Episode 97

Trent Davis Bailey on Finding Family and Community Through Photography

Interview by Spencer Bailey

In 1989, a month before his fourth birthday, the artist and photographer Trent Davis Bailey (our host, Spencer Bailey’s, identical twin brother) lost his mother in the crash-landing of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa. Now 38 and a husband and father, Bailey is at work on “Son Pictures,” an ongoing series of photographs piecing together fragments and shards of his family’s past and present, including the vast void between him and his mother, his family’s attendant trauma and grief, and his life today as a parent of two toddlers. Leading him to take deep-dives into newspaper and family photo archives, and from Colorado to Iowa to the Adirondacks, the project serves as a microcosm of Bailey’s intensely personal and place-based body of work, which continually seeks to unearth the tangled roots of his identity. Through his work, Bailey has built community, reconnected with long-lost family members, and even met his now wife, Emma.

This summer, Bailey’s first-ever solo museum exhibition, “Personal Geographies” (on view through February 11, 2024), opened at the Denver Art Museum, and this fall, he will release the corresponding project, “The North Fork,” in book form, via the Texas-based independent art book publisher Trespasser. The exhibition and book feature photographs from the valley region in and around Paonia, Colorado, where Bailey used to visit as a child and to which he later returned, through art-making and curiosity, as an adult. In an essay for The North Fork, the writer Rebecca Solnit, whose work Bailey has long admired, describes it as “a book of yearning for what has been and might be, a book of looking at what it is to see what lies beyond, a book about the longing that is always present because so much else is not even amid beauty and abundance.” Bailey also recently published an op-ed in The New York Times titled “What a Motherless Son Knows About Fatherhood,” which contains an early preview of his ongoing “Son Pictures” series.

On this episode—his and Spencer’s first formal “twinterview,” recorded on their 38th birthday—Bailey talks about what it was like to grow up as an identical twin; his unusual and decidedly dysfunctional upbringing; photography as a device for commemoration; and his deep pictorial explorations of the climates, geographies, and landscapes of the American West.


Trent begins the conversation talking about what it’s like to be a twin, and shares a few anecdotal twin-related moments from their youth and adulthood.

Trent discusses his “Personal Geographies” exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, as well as his relationships to—and memories of—the town of and region around Paonia, Colorado.

Trent talks about the pictures he made for “A Kingdom From Dust,” an in-depth investigative story for California Sunday Magazine exploring how the billionaire Stewart Resnick and The Wonderful Company have literally reshaped the landscape of California, to detrimental environmental effects and, paradoxically, to some social good.

Trent recalls a portrait shoot for T magazine with the author Rebecca Solnit, who contributed an essay to his forthcoming book, The North Fork, and whose books—including Wanderlust and River of Shadows—he has long appreciated for their exploratory nature and astute understanding of subjects such as image-making, the American West, and the climate crisis.

Trent looks back at being raised by a single father and growing up in a motherless household in the suburbs of Denver, and how that led to his leaving home at age 14 for boarding school, and eventually, to becoming a photographer and artist. He also discusses apprenticing for the photographers Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, who became mentor figures to him.

Trent details the background story of “Son Pictures.” He and Spencer also discuss the impacts of Flight 232 on their lives.

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Spencer Bailey: Trent, welcome to Time Sensitive.

Trent Davis Bailey: Thanks for having me here. Happy birthday!


SB: Well, yeah, I was going to say, I think we should state out front here that this is an unusual form of interview, or what we might call a “twinterview.” It’s also the first time I’ve ever formally interviewed you. And, as you said, it’s our 38th birthday. Happy birthday.

TB: Thank you.

SB: I was thinking we should just start with the twin questions and get those out of the way first because people tend to have those. When people ask you, “What is it like being a twin?” What do you say? What are your general feelings and thoughts on twinship, philosophically or otherwise?

TB: It’s all I’ve ever known. We shared the womb together. I know that you like to say that this may be an unusual interview, and yes, we’ve never sat in a soundproof room before, but I feel like you’ve probably been interviewing me my whole life in various ways. 

