Interview with Sam Klegerman, photographer

Global fashion photographer Sam Klegerman talks about their career and their new publication Yes No Thank You Goodbye, an honest and vulnerable photographic narrative that documents their mother's early on-set Alzheimer’s.

Interview with Sam Klegerman, photographer

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader? 

Hey how’s it going! My name is Sam Klegerman and I'm a global fashion photographer based in Los Angeles, California. I started my career at thirteen while still attending the eighth grade and for the past nine years, I've been immersed in the complex world of creating visual narratives for hundreds of clients. With a focus in vibrant pop imagery, I've created an atmosphere of images to exist as a visual facade. While reflecting on my commercial awareness, I’ve applied these skills to my personal narrative and has begun crafting fine art imagery through a queer lens. 

Why did you first want to get into photography? Is there a moment or memory that you feel particularly put you on this path? 

Since seventh grade I've always had love for creating visuals and styling people in all different types of environments. So photography came easy to me and once I was hooked, I was HOOKED. It became my outlet of expressing myself visually to those around me. From there I started posting online and companies began contacting me to create content and shoot campaigns for them. It was in those moments where I was asking my parents at 14 “how do I write an email to a professional company?” that stands out to me today. This was still the beginning of high school so juggling both full time homework and crafting vibrant campaigns, I started to feel like I was Hannah Montana in a weird way. 

5740a497f311d8111ee7abb0f8fa47a14368255f.JPGSam KlegermanCould you outline your career path to how you got to where you are today?

 From working in High School for Brandy Melville, I decided I wanted to further my career so I applied to the #1 Art & Design school, Parsons : The New School. I was nervous applying but I ended up getting in and have spent the last four years working and studying in NYC. Coming from Laguna Beach I went through a bit of culture shock but I have been so grateful for the process of my career and am excited to keep moving. My senior year photography thesis worked around my recent photobook, ‘Yes No Thank You Goodbye’, so school work ultimately ended up being real work. Interesting to collaborate with those two worlds, but in the end I was happy. 

What has been your favourite shoot to date, and why? 

Two years ago I had the opportunity to go to Cartagena, Colombia and shoot a whole campaign for a fashion brand. This was the beginning of when I started my project, ‘Yes No Thank You Goodbye’, so I was hypersensitive to making images that wouldn't be one dimensional. From the culture to just meeting those who are from Colombia, the entire experience was a beautiful memory I will take with me for the rest of my life. 

Reflecting on your photographic work, do you feel your identity as a non binary person influences your shots? 

In the beginning It was difficult for me to even put it into words and think how my identity worked in tandem with my photography. It wasn't until I went to Parsons where I was asked questions of “Where are you in these images?” and “What do these images say about how you feel about yourself?” I felt like until then I kept a force field up and let the models with millions of followers take the stage. Now I understand my identity and place in the world and only want to give back. I’m aware that I am a white non-binary individual and being such, I feel like it is my duty to make sure all individuals who feel like me and identify with me feel comfortable enough to be themselves and broadcast their life in any way possible. I allowed myself to really learn who I was and to dive deep into the world of “what do you care about?” and “What makes Sam, Sam?” This process is something I am so grateful for and only hope others in similar situations feel the courage and confidence to be their authentic selves. 

You have recently published ‘Yes No Thank You Goodbye’, a book where your photography takes on a more narrative side of photography. Can you tell us about it please? 

This past year I have focused my heart and art toward my mother with early on-set Alzheimer’s. She is my absolute hero and my newest book, ‘Yes No Thank You Goodbye’, is an ode to her strength and courage. Growing up, she constantly reminded me that “although those around you are different, everyone is still equal.” That message has stuck with me ever since and I continue to live my life recognizing the lessons I've learned from her. I recently just finished my book and am looking forward to sharing it with her when I am able to visit her nursing home again. 

