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An Interview with Photographer Lisa Sullivan

I first met Lisa Sullivan in 2015 for the Show Your Love event held at The Southgate House Revival. I had heard of her through my friends Buffalo Wabs & the Price Hill Hustle. Lisa had shot them at some barn and they couldn’t have been happier about it. Then I met her, and all of the things I had heard were true. Looking back on that and having seen her out and about after that she definitely does not see herself as the Annie Lebowitz of the Cincinnati music scene, however I have no problem in saying that. I don’t know Annie, but I do know Lisa. I have had the pleasure of being shot by her and it is an experience I would gladly do over. The camera is merely an aesthetic when you are with her. There’s a little bit of pose stuff, but it is the loosest feeling she gives to the subject. To simply be you at your most relaxed and enjoying the moment. 

You can check out some of Lisa’s work along with some great local bands playing this Saturday at Herzog Studios. Lisa Was Here: Musician Series 2, The “F” Bomb, features portraits of female musicians in and around the Cincinnati area and outskirts. 

My approach to the interview with Lisa was to get as much information as I could, but then I received back the following, and honestly there is no better way to write this. I sat and sat trying to make pick apart her answers, but I felt her language and a piece of herself would be missing. Here is Lisa in her own words. 

“I was born in New Castle Indiana, not too terribly far from Indianapolis, an only child and actually even the only grandchild for about the first six years on either side of the family. Spoiled rotten. I turned 50 on August 9th. I'm very lucky that Mom and Dad are still around, I believe I caught the photography fever from my Dad who was always taking pictures of me and my Mom, the many cats and dogs we had over the years, his cars, etc…

Music wise, I grew up in a house filled with it; The Beatles, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, Carly Simon, Elton John, Jim Croce, The Ventures (who(m) I HATED because there were no words with the music, and that just did not make sense to me at all!). The first album I was obsessed with and would listen to for hours on end was Fleetwood Mac's Rumors. The first album I ever bought with my own money was AC/DC Back in Black and I pretty much stayed with that genre, my first concert being Def Leppard opening up for Billy Squier in 1983 I believe. Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Nazareth and then slowly I started getting exposed to older rock like the Bon Scott AC/DC stuff, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. The first time I ever heard The Ocean by Led Zeppelin I lost my mind and I think that's when I decided I was going to be a drummer some day; I'm not yet, but I'm in talks with Daniel Peterson to get some lessons!

I don't know exactly when I get started in photography, but I always wanted to have a camera around to take pictures of my friends, I guess this was probably in high school; I had a little flat Kodak 110 that took the pop-in cartridges, and then I got my Polaroid Instant Camera. OMG did I love that thing. Chore money went on film for that, it was amazing to me to watch the pictures materialize that quickly after taking it. THE FUTURE WAS NOWWWW. But the 110 cartridges were cheaper, so I still used that camera more often and it was smaller and easier to bring with me everywhere. Dad tried to encourage me to get into photography a little deeper and bought me a 35 mm, but I couldn't get the film in the damn thing without exposing it. I have little to no patience whatsoever, so Dad ended up with a nice 35 mm camera for himself. So, in answering the question about digital versus film, I actually never used a "real" film camera or a darkroom, due to my lack of patience and ability to absorb and keep technical information in my brain. I don't know if it's ADD, if I'm lazy, I really don't know. I like to snap and go, I do not have patience to use a tripod, but I love using my Alien Bee lights. Pop and go!

I never had much interest in taking nature pictures, it was almost exclusively people; I was a bartender for 12 years and I would even take my camera to my shifts and take pictures of the characters I would deal with there. I met Bill there and we began dating at the end of 1999 or as I like to say, we started dating in the 1900s, and we had a love of shooting in common. He's definitely the landscape photographer in the relationship, but we both love going on drives with no particular destination, and I will usually find something with enough quirk and oddness to peak my interest to shoot, anything Americana relatable or on the other edge, gritty city stuff, I love to shoot, even though people have always been my favorite, especially little kids. Not babies, little kids with their little opinions and how they want to be shot are just the best.  