In terms of twinship, there’s no other relationship like it. It’s like siblinghood, and yet there’s a mirror—or mirrored version—of yourself out in the world. I think anyone that has an identical twin can relate with that. But, particularly if you live in two different places or exist in different social spheres, it tends to show up in ways that are incredibly serendipitous and surprising, in a way that I think even siblings that somewhat look alike don’t necessarily experience.

SB: What are some of the weirder twin moments that come to mind for you?

TB: Hmm. Well, I feel like you’re constantly texting me, “I met so-and-so.” I’m almost always expecting it when I come to New York City, if I’m on the subway, or certainly walking in Manhattan or Brooklyn somewhere, and someone says, “Hey, Spencer!” 

SB: [Laughs]

TB: And then I’m like, “Nope, but I know who you’re talking about,” or “I know that guy, but it’s not me.” [Laughter]

So I’ve tried to devise other ways of dealing with those encounters or adding humor. And sometimes…. It’s best when I’m not in a hurry. Because if I’m in a hurry, then I’m like, “Hey, no, I’m his twin brother,” and then I move on. But if I really slow down and think about the interaction, it’s an opportunity to meet someone who you might have a relationship with, and that’s pretty special.

SB: I want to share a story here that I’m sure you remember. Trent and I, in the summer of 2008, went on a trip around the world. We bought one of those round-the-world tickets, where you basically keep flying in the same direction. In Bangkok, we got into a tuk-tuk, and this tuk-tuk driver took us to a gem shop, because he had cut a deal, I guess, with the gem-shop people.

TB: Yeah, they would pay his gas—

SB: Yeah, exactly.

TB: —if we shopped at the gem shop, and we were just trying to get to some museum.

SB: Yeah. Anyway, in the gem shop, we were like, “Oh, we’re not going to buy any gems. But oh, there’s a bar. Let’s grab a drink.” I just remember, we sat down at the bar and one of the bartenders looked at us. And she was like, “Are you two twins?” And then the other bartender turned around and was like, “We’re twins, too!” [Laughs] That was pretty surreal. That’s maybe one of my favorite twin moments ever. 

TB: It’s up there.

SB: Yeah. And when we lived together in Brooklyn for a few years, 2010 to 2013, early on, it was funny in the neighborhood because I don’t think a lot of the people in the neighborhood knew we were twins just yet, so when we went to the coffee shop, the baristas would think we were just like a dude who drinks a ton of coffee.

TB: My favorite was, we lived in an old prewar building, so there was no laundry machine, so we used the wash-and-fold service a couple blocks down. Very often, we were not dropping off our laundry at the same time. So for the first half year or so, the person that most often worked at the wash-and-fold station just thought this was one dude with a ton of dirty laundry. [Laughter] Like, this guy goes through more laundry than anyone I’ve ever seen. And then one day—I think we dropped off together—and they were like, “Ohhh.” [Laughter]

SB: All right, I think that’s good on the twin front. I think that’s enough. Maybe I’ll also mention that, when I was preparing for this interview this morning, I was looking through some old family photos, and one photo in particular made me cry. And it’s a photo of us, maybe age 4, and we’re on a beach. And it’s a candid. We definitely don’t know we’re being photographed, and we’re just hugging.

TB: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that one. You’ll have to show me.

SB: Yeah. Well, we’ll put it on the Time Sensitive website so that the listeners can see it.

Trent and Spencer at age 4, hugging.

Anyway, why I wanted to have you on the show right now is this conversation’s coming at a pretty momentous time for you as an artist. Your series “The North Fork” just opened in the form of an exhibition, “Personal Geographies,” at the Denver Art Museum, and this fall, you’re releasing the project in book form [from the publisher Trespasser]. You also recently published a full-page op-ed in The New York Times, titled “What a Motherless Son Knows About Fatherhood,” a sort of preview of your ongoing series “Son Pictures.” So, let’s start there, with you sharing a bit about this project “The North Fork,” which refers to this region on the western slope of Colorado. This project’s been more than a decade in the making.

