Artist and poet Daniel Eugene told me before his photo shoot with Sara Scranton at his Studio Feruvius in Westville that he plans to be the Patron Saint of Paper Trails.
“Everything to me is about accountability,” he said. “It’s about being revealed and having the courage to live revealed, and how living revealed makes you live better.”
Sara Scranton, a.k.a. Lipgloss Crisis, has been documenting the passions and causes of many throughout New Haven as part of a project known as The Patron Saints of New Haven, which Scranton herself will reveal during the Goffe St. Armory weekend of Artspace’s City Wide Open Studios on Oct. 14 and 15. Eugene, who is participating in the Westville weekend of CWOS on Oct. 7 and 8, was one of Scranton’s chosen subjects.
As it turned out, so was I.
Finding Her Place
Scranton is well versed in working with others in New Haven’s artistic community. She first discovered the city when she transferred out of West Haven High “for getting bullied for being an artistic type” and into the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School back in 1996. “I just found New Haven to be more open art wise, more liberal. There’s definitely a place for an artist in New Haven,” Scranton said. She has been based in New Haven since then as Lipgloss Crisis, involved in art shows, photography, burlesque, cabaret, a pop up shop, and the local music scene. She is currently employed at Three Sheets, where she also curates the monthly Art in the Back, Music in the Front series. (The next one, which is a black light edition, will double as her CWOS after party on Oct. 14 at 9 p.m.)
The original idea for the Patron Saints of New Haven stemmed from Scranton’s childhood.
In 2010, “I was helping put a charity event together with Kelly L’Heureux for Bike Across America, and I was trying to think of a way that would bring a lot of people together for a cause,” Scranton said. “I was raised Italian Catholic, and I’ve always liked religious symbolism. I was raised with my Nonnie telling me to pray to St. Anthony to find stuff, so I liked the idea of having that. I was trying to come up with a way I could do something that incorporates New Haven, the people of my New Haven, at the moment, and how to showcase them.”
Scranton’s original series of photos — including one of herself — were made into a deck of cards that featured the saints along with their prayers. A portion of the proceeds went to Bike Across America.
The photos also made the rounds on social media, so Scranton decided to revisit the project and update it for CWOS. She got a great response from those she asked to participate. Others volunteered, or were suggested by others.
“Both times people just stood out,” Scranton said, “but this second time is a little different. I had more people totally wanting to do it because they had seen the first set. The Patron Saints are basically my New Haven, the people that represent the city and what’s good about the city and beautiful at that moment in time.”
Scranton’s process is simple. She asks the subject this question: “If you were to die tomorrow, what saint would you be and what would your message be to New Haven?”
Her subjects choose their own names and write their own prayers. “They have to decide that, and I mostly capture it. It’s a collaborative project,” Scranton said.
Once the subject has a name, they then are set up for a photo shoot. The subject chooses the environment, costumes and sets, with some input from Scranton as well. “I have a general idea, but I don’t like to over plan,” Scranton said. “Some people go in entirely different directions but it works. It’s people representing themselves, but not in an egotistical way. It’s really cool to see people evolving the idea because it’s really an introspective thing to ask them. Like, what thing in your life is important enough to represent?”
In Front Of The Lens
My idea came from a previous conversation with Scranton who had been discussing with me the multitude of activities I was currently involved in — a spoken word radio show on CygnusRadio.com, writing for the Independent, my own poetry and word-based art, and my general involvement in the New Haven art and music scene. Sharing words in any way possible, written or spoken, in poetry and song and story, has always been my passion. But how to convey this, how to be the art that conveys the passion, that was another thing.
I told Scranton I had a bookcase in my basement that I could pose in front of, and she mentioned a vision she had of me wrapped in a beautiful piece of cloth and standing similar to a Greek statue in front of the books. We were to meet on a Monday afternoon at my home and realize this scene together.
I was a nervous wreck, especially that day, layering my own artistic neurosis on top of the fact that I was turning 50 years old later that week and steeped in reflective thought. I completely cleaned and rearranged my bookshelf so it would look just right, a proper representation of my life, my loves, my passions. Then there were the questions I kept revisiting in my mind: Would I look good enough for Scranton and for the project itself? Would I disappoint her either personally or professionally? Did I want myself revealed in this way, both via this photo and this article being written about it? Would people look at me and think “why did Scranton pick her?” I base the majority of my own art in introspection, and I could not recall the last time I was so self-aware.
But during the shoot itself, I loved figuring out what we were going to do as we did it, joking and laughing the whole time. The wrapping of my body in a lovely green iridescent piece of material, the posing and maintaining of the pose, Scranton’s simple and gentle directions on how to hold my journal and where to fix my gaze, the ease with which she got what she wanted in a short amount of time — all of it seemed to flow naturally.
Even when Scranton realized that she didn’t have a flash and had to borrow a light from my husband (who happens to be an electrician and has a plethora of light fixtures to provide anyone at any given time), she held the fixture exactly where she needed it, as if it was something she used every time she shot. It was hard not to get swept away by it all, to realize I was a part of something larger, something beyond simply posing for a photo. This was my bookcase, my books, my journal, and I wanted the world to see them and to know how beautiful and how meaningful they were to me, and how such things when shared with others could enrich a life far beyond expectation. Scranton made me comfortable enough to reveal this part of myself in a new way. It was truly a collaborative effort.
When I finally saw the finished photo, I didn’t see the woman who thought she might not be photogenic enough, or interesting enough, or who felt unworthy or unsure. I simply saw myself, as creator and creation.
Behind The Lens
Scranton’s photo shoot with Eugene at his studio was also a revelation to witness. As in my case, the two had worked together, talking and setting up props (which for Eugene included his journals, photographs, and both original and prints of his line drawings) to find the best environment for him. Eugene’s conversation with Scranton earlier that day had given him a “strong sense of inertia,” he said — again, not unlike my own experience with her when we spoke of my shoot.
And Eugene’s reflections on his journaling seemed to relate to Scranton’s project, as well as my own neurosis about making and being the subject of art.
“I can relearn lessons, and I can go back and discover through this paper trail a certain amount of things that were unknown at the time. You have the experience and then you have the experience in writing and then you have the experience in reflection, and the experience in reflection continuously changes as you grow … it’s two different experiences of the same experience and you learn something different at different stages of your life,” Eugene said. “People have always responded to the journal with a fear of going back to certain experiences that they documented and feeling disgusted with themselves, like I’m so fucked up or I’m so embarrassed, and then they throw it out and they stop doing it, where to me that exact reaction is a call to the accountability.”
Scranton will be selling the new Saint cards as a complete 5x7 deck as well as individual 8x10 framed prints. She will also be selling trading card-sized decks of the previous round of Saints. Not unlike Daniel and I, she is not unwilling to revisit previous experiences and find a new perspective.
“I was talking with Svenja [Walker, who chose to be the Patron Saint of Broken Brains] about this, and she said ‘doesn’t this make you just love New Haven again?’” Scranton said. “It’s a good reminder of the really awesome things that happen in this city, the causes and what means a lot to people, what they work on, what they care about, and their messages. I also think it’s a good way for other people to see that. It’s kind of like a tap on the shoulder, and you say ‘hey, this is why you should love New Haven. There are people doing amazing things.’”
Following an opening reception at Artspace on Oct. 6, City Wide Open Studios runs this weekend, Oct. 7 and 8, in Westville, in the Goffe St. Armory Oct. 14 and 15, in private studios Oct. 21 and 22, and in Erector Square Oct. 28 and 29. Click here for more information.