Interview by Mia Kingsley
Attending the ‘Peachy n Keen’ exhibition ‘Mother’ earlier this month I was extremely excited because I knew I would come across some truly wonderful work. That I did! Erin Hoffstetter a photographer who’s work at ‘Mother’ instantly hypnotised me, her raw, mysterious and touching portraits are so gripping that I find it hard to imagine what Erin will be creating in her future years! She tells us about her project ‘The Slabs’, what makes a portrait successful in her eyes and how she loves to explore the relationship between environments and inhabitants. Meet Erin, a star in the making…
Hey Erin! So how did you get into photography?
During a time when I went back to community college after dropping out of my 4 year university I decided to take a black and white photography class as an elective and immediately became addicted. I still remember the first time I saw my photograph appear in the dark room right before my eyes, it was like magic.
Have you always been creative? Have you ever experimented with other mediums apart from photography?
I have always been a very creative and visual person. Growing up I was heavily involved in performing arts and also enjoyed reading and attempted to write a few of my own short stories and novels. I am really involved in the process of being creative and especially the initial spark of creation which I feel that performing arts and photography capture well.
You were born and raised in Los Angeles, how does this effect your work, are you inspired by your hometown?
Los Angeles has a beauty that is not obvious, and for that I really feel that it has fine tuned me to notice things that are not so obviously beautiful. I have always been drawn to wild landscapes and in its own way Los Angeles is a wild landscape. I grew up in the greater Los Angeles suburbs which is a unique part of Los Angeles and has a huge sprawl with many towns all with their own unique characteristics. Honestly, there is nothing more inspiring that growing up stuck in the suburbs.
Your currently working on a project that explores people in their environments, tell us about that?
I am very interested in capturing the exchange that occurs between people and their environments. My current project explores these relationships in a very personal way which I am looking forward to and at the same time nervous to show. It’s definitely going to combine many aspects of my photography into one project which I am not exactly sure how it will be received. It is definitely somewhat of an experiment.
Photos from your series ‘The Slabs’ were exhibited in the ‘Mother’ exhibition by Peachy n Keen, how did you come by this opportunity?
I had been a fan of Peachy n Keen for a few weeks and responded to their call to artists when I noticed they were having an exhibition titled ‘Mother’. I immediately thought of a few of ‘The Slabs’ photos that I had taken and decided to submit.
Your photos in the ‘Mother’ exhibition took a slightly different approach to the theme as your subjects were holding animals, mothering small puppies and kittens, is there a story behind the images? Why did you submit these particular photos?
I’m always playing devils advocate with myself and when I heard the word ‘Mother’ I began to think of different ways this could be translated. I feel like the concept of ‘Mother’ can be seen as something more complex depending on your culture or religious definitions and roles. When I looked at these women caring for and treating these animals as an extension of themselves, I felt that the word ‘Mother’ applied to these women too.
Can you tell us about how you begun ‘The Slabs’ project and who the people in the portraits are…
During my time in art school I became fed up with the way I was approaching imagery, I had yet to undergo a real change in the way I was approaching things and decided to choose an off the wall project that went against my nature a bit. I had been wanting to visit the Salton Sea for awhile and a classmate of mine and myself began traveling together to Slab City where we spent weekends over the span of a few months getting to know and photographing the people there. Most of the people in my photographs live in Slab City year round. We can go into a huge discussion about their personal situations but honestly they are just people trying to live their lives the best they can. For example, one of the images I had in the Peechy n Keen exhibit shows a woman with a puppy in the stroller. Her dog had recently passed away and she was pretty heartbroken over it so she had decided to get a puppy. When we saw her walking across the desert it had only been a few hours since she had adopted the puppy. I can’t think of anything more human and normal than that.
A lot of your photographs are set in the outdoors, whats your relationship with the outdoor world, what is it that attracts you to taking portraits outside of man made structures?
I have always been inspired by ideas that connect us with our basic human nature and our natural primitive state. I feel like natural environments really focus me as a person and calm my over distracted and stimulated mind. I find it really cathartic to spend time individually with my subjects in natural places and watch their transformation as we become quiet, are still and make photographs – to me that is the ultimate inspiration.
When you go about taking a portrait what do you take into consideration, what makes a portrait successful for you?
I feel like it is really easy to make characteristically similar photographs with particular cameras, lenses, colour “presets”, and over all style or “look”. I have things that visually appeal to me, but I try to reach beyond that and create an irreplaceable moment. When I look at a portrait I am happy with, I see my own hand that shaped and made the photograph by collaborating with my subject who gave a part of her or himself to the photograph. To me this is a successful portrait.
What do you do to get inspiration?
Traveling is a big inspiration for me. I feel like I have a pretty big imagination and when I see things that my brain has not come into contact with before, I am immediately rushed with ideas and inspiration. I have always had a pretty vivid imagination which has always led to new ideas and projects of interest.
How would you describe your style in 3 words?
Honest, Subtle, Perceptive
Which other photographers do you admire?
Some of my favorite photographers include Justine Kurland, Alec Soth, William Eggelston, Stephen Shore, Catherine Opie, Martin Parr, Ryan McGinley…the list goes on.
Who’s portrait would you most like to take in the world right now?
My grandmother, who recently passed on. As much as I photographed her, I never got to take that one image that I would be happy to have for the rest of my life.
Whats next for you Erin? Any new projects in the process?
I am in the process of finishing up some smaller projects and starting some larger scaled ones. One I am particularly excited about involves all of my favorite things currently: new places, love and discovery.
Thank you so much Erin!! We can’t wait to see your future projects 🙂 To follow Erin’s incredible photography, here is her website & blog:
The next ‘Mia Meets…’ will be out this coming Thursday but until then for more Mia Kingsley: