The Transcendental World of Photographer Jordan Sullivan, Roadsongs, Clic Gallery, New York

Text by Bethany Rex

Brooklyn-based photographer Jordan Sullivan was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Ohio, Michigan, and Indonesia. He studied at the University of Michigan and University College London before moving to New York City. He previously worked as a construction worker in central Texas, a touring musician in New York City and as an artist assistant to photographers Mike & Doug Starn. Sullivan has exhibited in the United States and Europe, participating in PhotoIreland (Dublin), Flash Forward Festival (Boston) and Photomonth (Krakow). The photographer has also published three volumes of his own work, including The Ghost Country in collaboration with Pamela Love. Sullivan’s latest project Roadsongs will be exhibited at Clic Gallery, Manhattan until 13 May. We spoke with Jordan to explore his influences and the inspiration behind his latest series.

BR: You’ve had an interesting and incredibly varied career path. What initially inspired you to pick up a camera and start shooting professionally?

JS: I knew early on I had no interest in a normal life. Sometimes I’ll sink into some sort of routine for a second, but it never lasts too long. I need things to stay weird. I grew up reading Henry Miller and Kerouac and watching those old Wim Wenders road movies. I’d be in some high school math class just dreaming of when I could hit the road and go on these adventures. I’ve always imagined when I’m old I’ll have this room and the walls will be covered with pictures of all the people and places I’ve known. Hopefully, if I make it that far, I’ll be proud of all the good and bad times and all the mistakes and everything. Even now I’ve amassed a pretty decent archive. I started taking pictures when I was in high school. I’d go shoot photos and make these odd VHS short movies in downtown Detroit, mostly about teenage runaways for some reason – I’ve always been so obsessed with escaping and leaving home. But I didn’t start having gallery shows until much later, and it seemed to sort of happen by accident. I was mostly focused on writing novels and short stories. Art and photography was sort of this secret life I had and somehow people started finding out about it, and everything went from there.

BR: Most of the images in Roadsongs have a ethereal, almost nomadic quality to them. What is it you’re trying to capture in these works?

JS: Usually, I’m looking for an image that expresses some sort of emotion – loneliness, love, or just some sense of calm – but for Roadsongs I also wanted each picture to have a sound, to be these sort of picture-songs. I always think about music when I’m shooting or editing images, but for this show I really wanted each picture to be a song, and the whole show to be suggestive of an old folk album or something. Even the text on the pictures reads like weird forgotten song lyrics.

BR: I think when I first looked at your work I thought immediately “Americana” which is a theme that has become very familiar in photography of late. Are you particularly influenced by these references?

JS: If so, it’s an unconscious thing. I didn’t set out to make an exhibition or a body of work specifically about America. I was trying to express something more personal, but I’ve always been fascinated by artefacts and antiques and fossils, both from America and around the world. The photographs in Roadsongs were shot in America and the accompanying text on each image definitely explores things specific to being American and growing up here, so I in some ways it did turn out to an exploration of this country, but the work is in no way a social or political commentary, it’s more about about looking at these beautiful and messed up places and hopefully creating some sort of spiritual connection to them.

BR: Talking of references, are you motivated by any particular photographers? Where do you glean most of your inspiration?

JS: That’s hard to answer because I love so many photographers and artists who are all so different from one another, and I really try to work in a bubble with as little outside influence as possible. In terms of inspiration, I don’t know where it comes from or how often I’m even inspired. Inspiration is such a weird and kinda lofty word anyway. I treat art and photography like any job. I get up, I drink coffee, I sit in my little studio and sometimes I make something and sometimes I just wait. The waiting can go on for days though, but the waiting is important, it’s work, it builds up patience. Then all of sudden in two seconds you will know exactly what you need to do. I don’t how much of it has to do with inspiration though. I know I have this need to create, to articulate something, but I mostly work more out of a weird sense of duty, or maybe its just a habit at this point. Art definitely keeps me out of the bar to some degree and that’s not a bad thing. But if I worked only from inspiration I probably wouldn’t get much done.

BR: You’ve previously spent time in Europe and Indonesia but are based in NYC at the moment. What do you miss most about London and Indonesia and would you ever go back?

JS: I wasn’t in Europe or London for too long, but time doesn’t matter. I’ve spent single nights in cities that have changed my life forever, and London definitely had this insane affect on me. I loved it so much there. It was a such a weird time. I was there during the July bombings. The bus exploded just a couple blocks from my house. I remember walking outside that morning and seeing this business man covered in dust and blood just standing alone on a street corner. Down the block another man was on his knees crying. I took some photos that morning and when I got home I realised I’d loaded the film improperly so it’s all just in my memory now, and I’m kind of glad. I felt awful for taking those pictures. That all happened my first week there, and it really freaked me out. I’d never lived in a big city before and it was so insane to me. I’m from a hillbilly town and the suburbs of Detroit. London was another planet. I used to just walk around for whole days there and then stay out all night wasting what little money I had. It was so much fun. It was sort of my introduction to this whole new world, and I definitely would love to live there again.

BR: Could you give us a sneak preview of what you’re working on at the moment? Any new collaborations on the horizon?

JS: There are a couple of things in the pipeline. In the immediate future I have a solo show opening in NYC on 17 May at Underline Gallery. The show is called NATURAL HISTORY and combines two installations that span 70 years.

Jordan Sullivan: Roadsongs, 19/04/2012 – 13/05/2012, Clic Gallery, 255 Centre Street, New York,

All images from Jordan Sullivan’s Roadsongs series.
Courtesy the artist and Clic Gallery, NYC.