TB: Yeah, it has, really. And you saw some of the earliest stages of it. When Spencer and I were living in New York City together, we were living in a small apartment. I had been in the city for one year straight and was really longing, both to explore a part I knew was deeply inside myself, but I wanted to make work that was personal. I felt like I had been making street pictures—as a photographer does in New York City—on my days off from work, and it’s a fantastic place to photograph, but I didn’t feel like I was making work with the level of meaning and deep personal significance that I had hoped or felt that I could make.

I basically booked a trip back to Colorado, and I had some vague notions about what I wanted to photograph there. I went to the western slope, where we had gone a couple times as kids, particularly to this town called Paonia. Paonia is a very small town in a river valley called the North Fork, which is a tributary. The river itself there is a tributary of the Gunnison Riverthe North Fork Tributary—and it aerates or feeds this entire valley of farms and orchards and vineyards. And when Spencer and I—and our older brother, Brandon—first went there, our dad brought us to meet our uncle and aunt. Unbeknownst to us, there were six children at the time that were living all together in a former army tent, a sixteen-by-thirty-two-foot canvas tent. Those memories sat with me. 

It was sort of this combination of longing, of being in this really urbanized environment that didn’t feel native to the way I grew up and longing for the mountainous environment of the West and the memories that I held there that really drived the early stages of this project—drove, I should say. The copy editor across from me would’ve wanted to correct that. [Laughs]

Anyway, I eventually made a series of trips to this valley, and I just started making photographs, really not sure where they were leading me. But they were really based on my memory of this place, this sort of fantastical mountain environment where I imagined black bears and coyotes and mountain lions were hiding in the forest. And my cousins and I would go swimming in the irrigation ditches. It was just a place where children could be completely uninhibited, and I felt like, as kids, we went there…. And we grew up in the suburbs of Denver, so seeing our family, our kin, living in this way, really drove home this idea that home could be anywhere, and it doesn’t need to be in this suburban environment with a perfect lawn, like the one that our dad strove, strived to make…. [Laughs]

SB: We were all kind of wild kids, if you think about it.

TB: Yeah. Exactly, it allowed us to channel this wildness, and it was a place of wonder. Those were a lot of the things that I wasn’t able to fully articulate when I started the project. I can look back on it now and know that that’s what I was doing and can say that. But I was really acting in the moment intuitively, and making pictures that I felt were leading me somewhere. And I couldn’t really say where they were leading me.

So I just kept working at it until…. I think it was my third trip there. I was still living in New York, and I flew out there, got all the way to this really remote corner of Colorado, and I was in the natural food co-op in the small town of Paonia, and I saw this woman that just gave me this completely uncanny feeling. It was almost like seeing a ghost. And this strange energy came over me, and I didn’t really know how to articulate why this woman’s presence made me feel the way it did. So I walked out of the store, collected myself, and walked back in, knowing that I was about to walk up to this stranger, or this woman who I wasn’t completely sure if I knew her. But I just decided to ask her if her name was Chrys, which was our aunt’s name. And she said that it was. And then she looked at me and was like, “Why?” I said, “I don’t know how to say this to you, but I’m your nephew.” 


She looked at me like I was a little bit crazy. And then I said my name, and her face just looked completely shocked. She hugged me, and we exchanged stories, and she told me that she and our uncle had separated. A lot of the things that I had learned about him were all through our father, through Dad. I wasn’t telling people in the valley who my family was, because I was afraid that our uncle had crossed them the same way he had crossed Dad, which basically led to a breach of trust. So I was worried. I was like, I don’t want people to look at what I’m doing here in a light that I don’t have any control over. So my only control was to tell people that I was meeting in the valley that my family used to live there, and I was working on this project. Can I spend some time on your farm, essentially? And that’s how it grew. 

My sense of community there grew. My sense of family grew. I met our five cousins that were still living in the valley. Some had moved to the Northwest, some were living out East, but most were still in the valley as a solar panel specialist and a house painter and a waitress and a musician and a grocery-store clerk. They were all as fascinated with me as I was with them. Some of those relationships have grown really, really close, and I consider them all close friends, and my aunt has become kind of a mother figure in my life. 

