days before / days after
By Matt Eich and Jared Soares
Zatara Press, 2018
Interview by Leo Hsu
Matt Eich and Jared Soares are accomplished documentary and editorial photographers whose personal documentary works deal with family and community. Eich is perhaps best known for his work on rural Ohio and his own family, and Soares for his project on small town hip hop (which appeared in Fraction 60).
In Days Before / Days After, published by Zatara Press, Eich and Soares turn to the social landscape and the often forgettable details of everyday life that surround us. With their quiet observations they create a pair of extended and complementary elegiac visual poems about the state of the country and their own emotional states. Days Before / Days After presents work that initially seems very different from their projects about people and how they are, but on inspection this book deals equally with Eich and Soares’ humanistic response to the world through which they move.
The two books are presented as one flipbook. A reader can open either cover, and then half way through the volume, flip it over and start again to see the work of the other photographer. The icons on the cover recall the card game Set and within the book are motifs across various dimensions—form, metaphor, reference—that invite the reader to actively seek patterns.
I asked Eich and Soares about their collaboration over email.
Leo Hsu: First I'd like to ask, how did you two meet? Is this your first collaboration? How did the idea of doing this collaboration come about?
Matt Eich: Jared and I met through an online listserv called A Photo A Day. We became familiar with one another's work while we were still in college, and then Jared ended up taking a staff position at The Roanoke Times. When I graduated, my family and I moved to Norfolk, Virginia where I started freelancing. Over the years our paths crossed and we looked at/offered feedback on one another's work.
In 2014 or 2015, I was in graduate school and had started more prolifically making pictures that were intentionally placeless. In looking at one another's work, Jared and I started to see some visual echoes that led us to believe we were looking for similar threads on the sidelines of our daily lives, projects and commissions. We created a shared Dropbox folder and started dropping pictures in there whenever inspiration struck. Fast-forward a couple years, Andrew Fedynak of Zatara Press approaches and asks if I have any projects in the works.
Days Before / Days After is the first collaborative book Jared and I have made, and also the first project I've released that doesn't depict any humans. In a lot of ways for me it was refreshing to take a step away from the emotional and ethical complications of depicting people. Jared is also just really easy to work with, so it was a pleasure putting this project together.
LH: You are both recognized for work that deals closely with people and community, and as Matt notes, there are no people in Days Before / Days After. Still, the photographs on both sides of this collaborative book are about the social, built world that we live in, and how it is broken. There is an almost apocalyptic tone with the empty shoes, destroyed building, field on fire, dead bird (and here I am drawing from both books). With the title, Days Before / Days After, my read on the book was that this is the state of the world that brings us to a kind of living end, and the two parts of the book have a lot of symmetry. I’d be interested in hearing how you thought about what you could convey with this project, and also how the flip book structure shaped your decisions.
Jared Soares: Before this work became a project and a book, I was photographing a lot on impulse. I wanted to find a way of working where I could address the presence of humanity without showing people—the idea of an evidence photo but not clinical in approach. If I had any type of emotional pull to a space or an object, I would pause to regard it and often make a photograph. Most of these photographs were made while traveling for commissioned work or visiting family.
For a while I was just collecting these types of images and it wasn’t until the editing process that we began to see an emotional narrative emerging from the work. Matt and I are both pretty tuned into current events and I’d say that we both feel that our images describe our emotions linked to the times that we live in.
In terms of the flip book design, we had riffed on a few different ideas for displaying the work and through collaborating with Andrew, we landed on this approach. The flip forces the reader to have an active experience with the book. This design also gives the reader agency—they can decide how to engage with the book. The act of flipping is a little jarring but so are the times that we live in.
ME: One of the things that connects our work and visual perspectives on America is our interest in the photograph's ability to convey emotional resonance. Often this is accomplished through the human form (gesture, expression) but it can also be conveyed through these anonymous spaces we find ourselves in. Our subconscious feelings about the current state of America manage to work their way into the pictures.
As for the flip format of the book, it is something I had considered for another personal project, but eventually decided against. For this project though, it seemed like a good way to give the viewer the feeling of something being flipped on its head.
LH: The flipbook definitely engages me as a reader. It makes me feel that there is no one way that is “up” and also forces me to think about the relationship of the two halves to one another. And it’s still clearly one book, despite the way that it’s constructed.
