Interview with Barb Peacock (Part Two)

Here is Part Two of our conversation with Barb Peacock. I’ve been wanting to chat with Barb for quite a while - and we’ve traded a few messages on Instagram about it over the last few months, until at last, the stars aligned and we were able to have a wide ranging conversation about family photography, being a mom/business owner/artist, and her own journey through all of that and into both professional prestige and viral fame with her current project, American Bedroom. (Part One is here.) - Katie

K: Barb, let’s talk about process. You’ve just said that American Bedroom isn’t finished - though it’s gotten wide publication at this point, as well as some exhibits. I follow your Instagram, so I feel like I'm getting to see your process in real time - and sometimes I wondered, is the "process" the project or is there a final presentation that you're working toward, that we are getting to follow a long with, but, at some point will kind of fall away to make room for the finished product.

B: Oh yeah, yes. So basically, I'm trying to get to every state in the U.S. So it's kind of a challenging logistical thing which basically boils down to time that I'm able to travel, and what's possible financially.

I did win $10,000 from Getty, which was fantastic and I was able to go on five or six different trips - Detroit, to the South a few times, and I went out west. Always going as frugally as possible. Then I had a show here in Portland, Maine, and I sold five prints to the Lauder Foundation. You know, the Estee Lauder family - he collects... well, he has the biggest collection of cubism, $50 million worth of cubist art, which he donated to the MOMA. And his wife, she collected five prints from me, so that was good! That put me back on the road. And then sometimes I make a little bit of money from some interviews, or a private print sale, etcetera. I won a couple of other small things. So I just, when I have money, I travel.

K: Are you still doing grant applications?

B: Oh yes, ma'am! Yeah. Oh yeah. [laughs] And then I just wanna say that back to the Getty, I wanna tell people that I applied for everything under the sun, one fall, the fall of 2016, and I only had about a year and a half of the project under my belt, so it was a fairly new project. I applied for everything and then starting in the spring, I started getting the rejections, one after the other. Rejection after rejection. I thought, Okay, so maybe this, maybe this is not resonating. Maybe this is not what I think it is, maybe this project not good, maybe I'm not an artist, maybe I should just go get a job at Trader Joes, and not be an artist because I...

K: Those are such awful thoughts to deal with.

B: I know! It's true, you're so defeated. You feel alone, and you feel like I'm not... this isn't working... it's not... Why should I beat my head against the wall, and why maybe I should just be a Normal Person, right, not be an Artist. Right? I thought that way for a day. And then the next morning I shook myself out of it and I said, "What are you thinking, You? That's just ridiculous. Just keep going, and make better pictures. And I just told myself, if these pictures aren't good enough, I just have to make better pictures.” And then the next week I won the Getty award.

K: That's amazing. So it really wasn't about better pictures, it was really just about timing. I mean, good work, and timing.

B: Yeah, and the jury. The jury is composed of people, and they all bring their aesthetic to the table and they can sway one another.

K: And those juries are different on every cycle for all the different awards.

B: Yeah, in every cycle.

K: I don't ever wanna put anything down to just luck because there's so much hard work dedication that goes into the work that you present, but the fact is it also comes down to who are the people in that round of applications looking at it and what are they moved by?

B: Absolutely, absolutely. I applied to the Guggenheim year and I didn't win. And I'm just going to apply every year because there will be different juries. Also they say that you have to keep applying for that because it's rare that you win on the first time. And so I have to keep applying for everything that I can think of.

K: It's very comforting to hear that from you because more at the beginning or earlier stages of this journey of creating long-term projects and trying to put them out there and trying to find ways to keep them going, it's great to know that even the people that you look up to, who seem much farther down the path, you're sitting there doing the same kind of work for your project that I'm doing for mine.

B: Absolutely.

K: You've just got more time and more expertise under your belt,

B: And you have to be consistent, you know, I mean you have to have the drive and tenacity and all that. I think those people are the ones that will end up winning. You have to keep going - you can't falter. It is hard - it's been a long time for me, it's been a long time coming, but you just have to keep at it... And don't get discouraged.

