Local Talk - Q+A with Photographer Leah Morgan

Leah, we're so excited to show your work at Local as it captures such joyful moments and expressions of a land and culture historically known for expressing their love. For me, it's a constant reminder that it's a good day to have a good day. Please tell us why you pursued this project.

Thank you for showcasing Good Morning Jamaica! I pursued this project because I absolutely love the country. The landscape is spectacular, the food is delicious, the water is warm and crystal clear, and the people, well, their smiles are contagious and their love for life is inspiring. For me, visiting Jamaica is a time to bring balance back into my life. A time for me to slow down, in a place where I am surrounded by happy people and positives vibes. Every day in Jamaica is a good day to have a good day.

Each time I visit Jamaica, my love for the people, the landscape and the culture grows stronger. I am continuously impressed by the loving spirit of the local people, their value of hard work, and most of all, their smiles.  I am inspired to give back to the people that give me so much joy. I would love nothing more than to be able to take the proceeds from this exhibition and contribute it to the local communities. Giving back to the community is always the mission that drives my work as a social documentary photographer.

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Montclair is an interesting town where there is extreme levels of wealth but also poverty just around the corner and yet there seems to be dissatisfaction irrespective of social caste. How did you find the different classes of people vs. their general mood for the people in Jamaica?

I find the mood of Jamaicans is generally happy, no matter their class. When I ask locals how they are today, their response is usually given with a big loving smile and they say they are blessed. No matter what, rich or poor, big house or small house, showering with cold water or in a river, driving or walking to work, they feel happy and grateful to live another day.

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There is one image from this Good Morning Jamaica collection of a man standing alone along the shore but he is not looking out at the ocean. He is looking inland with hand extended. What is going on here?  

 That’s William. He's blind. Every day he walks alone, along the shore of Negril’s Seven Mile Beach with his cane in tow. He stops occasionally and puts his hand out, hoping someone will give him some spare change. I will continue to try to support him because having a disability is challenging enough, let alone in a place that doesn’t have as many resources. If you meet William, he greets you with a sweet smile and genuine gratitude, not just for the donation, but also for the time you invested in talking with him. 

 

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Your work has taken you all over the world and I can't help but ask if there was one project that has had the greatest impact on your discipline.

I studied with a National Geographic Photographer in Italy for many years. She made the greatest impact on me by teaching me how to get up close and personal with my subjects, encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone which enabled me to deepen my creativity.  She helped guide me into more of a fine arts style of shooting. I'm always looking forward to my next opportunity with her.

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A topic I've discussed with many of our Local photographers is that of digital/ cell phone photography vs. the more traditional camera. Do you have a POV for how or what is used in photography?

A few years ago, I might have said using a traditional camera was the best way to capture amazing images. But that’s not necessarily true anymore.  I believe it’s easier to approach a person with an iPhone because of its unobtrusive small size, and with today's technology, come away with stunning portraits.  Many of the images here in my exhibition were shot using my iPhone. 

  

I love that you extended your discipline into a charitable cause with Cards for Kids. Please tell us how you got started with this program and what it has meant to you.

 I started Cards for Kids after visiting and volunteering for several years at local schools in the Negril area of Jamaica. I noticed they needed so many supplies and necessities at these schools. Many of these children would arrive to class without items that we take for granted such as pencils, shoes or even food, which impacts their ability to learn properly. I simply can't allow that. It pains me to see families that are struggling to send their children to school and on top of that, worry about how their children are going to eat that day. I paired up with The Rockhouse Foundation and started donating to this amazing organization. The Rockhouse Foundation not only builds schools in impoverished areas, but they also provide the children with supplies, and most importantly, breakfast daily. 

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What's next for you and how best to stay in touch with your work?  

You can learn more about my projects through my website, leahmichelephotography.com. You can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook @leahmichelephotography.

 

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage? 

My favorite coffee beverage is iced coffee. I love it and drink it all year long, even in the winter. Plus, I'm meticulously obsessive about how it's prepared, so I make it myself, using an old-school espresso maker. First, I make the espresso in advance and refrigerate. Then, I mix 2-3 shots with a little bit of half n half, agave sugar, and ice.  Delicious...which goes perfectly with the Granola Lab Cranberry Cashew Compound that I'm constantly picking up from Local Coffee. 

Local Talk - Q+A with New York Street Photographer Scot Surbeck

Scot, let's start with the evening you hung your photographs @ Local. I was anticipating perhaps an hour or so to place all of the images and then 4 hours in, you were almost done. Clearly, there's a highly complex process driving your craft. So two initial questions:

How do you approach each project so there's a comprehensive contextual experience? 

I study the exhibit space and how people move through it, the lighting (both natural and artificial), and the sound (ambient and music). I  envision the experience of entering and first seeing the pictures, and then moving  in for a closer look.  I then try to create an exhibit that has a strong emotional and visual presence and also enhances the space.

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How did you approach the project for Local including the masterful grid display system?

The large patina metal panels and high ceiling allowed me to create a show that is relatively dense with images  and includes large scale (20" x 30") pictures mounted high that can be easily seen because of their size.  By carefully and precisely arranging the photos, a grid was created which seems appropriate for pictures taken on the grid of streets in New York City.

You have a super intimate relationship with NYC which is evident from the manner in which you capture a variety of moments. NYC is arguably the capital of the world so no surprise in selecting this market but what specific elements draw you in?

 I always feel fully alive when I'm in New York City and I look for that energy in the people and situations around me.

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Of the current collection of images @ Local, which one brings you back for re-interpretation?

I can't say there's one that I keep coming back to. They are all equally interesting to me. 

At what age did you begin your craft and what was the initial driver for you to consider photography as a path?

I've loved photography all of my working life, most of which has been spent as an architect. There was no one moment when I became a street photographer. It happened gradually, then gathered steam. Now street photography defines and nurtures me, and gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Photography is an evolution, personal development as well as technology and equipment. Do you like where we are today and where photography is going or do you prefer a past time with arguably simpler option?

My learning curve as a photographer was greatly accelerated by the transformation from film to digital, and the development  of image processing software such as photoshop and light-room. It simply became much easier - and less expensive - to learn how to produce decent work. Technology doesn't produce fine art however. In order to do that, you're on your own.

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What's next on you journey? Is there a project that you are working on or working towards?

My journey is street photography. I want to get better, to keep evolving as an artist and a person.

What's your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

Black coffee, room for half and half, sweetened slightly by stevia.

More of Scot’s work here: https://www.scotsurbeck.com/index

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