Sara Jane Boyers is a photographer with a journalistic streak that dances with her prevailing love of nuance and ambiguity. She is drawn to years-long series documenting locations — especially around American cities from downtown to Detroit to the Chinatowns in cities all over the country — that strike her as theatrical in their aesthetic presentation of our diverse cultural stories. Lately, this idea became more concrete, as during the pandemic she began documenting shuttered Los Angeles theaters which were illuminated by the traditional “ghost lights” that provided inspiration in both haunting, emotional settings and ideal metaphors for the times. This project is currently the basis for an online fundraiser in support of those theaters Boyers photographed.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
SARA JANE BOYERS: My father owned commercial photo labs in DTLA close to Angels Flight. I would visit, slide through the heavy blackout curtains to the large velox machines and the darkrooms. There was magic there as images slowly revealed themselves in the developer, shifting from translucence to a reality of sorts. I then knew there were layers upon truths that I too wanted to reveal.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
I am interested in places that, even when seemingly vacant, are like stages, set for stories to be told and thus replete with questions and considerations about us. The space unveils the tale. Primarily I search the American story: who we are and why we matter. I like it to be vague, inspiring others to explore and question as well.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
Been there. Done that! For several decades I wandered through the music & publishing industries in several roles. I’ve written, created and published books about art, poetry and politics. I’ve photographed. I love to paint, draw and play with graphic design but I don’t want to leave the camera… so it’s still being an artist. Soon I’d like to combine it all — or get more organized, which may be the same thing.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
My family was not supportive of my becoming a professional artist so, yes and no. I started UC Berkeley carrying my dad’s Rollei but majoring in poli-sci, but was dragged home when the Free Speech Movement exploded — in the long run a good move as the L.A. art scene was truly alive in the mid-60’s, with Ferus Gallery, Dwan Gallery, Light & Space and Rauschenberg and John Cage roller-dancing in Culver City. I switched to Art History at UCLA, spending days and nights in the art department darkrooms. Frankly, my deeper art involvement continued into law school where all I did was visit galleries instead of studying although I fell in love with intellectual property and wrote a major paper on artist rights that was nationally awarded and published.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I’ve almost always lived in L.A. I did not intend to but I am inspired by its architecture, history and constantly shifting diversity, whether or not it shows in my work. I am emotionally tied to the abstract quality of the coastal marine layer. That said, I traveled extensively during my music and publishing days; then again for my long-term photo projects so my sense of place and time expanded over the years to keep me aware and challenged.
When was your first show?
Twenty+ years ago when I finally was able to do what I had always wanted, I had a two-person show on my in-progress Finding Chinatown project in Santa Monica at Rumba Art & Design, and it would later be exhibited at Craig Krull Gallery.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
Right before everything shut down: A large exhibition in Shenyang Province PRC for the Third International Exhibition of Industrial Photography, an experience I treasure. Presently I am working on a project based upon my pandemic work, The Ghostlight Project, where I photographed live performance stages standing vacant, dark and illuminated solely by a ghost light, and which is presently available as a book and up online on my website supporting a fundraiser for the theaters I photographed.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
Absolutely! 20 years in the music industry!! I am totally eclectic from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion to the Moody Blues, Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Kanye West, to “High Above the Water” — written and performed by Kathryn Bostic for the Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am film soundtrack, John Adams and Phillip Glass. And David Byrne sends a monthly playlist and I always explore.
Website and social media handles, please!