Around 2007, the website Capture Cincinnati caught our interest and through that we have met an amazing group of people from all over the city of all ages and backgrounds. It's a voting site where you dig or don't dig a picture and you can leave comments and through supporting each other we began to get to know each other online a bit - this was B.F.B you know - and through one of those meetings and conversations I met fellow photographer and man about town Chris Breeden the Manager of Arnold's Bar and Grill who asked me if I would like to be in a photography show. He and I were both very into cross processing effect back then ahhh memories...it was really surreal to see my name on a poster advertising the show, boy did I feel fancypantsy.

So, another discussion took place about how wouldn't it be cool to find a place to hold monthly exhibits and allow our Capture Cincinnati buddies to show their work and invite their families somewhere and Chris suggested upstairs at Arnold's. For three years, once a month, we would carefully take the art work and framed photographs down in the rooms upstairs at Arnold's and put up the work of a photographer in each room and then they would get their friends and families to come see. This was a great way we all got to meet each other in person and make some long-lasting friendships to this day, damn near a decade later. I actually introduced my daughter to one of the photographers that showed there, and they will be celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary in October!

Arnold's started getting to be the happening place to be - not that it wasn't always, but business really started picking up to the point they just couldn't throw the once a month art shows any longer. Not too long after that chapter was over, I got a job as a server there and this is where the band photography started. I was serving on a Friday night and the band that was playing was just POW! It wasn't even the type of music I had ever really listened to, kinda bluegrass with some gospel, and some barn burnin’ honkytonk Americana, rootsy folk stuff! I got to meet the great, great guys of Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle and I asked them if I could shoot them and do some portraits. They met Bill and me at an old abandoned train conductor quarters and railroad not too far from where we live. They played an entire concert for us while we shot them and took some pics without their instruments as well. The rest is pretty much history. I got involved with the WNKU Show Your Love Festival in 2014 (maybe 2015? I can't remember exactly) and did a makeshift photo booth upstairs in the Sanctuary at Southgate House Revival and met dozens and dozens of talented musicians in the Cincinnati, Dayton, Lexington, Chicago, Huntington West Virginia areas and all points in between, including YOU! And it just kinda snowballed from there ever since.

I'm happy to say I'm on another poster for Chris Breeden showing my photography for Wax Nostalgic 1994 that opens at BLDG in Covington on Friday August 17th and runs until mid-September. I'm a pop culture junkie so I took my love for a handful of movies from that year and asked my local musician pals to model for me and then I went weird with them and I'm really, really excited to get to show the efforts from those shoots that were just so much fun. It is such a wonderful thing, to connect to someone with an idea and they possibly collaborate on that idea and it just goes into a direction you didn't know you were going to take. I get asked often if I shoot weddings, and I do not as a general rule; I have but they have been spur of the moment or a special circumstance or involving a trip to Hawaii lol. But it takes a disciplined photographer that can handle stress and I'm neither disciplined nor a good stress handler. I currently have no desire to be a full-time photographer for an income, I fear it will stop being fun and then it's just another job. I would hate to hate something I love so very much.

Next up for me after the Wax Nostalgic 1994 show will be my second Herzog show Lisa Was Here: Musician Series 2, The “F” Bomb - featuring portraits of female musicians in and around the Cincinnati area and outskirts. There has even been a special Cincinnati female supergroup formed just for the event which just tickles me to BITS! It's a crossover show that starts at Herzog and then swims across the river to keep the party going at The Southgate House Revival and this will all be happening on Saturday September 22nd - the FB events are floating around so hopefully everyone will check them out!

You asked me why photography of all things to be pursuing even in fun and it really is about connecting with people. I love people. I have never met a stranger. I appreciate learning about people, helping people when I can and belonging to a community. I enjoy making people laugh, especially catching them off guard with a laugh, having a candid moment. I think that's why the photography plays a big part of who I am.”