“Sanctuary” portrays members of the Radical Faerie community at Short Mountain Sanctuary, a queer commune in rural Tennessee. The Radical Faerie movement evolved in the 1980s, in response to the increasingly conservative, assimilationist direction of the mainstream gay and lesbian movement. The Faeries set out to discover what it could mean to be gay, beyond the gay ghettos of cities like New York and San Francisco. Inspired by hippie ideals and diverse religious traditions, they gathered in rural settings to create a sustainable lifestyle, connected with nature and spirituality.
Over time, several sanctuaries were created to support a community of residents, as well as a constant flow of visitors seeking respite from urban gay culture. The oldest of these, Short Mountain Sanctuary, is off the grid and largely self-sustaining. For the past seventeen years, I have made regular visits to the mountain, often spending weeks or months at a time. My relationship with the community is complex. I consider it my spiritual home, and yet I find it challenging to live there on a long-term basis. As in most utopian communities, there exists among residents a delicate balance of trust and reserve, optimism and disillusionment. Some arrived with lofty ideals, some with great visions or ambitions, and some simply came to escape the pressures and problems of the modern world, only to discover the new problems that come with creating an alternative culture.
In many ways, the Sanctuary is a microcosm of our larger society. It is a melting pot of people from wildly different backgrounds, attempting to realize the dream of a better world. As I photograph, I am moved by the private experience of individuals in the community. I want to know what brought them here, what they have lost, what they hope to find, and where they have given up hope. Rather than asking them to explain, I simply observe. And I find in facial expressions, in shifting postures, in flickering eyes and in the smallest of gestures, that so much is revealed.
Sebastian Collett grew up in Ohio and France. Following an early career as a pianist, he fell in love with photography at Bard College, while studying with Stephen Shore and Larry Fink. Upon graduating he traveled the world for fifteen years, then earned his MFA at the Hartford Art School.
He was recently awarded the Cord Prize, the Light Work Grant, the Emerging Photography Award, and residencies at Headlands, La Napoule Foundation, the Terra Foundation, the Hemera Foundation, Salzburger Kunstverein, the Philadelphia Photo Art Center, the Tides Institute, the Hambidge Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His portfolios have been featured in publications including the British Journal of Photography, Contact Sheet, the Source Photographic Review, GUP Magazine, PiK Magazine, Raw View Magazine, Romka Magazine, Fraction Magazine, L’Oeil de la Photographie, Feature Shoot, The Latent Image, Darwin Magazine, Phases Magazine, and Vice Magazine. Sebastian has self-published several books, and is included in the Mossless survey of American photography, “The United States, 2003-2013.” His photographs and books have been exhibited at Aperture Gallery, Light Work, Kominek Gallery, Camden Image Gallery, 25CPW Gallery, United Photo Industries, Project Basho, Duke University, Harrington College of Design, the Philadelphia Photo Art Center, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the Houston Center for Photography, the Morris Museum, the Phoenix Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sebastian’s work can be found in private collections, and in the permanent collections of Light Work and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.