Through the Lens: Lisa Guerriero
America through the lens of Lisa Guerriero is full of color; colorful characters with big hair and bold style, incandescent neon signs, bright green lawns and, of course, that signature red, white and blue. Guerriero, the photographer behind the nostalgia-filtered Instagram account @analogstreets, has a knack of capturing the beauty of small-town America, of places where the past is still very much present. With a focus on interiors and exteriors of America (motels, diners, cadillacs, etc.), Guerriero says her work is not only a “celebration of not only the American vernacular and pop culture”, but also the people that populate these areas. “[I’m] using the photos as a way to give people a voice who are in underserved communities.”
Thanks to @analogstreets, Guerriero is no longer bound to the squares of Instagram. Her work has not only gained her online “followers” but the attention of publishers (Us included) and galleries across America and around the world. Yet, come summertime, you’re likely to find Guerriero on the road. She may longer feel the need to post photos in “real time”, but there are still countless towns to explore and ‘new’ relics of Americana to discover - and that’s in the Midwest alone.
We spoke with Guerriero to find out why she decided to leave Hollywood for small-town America, what keeps drawing her back to Ohio, and the five road trip ‘rules’ she swears by.
When did you first pick up a camera?
When I was 15 year old, I borrowed my father’s Canon AE1 to take some pictures of the motel we were staying in. Two weeks later, we got the prints back from the lab, and I was so excited about the whole process that I signed up for a photography class at my high school, and I haven’t put my camera down since.
What influence, if any, did your upbringing have on your work?
The more I shoot, the more I begin to realize how my upbringing has affected my photography style. My parents wanted to fit in with the other families on our block. My father took up bowling, which led us to Las Vegas every year for tournaments. My mother loved playing Elvis records when I was young and she also started collecting matchbooks from all the places we visited, even though no one in our house actually smoked.
We always stayed at the same little ‘50s motel in Lake Tahoe, which had a functioning vintage Coca-Cola machine by the pool. I remember how excited my father was to crack open a cold bottle of Coke from that machine. He swears to this day that soda pop tastes better in a glass bottle.
You got your start as a Camera Assistant in the movie and television industry. What made you decide to leave?
In 2013, I decided to take six months off of work, in between seasons of “Mad Men," bought a train ticket and took a month long trip across the US. A year later, I made the decision to stop working full time and to pursue my personal photography projects. Working on fictitious stories in a sound stage for 15 hours a day had lost its luster. I came to the realization that my real passion lies in capturing real life stories of people living across America.
How would you describe your work?
Part of my work aims to shed a humanitarian light on contemporary social issues. Using the photos as a way to give people a voice who are in underserved communities. The other side of my work is a bit more indulgent. It’s more of a fascination and celebration of the American vernacular and pop culture.
Can you describe your process?
Throughout the year, I make a list of events and places that I’m interested in photographing. I map them out and then research what is in between my main destinations, and put together a compendium of sorts. Once I arrive, I start wandering around the area. You never know where that will lead you. Checking things off my list to shoot is fine, but sometimes it's like walking into an antique store and knowing you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for vs. coming across a little thrift store, after taking a wrong turn, and finding some exciting piece inside. Personally, I find more satisfaction in the latter. So a little bit of planning mixed with spontaneity seems to work best for me.
What do you look for? What captures your eye?
On the human side, I’m always looking for interesting characters. Locals sitting on their front porch, senior citizens, ladies in curlers, men in overalls, and of course, twins.
Then there’s that diner that seems frozen in time, a run down motel, an abandoned gas station with an empty sign, a tiny barbershop and a Drive-In Theatre, preferably out in the middle of a cornfield. Yes, there’s actually an incredible one I stumbled upon last summer.
Which photographers do you admire?
There are definitely too many to list, but here are a few. Matt Black, for his dedication to exposing poverty in the US, Troy Litten, for his exploration of Eastern Europe and his lovely use of form and color, and Julie Grace Immink, for her honest and intimate portraits of strangers and people living on the fringes of society.
My earliest influences during my black & white film days were Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans and Mary Ellen Mark. I switched to color photography around the year 2000. William Eggleston, Martin Parr and Stephen Shore highly influenced my color work.
You spend a lot of time traveling through America. What have you noticed about our country through these experiences?
First thing I noticed was that midwestern clouds in the summer beat the clouds in Los Angeles any time. The cities are so different from one another that I feel that it’s my job to document as much of it as I can and share it with as many people as possible.
A third generation pharmacist and store owner, in Northern Kentucky, brought to my attention that folks in those areas can’t travel as freely as others who live in big cities, because they just don’t make enough money.
What do you find most interesting about small-town America?
The folks in small towns are honestly some of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve ever met. They have wonderful stories and they love to share them, even with a stranger like myself.
What are your favorite places you’ve visited?
There are so many places that I’ve come to love over the years. My favorites are Salem, MA, New Orleans, LA, Bentonia, MS, and Dover, OH.
Memorable places, people, and/or stories you encountered on your travels?
On my first visit to Cincinnati, I stopped at a sidewalk sale. Orlando was holding a yard sale in front of his grandmother's house, which was boarded up and hadn’t been lived in for over ten years. The family was holding onto it for sentimental reasons. Orlando’s job was to mow the lawn each week, so they wouldn’t get cited by the city. He had an Official Graceland Elvis poster and was trying to out how much it was worth, but couldn’t figure out how to use the internet on his new smartphone. We looked it up on my phone instead and then began chatting. He said he hadn’t had a steady job in years. He was picking up work wherever he could and was hoping to make some decent money that day from the sale to help pay for his daughter’s recent wedding. He told me how she was only twenty-three years old and just got diagnosed with a brain tumor. He proudly showed me photos on his phone of his daughter and the wedding. Then he flipped to the photo of the happy couple. He said, “My daughter, she married her best friend, Jasmine. This is all new to me. I mean, it’s the first time I’ve ever met anyone who is gay, but I guess as long as they love each other, it’s okay by me.”
Any road trip advice?
Always drive on the backroads. That’s where all the good stuff is hiding.
Don’t ever say, “I’ll come back for that shot”. It’s never going to be the same and you’ll regret not getting it. Trust me.
Always have your camera ready to go on the passenger seat. You never know what you’ll encounter, even in the middle of nowhere.
Don’t get upset when you take a wrong turn. I’ve found some of my favorite places that way.
When approaching people, always have your camera out and be honest with your subjects. You’ll be surprised at how many people don’t mind having their photo taken, as long as you are up front with them.
Well, it's time for me to start planning this year’s big road trip, starting with my usual destination, the “Twins Festival," in Twinsburg, Ohio. This year I’m planning on hitting Southern Illinois, Detroit, NW Pennsylvania, Northern Kentucky and at least five Ohio County Fairs. Yes, I’m officially obsessed with carnivals, even though there’s hardly anything for me to eat there as a vegetarian.