Part two of our series: Together, Alone. We interviewed artists and creatives of different disciplines across the country on how they shape their days at home. Parker Stewart is seen here photographed by partner and photographer Anna Ottum.
Photography by Anna Ottum
Parker Stewart is a fine art photographer and printer based out of Savannah, Georgia. His work focuses on the notion of place and uses photography as a tool to observe and record these scenes which move him the most. His work has been featured in Oxford American, Booooooom, and Lenscratch. Anna Ottum, on the other side of the lens, is a photographer whose subjects range from nail art to rodeo subcultures, arctic explorers to pop stars, monster truck drivers to New York City's youth. Collectively, her photographs celebrate the dynamic character of her subjects through intimate portraiture. As we’ve been isolated in New York, we caught up with Parker to get an insight into his day to day, his developing body of work and his favorite playlist of the moment.
O: First off, how are you? And, what did you do today?
P: Very well, thank you! It’s 94 degrees today. I woke up at 6 am and let my dog, Miller, out to take a pee before going back to bed for an hour. Then I ate a cinnamon raisin bagel and scoured Google Earth for a few hours looking for places to go make photographs while simultaneously watching a documentary about the Cold War. After that, I cleaned my house before heading out to drive around the westside of Savannah, taking photographs of an ever-changing landscape. Now I’m having a beer.
O: You’re down south in Savannah, Georgia where we shot our first five collections. I take it you’re seeing everything that’s going on right now through a bit of a different lens than say someone from New York or New Orleans or Los Angeles.
P: Well, it was different. Things were very relaxed in March, April, and May. While we were “shut down” and businesses were closed, I felt fortunate to be comfortable enough to leave my house and head to places like my sailboat on Tybee Island or explore the Golden Isles of coastal Georgia.
O: Do you typically have a daily routine or morning/evening ritual? What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your day-to-day in the past 4 or 5 months?
P: My new routine revolves around our new pup, Miller, as well as our three chickens, Loretta, Jo Dee, and Shania. I’ve been enjoying getting up early, playing with the dog, grabbing some fresh eggs from the coop I built in the first week of quarantine, and making coffee and breakfast. I’ve been enjoying waking up earlier and spending time in the mornings with the animals and my girlfriend, Anna. I’ve also spent the early mornings heading out to make photographs, surf, or fish. The biggest change has been the obvious lack of freelance commercial work coming in. It’s a blessing in disguise as I’ve had much more time to focus on my personal fine-art work as well as my large format fine-art printing studio.
O: Have you been eating well? Drinking well? What’s your favorite meal you’ve had? Did you (or Anna) do the bread thing?
P: I’ve been eating too well. I’m mastering the grilling of a steak. Ribeye is my go-to but I’m starting to really nail a New York strip and flank steak. Also with shrimp season opening down here, I’ve been crushing steamed shrimp down at BG’s on Tybee where I keep my sailboat. I stick to Miller Lite, and making Jack & Ginger’s like my dad would pour at home. No bread, just biscuits.
O: What do you miss most about life as usual? What do you think you’ll miss most when things “go back to normal?”
P: I really don’t miss much about life pre-COVID-19. A lot of plans had to change, but in the long run, I’ve really been able to use this time in a very productive way. I’ve made a lot of new work and really had the opportunity to focus on the scope of work that I’ve been wanting to make for years, but haven’t had the time.
O: You run a fine art printing studio so you’re used to the whole WFH thing. Has anything changed or is it more or less business as usual?
P: I’m used to the WFH thing because the studio is in my home, yes. Things are certainly slower than normal but I’ve been fortunate that other artists are spending time focusing on selling prints and I’ve been able to provide those to my clients, new and old.
O: In your personal work you shoot a lot of landscapes – the coastal South, Scottish Highlands, Death Valley – but you also just had your first solo exhibition, Love Thy Neighborhood, a sort of love poem to the neighborhood you’ve lived in for nearly 10 years. I’m curious what clicked for you that that was the work you’d feature in your first solo exhibition.
P: It was really an opportunity that came together naturally. I was thinking of showing two bodies of work for a long time, the neighborhood work or a selected landscape body of work. I was approached by a local curator to show the work in a public space in the heart of the neighborhood where the work was made, so of course, I had to show the Love Thy Neighborhood project. Being that the project was about the social landscape that was changing and the space was a bit of a controversial topic about gentrification, I was happy the work was well-received as an honest point of view of a place I love very much.
O: In your landscape photography – it’s a lot of terrain, waterways, stills of nature and found objects – what draws you to making these images over portraiture and lifestyle? What is your reflection like on the subjects you choose?
P: I learn so much about myself and my work every year but this year has been especially important in my understanding of how and why I do what I do. While I enjoy shooting portraits, and “lifestyle” photographs, I’ve definitely learned that I am a landscape photographer. This term is broad, as I don’t photograph only the natural landscape — although, during this quarantine I’ve certainly been drawn away from the cities and towns and out into the more wild parts of where I live. The social landscape and the layers of time and humanity of where I photograph are very important to my work. I have a very keen understanding of my references and those who came before me. Studying photography and the history of photography has put me in tune with how I want to record the world around me. I’m enamored by the essence of a place, the feeling, the atmosphere. It’s a romantic notion, for sure, but I set out to capture the places that really move me. With that as a starting block, I then set out to compose beautiful photographs. Years of shooting large format film and studying the “masters” as I saw them, Shore, Robert Adams, Meyerowitz, Eggleston, Soth, etc. really informed the way I shoot and engage in projects and subject matter. Now I focus on defining my own vision and creating work that is uniquely my own.
O: What’s the a-ha moment when you know you’ve got the image?
P: It’s the classic culmination of a moment. It can be something I’ve seen many times before, something I’ve photographed many times before, or something I pre-visualize. But usually, I’m somewhere I’ve never been, exploring an area, and the culmination of the light, the atmosphere, and where I’m standing occasionally comes together in a beautiful image.
O: What’s next for you?
P: I’m focusing on creating a large body of new landscape work about coastal Georgia and the Low Country. I hope to show this work in Savannah in the fall.
Go-to activity: Cleaning up after the dog
Go-to playlist: FIGHT THE POWER on Spotify
Go-to cocktail: 7 and 7
Top film: Just Mercy
Top TV: Yellowstone
Top book: Beauty in Photography by Robert Adams