Documenting places and roasting people where necessary: meet photographer Sean Bradley
On his search for uncomfortable stories, the LA-based photographer has captured the likes of Louisiana Mudfest and the most recent Trump rally.
- Ayla Angelos
- 26 March 2020
Growing up in Houston, Sean Bradley found the city, “for better or worse”, to be of great influence. “Houston is reflected in all of my photography and film work,” he tells It’s Nice That.
Sean’s interest in photography stems from his obsession with the film Rushmore – which was filmed in Houston – where he had found himself wanting to become the protagonist Max Fischer, “just trying to make weird art and feeling like a punk in my suburban life.” Resultantly, he would create horror films with his friends in middle school on their Sony Camcorders – “my dad gave me my first Nikon as a teenager and I was hooked on documenting the world around me.” Thus finding inspiration in the changing and contradictory nature of the city, the fleeting scenes, busy streets and constantly changing skyline soon because his subject, this prepared him for a move to California eight years ago where he started working professionally in the photography and film industries.
In a nutshell, Sean likes to think of himself as a photojournalist with a “studio photographer’s eye”. He strives to locate those “familiar sentiments in unfamiliar places”, and you can usually find him “throwing” himself into crazy situations – this can be anything from political rallies, fringe festivals or sporting events – in order to make sense of it all. “It’s a fine balance of creating space between myself, the subject matter at hand and integrating myself into the fold,” he says. A fine craft indeed, finding that sweet spot between acceptance and camouflage, but when done well it can produce the finest of compositions.
GallerySean Bradley: Truck Nuts
With Louis Theroux, Werner Herzog and Louis Malle as his main points of inspiration, he continues to explain how it’s the “multi-disciplinarians” that he turns to for reference – particularly those who are known for documentary filmmaking. “They dive right into uncomfortable stories, interviews and places,” he says. “They do it with grit and grace. I also love how they unearth humanity through their work; they’re all fantastic.” Additionally, he cites photographers Thomas Prior and Mark Mahaney are two further motivations, because of the fact that “every image” that the make “blows [him] away”. Sean adds: “I think about Larry Sultan’s work a lot, and the way that he creates these surreal documentary pieces with so much heart and wonder.”
This search for uncomfortable stories is imperative throughout the photographer’s work. Sean will begin his daily forage early, reading fiction on the regular and actively using his camera – which has “nurtured this sort of muscle memory” in him that allows him to bring an idea into fruition. In a similar vein, he tends to work on design projects to keep himself engaged and creatively evolving, “I’m that dude who makes a poster for the Wednesday night dinner with friends” – this, plus the fact that he has to complete a brief as soon as he can, is hard evidence for his passion and drive for making and finishing work.
Recent times have been Sean finish up a series called Truck Nuts, a photographic documentation of a “muddin’ festival” in Colfax, Louisiana, called Louisiana Mudfest. Run by a group called Trucks Gone Wild, Sean tells us how it’s as “insane as it sounds”, and that it’s an intriguing look at southern culture. At this event, you’ll stumble across lots of “confederate flags”, plus “white college kids intermingling with black families” – he calls it a setting of contradiction and absurdity, “yet everyone is seemingly enjoying the fact that they are covered in mud and dirt.” One of his most memorable images sees a mud-covered boy on a four-wheeler, which confirms as such. “I was probably five or six Bud Heavys deep into shooting this festival when I decided to follow the boy in the image around for a while,” he says. “I love the way this photo came out, it’s like a still life painting – this white southerner covered in mud. He is a moment of serenity in a place that is a total and utter shit show.”
Additionally, Sean also attended the most recent Trump rally. Snapshot in style and precariously coloured, it’s no doubt an entertaining project that documents the attendees of such an event. Both the rally and Truck Nuts are consistently observant to the photographer’s surroundings, and both fit the bracket of how he sees his photography projects as “adventures”. He adds: “I think the role of photography is to excite and provide insight and to world build,” he concludes. “As a cis-gender white male, I really do see it as a responsibility of mine to document places and experiences where others would be less welcome. It’s about showing a different side while creating a dialogue and reserving judgement – and roasting some people when necessary.”
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.