Fast-forward a couple more years of working at it, I still felt like I was searching for something that I couldn’t put my name on. And I got an artist residency in western Colorado [at Elsewhere Studios]. I lived there for six months, and worked two days a week on farms where I was helping on harvest days. So I would bring home a bounty of food, and they were getting essentially free labor from me. But I was able to live very affordably and feed myself and make art, and it was a really precious time in my life. I look back at that really fondly. 

Anyway, I had a close friend who was living in the valley that summer. And it happened to be a particularly wet year, which, in Colorado, means mushrooms. I kept bothering her to take me foraging because she knew the spots where they grow, but also, she knew all the technicalities. She would basically make sure that we weren’t foraging mushrooms that would get me incredibly sick.

Anyhow, she had another friend from Denver who was bothering her that summer to do the same thing and was visiting her that very weekend. And so she took the two of us, a friend of hers named Emma, and me, foraging for mushrooms, and we met each other. So this is a very long-winded family story and a way of saying that I met Emma, my now-wife, through this work. And I, a few years after that, concluded photographing there. When Emma and I got married, I realized that I set out to find family with this work, and I’ve completely reframed notions of family by making these photographs and by spending time over this elongated series of trips and years that has allowed me to create meaning in my life, and ultimately shift the way that I define family—and actually create a new family. Emma and I now have two children of our own. 

So I hope that answered your question. I actually don’t even remember what it was, but I feel like there’s a lot of stories related to the work that I’ve done with “The North Fork” that I could diverge—

SB: Well, yeah. I think it’s important to also stress, as you mentioned, the project started and had its root when you and I were living together in Brooklyn. But then, in the years to come, while you’re working on the project, you go to California College of the Arts for your M.F.A. That project was your sort of thesis, I guess I could call it.

TB: Yeah, correct.

SB: That thesis won the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s Snider Prize, which from there you got the attention of this gallery that [now] represents your work, Robert Koch Gallery, in San Francisco. So it was sort of this not just propulsive thing for you to go build a family, but also your work as an artist. And now, even more full circle, it’s this Denver Art Museum show, an exhibition in a museum that you and I used to go to on field trips.

TB: True.

SB: How are you thinking about all of that?

TB: Yeah. It’s something that I try to grasp every day, is this…. We live in a world where work and life are not easily combined. And maybe that’s just capitalism. I’m not sure. But it is difficult to find a way where you can marry what you do for work and the way that—

SB: Sorry, the “marry” thing. [Laughs]

TB: —what you do for work.

SB: It’s true, but I just think it’s funny that you just used the word marry, because quite literally, you married Emma out of this work. It’s pretty fascinating.

TB: Yeah, our relationship wouldn’t have had the start that it did, were I not making work in that valley and being there, and being interested in something that was so far outside myself.

SB: So this project and your work—more broadly—follows in a long lineage of pictures, of and/or about the American West, and I think particularly the mythical idea of the American West, this sort of mythos of the great wide open. Could you speak to that mythical element and to some of the photographers whose work has helped inform your own approach to capturing it?

TB: Sure. Yeah, a word that comes to mind when you were talking is the sublime. There was a book called The Sublime that my graduate thesis advisor, Shaun O’Dell, recommended to me that I read. It really gave me a sense of what I was doing within that landscape. It is a fantastic landscape to situate yourself in. It’s also incredibly multifarious. There’s no straight horizon lines. If you’re making traditional landscape photographs, and you’re setting your camera on a tripod, and you’re leveling the camera, you’re typically going to end up with a flat horizon line. That was never the case working in this valley, which—I think the landscape itself echoed my own complicated personal landscape and feeling for the place. All of that showed up in the work.

