For the past five years, LomoAmigo Leah Frances has been capturing the nostalgia of American diners, motels or cars. With her account American Squares she takes us to places, where time seems to stand still. In exclusively square format film photography, Leah captures places and objects still left of the very American aesthetic, this country has been known for––still vibrant in it's colors yet increasingly desolate, her photographs convey a melancholic beauty, the smell of drip coffee and burgers.
Hi Leah! Welcome back in the Lomography Magazine. For readers who don't know you yet, please introduce yourself real quick.
Hi! Thanks for having me. I am an MFA student in Photography at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture in Philadelphia and the eye behind the Instagram account, @americansquares.
When and how did your project American Squares come to life?
I got back into photography as an adult after a long hiatus from the high school dark room. There, I had learned 6x6 medium format photography on a Yashica TLR. When I picked up a digital camera in 2013, I started composing in squares — it’s what made sense to me. I now shoot with both a Fuji digital camera and a Rolleiflex medium format film camera. I first posted on Tumblr and then, in 2015, I signed up for Instagram. I was surprised that the name American Squares wasn’t taken, it seemed perfect for my project.
What fascinates you about these nostalgic American Diners, motels and cars?
Good question. I became interested in these very American objects mostly because I felt I was seeing a rise in just that: nostalgia. Walking around a developing area of Brooklyn, NY, I started becoming aware of restaurants and bars being built to mimic what I sensed was a simulation of a particular time in US history, maybe the 1940s through 70s. I wondered what was at the root of that and where our ideas about that time come from, as many of us have not experienced it first hand. I think what we know of it has been filtered through the media: films, television programs, maybe books and magazines. So I started investigating these “things” if you will, these most American cultural relics, with my camera—almost in an archeological sense.
Do you have any photographers who inspire your work in particular?
I find the work of many photographers inspiring, although I am not sure that my work is directly inspired by them. I love Bruce Wrighton, Fred Herzog, Nancy Rexroth, William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Stephen Shore, Christine Osinski, Bryan Schutmaat, Zoe Strauss, Matt Eich, Jen Ervin… and so many more!
After years of shooting for this project, this is your first book you're publishing about it, you must have had a lot of photos to go through. How did you go about the process of picking and curating the photos?
Yes, I had been making photographs for this project for approximately five years. And I shoot incessantly. I did have a lot of images. The first cuts were blind instinct. Then, I have a magnetic wall and I made hundreds of 4x4” inch prints which I rearranged for maybe a month or more. I’d move some, remove some, then leave it and come back to it. It was quite daunting. I also got some outside perspectives for which I am very grateful. In the end, sequencing was very important to me. I hadn’t been through this process before and I learned that I chose some photos because of how they worked in combination with others, rather than how they stood on their own. Whereas some photos that had been favorites didn’t contribute as well to the sequence in book form. A book is a different beast than a gallery show. I think, as an object, it’s about the sum of its parts.
Do you have a favorite location to shoot at?
I am very fond of my new state of residence: Pennsylvania.
Do you think with the publication of this book, this project will be finished for you or are you going to keep shooting for it?
That’s something I am thinking about a lot right now. One of the reasons I made the book at this time is because I am starting school and I wanted the option to feel like I could move on to something else, if I wanted. I’m leaving that option open to myself. But I could also perhaps see myself deepening the project and becoming more specific. I am looking at working with neon at Tyler, as it has such a great glass program. The idea of combining physical neon with large format photographs of diner interiors, for instance, is intriguing to me.
Finally, where can people get their hands on a copy of the book?
Aint-Bad will be selling it through their site and at many fine art book fairs and photography events throughout the year. Also, I will be signing the book at The New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1, where it will be available to buy, at 5pm on Saturday, September 21st.
Get a taste of American Squares on Leah's dedicated Instagram Account and if you're in New York, don't miss her at The New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 on Saturday, September 21st at 5pm.