The incredible freedom and intense loneliness of an ’80s latchkey childhood can be hard to describe. Photographer Marc Sirinsky has spent more than a decade exploring the experience on an abstract level.
The Leesburg-based artist is well known in the fine art photo world but keeps a low profile close to home. But with a show at Crooked Run Brewing last summer and a limited-edition printing of his new series “Microcosmic,” word about Sirinsky’s fascinating work is getting out.
“All of my work in the last 15 years at least incorporates the ideas of childhood, memory, how we as human beings recall, how we construct our memories and how we construct our own personal histories through our memories which are not always objective,” Sirinsky said.
Through microscopic samples taken from meaningful places, Sirinsky, 43, examines his childhood in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, IL, touching on the concepts of risk, physical and emotional injury and parental absence that are so familiar to the Generation X cohort. Sirinsky finds meaning in everything, from grains of sand to a splinter of wood, and these tiny fragments of everyday materials become visually stunning through Sirinsky’s labor-intensive process, using a special microscope to create the images which are then printed on sheets of aluminum. There’s a story behind each one, with a brief title/subtitle format that gives viewers just a taste of each backstory.
“I wanted to leave some of it to other people to pull from,” Sirinsky said.
His piece “The Trespassers (Eventide)” looks like a supernova but is actually a grain of sand from a beach on Lake Michigan near Sirinsky’s childhood home where he almost drowned when he and a friend snuck onto the beach after hours. “Crash (Bike Accident)” is the image that got the series going, focused on an especially evocative brick wall that Sirinsky slammed into on his bike as a kid, taking a chunk out of the wall and becoming a spot soaked in memory.
“I would walk by it and I would see how much taller I was getting because that spot on the wall kept getting lower and lower to the ground,” he said.
Wrapped up in the images are the tough parts of Sirinsky’s childhood: leaving his childhood home after his parents’ divorce and dealing with his mother’s struggles with mental illness as a teen.
“Those struggles definitely come out,” he said. “There’s definitely an element of melancholy to a lot of my work.”
But Evanston is also the site of moments of freedom and happiness and the place where he discovered photography.
“I was really enamored with the camera from a young age,” Sirinsky said. “I had a camera in my hand from the time I was 5 or 6 years old.”
Sirinsky clearly remembers when a favorite aunt let him take off with her high-end Nikon FE2 35-millimeter camera during a family trip to the zoo in the early ’80s. He also considers himself lucky to have attended a public high school with a high-quality photo lab and skilled photo instructors and was already developing his technical skills before moving on to the University of Michigan to earn a photography degree.
Sirinsky has worked as a photo editor for two decades in parallel with his fine art photo track with a long history of gallery shows and publications. He and his family moved to Leesburg in 2009 for his job managing the photo department along with branding and imaging for Chantilly-based publishing company The Great Courses. Sirinsky’s wife, Danielle, also a Chicago-area native and Michigan grad, is a well-known dance instructor in Leesburg, and he jokes that despite his national reputation, locally he’s mostly known as Danielle’s husband. Their daughters, Mia and Lila, now 13 and 10, have spent most of their lives on the East Coast, and Virginia landscapes have featured prominently in some of Sirinsky’s other portfolios.
But as he hit his early 40s, Sirinsky was drawn back to Evanston and took the shots that would become “Microcosmic” on two trips home over the course of a year. The series made its debut at a gallery show in Evanston last summer. While back in his hometown for the opening, Sirinsky snagged one final shot, a red-tipped twig from what used to be a tulip patch outside his childhood apartment, the missing piece for the “Microcosmic” book.
“I always seem to gain new inspiration from that place because so much good and bad happened to me there—like all people and their upbringing,” he said.
Sirinsky’s experimental “Playthings” series, which was the subject of a show at Leesburg’s Crooked Run Brewing last summer, frames vintage children’s toys (a wind-up metal airplane, a plastic dump truck) against real-life backdrops. But like a deserted fairground, there’s an intentional sense of loneliness to these carefully chosen and staged playthings.
“Even though it has some big themes in it, I look at that series as my sort of fun diversion series, but it’s still [focused on] memory, childhood,” Sirinsky said. “Even my lighthearted stuff is eerie.”
Limited copies of Marc Sirinsky’s “Microcosmic” are available at his website. To order a copy of the book or to check out Sirinsky’s “Playthings” series and other portfolios, go to sirinsky.com