people around him. The style of which is saturated, rich and sensory; even the occasional monochrome piece evokes a feeling of warmth, as if we too are bathing under the rays of the Italian sun. It’s a skill that not all can achieve, but Henerico does it with ease. “Inspiration comes from everywhere,” he adds, “you just need to look at it. I love digging into my roots as much as I love exploring local communities. The energy of a place can also play an important role in my images. But these are all foreplay of a picture – what ultimately strikes is the emotions that are embedded with it.”

While out shooting, Henerico finds himself drawn towards people with a narrative. Rather than pinpointing an aesthetic or photographing someone for the way they look, he instead prefers to “speak the truth” and portray the encounters he has with his subjects – either friends, creatives he admires or those he meets on the off-chance during one of his trips. “I tend to prefer people who have a story to tell rather than people based on the way they look,” he explains. By working this way, Henerico strives to combat the often surface-deep aesthetic that’s typically displayed in fashion photography. “I am all about images that are able to transcend the mere aesthetic.”

There are a handful of tactics that Henerico adopts in order to achieve such emotive and honest imagery. The first is talking to people, approaching each subject with an open mind. There’s a black and white portrait that defines this , where a man gazes almost sternly into the lens with the hard working lines of his face exaggerated by the beaming sun. The photo was inspired by Henerico’s family roots after he travelled to Mount Etna in Sicily while working on a cover story for Primary Paper. “While driving around, I stumbled onto a cave where the stonecutters were carving the lava stone from the nearby volcano. I asked them if I could take their photograph; they replied to me and they kept doing their thing. I though of waiting and carried on by asking them questions about their craft. The conversation went on. We spoke about how it feels to be a creative soul and how every day isn’t the same. After that moment I knew it was time for me to get my camera out.”

The series presents the intuitive and quick thinking mindset of the photographer, who’s able to capture fleeting moments on the go – like two local boxers who were taking a break from set and sharing a plate of paste together. He also knows when to take a step back from the work and reassess which, at the beginning of his career, was a vital move in determining his future process, “I felt that all my photos looked pretty much the same as if there was no room for inventiveness,” he shares. “I thought that if I wanted to take a great portrait, I had to get close enough to my subject. Later on, I realised that only 50 per cent is true.” After learning this, Henerico snapped a vibrant coastal image of beach-goers joyfully soaking up the rays and salty water – which is perhaps pinnacle to the way in which he views the world and his practice. “The moment I was able to step away while still maintaining a good connection is when I understood something greater was possible,” he concludes. “So although some could say this is a landscape photography kind of picture, for me it is as simple as a portrait taken from afar; a portrait of a place.”

The Day After Tomorrow

Eric Asamoah intimately documents the journeys of young men transitioning into adulthood 

It’s hard to predict what will happen in the next hour, let alone the next day or two. But the ability to find peace in the unpredictable – to be comfortable with the unknown – is something of an achievement in life. This is a concept that Ghanaian and Austria-based photographer Eric Asamoah explores through his practice and debut monograph, aptly titled The Day After Tomorrow and published by Verlag für moderne Kunst (VfmK). An aesthetically luminous and intimate depiction of growth, the book centres itself on the journeys of young men as they transition from boyhood into adulthood. 

“As my surroundings and I evolve and get older, I often think about the concept of time and what it does to us, how the past is still present today and will also have an influence on tomorrow,” Eric tells me. “Starting a new journey can be exciting, but stepping up to something you don’t know, and leaving the past behind can be frightening for some people – young men and women who are in the coming-of-age journey are included. Once you understand the journey, you begin to operate differently as a person and start to question your surroundings, past beliefs, dreams and yourself. You begin to seek the truth, be vulnerable and honest about yourself and slowly find your true colours. This is a beautiful and complex process to appreciate and to enjoy it will not always be rosy and peachy, but at the end of the day, you’ll find peace during the process – if not today, if not tomorrow, then eventually the day after tomorrow.” This is precisely how his monograph came to fruition; he strives to tell the stories and thoughts of his peers, conceived through relatable imagery and a universally felt tale of growing up.

The pictures found in The Day After Tomorrow are poised and quiet. But despite this softly composed demeanour on the outside, there’s comparatively much to be learnt and felt in the imagery. In a photo titled Ocean’s breath – an early one from the series – Eric captures his subject after they’d discussed the strength of the waves that day. Personifying the ocean to be an element of force and change, the subject laughed and said: “The ocean is taking deep breaths, I can feel it!”. The ocean and its expanding and remedial qualities feature heavily throughout the series. In Open World, for instance, Eric expresses his own fascination for the water. “I can watch the sea for hours and be amazed by its gentle yet powerful nature. Looking into the horizon, I wonder how wide the sea is; ‘what’s on the other side’ I ask myself, similar to when I question the future.”