K: And it sounds like all of the time that you're doing this work, you're still feeling really inspired with the project you're creating -enough to keep going on the trips, shooting.

B: Absolutely. Yeah, I love the project, I love the people I'm meeting. I love the process of it. I love what people are able to say about their lives throug the pictures, and then the statement. I love the experience of meeting someone who's willing to put themselves out there like that, and open up themselves within the most intimate room of our lives.

I don't want to overuse this word, but it's quite magical, during the whole session, because you have an intimacy between the two of us, or the three of us, how ever many people I'm photographing. There's a trust that's just an unspoken bond, which takes certain kinds of people - not everyone's gonna allow me to do it. For all the people that have said Yes, there's two or three people that said No. Yeah, so it's a very rewarding experience just on a human level, and then have coffee afterwards or sit and talk. I've had long experiences where I've spent a whole day with people; and I've spent short times like just 45 minutes with someone. So it's everything in between. The experience is very enriching, and it's deeply moving to share these experiences with people.

K: I'd love to ask, if you're willing to talk about it, what are the steps that you take to build that trust and intimacy. Obviously, it's going to be someone who's willing. They've self-selected, right?

B: They've invited you into their house, but is there a certain approach that you take to break down barriers quickly to find that comfort. Some people are completely open and they're ready for anything, and they're very honest. Those people are, maybe, a third of those who agree to the project. The older couple that I photographed you probably know what she's got the long gray hair - that's one of my favorite photographs and one of my favorite experiences. But when we got down this 45-minute dirt road to get to their house was crazy, we got there and they are the most natural people, just they're completely comfortable with who they are. And it's so beautiful to see that and witness it, and so we go up into their little loft - up their little ladder. I'm on a ladder photographing that, by the way.

So I say to them, "Well how do you guys sleep?" And they said, "Well, we sleep in the nude." I said, "Are you comfortable doing that?" That's what I usually ask. I never ask anyone to do anything specific. And they said, "Well sure, and he took off his clothes right way, he didn't care, and then she was slowly taking her clothes off and I'm saying to myself, "she's gonna take her underwear off to, and she did. So they were completely nude, and then they just cuddled and then they put their hands on each other - those beautiful hard-working hands and it was just like, a really peak photographic moment in my career, of my life, to photograph something like that. It was just so moving, a that's real gift. I look at that as a gift.

And then sometimes you have someone like this woman in Brooklyn. I had put out on Facebook that I was looking for people in Brooklyn, 'cause I was there and this woman wrote to me - she was a friend of a friend, and she said sure so I go there and they're in this probably $5-million dollar brown stone, in the fancy section of Brooklyn, I forget the name of it. So when people start editing what they're gonna do for me I'll let it go a little while. Yeah, so they got me a ladder and their room was really pretty in the light was coming in and I got them and she was very concerned about her hips - from her hips down and she didn't wanna show that part of her body. Okay, and I get that, I get that.

I mean, she was more like a pair shape or whatever, then up talk and a little bit heavier on the bottom, but in nice shape and but she just couldn't see that. So we're just going along and she's all covered up, and I just finally stopped photographing and I just said to them, Hey, you guys, I've got photos of a couple in a bed with white sheet just like this, I have the shot, I already have the shot.

I said, "This shot not going anywhere, I have to be honest."

And then when I said that I think the reality is like, Okay, maybe loosen up a little. So she didn't, she rolled her hip. And I said, "I'm just gonna pull it down just a little bit. I can see your S-shape, it's beautiful.: And she let me, and she ended up loving it. But sometimes I have to just say when I'm photographing, I see something I've seen it before, I already have this. I'll say that, and then people will sort of loosen up a little bit. And then other times people just loosen up because of the process, we might say, "Okay let's start here, we're a little covered up. Oh hey, let's take this off ... but it's not about nudity. A lot of them are nude because people are nude in their bedrooms and that's true to what they are.

A screenshot of the gallery Barb shows her subjects to help select poses and mood for their photograph.

A screenshot of the gallery Barb shows her subjects to help select poses and mood for their photograph.

