Parker Stewart (b. 1992) is a Savannah, GA based photographer and a native of Greensboro, North Carolina. He recently received a B.F.A. in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design. His work focuses on the place and he uses photography as a tool to observe and record these scenes which move him the most. Typically drawn by the complexities of banal and vernacular architecture of different regions across the world, he has a special tie to the the American South and the southern scenes he sees on a daily basis. Parker is currently a contributor for Aint-Bad Magazine and a new employee of Maine Media Workshop and College. His work has been featured on Oxford American’s Eye’s on the South, Lenscratch, Booooooom, and been exhibited in Savannah, Atlanta, and Augusta, Georgia, Washington, DC, Greensboro, North Carolina, and Lacoste, France.
AB : You recently went on a very long road trip on assignment as a field intern for the Western Environmental Law Center, and we talked pretty extensively in the past about how it changed your relationship with the idea of the importance of home. After this trip, you came back and made your final body of work as an undergrad specifically about Savannah. Do you think your trip changed your perspective on what home means to you and how you communicate that through photographs? Do you think you would have made the same body of work if you hadn’t spent that summer away?
PS : That trip was definitely a pivotal moment of who I am as a photographer and as a person. In early 2014 I worked out an Internship with the Western Environmental Law Center where I would spend the summer traveling across the western half of the United States documenting current environmental lawsuits they were fighting in order raise further awareness of the situations. In order to do this, I used kickstarter to raise funds for travel expenses, and in June of 2014 I set off from North Carolina and made a bee-line to New Mexico. There is no real way to prepare yourself for a solo trip across the country and I took it head on. The excitement builds in the first week or two but after the two weeks of new and unfamiliar I began to have really low moments where I would be driving endlessly for a day maybe more only to arrive at a destination drained of any and all energy and drive and just long for home, family, or just a friend to appreciate the vast beauty of the Western landscape. After 17,000 miles on the road, mostly alone except for a few instances where I was accompanied by my girlfriend or friend or mother, I returned to Savannah completely drained from 7 months of traveling (I was studying abroad in France in the Spring before my trip), but with a heightened sense of home and what it means to belong to a place. I returned with such a great appreciation for Savannah after being away for so long I knew I had to really dig into the place that I had missed. I feel like I spent almost 2 months just looking and making pictures on my phone before I pulled my 4×5 camera out and made the images of the places and moments I had been witnessing and even dreaming about while I was away.
AB : In that same lens, has that trip affected the way you photograph unfamiliar places? Today, so many people don’t actually know what it feels like to be the only person for miles, isolated completely, truly alone. Has that changed how you treat foreign places in your work, maybe making you more cautious? Or has it made you more connected?
PS : In those moments during my trip out west where I was driving endlessly through the vast void that is the Western Landscape I would arrive at places, Amarillo, Texas, Sheridan, Wyoming, Butte, Montana, just completely alone, tired from driving, my head full of thoughts like “what’s the point?” I’d pull out my 4×5 and just walk, set up my tripod and point my camera towards a composition I thought was interesting and make a photograph. In many cases it wasn’t until I developed and scanned the film and reflected on the photograph that I began to relate these images to how I felt and my personal experience of making the photograph in that place. While I was photographing out west, my isolation and solitude made me so cautious about the places would travel through. Although the outcome was a very rewarding, the trip itself was a very disconnected experience. I was never content, I left most places unsatisfied with what I did or made, except for a few instances. When I returned home and simply reflected on the trip and the photographs I made, all I can think about is how I would do it again and what I would do differently. As I travel through unfamiliar places today I feel a new connection with the landscape and my place in it and it is certainly how I am looking at the world and making work today.
AB : Most of the scenes you decide to shoot have a very still emptiness to them, or a very small presence turned into something grand by your eye. Knowing you, it’s funny to realize that it is sometimes the opposite of your daily life, being surrounded by large groups of friends, enjoying the noise and camaraderie that comes with the presence of company. Do you think your draw towards producing quieter work is a way to balance or center yourself?
PS : The camaraderie of my life in Savannah is something of an amazing burden that I will never regret. Growing up I was a pretty introverted kid, only to become more outgoing in my late teen, early twenties, a lot having to do with leaving home and moving to Savannah which has a very unique energy as we (Aint-Bad crew) know. I believe that I do make quieter work as a means to balance. These moments I attempt to capture are the quiet moments I’ve seen before in between the action. They’re subtle moments, typically only lasting a few seconds but in some cases they’re more permanent.
