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Q&A: Brian Sorg, Chicago

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Brian Sorg lives and works in Chicago, IL. His suburban upbringing shaped his work and helped him find brilliance in the banal. His most ambitious project to date, Davey, started with a chance encounter between the photographer and a young boy named Davey. Over the span of six years, Brian has chronicled the boy’s journey to adulthood, leaving no area of his life unexplored.

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The idea of following someone through adolescence is very intriguing and could delve into many different areas and issues. Could you give me an idea of what prompted this project and if you had any ideas you were trying to pursue?
‘I came across Davey by accident. I was walking through a small Southwestern suburb of Chicago called Stickney. I was there photographing things that had reminded me of my childhood. I didn’t grow up in Stickney, but in a similar place in Michigan. Small lower-middle class, blue collar style burb. I came across two kids skateboarding at this school. I walked up to them and asked if I could take their photograph. One, named Davey, was super cocky and started calling me a fagot. I was shocked because I would have never said that to a stranger at his age. He was 13 and I was 25 at the time. I thought to myself, “Damn, this kid has some balls, some rage.” So instead of turning my back, I was instantly more curious. I was persistent and finally got a photo of him and his friend. I ended up chilling with those dudes for like four more hours and photographed them intently. By the end of the night I was thinking that I wanted to come back and see them again. I asked Davey if that was cool and he was down’.

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‘That night started my project about Davey. It has been four years now. I love the idea of going back in time and reliving my adolescence. Of course, his situation is more extreme than mine was, but there are many similarities. I’ve never tired to interfere with what he gets into or what he does. I don’t want to be a father figure or a big brother. I don’t want him to get in trouble or hurt, but it is HIS life. What I have done is tried to introduce him to things he may not come across on his own. For instance, he is really into tagging, so I got him a book on Berlin street art. Stuff like that. More positive ways to express himself. I’ve tried to introduce him to other photographers and movies that aren’t mainstream. He generally takes a liking to most of the stuff I show him, which makes me happy. Overall, he is a good guy, he has a tough ass outer shell that is hard to break, but with enough time he reveals it to you. I guess I am trying to get at that through the pictures – Davey, the real Davey’.

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Do you think that you would have kept this project going as long as you have if Davey was more mild mannered. Did Davey’s style of living influence the photography?
‘I think a big part of my attraction to the project is Davey’s desire to be bad and to get into trouble. I think it says a lot about what happens to kids when they come from broken families and end up having too much free time on their hands. If Davey’s Mom didn’t have to work so much to support him and his brother Nick, she could have been around more and kept a better eye on him. Since she was gone so much, he had days of running around with other kids trying to get weed and beer. I think that lifestyle of being young and experimenting with drugs or sex and not caring about what other people think is intriguing. I’ve tried to incorporate that attitude into the project and make pictures that are immediate and real. I never set anything up or even ask them to pose. When I am out there, I try to assimilate as much as possible. I try to be one of them, not an outsider. This way there is more trust between us and the pictures become more honest’.

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How interested was Davey in the project? Did Davey and his friends affect your photography at all?
‘Besides the first five minutes of meeting Davey, when he was calling me a fagot, he has been very interested in the project. He always says I’m HIS photographer, and that I am doing a biography on him; like we are filming for MTV Cribs or something. He likes the attention and he likes that he can go to the internet and see photos of himself and his friends.

‘Davey and his friends did affect my photography. I had to learn how to be very quick and anticipate their actions. They are also hanging out in dark places, so technically I think I have learned some things. I’ve also started using a small point and shoot with flash. They seem to respond very well to it considering it is the only kind of camera most of them have ever seen. When I use that camera, I really become invisible. Also, considering the length of the project, I have learned about what to show and what not to show. It’s very easy to show too much and dilute the best pictures, so I have spent a lot of time editing which affects the photography and project in the long run’.

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Did you ever worry about this project being exploitative of Davey in any way?
‘Of course I have thought about issues of exploitation with the project from day one, but considering Davey and I came from a similar background, I didn’t feel as if I was exploiting him or his situation. If I was some rich kid trying to make a “gritty” project about teens and drugs, then I would say yes. But this project just fell into my lap, almost as if it was supposed to be. It seems very natural. It has given me a chance to go back to my teen years, but this time with a camera. Davey and I have talked about this and he understands my intentions. As I mentioned before, we have become good friends over the past five years. For as much as he has given me, I have done my best to give back to him’.

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  • Emily_designer

    I love the concept. As always, great work Brian.

  • shiprek

    love the interview…great photos too

  • Capt Coco

    YOU interviewed this person? I dig it. He said there were a lot of dark shots taken with a point and shoot… where are those photos?

    Angie

  • Alison

    I went to college with him in Chicago. His work is great, and he’s a really friendly person as well!

  • http://www.smilewhenyousayit.com Scott Fleming

    Great interview, Brian is incredibly inspiring.

  • http://Sergiogarciasblog.com Sergio garcia

    Ever since Flipping through Bruce Webers ‘Chop Suey’, I have thoroughly enjoyed other photographers take on following and photographing someone’s life for years.

    Maybe I will try something similar at some point.

    Not sure how to bring it up to someone though.

    Sergio