“when the fog comes, i think there’s something else there” — sara teresaBack
“I grew up in a town called Florence, which is like the Scarborough or the Whitby of Oregon. It’s a tiny town. You go there to stay in a B&B by the sea, ride dune buggies, buy something made of seashells and leave. Or you go there to retire.
“For the few of us who actually lived there it was appalling. It was very boring and very twee. But it was also very beautiful, and I still miss it. I moved inland to Tennessee when I was twelve, but I still miss Florence to this day.
“I think that’s why I keep going back to Scarborough. There’s something so majestic about the English seaside. I think people look at it and think about chintzy photographs of people in swimming costumes coming down to their knees. But when the fog comes, I think there’s something else there.
“In a photograph there always has to be something in the moment that wasn’t there before or after, even if it’s just a bird or a person. I don’t really take static images – this is a house, or this is a castle – but sometimes that’s all you’ve got. So I started experimenting with doubles to add interest for myself. A lot of my photography is quite ethereal and I love experimenting with that.
“Whatever kind of photography I do, there always seems to be some element of the female gaze – not in a twee way, but what I do definitely has a feminist edge to it. Which is fine with me, I’m not trying to be anyone else. I’m not taking photos of fifties tea rooms or frilly dresses, it’s not that sort of ‘female gaze’. But I hope my way of looking comes through.
“I have done life modelling for about five years and sometimes, when I look at the drawings people do, the weirder the drawing is the more I like it. There is something kind of cool about seeing that weird twisted view of yourself. It’s crazy because every artist is looking at the same model but comes up with something really different. You can’t really do that in photography, and maybe that’s why I like manipulating photos so much.
“When I managed Café 164 in Munro House there were a few things established on Quarry Hill, like the Playhouse, but I knew there had to be more. Because I was in the café I saw everyone come in and I really wanted them all to meet each other. I was the one constant who could say to somebody that came in at 10am that they would really get on with the guy that comes in at 1pm. The Quarry Hill Social and the Leeds Creative Family Trees were ways to get everybody together and then find a way to visualise it.
“I’m quite shy and introverted really, and I shy away from people a lot in my photography. I stand on the periphery and take photos of things that I see, but I’m not very good at being in the middle of it. So for my current series I have been taking portraits to try and draw myself out, and that’s going to become a book around February time.
“I don’t have any desire to go back to America, but I did for a number of years feel like a stranger in a strange land here. Moving to a new place is interesting and exciting and exotic, and it took a good year before I stopped being just amazed that I was living in a different country.
“English people are great but I don’t think they’re the easiest people to make friends with, so it takes time, and I spent a lot of time on my own. But I like the northern sensibility and I’m glad I moved here first before I spent much time in London. I’m happy to visit, but I’m happy to come back here as well.
“I don’t miss America, not really. I miss the people, and I miss my friends. And I miss the sea. The smells, and the taste of saltwater taffy, and looking out along the jetty. The ocean. There is something about it that makes you feel like you should do things with your life. It doesn’t leave you.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 19