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.
One of your biggest talking points about your work is that you enjoy photographing cultures and locations that are not your own. Personally, I feel this is really an interesting statement, because in my experience of knowing you, I think you do an incredible job of building up real relationships with the people and societies you decide to photograph. A lot of photographers will just be a voyeur, staying on the fringe and hiding behind the camera, but you’ve repeatedly cultivated a rapport with the different people, sides, and spaces of Savannah. Would you say this is due to your interest of the unknown, or is it all part of the process of creating a home for yourself over the years?
Wow we are jumping right into this huh? No starters like whats your favorite color? (green) Favorite food? (fried)
I think you are pretty much hitting the nail on the head here. I agree that a lot of photographers making “documentary” work are often voyeurs. It is certainly easier that way to some extent. I can’t say I’ve never taken a shot and then ran off. But I do take pride in the fact that I am actively interested in learning and becoming a part of these cultures and places that are not my own. I am interested in the fact that Savannah is segregated. I am not in denial like a lot of people in this city. But I want to cross that line and go develop relationships with people of all ethnicities / backgrounds in this city. I know that I as one man can’t do much. But if I start developing real relationships with the regulars at some african american barbershops, maybe people’s opinions will start to change on both sides. And maybe in the future a white dude walking in to get a good haircut won’t get the most uncomfortable stares in his life that I have experienced over the years.
Why polaroid film? How has using it affected your work? Does its immediacy make it easier to develop relationships with the subjects you photograph?
Well I guess we should give the real credit to Fuji since polaroid crushed our dreams a few years ago. Very thankful that Fuji is still making instant film. But Polaroid is such an iconic name that it just feels right to call it that.
Instant film is and always will be my favorite. The nostalgic elements are of course great and will only get better as time passes. But the immediacy is key. Strangers don’t trust other strangers to take a picture of them these days. Maybe I’m gonna go home and masturbate to the images.. who knows? But when it’s instant film, and I can take one and immediately hand it to this stranger, who hopefully won’t remain a stranger, they can trust me a little bit more and know that my intentions are good and honest. It’s also priceless to see a smile on someones face after they look at the photograph I have just made for them. I always ask if I can take one for them, and then a second one for me.
You say that you like to photograph and embrace all different cultures, but the South seems to have a pretty sentimental place in your heart. What is it about the region that makes that true?
Well I was born in Texas and I consider that the South. Some don’t.. But it is certainly a different south than Georgia. I live here (in Savannah Georgia) and I feel very lucky to be in such a beautiful city. The South has many things to offer that some people don’t appreciate. The heat for instance is deathly but I’d rather be sweating than be bundled up in some gortex jacket that doesn’t allow me to move my arms. I mean I could go on and on about the South. It’s just a different way of life. It’s just slow enough for me, and I love the food and people that come from this region. Views aint bad either. I have been pretty fortunate to travel to many places in America and to a few countries in South America and Asia. Each time I travel, I am beyond fascinated with the different ways people live, speak, and go about daily routines. Asia, which also holds a special place in my heart, is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. So when I was there I embraced it all as much as I could. Cuba was incredible too but that deserves its own interview.
You’ve had a few forays into motion work as well – can you give us a little insight into the motivations and processes behind that?
Basically I wish I was better at making videos. But I’m the only one keeping myself from becoming better. I just can’t seem to find the time. My barbershop work started with just still images. But a main interest of mine was and still is the sounds that I hear when I am getting a haircut. The buzz of the clippers. The jokes from the guys, the hip hop playing through the busted speakers, or Maury playing on the tv. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “ You ARE NOT the father!” while getting a haircut.
So because of this I started recording my sessions at the barbershop. Mainly ambient sounds but I also record interviews and conversations. I first started adding these to my website as audio clips and the idea was to play the clip as you click through the images. I still have one of those up on my website which I enjoy a lot. But then during my last year in school I took a video class which finally allowed me to combine sounds, still images, and moving images. I really fell in love with this for awhile. And so did everyone I was photographing. Everybody wants me to make a video for them now but I’m really not interested, too much pressure. The videos I made present the subject matter in the way it deserves to be seen… And they are very slow. You are able to hear the thoughts and motivations behind some of my subjects. Sometimes I still tear up a little bit when I watch some of them.
How did you become interested in photography?
I became interested in photography because I suck at math and English wasn’t too much fun either. I am half kidding. But I guess I have always been more interested in arts than academics. However I do maintain a strong appreciation for art history, especially contemporary art history.
