January 19th, 2022
Life Is Longer Than We’d Like To Think
Life is long.
How do I know? Because I’ve experienced it through the length of thirty-four years. I lived in the moments like small and large photographs framed on the plywood walls of Project Project.
And I eyed the proof of this truism in a maximalistic collage produced by Anne Sophia Gustafson (aka Guff aka Guff Stuff aka Guffington aka Gusto!). I sat on a rug in the midst of a life lived, of adventures had, and knew without a doubt how long life really is, how much can be obtained and shared and seen, how much pain and loss, how much love and beauty and connection. It was inspirational to say the least. It was a collection of refreshing perceptions on how to find magic in the mundane captured between a frame (That’s realistic magicalism to you!). Yes, life is long.
It’s long enough to make mistakes then correct them, to think up dreams and live them only to think up more and live those, on and on until there’s nothing left.
Contrary to the maxims like carpe diem and YOLO, Anne’s work suggests it’s okay to take break, to relax, to not put so much pressure on being productive every second of every day, but to live with eyes open at all experiences, all moments, and take it in, breathe, then exhale. Find joy and excitement in all aspects of this thing we get to experience together. As I sat there and took it all in I wept at the beauty of this wonderful soul’s expression of existence.
This work is a message for anyone who doubts their current state in life. It is a light, a beacon pointing towards better days ahead so long as there is a want, so long as there is the perspective that life has so much more to offer. And, like the weather in Omaha, if you don’t like it, stick around, it’ll change. Who’s to say whether it’s good or bad.
Anne is in a black patterned sweater that hangs loosely over her small frame and high cut jeans with a hole in the knee, polka dotted socks, and a large white woolen beanie on her head. Her eyes are grey and bright. She sits on the green tufted couch in my room here on Chicago Street with Millie-dog forever at her side. She’s eating the second half of her reuben sandwich from Louis M’s as we talk. The space heater warms the space between us.
Rourke: So Anne Gustafson …
Anne (in a low and jocular voice): State your name. Your birth place.
Rourke: You just had your second solo show in one year . . . Life is Long
Anne: Technically, no.
Rourke: Oh yea. I guess it’s a new year now . . . So this year. This is the first one this year.
Rourke: Let’s talk about Life is Long. When did you first think of that, when did you come to the realization that life is long?
Anne: This is the second one in six months! . . . Um, when did I first come up with the idea for the show or that phrase life is long?
Rourke: The phrase. Why life is long?
Anne: Um probably like four or five years ago. But I could be lying because life is so long I never know what year it is . . . But I came up with life is long and today doesn’t have to be epic because I think I grew up thinking that we have to cherish every single day, and I believe we have to be grateful for every day, but some days are just days to do nothing and so I just started realizing all the opportunities I thought I might’ve missed out on in college or I might’ve missed out because I was so busy with school and work and running that I still found opportunities popped up in my life.
There were still opportunities to party too hard. There were still opportunities to meet strangers. There were still opportunities to be careless. They don’t all have to be bad stuff. But I think I grew up thinking every day had to be productive and had to mean something. I had to be going somewhere. So…
Rourke: So life is long.
Anne: Life is long! There’s so much time for a wasted day and to be unproductive.
Rourke: That’s beautiful . . . And didn’t you have another one, see it differently. Did that come around at the same time?
Anne: No, see if differently started around when we were hanging out. And um, and it’s just a reminder of all the ways I can misunderstand how somebody talks or misunderstand how something is. I grew up kind of black and white, like this is how the world works, this is how the rules are, and the more you travel or the more you . . . not you . . . the more I travel the more I meet people the more I have learned to see it differently that my view and my opinion and my outlook isn’t ever gonna be 100% correct. I’m always going to miss a detail or miss a piece of a story.
Rourke: Let’s go back to you when you started shooting photography. Why did you pick up a camera?
