Friday Fry Up: Sean Stewart

26.08.16

Nostalgic for its landscapes, Sean Stewart (b. 1986) returned to Western Pennsylvania to photograph the declining towns of his childhood. “Rivertown” (2008-09), the resulting series, is an anthropological view of the once booming cities through their architecture and scenery. Subtle photographs of places like Oil City, PA, no longer the center of the petroleum industry, capture the region’s course of growth, destruction, and renewal. The level of rich description and detail found in his images—partly because of his use of medium and large-format cameras and partly due to his own technical abilities—lends itself to a Robert Adams-like documentary style.

Stewart is now based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after living in Brooklyn for several years. In a manner similar to a previous series, “L’Eternel Est Grand” (2010-11), his work-in-progress “Out East” (2012-) is playful and inquisitive. While the former project is an inquiry into the nature of photography, “Out East” is centered on the landscapes of Pennsylvania, New York, and California. Together with the familiar streets and hills found in his earlier work are photographs of deserts, national parks, and empty pools. While this series grapples with the enduring mythology of the American West, it simultaneously points back East to the forgotten sites and centers of America’s industrial past.

The photographs in “Welcome to Pennsylvania” (2010) were selected from his family’s archive of snapshots from the 1980s and 90s. Although they are a reflection of his family’s history, the photographs could easily be found in another family’s album. In part, this series is a response to the loss of the physical artifact of the photograph in a full digitized world. Photographs from this series were included in “A People’s History of Pittsburgh”, a publication and online archive of the city’s vernacular photographic history (published by the Carnegie Museum of Art in association with Spaces Corners). Stewart’s work has also been included in “Mossless Issue 3: The United States (2003-2013)” (Mossless, 2013) and “Notes From The Foundry” (Spaces Corners, 2013). Follow Sean Stewart at @seanographs and seanstewartphotography.com.

— Ashley McNelis