orn in Reno, Nevada, Just Loomis grew up surrounded by the archetypes of the American West. He began his career as a fashion photographer in 1975, which soon took him to Milan and New York. His personal work—soul-searing portraits of young Americans, seemingly adrift in time––collected over three decades, but demonstrating an amazingly consistent vision, is published for the first time this month in As We Are from Hatje Cantz
. We caught up with Loomis to talk about fashion, youth and waitresses.
The work in As We Are spans three decades, but all of the images have a sense of nostalgia, even those from the late 2000s. Is that intentional?
It’s just something that’s inside me. So much of my work is inspired by my experience as a child. And the longing that comes from remembering all of these things from my childhood. I always shy away form that word “nostalgia,” because it has this soft and fuzzy niceness around it, whereas my images are usually sharp and clean memories of individuals.
Do you deliberately choose subjects that are less touched by time? The waitresses, for example, could be from any decade.
I pick things in which I feel people are emotionally adrift or out of place—it’s an uncomfortableness, in a way. I have a connection with each person and what they’re doing.
Waitresses have something of a symbolic meaning in Hollywood—there are so many movies where the waitress is a downtrodden yet heroic figure.
I think that’s interesting, but the original thing with waitresses to me was that people don’t really study them—they overlook them. I know that’s a common subject in photography—you know the marginalized, the disenfranchised—but I worked for Helmut Newton, I was in fashion photography. There’s always something about the girl and how she’s dressed. One of the girls I photographed, Mel, the look on her face just says it all to me—she’s caught in the headlights. That’s the thing about a camera––when you approach someone very calmly and naively, they’re so taken aback you’re going to give them this attention, they’re just stripped down. And that’s what I find interesting.
It’s different from working in fashion, where you’re photographing a subject who is waiting, and posing.
Maybe. I struggle so much to get away from all the fashion, but it’s always there.
We have to ask about your name...
My father’s side was Danish—it’s actually a Danish name, pronounced “Joost.” But also, my father was an attorney in Nevada and the idea of “justice” came into it as well. People mostly just say “Just,” or, you know, “Just once,” or “Just a minute,” or simply “Loomis”—like I don’t have a first name!