The Young Earth is a fictional photo series and accompanying photo-text novella set in Iceland. Shot on 35mm and polaroid, the story follows two Americans in the last days of their twenties, one them terminally ill, as they explore one of the youngest bodies of land in the world. The men immerse themselves in the idyllic and remote corners of the Icelandic countryside (a place completely foreign to both men), where they are forced to confront their own mortality and a past love triangle that briefly disrupted their friendship.
Through meditations on death, the loss of youth, and the beauty and complications that come with love and friendship, The Young Earth explores how two men attempt to move on and find courage and calm in the face of oncoming tragedy.
platformPHOTO: Hi Jordan, Where did the idea behind The Young Earth series come from and why did you chose to shoot this series in Iceland?
Jordan Sullivan: I wanted to photograph Iceland for a long time. I’m often drawn to places for inexplicable reasons. Iceland is small and mostly unpopulated. There’s lots of land untouched by machines and human hands. It held some mystery for me. I had a series of fictional photo-text projects in development, all of which were exploring themes of home and friendship and the beginnings and endings of youth in foreign places. One of the stories had to do with two young men -best friends - who take a last trip together. This story became The Young Earth and Iceland became the setting for a number of reasons. Iceland is one of the youngest bodies of land in the world, and it seemed to serve as a great metaphor for the characters in the story and where they were in their lives. One man was at the end of his youth and the other at the end of his life. Iceland seems like a place one might go to die, to disappear, to contemplate something, and the beauty, vastness, and ruggedness of the landscape seemed to reflect the interiors of both men.
platformPHOTO: The series aims to convey ‘how we might find courage in the face of oncoming tragedy’. Can you expand on this message and how it is communicated or portrayed through this series?
Jordan Sullivan: This idea is explored in a number of ways throughout the story but never directly answered. When I have experienced tragedy it’s taken hold of me and haunted me in different ways throughout my life. I don’t think the pain ever quite goes away, so I have to learn to deal with it and ultimately accept it, and the ways I deal with loss and pain and learn to accept is always changing with time and age. Acceptance is a big part of this story, so is guilt and absolution. Pictorially the images in the book shift between pictures of the characters in Iceland (seen from first, second, and third person perspectives) and images from the narrator memory, which all have to do with a girl that came between the two men when they were teenagers. The narrator is remembering all of this drama from the past in an attempt to come to terms with what happened between him, his friend, and this girl who they both had a relationship with. He’s simultaneously exploring a strange land, experiencing his last days with his best friend, and looking at his life and his past and trying stitch it all together. He finally has to face his faults, the oncoming loss, and the ways he had betrayed his dying friend. The narrator is faithless and a little broken and haunted when he comes to Iceland, but he wants to believe in something, he wants to carry on, he wants to purify. Many of the images in the book function as fragments of his memory. They are soaked in light, because that is what the narrator is looking for - the light. He is writing his story to erase - to finally move on, courageously and peacefully.
platformPHOTO: How did you plan this photographic project? What is the mental process that happened once you got the idea?
Jordan Sullivan: I work pretty spontaneously. For this project, there wasn’t much of a budget, so I just hopped on a plane with my friends and drove around. We drove a lot. None of us knew what was around each corner. There was no location scouting or storyboards or outlining or anything like that. My mental process is a whole other trip, but this project, which is part of my Wandering Day’s series, was clearer to me than usual. There were more artistic and aesthetic parameters. There are narrative themes that I keep exploring in this series - love, loss, friendship, youth, and death. I am also forever interested in exploring people in foreign places. I always confront myself and feel the world the most when I am somewhere foreign - physically and mentally. Ultimately, I am looking to paint a picture of an interior landscape. Prior to starting The Young Earth I already knew the project would combine photography, poetry, and prose. I was raised by a mother who has been reading two novels per weeks for the past fifteen years. Reading and stories were a major part of my childhood and was almost treated like a religion. My mother used to make us read for an hour every day when we were little, and I really value that. My mother also introduced me to art. She sent me on a road trip to Europe when I was twelve with my uncle and grandmother. My uncle brought me to castles and cathedrals and introduced me to French Impressionism and frescoes and paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and Giotto. I think the narrative element of this work, the colors, the emotion, and their devotional nature still inspire me. I still work very intuitively though, and my past and my influences often come into the work in more subconscious ways that I only realize much later. I layout the photos as I write the text and often times their roles get reversed. The poem becomes the image and the image becomes the poem. Using pictures and words allows me to illuminate the story in a different ways, but the text and the images are very much linked.
platformPHOTO: Please give us some information about the production and post-production to create this series.
Jordan Sullivan: I edit, design, and layout all my books. It’s a very slow process.
platformPHOTO: The style of your photography is somewhat painterly. Are you inspired by any artist in particular?
Jordan Sullivan: Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Mary Cassatt, Cezanne, Monet, Millet, Pissaro, Brueghel, Giotto, Titian.
platformPHOTO: Is there a particular image in the series that you are drawn to or stands out for you? If so, why?
Jordan Sullivan: My favorite image is the one that the complete book creates. All the words and the pictures in this book add up to a single picture that exists internally and that is the picture I am always looking for.
platformPHOTO: Tell us how and when you started photographing.
Jordan Sullivan: I really started taking photographs in Europe when I was 21. I was shooting mostly for reference for paintings I was working on. The images were sort of my sketch book, my color studies, but after I printed them I sort of realized they were the work. I was also an artist assistant for Mike and Doug Starn for a long time and their work really inspired me and showed me how much photography can be - particularly it’s sculptural potential and the importance of the photographic object.
platformPHOTO: To you, what is the role of photography?
Jordan Sullivan: To reveal the invisible, tell a story, create a mystery, and spark an emotion.
platformPHOTO: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can talk about to us?
Jordan Sullivan: Another photo-text book called So Long, Lonesome which was shot in New York City. I am also curating a series of outdoor book fairs called Book Club in collaboration with an LA company called Art Book Stand.
platformPHOTO: Thank you so much for your time today Jordan, we have one last question for you. If we sent you to a desert island and allowed you to take only one picture with you by another photographer, what would this image be?
Jordan Sullivan: Any picture of my family altogether.
To purchase prints from this series please contact Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art: http://www.phhfineart.com
To view more of Jordan‘s work visit his website: http://www.jordan-sullivan.com
You can purchase The Young Earth book here: www.amazon.com/Jordan-Sullivan-The-Young-Earth/dp/061577640X