Amy Stein is 39 and what the fuck are you going to do about it?
MOSSLESS: Part of what I love about your work is that it is so strongly informed by your political science background. What inspired you to change the course of your career and pursue photography?
AMY STEIN: In 2001, I was laid off from my dotcom job and had a bit of an existential crisis. I was getting older and starting to ask the big questions about what I wanted to do with my life. Out of the blue I said, “I’m going to be a photographer.” It was a declaration that came with no forethought or history with the medium. It just struck me one day on the couch and I have been all-in ever since.
ML: In your Stranded series, you travel across America photographing stranded motorists that you come upon by chance. In your statement, you mention that unlike Robert Frank, Steven Shore, or Joel Sternfield who traditionally photograph “the journey”, you are more interested in photographing “the journey interrupted”. Can you speak about why this moment in time is especially significant for you?
AS: Our lives and days are filled with plans. We have destinations big and small and set out on a journey to accomplish our goals. This is the essence of hope. But, we don’t live in a vacuum and often external forces or our own unknowing hands disrupt our best intentions. It is this moment between expectation and outcome that fascinates me and is at the core of this project.
I see the breakdown as a kind of limbo where you are caught in an alien environment and forced to confront this failure of sort. It is a lonely place, but you are not alone. Thousands of people are streaming past completely oblivious to your struggle. This project is very much about documenting that moment of personal isolation, but also about disrupting it with my presence and the introduction of a camera.
ML: What is the most interesting encounter you’ve had while traveling across the country?
AS: In the 5 years I’ve been working on this project I have covered thousands of miles, met hundreds of people on the side of the road and heard an equal number of compelling stories. Last year I was traveling across the Florida panhandle and pulled over to shoot a couple just outside of Jacksonville, Florida. It was morning and they were on their way to Maryland because the woman’s mother was dying of cancer.
The night before they had filled their tank for the long journey, but only managed to make it a few miles before their truck sputtered to a stop on the northbound lane of I-95. They were sure that one of their neighbors had siphoned their gas during the night. They explained that times were tough and this happened a lot in their neighborhood. As a rule they didn’t keep a lot of gas in their tank, but this one time they did so they could get an early start.
ML: What photographers, bodies of work or exhibitions have you seen recently that have inspired you?
AS: Some of the things I’m excited about include Ofer Wolberger’s The Photographic Book Project, Richard Moss’ recent work from the Congo, the gorgeous black and white work of Dru Dononvan and Birthe Piontek’s new project dealing with personal illness.