My Dad took photos as a hobby and as I got older he started to let me take his cameras out around the neighborhood. I would photograph my friends and I doing very dumb things. My Dad still likes to show me those photos. I play drums and was in bands all throughout high school so that allowed me to take pictures of live music and set up photoshoots for my bands. I guess thats when the fine art aspect of photography started to kick in. Shortly after I found Lomography and fell in love with shooting film through their shitty plastic cameras. I still love them, but they suck. Color film sold me on photography. I love the ability to color correct an image. But I also love the way a film still looks when it is first scanned in. The colors you get are crazy sometimes. Also I mean come on what is better than holding a film negative?
What was your role in starting Aint-Bad?
So I met this dude Taylor Curry back in 2011 because he was making websites for other photo students. I needed a website for my own work. We starting hanging out and making the website. A few late nights and a few beers led us to talk about the idea of creating a website for other artists. Sort of like a portfolio site for artists we respected. Invite only. The idea was that we could critique each others work and discuss pros and cons of new series. Some of our good friends and favorite photographers were getting ready to graduate and move away. So this was a way to keep in touch after everyone moved to different cities and also keep everyone motivated to keep shooting. We called the website Aint-Bad.
We invited our good friend James Jackman to join the team. He had this thing about printing his bodies of work into physical books and presenting the images in a bound form instead of making prints to hang on the walls. It seems obvious but he was the only one doing it at the time. He helped us to realize that as cool as this project was on the web, it needed to be in print. Thus Aint-Bad Magazine was born.
Four years later we have somehow managed to survive. It is tough to be a printed publication these days. Taylor and I are the only original members still on the team and it certainly feels like this is our baby. We consider ourselves the “co-founders”, and I have been in charge of sales and distribution ever since we became big enough to have actual titles. We now have an amazing team of people all over the country, and one bloke from London, who help make everything possible. It’s quite a dream come true to step back and look at Aint-Bad and see all that we have done over the years. My personal work has certainly taken the back burner but how can I be upset about that when I constantly help to promote other amazing photographers from all over the world?
What is your favorite memory or experience from working with Aint-Bad and why?
Oh man I could go on for days. Maybe one day Taylor and I will write a book of memoirs. I would say one that comes to mind is when we were asked to give a talk at the Morris Museum in Augusta, GA. Not a giant museum, but a great one. Kigar you were there with us! And my mom too! She came out to watch Taylor and I give our first official “lecture”. We were so fucking nervous it was ridiculous. I am not a very good public speaker and Taylor is even worse but somehow we managed to pull it off and people seemed to enjoy it. We sold a few magazines after the talk and then proceeded to drink champagne. After my mom fell asleep we had a giant pillow fight in the other hotel room, classic high school style. I think we also smoked a joint in my truck and a security guard almost caught us. We even got paid a little cash for the talk! We certainly don’t make any kind of living from Aint-Bad, but little things like that really make all of the effort we put in worth it at the end of the day.
How has Aint-Bad changed your perspective on contemporary photography and how has it affected you as an artist?
Woah girl. Woah. Aint-Bad has taught me more about contemporary photography and how this industry works than any education ever could. It is incredible to have the opportunity to meet and speak with artists whom I’ve read about and have followed for awhile. When they say they know who I am or that they have heard of Aint-Bad and they dig it, it’s the biggest compliment in the world. Working on a project like this on a daily basis allows me to look past all of the shit that is being produced by photographers these days. There is so much talented buried under the shit. We just gotta dig to find it.
On a personal level it has allowed me to step back and look at a composition before taking a photo. I now know if its going to work or not for the most part. I don’t find myself wasting frames as much anymore. And if I see something that I know has already been photographed, I take the time to find a new way to make the image so that it’s A. not ripping anyone off, and B. shot differently so I can call it my own. This isn’t to say that I don’t take any shitty photographs.. I am always doubting myself as a photographer. Some days I am really happy with the images I have made, but most days I wonder what I am doing. But that’s just how it is. Keeps things interesting, I guess.
What’s next for you, and what is your dream for the future of Aint-Bad?
I am just taking life one day at a time for the moment. We just wrapped up the next issue of Aint-Bad. We are making some other printed matter this year. (More info on that soon!) My life is great at the moment and keeping busy is key. For Aint-Bad, my dream is to keep making this work. Keep increasing readership and keep people interested in what we are doing. When people lose interest we will stop. But hopefully that never happens. I want Aint-Bad to become a regular name in photography. I want to be talked about in photo classes in a few years, and then even more so in 20 years. I want everyone to submit work to Aint-Bad because as an emerging artist you have to do whatever it takes to get your name and work out there for the world to see. We have created a platform for that and I am pretty damn proud.
To view more of Carson’s work, please visit his website.