How did you edit and sequence the book? Were you involved in each other’s selections and sequences? Were there any particular guiding ideas apart from your instincts and emotional response that were useful in shaping the specific tone of the book?
JS: In terms of the edit, Matt and I made a very wide selection of images and riffed a lot on what could be included or should be discarded. Work prints were made and we met with Andrew a few times at our respective studios in Virginia and Washington D.C. for more rigorous editing sessions. Once we got to a place that felt good, which still ended up being large pile of prints from both us, Andrew took over and built the sequence. We both added notes as the sequence was coming together but Andrew by and large made it sing.
In the earlier edit sessions, I was guided by how I felt during that time and how I felt when the photograph was made, both different times and much different emotions. We were editing when the country was going through quite a bit of change. In some ways, the images foreshadowed that change and some of them yearn for the time before.
LH: I’d be interested in hearing more about how these photographs allow you to respond to your emotions and the events and tone of the last few years. How are these pictures different for you—in any way—than other work that you make? Matt, you mentioned not having the ethical considerations that you have when photographing people. Can you both tell me more about the space that they open up for you? What does it mean to you to bring all of these moments of emotional response together into a structured form like the book?
And: I imagine that these pictures are happening for you at any given moment. Do you both carry cameras with you all of the time as a habit?
ME: A lot of my previous projects revolve around long-term relationships with people and place, and I have to weigh representation (and other ethical considerations) whenever putting the work into a public space. With this publication, Jared and I both enjoyed unhinging ourselves from the original context of our images to find new configurations that would flow together.
I do carry a camera with me almost all the time, and these photographs come from sifting through what is gathered and looking for threads. As I'm moving through day-to-day life (work, travel, family), I'm making pictures while carrying this mental baggage about America. It started as a low murmur, as I listened to discontented voices around America, then it sort of rose in pitch over the years, and hit a crescendo in 2016-2017 around Trump's election. In general, the work I've been making feels more urgent at this moment ... that said, it is tricky making pictures of humans that don't fall into the "us" or "them" binary during this polarized time.
One of the threads that weaves the pictures together in Days Before / Days After is the ambiguity of place - you find yourself everywhere and nowhere in America. Despite the vastness of that framework, it allows for a wide range of emotional responses to our present situation.
LH: Can each of you point to a picture or two that the other made that really spoke to you, or that made you realize you were on the same wavelength, or spoke to differences (and why)?
JS: Most of the time I don't have a camera with me but in recent years I've tried to make it more of a habit—I'm realizing the importance of recording my life and what’s around me and how all of those aspects influence and inform my work. I find myself making work in chunks, putting myself in a situation for a period of time where all I have to be concerned about is making photographs for myself. With this project, the photographs were made with that practice but also while moving through daily life—travel, family and while working. Giving myself permission to make a photograph based on an impulse.
In terms of a photo that made me feel like we were on the same wavelength, this would be a photo of a green tarp that’s got some ripples, it’s a vertical and I believe it was shared in an early pdf when we were riffing on this idea. I was interested in trying to find human qualities in objects that I would encounter in daily life and Matt's photo of the tarp nailed it for me. And that photo ended up in the final edit for the book.
ME: It's funny that Jared mentioned my image of the tarp. I remember seeing a picture of his of a car headlight poking through a worn tarp, and being excited by that image, and how it echoed/resonated with some of the images I'd been gathering. In the final edit of the book there are a few images … one of a tree with an amputated limb, and also a spread of bricks holding down a tarp next to this colorful red/blue/white image, where a white piece of paper is peeling away from a blue piece of metal affixed to a red wall. That particular image is one of my personal favorites in the book, just because it is so abstracted and uncertain but still contains the warmth and style that Jared is able to channel in his work.
One thread that we discussed in the making of the book was that Jared's images tend to be a little warmer and more hopeful than my own. This felt reflective of the Obama years, where there was a sense of possibility in the air. My images are generally a little more bleak, which feels more aligned with the "days after" the most recent presidential election cycle.
Jared Soares photographs community and identity. When he's not making photographs, he can be found playing tennis, trying on new sneakers, or walking his pet terrier. jaredsoares.com
Matt Eich is a photographic essayist born and based in Virginia. He makes long-form projects related to memory, family, community, and the American condition. matteichphoto.com
Leo Hsu is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Visit his website or contact Leo at email@example.com