I wanna be honest about it. Other people are dressed up in those girls out in Portland have the thigh highs on and they've got the push-up bras going and all that, and I'm showing their environment with all the cigarettes and blah, blah, blah. So it kind of depends and I just kinda don't push people, I ask them what they're comfortable with.

The other thing that's key here is I show my subjecs a gallery on Pixieset that is all paintings. They're all contemporary paintings, a few classical ones, but mostly contemporary paintings. And I say to them, "What attracts you... what do you like here and what would you like to emulate? Is there something here we can start from?"

A screenshot of the gallery Barb shows her subjects to help select poses and mood for their photograph.

A screenshot of the gallery Barb shows her subjects to help select poses and mood for their photograph.

And so they'll pick two or three that they like. And so they've already told me that what might be their comfort level visually. And so what happens is that trust is starting to build and they're like, "Oh this is cool. I've made a choice is what I like." I say to them, "this is not my picture of you, this is your our picture together of you. We're collaborating, this is your story, this is your voice, this is time for you to say who you are and what your world is." So they own it.

K: This touches on something that I find important and I look for in other photographers' work, and that is the idea of being collaborative with your subjects. Not waltzing in, whether it's someone's bedroom or someone's home town or an event someone is attending and imposing own interpretation on it, and just extracting something from them. But the idea of trying to understand who they are, and giving them space to give you that and then honoring it in the work that you make.

B: Yeah, that's their signature. The these images could potentially be around, and being seen in a hundred years or more, as an archive of this time in the history of our country. Everything that's in the photos is important.Both the surroundings, and then the person... And, when they realize that I think they open up a little bit, and they also take the process more seriously.

K: So the paintings that you show them, are these paintings you've selected because they inspire you?

B: Yeah, yeah, so I'm just completely crazy for these paintings. And most of them I find on one site. These paintings could be for anyone - same-sex partners, single women, or women with a lot of kids, single older people or whatever. Sometimes, let's say I'm going to New York next week and I know there's a young boy down there that I want to photograph with his friends. I'll pull images I think would work to the front, so that they see those right away.

K: One last question that I would love to ask you, and that is from the time you started shooting American bedroom to now, how do you feel like this project has changed you as an artist, as a photographer, as a person.

B: Yeah, I think it has changed me as an artist and a bit as a person because I think that it has sensitized me more to a person's story. A person's self-hood, if you would.

And so I think I’ve become more sensitized to people in general - to their stories. Everyone has a story, and everyone has something they would like to stay, and that it’s worth listening to every story.

When I walk through the door or when I introduced myself putting myself and that person on the same level to try to create a piece of art - we're doing it together. And so I think I've become more sensitized to people in general - to their stories. Everyone has a story, and everyone has something they would like to stay, and that it's worth listening to every story.

And so I meet a lot of people that I talk to. Just talk to - not even potentially going to photograph but I'm in general just more sensitive to human beings, or human-hood. Just opening your eyes up to smiling at people, and having a short conversation or whatnot. But I think that I've grown an awareness of that. I think it's through these experiences with these people - learning not to be judgmental, and not to always have an end game when you're meeting people, it doesn't always have to be about actually photographing them. It could just be about having a conversation or opening the door, for someone or just chatting with someone... just to not yield always to that want for the photograph.

Sometimes it's just nice to just talk to someone. Everybody needs someone just to talk to.

K: I have to say that I can see this coming through in the way that you share pictures from the project.

B: Well that's a huge compliment.

K: I think it's got to do with you asking for that statement, or getting one out of natural conversation, from each person and letting that be the caption to the image. Now, I love when you share more of your own thoughts [in your social media posts], but the fact that you let their statement be the source of information about the photo - that, to me, is a reflection of your sensitivity and awareness of other people's stories. To me that says you're not only listening, but you're synthesizing that with the image that you made.

B: I think that the statements have changed a lot from the beginning too, because in the beginning, I didn't even think about that, but then I realized that that was super important and I asked people at first to kind of make a comment about their living space, etcetera. But now, I don't say that anymore. Now I just say I just want a couple of sentences about your life and where you're at with your life right now.

