Sam Schonzeit

 

Sam Schonzeit

If you wish to receive a daily photo from Sam, send an email and a picture of yourself to adailypicture [at] gmail.com. Sam Schonzeit is 35 years old and lives and works in Austin, Texas.

This interview took place over email and with very minimal editing December 18-19, 2007.

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What do you think I want to interview about? (I’ll give you some hints: it includes e-mail, 5 days a week, and pictures.) If that all helps, can you give a summary of this project that you’ve been doing?

A summary is so broad of a request and is the type of question I will have trouble answering fully here now.

Do you want to ask more specific pointed questions and then come back to summary later or formulate your own summary later? I mean like do you want some bones of this process? Or again that’s something I could answer better if I wasn’t working now.

Okay, we’ll come back to that. What was the impetus to start doing the project?

I was sending these pictures to my girlfriend who was in Argentina. She wasn’t talking to me at the time because I had been indiscreet and she had seen through my thin veil. So she wasn’t responding to my emails and she was hanging up on me. So I started sending pictures. It was a little bit aggressive. She called it psychological warfare.

Then later when we broke up I felt some existential anxiety. I had lost this person who was thinking about me. As if my existence could be confirmed by being in others minds, i.e. they think, therefore I am. So in an effort to stave my falling off the face of the planet I decided I would make as many aware of my daily presence as possible. Later it became more meaningful in other ways but that was really the initial inspiration.

Were the content and format of the pictures sent directly to your ex the same as those for the daily subscribers?

They were really just simple portraits. I didn’t try to do anything fancy or particularly interesting or entertaining. Just reminders of what I looked like. There is something really important about realizing that someone on the other end of the email has a face. Something confirming about seeing the other person away in their environment. Just a simple statement about me or them in a place at a certain time. Puts things in context. Contextualizes a conversation or a person.

No they didn’t have dates. But I took them with Photo Booth which I continue to do and will continue to do.

Besides the daily pictures, do you contact a lot of your subscribers often?

No. Well in terms of percentages. I now send the picture to around 165 people a day. I have daily contact through the project with any where from 1 to ten a day. This acts as a proxy for contact. I don’t feel I have to call my parents as often. They know what I’m doing on a daily basis. A lot of people feel like they have daily contact with me. I am notoriously bad at contacting people over the phone, sort of shy. But the pictures inspire people to get in touch with me more often I think. And certainly people from past lives seem to be reappearing or becoming more intimate friends again now. There are people at work who get the pictures. Sometimes there seems to be a picuter reality and another one that doesn’t acknowledge that communication. And i have mostly stopped sending emails without the date heading. I feel like every photo is a bit of an entreaty for conversation and that I have opened up a line of communication. Not everyone bites but some do. But even before the pictures I didn’t contact people very often. I’m not sure actually that I do it any less now. Maybe even more because I am in dialogue with quite a few people on a regular basis.

Whereas the first sets of pictures to your ex were meant to contextualize the conversation and events unfolding in your lives, the daily pictures usually arrive without any notes or further context besides what’s in the picture. Because of that, do you think any of the subscribers who you aren’t in regular contact with are building a fantastical image of yourself? I guess you might not be able to answer that.

Well today I got a message that said “you are so fucking cool”. That may be fantastical though why not. Maybe I am so fucking cool. I think I’d prefer that to being real fucking uncool. Sometimes people say that the office looks like fun and a nice group of people and my first reaction is a groan and then I realize that yes it is fun here and they are a nice group of people. I mean we are. I don’t think the images strive to tell a story that isn’t happening. Though I have never really thought of them in terms of any type of narrative. Certainly I have themes I’m working on or with but I don’t really see any unfolding of anything. Maybe development. I wonder what fantastical image you are imagining. I mean for other people or for yourself. What would people be thinking? I have no idea. My father who is a painter never really likes to talk about his work. He says its up to the viewer to have their own interpretation. I don’t know that I care what image people have of me. I’m sure that’s a lie. But I am more interested in the communication/community and the quality(?) of the pictures rather than conveying an overarching image. I haven’t really thought anything about people having ideas/fantasies about me here.

