Trent Lesikar is a photographer born and raised in Texas and living in Austin. He photographs the complex social landscape of the state for a project titled, "The Shape of Texas." He graduated from the University of Texas in December of 2011 with a Bachelor of Journalism degree. His work has been featured by The New Yorker, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, USA Today, The Denver Post, The Sacramento Bee, The Miami Herald, MSNBC, The Atlantic, Pitchfork, and others.
DRP: Hello Trent! Tell me where you are and what kind of photography you do?
TL: Hi! I live in Austin, Texas and I photograph the social and cultural landscape of Texas.
DRP: This ongoing project, The Shape of Texas, takes you all across the state documenting landscape, bystanders and scenes of everyday TX. Why did you decided to start this project and what was some of your inspiration?
TL: After college, I went to work for a company as a photographer and videographer but I wanted a long-term project to keep me occupied outside that job. I was born and raised in Texas, come from a long line of Texans, and wanted to experience more of the state so I challenged myself to make photographs of the entire place for a book. The project was something I could grow into and work at in my spare time, at my own pace. I already had a few images that would fit into the project from casual trips to see my parents and friends who lived across the state but I really got going in 2015.
As I got started, I slowly realized that no one else had done this kind of work across every region of the state. Peter Brown has made some amazing work across a good bit of Texas, other photographers have done great work in their own regions, the county courthouses have been documented over and over again, and there are plenty of portrait collections, but nothing quite this extensive. I love this place, “warts and all,” and I want viewers to feel the lived-in, everyday side of a state with such a global, mythic reputation.
DRP: Your use of composition is notably an important element when you make a photograph. Could you talk a little about the technical elements you use to make your images?
TL: Everything in the scene in front of me has its place within the frame in a more formal composition. I make minor adjustments with my feet to make sure everything lines up in a way that completes the composition. Most of the photos in The Shape of Texas have been made in that way.
DRP: There is a sense of Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces that resonates. Without the diner food. Did that work play a roll in your own pursuit of the Great American Road Trip?
TL: It’s funny that you mention American Surfaces because while I love that work, Uncommon Places is by far my favorite Stephen Shore series. I didn’t really “study” photography outside of the assignments I had in school while studying photojournalism (stupid, I know). I corrected that once I started to work on The Shape of Texas. I know I’m not unique in this, but sometimes I hear a song and feel like someone I’ve never met captured exactly the way I feel about something. That’s how I felt about Uncommon Places when I saw those photographs for the first time.
DRP: What has been your favorite part about pursuing this project that seemingly takes you across different cities and towns in Texas?
TL: The pursuit itself has been the best part. To be out in the world, out of my own weekly routines, seeing these places and making sense of them through photographs has been wonderful. I got my license as soon as I turned 16 and I love to drive so I feel very at home while I’m out making these photographs. I find driving meditative and focusing and I listen to a lot of music on the road so that part of it is pleasurable. Without the framework of the project, I wouldn’t have taken the time to visit most of the towns I have photographed and I’ve seen some incredible places over the last few years. At this point in my career, this is the best thing I could be doing with my time. I don’t know if it will “pay off” in a certain sense but I’m going to keep working at it because I love it.
DRP: Have you experienced any issues during your travel or documentation?
TL: There have been a few minor incidents with people who are skeptical of what I’m doing but nothing that scared me off. I can be self-conscious about what it looks like I’m doing and that will leave me feeling a bit rushed to make a particular image but I try to keep that out of my head and focus on why I am where I am.
DRP: What have you found differently than you expected?
TL: This goes a bit with the question above but I’m surprised by how live-and-let-live this whole experience has been. Most people don’t care one way or the other that I walk around their town making photographs and I’m grateful for that. I do think there’s a bit of a paranoia around an outsider with a camera but people usually leave me alone or are simply curious about what I’m doing and they’re nice about it.
DRP: What do you hope your audience and viewers take from The Shape of Texas?
TL: Texas is a very contradictory place. It lives up to a lot of the stereotypes but it also has ways of defying them. At times I’ve been naive enough to think that I was going to show some “true” side of things but the work is a different side than what you’ve seen before. I don’t want to focus on the stereotypes—the nostalgia for the Old West and Route 66, oil, football, religion, etc. etc.—but I want to show them in a different way alongside a lot of places you’ve never heard of or thought about before and scenes you haven’t seen.
DRP: Thanks Trent!