From Alabama to Los Angeles: A Conversation with Photographer Ethan Gulley

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It’s no secret that moving can alter you as a person. It’s often why we do it; so all the newness can come in the room and shake you. In this, moving makes a distinction to who you were before. It solidifies the aspects of the place you are leaving, and it is suddenly clear how they have lodged themselves like splints into the body, keeping you upright. It points at life and says there was then, and there is now.

We met Ethan Gulley because of his recent submission, Shaved, in which he captured Kelsey Christian shaving her head before her move to New York from Los Angeles. The short film reminded us how sometimes very real pieces of us being human can float to the surface and separate themselves like oil amongst all the water.

Since becoming acquainted with him, we’ve since been swooning over his work, his eye, and his personal publication series Sonder. There is a youthful reach in the perpetual summer he inhabits, and a curiousness in subjects. We chatted with Ethan for a little while on how he escapes, who his ideal subject would be, and his recent move from Alabama to LA to heal the seams of a broken heart.

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LF: Los Angeles by way of Alabama? When and why did you make the move?

EG: I moved out last August after graduating college in spring of ’16. I knew I wanted to experience a big city and after visiting multiple times throughout high school and college, I had decided California suits me more than NYC. It was then down to SF and LA and I ended up landing the job I have now at an ad agency where I create content for Apple Music and iTunes across all their digital social channels. Los Angeles has been great so far for fueling my creative interests, not to mention all the incredible nature all around us. Another reason was to get away and begin to heal a broken heart in a totally new environment with totally new people.

LF: Where do you escape to? And what do you bring with?

I find myself escaping from the city life to the desert increasingly more often. I bring friends, a camera and a couple rolls of film, and ingredients for PB&Js.

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LF: We are where we come from. How has Alabama shaped your eye and interests?

I’m very proud to have grown up in the south and I’ll probably end up there again at some point. I’ve always been a firm believer that regardless of where you’re from, if you can’t find something you enjoy about that place, that’s more a judge of character on your personality, rather than your surroundings. I grew up camping and spending time outdoors, whether it be with my family or with boy scouts, so many of my fondest memories take place outside. If nothing else, Alabama has given me perspective. The grass is always greener, and you always gain a new understanding of where you’re from when you move away from it. I met some truly one of a kind people that I will always hold near to my heart while in Alabama, and I truly do appreciate them even more than ever since moving.

LF: What about when shooting? Has it seeped in there?

EG: When it comes to shooting, I’d say Alabama has shaped my eye in the sense that many parts of Alabama are so wide open and expansive. I’m drawn to the same type of landscapes out here when I can find them.

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LF: What do you miss about home?

Not having to deal with traffic. Just driving fast on a long straight country road. The food. I miss how slow things moved, and walking into a store where you know the owners, and you know they know 90% of the faces that come in every day. And of course my family. It’s really tough being on the other side of the country sometimes, but I’ve been blessed enough to be able to visit them a few times since I’ve moved.

LF: What have you gathered most about yourself from living in California?

It’s not so much that I’ve learned anything new or groundbreaking about myself since the move, however some things have been reaffirmed. I enjoy having the freedom of being able to make a weekend drive to see my friends up in San Francisco if I want to, or having the option of driving out to the desert to camp, or taking Highway One to San Luis Obispo. I studied design in school, and I’ve always been drawn to old things. Old cars, old houses, old furniture, old books. Living in California satisfies my appetite for all these things since so much of California has such a rich midcentury modern history that still shines through.

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LF: Where do you feel your most creative?

When I’m in a brand new place outside that I’ve never even seen a photo of before and I just happen upon it, I tend to get really inspired. I also can get really creative when I’m around certain people that are so creative that it rubs off on everyone in the room.

LF: Is there such thing as a perfect subject?

Someone who is completely uninhibited in front of the camera and who can bring something to the table that elevate the shoot, whether it be posing, wardrobe, or just a good positive attitude. Also, I have a thing for freckles.

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LF: What is the most attractive to you?

EG: Confidence. Although it’s something almost everyone struggles with in one area or another, myself included, there’s not much more attractive than someone who’s incredibly confident in themselves and what they do, yet also very down to earth and humble. When someone’s confident in themselves and their work, they are in turn passionate about their work and passionate about their hobbies. Passion and selfless confidence are the two most attractive qualities to me.

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LF: Tell me about Sonder.

I’ve been taking pictures for a handful of years now and have tons and tons of photos I’ve never done anything with. Rather than just post an album of photos online somewhere, or a couple here and there on Instagram, I wanted to show them to people in print the first time they saw them. I’m a big fan of holding photos in my hands, and turning the pages of a book. I took a road trip from Alabama out to Joshua Tree a little over a year ago with my girlfriend at the time who’s a talented writer, and we both decided the first issue could showcase that trip with photos and accompanying prose and poetry. Issues 2 and 3 don’t focus on one trip or one subject, but rather are a collection of photos from the past 5 years. It’s mainly a therapeutic personal project of mine to keep me sane and and excuse to do something with old photos that might not otherwise see the light of day. It’s really cool to go back and look at photos in a different way when I’m curating a new issue.

LF: What are you hoping someone feels, gathers, or thinks about when they get their hands on an issue?

An overall sense of nostalgia and wanderlust. The feeling you get when your favorite song comes on and you can belt every word. I want them to think about their friends and loved ones. If someone picks up an issue and it makes them want to hop in the car for a weekend getaway with someone they enjoy spending time with, that’s enough for me.

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LF: How do you take your coffee?

EG: Poured over and black.

LF: How Fast do you live?

EG: 88mph, so I can go back to the future.

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