'Sincerity is Not Thinking Too Much': Astronauts, etc. & the Sublime Photography of Ginger Fierstein

In advance of Astronauts, etc.'s Mind Out Wandering release this Friday, we asked band leader Anthony Ferraro to introduce us to the photographer behind his album's subtly evocative imagery. He sat down with Ginger Fierstein, who he met years ago around the Bay Area music scene, to discuss his friend's creative vision.

If you’re a friend of Ginger's, chances are you’re familiar with the feeling of being handed a stack of prints chronicling the past few months of your life. That show you played, that party you went to — a flood of moments comes rushing back in all lucidity with these very tangible, immediate objects she casually hands you, smiling. And then you put them on your walls and sort of live in them.

Ginger has always been at the scene of the crime. In middle school it was the crusty skaters; these days it’s the marginally better kempt musicians and artists of Oakland. She is a social gluestick and an unflagging documentarian. It’s difficult to imagine what my life would look like without her.

Where did your aesthetic come from?

I took a black & white photography class in art school and then immediately knew I wanted to switch majors from graphic design to photography. I’d learned how to work with film from my dad, who would set up darkrooms in our house and show me the ropes when I was growing up. And then, the summer between freshman and sophomore year of art school, I went to Tokyo.

The most photogenic place in the world.

Yes! And I fell in love with this shitty Holga camera and bought it with my student loan money. It was so different from the ‘proper’ cameras I was using in school. Really fun and immediate.

So you started leading a kind of highbrow/lowbrow double life? Fine art photography versus the more improvisational Holga style?

You could say that.

...I think sincerity is really important in art.

What constitutes sincerity?

For me, sincerity is not thinking too much. 

So do you think candidness plays a part? Because a lot of your photography deals with catching people when they’re engaged in something other than looking at your camera.

Being unplanned definitely has something to do with it. I love capturing people in the middle of something. But sincerity also involves the why. Why are you shooting this? What are you going to do with it?

What is your why?

Well, I wasn’t friends with everyone when I started shooting them. It became the way that I could form friendships. Being able to shoot someone and then hand them a print of it a few months later — that’s my way of connecting.

To me, the most striking thing about your photos is your ability to capture how someone is.

I’ve always looked at photography as a collapsing of sorts. You can collapse time and light into a single frame that contains a moment so much longer than the split second the shutter was open.

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