Anne: My dad and uncle always had cameras at stuff, so in my head I could say that’s why it started but I . . . I . . . That’s a good question . . . I started taking photography classes in high school as my electives and I was always drawn to it because I love creative things and creative outputs but my head isn’t always good at coming up with something from nothing so instead I like showing things that already exist in my own way and photography is a perfect way to do that.
Sometimes in my head I think my photos are just like anybody else’s, and I’ve been getting feedback that people like my photos because they like the way I see the world, and they like my perspective, and I love that. I love that, sure, everyone can take a picture of the same thing but there’s always some little details different, whether it’s the cropping, whether it’s the color, whether it’s the perspective and the angle, and it just shows the little differences in how we all view a subject.
Rourke: What’s your favorite subject to shoot?
Anne: In college when I was taking a lot of pictures my roommate and my boyfriend at the time started looking at my pictures and saying I needed to have a person in them. I guess I never had a person in them because in my head I didn’t want them to be biased or objective, like, “this is what this world looks like,” and “this is the kind of people in it,” or whatever, and then I started finding out that people can actually picture themselves places more when there’s a human in it. So, if it’s a landscape and you show a tiny person, someone can picture that’s how they would look standing there.
I mean I love photographing so many things but I think humans are probably so weird and different and that, but they’re also the hardest and scariest thing which makes it more fun too because getting brave to either secretly photograph somebody or to go up and ask them and have that rejection or have them not like it adds to the drama.
Rourke: The drama of the photo.
Anne: The drama of the process.
Rourke: I love your perspective. And I think people can connect with it too because you’re capturing mundane things, but they’re the things that I think people pass at a glance and don’t think about but they’re always right in front of you. Like the one of the Mt. Whitney motel. That photo is just a great perspective and the title adds to the experience, “Who the heck stays at a place like that?”.
Anne: As she unpacks her bags (to stay at a place like that).
Rourke: Yea! Who photographs something like that, somebody who sees beauty in every day life and it doesn’t have to be epic. It’s simple . . . Your body of work for the show spans how many years and how many countries?
Anne: My first piece, because it is something that means something to me is just pretty flowers. It’s probably my earliest one in that group and there might be a gap from that to the next one, but I think that one is 2009, and the countries would be . . . I have to count them . . .
Rourke: So 2009 to last year?
Rourke: That’s eleven years . . . More than eleven years. That’s twelve years of
Anne: Or thirteen
Rourke: Or thirteen for that body of work. That’s a beautiful amount of time to collect so many memories . . .
Anne: Yea! And the crazy part is, one, I say life is long, but 12 years or 11 years is only a third of my life so that doesn’t even put in all of the things of my childhood and that and so again people say that people die so young which of course is awful but at the same time they’ve also had so much life in that young time, and I don’t want that to be taken for granted.
And I think if we don’t live or if we have to skip a few years because of the pandemic and a family member’s sick or anything like that there’s still so many moments that we’ve gathered . . . And countries I can send you later but its from Iceland to South America. Pretty much every country in South and Central America. There might be a piece in Thailand. All the states. A lot of the states . . . We should just say continents. We’ve got Europe. We’ve got Asia. We’ve got North America. And we’ve got South America.
Rourke: It’s such a moving experience. I know it was probably a lot during the show for people to really sit in it because there was music and there was . . . .
Anne: All the people.
Rourke: Yea. All the people and the conversations, and it’s a nice environment to be in by being surrounded by so many of your photos, but I think that, in my experience, I felt like it was special and unique because I got to be in it alone with you and sit and look at every photo and then look at the titles of each photo. I felt like I was a part of your life for the last 12 years, and I got to feel what it was like to be in all those places. I think that’s such a magical thing, to be able to experience another person’s life in photographs and I can’t imagine what it will look like when you’re 60 or when you’re 90. The amount of work that you’ll put into that.
Anne: One thing about Project Project is they don’t like to label their art with captions or titles, and I respect that, I love that the experience can change just from the visual, and so one of my titles and captions I had jotted down before I learned that was, something like, This is as close as I could get you to understanding, and nobody will ever understand what a moment felt like for me or how much I’ve experienced or gone through and that’s something so hard.
