In Conversation with Hailey Heaton

Interviewed by Timothy Frazier
Images Hailey Heaton

TF: How did you get into photography?

HHI’ve always liked taking photos and doing little videos with my friends, maybe because of youtube and mini digital cameras. I was in my seventh grade photo club because I had a crush on a boy who was in it, and he hated me cause I never took it seriously, and we joke about it a lot now.

HH: I never thought about what I was doing or what it meant and I miss that. I did a lot of weird fantasy Flickr shit in high school just because it seemed fun and I taught myself photoshop that way. It never really felt like “me” though, because I was always copying other people’s editing techniques, or figuring out how to make myself float or something dumb.

HH: I never even really looked at “real” photographers before college, and I felt really behind that way, that I wasn’t familiar with Nan Goldin or Diane Arbus or people like that. The only person I ever really looked at in high school was Sally Mann because my ex boyfriend’s mom bought me her memoir. College really helped me figure out what it all means to me and my own voice within it.

TF: Tell me about your project, “Campsite 5”.

HHI shot all the photos in one day on a camping trip with a group of close friends two summers ago. We hiked three miles up and down a mountain to the campground and were right on this huge lake in South Jersey. It rained really badly that weekend and we were practically the only people there. It was really surreal.

HH: I left my phone in the car all weekend and it was the most clear headed I felt in a long time making work. I brought like 4 cameras with me, including the RZ67, and hiked with them, and it was just a really bodily thing. Sometimes it feels like my most personal work I’ve made. I never shoot black and white really so it was a different experience to just focus on form. I think I was trying to channel John Gossage, too, cause he’s one of my favorite photographers, and I love the way that he captures nature.

TFYou graduated with a BFA in Photography & Video from SVA in 2019, could you talk a bit about that experience? In what way do you think studying photography in NYC has shaped the way you photograph and was it worth the hefty price tag?

HHAll I’ll really say about SVA is that I really appreciate the teachers that invested so much time into helping me grow. A lot of people there really believed in me and helped me push myself really far, and I’ll be forever indebted to those people, cause I’ve never really had that type of support anywhere else. In high school I never had an opportunity to feel “smart”, so many teachers wrote me off, rightfully, cause I would skip school all the time and just never studied. I remember my guidance counselor tried to wean me away from applying to any school except community college because my grades were just so bad. So it was a big deal to really be excited about learning and having teachers share essays and artists with me.

HH: New York as a place hasn’t changed my view, mostly because I always have to leave to take pictures. I never take photos in the city and I think most people who live here would say the same. SVA was the only school I applied to, and I always knew the investment would be worth it I think. Maybe I’ll let you know in a couple of years?

TFTell me about this photograph.

HHHaha, I don’t know!! It was just a really special moment with my friend Alta on a trip to Vermont with another group of friends. We went to this lake near this cottage we were staying in, around sunset, and were swimming and I just asked for her portrait. Nothing super crazy. There’s another version where she’s looking at me and I like going back and forth between the two moments.

TFShit's getting pretty crazy out in the ether with everything that’s currently going on with COVID-19. What has your experience been like in NYC during our current global crisis?

HHI’m still working full time as a nanny, which is currently how I support myself/my art practice. I’m grateful to still be having an income during this really weird time, because most people I know don’t.

HH: I’m spending a lot of time right now just kind of researching, reading, watching movies. It’s still the beginning though, and I might get restless and start taking manic still lives or self portraits in my backyard, I dunno, but I haven’t really felt a need to make work. Just kind of plotting for when this is all over. It definitely feels like an apocalypse though. I’ve never seen New York so empty.

TFIf you could photograph anyone from any time era who would it be and why?

HHI’ve been thinking about how cool it would be to photograph Hope Sandoval since she’s still alive and kind of low-key. I love her music. I’ve been watching a lot of Bela Tarr films recently and it would be cool to photograph him or Erika Bok, who’s an actress in a bunch of his films. There’s like a million people though that I would love to photograph/meet/connect with.

TFFuture plans or upcoming projects?

HHOne of the things I’m doing in quarantine is writing a script, very very slowly. I’ve been wanting to make films for a while so I might use the space to really plan for it. I also really want to take a trip to the West coast to visit family.

Hailey Heaton is a 22 year old photographer born outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her work largely revolves around the myth of a perfect childhood in the suburban American landscape. She is drawn to themes of innocence, the fragility of life, time, and perceived truth. She holds a BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts and has recently exhibited her work for the first time at Untitled, Art. in Miami Beach, Florida. She is based in New York, New York.