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Interview: Aaron Stern

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

President’s in conversation with Aaron Stern, our SS17 artist-in-residence.

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You’ve published several books and have worked with many blue-chip clients. Tell us about your background and trajectory as a photographer?

I grew up taking pictures, drawing, painting, and writing but didn’t think I’d be able to make a living in those fields. So, I owned a creative agency for much of the 2000-2010 decade. We produced concerts, fashion shows, screenings and helped connect brands with musicians, artists, actors, writers, etc.

Over the years, I had been photographing the people I met, the shows I produced and places I traveled. I started posting these images as a personal diary around 2006 when the blog was born. It caught on and I built a small following. Sam Shipley and Jeff Halmos published a book of my photos in 2011 called Everyone Must Be Announced. I still had a few clients after the crash in 2009 but agency had closed. After the book and a show supporting it came out I started getting commercial work.  That allowed me to focus solely on photography.

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Give us the backstory of your photograph President’s has chosen to represent the SS17 collection. 

The image chosen by President’s appears on the cover of my third monograph, Horizon Avenue.  I had just spent four days in San Francisco on an assignment for American Vogue.  Three of those days I was in the car either scouting or just wondering aimlessly taking pictures.  These images would eventually be used to create Horizon Avenue

So I was returning from the San Francisco trip and in a car on the way home from Newark Airport I shot this picture.  Believe it or not the road from the airport that feeds into i-78 is covered in tall beautiful grass, like in the photograph.  I must have been to Newark hundreds of times in my life and had always wanted to stop. 

Tell us about your technique. What is your go-to gear? 

Depending on the job or project I use 35mm and 120mm film, both black and white and color.  The current two books are both shot entirely on 35mm film, Horizon Avenue and We Live Behind The Moon Sometimes.  I mostly use Leica M bodies and lenses. 

I am interested in the idea of loss and love, how they affect the landscape around us and in our minds.  I believe we create narratives for ourselves and those narratives shape how we view the world.  Every city, town or rural area has a different affect of course on how we each shape these stories – as well as how we live, sleep, eat, relationships we form and or break. My intension is to explore these themes using pictures and mostly through the narrative of a monograph.

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You’ve lived in New York for years. What’s your relationship with the city? Is it your favorite city in the world? 

My family came to New York in the early 1840s. While I grew up in the DC area, I spent summers here and a lot of my childhood visiting family. I moved to New York permanently in June of 2001.  There were still pockets of what I had always envisioned living here would be like. Unfortunately, the global economy, social media and of course 9/11 changed all that. 

Living in New York is like one long rejection. Around every corner there is someone smarter, harder working, better looking, richer, funnier – that obviously just humbles the shit out of you on a daily basis, but it also is pretty inspiring. Couple that with the never-ending pounding of over stimulation: cars honking, overheard conversations, couples fighting and crying on the street, a solitary person yelling into their phone, bars on every corner and people spilling out of them at all hours, kids laughing, construction workers cat calling from the tops of pointless scaffolding, the almost certain chance of running into someone you know or haven’t seen in twenty years, the F train that seems to never come, the Daily News’ and NY Post’s unavoidable and absurd daily take on the world, the sarcasm of NY1…

What I love about New York is that you are surrounded by almost 10 million people who have a similar sensibility in some way as yourself.  We are resilient and proud to be here no matter how much you hear us complain or say otherwise. For me I find the convenience of things helpful in focusing on what is important to me, my work. Within two blocks of my apartment there are two 24 hour bodegas, two grocery stores, two Duane Reades, a bank, two dry cleaners, a gym, a hospital, several restaurants, bars and the 1,2,3,L,F,M,A,C,E trains and yeah, the food’s pretty great, too.

Who are your style icons? 

Steve McQueen?  Does everyone say that?  I’d love to just wear head to toe Nike.

Robert Geller and Phillip Lim are two friends of mine that are designers who’s own personal style I admire.   

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What is it about President’s that resonates with you and your style? 

Clean, comfortable and refined.  Not really interested in anything fancy or constricting. I’d rather not think about it at all, and it seems that President’s fits with that idea of keeping it fresh and yet simple.