Indiana Photographers, Coming Home

Note from the Editor: I moved to Indianapolis 6 years ago from the NYC area. In my time here I’ve noticed that Indy natives often speak wistfully about leaving, and there is a common perception that moving away is always moving up. As an expatriate to Indy who has lived in a lot of places around the world, I find that attitude fascinating–because in my view there are so many valuable things to love about Indianapolis that are missing in the shinier corners of the world. In this issue I wanted to feature the work of photographers who had moved away from Indy for a time, but then returned and are elevating the scene here with their craft. -Nasreen Khan, Art Editor

Ted Somerville

Hi, I am Ted, an event, editorial, and portrait photographer based in Indianapolis.

My work has been featured in The Atlantic online, National Geographic YourShot, Red Bull Music Academy, and I often contribute to local publications such as Indianapolis Monthly, IndyStar, and Nuvo Newsweekly. My clients include The Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis, Future Farmers of America, and Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, among many others.

I am most passionate about portraying the humanity, energy, and emotion in the people I capture with my lens. With over 10 years of professional experience covering a wide array of events, you can count on me to deliver photos that make you proud of your event and preserve your invaluable memories.

Interview by Nasreen Khan

NK-Tell us a little about yourself, your connection to Indiana and your start in Photography. Why did this medium draw you?

TS-I grew up in Indy and have lived here most of my life. I got my professional start in 2008 working for the Indiana Daily Student newspaper while studying at IU.

I’ve always loved photography because my family was into it. My aunt is a big genealogy nerd and has daguerrotypes of our ancestors going back to the 1850s or so. My uncle was a talented photojournalist in Tennessee who did portrait sessions with figures like Dolly Parton and Rosa Parks, so I always looked up to him too. Access is a pretty major benefit. I have met some of my music heroes and great artists on the rise thanks to being a photographer. It’s also nice to have a body of work that will hopefully outlive me and provide a look into a different era. 

NK-Can you share a little about your photography practice? What are subjects/techniques/ formats that attract you? What does a typical session of shooting look like for you? What do you admire in other photographers’ work?

TS-Event photography is my bread and butter these days, which I enjoy, but my favorite areas have always been portraits and street photography. Starting out in photojournalism is great because it puts you in a lot of different settings and situations, which makes you more versatile and gives you an editor to critique your work. 

I’m always on the lookout for people with an interesting style. I’ll even approach strangers at the grocery store and airport, so I’m pretty shameless. When making a portrait with a stranger I’ve just met, for me framing & composition come first- I have to be able to isolate the person against a simple background without distracting elements or find a nice frame that complements them. Then I might do some basic directing to get the right angle, pose, and lighting.

What I admire in other photographers’ work is their timing or level of creativity. I often think “Holy smokes, how in the world did they pull off that moment / achieve such a beautiful aesthetic?” I look up to several legends of fashion and photojournalism who have their own signature style. It’s very hard to get to the point of having your own unique look. To name a handful of photographers whose work really blows my mind: Philippe Halsman, Mary Ellen Mark, Ryan McGinley, Txema Yeste, and Nadia Lee Cohen.

NK-When you left Indianapolis where did you go? Why did you go there, why did you choose to return? and how did moving away change your artistic practice?

TS-Rio de Janeiro. I had always liked Spanish class since elementary school, and then I got pretty obsessed with Brazilian music in high school, so I majored in Spanish and Portuguese at IU. I was fortunate to spend my junior year of college studying in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires for a semester each. I chose those two cities because they seemed like the cultural heart of their countries, and that I would be motivated to learn the languages and practice photography there. They absolutely lived up to my expectation and are amazing cities.

A few years after graduating I moved back to Rio for another couple of years (2014-16). I taught English and did freelance photo work for that time. I shot as much street and beach photography as I could. Heaven for me might as well be swimming amongst surfers and beachgoers with a waterproof point-and-shoot camera at sunset. I’ve covered Carnaval six times over the years documenting Rio’s famous samba schools and blocos.

I returned to Indy because unfortunately Brazil’s economy was falling apart, and I was not dedicated enough at the admin side of photography. Reality hit, and I realized I’d be better off making a living in Indy and visiting Brazil when I could. 

I wouldn’t say living abroad changed my artistic or technical approach to my photography in any drastic way, but I made some mistakes that were good learning experience for the business side of it. Also, being removed from Indiana for a longer period definitely made me appreciate some things about home. When you come back here after being in much bigger cities your perception of time and space really hit you. It’s definitely way quieter, calmer, more spacious and smells like fresh cut grass in the summer here. I do miss the chaos, noise, and energy of big cities sometimes.

NK-We would love to hear about your two photography submissions. Tell us in words the story told by your photograph, or the story behind it. 

TS-I took the first photo the night before I flew to Rio for the first time in 2009. To me it represents the beauty of high summer in Indiana. I was at Lake Maxinhall, a small lake nestled between Keystone & Allisonville Rd, and I saw this glorious moon pop on the horizon unexpectedly. Orange is my favorite color, especially contrasted against blue or purple. I think of the nostalgic sound of the train heading to the State Fair passing by, the smell of Indiana after a rain, cicadas, and lightning bugs. 

TS-The second photo is called ‘The Hair Train’. For a few years I was a Spanish teacher, music history teacher, and school photographer for a small school in Indy called Building Blocks Academy. I took this photo shortly after I returned home from Rio and rejoined as a teacher there. During summer school recess the girls would often do a group hair styling session that they called The Hair Train. This is one of my favorite photos because they were great kids to work with- I still remember all of their names and unique personalities- and because the photo has a strong sense togetherness and friendship, almost sisterhood. Full disclosure, I did direct the girls a little on where to stand in order for the photo to be more compositionally pleasing, so it is not an entirely candid moment.

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