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May the Road Rise to Meet You

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FOCAL POINT Q3.15 Interview: Sara Macel

FOCAL POINT surveys the landscape of emerging photographers and selects three talented, driven, and noteworthy artists to highlight each quarter.  Each FOCAL POINT photographer receives mentoring from Crusade for Art to think about their work, their target audience, and how to best engage them.  In this interview series, every FOCAL POINT photographer gets asked the same three questions, and their answers become a jumping off point for the mentorship.

Describe the arc of your photography career so far.  

I took my first photography class when I was 15, and from that moment on I knew I wanted to be a photographer. In high school, I exhausted every possible outlet to learn more about photography that I could find in my school and town of Spring, Texas to the point of writing the Houston Chronicle and pitching photo stories to them (it worked!). At eighteen, I moved to New York to study photo at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. It was a wonderful program full of talented students and great teachers like Tom Drysdale, Deb Willis, and Phil Perkis. I loved being surrounded by people who liked to talk about images.

After graduation, I lucked into a job as Bruce Davidson's studio manager. Working for Bruce taught me what the life of a working artist looks like. He taught me his method of darkroom printing and gifted me my Mamiya 7II, which is still my favorite camera. Almost as soon as he gave me that camera, I left to go make my own work for a few months. That began my on-going series "Rodeo Texas" about my home state. Upon returning to New York, I got a job working under photo agent David Maloney at Art Department. There I learned all areas of production (bidding on jobs, budgets, building crews, on-set production, travel, billing, contracts, etc.) and worked my way up to being one of his two head producers for his roster of photographers. When I wasn't head producer, I had time to work on my own fine art photography on nights and weekends. Slowly, I started getting into shows and winning small awards like Jen Bekman's Hey Hot Shot. I was using all my vacation days to travel for shooting personal work. But it wasn't enough. I knew I needed to shake things up if I wanted to get to where I wanted to be with my own photography. 

So, I applied to grad school and decided to quit my job and attend SVA for my photo MFA. That decision changed my life in incredible ways. While in school, I began what became "May the Road Rise to Meet You," a road trip photo series about my dad's life as a traveling telephone pole salesman. Grad school also changed my relationship to images and how I view myself as an imagemaker. After graduation, "May the Road..." started getting a lot of exciting attention. I was awarded the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer's Fellowship and signed with Daylight Books to publish "May the Road Rise to Meet You" which was released in 2013. I was very fortunate to be asked to join a Flash Powder Projects retreat right before my book came out, and there worked on ideas for pushing the book and taking my photo career to the next step. And since then, I've had a traveling exhibition of that work shown all over the country and in some international photo festivals, my collector base has grown, and I was selected as one of PDN's 30 Emerging Photographers to Watch for 2015. And just two months ago, I self-published a small edition of my older series "Kiss & Tell" that sold out in 2 months, so now, in addition to my latest work-in-progress, I want to revisit that series and see how it has evolved since I started it over 10 years ago.

I've also been teaching photography for 3 and half years now at SUNY Rockland Community College and am starting this fall to teach at CUNY Kingsborough Community College. And I've been shooting more and more commercial and editorial work, which has been great and something I'm looking to push more in the coming year.

I feel really fortunate for all the good things that have come my way and grateful for all the experiences that helped inform my skill set and creativity. The advice I tell my students is: be humble, be grateful, be hungry and just don't stop.

If you were exactly where you wanted to be in your fine art photography career, what would that look like?

That's hard to answer. I don't know that I'll ever be EXACTLY where I want to be, because each new wonderful achievement opens new doors and leads to new goals. But it sure would be nice to sell out of the editions of a series!  And a definite new goal of mine is to partner with a gallery for representation.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?

In addition to gallery representation, my goals for the year are to create a "Kiss & Tell: Volume II", make a significant amount of progress with my newest series, explore more exhibition opportunities for "May the Road Rise to Meet You," and seek out more editorial and advertising clients. And get a dog. I'd really like to get a dog.

