In this series, contributor Georgia Graham brings together a group of her friends on the advent of their 30th year.
Since moving to New York, there have been two primary objects of my affections; my friends, and the city itself. Thus in creating a project from the heart, it seemed immediately obvious that these two elements should take centre stage.
Just as in a relationship, it is my friends who have helped me navigate the moments of infatuation and frustration that characterise my affair with New York City. Coincidentally, this year sees many of my closest friends celebrating their 30th. Between us, age is something we discuss a lot. New York is often compared to Neverneverland, a playground where one never truly has to grow up. Empowering as this can be, it is also a crippling ally to popular culture’s unhealthy obsession with youth. At 24, these friends are people I look to often for advice and information, the kind that they have accumulated in the years that separate us in age.
I decided to conduct the following interviews as a means of celebration and examination; celebrating these individuals, their creative minds and experiences, whilst also examining the idea of age and the concept of living in New York. The accompanying photo series was shot by Mitchell McLennan. Like the friends I have asked him to photograph, he is both an artist I admire and a friend I cherish.
I met Zach in the summer of 2016 at a Mexican bar in Brooklyn. Friendship ensued and we spent most of the summer going on adventures to escape the blistering summer heat (neither of our apartments had air conditioning). Zach is very Texan and very talented. His photography is an extension of his soul in that he captures that thing you feel without really knowing what it is. This proficiency extends to lesser known pastimes such as playing the drums, cooking up a meal and savaging a whole jar of peanut butter in one sitting. We conducted this interview over the phone whilst I was in London and Zach was in a grocery store, searching for Bushwick’s best avocado.
I always laugh when you tell me stories about yourself as a kid. What were you like as a child?
I was a wanderer. I remember constantly being in trouble for it. My little brother and I used to skip school and go walk around in the woods. My mother had to personally check me in to school every day just to make sure I got there. My family would lose me all the time because I would just walk off. Never to get away, just to wander.
How did growing up on a ranch in Texas contribute to the way your mind and imagination works now?
It’s taken me a while, like a merry go round of opposing opinions. I’ve gone through periods of disgust about where I came from; despising the points of view and belief systems which are so different from my own. On the other hand I’m thankful of where I come from. It’s shown me how to be calm and happy in the most peaceful, gracious way. I come from a very simple place; it’s very calm and very quiet. I’ve kind of re-found my childhood in that I’m very much at peace with my own simple solitude, and discovering the type of stuff I really want to create.
I feel like you managed to hold on to so much childlike curiosity – what’s the secret?
I guess I would say that…oh my gosh wow! (laughing) I have to send you this photo of this purple camouflage cake. You just have to see how funny this is. Honestly that would be the best answer – a photo of this cake!
I just choose to find things interesting, that’s all it is. In reality there’s no difference between this grocery store and a botanical garden. They say stop and smell the roses, but you should just stop and appreciate the magnitude of how colourful a grocery store is. It’s just picking and choosing how you want to perceive the life that is in front of you.
We all have those “Aha!” moments in our lives, where you feel like you’ve reached this level of enlightenment and you’re like: “It makes sense, I get it!” And the next day you’re like: “Where did that go?!” You have so much clarity sometimes, and then you don’t – it’s constantly changing. I think the most that you can learn from those moments is that none of this is serious.
What it comes down to is being able to sit in your present moment and realise that you’ve never seen this before and you’ll never see it again. That’s probably what led me to become a photographer. Bookmarking moments, locking memories in place.
"LIFE IS A GAME AND NO MATTER HOW WELL YOU PLAY, THERE'S NO WAY TO WIN. ALL YOU CAN DO IS ENJOY THE GAME. I THINK A GREAT ARTIST'S JOB IS HELP THE OTHER PLAYERS ENJOY THEIR TURN."
What are your feelings about New York” How long have you lived there and what has your experience been?
I’ve spent all of my 20s in New York City, and it’s shaped who I am completely. It’s become my home but it’s also much like an unhealthy relationship; with great highs come the greatest lows. New York City taught me more than any teacher could, and I will forever be grateful for that. But it’s a very strong pill…
What is the mark of a good artist?
Giving someone a feeling of connection, something to associate to, something you can emotionally attach with even though you’ve never seen it before, that’s great art.
There’s no way of saying: “This is what a good artist does.” You’ve just got to trust yourself and play. Life is a game and no matter how well you play, there’s no way to win. All you can do is enjoy the game. I think a great artist’s job is help the other players enjoy their turn.
Your friends often feature in your work – are your friends an important part of your life and creative output?
Yes. Yes, capital Y, yes period.
Right now you’re asking me questions and I’m verbalising my thought process, helping me to better understand those thoughts. I’m literally discovering stuff about myself in the middle of this conversation. That’s what your friends are there for.
When you get in those long conversations with your friends – that’s you learning, figuring out who you are and understanding what you believe in. When you have different points of view from your friends, that’s when you challenge what you believe in. When you get challenged by people you care about, that’s the only way those challenges will make any difference. Your friends are the sponge that you use to hold your ideas, to present them back to you, and actually build a true foundation for what you believe in.
“WHENEVER YOU CAN LET GO OF EVERYTHING IS WHEN YOU’RE ABLE TO STOP AND APPRECIATE YOUR PRESENT."
Are there certain conditions that you feel are essential to work creatively?
I don’t think you should strive to build situations where you’re going to be a better artist. When you’re trying to make something happen you’re not present with what is actually happening. Find your fetish for life, and just engulf yourself in it.
My work is just a small example of feeling free, and I would love if people were able to associate with that. To feel at home, to feel warm, to feel safe, to feel in love, or to be loved by someone else; to have people around them.
Your detachment to material objects is very inspiring. Can you talk more about this?
To be honest, I can’t stand any objects that I can’t solely use to make things. Whenever you can let go of everything is when you’re able to stop and appreciate your present. A lot of people’s driving force is the acquisition of material items. As long as you’re hunting for that, as long as those are the driving forces of success to you, you’re never going to be fulfilled.
I like to think as long as I can continue to eat I should be fine. Honestly, I’m coming to believe we don’t even need that. We think we need to eat all the time.. it’s really not true. (laughing) Final sentence: “You think you need to eat a lot, but you really don’t.” (laughs.)
Interview by Georgia Graham
Photography by Mitchell Mclennan