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A Brief Interview with Colin Stearns

SM: Who are you?
CS: Right now, balancing being an artist and an educator.

SM: What are you?
CS: Curious bordering on confused.

SM: When are you?
CS: Out shooting, in my studio or in the classroom.

SM: Where are you?
CS: Currently, Ridgewood, Queens.

SM: Why are you?
CS: Dyslexia.

SM: The tone of the images throughout all that cannot be said is mostly somber, sometimes sad, and attentive to degeneration—that is, the loss of order that might define a particular place.

SM: In the case of all that cannot be said, that place is New York City but I do not think such particularities are too important because it wouldn’t be accurate to say that you are attempting to define New York City. However, what is important is that you are looking at place in decline broadly by way of infrastructure and inhabitants.

CS: The want is for New York to be a present idea but not a concrete one, not to be ignored but also not specific. One of the few things I love about New York is that every city has parts that look like New York, in this instance I am finding the places that have long ago lost order. It’s those places I attempt to use as a metaphor of the universal emotional state of all us, we all have those places too. How much we recognize those places is probably not too dissimilar to how much places like Paris, New York or Tokyo recognize urban blight. I’ve always felt that the urban blight was the opposite end of the connective tissue of living. We really can’t have Central Park without the landfill that supports the garbage left there or the bulldozed refuse that created that space. Thus, to be truly happy one needs to be attentive to degeneration.

SM: I wrote in the review that the edit of all that cannot be said is more thoughtful than any individual photograph. That is not to say that thought did not go into the photographs you made. Rather, I think the edit distinguishes between your response to a place (the photographs) and the analysis of a place (the photographs edited and ordered). Order despite degeneration resonates most in all that cannot be said. Despite loss order brings hope. If this is a fair assessment, could you speak to the idea of finding hope in loss and the value in bringing order to degeneration?

CS: I am flattered and thrilled that the edit/editing comes through as thoughtful and with intention. That is a goal, one that is very important to me. I work to make photobooks that exceed a mere book of images or a theme of ideas.

CS: When creating this series, I looked to fiction authors that worked in stream of consciousness and that also have a solid narrative arc. My photobooks have an interior dialogue and appeal to the abstracted emotions, but also to take us somewhere more resolved. The Sound and The Fury is a book I kept coming back to as well as Mrs Dalloway, I see them as opposites, balancing the other. Both, largely begin in a solid place and time and have intensive levels of abstraction and then a loss of order, but both keep the reader grounded with the only goal of getting to the light at the end. Faulkner’s use of time and Woolf’s use of inner dialog are huge influences to me when crafting a photobook. In both books there are ‘not interesting’ parts to the story that are hugely important to the book, as I think there is any language. I’ve taken the risk of doing that in photobooks, at times to the distress of publishers.

CS: As far as ‘finding hope in loss’ and ‘bringing order to degeneration’, I’ll tackle the latter first. I think that in this book, the order lets you know it’s okay to feel and to accept degeneration. Someone has felt this before, is feeling this, and perhaps that this is the proper and eventual flow of the universe. I believe it might be through this that we have hope. Rebecca Solnit said that true violence is the denial of hope. This work is post-violence, and the very nature of the violence existing in the past is a return to hope.