Gordon Hight

Gordon Hight is a lifestyle and fashion photographer who has lived in various places in the South. He is currently working on a graduate degree from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Website: www.gordonhight.com

Instagram: @gordonhightphotography

How did your interest in photography begin and how did you arrive at your current style?

My interest in photography began in the living room of my grandparents' house when I was a kid. They traveled a good bit before my grandfather passed, and my grandmother lugged cameras along everywhere. Of course, we’d be excited to see them when they’d get back from Europe or Africa or wherever, but I remember being spellbound watching the slideshows of my grandmother's photos. She shot exclusively on Kodachrome. Boxes of her slides sit in the other room of the house I’m living at the moment; revisiting them and getting them digitally scanned is a project I have for later this summer. Anyway, they took me on a trip to Alaska the summer before 8th grade. My grandmother gave me a Nikon film camera and three lenses to use on that trip. I still shoot with those lenses today.

As for style, I’ve always loved rich color. Kodachrome does that that to you, right? I also admired how she framed shots and, given the limited frames available on a roll of film, what she elected to use exposures on and what she didn’t. Being alongside in Alaska and watching her work was influential, but so were her other interests. She was also a gardener. Our church altar was frequently adorned with roses she grew. Whether animals from safari or flowers from home or visits to other gardens, my grandmother seemed to center her photography on beautiful subjects. She’d light up when talking about something beautiful she saw. Whether shooting landscapes or models, I suppose I’m trying to do the same thing: find beautiful things as they are and capture some element of them. I think I’ve learned to feel the joy she felt. 

How do you feel about an artist's relationship to their city or surroundings?

The artist and the environment are inextricably linked in my humble opinion. My personality, interests, and preferences have undoubtedly been influenced by the places I’ve lived, and I know I’m not alone in that. I really enjoy the process of matching up characteristics in my subjects and the surroundings in which I shoot them, either seeking to capture where those characteristics coincide or are juxtaposed. There’s a great deal of artistic space to explore there. A project I started a year or two back and hope to revisit again soon was called 'hometown series': basically shooting someone in their hometown in locations that were important to her.  The point was very much to associate person and place. While feelings of nostalgia were a starting point, the settings we chose unearthed some truly genuine emotion which certainly helped make a good photograph. The uniqueness didn’t come from the concept itself, but rather from how personal it was.

How do you choose your subjects?

For the fashion editorial stuff I’ve been doing most recently, I typically have someone in mind first and then I try to pair that person with a location that reflects something I think I know about that person. Sometimes I know the person well, sometimes I only have other photographs of her to peruse. But it does seem to work out well. From there, I think through styling options and collaborate with the subject through a mood board. I want wardrobe, makeup, and the like that reflect who she is and what she wants to express about herself. I don’t know everything going into a shoot, but I love to seek those details. I want to capture exactly who people are and celebrate what they want to be.  Thus, collaboration is critical. I firmly believe the best photos of this type of work are created collectively.

Do you have a creative or artistic peer group in your area that you're a part of?

I’m pretty much a lone wolf here, at least photographically. I’m in a creative writing graduate program at the University of the South: Sewanee, and have several close friends with whom I do frequently talk art, inspiration, and sources of creative energy. And that’s been helpful. Those conversations help me stay on the right course on the creative compass. I’d welcome participating in a more photographically oriented peer group, but this group of friends is priceless. 

Where do you go to draw inspiration?

I have the tremendous fortune of living in the shadows of the Tetons so it’s not hard to find beautiful landscapes. Those mountains and the big rivers that run around them are places I spend a good deal of time. They serve as good reminders of how small I am and I relish that sense of insignificance. The less seriously I can take myself, the more I get out of my own way and create things that make me happy. 

Jackson is also home to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, a place I try to visit at least a few times of year. There’s an excellent exhibit on display now: a then and now photographic comparison of various locations in Yellowstone (Through the Lens of Time). But I really enjoy the collection of paintings and sculptures, too. Seeing how other artists saw the same landscapes I’m shooting and the choices they made when creating their work makes for a pretty cool internal conversation.

Are there any aspects of the Southern aesthetic that you embrace or ones you consciously avoid?

I love people. And having lived in, and now out of the South, I am very happy when I return to the South and see the mannerisms and most importantly hear the language of southern people. As much as the summer heat and humidity, a southern accent is like the warm blanket of my childhood. And I love the diversity of the South. My life continues to be so very positively influenced by people of different races. But I hate how we have to dance around race these days. To me, these people to whom I’m referring are family, might as well be blood relatives for how I feel about them. Seems like political correctness requires language that divides more than brings together. I’ve been around folks in other parts of the country who have no idea what life is really like down South, though they’re often quick to give opinions painting the South with the broad brush of generalization and judgment. Living in a diverse population brings me joy. I want to tell stories through my work that keep the invitation open for others to come experience all that there is to love here, the southern people most importantly. 

Do you feel creatively satisfied?

I do, but in the same way as I do after a good meal. Nourished for the moment, but I’ll soon be hungry again. I’m fine with that, though. I enjoy process of making an image that makes me happy as much if not more than the resulting happiness itself.

Tell me about an upcoming project or exhibition.

Following my last visit to L.A. in May, I’m putting together the plan to take up residence in Venice, California, for a month or two in the early spring of next year to dive headfirst into some lifestyle photography shoots. Some quality reading and writing time will be part of that as well. I’ve dipped my toes in the southern California scene a number of times over the last couple years, but some longer term immersion will be a good thing. There’s incredible energy down there and I’ve found an open, welcoming, and collaborative spirit in the folks I’ve met and worked with thus far.