In another image named Tough boy, Eric looks inwards as he reflects on his own upbringing. “Back then as a kid, my brother was the only person I ever challenged or competed with,” he recalls. “He was older, bigger and stronger than me, but apart from being respectfully humbled each time, it taught me the value of being consistent in standing up for yourself, especially in tough situations.” Another, titled Yellow sports car, reflects on a memorable moment of Eric’s while he was driving around Kumasi and passing a car next to KFC. He dreamed about a yellow spots car a night beforehand, so he had the urge to pull over. “The vehicle reminds me of unfulfilled desires that are no longer in your interest, something that was valuable before but has since lost its value due to the passage of time.” This raises many questions about the attachment we hold to objects and the memories exuded from them; over time, we begin to realise the worth of the things around us and wash away those that no longer serve a purpose. It’s a cleansing process. 

Yellow sports car, 2021

Photography also serves a different kind of objective. It allows us to document, assess and learn from the past, making way for new beginnings and codes of thought – both for the image-maker and the viewer. In Layover, this becomes evident as Eric reveals the picture’s remedial qualities. “Every time I look at this photo, I remember the energy in the air which was serene, carefree and soothing. Be still for a few seconds, let go of all you know and be grateful for the current moment, which will lead you to understand that you can be anywhere in the world, but the only place you can find true contentment is within.”

Eric presents his subjects as anonymous beings, choosing to keep them unnamed throughout the series. By doing so, the pictures become a “utopian ambiance” – a moment of catharsis for Eric. “All the young Black men in the images were a reflection of myself, the inner self that seeks truth and contentment,” he shares. “I hope that individuals from all walks of life an also see a bit of themselves and reflect on their own truth, contentment and journey in life.”

Layover, 2021

Ocean’s breath, 2021

Open world, 2021

Tough boy, 2021

 

At The Night Garden

Published by Stanley/Barker, Paul Guilmoth’s new photo book is a loving and nostalgic ode to the garden

© Paul Guilmoth

When you imagine the luscious grounds of a garden, a handful of nostalgic emblems may rise to the surface: first the feeling of freedom, prancing through the long grass in the warm and sunny spells of summer – care-free and revelling in the goods that nature has provided. The second, a sense of safety, evoked by the familiar four walls of fencing or shrubbery. The garden, in this sense, is a sacred place and will remain to be one that’s loaded with memory – personal history – for those who enter. But how many have visited the leafy grounds at night, indulging in the moonlit shadows of the fauna as the spider webs thread from branch to branch?

Paul Guilmoth, a photographer based in New England, does just that in a new book aptly named At The Night Garden, which is now published by Stanley/Barker. Conceived through a stark yet weirdly calming monochrome lens, we see myriad of emblematic features prevail – the silky web taking on a sculptural form, the flash-lit structures of the leafs and bushes, and the glowing faces of their subjects only visible through the silver torch of the sky. But along with the magical, there’s also a sense of eeriness and longing that protrudes from the work. We observe the somewhat blank expressions of the people he photographs – their family and loved ones – as they stand hauntingly, sometimes posing and other times candidly raising an arm or glance, or cradling their head on a bed of florals. Their postures, along with the carefully chosen landscape of garden beds and trees, are more than aesthetic compositions: they’re telling us a story, Paul’s own personal story.

© Paul Guilmoth

Not only is it an elegy to a queer world and identity, At The Night Garden is also lovingly dedicated to Trula Drinkard-Goolsby, who died on July 17 2021 after one last day spent laying in the field – the setting at which Paul decided to centre this photographic study. “The week before Trula died,” says Paul, “she began spending entire days reclined in her field. Her body would be so still we’d come up closer to be sure she hadn’t left us. A slight movement of her head chasing a loose swallow, or a finger grazing a plucked blade of grass was enough. Tuesday night she had come into the kitchen after a particularly long 12 hours in her field. Her hair disheveled like a bird nest. She looked at a rhubarb stalk on the table and said to us ‘all this time I’ve never seen the flowers growing, but they’re taller every morning.’”

© Paul Guilmoth

For Trula, as perceived through this visual narrative, the garden is the safe space at which she spent her very last moments. It’s symbolic in a multitude of ways, nodding to the cycle of life and biorhythm of the natural world; commencing with energetic shots of place and people, the book’s sequence then concludes with an illuminated cave-like door that alludes to a passage. Once a human dies, do they then reincarnate into the lands, the trees and grasses, in which they passed? It’s humbling to think of it in that way, imagining the environment as a place that houses the memories of our loved ones. 

Paul’s At The Night Garden beholds many spiritual and religious references, from baptisms to funerals, to birth, folklore and the fragility of life. Multilayered and allegorical, it shows the non-permanence of everything around us, plus the uniquely human desire to preserve the things that we hold dearly – the garden, here, serving as the archive. So to make sense of the work in all but a sentence or two would be a tricky one, because most – if not all – will relate to the pictures in some form of another, giving the photographs new meaning with each and every viewing. It’s like a dreamworld, a place of past and present in which Paul records their memories of Trula. It’s a story that never ends so long as Paul, and we, will remember.

Paul’s At The Night Garden is available at Stanley/Barker

© Paul Guilmoth

© Paul Guilmoth

© Paul Guilmoth

© Paul Guilmoth

© Paul Guilmoth

© Paul Guilmoth

© Paul Guilmoth