Sean Stewart: Out East

Sean Stewart is a descendant of the great American colour tradition and is heavily inspired by the likes of Shore, Eggleston, and socially conscious practitioners such as Robert Adams. Stewart is currently gaining recognition for his large format landscapes, taken mostly around post-industrial towns in east America, near his hometown of Pennsylvania.

Unlike Stewart’s distinctly themed projects such as Rivertown and the self-published book, L’Eternel Est Grand, this collection, titled Out East, is a consciously disparate and varied gathering of Stewart’s out-takes, ‘mistakes’ and orphans, selected from his ever-growing archive. For one reason or another, these images didn’t previously fit into any project and when fused together, they make for an interesting and challenging experience. Stewart has spoken of these photographs resembling a form of broken language, and despite his claim that the narrative is non-existent, it’s difficult not to let your mind wander and to imbue the images with a smattering of connections and links. Stewart presents us with a mixture of both colour and black and white photographs, ranging from sprawling landscape vistas to small domestic details.  We see shopping mall car parks, a scattering of portraits and a curious ‘double sun’ hanging over Yosemite National Park.

 Film Boxes / Potential Energy, 2011 shows a stack of well-worn Kodak 5x4 boxes, resplendent in bright blue tape and positioned in the corner of a bath tub with equally ragged edges, whilst Self-portrait, 2011, shows what appears to be a digital collage of multiple images of Stewarts’ eyes. These more personal splinters are countered by moments of quiet and steelier reflection which pose subtle questions to us all about our place in the wider scheme of things - Another Still-life (After Irene), 2011, shows an image of an image: a wistfully hazy traditional fruit still life sits underneath a partially cracked pane of glass. With this current edit of Out East, Stewart deliberately thwarts any attempts we may have at easy consumption, yet discernable throughout are underlying ponderings on nature, considered thoughts on our built environment and a fragmentary sense of travel. The collection speaks as much about Stewart himself and his personal relationship to photography as it does about wider issues regarding our collective relationship with the landscape.


— James D. Clark