peyton fulford captures her nonconformist friend group in the deep south
“We grew up in the Deep South, and it’s not an inclusive area.”
Peyton Fulford's favorite photograph from her ongoing series "Infinite Tenderness" is called Becoming One (Annie and Trevor). It shows two of her friends entwined in a kind of yin-yang of bright dyed hair and bright eyes — their two heads turned up towards the camera and the late-afternoon sun. "It really captured a moment," says Peyton over the phone from Columbus, Georgia. "We were sitting, talking on the grass, at golden hour. Annie and Trevor were leaning on one another and I just asked them to entwine their heads a little more than they already were."
Peyton shoots on a bulky medium-format Pentax camera. ("My friends have just become used to it as an extension of my body!") Working with film, she explains, focuses her on catching that one magical shot. "Infinite Tenderness" is a collection of those defining milliseconds, which feel both immediate and preemptively steeped in nostalgia. Other images in the series: her friends Grace and Emmett hugging in dappled forest light (his head on her shoulder suggesting love but also consolation), Frances huddled on the ground (in a position both peaceful and protective), and Hannah in her bedroom, her orange pixie crop offset by a technicolor Afghan blanket.
"It's very much a collaboration," Peyton says of the series. She began shooting the images in late 2016, during her final year at Columbus State University. She'd just put her much-publicized earlier project "Abandoned Love" on hold. For that series, which she's since resumed, she asks people from all over the world to send her their most mournful text messages, diary entries, and thoughts. She then turns select phrases into paper party banners which she pins to derelict buildings and photographs. Each image honors the melancholy sentiment of the text with a fittingly mournful setting, while also reframing it in those celebratory paper letters.
"Infinite Tenderness" is also about juxtaposing inner states and their physical surroundings. "Initially, I was just photographing these moments with my friends," Peyton says. "Then I realized there was a cohesiveness to them. I realized that we've all grown up in the South, which is not an inclusive region, and the friends that I'm photographing don't conform — in terms of their gender or sexuality, for example. It's about opening up that space. We depend on each other for support."
Peyton grew up in Albany, Georgia, before decamping to Columbus for school. ("Albany is even smaller than here," she laughs.) But most of her images are taken in the fields and forests around Athens, a three-hour drive to the northeast, where many of her friends are in college. "In the South, we're very used to exploring," she says. "We have so much greenery, forest, open space. It's really beautiful just to sit and talk. In a lot of the images we were all exploring a place together for the first time."
And while the images document specific moments of community in a specific place, Peyton hopes they capture something that's widely relatable. "I think youth can be a very universal experience, at least within the U.S.," she says. She studied in New York last June and says she saw the same fierce bonds of youthful friendship there. After graduation, she hopes to move either to New York or Atlanta. But, for the time being, she's happy with the pace of life in small-town Georgia: "it helps me focus on my work."
The title for "Infinite Tenderness" is a partial quote from the movie Blue Is the Warmest Color. Why did the line resonate with these particular images? "These are intimate, tender moments," says Peyton, "But they're also going to last. We'll change, our bodies will change, but we'll have these images for a long time."
Tekst: Alice Newell-Hanson
Zdjęcia: Peyton Fulford