Roe Ethridge’s Forgotten Neighbors

Unravelling the Gravitational Pull of People, Art, and Commerce with the New York Photographer

  • Text: Zoma Crum-Tesfa
  • Images/Photos Courtesy Of: Mack

Artist and photographer Roe Ethridge shows that it is possible to find a place for oneself somewhere within the increasingly specialized roles offered by modernity. Coming to prominence in the last two decades, Ethridge has made a name for himself by flipping what we once thought was the curse of identity-meets-commercial culture into fertile ground for new meaning. “If I had a great idea, often times it would look worse and worse next to the world,” says Roe Ethridge, "The way things juxtaposed created this meaning for me that was better.” His excursions are documented not just in his work as a fashion photographer, but also as an artist creating exhibitions and books. His newest book Neighbors features loose configurations of new and previously circulated images, roving from family trips at the beach to Pamela Anderson eating grapes to pastoral barnyard animals. Organized around the looming and romantic presence of the moon, the book is a means for examining the colliding gravitational pulls of ourselves, our home, and our forgotten neighbors.


“For about 15 years, I was working in what I call a fugal mode,” Roe Ethridge says about his time as a fashion photographer. In a fugue state, after a period of amnestic wandering one often comes back to consciousness somewhere far away from where they started. Dissociated from a previous identity, symbols, and languages, one has room to develop new languages and harmonies. This is the freedom of deconstruction.


During the hot summer of 2015, before the making of Neighbors, Ethridge began growing his beard out. He didn't know why. He was experiencing an episode of photographer’s block and began shooting pictures of weeds because he thought they would ground him. “I thought what’s close at hand? And these damn weeds, they are everywhere and so energetic.” His beard was a nod to Walt Whitman, his disguise. And his son was disguised as a golden dragon.


“In some ways, in every portrait the figure has some sort of mask. Some way to distance you from them, and not tell you their personal story. Is this a formal image? Or is this telling you something?”


“If I’m jealous of anything,” Roe Ethridge says, "It’s TV.” There is a misconception that the moon rotates around the Earth, and the Earth around the sun. But actually all bodies are propelled around common centers of mass. What happens when you pull them apart? The center of mass between the moon and Earth lies 1000 miles beneath the Earth’s surface. This centrifugal force is responsible for the water’s polarity, tides, and the turbulence in our atmosphere. Often including props, light stands, and other tools of photographic illusion, Roe Ethridge’s pictures often focus on what happens when you dismantle the slick, the glossy, the smile. If all good photos have already been taken, then why not focus on the forces that pull them apart?


First exhibited as part of the “Double Bill” series and then appearing in Gentlewoman, this photograph features a fashion object mixed into the ephemera of studio life. Ethridge himself describes it as an ode to his prop guy, Andy Harmon. With its eclectic mixture of objects, it shows how well-suited the contemporary language of photography is at baking everything into a pizza. In another Chanel still life, Ethridge pictured the packaging of a No. 5 Perfume bottle with a live yellow-jacket perched on top of it.


We do not normally think of photography as a performance genre. Yet it is probably the closest thing we have to ritual in our youth and consumer cultures. Could it be said that selfies, middle fingers in the air, grouptags, and foodporn actually represent our own rites of passage? And are we caught in this passage? Do we stand between two doors, one that led us to this period and another one that leads us out?


The nature of this passage that we are currently in—and the cosmology that links one image to the next—is a source of confusion that is present in the photographs of Roe Ethridge. However, by re-ordering his works, Ethridge points to an image’s original role. Whether it is a picture of a goat or the logo of a UPS truck, photographs can guide us to what is happening, what we are doing, and what is possible.

  • Text: Zoma Crum-Tesfa
  • Images/Photos Courtesy Of: Mack