Informing Contexts, Contextual Research - Recent Influences

In this post, I will share a selection of resources which have been informing my current practice. Firstly, the images of photographer Sage Sohier and the book Americans Seen.

‘These photographs were made between 1979-1986 when I was a young photographer living in Boston. In that pre-digital and less paranoid era, families–and especially children and teenagers–used to hang out in their neighborhoods. A kind of theater of the streets emerged from the boredom of hot summer days and it was a great time to photograph people outside.’ - (Sage Sohier)

The phrase ‘theater of the streets’ is such a wonderful description for these photographs. The subjects appear to be arranged in a staged manner, but at the same time, there is an is an energy and authenticity that comes from the fact that these people are being photographed in their everyday environments. Looking at my own work, I know that my images involving people are often not as strong as my straight landscape shots, and that I would benefit from changing my approach to taking portraits. After looking at Sohier’s images, on my next opportunity to photograph people in the communities I am visiting, I will attempt to direct my subjects more, and perhaps also try to involve more people within one scene.

Looking at these images around 30 years after they were taken, I understand that a sense of nostalgia is also adding to my enjoyment of Sage Sohier’s Americans Seen. I recognize that I enjoy visiting and photographing remote towns in central Oregon, because the architecture and way of life there can feel somewhat like traveling to a different time period.

I found my recent tutorial with Paul Clements very beneficial, and he made some welcome suggestions for artists to look at. I found the above images by Inge Morath very helpful with regards to composition. The way that she placed her subjects within the surrounding architecture is something that could work well for me. She has also used the natural lighting to great effect, something that I have been less concerned with when shooting recently. Now that I am more comfortable working in these areas, I feel that I should make an effort to shoot at certain times of day. 

I am also very interested in another of Paul’s recommendations, Susan Lipper’s series Grapevine. Learning that Lipper spent extended time in Grapevine, and was (to use her words) ‘adopted’ by the family shown in the photographs, further reinforces my belief that I need to become more involved with the communities that I am photographing. Only through doing this, can I hope to achieve the level of intimacy that Lipper does with her subjects. Again, as with Sage Sohier’s work, the photographer played a directive role in creating these images, ‘resulting in a body of work that exists both within and outside the documentary tradition’. (Lipper, S. 2016)

Other than photography, I find that literature often influences my practice, and have been enjoying reading books based in central Oregon. I recently acquired an English translation of Oregon East, Oregon West: Travels and Memoirs by Theodor Kirchhoff 1863-1872. Kirchhoff was a German writer who lived in Oregon to write about the American West for nineteenth-century german magazines. Although a little dry, it does offer an insight into Oregon in the period following the western expansion from a European’s perspective. I have also recently discovered the author Willy Vlautin, a writer and musician based in Oregon. His novel Lean On Pete was particularly evocative in it’s description of the rural areas surrounding Portland. I look forward to seeing the film adaptation from the British Director Andrew Haigh, the cinematography for which appears to highlight the natural beauty of this part of the United States. 


Kirchhoff, A. 1987. Oregon East, Oregon West: Travels and Memoirs by Theodor Kirchhoff 1863-1872. Portland: The Oregon Historical Society Press.

Lipper, S. 2016. Susan Lipper Biographical Note. [Online]. [Accessed 09 April 2018]. Avaliable From:

Sohier, S. 2017. Americans Seen. Paso Robles: Nazraeli Press.

Vlautin, W. 2010. Lean on Pete. New York: Harper Perennial.

Using Format