AB : In Slowly, and Over Time, you mentioned that you watched and photographed both how Savannah has changed, but remained the same in many ways. I think this is a great testament to why many people photograph, and in the same way how photographs are contradictory. We photograph to keep things the same in our memories, and also photograph in order to communicate change – do you think this is a contradiction? Can photographs disrupt time and make it malleable?
PS : I feel that I photograph not only in order to communicate what has changed, but also what hasn’t. I am always looking for a photograph that disrupts time. I strive to make that photograph that looks like it was made in the past 40 years but, in cases, holds some sort of contemporary relevance. I try to include many visual layers of information for people to read through and also illustrate the layers of time and history that are visible in a scene.
AB : How did you become interested in photography?
PS : Well, it was really in middle school I starting taking my parents new digital camera with me to school began making pictures outside during recess and at lunch. In 7th grade I got my own camera and progressed into shooting pictures everywhere I went. In 8th grade I started printing and selling my photographs to friends and family, I would also wear a tee shirt with an iron on logo advirtising “Parker Stewart Photography” in a classic Mistral brush script font with the back of the shirt displaying my website “ www.freewebs.com/pmanstew”. My sophomore year of high school my parents took my brother and I out of school to travel throughout the Caribbean for a year living on our boat. It was during this time that I really began to dedicate myself to the craft of photography and upon returning I decided that this is what I had to do and worked my way to SCAD.
AB : How did you become involved with Aint-Bad?
PS : When I began at SCAD I tried to spend as much time around Bergen Hall, the photography department, as possible. I remember hearing about Aint-Bad when I was Freshman, I joined Photogroup, the photography club, that same year and that’s where I first met Carson. I really got to know Taylor and Carson when I started to work as work-study in the photo department and I’d constantly be hearing about what Aint-Bad was doing and I was always a fan. Taylor was a big motivator for me when it came to my trip out west, he pushed me to shoot film, as much as I could. When I returned to Savannah in September of 2014 they asked if I’d like to come on board as an editorial assistant and boom now we’re here.
AB : What is your favorite memory or experience from working with Aint-Bad and why?
PS : God, I have so many stories I could tell. Needless to say, I love our team and feel so fortunate to have gotten to know such a talented group of people. I really love events we have put on or been apart of. Starting with our American South exhibitions in Savannah, Augusta, and Atlanta, to our amazing trip to New Orleans for SPE, to our Issue No. 9 launch party in Savannah at the American Legion. I think we’re getting close to perfection hosting our events, we know how to throw a party. But right now I’m really missing our Sunday meetings at Carson’s apartment where I can crack open a Lonestar and we can plug away at the work needing to be done.
AB : How has Aint-Bad changed your perspective on contemporary photography and how has it affected you as an artist?
PS : Working for Aint-Bad has allowed me to further develop my taste, and when you combine that with the perspective of others, it becomes such a beautiful conversation. Even before I began working for Aint-Bad I got in the habit of looking at the site and through the magazines regularly. Aint-Bad had a lot to do when it came to understanding what was relevant in contemporary photography while I was in school learning about the history of photography. All of a sudden, looking through the work of contemporary photographers featured with Aint-Bad, I was able to draw lines through history to their sources or references. I love talking about photographs and I couldn’t be in a better position than the one I am in right now where I get to contact artists and feature their work for us and others to talk about.
AB : Most Aint-Bad members are in a time of transition, what’s next for you and your work?
PS : Things are very fluid for me right now. After graduating I moved up to Rockport, Maine where I am currently. I am about to finish up working at Maine Media Workshops for the summer which has been an incredible experience. I’ve gotten to know so many influential people who have been here teaching as well as gain some incredible friends who are all in the same boat that I am in being an emerging photographer. I think my current goal is to return to Savannah to work closer with Aint-Bad, as well as continue working on personal projects. I have gained some printing clients since I have been working up here as a printer in Maine so I also plan on purchasing a large format printer and starting a small print studio as soon as I can. Hopefully grad school is in my not so distant future and the road will go on from there.
For more of Parker’s work, please visit his website.