Sinjun Strom: Hot Momma

How do I start here? When I was a kid, I used to collect old photographs and I thought they were beautiful.

I didn’t understand how they were made or why there were so many kinds that looked so different. They all had this character to them, partially because of age, but I could tell the processes were different. I just didn’t understand it because I didn’t know anything about photography. I was in 7th grade. I have an uncle, a photographer, he keeps it for himself. He’s like a super tech nerd. I asked him why these photos look this way. What are these processes? He started explaining it to me. Photography was never interesting to me because it seemed so separated from yourself. It’s not very hands-on. But then when he started explaining these things to me, photography could be more exciting because I could be more connected to my work.

My dad gave me his old Pentax camera. Whenever I got money from chores, I spent it on film. I kept detailed notes of what my settings were and kept track of how things were working. I just got so addicted.

I realized when I’m shooting film, I’m thinking more. I’m spending so much time on each photo, I do feel more connected to my work. And it looks better! When you get a negative back. Dude. When I shot my first large format and I got my negative back it was the dreamiest thing I’d ever seen. It’s moments like that when you love photography.

Growing up, my stepmom, she literally she does everything. When I say everything I can’t even explain it. She knits, she sews, she crochets. She can paint with whatever medium she wants. She can draw with whatever she wants. She can draw realistic portraits with frickin basic colored pencils. It’s insane. She’s so talented. Anytime she has any kind of idea she’ll just be like “How can I do that?” And to know how she just looks it up! She makes it look so easy.

Just by accident, I didn’t really think about it at the time, but having that positivity in my house where she was like, “I can do anything,” put the idea in my head that there is no reason anything should stop me.

Anytime I had an idea, I had the power of the internet or I could just go to the library and look shit up. I could teach myself how to do things. I don’t know, if you just have an attitude where you can teach yourself it shouldn’t be an issue.

Again, we have access to so much information, there’s no excuse.

I would go to school with people and in critique people would be like, “What happened?” With their photos and stuff and they would be like, “Oh, I just didn’t have the right makeup artist, or the right stylist,” or whatever. It’s your photo, take control. If you’re not happy with a part of it … then you can fix it. How hard is it?

People just get defeated so fast. It’s more of an attitude than a skill set.

People used to ask me in school, “What are you inspired by? How do you come up with these things?” It’s hard.

I’ve always just been an observant person. Since I was a kid. I take in all these things from my life. One things that is important, I don’t look at photography. I noticed I was absorbing all this stuff because I was looking at too many photos. It was getting into my subconscious and I was accidentally reproducing things I’d already seen. So I stopped looking at photography.

I was always into films. That’s where I get the most inspiration as far creating a character and a situation rather than thinking about the photograph. If that makes sense. I’m concerned about the story behind it, the people behind it. It’s not ever something I voice to the people I’m shooting. I’ll give them a tip-off to get them in the zone. If you give them a whole story they might get overwhelmed.

The other day I was shooting and I was just like, “You’re Missy Elliot today. Think about that. You’re a strong woman.” She was like, “Gotchu.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

I can’t even help it, I’m absorbing all the time. I always have my notebook. If I see something I like, even personal style on the street, I’m always taking that stuff in in. I’m always photographing. Constantly. I’ve just been noticing this stuff about myself. I have all these photos on my phone of bathrooms. I love bathrooms. So crazy. I don’t know why people decided to get so wild with bathrooms.

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I’ve always been very independent and resourceful. If I had problems, my parents were always like “eh, figure it out,  you’re smart.” Not that they weren’t helpful. My dad and stepmom were good with advice, but they treated me like an adult.

When I got the idea in my head to move here, it wasn’t a problem of doing it. It was the time I had. I only had three months to get my shit together.

I got in [to the School of Visual Arts]. As soon as I found out I got in I had to figure it out.

I literally worked doubles six days a week. I was eating ramen and peanut butter sandwiches everyday. Then to treat myself, like once a week, I would get tuna and make myself a tuna sandwich. I was putting all my money in bank account. I did not spend a dime that summer.

