Rachael Banks is a photographer who hails from Louisville, Kentucky but she has spent the last several years working in Dallas, Texas. Her centers on family relationships and interpersonal reactions, and the ways we derive our identity from the people and places around us. The portraits she makes are simultaneously endearing and mysterious. Her work has appeared in Fraction Magazine, Featureshoot, and Lensculture and has exhibited in several galleries.
How do you feel about the relationship of an artist to their city or surroundings?
For me personally, my identity is very much informed by place and where I am from. When I moved to Texas, I felt like I had moved to another planet. I never realized how much I was actually emotionally attached to the geographical landscape of Kentucky, even though when I first moved I probably never would have admitted that. I felt like an outsider in Texas (and still kind of do) in so many ways from the culture, the climate (don't get me started), and also just physically what Texas looked like to me in comparison to Kentucky.
Plenty of people make work and it in no way has anything to do with where they are from or where they live, and I think that's fine. The driving force in my work was and is the absence of a city and surroundings that I was used to and didn't realize I had loved it until it was gone. So, while I feel disconnected here in Texas it is exactly that feeling of disconnect that plays a very relevant role in my work.
How do you choose your subjects?
I only photograph people that I know personally and have noticed that the closer I am to the person, the more that they appear in my work. My little brother has been my muse for my work for the past few years but we have never actually been very close. However, when I started my recent project Between Home and Here, the camera became a device that started to bring my brother and I closer together. In photographing him, I learned a lot about who he is as a person and the similarities that we share that I had previously overlooked.
My family and friends are very important to me, perhaps more important to me now because I have had to experience what it is like to be away from them. That pain has driven me to make the work. I photograph the people I love and miss constantly, and I'm grateful for the amount of trust they put in me in allowing me to make these images.
Where do you go to draw inspiration?
I'm a very avid zine collector and constantly inspired by the DIY photo/art community. I spend absolutely way too much money on books, but it is where I draw a lot of my inspiration from. I also have an odd collection of artifacts from my past: flowers from special days kept in jars, old photographs, and notes from people in my life that I have held onto for a very long time, but I find that a lot of the work I make is usually in response to something that may have happened ten years ago.
I'm also very inspired by my hometown Louisville, Kentucky, and all of the people that live there. I've spent nearly three years driving 14 hours back and forth from Dallas, Texas, to maybe only shoot for 2-3 days. I put about 50,000 miles on my car in a year, and I'm immune to the effects of Red Bull but I don't regret anything. Staying hungry is something that has always kept me inspired.
I'm also very heavily influenced by a huge and diverse online community of different artists, publications, zines, and artist collectives. I could go on forever about all the ones I love but some of my favorites are Same Coin Press, anything Nathan Pearce makes, Southern Glossary (of course), The Ones We Love, Fraction Magazine, Flash Powder Projects, and a couple of my favorite photographers right now are Jake Reinhart, John David Richardson (he is a graduate student and killing it right now), Doug Dubois, Zora J Murff, Jordan Swartz (also and amazing graphic designer) and Louie Palu's concept newspapers.
Are there any aspects of the Southern aesthetic that you embrace or ones you consciously avoid?
I try not to romanticize stereotypes of the South. My background and how I grew up wasn't always easy, and in fact there is a lot of trauma from my upbringing, but I don't ever want to make work that glorifies difficult parts of my past. A lot of the people I photograph have had really hard lives (and many still do), and I prefer to present them in a way that raises them above their circumstance. I don't want to make an image that further reiterates an outsider's narrow perspective of what it means to live in and be from the South. I know there are a lot of truths in stereotypes about the South (as with any other region) but I choose not to play into it too much.
Do you feel creatively satisfied?
I really do and I can actually say that and not feel like I am lying about it. It's scary when I don't have any ideas for projects I want to work on, and that's when I start to feel burned out. Right now, I have about five different things I am working on and sometimes it is a little scary but it's mostly a wonderful feeling. I know that I am young and still have a lot to do and say. I'm not in a rush to do it all at once and there is a lot of room for growth and experience which is very satisfying to me.
Tell me about a recent, current, or upcoming project or exhibition.
Currently I am working on a collaborative project with Nathan Pearce called "When we Meet." The project addresses the idea of what it means to truly know someone. When Nathan and I started working on the project we had never met in person before even though we have communicated extensively and also share many of the same colleagues and friends. For the project, we photograph things we would do if we were to meet in person and also take part in many physical exchanges of artifacts for the show via postal service (some of the things I send him are very weird and typically arrive at his house rotten). We are also working on a collaborative zine to make about the project and are hoping for an eventual exhibition of the work.
I also just accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Photography at Northern Kentucky University that starts fall 2016. I've been living in Texas for four years and have been making work about Kentucky, and now I have been given this amazing opportunity to come home so I'm sure there will be a lot more new work to come.