Featured: David Strohl – To Drift in Savannah


Photographs ©David Strohl

“We all interact and entwine our stories, telling of the local culture and thus helping to define a greater region. The way we act, the things we do, the way we strive for uniqueness and individuality through the adornment of ourselves and our space, cannot help but be influenced by the intricate cultural relationships that envelop our lives.

In situationist texts, a “dérive” (translates as “drift”) is an attempt at analysis of the totality of everyday life via the passive movement through space. With this idea in mind, I set out to wander, examine, and interpet the structure, flow, and intricacies of the world around us. Through repeated exploration, there has become apparent a rich and complex network of relationships between inhabitants and their surroundings. Much has been revealed about our personal identities and the choices that we make, as much as the broader scope of the work is linked to the nature of how all people attempt to define themselves. The struggle, of course, is to find a way to encounter this uniqueness in the presence of the all-encompassing spectacle of modern society. We can’t help but be defined by where we are; we will always be within the system. As Guy Debord pointed out, “He will essentially follow the language of the spectacle, for it is the only one he is familiar with…it is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.” – Artist statement, David Strohl

Did you consciously choose to have a general artist statement as a opposed to a statement for each project?

Initially, I started writing artist statements for each project, but they were all kind of turning into the same thing. I thought it might be a good idea to have my statement explain why I shoot what I shoot, no matter the situation. It’s sort of turning into a general basis for the way I approach photography.

Having spent a lot of time with “street” photographers I’ve learned that for many of them the “general basis” or philosophy for approaching photography really provides them with a purpose.  But to develop that approach, they needed to spend plenty of time out wandering to really figure out why they were compelled to photograph.  What is the relationship between the act of photographing and developing the overall philosophy?

It’s odd. Before I started the Savannah project, I hadn’t really made any work of that sort. Most of my time was filled with quick editorial jobs, advertising shoots, and all the general business kind of stuff. This is the first time I have really worked on a personal project over an extended period of time. When I first started shooting, I wasn’t quite honed in, on either content or style. Over time (and many rolls of film), the way I approached the subject matter just kind of organically sorted itself out. You can see from one roll of film to the next a clear progression of vision. I think just shooting what I feel compelled to shoot and letting it sort itself out is a good way to go about making a body of work (at least for me, it is…. I realize eevryone has to have their own unique working method).

Also, I have had some good group critiques along the way… it helps a lot when I can get a gauge on which photos people are drawn to…

At what point did you start thinking about Guy Debord and ideas about derive? And how do you interpret dérive and how it relates to photography?

I came across Debord just last year in an art history class, actually. And the whole thing just kind of stuck with me. As I continue my research, I find myself repeatedly going back to the concepts that started with the Situationists. Society of the Spectacle is a really interesting read, although I often have to re-read parts of it often because it is a bit hard to fully comprehend (lost in translation?) Anyway, my interest in maps and the layout of cities ultimately led to my interest in the “dérive”. I find it fascinating what they were doing.. wandering the streets of Paris, redrawing the maps based on their natural inclinations of where to wander.

It is incredibly freeing as a photographer to just wander aimlessly with no real destination.

There is a common belief that “You’ll never get anywhere unless you know where you’re going.” This seems to make sense, and yet I have found it to be not very true. Having a destination is an easy way to box yourself in. Go outside and walk in a random direction, changing your route on a whim. After 20 minutes, an hour … you’ll be somewhere. Your instincts will guide you through the space. Take a second and think of how you ended up there. What about this street made me turn down it? Why are people here, but not over there? It makes you really examine the how and why of urbanity.

Sometimes I think it’s difficult for people to understand the relationship between walking/roaming and photography. I remember talking about this with Hin Chua and he would say that when he’d get tired and wasn’t seeing any photographs that he’d really push himself to walk just a bit further and usually that’s when he’d find the photograph. How do you think the physical aspects of walking/roaming impact the creative aspects? It’s like if you physically push yourself, you also push your mind and eyes.

Hmmm.. What you are saying makes sense, although I hadn’t really thought about it before. I like the idea that getting out and being active can increase the creative activity in your brain. (I don’t have any science to back that up… but it seems like it should right, ya know?)

I completely agree with what Hin Chua is saying.

How do you see To Drift Savannah evolving? Are there areas or concepts you know you want to explore more?

I’m probably going to keep shooting and mixing up the edit a little bit.. the series will ultimately be one of three projects for my MFA thesis show. I have two other related projects that I am just starting on that will hopefully further my exploration of these ideas. I can’t say all the details just yet, as I like to allow myself some wiggle room in what exactly the final product will be. But I am doing some tests involving video, compositing, stop motion, time-lapse, etc. I’m also very interested in the many facets of installation, as I’m hoping to have a final product that is immersible and engaging.

I was recently in Spain and was inspired by a video installation in the crypts of the Alhambra. The artist was a man named Jose Val del Omar, and his work actually explored similar concepts to what we have been talking about. Pretty amazing stuff

To view more of David’s work, visit his website.

  • Veronica

    There’s a natural aesthetic here that’s subtle yet evocative. I feel drawn to the images and curious about what they have to tell me about the location and its population.

    I really like the idea of ‘wandering’ into these perfect moments; being open to the world around you and letting a “natural” navigation dictate the ebb and flow of Strohl’s project. It’s like a mix between documentary journalism and anthropological analysis; reporting on a culture while simultaneously (and more relevantly) reporting on your own subjective Anschauung.