In terms of photographers who have worked in the West, that really informed me—or how I was thinking about it—while I was working on this work, I did quite a bit of research into archival photography around the valley. Within the valley, there are a couple historical societies. The Hotchkiss Crawford Historical Museum/Society, they have an archive of photographs that I looked at, and there were a couple photographers in the early 1900s, and in the 1920s and ’40s, whose archives have ended up there, who are not widely known. Maybe within that community, people know who they are, but they’re not widely known.…

SB: Drop some names.

TB: Well, one is Thomas B. Jamison. He is buried in Hotchkiss. He actually was from New York state, and got tuberculosis and moved west. During that time, in the early 1900s, there was a belief that a dry climate would help heal or help extend, prolong one’s life if they were suffering from tuberculosis. So he moved west, and he ended up moving to that valley. He left behind a wife and kid in New York. Photographs, actually, were his mode of communication. He would make these picture postcards, which was a new technology at the time. He would take pictures of the landscape and of himself. There’s some amazing self-portraits that he took. And he would often scribble some captions on the margins of these, next to the pictures. In some cases, he was commenting on the color of the scene, where.… Obviously, he’s making black-and-white pictures, but he wanted his wife and kid to know that that was a very deep-blue color, the color of this water.

So there’s these really nice moments in that entire archive. That was the one that really surprised me the most. [He] was really a photographer who was, oddly, doing something similar to me. Thankfully, I did not have tuberculosis, but I did…. I was roughly the same age as him a hundred years later, and I was searching for notions of family. 

When he arrived there, he was taken in by a family, and a lot of his pictures are pictures of the kids and adults in the family. Some of his self-portraits include him with the family, and he’s got this long rope that he’s tugging on to take the picture. It’s interesting to think about that archive and notions of time, this archive of pictures that sit so far before anything that I was doing. It really preceded the history of photography, as we know it now, which modern photography—some would argue notions of art as photography started around [the] Robert Frank era—which brings me to another influence, and that would be the road trip photographers.

But I think what’s different from the road trip photographers, such as Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Robert Frank, that whole group of photographers that sort of falls into that camp, they would go on these epic, long, huge road trips, and I was really interested in the local. I wanted to stick to this one valley and see what happened if I really invested time, interest, and curiosity into this small microcosm, rather than a macro look at America. I still think by looking small at a community, you can actually look wide as well, if that makes sense. If you’re looking at a place that serves as a microcosm for something that’s more national—or even global, and I think there are a lot of themes that come up in “The North Fork” work. I made it for my personal reasons, but I was also affected at that time by climate. I lived in New York during Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene, and [the city] was experiencing Occupy Wall Street. Those social and environmental forces influenced what I was doing with my pictures.

SB: Well, part of “The North Fork”—and at least how I see it—explores, if subtly, the impacts of the climate crisis, and that’s one thing I wanted to bring up, which has also been this focus of some of your editorial work. There’s two stories, in particular, I was thinking of here: one titled “A Kingdom From Dust,” this fifty-four-page feature that was published in The California Sunday Magazine in January 2018. It’s about Stewart Resnick, who owns the biggest farming operation in the United States, and who has literally reshaped the state of California. The other, from 2019, was published in The Guardian—it’s about Saudi Arabia’s connection with California’s scarce water supply

TB: Mm-hmm.

SB: What did you learn or discover during time spent working on these particular commissions? I imagine “The North Fork “work was kind of impacting how you were looking at landscape through this work, too.

TB: Yeah, that’s a great question. I was wrapping up “The North Fork” work when I got that California Sunday commission. Thank you, Jackie Bates and Paloma Shutes for that, by the way. It was a really amazing opportunity. I don’t expect to get fifty-four pages in a magazine again, anytime soon. [Laughs]

SB: Yeah. It was more of a book than a magazine. I almost feel like that series could be its own photography book.

TB: It was a really special story to work on, and I think they hired me because of the work that I had been doing in western Colorado, in farm country. But to compare the North Fork Valley with the Central Valley is a completely unjust comparison. It’s a very stark comparison, actually, between small family farms, the sort of thoughtfulness of sustainable agriculture, that, yes, there are problems with that form of agriculture—we could get into that a little bit. But I do think when you go to the Central Valley of California, for the most part, you are seeing these farmers like Stewart Resnick, who live in Beverly Hills and have incredible capital at their disposal and are making decisions about the environment while they are far removed from the environment upon which they’re making those decisions. 