You and I even talked about how we’ve lived 34 years and it’ll take 34 years to catch each other up on all the things we’ve missed and then we’ll have 34 more years to add to it kind of thing, and so this is as close as I can get to people understanding how full and how beautiful one humans life is, and I liked listening and watching people reflect on their lives from seeing mine, like, “Oh wow I have done more than I thought” or “There have been more special moments that I actually carry around with me”.
Rourke: How did the theme come about, I mean, because you had how many weeks to prepare for the show?
Anne: I think they asked me pretty much two months before the show and I had a lot of weddings, like two weddings or three weddings to travel to in between there.
Rourke: And a festival.
Anne: Yea. So two weddings and a festival. And I had all of the holidays and everything so I basically had maybe three afternoons to sit down and just look through pictures and try to develop what I was doing. And so just like most artist I’ve heard say, there’s so much that is not finished or that I wish I had done differently, but that only goes to prove how long life is and how much more didn’t make the cut and how much more I could’ve included and as you see in the show there’s already 106 photos. It’s the most photos an artist has ever hung at Project Project and it doesn’t even take a fraction of . . .
Rourke: The wall space?
Anne: No, it doesn’t even showcase a fraction of how long my life is, how much I’ve experienced. It shows the four loves of my life but it doesn’t show the many friendships I’ve gone through. How many neighbors I’ve had. Or the one person that made a huge impact on my life, that’s given me that one piece of advise.
I think that there’s always a handful of people in my life or other people’s lives that can set the course of your life from anything good or bad, like it says on the show description I majored in physics and math and I haven’t used it a day in my life other than to substitute teach for a couple hours, and that was because people told me not to major in what I wanted to major in, which was photography and art, and I am happy for that experience, but I also learned through that experience to trust myself. It’s at least a lot more fun messing up when I chose what to mess up on. And I didn’t mess up on following someone else’s dream.
Rourke: There’s proof of this in your work too. You’ve lived your dreams . . . So you had three afternoons to look through your photos, and how many photos did you look through?
Anne: I don’t know but . . .
Anne: I’ve been on the road so much before I ever moved to Omaha that I basically traveled until a wedding and I would stay put long enough to edit the wedding and then travel again, and so most of my work I’ve never even looked at other than the day I took the picture, and so I just started going through files of the last decade.
Rourke: So you were surprised by your own work for this show?
Anne: Yeah! And all of the memories that flooded back from it. My journal, I always say, is through my hard drive. Like I can go back to the photos of the meals and the people . . . I think I take way too many photos and I can’t tell you how many I looked through but I realized that my folder that I was pulling the special ones into was getting full so that’s when I stopped even looking at more, because I needed to get them edited and then printed, figure out what frame, because every single framing is different.
Rourke: How do you find your frames?
Anne: I buy my frames from thrift stores, and it goes along with the theme of life is long because some of these frames have been around for generations, and have the photos changed in them, from family photos to kids drawings to art, and now we’ll see how long they’ll hold one of my photos before, either I change it for the next show or someone buys it and maybe they’ll stay like that for the next twenty or thirty years.
Rourke: And how do you find out which photo goes in what frame? How did you decide that?
Anne: I kind of had some favorites, but then I kinda tried to think about both, what moments were the most, not iconic, but the most like unique maybe, but also what somebody or me would actually want on their wall pretty big that would look nice just standing alone by itself. So there’s this beautiful one of the glaciers melting in Iceland and that might not be as crazy of an experience as the big one of Burning Man with people in their costumes walking around this world they made up, but I like the mixture of it.
And they both can mean so much. This time around, I’d never done it before, but of all the photos in the file I ordered eleven cent copies of them, all at 4×6, and mailed them to my house, and so when I got them I just walked around all my collected frames and put the photos in them to see how the colors looked and how I could imagine them being bigger or smaller and seeing which ones like that and I really liked that method of deciding, and then it was a lot quicker to just write down the size on the back and go and put my order in.
