Drift through the dreamscapes of Sean Lotman’s latest book

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All images © Sean Lotman. 

Made over the course of almost 15 years in 20 countries, Lotman’s book invites us to choose our own adventure

Sean Lotman wants to take us on a journey. The 95 images comprising his latest book were made over the course of almost 15 years in 20 countries, including India, Cambodia, Guatemala, Egypt, Turkey, Taiwan, and Australia. But it is not his own journey that the photographer wishes to recount. Designed to encourage viewers to mix-and-match images – like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel – we are invited to drift through a selection of hazy landscapes. The journey is akin to lucid dreaming; an act of both intentional choice and letting go. One path may lead to golden deserts and soft cyan skies, but flip the page and you are met by neon lights and motorbikes. Whichever way one chooses to travel, the destination is ultimately up to you, and has the potential to be different with each visit.

The work is as much a study of colour as it is of place. Bursting with deep yellows, violet blues, and crimson reds, all of the images are made with a Diana f+ toy camera, and hand printed in the darkroom. The object itself is sophisticated in design – tall, thin, and structured in three parts. While the contents feel personal, its form and structure invites an open interpretation and interaction with the work. The first and final Choose-Your-Own-Adventure sections bookend a flow of images that fold out into larger spreads. Along the outer edges of these central pages are snippets of poetry, written by Lotman on the road. Its title, The Sniper Paused So He Could Wipe His Brow, is an excerpt from one of these poems: “I chose that title because it sounded intriguing to me and thus might call the wandering attention of others. It’s the first step into a strange, wild place that is the book’s world,” he explains. 

Originally from Los Angeles, Lotman now lives in Kyoto, Japan, with his wife, photographer Ariko Inaoka, their son Tennbo, and dog Monk. Below, Lotman expands on his process and inspiration – from science-fiction and dreams, to the importance of colour.

The book adopts a ‘Choose-Your-Own-Adventure’ structure. Were you a fan of these novels growing up? 

I was indeed a big fan of ‘Choose-Your-Own-Adventure’ stories growing up. I feel that the spirit of those books imbibed the way I wanted to live my life. Like looking at a map, going west instead of south, this country instead of that, meeting this person rather than that one. The life we lead has agency of course, but so much of our narrative derives from chance encounters and serendipitous discovery. I wanted to imbue that feeling when you read Sniper, so there’s a possibility you’ll notice different details each time, the “story” depending on the way the reader happened to read the book on that particular encounter. 


You’re a big science-fiction fan. How does this genre inspire your photography? 

I liked science fiction a lot as a kid. I got into The Twilight Zone [an American TV series that ran from 1959 to 1964] when I was five years old. It was the most consistently watched program of my childhood. Of course I grew up with the Star Wars trilogy but what I loved most was how the 1950s/60s generations related to space travel and its perception of utopian possibility. I especially liked the books from this era: Robert A. Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, and the Weird Fantasy comics first published in the 1950s but reprinted when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s. 

I liked how Sci-Fi, while imagining other worlds, could also critique society indirectly via fantastic metaphor. The Twilight Zone not only catalysed my imaginations but shaped the open-minded progressiveness that would help me navigate the social and political complexities I would need to understand as an adult. In my 20s and 30s I mostly abandoned science fiction, but now as a father of a seven-year-old boy, I’ve been rediscovering the genre and how beautifully conjured and well-told the stories are.

 “Colour can be just as much a subject in a photograph as a person or landscape. Colour has a presence and emotions, and can connect us viscerally to reflecting on our lives”

Do you find a lot of meaning in colour? 

I’m in love with colour! And it’s a huge part of my work because I’m trying to repurpose it in darkroom colour printing to conjure mood, fantasy, and flights-of-fancy. I think colour can be just as much a subject in a photograph as a person or landscape. I love films and when I’m watching them, I can sense a certain patina in the colour that suggests an era. Sure, the fashions are telling, but colour film was evolving all the time and there appear (at least to my eyes) mini-epochs of certain sorts of colour scheme. 

Like fashion, these colour film technologies have evolved and are no longer in general use. Colour can engender a profound sense of nostalgia. There’s something so appealing about nostalgia, because it’s looking back – we were younger then, more innocent, and somehow didn’t know how good we had it. Colours have so much power and feeling and I want to harness some of that in my pictures.


You say you wanted to create something akin to a dream. Do you dream a lot? What interests you about this state of mind? 

I dream a lot. The dreams don’t make sense most of the time – they are confounding and strange, and they fade quickly by the time I’m up and making my first coffee. But I think a healthy dream life might benefit stream-of-conscious thinking, which is good for the artistic process. In that befuddled lull between dreaming and waking, I often have creative ideas for projects, or perhaps the language that bridges the ongoing project and the subconscious impulse behind it comes to me. A number of my best ideas come to me, not from dreaming, but from waking.

I like art that has a dreamy aesthetic. Especially photography. Life can be disappointing and mundane, the outlook bleak, so a world composed of its own dreamy structure and language can be something worth escaping into. We all have fantasies where we all like to roam. Having otherworldly places to escape, whether they be cinema, literature, music, dreams, or a vivid imagination, is one of the essential elements of being alive.

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.