The Circumstances of Existence is a continuing project by artist Kelsey Sucena which acted in part as his undergraduate thesis for the Purchase College School of Art and Design in the fall of 2016. The project consisted originally of a gallery show of over thirty photographs accompanied by a book of short stories authored by Kelsey entitled "Bones Become Sand." It exists here in this online format for the sake of democratic distribution but all rights remain reserved.
Major credit for this project must go to Professor Joshua Lutz for guidance and inspiration as well as to Professors Jo-Ann Walters, Kristine Potter, Ted Partin and Bob Kozma. Special thanks goes to artist's and designers Ayanna Soaries, Melissa Murillo and Sophia Aigotti for helping to design and create the book Bones Become Sand which accompanied the exhibition as well as for continuous support and advice. Many thanks to everyone of the artists who offered criticism and direction for the work including the students of Purchase college to who I am eternally grateful. Thank you also goes to Delaney Hafener for support and love as well as to herself, James Denatale, Nessa Grasing, Will Norlander, Stephen and Lisa Sucena, Katelyn Sucena, Lucas Koska, Allie Moxie and countless strangers who took the time to sit for one of the many photographs of the series. This project was a massively collaborative effort and would not have been possible without many.
Inherent to the medium is the thought that photography exists distinctly as a means of documentation or preservation. Being the medium most associated with the reproduction of reality, photographs act as doors or windows into the past. It is therefore the common impulse of the photographer to seek the transient so as to capture it forever. It is a campaign against death marked by the optimistic hope that death might be forestalled. For “The Circumstances of Existence” I was interested in coastal places as locations wherein I have spent a majority of my life and as places at immediate peril of disappearing with the rising of tides. I have long trained my camera here thinking that I, like Atget, could hold this place still forever. The initial investigations seemed successful in capturing a sense of place but insufficient in expressing its transience. Despite my best efforts the photographs could not speak, their stories were silent, still and without time.
I had a story to tell about a woman who struck me as peculiar and fascinating whom I had met far out at Montauk Point. Montauk is a place which easily falls prey to the seasons and so photographing it in the winter seemed to be an opportunity to visually express the transience of the shore. While photographing the town I encountered Allie Moxie, a quiet resident whose loneliness had me fascinated, and found myself compelled to capture her visage in a photograph for posterity. It was a quiet image which did not speak of our conversation, or of Montauk or the vanishing shore. At most it might have captured our silence, her longing, the emptiness of the space and the loneliness on her face; perhaps not even this. In my investigations I found that photographs were too subjective to speak the volumes we (as photographers) read in them, but I found myself hoping that perhaps this photograph was audible if only as a sort of epitaph; marked by what Roland Barthes might refer to as a “specter” potentially embalmed by the act of photographing.
The conclusion I drew from interactions like this was that in order to tell a fuller story I ought to pursue its description through writing as well as through photographs. Writing and photography have long gone hand in hand, when even early on journalism had absorbed the medium into its realm. I didn’t want to be blunt about the photographs however, to describe them plainly as in a piece of journalism, nor did I want to describe the transience of the coasts purely in writing.
Before places like Montauk I thought to myself that this is what I wanted to do. To tell stories which involved these places, which involved death and transience without necessarily illustrating it in finite terms. I wanted to write stories which could flesh out the meaning within the images and find ways in which to organize the images to create narratives. I felt, as Alec Soth, “The only hope for me is storytelling-is narrative… I have to find some way to connect these pictures through storytelling. Because stories have this power, and the connective tissues of stories for me is so necessary.” So I began to write stories, musings, epitaphs for the photographs. I wrote descriptions of the places I was photographing for the sake of preservation (City Island, Co-Op City, Coney Island, Staten Island, Long Island, Fire Island, Montauk, ect.), I wrote accounts of folks I photographed, I wrote about the events which took place when photographing too and eventually I began to write a fictional narrative culled from these and other life experiences, a sort of amalgamated story to reinforce all of the things I had been considering when photographing.
As the stories took shape around a narrative of lost love, escape and death so too did the photographs. They developed together in relative symbiosis. Story-telling and mystery became the photographs’ salvation, a way of fleshing out what they were meant to say.