In Conversation with Landon Speers

Interviewed by Timothy Frazier
Images Landon Speers

TF: How did you get into photography?

LSOne of my older brothers ran into some trying times & had to move back into my parent’s home when I was in the middle of high school. I’d shared a bedroom with siblings most of my youth & while I wasn’t pleased that the only available space was in my bedroom, I didn’t really have much of a say. So with him came all of his things. He’d won a small point & shoot camera from a raffle at his job so it ended up floating around the room all the time. I started taking it out with me during hikes & bike rides. We’d recently moved from a small town into the city so I spent a lot of time around then alone wandering around the river valley that cuts through the entire city.

LSAt the time I was also getting into the punk scene in Edmonton & as much as my parents were resistant at first, they slowly realized that some of their notions were unfounded & let me explore my curiosities there. One of the first people I met at shows was a bubbly kid with a camera who knew everyone & had a really friendly demeanor I was drawn to. I started saving up my meager grocery store pay cheques & borrowed a bit of cash from my parents to buy my first camera. I took photos of everything & it quickly became a way for me to meet new people, explore new places & satiate curiosity in the unfamiliar. I ran head first into this & didn’t really look back. That permission I felt to explore, be open & push myself has been a central force in driving me forward.

TFTell me about your book, Wild Rose, and the accompanying music.

LS: After visiting my hometown exclusively during winter for several years in a row, I finally got around to spending some time there in autumn & was quickly reminded how striking & beautiful its landscape is. At the time, I was also reflecting on the response I had to placing myself in nature more frequently after a few years of living in New York, where it can be hard to do so. Having been caught up with a lot of portrait work & the constant hum of the city, I’d forgotten the role nature once played for me. With all that in mind, I decided that returning to photographing landscapes would require some focused intent & purpose. Visually I was really interested in Dutch & Flemish pastoral paintings & the ability they have to impart these feelings of presence through use of colour, depth & toning. It resonated with me & the idea of pairing it with an approach to photos that was akin to my portraits seemed like an exciting contrast. The idea formed to personify these elements of nature & then present them with a look that nodded to classic landscape painting presenting as quiet & meditative.

LSI’d taken a fairly substantial break from making music as well & had just started to play with new ideas at the time. Having kept the two fairly separate until then & reflecting on the focus I wanted to have with a return, there was an inherent draw to combine the two in a way I’d avoided in the past. I always have seen music as a very visual thing & also love score music so having them gestate to one end seemed like fitting. I started bringing my recording setup on these trips. Shooting during the days & working on sketches at night, making a sort of feedback loop for my headspace. In LA for example, I house sat for friends that had a piano so would return from desert sojourns & record myself playing the piano till it was time for bed & repeat the next day. The fact that they were made in tandem feels appropriate for the intent I wanted to imbue the project with.

TFWhat was it like growing up in the prairies of Western Canada?

LSI always sum it up by saying that is was a great place to grow up, and a better place to leave. It’s the largest, most northerly city in North America so this comes with a set of characteristics unique to it & it’s landscapes. Winters are very long & most often very cold & punishing. The flip side of this is that its summers are short but beautiful. The last bits of the twilight fade at around 11pm & it gets mostly sunny days through out. People flourish in these times & maximize their ability to enjoy the outdoor spaces which makes for a great appreciation. It’s a place with some strange duality as it also had the worlds biggest mall for several decades. I’ve paralleled it as the ‘Texas of Canada’ due to its industrious & predominantly working class demographics. The whole province runs on oil, wheat & beef. Terence Malik’s ‘Days of Heaven’ was shot in the prairies there if that’s any reference for the visual aspects of the landscapes.

LS: The isolation there breeds creativity & gestates community too. Its lack of proximity to major cultural hubs meant that a lot of times arts didn’t come to us, so the community had to make it. Most of my dearest friends are all moved on from Edmonton across the world now, but doing their own things in a myriad of wonderful creative ways. I found my home in the music community there & it’s unique ability to have all the different communities cross-pollinate due to how small it was. Everyone went to everyone’s shows regardless of genre & fostered an appreciation & exposure to a wider scope of sounds & people as well. That exposure is something I’m very grateful for despite knowing it’s a place that doesn’t have a whole lot to offer me now.

