Featured Artist | Sarah Stone

Except As No. 6

In the final week of the 2017 Late Winter Exhibit, our blog feature is photographer Sarah Stone. Sarah’s work is both beautiful on first look and engaging with longer investigation, and has been incredibly well-received by Sager Braudis visitors. Many of her photographs have already gone home to new collections! Give her remaining pieces a last viewing before April 1st, and learn a little more about her ideas this week as Gallery Director Hannah Reeves asks her to explicate. 

REEVES: Your statement explains that the connecting factor of all of the objects depicted in this series is that they are manufactured using inmate labor. How did you find out about this phenomenon? It must have really struck you, to have inspired this whole photographic project. 

STONE: Watching Ava DuVernay’s documentary, 13TH, was the impetus for the “Except As” series. After being exposed to the many facts on how the prison system specifically affects black and brown bodies, I continued to do research by way of Angela Davis and others. Existing in this specific moment in history, is to exist in a time where conversations about race, identity and class are increasing a climate of polarity. I wanted to use my platform as an artist to challenge racial and social inequalities by specifically calling into question the operation of the systemic American prison structure.  

REEVES: Could you talk a bit about how you set up your shots, and tell us about your process?

STONE: Initially, I planned on purchasing the specific items produced by inmate labor, but scale became an issue. I wanted the items to have a similar size and repetitiveness, which would be challenging if Iwere to use, for example, a wooden chair and then a head of cabbage. so, to give myself more flexibility, I selected items that represent their respective industries. 

I think deciding on the background took me the most time! Visually, I knew I wanted the background space to suggest an institutional interior, hinting at an underlying component of the series, but without being overt. I ended up finding a faux marble shelf liner and affixed it to foamcore.

In terms of technical process, this series was produced digitally with a DSLR, in studio, using two strobes on either side. 

REEVES: What response do you hope to elicit from your viewers? Are you mainly hoping to heighten awareness of a current issue, or do you also want to spur action of some kind?

STONE: Both. I hope this series promotes conversation, brings up questions and challenges the viewers to further examine both the prison system and other existing social structures. 

REEVES: What is the role of beauty in this work? You have a way of lending elegance to an assortment of everyday objects often overlooked. Are these graceful compositions at odds with the story of the objects’ origins?

STONE: Visually, I didn’t want the statement or intention of the work to be immediately apparent. I enjoy allowing for the viewer to engage with the work on their own and then engage with it in a different way after reading the artist statement. I think there can be a complexity in simplicity and that has always interested me; trying to find that complexity is what beauty is for me. 

This series is a comment on racial injustice. As a white artist, I wanted to be careful about the way in which I was commenting, so as to not speak for voices other than my own. this resulted in the decision to use objects, as I felt most comfortable communicating through them. I don’t see the compositions at odds with their inanimate subjects, but rather an attempt at constructing a tension between the two.

REEVES: What’s down the pipeline for your work? Will you explore other social issues, or is there still more to be visually discussed on this theme?

STONE: At the moment, I don’t see this as a reoccurring series, but you never know. I think that contemporary issues are reflected in artists’ work, whether they intend it or not, simply by creating during a particular time. I will continue to incorporate social issues, while still working within past themes of sexuality, gender, identity, and class. 

REEVES: I always like to ask: What is your studio quirk?

STONE: Recently? Solange, on repeat.