Yes No Thank You Goodbye coverYes No Thank You GoodbyeSpeaking generally, how does storytelling photography differ from your usual work? 

My pictures in the past were for influencers and for social media purposes. These types of images are typically quick, simple, and once it is posted for the world to see, it is over. The images I've made in the past almost had an expiration date on them because after an hour they would almost seem stale. 

For the project, I wanted to create something that any audience will be able to look at and connect to. Something that was powerful and infinite. Something that would make me feel differently about the world around me. But mostly, I wanted to create something that would heal my own feelings for the person I love most. "By diving into my deepest feelings and placing myself in charge of the visual atmosphere, ‘Yes No Thank You Goodbye’ exists as a level of separation between me and my commercial identity." 

Did you approach the shooting for this book differently to your usual fashion work, and was that as a result of your personal connection to the subject matter? 

I had to change my entire mindset of picture making before diving into this project. I knew this was going to be a million times different than your typical campaign shoot so I planned ahead and made sure my head and heart was ready. Being the subject was my own mother and the storyline I wanted to tell, this project made me expand my lens to what photography could even capture. When I was 16, I found picture making to be one dimensional but through this project I was able to see beyond and explore my feelings to reveal truth. I always told other people’s stories in a vibrant way so now it was my turn to make the artistic decisions. 

After working on such a meaningful project with my mother, I've allowed myself to reflect on the privilege and access that went into crafting my narrative. I was so lucky to have the access to medical needs, doctors, and the insurance to cover her Alzheimer’s. This put my project into perspective and I am going to donate 100% of the profit made from the book to UsAgainstAlzheiemer’s. UsAgainstAlzheiemer’s is an organization that helps communities of color receive the proper care and access they need when diagnosed with either Alzheimer’s or Dementia. I was privileged to have such access to all medical needs regarding my mother’s Alzheimer’s so all I want to do is give back to those who don't have the same. 

I was really interested in your decision to put all the photos online, but keep the shots of your mother’s face exclusive for the book. Could you explain that choice please?

When finalizing the project, I started to think of how I wanted my audience to receive the message. I thought about how I was going to set the table before the guests arrived. While thinking about everything inside the book I wanted to keep my mom’s feeling true and not make her the new poster child of Alzheimer’s. Every photo in the book speaks to the subject matter but the images of her face and the visuals of her struggling, I wanted to leave for those who were invested in the project. I also wanted to keep her identity as private as possible while still being honest and vulnerable. 

Is there anything you’ve learned during the process that you’d like to pass on to the reader? 

As a photographer who was so choreographed and scheduled, I placed myself in a box where I felt growth outside of my lane was “not my brand” to do. Today, I stand here with a published book that is 100% a different brand then my usual vibrant campaigns. If I could communicate anything to all artists: If it's coming from you, it's your brand. To sit there and say no to things outside of your mental realm is just limiting and will only hold you back from your full potential.

What is one thing you hope a reader might get from the book? 

I would hope any reader of any audience is able to feel the disconnection and feel the distance within the images. The project set my head and heart on fire so I wish for the audience to see from my perspective and consider the worlds that those with Alzheimer’s live with. 

If you could send a message back to 16-year-old Sam, what would you say to them?

Oh my, I would thank my 16 year old self for the bravery and courage I had to be different. I would thank my 16 year old self for the charisma I had to work in the real world while caring for my mom with Alzheimer’s. I wouldn't have the final product of ‘Yes No Thank You Goodbye’ If I didn't work and follow my passion back then. I’d also give my mom one last meaningful hug ;’) 

Sam Klegerman behind a glass frameSam KlegermanAnd what advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps? 

Listen to your heart, allow feedback and critique from your peers, but allow yourself to feel the entire atmosphere of your project before listening to others. 

Where can people find you online, or see more of your work? 

Instagram: @saaaaamk / @yesnothankyougoodbye

Website: www.samklegerman.com

Header Image Credit: Provided

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe..

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