Artist Spotlight: Sarah Lyon (The photographer exposes herself) [Visual Art]

Sarah Lyon interview

Why photograph the restaurant Moby Dick?
When I was driving around taking photographs of my friends for the portrait project, I would see these Moby Dick’s and I don’t know. The parking lots were really clean and the inside always looked empty and they kind of looked a little depressing, but it looked like this family owned thing and they cared about it. Because they leave the lights on at night it also looked like this space ship that landed. I don’t know what gave me the idea but I photographed one at night and then I made a list from the phone book of all of them and would take a friend with me to go shoot and they got to choose which one we would go to. It was like a little expedition.

Does Moby Dick know that you did this?
It turns out one of my friends grandfather actually started the chain. So they eventually found out about it.

How were you chosen to represent Kentucky for the 50 States project? (In 2009, 50 photographers were chosen to represent the state in which they lived. They were given 6 themes to portray).
I don’t know how I was chosen. I got an email about the project and I wasn’t sure about it until I saw a list of the other photographers that were involved. I ended up getting some nice press from that. Weird magazines I’ve never heard of. [laughs]

This past summer you went to Wendover, Utah to gain project ideas to apply for the Wendover Residence Program. Tell me about that experience.
When I went there on vacation, I was just checking it out. I was happy to have my camera out for no other reason than to enjoy making photographs. The people at Salvo [Salvo Collective is a visual art collective in Louisville that specializes in handmade, functional art] were like will you show here and I thought it would be a good outlet for the pictures I took at Wendover. It was never my intention to show them at all.

Sarah Lyon in front of her photograph En Route to Wendover.

You’ve taught at Bellarmine?
Yes. At first I got a lot out of it. It was inspiring, I liked working with kids and when you see somebody grow and you know you’ve had a hand in it, it’s really cool. I’m still in touch with some of my students. It takes a lot out of you too.

Do you think it’s selling out to teach?
There is that “if you can’t do-teach,” but there are artists like Bill Burke who teaches at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for many years. It seems like if you get it down it could be a good thing. You have to be really good at managing time. If you do it right, you can inspire people and be inspired by them. I haven’t ruled out teaching as a possibility, but I don’t have my Master’s.

Will you go back to school?
That’s a big question that I’ve struggled with for years. I’ve applied a couple of times, I hate applying. I think it would be an amazing experience but I don’t want to go into debt. [laughs]

What publication would you most like to be published in?
The New Yorker.

What are you currently working on?
I’ve been working with the photographer Elena Dorfman. She and I have been photographing rock quarries. She’s going a little bit farther with it but it’s been a fun collaboration.

Do you like having your picture taken?
No, but I don’t hate it as much as a lot of people do.

You don’t come off in person like the way you look in photographs.
[laughs] I look really mean, I look angry. [laughs] It’s just the way my face looks. [laughs]

I know everyone cares about how they look in photographs, but I feel photographers really think about it.
I do think about the lighting, the background, those things. My friend Claude, he’s a really neat guy, he has this cool house and he’s set up his house so that anywhere you might sit it would look good in a photograph. My house is nothing like Claude’s. Just recently a photographer came over to photograph me and it was clear as soon as he walked in, I could just tell, that he was not inspired. [laughs]

What’s something you’re still learning?
To present my work to other people. When people want to come see what it is that you do, that is really hard. Being prepared for curators and collectors, I still don’t have a handle on that and that’s critical.

What do you love about Louisville?
I love that there is a lot going on, that there is an underlying current of creative energy that’s happening here. It can be a really inspiring place. You can leave and come back here. I want to move too, get out of here, but not really. [laughs]

If you do, will you come back?

“Autobiographies: Joel McDonald and Sarah Lyon” is currently showing at Zephyr Gallery, 610 East Market, until February 11th. Sarah will also be giving a talk at Louisville Visual Art Association’s Food For Thought After Dark, Friday Feb 24th, 8-9:30pm at Salvo, 216 South Shelby St. The cost is $15 for LVAA members / $20 for non-members.

To see more of Sarah’s work, go to her website

Inside Sarah's home

About Julie Gross
I’m originally from Ohio, but have been a Louisvillian for half my life. I divide my time between hubby, 3 kids, too many pets, and the 930 Art Center. When I'm not, you'll find me running the trails in Cherokee or Jefferson Memorial Forest.
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