Steven Brahms depicts what it would be like to survive in the wilderness in the photo series The Survival Project.
Brahms imagines objects people might use or jams they might need to get out of. “I would visualize these images through a mental framework, transforming everyday objects or events into scenes of survival,” Brahms says. “A burning house is transformed into a smoke signal, a paper clip and dental floss become a fishing lure, housing insulation becomes a winter jacket.”
Find out Brahms inspiration for the project and check out more photos.
I’m interested in knowing more about how you conceived your series The Survival Projects. How did you first conceive the project and was there some kind of trigger element to it?
I was sitting on an apple box spacing out on a fashion shoot, thinking to myself I would much rather be building a stick fort or making a fire right now… Living in New York City I tend to romanticize about being ‘back in the wilderness.’ I was interested in exploring how I could find nature in the bizarre world of the city. The project started out extremely pre-determined, I started making a series of photographs that represented survival skills. Then over time I began to realize the images were much more than straight representation. It became more about these in-between moments that posed questions, and about how imagination is a tool for remembering our innate knowledge. It’s really interesting to figure things out through the process of working.
You described The Survival Project as “an investigation of skills and techniques to be used in the event of a catastrophe”. What do you think was the biggest catastrophe of 2010?
To me the BP oil spill was a true man made catastrophe. It’s weird to think that we have collectively forgotten about it, as if all that oil just vanished.
On your website you present it in two separate parts, Part 1 and Evasion Studies. How are these linked, do you reckon?
The Evasion Studies started out as a single image from Part 1, I made a picture of a guy who lives on my block. I was curious to see what it looked like to see a man run for his life, so I asked him to run for his life, and made a picture of the action. Then the next day I ran into someone who looked surprisingly similar to him. So, I asked him to run for his life, and that’s how it began. I think of it like this: Part 1 is the live yeast starter to the Survival Project’s finished bread. Part 1 is where all the images and ideas go first, if they trigger a new project then I put them somewhere else. In the end I envision a series of projects that all loosely fit together, a framework for the thoughts and ideas to evolve.
What excites you about photography?
I have been thinking a lot lately about how photography has limitations. It’s these limitations that make it so interesting. A photograph gives you an in-between moment free from what came before and what will come after. Creating these un-resolved moments, starting a conversation, posing a question, to me that is exciting.
What was the best encounter you made thanks to photography?
I recently worked on a shoot with Beyonce, and witnessed her dance “Single Ladies” in person, thanks photography.
Do you feel like you spend a lot of time thinking about your work prior to making photographs or do you experiment things as you go along?
I find myself drawn to simple, un-academic ideas for pictures. So in that respect I try to save the thinking for later. To me it’s about finding a balance between my formal concerns while allowing as much room for experimentation as possible. My pictures are both found and contrived, so this alone creates more freedom. As of late I’ve been interested in creating ‘scenarios’, an approach that allows for the pictures to become documents of a happening. In my mind this creates a formally controlled environment in which unexpected things can happen.
You recently said your work conveyed a certain “out of place” feeling. When was the time you felt most out of place?
When I first moved to New York I worked on the photo desk at Bloomberg News. I quickly discovered that the office was not my place. Knowing where I would be sitting and what I would be doing on any given day for the foreseeable future freaked the shit out of me.
You also run Similar Projects, a website dedicated to your works in progress. When exactly and how do you know a work is finished?
Hmm…I don’t feel like I have finished anything yet so I’m not sure. There is something very romantic about being constantly in-progress, but at some point you have to finish a thought and put the work out there, my goal is to publish my work in book form.
Steven Brahms was asked to create a new series of photographs for the LIFE issue of 125 magazine. Responding to his earlier project Violent Material, he photographed a series of men reacting to having guns pulled on them.