Interview Repost: The SIP Filter: Harlan Erskine

The SIP Filter: Harlan Erskine Posted by rotroz 13/03/12

By Rotem Rozental

“All of my photography is a progression,” writes Harlan Erskine in his site, “they are a reaction as much as they are a cause of framing a subject.” As an American photographer, living in Brooklyn for the past few years, perhaps it is not surprising that he found himself documenting convenient stores: a project which became a book titled “Ten Convenient Stores”, published in 2005.

There is an illusive quality in his frames, a sense of suspension, an almost contemplative viewpoint which appears in his various projects: be it the architecture of midtown New York at midnight, or imaginary scenarios of wars. In his blog, he also shares his photographic journeys in the art world and beyond, as well as some visual treasures and findings. So, we felt an up-close encounter with his work, personal photographic histories and inspirations is definitely in order:

What was the first image you ever took?

I’m not really sure of the very first image I took. My father always had a 35mm SLR when I was young and I would play with it. Then I got an Olympus as a gift and started using that. The first time I felt like I could take a decent picture was in high school. Two of my friends were into photography and would run through the streets together making pictures. I never went on any of their photo adventures but I started carrying a camera with me regularly.

Why did you want to become a photographer?

Being a photographer was sort of a guess at first. When I was choosing where to go to college, I looked at several schools. I ended up liking the University of Miami because their photojournalism department was friendly and impressed me. My first semester I took a class with Professor Michael Carlebach. In one of his early classes, he showed a video about Nan Goldin. After that I was hooked.

Harlan Erskine, Worlds Without End Part I, 20 x 37 inches, 2009


All Images are Courtesy of the Artist

What is the most difficult thing for a photographer in this day and age? What do you hate the most?

Being a contemporary photographer is like pushing a rock up a hill. I hate the rock and sometimes I hate the hill. But every time I get up to the top, the view is fucking incredible.

What inspires you?

I love when unexpectedly you stumble upon something magical. Inspiration was always best summed up by this Kerouac quote:

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” –On The Road

What kind of music do you listen to when you work on your computer?

I’m a huge music fan so listing my music library would take too long. Lately when I have been retouching I’ve been listening to dramatic cinematic music by artists like MonolakeKoudlam,SquarepusherAphex TwinGodspeed You Black Emperor!, and almost everything on theGhostly label.

I’m also a bit of an NPR freak and try to keep up with my current events with Morning Edition,All Things ConsideredPlanet MoneyThis American LifeRadiolab and sometimes On the Media.

Harlan Erskine,The Invaders, 20 x 37 inches, 2009


What was the last photography book you’ve read?

Twentysix Abandoned Gasoline Stations by Jeff Brouws. I just got it in the mail from him as a trade for my book, Ten Convenient Stores.

Who are your photography idols? Why?

That’s always changing for me. Recently, I have been feeling the work of the Vancouver photographers Stan Douglass and Jeff Wall. I’m also very drawn to the work of the German photographers Thomas RuffThomas StruthAndreas GurskyBernd and Hilla Becher andAugust Sander.

Harlan Erskine, Sabine Cross Roads, 20 x 37 inches, 2009


What can we find on your bookmarks?

At one point I was obsessed with bookmarking things and organizing them into folders. I even had a Delicious account. Now I find the web to be freer flowing and oddly, more like the old term, surfing the web.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on a few projects.  I’m continuing to work on my project, Imaginary Wars. I’m planning some shoots coming up and casting for actors and locking down the right locations. I’ve been creating this project the way you would shoot an indie film with a small crew and cast on each shot. I love the results but sometimes the pace is very slow.

In that project’s downtime, I am also working on a more spontaneous project. I recently stumbled across it when I was at a beach in Brooklyn. That set of images from that day is being worked into an artist book. Stay tuned.

Harlan Erskine, Midtown Past Midnight


Harlan Erskine, Midtown Past Midnight


What are your favorite blogs?

The more I work on my own blog (and now guest blogging for the Camera Club of New York), I find that I have less and less time to browse through other blogs.

That being said, I always seem to find myself on Alec Soth’s new blog Little Brown Mushroom,A Photo EditorArt Fag City and generally, I go where my social media feeds or news articles take me.

Which reminds me another resource, which isn’t really a blog, but Jerry Saltz has a great conversation about art on his Facebook page that might as well be called a blog.

Harlan Erskine, New York, Midtown Past Midnight