That’s just one example. You could probably find countless examples in the West, in Texas, in Arizona. You mentioned the Guardian piece, [a] similar kind of environment there in Blythe, California, where I made those pictures. 

SB: That’s a case where Saudi Arabia, that’s a story of globalization, and as much as it is capitalization.

TB: Yeah, those types of farms are growing foods that should not be grown in those locations, because of the scarcity of resources. There is absolutely no reason to be growing citrus in what was once a desert. The movability of water makes it seem like it’s this limitless resource, when really…. The Guardian piece was also focused a little bit on the Colorado River, because that region is fed by the lower Colorado, and it gets into water laws that were created in the 1880s, if not earlier, and sometimes a little bit later. It makes you think—and realize—how the American West is really just this grand experiment of people that migrated from the East.

I’ve been on the East Coast now for a month—just finished up an artist residency—and it’s been an incredibly rainy month. Everything is so green, and it really dawned on me how people that moved west, that were creating these communities and these cities, were trying to make them look like the East Coast a little bit. It’s just not viable. We don’t get the amount of rain, we don’t have the amount of water resources that exist here, in New York and in other states out here.

When you live in a semi-arid environment, in a semi-arid climate, you play by different rules. Especially when you go to a place like Arizona or Southern California or the Central Valley, those places are playing by their own rules right now. The people who have the keys to power, when it comes to water, do everything they can to protect that. So much of it is caught up in legislature.  It’s a really bizarre thing. But, I guess, in terms of taking what I was doing with my photography in the North Fork, and trying to apply that to large-scale agriculture, I struggled at first, to be honest.

SB: Well, yeah, and [The Wonderful Company]’s property was off limits. You had to get creative in how you shot that story, including from a helicopter.

TB: Yes.

SB: There are these aerial pictures you took, one of which I absolutely love. It’s eerily beautiful. It’s this dried-up landscape, very much in the way you were just describing it. It almost looks like a massive Noguchi earthwork or something, even though it’s like the way water has been siphoned and moved through these farms—

TB: Yeah, there’s a dry gulch going through the center of the photograph, and then you can see where there was burned grass in a couple sections of it, and likely not a controlled burn. That picture was taken somewhere between Paso Robles, California, and Lost Hills, so that particular land was not owned by Stewart Resnick and Wonderful, but it did show the dryness of what that land looks like when there isn’t water going to it. We wanted to show that contrast between the wet and the dry.

I did quite a lot of Google Earth research and actually set the altitude and GPS coordinates for the helicopter pilot using Google Earth. It was sort of this surreal thing, where I had virtually experienced the world in Google Earth, and then I hopped in this helicopter, and then it was like, oh yeah, this is kind of what that looks like, but a little different. The light’s different. We photographed kind of magic hour–ish time, late afternoon into the early evening. We had to refuel, at one point, because it was about an hour and a half in the helicopter.

SB: There’s this one image, too, that is just so striking. I wonder if you found this on Google Earth first, but it’s a private runway owned by the company called Wonderful. And it says, in big block letters, across this runway: “WONDERFUL.“ And the sort of paradox between that text and the landscape around it, and the reality of what was being done [to the land] not being so wonderful. 

Photo from Bailey’s “A Kingdom From Dust” feature in the January 2018 issue of The California Sunday Magazine . (Courtesy Trent Davis Bailey)

TB: It’s a complicated piece, too, because ultimately, that company has also created lives for a ton of migrant workers and really created a whole community. They’ve started, after several pretty damning exposés over the years, this one just adding to the list, they’ve started to create fresh-food programs for the community and their workers. They’re doing some positive things. They’ve created a charter school and an elementary school. It’s definitely a way of creating upward mobility for that particular community. You’re able to look at the positive social aspects of what this corporation can do, but that doesn’t hide the fact that they’re doing this. They’re degrading the environment. I can safely say that, after spending the amount of time I did on that project and witnessing.

