15 Questions With… Ward Long

How are you at the moment?

I’m good! I had a slip down some stairs a few months ago, and I tweaked a couple of the nerves in my right arm. It was pretty painful at first, but I’m a little bit better every day.

What is your morning ritual? How does your day begin?

I turn on the kettle and start to journal while the water boils. It’s somewhere between a diary and automatic writing, and it helps me clear my head. If it’s a good day, I meditate for 15-20 minutes after that.

What, right now, can you see?

There’s a window above my monitor, with a plastic box of tacks on the sill. On the front, there’s a scrap of lined school book paper. It reads: “I want to go back to the colorful house. I want to continue the adventure.” I found it in the basement one day. I took it as a talisman. To my left I’ve got a few postcards from friends and a hand painted copy of Sister Corita’s ten rules.

What artist, project, book would you recommend we see/follow?

I recommend the poems of Mary Ruefle for any occasion, and Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson when you have a few hours free and feel like getting a little devastated. I just snagged a copy of Kerry James Marshall’s Mastry, and it’s world-stopping. My friends Mimi Plumb and Carolyn Drake both put out excellent books this past year. Killer of Sheep and Daisies were the best movies I saw in quarantine.

Tell us about your process when starting a new project

I start shooting before I know what I’m seeing. I write, daydream, draw, get bored and order a bunch of books from the library. It comes together as I make work prints, paste them into notebooks, mock up layouts, and hang things on the wall. I usually have a few things going at once to keep anxiety and expectations in check. I love writing lists of titles and dreaming up wild books, but I try not to get ahead of myself.

What has been your favourite collaboration?

Lone Doe Oracle was a collaboration with my partner Annie Danis. We took a stack of my small work prints, shuffled them, and turned them into a tarot deck. We made a guide book and gave the cards names: Six Palms, The Ascension, The Plume, The Harvest, Headlights, Fallen Fridge, Moon, Tarps, etc. Each reading was like a real-time photobook, made just for you, in this very moment, never to be repeated. Symbols and signs tumbled out of the deck and told people about their secrets, their divorces, and their futures.

What is your greatest achievement?

On his deathbed, as Saul Bellow faded in and out of consciousness, he suddenly opened his eyes, turned to a friend, and asked: “Was I a man or was I a jerk?”

I’m very proud of my artwork, but I think the real test is how you treat people in your life and on this world. So I’m working on the lifelong project of not being a jerk.

What is your greatest regret?

I think a lot about regret. It took me a while to find my voice as an artist. I spent a lot of time frustrated with my slow progress, wanting to be someone and somewhere that I wasn’t. I wish I could give myself that time back. Then again, would I be here if not for those years?

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I wish I could tell my younger self to take it easy. I worried a lot about things that I wasn’t doing, things that I couldn’t do, and all that I hadn’t accomplished. It’s OK! You’ll become yourself in the end, and it’s all lighter than you think.

What is your latest project about?

A few months ago I published my first book Summer Sublet with the fine folks at Deadbeat Club. Shot in a cluttered communal house in Oakland, the book is about female friendship, furniture found on the street, and the glow and fade of youth.

When I lost my lease, I moved in with Alice, Hannah, Sarah, Bianca, and Kate. At first I hid in my room and tried not to be noticed. I never had sisters. Everything overwhelmed. They cooked together, mixed teas and tinctures, dyed fabrics in the backyard, designed costumes for children’s plays, wrote poems, gave each other late-night tattoos. They read tarot, talked aura, charted horoscopes, and parked their dirt bikes in the basement. The everyday physical and emotional closeness completely flooded me. I couldn’t believe the caring touches, the open hearts, the blushes of affection, the care and the clutter. I never wanted to move out.

What are you researching at the moment?

Right now I’m reading about the 72 season Japanese calendar, the culture of violence in the American South, the mid-century mystical approach to architecture, the exceedingly messy love lives of early anthropologists, and my own family history.

What can you not work without?

I wanted to say something funny like Topo Chico or matcha powder, but the truth is friendship.

What challenges have you faced working in your industry?

Making a living and protecting your time. Being patient. Making friends with your doubts.

What are you hoping for in 2021?

Getting the vaccine, seeing my parents, and making portraits again.

Share a song with us, what are you listening to at the moment?

People Take Pictures of Each Other – The Kinks

Summer Sublet, published by Deadbeat Club, is available to purchase here.