10 minutes with Sarah Windels

Interviews with Photographers November 7, 2012 7:28 am
Aside from photography, were there any other professions that interested you?

 

I started out with the desire to be a computer scientist. Then I explored city planning.  I discovered photography while I was in college, and was inspired to finally find an appropriate tool to simultaneously illustrate the complexities of society and the intricacies of being a human.  I am challenged by the desire to illustrate a clear picture that intertwines both emotion and reality into a method of communication that is understood.  I saw images by Dorthea Lange and felt that images she created were more significant than most anything else in illustrating the dilemma in the U.S. during the Dust Bowl; photography could be a significant and powerful communication tool in society. How influential and beautiful a profession to be able to introduce that level of conversation to the world.

Sarah Windels – Speeding Through Here

Sarah Windels – Speeding Through Here

Sarah Windels – Speeding Through Here

Sarah Windels – Speeding Through Here

Sarah Windels – Speeding Through Here

Can you tell me more about your project The Middle Road Which you worked on during the last election. What gave you the idea, how long did you spend shooting and are you curious to revisit those spots again and see if those candidate signs have changed?

I’m actually writing this from the road. I left the west coast to follow the same route as I did in 2008 to explore and add depth to the project.  This time I’ll be photographing this route twice – to NY and back.   The interesting twist this time is Sandy.  
 
Sandy is the deadly weather event that cancelled my flight east at the beginning of this project, and created havoc for just about everyone on the east coast.  I was supposed to land in Newark on October 28th, the night before the hurricane reached landfall there.  For a while I was unsure if this project was doomed or if there was still a way to make it happen within the limited time available before the election on November 6th, or if the project mattered _at all_ in the scheme of things.  But, here we are, on the road- Day 7 will take us in and out of post-Sandy New York City. 
 
The trip in 2008 was a little bit spontaneous.  I came up with the concept when driving from Las Vegas to the Bay Area in late summer 2008 after spotting a Ron Paul sign alongside the freeway in the desert.  The sparseness of the landscape with this sign plopped in the middle; it seemed so insignificant- this name, this sign, politics against the backdrop of the desert sun.  Simultaneously, the radio was underlining the importance of each candidate and how this election was different.  Friends were excitedly arguing about politics. I felt buried beneath this big political bubble and sensed a disconnect signaled by this Ron Paul sign beneath a bright blue sky; the sign almost looked like a piece of garbage left there.  I passed by it once more with the intention of photographing it, and discovered the challenges that came along with photographing signs along a busy freeway. I never got a shot.  But I thought that photographing signs related directly to the two major candidates throughout the United States would make an interesting story if I was able to explore multiple signs in multiple places.  Adding to the depth, stick to a main corridor that divides the country in two – kind of the way politics seems to divide people into the us and the them; the haves and the have-nots; the right and the left; the rich and the poor; the right and the wrong. There are all these dualities, and then there’s the middle road.
 
Several weeks went by and I didn’t share my idea with anyone.  Surprisingly, a close friend of mine called me up out of the blue; she had bought a house across the country in Upstate New York to escape the Bay Area for a while. She would be moving sometime in October and needed a driving partner.  Our explorations and teamwork during that trip created the images from 2008.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, and then I got the film back. There’s something special about photographing the country in the way that I did during that time.  It’s a different time now, though it’s still quite a powerful time- with much confusion and disappointment and strife.  I feel like this part of the story was missing from 2008. I don’t intend to photograph any elections in the future. The 2012 images serve as a bookend to the 2008 images.   
 
Interestingly, we are all driven to see similarities or differences in the settings for each sign; we are drawn to trying to find a pattern. Are the signs for the Republican candidate all in rich neighborhoods or on farms? Sometimes.  Is the Democratic sign in front of the working family’s little house? Sometimes.  From the road, it is hard to notice a pattern other than the obvious increase in Democratic signage in metropolitan areas.  That is the single noticeable pattern.  All else is unpredictable in terms of the signs that I am looking for.  

I don’t keep numbers, I’m just looking for good photographs. I’m looking for a wide breadth of things that tie in classic American stories, images that illustrate the American landscape on a variety of levels, images that bring me back to that disconnect introduced by the Ron Paul sign in the desert.

Sarah Windels – The Middle Road

Sarah Windels – The Middle Road

Sarah Windels – The Middle Road

Sarah Windels – The Middle Road

Sarah Windels – The Middle Road

Sarah Windels – The Middle Road

(Sarah is based in Oakland. See more of her work, here)

1 Comment

  • Gloria Bertonis

    I like that you are a deep thinker, as well as very creative and artistic. My only complaint is that I would like to know the location of each photo. You are certainly skilled, just as Aunt Patrice and cousin Ryan. love and kudos to your project. Aunt Gloria

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