Tatum Shaw (b.1980) is a photographer based in Portland, OR and Atlanta, Ga. His photography has appeared in Oxford American, Bloomberg Businessweek, Nylon Guys, American Chordata, and Atlanta Magazine.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: New Songs
New Songs is a collection of images taken between 2012 and 2017. The original idea was a selection of recently taken, disconnected photos, that each had their own story, or song. But as I began editing in August of 2016, just before the U.S. elections, I couldn’t escape the heavy feeling of dread that seemed to be hanging in the air at the time. An incoming shift. It reminded me of the line in No Country For Old Men, “You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waiting on you.” In the subsequent months, the project continued with this line as the dangling carrot, tying together notes of ominous signs and signals. The resulting images reminded me of something akin to a collection of dissonant hymns.
When and where did New Songs begin?
Most of the images were taken before I knew what the project would be. The oldest one was taken in 2012. I had a folder on my laptop called "New Songs”where I would drag the photos I liked. That was really just another way to say "new photos." There was no theme behind it, and the photos were taken in various locations, and weren’t about any place or any thing and I had intended to keep it that way. My three previous projects were all about places or childhood and they were kinda bummers, so I thought I’d keep this light and not think too hard. Initially, I was likening it to a pop album, where it’s just a bunch of good songs, but no intellectual concept. Thriller vs Rhythm Nation kinda thing.
Anyway, that changed. I had a few edits going but then I put together a few of the more ominous ones and I really just became fascinated the tone they set and decided to keep going with it. It was sort of unavoidable, really. This was in August of 2016 and that whole summer had just been so heavy with the election and the “Lock her up” rhetoric and it was really like, “This is bad.” I threw an anchor down to that feeling and tied everything to it, using a lot of reds and some other visual signifiers to tie the work together. I should also say, the work is in no way intended to be political. It’s not about the election. The tone of that time inspired the work. But then again, I also get that feeling just about every year that summer is over and fall approaches. That August / September malaise.
I ended up keeping the title New Songs because it felt kind of hopeful, despite the tone of the work. The photos could still be “songs” but they’re just a little more dissonant and dark now. More like dirges. So yeah, the opposite of what I set out to do.
Where do you see this project going?
It’s going to be an artist’s book that should be finished in a couple weeks, actually. I’ll sell those and send a ton out to people. After that, it’d be nice to show the work somewhere, but who knows how the hell that happens.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
My day job is to write scripts for commercials, so that keeps my brain going. It’s nice to have something creative yet different to bounce back and forth between. It’s also nice to imagine a concept or idea and then make it happen, verses what I usually do with my photography which is documenting with images and forming a narrative or concept after the fact.
Other inspiration comes from literature or just listening to music really loud after a couple puffs.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new photography project that sort of bridges the divide between my advertising and photography worlds a little more. It’s way lighter in tone than New Songs, and will be a new challenge for me. Less documentary, and more intentional setups. I just had a shoot that required an hour of hair and makeup, which was weird and fun. Nothing too slick, but I’m really excited about it.
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
I’m obsessed with Zac Wilson. He’s like if John Waters lived in east Tennessee. He has a series named after a conversation he overheard in a Food Lion. I will never stop thinking about that.