K: Are these recorded conversations. Do you record when you have those talks after the photographs are taken?

B: I wish I would get to that. And I think that I really do need to do that. I think I need to just do more recording, but what I do is I ask them for the statement and I can ask them to give it to me within 48 hours, because if I don't get it in 48 hours, there is a good chance that I'll have to track them down and [ask again], and it's really hard. I've learned a little bit when I met maybe someone that's really living on the fringes, if it looks like they might be moving soon, or they're in a difficult situation, I get that statement there and then. I won't take a chance, or I'll take it out of our conversation.

And some people will stay in contact. Some people I don't just because the nature of things in life and everything, but there's some people I do stay in contact with, and I try to let them know if their picture is picked for a magazine or something. Some people are so proud. And one last thing I'll say is one thing that is really touching to me is that, how important a photograph can be to someone because to you and me, we're always taking photographs, we're always in that world, and we're always with people that were taking pictures of them, but some people, their last photograph that anyone took might have been their senior high school portraits. There's statistics about senior high school portrait being for some people, the only portrait that they'll ever have made of themselves. And for someone to ask to be in a project and to be part of something that is Art, that is about them, can be a very peak moment for them, right? I've photographed one gentleman in Atlanta, who is trans. He had just had his surgery, and I photographed him the whole time. I did not know that he was trans. I did not know that he had had surgery, anything like that, and he had a shirt off, and he's very, very muscular. I didn't see the scars under his chest or anything, and it was at the very end that he said, "You you know am trans." And I said "No, not at all."

He that photograph that I took of him lifting his daughter - his statement was so beautiful, he was so proud of that, it changed a lot for him, he posted it with his groups and they all encouraged him. Hhe was so proud of that, and then it was picked for an article in Germany and he just kept saying, "Oh can I get that magazine?" It just turned a page for him. And there's been other situations young girls who don't think well of themselves, they have an experience in front of the camera and then they feel more empowered to make a statement, and be who they are. So there's a lot of these really beautiful, kind of heroic moments that have happened. I think it's a testament to who we are as people, and that we really can help each other through. And this is just a right that's all it's just art. This is just Art. But you know, without art you wouldn't have the history of mankind.

K: I think all of us who were working on projects that involve engaging other people need to always have it in our minds that like, You're right, we're immersed in images all day, but that's not the case for everyone. And to have someone step into your life, and make a photo of you, whether it's a few minutes or a long collaboration where you've talked and planned, they still have this opportunity to collaborate and make something. People who aren't artists don't get that every day.

B: Yeah, you're right. That could be really transformative to them.

K: Barb, I'm so grateful that you took time to talk. I hope some of these questions were ones that you answered a million other times.

B: No, you didn't ask how the project started. So that's great!

K: No! Everybody and who's reading Confluence should be able to find all of that about you if they don't know it, already.

B: Yes, good!

All photographs are copyrighted by the photographer and used here with permission.

Follow Barb Peacock on IG @Barb.peacock_street

and online at www.barbarapeacock.com

Interview: Barb Peacock (Part One)

I’ve been wanting to chat with Barb Peacock for quite a while - and we’ve traded a few messages on Instagram about it over the last few months, until at last, the stars aligned and we were able to have a wide ranging conversation about family photography, being a mom/business owner/artist, and her own journey through all of that and into both professional prestige and viral fame with her current project, American Bedroom. Here is Part One of our conversation. - Katie

K: Barb, I’m really excited to have this time to talk with you - thank you! Ever since you connected with Confluence over Instagram I’ve wanted to interview you for the readers here. I wonder if you could begin by filling us in on what you were doing before American Bedroom kind of, leapt into the public eye - where do you feel like you “started”?

