Interview with Erin Bardwell

Still coping with life outside the city, artist Erin Bardwell continues to draw her inspiration from coffee, magazines, and her iPhone. Her work intimately depicts the fringes, or what she regards as the fringes, which ranges from the underground event scene to weddings.

Tom: What’s the art scene like in Seattle?

Erin: It’s definitely not as intense as the NYC art scene, which is kind of nice. There are some very artsy neighborhoods and a lot of very, very talented people (some of whom have been in NYC and “done” the scene there for awhile), but it’s more laid-back.

But there are mirrors of NYC. For instance, you have the Village Voice and we have The Stranger. If you want to live on the west coast and still have an open, arty, alternative lifestyle, this is definitely a place to do it.

Tom: What are you working on photography wise?

Erin: I want to get back in to portraits again. I finally live near my sister, who’s my best model. And I love documentary photography. Definitely want to do some of that. I shot with nothing but disposable cameras for a while after graduating. I still cringe when I look at a light box sometimes.

You know, it’s weird, because I wanted to be a photo editor.

Tom: Yeah?

Erin: I never wanted to be a photographer, really; it was all about working at the magazines. I had a couple of amazing internships, but then I graduated and 2008 is when all those jobs started disappearing. My favorite magazines folded one by one in school.

I am a bit of a magazine collector. And by “a bit of” I mean it seriously impacted my move to Seattle. When people suggested I throw out some of my art magazines so my boxes would be lighter I wanted to yell, “FINE, I’LL STAY HERE. WITH MY MAGAZINES.”

Tom: WOW! So then you see the photo editor as having an important role.

Erin: Yes. I think photographers put them into a friend/enemy position, and it is interesting to me since I’ve been in both places. It’s easy to hate photo editors if you’re a photographer, but photo editors have the unenviable task of going through lots of exceptional portfolios and turning a lot of them down.

There’s a great blog… hmm, let me find it…

This FASCINATED me when I graduated. I emailed him a few times and he was incredibly helpful. It’s basically a peek into the photo-editing scene, which we don’t see very often.

I have learned how to edit down my own work faster, though, but I think we all kind of do. I can glance at 30 thumbnails of nearly the same shot and choose “the one”, which is nice. But I think we all develop that after awhile.

Tom: Right, because you’re judging what’s “good” and not what’s profitable—which may be the difference between personal and professional photo editing?

Erin: Absolutely. There’s that feeling of “AHH NO, THAT IS THE ONE I HATED!” when you send the editors your work from a shoot and they publish like, your seven least-favorite photos

Although it does make you question why you love a certain photo and why it didn’t make the cut, which isn’t a bad thing.

Tom: Do literature or poetry ever influence your photography?

Erin: I don’t think so; I’m a really visual person so it’s more like tiny snippets of other visuals influence my photography. I’ll be in a bookstore and take little camera-photo pictures of fonts or book covers that inspire me, and I save them in a folder when I get home.

I do love literature and I read/write like a maniac, but I don’t think those interests cross over for me.

Camera-phone photos, I should say. I need an IV of coffee right now.

Tom: Do you mean camera-phone photos inspire you? Because the camera-phone may be the best technological advancement for documentary photography since thirty-five millimeter.

Erin: Yes yes yes. Weirdly, I took a camera-phone photo of someone’s dog once—this was back when camera phones were, er, not that great—but I decided to enlarge it to eleven by fourteen and have it printed. I put it in a group show as a joke and someone BOUGHT it.

But now there are all these apps that make camera-phone photos look like Holga photos, which itself was just used for irony for awhile… it’s gotten pretty meta in a very interesting way.

Tom: Can you clarify what you mean by meta? Is this because the materiality of the medium is changing so rapidly that published theory often becomes immediately obsolete?

Erin: In a way. Very recently, toy camera photos were taken ironically until they became a real “thing” and they were selling Holgas and Dianas at Urban Outfitters. There are books devoted to toy camera photography. Now along comes the iPhone and its photo apps, and the most popular one adds light leak and other toy camera effects. Now there are Flickr groups for THAT. Why use a Holga now when you can just use your phone? And so on.

Tom: So would you consider yourself an analog traditionalist?

Erin: Eh. No. I agree that film looks better and is (for me) easier to organize, but digital has come a long way… not to mention that even the nicest digital cameras eventually pay for themselves.


Tom: Would you encourage a young photographer to pursue it as a career?

Erin: Yes, until they hit a wall and it stops being enjoyable. You’ll probably need a side job to pay the bills, you know? Think of photography as what you do to live, not what you do for a living. What you do for a living is whatever you do that pays for what you do to live… and live to do.