Q&A: Sheron Rupp — Taken from Memory


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? At 76, trying to “think Young”, have a sense of humor, and keep busy with what matters. What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Alas, newsprint? Are you aware of any conspiracies? No, I look to the heavens and think the stars just hold the unknown, and what happens on earth is just craziness at times. What is it that interests you about photography? The way reality, in whatever form, can formally fit into a frame. Years ago James Agee talked about “aesthetic reality” in the introduction to Helen Levitt’s book “A Way of Seeing.” Snapshots interest me for their arbitrariness and anonymity or mystery. What is the worst thing about city life? Honking car horns. What part of the planet would you like to explore? On a more global level: Kyoto, Japan. More specific place: a little cafe and museum, the Anna Ticho House, in Jerusalem. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? I rarely think about the supernatural. If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Electro Cardiology. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? No moment whatsoever. It’s better to remember and take to heart what one sees with the naked eye rather than to always think that what’s important has to be recorded on film. I suppose that goes against reportage and historic moments.

Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. Gardener. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen.
Maybe not the most important, but the one I actually coveted and was personally drawn to: Ruth Orkin’s photo in 1970 of Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris- “Opening night party of ‘Member of a Wedding’” Gesture of Julie Harris with cigarette in hand, sipping cup of coffee on opulent couch still fascinates me to this day. And, the close, snuggling embrace between Ethel Waters and Carson McCullers. How often do you take other people’s advice? Rarely. I am hopelessly stubborn and independent. However, I can be influenced fairly easily by others; that’s not taking advice. Describe a personal hell. Being stuck in an elevator either alone or with a very boring or hysterical person. Which living person do you most admire? Women writers, Toni Morrison, and Alice Munro, for their amazing contributions in literature and their strong, distinct personalities. On what occasion do you lie? “White lies,” yes, in order not to hurt someone else. What was the last crime you witnessed? Never witnessed a crime outright, but years ago a young girl was shot dead in the field across from my parent’s home in Ohio. I heard the gunshot and a girl’s scream. Needless to say, I don’t go home anymore to Ohio.

What is the best way to educate yourself? Read books, watch movies, and talk to strangers and kids. What is the next book you want to read? The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Ultimate camera? The Mamiya 6 x 7 rangefinder (the old one). Most used camera? The above and Fuji 6 x 9. What object do you want? A Roku outfit to stream more movies. What object do you need? A bottle of Bone Up, calcium tablets. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? A thingy you can hold in your hand and tap with your fingers to find out about everything, almost. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? No. I’m not Super Woman. Describe a cheap thrill. Doing WonderWord puzzles in the newspaper. Pick a historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. Although photography was not in actual practice, the “Trail of Tears,” the forced relocation of Native Americans from their homelands. Are impulses more important than consequences? Knowing about both are important to the old adage, “Live and Learn”. Which talent would you most like to have? Klezmer clarinetist. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? Eat, shovel some snow off the driveway, and package and mail more advance copies of my new book, “Taken from Memory”

To the imagination, to memory, nothing is really lost if
it is experienced with affirmation. … In my photographs…,
I attempt to arrive at something poetic, something I can hold on to both as an image and as emotional sustenance…

I wrote these words for an exhibition catalogue over thirty years ago. The quotation reminds me that these photographs were taken at a time when I felt desperate to find a piece of someone else’s life, which could give me a sense of “belonging.” Today I’ve realized that some of these early photographs in Taken from Memory have enabled me to make connections with my own biographical past.
Memory allows me to connect some of these photographs with a formative childhood trip I took with my father and sister in the late 1940s. In his old Ford convertible, my father drove me and my younger sister down to the Ozarks in Arkansas one summer to stay with his grandparents and extended family. These relatives all lived together on a small, poor farm, which had no electricity or running water. To me, this humble place was a form of subsistence far greater than I have ever known.

I remember that Arkansas summer as a poem wrought true. It resonated with what I chose to photograph years later and made me wonder why I felt “at home” with some of the folks in my pictures. I remember the dark outhouse, to which my sister and I walked barefoot at night; the chickens that ran loose in the yard and which often ended up on the supper table; the novelty of sucking juice with a straw from a drilled hole in a warm watermelon; the holes in the rusty screen door stuffed with cotton to keep the flies away; and the back porch icebox that leaked water from the block of ice inside it.

Now, almost a lifetime later, I wish to give credence to these photographs from Arkansas, as well as from other places in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont; Appalachia in Tennessee and Kentucky; my hometown in Mansfield, Ohio; and the neighborhoods close to where I presently live in western Massachusetts. They are indirectly linked with that Arkansas summer, which was infused with longing and loss. Photographing these rural, mostly unknown places added meaning to my own life; nothing was lost. To me, these photographs have added affirmation or, at best, description, to the lives of people who are so hidden from the larger world.

— Sheron Rupp, Summer 2018

The above is an excerpt from Sheron Rupp’s latest title “Taken from Memory”, which is available now through Kehrer Verlag. Visit kehrerverlag.com for more information.

To see more of Sheron Rupp’s work visit — sheronrupp.net


  1. 005: North Lake Park, Mansfield, Ohio – 2001
  2. 026: West Haven, Massachusetts – 1993
  3. 001: Mother with Children, Harlan County, Kentucky – 1990
  4. 050: Nick with a Hit, Great Falls, Montana – 1996
  5. 046: Homer Copeland, Fayetteville, Arkansas – 1987
  6. 022: Portland, Ohio – 1983
  7. 056: Franklin, Tennessee – 1990
  8. 031: Arjay, Kentucky – 1990
  9. 040: Brinkhaven, Ohio – 1983
  10. 043: Stevie, Sutton, Vermont – 1990
  11. 003: Elkins, Arkansas – 1987
  12. 055: Sutton, Vermont – 1990

Sheron Rupp, born in 1943 in Mansfield, Ohio, taught herself photography, then later earned an MFA in photography from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1982. Rupp credits the influences of photographers Helen Levitt for a candid approach and William Eggleston for his sense of color and interest in the quotidian, as well as anonymous family snapshots for their casual ambiance. In the 1980s, Rupp documented Appalachian areas of Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky and the mountainous region of Arkansas she remembered from her youth. She received recognition when her work was included in Museum of Modern Art curator Peter Galassi’s influential 1991 exhibition, The Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort, and in the exhibition Where We Live: Photographs of America at the J.Paul Getty Museum 2006, also published as a book of the same title. Rupp’s photographs are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The J. Paul Getty Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Smith College Museum of Art, the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass., Amherst, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, among others.