"I'm mostly interested in capturing everyday people within their everyday moments, though I appreciate a wide."
Samuel Gulpan was born two months premature in Seattle on Valentine’s Day, 1977. After his first days living in an incubator, he spent the majority of his childhood growing up in sleepy suburbs outside of Seattle’s bustling, growing urban center, Edmonds and Lynnwood. He was the child of blue-collar workers, his mother being a zippy food service worker and his father spent his working days as a machinist in various shops, from aluminum manufacturing to cabinet making. This background probably informed his empathy for the “underdog” that persists to this day. Samuel Gulpan is currently in between employers and is looking to engage more as a freelance photographer doing private assignments. This could be the year that he makes that leap to full time.
If Samuel Gulpan were to narrow down his particular style to the confines of one aesthetic, he’d say it most closely mirrors that of “street” or candid photography. It is when life shows itself in its most naked moments of un-self-conscious everydayness that he finds the sublime. There is beauty in what seems like accident. At the same time, he was aware that every photograph has some sort of framing to it, purposeful juxtapositions where the eye in that famed “decisive moment” has to quickly snap the shutter or else the narrative shifts to an entirely different scene and that marriage of perfect elements dissolves into obscurity. But there’s always more to be seen.
Samuel Gulpan came to appreciate the street aesthetic early, as a teenager attending an alternative high school (the “troubled” kids went to Scriber Lake High). He was in an art/writing combination course wherein he learned how to develop his own film in the darkroom while simultaneously engaging in creative writing. The obvious link between two of his greatest creative drives, and where it stems from: writing and photography. Both in this one course. Some of his classmates had a certain “something” about them that made Samuel want to capture their image. So he did.
Some of Samuel's favorite highlights involve small instances of recognition: being featured in a gallery in Seattle during the early 90s, he does not even recall which. All he remembers is that the photo he made depicted the rule of thirds so precisely and his instructor found it profoundly moving enough to include it in a show. Samuel had no idea what he was doing. The image involved two trees, interlocking, one of them felled and parallel to the ground. The same instructor was the first to accuse him of being “an artist,” labelling him such after a student had asked how he do what he do. “He’s an artist,” Martin said simply. Those words have both haunted Samuel and confounded him, leading to a years-long struggle to define what he is and what he wants to be doing.
Through Samuel’s photography, somehow a harsh reality is portrayed in the most sincere and beautiful manner. Because an act of sincerity in itself depicts beauty. The way he captures every moment, in its raw expression, simply shows reality. But it is a reality that often we turn away from because we are not them, or we simply feel it does not pertain to us. However, the depth of each image makes you rethink each moment and somehow you become involved in such a story. And while indeed you are not the subject, somehow your feelings become part of the story and it’s a complete realization of the wholeness we all intrinsically share.
Q. What role does the Artist/ Photographer have in society?
A. The role an artist or photographer plays is obviously varied, depending on the context. A street photographer is similar to a photojournalist in that they are attempting to show, objectively, what is happening at any given moment. I sense a disingenuousness to the foregoing, however, because it points back to what I mentioned earlier regarding framing - how the decisive moment, even in the fraught flow of seemingly random moments - is a chosen instance of what to reveal and what to conceal. I don’t know if a photographer can remove themselves completely from the frame. In fact, it seems nonsensical on the face of it. The question leaves me questioning even more, especially in light of our current political climate. The role, in short, is to hold up a mirror and say, “here, this is what you look like photographed,” to mangle a statement that Winogrand made about his reasons for photographing.
Q. What’s your best childhood memory?
A. My best childhood memory is twofold, tied to a theme: watching trees sway during a windstorm, hearing their baritone hum, almost a vibrational frequency beneath the radar of actual human hearing. The second concerns a tree as well, one that I used to climb up high in and sit in by myself, no one at all aware of my whereabouts. The former experience lands me at about 3 years of age. The latter from the ages of 6 through 12.
Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A. As a child I wished to become a professional skateboarder and an artist. I wanted to be a calligrapher at one point. I fell in love with photography a little later, as a 14 year-old.
Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. The first art I made was so long ago I can’t recall it. The usual childhood sketches. There were two elementary school projects that stick out because they were entered into some sort of exhibition: one was a pen and ink drawing of a killer whale. The other was a pencil drawing of a “futuristic” city, akin to what we saw in the hit cartoon, The Jetsons. I must have been somewhere between 9 and 10 when both of these were made.
Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in photography?
A. I first became seriously interested in photography when I was 14. This was during a highly tumultuous but creative bloom in my life. I dove in headlong, reading as much as I could on the process, all the while experimenting with exposure and lighting.
Q. What does your work aim to express?
A. My work aims to express the ineffable, the contemplative and whimsical, the many facets of what it means to be human and confused, hopeful and distressed.
Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
A. Rebellion against authority.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. Money and time away from my kids.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. My biggest influences are the greats that have added to the grand visual discourse that is photography yesterday and today: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Wim Wenders, many of those that have contributed to Magnum Photography, Avedon, Eugene Richards, Sally Mann, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, Alex and Wendy Webb, Ibarionex Perello, Sean Tucker, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and countless others.
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. It is, but I’m not bothered in the slightest by solitude. I prefer to be alone, which brings a dynamic tension because I rarely am! Hence, to get the “me” time necessary to nurture the creative itch I wake well before anyone else in the household.
Q. Apart from photography, what do you love doing?
A. I love writing, daydreaming, hiking, and preparing delicious food. I also like to eat it.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of photography?
A. My philosophy in matters of photography is simple: just do it. Don’t be afraid to take risks, make mistakes, fail forward. Accept criticism but don’t sacrifice your vision because of it.
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. Success to me means having done what one feels called to do, to the best of their ability. It has nothing to do with money, or fame, but everything to do with how much love was put into the work. This, in itself, is reward enough.
Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
A. The biggest things I’ve learned are that cliches are the biggest truths I’ve known. For instance, when someone used to say “our children are our greatest teachers,” I might’ve scoffed a little. Now, after having four of my own -and raising them largely on my own for the past several years- I know the truth of it. Another powerful lesson: don’t give up on your vision; don’t squander your potential because of circumstances that seem to force you into a particular box.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. I don’t know if there is a single, best piece of advice I’ve been given by anyone. One teacher I had pretty much sums up my life philosophy of Lewis Carroll’s “curiouser and curiouser,” and that came from a multicultural prof I had, named Betsy Barnett. She always, always admonished us to “Notice… just notice.” Her reason for teaching in this way was to get us to go out and engage with our own eyes, to see the world with fire, passion, and unrelenting inquisitive wonder.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. Don’t give up. This is such a fertile time to explore the medium of photography, with vast potential for cross pollination between various disciplines. The medium is far from exhausted and has a long way to go.