B: Yes, yeah - so, I've been shooting since the 80s, so of course, I started with film and shot film for a good 20 years and then moved into digital. So I have that kind of perspective. I've also come a long way around because I started as an art and street photographer in art school. I never wanted to be a commercial photographer, and ya know, then to earn a living, I became a commercial lifestyle photographer. I signed with a stock agency and produced stock for many, many years and did a lot of commercial work for companies like Arm & Hammer and Merck Pharmaceutical, and all of that stuff was all lifestyle. Of children, mainly, so I was a real kind of precursor to a lot of what I see happening now with documentary family photography - because I was shooting that stuff like the 80s even. So that approach is embedded in me, it’s what I chose to do when I used to do portrait shoots.

K: Was the documentary aesthetic that you were shooting, your own personal aesthetic, or was someone asking you to produce it?

B: That was me. I tried to steer people away from staring in the camera. I built a whole backyard - with a swing and a natural garden and a fish pond and my whole theory was, let the kids just play. I just let them play. I remember when I used to [do in-person sales] and I used to make these beautiful slide shows to music, and I would show all different aspects of children, color, black and white, I'd show them running away from the camera and walking back toward them camera, not a lot of smiles and all this. And it took a while - I became known as a very expensive photographer who shot the back of children [laughing], but I explained it once to one client like this: the session was two sisters of the beach, kind of holding hands just kind of running through the water. It's a very simple photograph - their hair's blowing in the breeze. The parents really wanted this other one of them staring in the camera. And I said, "You’ve got to jump forward 10 years when these girls are going to be in college and that is going to be a true thing - this moment of their childhood. So now you have captured a moment of childhood rather than just faces that are gonna continuously change. You can get little pictures of their face, how it's changing, but THIS is iconic."

And it took a long time for them to agree, but they agreed and they bought it. So, I saw the father, like, 10 years later in the bank, and he came up to me and he said, "You were so right," he's like, "Oh my God!"

K: Isn't that great? I've had moments with my clients like that, too. Where I photographed their babies and now the kids are six and seven years old. I hear back from them too saying "Thank you so much for getting those photos while we were just giving the baby the bottle, the stuff we didn't think we wanted and now, yeah, that's the most connected to who we really are.” The baby in a blanket on the bed, well, yeah, that's identical to every other baby in a blanket shot.

B: Well, one thing I can suggest on that is for that kind of for portraiture is give them a little bit of what they want, but really front-load it with real moments. Then you reach the emotions of the people - they’d see their photos and be crying.

K: I've always loved when my clients tell me, "You made me cry," I'm like, “Yeah, I have the weirdest job in the world. My goal is to make my clients cry uncontrollably.”

From Home Town, by Barb Peacock

From Home Town, by Barb Peacock

B: Right - that’s when you’ve hit the mark. OK, well, I migrated from that work, as my kids are getting older, and I had more time. The whole time that my kids at home, I’m doing all the commercial work, and some portrait work and all that, but I was still working on photographing my "Home Town" [project]. I was able to compile all that work which started being shot on a 4 x 5 camera, then with a two and a quarter camera, a 35 millimeter film camera, to digital over, like, 30 years.

K: Yeah, I heard you talk about this on The Candid Frame [podcast]. And I was riveted with how you progressed in that project through your own skill-set improving, and through different types of cameras, and how you just adapted over the course of time with what tools you were using.

B: Yeah, I mean, yeah, exactly, we're all resilient, I think, and we all kind of have a path that we think we want.

And then things come up along the way - I was married and I had kids and I just put my energy where it needed to be, which was my children and making money and just to survive and live. And then as things loosen up, my kids got older and more independent and once they were pretty much on their own, I had finished “Home Town” and I started “American Bedroom”, which I had a lot more time to do at that point.

K: I would love to ask you, because I'm a mom of a seven-year-old: during the time you were working on “Home Town”, but then also doing the parenting and the work that you needed to make money, did you ever deal with times of feeling frustrated about your progress in your personal work?

B: Oh yeah, yeah, I absolutely did.

K: Tell me something about that, because I feel like I find myself in that place a lot right now, and I'd love to hear what it was like for you.

