Reading beyond the photographic Diaries of Grace Ann Leadbeater

Grace Ann is a 25 years old American photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. Growing up in a horse town outside of Orlando, stargazing every night with her brothers and neighborhood friend Robert, made her fell into a certain trance with nature. These were the moments that first encouraged her to take pictures and document everything…

What got you into photography and what did you capture in your first pictures?
It was a trip from Florida to Nova Scotia in 2000. It was my first time going to Canada, and my dad is from there so my mom wanted my siblings and me to document the road trip. It was a bit of a homage to his upbringing, I suppose. We were each given a disposable camera, and I finished mine immediately. After that, my parents let me borrow their actual camera for the duration of the trip.

The first image I remember intentionally making, as in I saw something and got this jolt up my spine that told me to go grab a camera or else, was at my dad’s aunt and uncle’s summer house in Deep Cove. It’s an image of this rotting wood fence with these white Asters taking over. Now when I look at it, it’s so hokey (my parents still have it framed in their home), but it felt like the most significant thing of my life when I made it.

After that I made a lot of photos of my friend Robert. It’s funny because I realized this past year that I basically documented the entire process of him growing up. I guess I was one of those dads with the camcorder, writing dates and times over everything regardless of the eye rolls. And while there were days when Robert got annoyed with me for carrying a camera, it’s so beautiful now because I get to look at every age that I’ve known him. He’s something to see, especially now.

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How have you evolved from those and why do you photograph today?
These days I make photos of the ones I love or know I am going to love. I guess Robert was my introduction to that. Sometimes I’ll even feel inclined to photograph someone whom I feel no connection to and then months later I’ll be absolutely crazy about them. I’m not sure if it’s my gut or some space in the back of my brain that I pay no mind to. Whatever it is sure knows a lot far before I do. And I photograph to cope with my incessant fear of time. It’s unapologetic with the people and things I love.

You received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and completed your senior thesis in the south of France. Could you point out the differences between the photographic approach in France and the one in USA? What did you like or dislike?
I did my thesis in Lacoste, a medieval village in the Luberon. It’s definitely one of those places that get in your marrow. Even now, I can smell the fields of lavender and smashed cherries in the grass. I still think about my time there constantly, wondering if I’ll ever go back. I think I will.

As for the differences, there were a lot, and yet the differences were less than I had expected prior. The people there want you talk to them, to not simply take their photo and move on. This even rang true in Paris. One day I was riding the metro when I decided to photograph a girl sitting near me. After, she looked up at me and said, “You could’ve asked.” That stuck with me. Respect is of the utmost importance in France. I would love to see people respecting others like that here in the US.

What I like is how a lot of the people who weren’t good friends in America became good friends in France. I guess traveling to another country pushes everyone together. I love the community I found there, especially the nights when we all sat on the side of the mountain. It all felt very pink and sacrosanct. And of course the food was divine and I think I ate gelato at least three times a week.

“I photograph to cope with my incessant fear of time. It’s unapologetic with the people and things I love”.

We love your tones, colors and the light present in your images. Is it something you specifically look for at first glance, or it comes as an extra, embracing your subjects?
I find myself observing the light patterns and colors in a space a lot, but that’s usually the before and the after. A lot of times when I’m photographing someone, I’m so overwhelmed by that process alone that I’ll get lost in the environment and will make the image without getting too technical. However, I am drawn to warmth so I think that’s why I often find myself in yellowy and orangish situations.

Describe us your favorite conditions for a photograph.
I like waking up early with people and then photographing them. I like photographing people in the fall, but a lot of my images are made in the summertime. I guess what I want and what I need don’t always coincide.

A photographer or an artist that has influenced your work?
Alec Soth. All of his works are gold, but Sleeping by the Mississippi is by far one of the most absorbing photo series I have ever seen. I look at it and then I’ve gotta look at it again and again. The way he composes portraits astounds me. And his colors. I’m awestruck by his colors. I also really admire the painter Robert Salmon, but not because I adore his aesthetic per se, but the fact that he dedicated a portion of his life to painting ships. I look at his paintings and just get a kick out of them. I want to be that devoted to one single thing!

Maybe if I get married I’ll dedicate myself to photographing and writing about my partner everyday (whoever that is, I hope he doesn’t read this because then I’ll look like an utter flake if I don’t follow through). And of course I am inspired by every piece of writing I can get my hands on by Joan Didion, Anne Lamott, and Annie Dillard. If you tell me that you’ve never read any of their books, I will buy you one, Scout’s honor.

A particular book that you love and come back often?
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard.

Images from the series ‘A Mouthful of Sun’.

Writing is an important part of your process, how do you use it? Is it a source of inspiration for photographing or a complement to gather your images?
It’s a bit of both. I use writing to make sense of my experiences, to find where everything begins to string together. I’m obsessed with learning (I guess that’s a given with existing, whether one knows it or not), and so I’m always reading a book, flipping through a magazine, or rereading an old journal of mine. If I didn’t write, I think my photographs would fall flat. I’ve been writing since before I could read on my own, so it’s imbedded in me now.

What is the best piece of advice you can give?
Always look for the truth.

What are your current and futures projects?
I’ve been working on a book of photos and writings with my brother Daniel. I love making things with others, and he’s such a fantastic graphic designer so the process has been steady and refreshing. There are moments that are gruesome, though, but it’s only when I’m working on it alone at 3 AM. As for the theme, right now it’s just one big love letter, but I can see it changing as it gets closer to completion. My next step is finding someone to publish it, but I know publishing it myself is a possibility, too.

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In 2012 you created Pool Resources with a friend after you moved away to different states. This project is an online conversation about art in today’s context, featuring various photographers, and you released a first paper zine not long ago. What triggered you go from the online space to paper? Was it always the plan? Is a second volume coming on?
I like touching art. And I know it’s a tremendous no-no. I used to work at a museum and I’m big on archiving my own work, so I get it. Even so, I’m such a tactile person—I like holding art and people and animals—so making a printed version was a given. Kevin and I have talked about releasing a more concentrated zine, one that focuses on 4-5 photographers and a singular piece of writing. I don’t know if it’ll be labeled as a second volume, as I’m not really concerned with chronology at this point. The only thing I’m certain of is that it’s going to be something that’s really important to the both of us.

You are also a ceramist a part from being a photographer. Does the slow, relaxing process of doing ceramics serve as a time for you to think and inspire yourself for other projects, art?
It centers me, undoubtedly. As I said earlier, I’m a tactile person so I like to feel things with my own two hands. And working with clay definitely inspires my photo projects and essays. It allows me to draw out the visceral. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in reading scholarly things and trying to sound smarter than I am, so something as simple as making a bowl on the wheel humbles me. It reminds me that I was created to learn, not to inform.

And last but not least, what are your favorite photo website?
mossless.com — Romke is such a brilliant curator. I respect everything he does and I know that I always will.

Enjoy Grace Ann’s work on her website & tumblr.

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