Shortly before they broke up, photographer Mark Sommerfeld, 32, and his ex-girlfriend, Heather, left for an eight-days road trip in Michigan. It was their last vacation. In the months following this separation, Mark tried to understand the end of their relationship through the images he made during this road trip. Together, they created a multimedia project that resulted in an exhibition held last May at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. Today, Mark tells us the genesis of “We With Images To Give”. Interview.
Fisheye : What is your story with Heather ?
Mark Sommerfeld : Heather was introduced to me by a mutual friend and we began dating shortly after meeting. We spent quite a few weekends away from the city (Toronto) camping and hiking in the first couple months of our relationship. Then, I was planning a trip to visit friend’s in Northern Michigan for their wedding and I asked Heather to join me. Muskegon, Michigan is gorgeous and a few hours drive from some of the most breathtaking campsite in the US. We decided to make an 8 day camping trip out of it.
When did you two met ? Were you used to photographing her before this project ?
Heather and I met about half a year before we went on this camping trip together but we didn’t get to know one another until about 3 months prior to the trip. I had shot a few medium format portraits, and iPhone snapshots of her before this trip.
So the project wasn’t planned ?
The ‘project,’ wasn’t planned at all. We went on this camping road trip and despite many lovely experiences it was challenging for both of us. A big part of this, I learned after those 8 days, was how often I photographed her and the landscape throughout those eight days. It “ejected” her from being present with nature and me, she said. Photography wasn’t the only issue that created tension between us, but it was a significant one. We broke up shortly after returning to Toronto and a few months later I revisited the photographs and, with the help of a friend of mine, decided it would be worthwhile to investigate the end of the relationship through the lens of those eight days, and the photos and videos we made together.
What camera (and film maybe) did you use for this work ?
This work was made with a Hasselblad 503cx and Kodak Porta, as well as a Contax G2 and Kodak Ektar 100.
This project is full of emotions : what ones ?
Optimism, empathy, disappointment, curiosity.
How does this project stand out from your previous work?
We With Images To Give is far more autobiographical than most my work. I suppose my Instagram feed is more autobiographical than the slower, long term projects I work on. It was fun to play with different mediums with this project (film photographs, video, iPhone photos, sculpture, writing, alternative printing methods). We wanted viewers (of the exhibition) to feel like they were in the story as much as possible and using mixed media helped turn photographs and experiences into a sort of scrapbook.
“We With Images To Give” : why this title ?
The title was inspired by an exerpt from photographer Wolfgang Tillmans’ Of Chance and Control. He said about his work : “I think on a very simple, base level, we each have images to give or at the very least ways of seeing. The mobility of the eye is such a fundamental treasure that we have, and that coexists with sensation […] It’s this ongoing co-existence, which makes life sensational. The real work is the act of transforming it in your mind.”
More specifically, we wanted to share these images and words with others in hopes of stoking a conversation about how and when we make photographs and how that effects intimate relationships. For example, we all have images to give, but why do we take them, share them, interrupt the flow of life to make them ? I would argue making photos is part of the flow of my life, but Heather’s specific aversion to being photographed at certain times helped me realize being photographed and making photographs is very much not a part of the flow of life for many people.
The tensions, positive or negative, reside much in the different lights that cradle each image. What is your relationship to the light?
Light is everything. It makes things visible but also brings life to earth. I’m just a part of it and try to play with it, and respect it, as much as possible.
What is the most meaningful photo from this work ?
If I had to choose it might be the one where Heather is standing in Chutes River looking into the distance. It was taken near the end of the trip and I could feel the tension after the photograph was taken. Now, it’s clear she just wanted me to swim with her, and not photograph, but the light was stunning. I couldn’t resist… I was in my own little world, she in hers – and I think you can see that in this photograph.
Images by © Mark Sommerfeld