B: Yeah, absolutely, and that's something that I really, really can remember. So, 1996 is kind of a key pivotal time for me. I had started my business in 1989, believe it or not, and I started in a strip mall, and I had a little studio behind a frame shop, and I just put out front these natural pictures of kids and fields and black and white pictures, and I got a lot of business. My husband and I bought a house in the same town where I grew up and I had an older son from a previous, well, entanglement, shall we say. And then I got married and I had two kids. So then from 1990 up to '96, I was getting my commercial business going. I was doing well with stock and also some portraits, and then, I was finally in the black! So I was like, "Oh this is amazing!" So I did some upgrades to my studio, and then I was like, "Oh! I can take a course at Maine Photographic Workshops (which is now Maine Media)"

So then - I studied with Mary Ellen Mark.

K: I'm so jealous

B: Haha, yeah. And so I studied with her and I met a woman there who's now of my best friends, then one of her best friends is now another best friend, so like, the three of us are friends for life from that class! But yes, studying with [Mary Ellen Mark], really put me back in contact with my personal work. I started to work harder on Hometown, and then three or four years later, I studied with Eugene Richards. I don't know if you're familiar with him.

K: Oh yes!

From Home Town, by Barb Peacock

From Home Town, by Barb Peacock

B: Okay, then I don't need to say anymore, do I? No you get it? He is totally genius! So studying with him was really incredible... and I was driving home from [Maine Media] and - I'll never forget this - because he showed his work, and we all showed our work. And after the workshop, I am driving home, and I had this moment where I was feeling like, Ok: I have to accept my mediocrity. This is what I'm thinking on my drive home, that there are certain artists in the world that make it because of their artistry, because of their hard work and because they're talented and everything. And I was feeling at that time, I can only ride so high, and this is just me being honest with myself. I held on to that feeling for a long time, and it wasn't until I studied later a year or two later, with Ernesto Bazan, (and then I ended up studying with him three times) that I really, really cranked up the volume. I finally said to myself, "You know what, if you wanna be good, you gotta take better pictures. Just solid, better pictures." I just gave myself that talk. It sounds simple, but it's not simple! You can do the hard work.

K: Yeah, it's not simple, at all. And I think, speaking from my own experience, being in the place of doing that hard work during the time that you also have lots of other obligations and problem-solving of parenting and life to handle - well, it's a challenging mental place to be in.

B: Yeah, it is. I think it is. I think if you can keep a foot in - I think of it as all these things in a circle, the chaos and everything - but if you can keep one foot in, keep your toe wet. I think that's super important. And that's the thing I think I would tell people that are in your position with young children and you're trying to do your thing and you've gotta make money, and there's so many hats to wear: I think that the one thing that we have in common is that we all have passion. So you keep that passion high, whether it's a family portrait or to your own personal work, but you keep that toe in, keep it wet, and then slowly but surely kids get more independent and you make... You have a little bit more money, maybe you can do this or that, or take a trip or take a workshop and you just keep going at it and chipping away at it. I'm not 35. and on my second book, ya know.

K: Same - and that gets to me. The world is so full of those talented 35-year-olds on their second book. I'm 42. I struggle a lot with feeling a decade behind.

It matters — all those moments of child-rearing and working hard and sleepless nights and feeling inadequate, all of that. It all rolls into one, when you finally kinda go: Okay, this is my time, this is what I’m gonna do, and I’m really gonna discover the type of photography that I wanna do on a personal level...

B: Yeah, I wouldn't put much stock into that. I don't think it's important. I always think of Julia Margaret Cameron - because she didn't get a camera until she was 50. Okay, it doesn't matter how old you are, what matters is the quality of your work, it matters the life that you've lived. It matters -- all those moments of child-rearing and working hard and sleepless nights and feeling inadequate, all of that. It all rolls into one, when you finally kinda go: Okay, this is my time, this is what I'm gonna do, and I'm really gonna discover the type of photography that I wanna do on a personal level, It just happens to everyone at a different time. Some people start early, and they burn out and they end up being a musician, or they end up being something else. But it's really hard not to compare yourself, I know. I think we have to always look at it as our own path and know that everything counts, everything that we've done in our life, it all counts.

