To some, a photograph is a memory, the transitory pull of nostalgia. To others, it is a physical ersatz of what once could have been but never fully was. To Jordan Sullivan, it’s both. In his most recent exhibition ROADSONGS for Clic Gallery, Jordan’s dreamy photographs reveal the spaces between the lines we will all come across one day. 1883 spoke to the self-proclaimed storyteller about the meaning behind his creations.
When did you first pick up a camera?
When I was 15. It was old manual and it was the only camera I used for the next 10 years. But as a teenager I wanted to be a filmmaker, so I mostly shot video stuff with this VHS camera I got from my older brother. I was always drawn to wide, open spaces. I used to drive out these fields and just film horses and plants for hours. Really long boring stuff I guess. And I was always drawn to light, magic hour, all that. As a kid I always wanted to stare at the sun, and I used try and look at it for as long as I could, which is pretty dumb. So when I got the VHS camera I used to make all these videos of the sun. The camera actually broke while I pointing it at the sun. I remember the moment it happened. I was looking through the viewfinder, and the sun just looked all jagged like a shard of glass. I was filming for maybe a minute when the lens broke and everything went black around it. I remember thinking that was what death would look like.
When did you start traveling?
I’ve always been traveling I suppose. My family moved around a lot. After college I went to Europe, then I came to New York and I joined a band and we did some touring, and those were some of best times I’ve ever had. That was when I really fell in love with the south and the western United States. Last year I split down to Texas for a while. I don’t like staying put.
What were you running from?
Girls, the city, I don’t know really. I’m not always running away. Sometimes I’m just looking for something different. But whenever I have a broken heart I tend to disappear for a while. I feel like I make all the best things when I’m in love or just completely broken up or after being on the road for a while.
Is there one place you have connected with more than all the others, or in other words, where have you felt most at home?
For me people are places, and I have always felt most at home when I’m with people I love. It doesn’t matter where we are.
The photographs I’ve seen from ROADSONGS are beautiful but seem empty. Where does that loneliness come from?
I guess I’ve always been fairly melancholy. In high school I used to eat my lunch alone in the library cause I didn’t have anyone in the cafeteria to sit with. It sounds depressing, but it was rad. I didn’t learn shit in high school except during those lunch hours. That was where I discovered Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac and Kenneth Patchen. That was where I really discovered the world. All those writers and all the characters in their books were my best friends. Maybe that sounds ridiculous and sad, but it wasn’t. Growing up I used to skateboard and play in bands, but I never fully immersed myself in any scene. As a teenager all those scenes just seemed sort of lame. I still feel pretty lonely sometimes, even though I count on one more than two hands the people that love me and the ones that I love, and that in itself is so insane and beautiful. But all those feelings from the past and from childhood are hard to shake. Maybe it’s a subconscious decision, but in my art and photography I’m always looking for moments that express whatever I’m feeling or the things I’ve felt, whether it was loneliness, or love, or some sort of calm.
Is ROADSONGS in any way a departure from your other work?
Not really. The format of the prints is new, as well as the way I printed them. I also have handwritten text on all the pieces. But the actual images were shot over the past 5 years, and I’m still exploring a lot of themes that have been in my head since I was 14 years old.
Your photography has this nostalgic, dreamy feel. What kind of cameras do you shoot with to capture that look?
I’ll shoot on anything really, but I love film. I’ve never bought a camera or sought out a camera because some other photographer used it or whatever. I just use whatever I find or whatever camera someone gives me until it breaks. I’ve shot on polaroid, old 35mm cameras, point and shoots, disposable cameras. I like the way old stuff looks, things with history. So I usually just mess with my prints until they give off whatever feeling I’m trying to convey.
Have you always written words to accompany your images?
Since I was a teenager I’ve made zines and books that have words and images in them. Words just always creep into whatever project I’m doing. Sometimes I think I’m more a writer or a storyteller than an artist. Artist is such a silly word anyway.
Can you talk a little bit about The Ghost Country? How did the collaboration with Pamela Love come about?
Pam and I spent a lot of time together. We lived together for a while, and she was always so supportive of everything I did and really gave me a lot of confidence at this time when I was feeling like I was getting nowhere with art and writing and everything. Her and I always had this sort of similar aesthetic or way of seeing things too, so when a painter friend offered us his house in New Mexico we just decided to do a project together while we were there. The Ghost Country came out of that whole time together.
Photography documents the past, and a lot of your work focuses on recovering those memories. How do you think photographs change the way we remember?
A lot of the pictures in Roadsongs were taken while I was trying to forget, but the show became the opposite, it became a way for me to remember and confront the past. But photographs can completely alter a personal history. Photography has this dual existence. On one hand it’s a tool for creation, for beauty, but it’s also a tool for destruction and lies. Depending on the dialog surrounding an image, as well as its presentation through media or whatever, a photograph can rewrite whole histories. Every war reminds us of that. Pictures can alter an entire national feeling. Every photograph, regardless of it’s intent, is a perspective; it’s an image in a frame, a fragment, a subjective moment. An image can tell the truth, but it’s never the whole truth.
ROADSONGS is on until May 15 at Clic NYC, 255 Centre Street, NY, NY
Words by Natalee Ranii-Dropcho