Black and White Program

Artists of the 55th Carnegie International: Sharon Lockhart

June 13th, 2008 by John Eastman

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Sharon Lockhart is a photographer and filmmaker that was born in Norwood, MA and lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Since 1992 she has exhibited her work in Germany, Portugal, France, Spain, Japan, the Netherlands, and across the U.S. Her film ‘Pine Flat’ was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. The intimate photographs from her series of the same name capture the emotional portraits of the children that she came to know while living in a cabin in the foothills of the Californian Sierra Nevada Mountains. Black and White discusses her influences, her approach to her subjects, and her upcoming work.

What influences your work? How do you select subject matter?
LOCKHART: People I meet, paintings, books, places, other art and artists. Each project I do is different and I always tend to change my approach depending on the concept. For one project I can be looking at sports photography and baroque painting and for another project I can be looking at FSA photography, anthropology, and Rauschenberg. I know that is more a description of the research stage of my process but that is when a variety of influences come together, which is probably of more interest.

Pine Flat Portrait Studio

You have said about the filming of ‘Pine Flat’, your film chronicling the quiet moments of a group of rural children, that “everything is planned, from the landscape to their actions.” How did you maintain the sensation of spontaneity in this planned environment?
LOCKHART: I knew the children very well before I even picked up a camera and we filmed over the course of years. And we did re-shoots quite often so there wasn’t the preciousness of a traditional documentary approach. The ten-minute static shots allowed for things to evolve in front of the camera in a more natural way. Direction was easier to give with the long duration of each take. However, I would occasionally decide to give no direction at all because I knew the children well enough to anticipate how they’d act in a particular situation. A good example of this approach is the two sisters with the swing. I knew they would fight over it, and how it would play out. This scene in the film is really wonderful and one of my favorites. It captures the children, Becky and Katie, so well at that age. They sound like little animals giggling and fighting in the distance.

How is your approach to interacting with your subjects varied between shooting 16mm film and stills? What is different with the communication of the two mediums?
LOCKHART: With still photography you can shoot Polaroid tests to be sure everything is right before you start shooting actual negatives. However, with motion film there are no guarantees, and so you wait until the film is developed and you screen it at the lab. A good portion of the work is done through the editing process. With Pine Flat I had the luxury of going back for re-shoots because the location was only a few hours away from Los Angeles. But in general motion film is much more expensive and you shoot less.

With my film work, audiences are given the time to look and the critical distance from traditional documentary to appreciate some of the grace of daily life. The photographic projects that accompany each of these films offer a different relationship to time as well as the act of viewing

Pine Flat Portrait StudioYou capture distinct emotions from your subjects– this is particularly apparent in the stills. How have you achieved this?
LOCKHART: With the Pine Flat Portrait Studio I used a large-format camera and the only lighting was the daylight which came in through the doors of the barn that I used as a studio. This made the exposure time pretty long and the children had to really concentrate and hold still. I think these conditions gave rise to the intensity in the portraits and the feeling that the children are so grounded and present. Each child was in control of their image which isn’t typical of the circumstances in which one normally poses for photographs. I used Polaroids so that they could see the images right away and make subtle changes. And when I begin to screen dailies of the film segments, the kids didn’t understand that with a film projector you can’t rewind and fast forward. So the experiences of creating both the still photographs and the film were in a time-frame very much outside of that which the children associated with media.

What inspired the ‘Pine Flat’ series?
LOCKHART: It really came about organically over years and was not pre-planned. I didn’t go to the community to make artwork. It was the opposite actually; I wound up there hoping to take a break from producing art. But the children inspired me from the beginning; initially their openness to a total stranger pulled me into the community and eventually I was inspired to want to make art with them.

Tell me about the Pine Flat children. What was your relationship with them like and how did they come to be in your work?
Pine Flat Portrait StudioLOCKHART: I was renting a cabin in their town for a month and each day I would take long walks, sometimes for hours and I’d always see Sarah, Matthew, Mikey, Damien, and Alex outside playing near the creek. They’d always ask where I was going, where I was coming from, and what I saw and after a while they began to show me special places to go in the surrounding wilderness and things to see in the landscape. It’s funny, when I screened the film to the town almost 5 years after it began, I told the story about the day Sarah came to my house and asked if I wanted to come play. I told her I was too exhausted from my long walk and needed to clean up the house. She then asked “well do you have any brothers or sisters who can come out?” It was the first time I realized that my relationship with them was different. Granted she was young when she said this-– probably 6. But I think it was because I had time to spend with them and you know, when you are a child time seems to go on and on…

‘Pine Flat’ was completed in 2005. What are you working on at present and what was the influence for it?
LOCKHART: I am making a new film and photographic series titled ‘Lunchbreak’. It was partially inspired by Pine Flat because the film looks at children, alone and groups, in situations that are very much outside of time. This led me to think about social space, the places adults gather, and their mutable sense of time. It brought me to the lunchroom as a space that both embraces and questions these ideas.

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