Well, I saw that Maura had given you some things and you incorporated them into your pictures as props, so I was curious to see if–even though you don’t see the whole as a narrative–if you wanted to tell a story (or have people invent their own) on a day to day basis?

I imagine the intimacy is part of it, but are there any other reasons for doing this over e-mail as opposed to a MySpace or a Facebook?

Myspace and Facebook require something from the participant. i think of mine as a subscription service so it is brought to you. Also Myspace and Facebook are networks. Mine is not a network. All communication is filtered through me. Since I started BCCing people no one really knows who else is on the list and only has access to other people on the list through my discretion. However I have put people in touch through it. Those two websites are rhizomatic in a Deluesian way (!) my project is a wheel and I am the hub. Also mine is more temporal. One a day. There is no reference. There is nothing to look back on or to visit again. I feel also that I am using the internet in its most primitive form and not really as a web or a net or a network. Showing that Maura gave me props was sort of bragging and an attempt at lending a professional quality to the photos, like I have a stylist, and also simply a way of giving people credit for their contributions. So maybe part of it is this charade that isn’t in all the pictures that I am some sort of professional or that the pictures are created by a larger organization than myself.

Also I don’t really know that much about Facebook or Myspace. Nor am I terribly interested in them. Its seems like so much work.

I guess I am also striving for intimate conversations and that for some reason FB and MS seem to put dialogue in an accessible and public space. I like that I am exclusive and oddly placeless (even beyond the inherent placelessness of the internet) as there is no site.

Do you currently know all the people on the list? Because of either shyness or intimacy, would you be opposed to people you don’t know subscribing?

I don’t know all the people. I ask people if they want to receive a daily picture of me at work at parties. Or I say I take a daily picture of myself at work would you like to receive one. So most of the people I have met. Though I don’t know them. There are several people who I don’t know who receive pictures that were refferred by friends. I like the idea of sending it to strangers. I send it to a lot of people that I met at a halloween party where I was in mask. That was interesting. I saw one of the people from the party on the street once and I had only seen her in costume. She knew me but I had no idea who she was aside from her email address. That was odd and fun. I have created myself as a minor celebrity which I like. I would like to send it to more people I don’t know. There are only so many people that I do know. Ideally though everyone that I send pictures to would send at least one back to me. Or I can imagine people asking to be put on the list with a picture of themselves. That only seems fair and again it gives them a physical context.

Have you missed a day yet, either because of sickness or vacation?

I don’t think of vacation as missing a day because my question to people when I ask them to join is or was in all caps WOULD YOU LIKE TO RECEIVE A DAILY PICTURE OF ME AT WORK? So vacation doesn’t count. I haven’t been sick (thank god) since I started the project. Also as you may have noticed I don’t send pictures on the weekends. I like that break. I like that its not everyday and that the project is tied directly to work. It gives everyone a respite and gives me and hopefully my subsrcibers something to look forward to on Mondays.

Do you consider the e-mails as an art project, hobby, way to keep in touch, and/or _______?

Art project and creation of a network. As part of art project its a daily exercise in self expression and so immediate. There is so little thought so little pondering and mulling over whether this photo is good or bad. I usually take 3 or 4 and then choose one. Sometimes less sometimes more. Its also a discipline. Its a motivator. It brings me to work in the morning. It is a ritual. I had a friend who had a chipped wood step on the way up the stairs to his house. (Everything is a house in NY to kids. People live in houses so even if it was a studio apartment it was still a house. Now as an architect I am better able to differentiate residential types.) I never saw him step on that stair though I’ll admit I wanted him too. Today was the first day I almost forgot to send the picture. I took it as I always do upon arrival. Sometimes I wait if there is something pressing at work. I worry that I will put the wrong date on them too. I have thought of it as a daily note to my parents. The result of the project is communication but that isn’t really my first thought about it. I think its art. Subscription art service. I think of it as a service. I think or hope that I am providing people with something that they value and that makes them think and that they find entertaining and almost daily and for free. It is pro-bono art.