We had the good fortune of connecting with Victoria Sambunaris and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Victoria, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk taking is part of being an artist. One is an outsider in a world that leans towards conventions but there is nothing conventional in the arts. It requires focus, commitment and obsession like many professions, but there are no guarantees or protections, no safety nets, no paychecks, no healthcare, no paid leave, no sick days, no retirement plans. Traveling the country alone by car for months at a time to observe and photograph the changing landscape while camping, plotting and researching is part of the risk I take to make my work. It leaves me open to vulnerabilities but the desire to pursue a curiosity, vision or idea is stronger than the need for complacence or security. Every day on the road is different with new discoveries regarding the country, the people and politics that keep me engaged and informed to help me make sense of this complicated place. Without risk, I’m in the dark.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
For the past twenty years, I’ve been on the road constantly traveling back and forth across the United States – from New York to California, Alaska to the Mexican border. Through my work, which documents the changing shape of America, I keep returning to the idea of how we incorporate ourselves into the landscape; I isolate images of the natural world superimposed with a relentless grid of human interactions and interventions and photograph this with my 5×7 field camera and color negative film. This camera demands a slow methodical pace to observe the world before making a picture. My process begins with an unmitigated curiosity inspired by research regarding a particular place and its industry, geology, history and culture. I carry loads of books and maps and collect various artifacts such as mineral specimens, travel logs, journals and video documenting everything I see and do. I spend most of my time scouting areas while striving to integrate into the locale that I’m working. The work is my life, my full existence. And it’s deeply personal, too. The road is not easy nor the trajectory to arrive at this current place. I arrived in New York in 1987 with nothing. I took classes, worked for artists, enrolled in Yale’s MFA program and have been on the road since. There’s nothing really comfortable about what I do. Being on the road alone as a woman for so many years inevitably draws a lot of questions, But connections can spark from the simplest of things and those connections are what keep me engaged. There’s something about spending time observing what we’ve done to the landscape that triggers wonder. And that’s the key component of what I do: curiosity. Wanting to understand this country through our landscape and how it reflects who we are.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Considering my life on the road, I would suggest to a friend that we get in the car and drive west. Regardless of which route, northern or southern, we veer off the highways and go through the small towns allowing the road to take us on a spontaneous adventure of discovery while stopping along the way at local bars, honky tonks, rodeos, cafes, grills, motels and inns, no chains whatsoever. We seek out local museums, historical societies, or landmarks to absorb some of the local culture and history. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The community of artists, friends and family that support and encourage all that I do. The people that help produce the work from processing film, to the analogue labs that keep the machines rolling in this fragile time of film and the labs that produce the large mural prints to my detailed specifications. The gallery, museums and collectors that embrace my vision and keep my wheels rolling. And the many kind hearted people I meet on the road that help me get to the places I need to go.
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