Life is full of mishaps, missed chances and life-changing moments. More often than not we cannot fully comprehend the powerful impact of a moment’s choice until after that time has passed. As philosophers tend to do, Soren Kierkegaard noted: “Life can only be understood backwards; but must be lived forward.” Throughout our lives people come and go, always affecting us in both minor and or major ways.
One such serendipitous meetings occurred for local photographers Horace Long and Kelly Starbuck. They met in a world’s religion class at New Hanover High School. Hanging out during their formative teens, the two did not reconnect until years later, thanks to social media.
After meeting up again, Starbuck and Long realized their lives had, unbeknownst to them, taken very similar paths. A little older, Long moved to New York after graduating from high school to attend the Pratt Institute. An initial spark in photography during his 15th Christmas led him to receive his BFA in the art form.
“Up until that point I wanted to be an actor,” Long recollects. “I took acting classes and was involved in theater,”
But his Hollywood destiny was quickly altered after he got a part as an extra on the Wilmington filmed “Firestarter.” “I was able to see the entire film process, how movies were made, what people did and I thought it was the most boring thing,” Long admits. Yet, that fated Christmas he received a camera as a gift and became completely enraptured with capturing the world through a lens.
Years later, Long’s nomadic intrigue has moved him from Portland to Los Angeles to Savannah to South Korea to New York. Now back in Wilmington, he is preparing for his inaugural exhibition at S.A.L.T. Studio, the gallery he and Starbuck jointly opened. The first exhibit, titled “Reposing Sentiment,” will feature work from a series Long began in the early Aughts, while working as an English teacher in South Korea.
“When I first moved there, I didn’t speak the language,” he says. “I didn’t know anyone right away so I just started taking pictures. I also began to be really introspective and became interested in the idea of memory.”
He wandered about, began shooting life scenes and fitting them together like puzzle pieces. The sense of truthfulness he captured became a dichotomy of personal memories made anew, and comprised a variety of past experiences, tradition and folklore. “By layering these images over one another, I can recall a memory that’s lost or create a new one,” he explains.
In “Reposing Sentiment,” one of Long’s photographs, featuring a traditionally dressed Asian geisha, feels like a buried remnant of an ancestor, indicative of a long-lost time frame. With an unknown identity, the sentimentality and associations of a nostalgic visual culture emanate effortlessly. Long’s interest in folklore and memory surmise something historical and ancestral.
Having worked with major magazines, celebrities, musicians, theatres, movies and television, Long returned home to Wilmington to be closer to family—at the urging of his old friend, Kelly Starbuck. Starbuck had been living in New York as well for 14 years and decided to return to the Southeast to be close to family. Plus, she missed the salt air from the beach. Much like Long, Starbuck’s interest in photography developed at a young age upon receiving a Polaroid camera as a Christmas gift. “I went through two packs of film before lunch time,” she laughs.
Thereafter, she would save her money to buy film and take pictures of anything and everything. After graduating from high school, she attended business school and worked in the PR world in New York. After some time though, she decided to pursue her true passion as a visual artist and began working as a professional photographer in New York.
Upon reconvening with Long, they decided to combine their metropolitan styles and showcase photography as a high art form with S.A.L.T. Studios. Each had a great deal of experience to draw from, including their travels to Asia, their education in photography, not to mention working in the same industry, and at one point in New York, literally living blocks from each other.
Per S.A.L.T.’s debut, Starbuck will be exhibiting work inspired by the ideas of home, family and memories, entitled “Family Shrine.” According to Starbuck, her work relates to the idea of “special places in our homes where we keep our personal collection of photos and portraits.” Much like Long’s “Reposting Sentiment,” Starbuck’s work also relies on memories—of loved ones here or long gone.
Most of the photos, taken at her aunt’s home, are an observation about and connection to imagery of the private places where we express ourselves and preserve our memories. Starbuck says the two formal childhood portraits match the formal arrangement of a living room. The portraits of the two children are included in a space where the family gathers.
S.A.L.T. Studio is available for rentals and the gallery space will feature national as well as local fine art photography.
Featuring the photography of Kelly Starbuck and Horace Long
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
805 North 4th St. • (910) 367-5720