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LPS Spotlight: Sara Macel

Since the photographers featured in the Local Photographer Showcases in each city are supremely talented and excited about reaching new audiences with their work, we will be regularly featuring them to give you more insight into their work and their experience Crusading. Next up is Sara Macel from the Brooklyn pop-up:

Tell us a little about your background as a photographer and where you are now with your work.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, I left home to study photography in New York when I was eighteen.  I got my undergrad BFA in Photo & Imaging at NYU in 2003 and my MFA in Photography, Video, & Related Media from SVA in 2011. Between my undergrad and graduate degrees, I worked as Bruce Davidson's studio manager and as a still photo producer at Art Department while working on my personal projects and exhibiting my work around NYC and Brooklyn.  After getting my MFA in 2011, I began teaching photography at Rockland College upstate and shooting my own editorial and advertising shoots to help support my personal work.  My first monograph, "May the Road Rise to Meet You," is coming out in Sept 2013 from Daylight Books.  There's going to be a big launch party and panel talk on Sept. 21, 2013 at United Photo Industries, and I'm kicking off the exhibition and book tour with a show at Daylight's project space in Hillsborough, NC in late Sept-early Oct.

How did you hear about the Crusade, and what were your initial impressions?

I met Jennifer at Fotofest in 2012.  She wasn't on my list of reviewers, but I knew about her and her gallery and wanted to make that connection, so I emailed her before the event asking if she could make a little time for me, and she was so gracious and said yes.  During our meeting, she gave me some of the most helpful and honest advice I got the whole review and helped connect me with David Bram of Fraction Magazine who then featured my work in Issue 39.  In the months that followed, Jennifer and David invited me to their Flash Powder retreat in Astoria, which I attended earlier this year.  I knew about the Crusade from the beginning and followed its adventures, but it was at the retreat that I got to meet Lady Blue and become even more invested in supporting Jennifer and her vision.  I was so happy when Jennifer asked me to take part in the Brooklyn Crusade soon after getting home from Astoria.  I think it's a really creative way to get people into the idea of collecting art and meeting artists.  And most artists I know are eager to build an audience for their work but not really sure where to start.  I knew it might be a little awkward to walk up to a stranger on the street and say "Are you interested in collecting some art for free today?" And it was!  But it was also a great exercise in practicing my "elevator pitch" and hang out more with Jennifer, which is my definition of a win-win.

Were you excited to participate in the Local Photographer Showcase?  Why or why not?

Hell yeah! I love being part of Lady Blue's journey. It taught me a lot about creating your own buzz and finding ways to reach people so that they too become invested in your project.  With my book coming out in September, it was fun to tell random people on the street about it.  I brought a notebook and got names and emails of the folks I talked to about my work.  For the people who walked away with my print, that's just even more incentive for them to check out and hopefully buy the book when it comes out.

How did the event go for you?  Was it like you expected or different?  Better or worse?  

It was disappointing that the van couldn't join us in Brooklyn for mechanical reasons, but overall I was really excited about the people I met and who walked away with my prints.  The first couple I met and shared my work with already collect photography from local DUMBO photo gallery Klompching, so that was great!  And right after I talked with them for a few minutes, I met a female artist and we talked about making work and getting it out in the world.  Despite the heat, I met some great people and really enjoyed hanging out with my fellow artists and Jennifer. The post-Crusade drink with the gang was also a highlight.

What do you hope will come out of the experience for you - personally and professionally?  Do you think those are realistic expectations?

Jennifer is a powerhouse of great ideas, so it was worth it just to talk with her more about my book project and brainstorm ways of spreading the word about that.  By getting contact details for the people I met, I helped grow my audience for future events, books, and shows.  And if a print sale comes from this, that would just be the cherry on top of the sundae.  In the end, I just like being part the Crusade for Collecting family, and if any future collectors come out of it, great!

Tell us about the image you gave away at the event and how to see more of your work.

The image I contributed is from my series "May the Road Rise to Meet You." The project is about my father's life on the road selling telephone poles, and the image, titled "Recognition Lifts the Human Spirit, Spring, Texas," is a bird's-eye view of his desk at home.  The title of this image comes from an inspirational phrase he wrote to himself on his day planner. More info about the book can be found on my website and at The book launch party will be Sept. 21 in Brooklyn at United Photo Industries, and all summer until October you can see images from my series "Rodeo Texas" along The Fence at Brooklyn Bridge Park ( sponsored by Photoville and UPI. Please sign up for my mailing list on my website for more updates and follow me on Instagram and Twitter @saramacel.