American Dream State: An Introduction to Sephlawless
There is a longstanding tradition in the arts of revealing truth. Artists often reveal personal truths through expression or abstraction and societal truths through satire, performance or documentation. Artist and activist Sephlawless combines journal entries that contain personal feelings, satire, and observations with stunning photography of abandoned and decaying infrastructure in his book “Autopsy of America,” as well as through various social media outlets. Seph’s images often feel surreal because they show abandoned America, not the typical photographs of thriving, smiling people in upscale cities. Once the viewer realizes that these are actual places, left to decay because of economic upheaval, it can feel like being awakened in the middle of the night. It’s shocking. This isn’t surreal at all. This is the truth. We are awakening from the American Dream. Sephlawless brings us on an eye-opening journey to the “other” America.
We decided to ask Seph a few questions about his work:
You photograph abandoned factories, theatres, schools, churches, housing; places where most Americans will never go. I am assuming that a majority of people are often surprised that these places exist. What are some of the most common reactions viewers have expressed to you about your work?
My images have made people feel many different emotions that range drastically from intense anger to unbearable amounts of sadness...sometimes happiness and joy. Most are in a complete state of disbelief and shock, especially my international fans. They just didn't believe America could look like this or even have areas that resemble a third world country. Most American viewers get angry and hold strong opinions over seeing my photographs. Often, this sparks a healthy dialogue and political debate. My work is portrayed to do that by design.
When did the idea of exploring abandoned spaces become meshed with politics and artistic expression for you? In other words, have you always been politically inclined or did this develop the more you began to see the crumbling infrastructure in our country?
I've always been into politics. My major was political science and sociology. So I've always been politically active and started protesting various causes early on. I always was an art student, so combining both activism and art came natural. My project Autopsy of America was a photography project that started shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The goal was to show the world a more accurate depiction of America. A vulnerable side. A side the government didn't want the world to see and most Americans didn't want the world to see either. I was labeled anti-American and some still view me as that. I knew if I was portrayed my images creatively enough that my images would have a profound impact on the viewer. I decided to use social media platforms to share my images and very effectively used my social media platforms and transformed social media into a social movement. Encouraging activism through the use of creative non-fiction writing and the photographs I took for this project. People are most comfortable hiding from the truth and reality. They don't want to see reality and truth in images and words. It scares them too much. That's why I use creative non-fiction methods to write. Making real life stories read like they are fiction. The viewer is more entertained by the color of the story rather than the reality and truth that lies hidden in the shadows beneath. Mundus vult decipi- a Latin phrase, meaning 'The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.' This phrase has been tattooed on my side as a constant reminder that the world around me not only prefers to be deceived...but it demands it.
I am immediately drawn to the images of abandoned theatres filled with rows of crumbling seats or the lone chair in a decaying room. Something about abandoned chairs gives the overwhelming sense of human presence despite the fact that these are industrial-made objects, untouched for years. I start to imagine who used to sit there, what did this person feel, what position did he/she sit in? What is it like to actually be inside these empty spaces that are still so full of ghostly human presence?
It's completely surreal. It's like entering another world and often times you are. A lawless kind of world where anything can happen and often does. I'll be in a dark abandoned mall by myself tomorrow. The silence will be so loud it will be defending. It's a mall I grew up going to regularly. I'll be there alone and remember going there with family and friends, seeing people laughing and happy. It will be one of those moments that I often encounter while exploring. A time when I grow weak and have to sit down. Putting down my camera and dropping my ego. Planting my feet firmly into the reality of my surroundings and slowly becoming numb. It will be enough beauty that will make your chest feel like it's going to cave in.
We at False Prophet are proud to feature an artist who represents the truth through art.
To view more photography, purchase Autopsy of America, or engage in social initiatives please go to: http://sephlawless.com/