SB: I’d like to bring up the writer Rebecca Solnit here. She wrote an essay about your work—and really, about the acts of looking and taking pictures—for your book that’s about to come out, and one of the earliest editorial jobs you got, from 2017, was to take her portrait for T Magazine, for a piece titled “How Rebecca Solnit Became the Voice of the Resistance.” Tell me about that shoot, and also, there seems to be a strong resonance between her words and your pictures.

TB: Well, thank you. She has always been a huge inspiration to me. I teach photography on and off, and whenever I’m teaching an introductory photography class, I always have my students read the first chapter of her book Wanderlust. That chapter is titled “Tracing a Headland.” The Headlands are in San Francisco, in Marin County, and in that text, she begins by literally talking about the sensation of walking from heel to toe, and thinking about all the minute movements that your body makes as you walk through a space.

And then, it starts to become a little more observational of the actual environment of the Headlands, and it looks at some of the natural environment, some of the built environment and the military presence that was once there, that’s sort of…. Not buried, but hidden within that environment. I always think that that text is incredibly instructive for photographers, because it’s about time and the pace of walking. It’s about observation and looking at the multilayered environments in which we place ourselves. There is no untouched environment, at least in America, and you’d probably have to go very, very far to even be somewhere that isn’t—

SB: Northwest Territories or something. 

TB: Even there…. The world has been incredibly explored.

That is to say that I think, of course Rebecca has written about photography, she’s written essays for other photographers, she’s written about the work of Eadweard Muybridge. A lot of her work is about the act of seeing. I remember talking with her about that day. I remember setting up my four-by-five camera in her bedroom, and her making some comment about me being an Muybridgian apparition. [Laughter] Which sounds like something that she would write or say. She speaks the way she writes, and it was just such a pleasure to spend three hours with her. It felt like I was dreaming because I think I introduced you to Rebecca Solnit when we lived together, to her work.

SB: I did not know her work until you told me about it, yes.

TB: When that opportunity came up to photograph her, I expected it to be a portrait shoot where I had fifteen minutes, like I normally do. And then, I kind of asked her, “Hey, I want to bring my four-by-five camera. Would you have time to make it an hour-long shoot?” And then it ended up being nearly, like I said, three hours. We walked around her neighborhood in San Francisco and took pictures on the street. We took interior portraits in her apartment and home. I felt like I had made a new friend, and certainly at least somebody who knew who I was afterwards.

So, when I was working on The North Fork book, I thought about who might be able to provide text for it that would add something. I struggle with essays and photographic books that simply state what the work is doing, and I knew that she wasn’t going to write that. Instead, what she wrote was not at all what I expected that she would write, and that’s part of the beauty of asking a writer to provide something for your book.

SB: She basically takes a walk with words and only lands upon your work at the very end of it.

TB: Exactly. Which is, for me, one of the greatest compliments, because it feels as if she took inspiration from the way that I structured the book, which is this meandering trip through these dusty roads in this rural part of Colorado. She thinks about the history of photography and the different strategies that I’m using in the work, and how those fall within the history of photography.

SB: I love how, in the essay, she describes The North Fork book as “a book of yearning for what has been and might be, a book of looking at what it is to see what lies beyond, a book about the longing that is always present because so much else is not even amid beauty and abundance.” Wow. I don’t have anything else to say. [Laughs]

TB: Yeah, I was pretty floored when I read that, as well. It’s just a high compliment coming from anybody, and from her, it’s been really special to have that. Hopefully, I’ll get to take another picture of her one day.

SB: Elsewhere in the essay, on the subject of time and photography, she writes, “Perhaps that is the true subject of photographs, which are always traces of bygone moments, of the light that traveled eight minutes from the sun to reach the surface of the earth, and of the perception and action of the artist in response to what she saw. Nothing exists unto itself.” What do you make of that, and how do you think about the role of time in your practice?