TFCould you talk a bit about how (if in any way) being based in Brooklyn has had a meaningful impact on your photography?

LSI’m not sure if it has a direct link back to photography as much as an indirect one through it’s affect on me as just a human living. Living here is a constant reminder of some broader swaths of humanity via the congestion we all live in. For me, its affect would be in smaller actions that remind me of that. Riding the train 20 minutes & people watching all the different lives you briefly encounter through that. Going to a park & passing all the diversity reflected in those spaces etc. There’s a humbling aspect to it that I find a wonderful reminder of my place in amongst it all. If you’re open & curious it can often make for really endearing brief encounters that remind you pull your head out of your ass.

TFFavorite commission or assignment to date?

LSMost definitely the job I worked on last summer. I was commissioned to take all the photos for a massive documentary based project surveying the currently landscape of America. The brief referenced Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ as a main vantage point & while I certainly know I didn’t in any way came close to that level of grandeur; it did allow me to tap into my favorite way to shoot. I grew up hoping in tour vans & road trips with friends to see & play music. I relish in the ability to be on the move with cameras in tow snapping everything I encounter & this specific job let me do just that.

LS: We visited six different cities across the US over two months & it was so wonderful meeting people & being in places I’d never visit if not for that job. I spent time on lobster boats of an island in Maine, hiked mountains in California, swam in the ocean with a military family on a base in North Carolina, stood at the pulpit Dr. Martin Luther King gave his last speech at in Tennessee & spent days in a town with a population of one in Nebraska. My appreciation for being able to spend so much time outside shooting various landscapes was matched only by the gratitude for all the people I encountered who let me tourist into their lives along the way.

TFIf you could have one super power, what would it be and why?

LSFlying- hands down. I, like everyone else, have had so many dreams of being able to fly. When I was very small I’d occasionally try to see if I could. Of course it never worked, but the thought of being able to get around & see things from up high would be my first choice. Mountains, sunsets, water, forests - all would be so wonderful to see from higher vantage points. Also just saving on transportation costs would be cool too.

TFIf you could photography any one person from any time period, who would it be and why?

LSI would have had a different answer not too long ago but now, I’d have to say my brother Jarom. He took his life earlier this year & always begrudgingly let me take his picture over the years but I’d love to get the chance to approach doing a more set up portrait shoot with him. I think the ‘why’ portion might be obvious in context.  He was the brother I shared a room & borrowed the camera from & I don’t know if I ever actually expressed that link to me getting started in photography to him.

TFFuture plans or upcoming projects?

LSI’ve been sitting on a few different longer term projects & back log for a while. Currently I’m trying to spend the next while just catching up on this in order to redo my portfolio & share some of this work that’s taken a lot of my time but not been shared yet. I also photographed the entire process of my family dealing with the direct aftermath of my brother’s suicide, so while I’m not interested in rushing that - it’s also something on my plate that’s important for me to work on. In the summer though, I’m aiming to head back to Maine & that lobster fishing village to shoot a personal project on the people there.

Landon Speers is Canadian artist currently based in New York City that endeavors to document the people and places he encounters with an earnest candor. Having spent his formative years photographing the music community in the expansive prairies of western Canada, he acquired an appreciation for places both visceral and still. He grew up in a rather conservative religious home & found photography a perfect medium with which to explore the world & its inhabitants after shedding that lifestyle. Landon has a strong affinity for all bodies of water & seltzer. His work has been published & featured by the likes of Capricious, Mossless, Aint-Bad, The Magenta Foundation, PALM & The Heavy Collective. In addition to personal projects, Landon also takes commissions from publications including The New York Times, W Magazine, Vogue, New York Magazine, & The Fader.