Interviews

Erica Snyder’s Portraits Of Suburbia

All images © Erica Snyder, courtesy of the artist

Erica Snyder's wide collection of photography illustrates the duality of living in the outskirts of a city.

Erica Snyder grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, so she perfectly understands the reality of living in a place that’s not in the midst of a huge urban metropolis, nor is it completely in the wilderness.

Snyder’s photographs pays testimony to such a suburban life, by both romanticising it and denigrating it. Some of her photography is crooked or shaky, aimed to communicate a feeling or disorientation or claustrophobia.

Yet others intend to celebrate a moment in the midst of the mundane, like a gas station or cinema caught in the beauty of a sunset.

Snyder takes all kinds of photography: landscapes, portraits, still life, and even concert photography. Each place, thing, person, or memory she captures holds a similar moodiness to the previous and the next.

She takes BJP through the philosophies of her work.

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What’s the genesis of this project? Why were you compelled to see this project through?

The project was born out of a desire to find beauty in the suburbs where I live. It continued to grow with realization that everything around me was constantly changing, many of the buildings I have photographed have recently been renovated. New strip malls pop up every day, I have seen so much knocked down and rebuilt since I began shooting. I was compelled to see the project through because it felt endless, each day I would discover something I had previously overlooked and wanted to capture before it was decimated. I got lost exploring my own “back yard”.

Describe yourself in less than 50 words.

I often feel like a 12 year old girl stuck in a 24 year old’s body. I am curious about everything.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now? What are the pros and cons of each?

I grew up in New Jersey and I now live in a different part of New Jersey. They are very similar to one another. However New Jersey is extremely diverse, you have access to so many different experiences. Some parts are very urban, while others are incredibly rural, all you have to do is drive about 45 minutes in one direction to see a change. The cons would be the general attitude, people from New Jersey can be abrasive, I tend to get a lot of strange looks when I’m out with my camera. When I shoot around New York, no one pays any attention to me.

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When was the first time you became aware of photography? How old were you?

I first discovered photography when I was fairly young, probably 7 or 8. My parents gave me a point and shoot camera which I used to photograph horses at the local barn where I rode, I didn’t shoot consistently though, riding was much more important to me at the time.

What is the primary reason you became a photographer? When did you decide to become one?

It started as a hobby about a year ago. I was avidly chasing sunsets and photographing them with my Iphone. I was so intrigued by the colors and uniqueness of each sunset. Eventually I picked up a proper camera and began shooting anything that caught my eye. I found myself drawn to vibrant colors amidst the dull suburbs. Local diners, neon signs, empty motel lots became my sunset replacements. There wasn’t a moment where I decided to become one, it just sort of happened. It became a great way to pass time as well. I can lose hours out shooting.

What motivates you?

The unknown motivates me, photography is a constant journey, physically and emotionally. Each time I go out to shoot I discover something new about something that once felt so familiar. Driving around the suburbs around not knowing what I will find around the corner excites me and keeps me inspired.

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How did you learn to become a photographer (training, mentors, teachers, photobooks, etc.)?

I taught myself how to take photographs. I didn’t pick up a photobooks until recently, I enjoy looking at the techniques other photographers use but I really learned through trial and error, getting feedback from friends and critiquing my own work.

The one photograph you’d save in a nuclear apocalypse – your own, or someone else’s?

Someone else’s, there are many beautiful photographs of my mother that I would like to save.

What are the common themes, subjects or concerns that run through all your work?

A thread of absence and isolation run through my work, the landscape of America is my backdrop. I shoot mostly isolated locations at times when few people are out. I like the quiet beauty found in these places, the glow of neon, one car in an otherwise empty parking lot, a diner that has been shut down for years. Emptiness is very appealing to me.

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Can you describe what you’re looking for in a photograph – are there any particular aesthetic concerns, or are you purely led by your engagement with your subjects?

In a photograph I look for a balance of space, I like my images to feel like you are a participating in the scene but not thrown right on top of it. Along with that I find strong colors and contrast are elements I tend to look for.

Who’s your favourite photographer?

I am really fond of Todd Hido’s work, the way he describes his process of driving around looking for the perfect subject is something I can also relate to.

Do you take on a different approach when photographing concerts versus still life?

Shooting concerts for me is very different. It’s mostly shooting rapid fire and praying that I’ve got something. I enjoy it though, it’s a unique rush to be in the photo pit climbing over other photographers to get a shot. Very different from being out alone in the suburbs!

What’s the worst job you’ve done?

Worst job photography wise? I shot an engagement once, which is something I never do. I was just as nervous as the couple! It all turned out fine but what a crazy experience, I give wedding and event photographers a lot of credit.

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What’s the best image you’ve ever taken? What was the scenario, and why do you like it?

It’s hard for me to pin down my “best” image. But one of my favorites is of a night clerk at a motel. He had left the front desk and was sitting in an arm chair watching the local news. There are many reasons why I like it, first reason being I was scared to take it, a friend I was with dared me to do it and I just couldn’t say no. The wood paneling in the lobby, the green of the house plant, the woman news caster on the television and the night clerk blissfully unaware, uninterrupted in his own world. I love it all.

What’s the best photo you never took?

So many, I try not to dwell on the ones I’ve missed. Always having a camera on me and gaining confidence with shooting has allowed me to not miss as many. But everytime I miss a good sunset I still kick myself.

What’s your message to your younger self, in the moment they decided to be a photographer?

This is fairly recently, as I have only been shooting consistently for about a year. A message I always have to remind myself is just keep shooting and trust my gut. It is easy to get discouraged if you take it too seriously, I like to keep things light and enjoy the experience.

Find out more about Erica Snyder’s work here.