Basically, I moved here with my ex-boyfriend and he had a cat. He wouldn’t get rid of the cat. Trying to find an apartment over the internet when you have a cat and a boyfriend – people don’t have time to meet. People were sketched out. They didn’t want to deal with me. We finally found this sketchy ass sublet. Literally I was driving here and it was confirmed while I was driving.

If you have this mindset where things are going to workout they usually do. Stay positive. Thankfully my boyfriend was down. We didn’t really have a place to live, but we were going to figure it out.

That transition sucked. Those first three months were awful. Ughhhhh, but I did it. And now I’m here.

I was walking in the city at night, actually getting to enjoy it instead of going somewhere. It’s days like those where you get to really see things. I moved myself here. It’s still weird that I live here. From afar it seems like this really intense thing. It’s not that hard, but you have to want it.

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Hot Momma? Oh, yea. I thrifted a lot of stuff. But then the raincoats, I painted all that stuff. Obviously I didn’t make the umbrellas. If I had the time I would have because I love making stuff, but studio was stupid hectic. Certain shoes I painted, if I ever needed a specific accent color I would just make it. There’s this photo of my grandma where she is in a room surrounded by floral curtains, it’s orange and blue, all of the fabric- like 30 yards- all of that fabric I hand-printed flowers on. Because I was too poor to afford real floral fabric. So I bought a dollar-a-yard fabric and I painted it.

At the base of all of my fashion work…when I was younger, I never felt that I was represented by fashion photography. I was always curvier. I would never see Latin women. They are never represented. It put ideas in my head about my body type, but I learned very quickly I’m fine with who I am. Whatever. That just made me think about how my work is going to impact others. I would like to create positive images for people to relate to.

I’ve always wanted to make a body of work with older women. Because my mom was just like a train-wreck, I was forced to grow up really fast. I was really mature for my age. Even when I was in first grade, I remember my stepmom always telling me to hangout with people my own age. Deadass I only hung out with old people. I loved it. I always connected with people that way.

I thrifted a lot and went to antique stores in middle school and I would get to know all the older women who ran the shops and became friends with them. These women are older, they have so much to say. They taught me so much about life. So much life! They’ve lived so much! To me, that personality and that experience and that they were so comfortable with themselves was so beautiful.

The confidence. But even in their confidence they would say these things that suggested they were too old for this or could never wear that. But I would look at them and say, “You’re so beautiful. What even?”

It felt important. It felt like something on another level that I’d never thought about before. So I spent time on it. Over two years, I had ideas and I just kept track. I’m glad I did because I forgot about some of them. Like the one with the wigs, I had completely forgot about that idea and when I read it I was like “Sick! I’m so glad I wrote this down.”

Always, I keep a ton of notebooks. I just don’t have time for all the ideas I have. I keep track of them and try to work through them as much as I can. 

I’m a really nice person from Minnesota.

I am really intense when I want to be. It’s good to be assertive and voice your wants and needs in a job position. But at the end of the day, when you’re nice people start to care about you and look out for you and contact you about jobs.

Kill them with kindness. I’m that bitch. I don’t even care.

I used to think the only way to show your work was through galleries, but they always weirded me out. Fuck galleries, they make me so uncomfortable. White walls, white people. Everyone talking about how great they are and I’m just trying to drink my wine. Slam that wine and bounce!

My dad and his wife are both amazing painters and they would bring their work to galleries in Minnesota, but they were judged because they are covered in tattoos. They are so talented. That put me off, galleries are whack they are not as accepting as I thought they were.

Growing up in the Latin side of my family, when you host something you make that person feel comfortable. Every time I go to a gallery I feel like they are inviting you there, but also not making you feel welcome. What do you want from me?

Even for my thesis I did it in my backyard. I wanted it to feel like people were coming into my home. I’m excited! I wanted everyone to be excited with me. Again, I had no money, but I bought so much wine because I just wanted people to have fun. I’ve had offers to show in galleries and I don’t want to.

That’s how I’m thinking now. If I were to show it, it would be in a more DIY setting. Not because I think it’s cool, but just because I think it’s more inviting. That’s all I want. DIY spaces can be pretentious in another way. I just want to show my work in a space that is comfortable.

I don’t ever want anyone to feel uncomfortable when they go to look at my work.

Mad Penny in conversation with Sinjun Strom