Chicagoans: Rachel Herman, Photographer Seeking Love


First-person accounts from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford

A few years ago, I decided to see if I could photograph love. I started photographing people who were very in love, to the point where the photographs were syrupy. Then two couples in a row showed up in front of my camera who weren't actually couples anymore. When I got the film back from those shoots, something intriguing was going on that hadn't been in the earlier images. I started making portraits of ex-couples, to see if love had a residue.

Then the Humble Arts Foundation in New York invited photographers to propose what they would do with a single roll of 35-millimeter slide film. I said I would use it to try to fall in love—or really, to see if there was a way to record a trace of love at the very beginning. And I figured the only way I could do that was to put myself in the frame.

So I went out on 18 dates—all within one month—and my dates photographed me and I photographed them. I called the project Meet Me at Sunrise. It was exhibited in New York in July, and then in December in Miami.

I met my dates at dawn. It's a really vulnerable time. No one else is around, and you're in this quiet bubble. Plus the light at that time of day is fantastic. I got up at 3:50 every morning and met someone a little before 5. We'd walk by the lake or go for breakfast. I'd come home and nap, and then I'd have to find someone to meet me the next day. It all was full of sleeplessness, logistics, adrenaline rushes, and the exhaustion of: "I'm an only child and I'm left-handed and I'm a Pisces and I grew up in Kansas City, what about you?"

I'd be walking down the street, and I'd see someone and think, "I need to find someone to photograph at 5:15 AM on Thursday," and make myself go talk to him. On the last night of the project, I thought, "Where would a person I'd really adore be?" Robbie Fulks was singing at the Hideout. I went to the show, and I was sitting across the table from this guy who had the kindest eyes I'd ever seen. I asked him if he could meet me the next day at 5 AM. He said, "Absolutely." And he showed up. It was amazing.

After that, we had several weeks of correspondence where he asked me out, and then he'd cancel for some seemingly unavoidable reason and write me a very long apologetic e-mail. Then we'd make new plans, and he'd have to cancel, and he'd send me a text message opus or a four-minute voice mail.

I was attempting to find love, and that didn't manifest. I guess I'm grateful that the work is at least pretty compelling. I knew at the very outset that it was an incredibly misguided way of going about things. I go about things in misguided ways all the time. That's where the little epiphanies happen.

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