Columns » A Photo Life

Earl Standerford explores his identity with a passion for photography


  • Earl Standerford
Every year, Colorado Springs photographer Earl Standerford returns to Okinawa, Japan where he grew up, taking pictures of a place he once knew well and is now estranged from. It's part of a book project on the presence of outsiders (the American bases there) and the nature of his own Japanese-American identity. Standerford’s mother is Japanese and his father is American.

“When I’m [in Okinawa] I get recognized as an American or a white guy, but every time I come back here I feel the opposite. People don’t know what I am," Standerford says. "This kind of loss of identity is what I’m trying address in my work."

The 28-year-old's striking portraits on Instagram is what first caught my attention. He offers a compelling vision where identity is questioned at every turn. In his ethereal and subtle conceptual portraits — mostly of friends — there’s a sense of something missing, though, you can’t quite put your finger on it. In his work from Okinawa, there's a feeling of estrangement in a place that one is quite familiar with.

Standerford also offers a fresh view of the world through his work and exploring his own identity — a new interpretation of something few have experienced themselves.
He’s also a professional musician, drummer, and has toured the country. He likens his current band, Autumn Creatures, to a kind of instrumental rock.

Standerford is part of a growing wave of young, super-talented, self-taught photographers who found inspiration on photo sites like Flickr.

“I found Flickr and got to see all of the different [photography] styles. I decided I like portraiture and asked a friend to [model]. It just started from there,” he says.

Standerford shoots exclusively with film.

“I had a digital camera once. It came with a floppy disk,” he laughs. “But someone gave me this old Canon film camera and that’s how I really started. I like how I get imperfect pictures. When I got prints made, I would look over the pictures and I would be astonished.”

He began getting serious about his work two years ago after the band he was playing with at the time broke up and he moved to Colorado Springs.

“I leaned more into photography because it was kind of the only hobby I could do at the time,” he says. “I know how hard it is [to make a living with photography] and I’m not even going to try. For me, it’s more about enjoyment. If I try to pay my bills with it I’ll probably lose my creativity real quick,” he says.

Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout

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