K: This is really meaningful. I think there are a lot of people like myself who are going to want to hear this. I appreciate that perspective. So wise.

B: Yeah, just... Well, some of this is age. And I look at myself as the underdog. Okay, so I published the book for “Home Town”, I self-published it. I didn't want to do a digital book, so I raised the money, it was really expensive. It was like $22,000 to print 500 books, and I sold them, and I gave some to the town, and I made a little bit of a name for myself with that. I got out there a little bit. And remember I didn't grow up with social media - I did all that without it. Some of us came into that a little bit later. So then, when I had time to start a new project, which was American Bedroom, I started right off the top with putting up some images on Instagram, it was like an overnight hit! I really started gain more followers and then I won the Getty, which was a big deal.

K: Oh god, yes, how did that feel?

B: Oh my God, it was like... Yeah, think about this. Okay, so I'm really a documentary photographer, not a photojournalist, which, probably most of us wanted to be photojournalists. But you really can't be a married woman with children and be a photojournalist. So I know a lot of single women photojournalists that are never going to... well it's crazy, it's a crazy world made of mostly single people because they're traveling all the time.

Anyway, where I was to receive the award was in Perpignan, France, at Visa Pour L'image. It's a big, big, big photojournalism festival. It's happening actually right now, as we're speaking.

K: I know, I'm painfully aware, always, of the festivals I'm missing!

B: Oh my God, yeah. Well, this is a serious freaking serious festival. And so there I am one of the five winners and the other four winners - one other woman, three men - they're all so hard-core photojournalists, and I am the only sort of art documentary photographer, that wins this award. And I felt like, "Oh my God, I am a fish out of water. I shouldn't really have won. I shouldn't really be here." And the weird thing was, my work stood out, it was really crazy, it stood out because it was so different.

K: I can see that! Photojournalists make beautiful and amazing images, but there's a quality to them that's characteristic of photojournalism, and I think that's really different from the more slow-burn documentary work that has to be created over time instead of in short bursts.

B: And, I would say 85% of what's on exhibits at Visa pour l'mage is all conflict photography. t's conflict, it's super serious. And then there's environmental coverage and this other stuff. Then after we gave our talk, I had this German magazine editor come right up to me and say "We really love your work." And more people were pulling me aside, and then the big thing that happened was at a cocktail party, like the next day, one of the representatives from Getty, came over and they said, “The Guardian wants to run an article and they would like to have more than the five images that you give Getty for promotion. They said they would like more than that.” And so, the Guardian ran an article like, the next day.

K: Wow - that had to have just been overwhelming. I mean, the sky opened up!

B: Yeah, it was a little crazy. And then when I got home, the next two weeks, every morning I woke up to a new request for images and an article -- from Germany, from Italy, from Japan, from you name it, what country, every day? And I was doing it all by myself. I have no one to guide me or tell me what to do or anything. So every day, I would just pick up my phone and I'd look at it, and I'd say to my husband,” Okay, well, this one is from... Sweden.”

So what I did was I had all the images that I had taken so far, that were good images, on Pixieset. There were maybe 30 images that I had, and I would just send them the link and say, pick the images you want for your article. So I wasn't giving out the same five images. Then they would interview me - either be a call like this, or it would be questions in an email, and if that just going on for two weeks and then the whole thing kinda went viral. Because what happens is, the companies that call you and legitimately interview you, those interviews go on the internet, and then other sites can just share those. So something like Bored Panda can just pick up what's already been published.

So when Bored Panda picks it up, it got millions of views. That was really weird because, to be honest, people were making very strange comments and that's not really the intended audience. This work is supposed to be on gallery walls and understood as such. So, I never read past like two comments on the boards. It got a little out of control, and people are like, "Oh it's cool, it went viral!" And I'm like, "Well kind of,"

The thing is, it's not a finished piece - it's only like a year and a half in and it's not done.

(Part Two will publish tomorrow!)

All photographs are copyrighted by the photographer and used here with permission.

Follow Barb Peacock on IG @Barb.peacock_street

and online at www.barbarapeacock.com

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