Creative Quarantine: Photographer Ross Sawyers

The Future Isn't What it Used to Be | Install Photo | © Ross Sawyers, 2020

Ross Sawyers talks with Esthetic Lens about what he has been up to during the pandemic. He shares how his practice has evolved and how it may continue to evolve in the future.


1. How are you holding up?

I am not sure how to answer this question.  I am still here, still have a job, still have a roof over my head and food on the table and I am a white guy in a society that privileges white guys so relatively speaking I am holding up fine but subjectively, I feel like not enough butter being spread over toast.


The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be | Photograph | © Ross Sawyers, 2020

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

It has had a significant and nearly opposite effect than what I anticipated back in March.  When the city (and my employer) went remote, a small part of me was excited for what I perceived as an opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in my studio (which happens to be in my home) but what I did not anticipate is how much more of my time my career as an educator would take up and also found that my attention span and concentration have been greatly diminished as a result of the pandemic caused isolation.  I have not made a lot of new work since March, my exhibition at 062 which opened October 16th was a catalyst for a significant amount of work but it was work that was less creative than my studio practice. It was the work of framing and finishing not the work of creating.



The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be | Photograph | © Ross Sawyers, 2020

The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be | Photograph | © Ross Sawyers, 2020

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

I don’t see my studio practice as an additive or subtractive process.  My practice has changed over the past few months and I suspect it will continue to change and evolve over the coming months.  This is not directly related to the pandemic, but when I have found myself in a creative rut in the past, I engage in quick exercises in the studio designed to provide me with finished work to interrogate rather quickly which is something I have started to do again recently.



The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be | Install Photo | © Ross Sawyers, 2020

The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be | Photograph | © Ross Sawyers, 2020

4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?

Honestly, I think just surviving is a remarkable feat.  There are a couple of artists who have really leaned into the current circumstances that are interesting to me.  Amy Elkins is a photographer who started making self-portraits every day early in the pandemic, it is an interesting project to watch evolve on Instagram.  My friend Kelli Connell takes a walk, every day to the lakeshore makes a photo, and posts it.  I look forward to seeing her posts, they are like little meditations that interrupt the constant flow of information in a very pleasing way.  I have also noticed a number of artists re-visiting and posting past work.  Generally speaking, artists seem to be most concerned with their most recent and ongoing projects, to see many taking the time to consider and re-share old work is really interesting to me. Another friend of mine, Amir Zaki, in posting about an upcoming lecture wrote: “I’m going to talk about where I come from, where I’ve been and probably not where I am going.”



The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be | Photograph | © Ross Sawyers, 2020

5. Are there any artists, filmmakers, albums, or genres you’ve been drawn to during the crisis? If so, why?

Probably the most significant draw for me that is outside of what I am normally drawn to is so-called “reality” TV.  I can’t get enough.  I think it is because I am drawn to competition (baseball without fans just isn’t baseball) and the previous version of our reality without masks and social distancing.  Shows like “The Great British Baking Show” “Project Runway” and “The Great Pottery Throw Down” have been really comforting to me.


© Ross Sawyers, 2020

Ross Sawyers’ work has been exhibited widely both nationally and internationally at venues including, The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Tacoma Art Museum, The Hyde Park Art Center, Rosphoto in St, Petersburg Russia, and the Unseen Photography Fair in Amsterdam.  His work is part of numerous public and private collections and has been written about and published in many publications including Artweek Magazine, Art Papers Magazine, FOAM Magazine and Flash Forward.  Ross earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography at the Kansas City Art Institute and a Master of Fine Arts degree in interdisciplinary art practice at the University of Washington and he is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Photography Department at Columbia College Chicago.


Check out his Website and Instagram.