Rourke: Do you think you’ll continue using that method or let the experience dictate how you process that information?
Anne: The experience how?
Rourke: How did you like the process? Would you change the way you frame your photos?
Anne: Mm . . . So I did this framing for the last show and I bought actually like all the same frames but I didn’t end up using that method for the show in case I wanted to switch it up, but two things, one, this worked with the theme because it gives it more diversity in the length of the frames like I said, but also, I like it because it makes me be able to make the photography more affordable to people and I would love if something I photograph meant something to someone so they could be able to have a little piece as a reminder, whether it’s a reminder to appreciate their days more or to print more of their images or whatever, so I really like that method of doing the older frames the most, just making art more accessible.
Rourke: I love something you said to me when we were looking at the show, you said you were a little embarrassed by some of the blemishes on the frames or the glass. Why did you decide to leave them as they were?
Anne: I’m not always the biggest perfectionist, so cleaning and framing old frames is kind of stressful for me and I realized I might have a hair in some and a fingerprint on some, but two things, one I haven’t figured out or I haven’t started signing my photographs yet so it’s kind of my signature, and two, I mean I might not be any big name now and I might never be, but I know if people had Bob Dylan or anybody else’s work like either in his sloppy handwriting or with his smudges and fingerprints over it that that would make it more valuable so I think any human touch and human connection is more valuable and I just decided that that’s part of the piece.
Rourke: If you had any advice for somebody who’s getting into photography or wants to do a show, what would you tell them?
Anne: If you want to do a show I think it’s kind of like paying and signing up for a marathon before you start training. It’s going to force you to have the show even if you second-guess it, even if it’s not perfect, even if you, whatever. It’s kind of like a high school homework assignment or college, like it has to be turned in by that date no matter what, and I think the progression will change the more shows you do and you just need to start somewhere. So get it out.
The getting into photography, do both. Take stuff that you like that’s your style even if it’s still developing, but also try to copy some of your favorite people and it’ll teach you new techniques and new ways of seeing the world, and then somewhere down the line it will become a blend of all the people you admire, and your own vision.
Rourke: If you could photograph anything or anyone, what would you photograph?
Anne: That’s probably my favorite thing about photography, is the access it gives me, from weddings to the inside of peoples lives in different conferences or different rooms I wouldn’t ever be brought into before.
Rourke: You’re almost like the Key Master.
Rourke: You have every key to get into every door in every building of every country.
Anne: Yeah, it’s really nice . . . Um . . .
Rourke: Maybe that’s too broad of a question.
Anne: Yea, because everything excites me. I guess my favorite is just the inside people’s lives. So whatever that is.
Rourke: I love hearing about how you see the world. I love your perspective, and I think a lot of other people do to, and I think it’s important to know the inside of the person who does the work, kind of like you have access to a lot of peoples lives, or places you may never get to go if you weren’t a photographer, like backstage at a concert or intimate moments people don’t always get to see, for example, a groom crying before his wedding. This is kind of a way for people to have access to the person who has access to everything . . . Ok I have one last question for you, what does art mean to you?
Anne: Oooo . . . Art to me means being able to see into someone’s thoughts, and that can be from anything, like their art is kind of a self-portrait of how they actually are and it’s also kind of a self-portrait of what they think is worthy of making and that kind of stuff, and, so even if I don’t like art I like the glimpse it gives me into what people creating find important. So art to me is people showing you themselves.
Rourke: The reveal . . . The real reveal . . . So art to you is like taking their clothes off, internally.
Anne: What they wish you saw if they took their clothes off . . . What they get to choose to look like if they did.
Rourke: I thought your show was wonderful, and I’m excited to see what you do in the future because life is so long and you have so much excitement about life and all the things in it and all the people in it and I think you’re going to do good things with your long life . . . High-five!
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