TB: She has such a way with words. I felt like I learned something from reading her essay. Because there are these small, little sections like that that say so much, and say so much about photography. The word that comes to mind when hearing that particular phrasing is commemoration. And I think about photography as a device for commemorating memories and moments in time. Obviously, there’s the cliché of saying, “Photography captures fleeting moments,” which, sure it does, but it does so much more than that. I think she really found a way of thinking about how I am indirectly looking at things, which allows for multiple readings.

SB: You make space. Your photographs make space.

TB: Yeah. And ultimately, I was trying to make space for a different kind of family in my life. I was doing that photographically, visually, within the format of a square. Four lines make a square. You look through the viewfinder, and how do you feel space? And I hope that there’s spaciousness in my photographs. With that particular series, that was one of my goals.

SB: So, let’s go back to your—or our, I guess—

TB: [Laughs] Oh, no, where’s this going?

SB: —upbringing.

TB: Okay.

SB: Here I have to mention Flight 232, which I spoke about on a special episode of Time Sensitive a few years ago. For the listeners, United Airlines Flight 232 was a DC-10 plane that crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989, killing 112 people, including our mom. Our older brother, Brandon, and I were among the 185 survivors, and Trent and our dad were on a different flight the day before. If you’re up for it—and we’ve never really formally talked about this—I’d love to hear you speak about how you think about the crash and Mom’s death, and how these have shaped you and our family.

TB: [Pauses] I’ll go back to your question about twin-hood, and growing up without a mother is sort of the same. People ask me that, too, about that. And it’s all I’ve ever known. It is my life. It’s what I know. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with loving parents who are role models. We grew up with a single father, and it wasn’t the “traditional” family. It was, as Dad has often phrased, the “frat house.” That is what we grew up in. And—

SB: We did have a urinal in our bathroom.

TB: We did. Our bathroom was a 1970s relic that was red, white, and blue, and had a urinal in it. It was… [Laughs] … special.

I think, in terms of how that has shaped my life, it is everything. I recently became a parent, in 2019, which was exactly thirty years after the crash. When you become a parent, you face your inner child. You face who you were as a kid, and you face the family dynamics in which you grew up. And I say that you face those things because you then have to decide, what kind of family do you want to have? You then need to decide, what is the family culture that you want to create?

I think every parent strives to do better than their parents. Even if you grew up in a really “healthy” household, it is still difficult to raise children. You have to do it very mindfully, and I think, for me, I’ve been extremely mindful and I’ve been doing a ton of work to understand myself as a son and as a father, so that I can actually show up as a father. If I didn’t understand and do all the work that I’ve been doing to unpack the trauma that we experienced as kids, I wouldn’t be able to be the father I am today.

SB: This is maybe an impossible question—and I can’t even separate myself from this; it literally hits close to home—how would you describe our home and childhood to the listeners?

TB: Broken. It was incredibly broken. In the years after the crash, I remember Dad just shutting the door to his study, leaving us out in the living room as kids to kind of mind our own business or do our own thing. And he would put on Brahms or Beethoven so loud. Anytime I hear certain classical music, it just viscerally takes me back to this very particular moment.

SB: Phantom of the Opera.

Spencer (left), Trent (middle), and Brandon (right) during their upbringing.

TB: Oh, completely. I look at our homes that we grew up in. We grew up in two suburban homes, one basically in Littleton and the other one in Englewood, Colorado, both south of Denver. They were both older homes. One was, I believe, built in the 1920s and the other in the 1970s. Now that I know—I’m a homeowner now, and I know what it takes to keep a house—there was a lot of neglect on the physical home itself, and I look at that and there’s just so much metaphor in the neglect on the home. Also, the neglect of us boys, of what it felt like to grow up in that environment, in the house, and our own internal worlds were not all that different.

I’ve written a little bit about this, never published it, but I’ve thought about it, and maybe it will end up in a text in “Son Pictures” or something. But I’ve thought about the fact that there were these holes in the roof in both homes we grew up in. That our dad’s solution was to just put mop buckets underneath them and the water would literally, when it rained or snowed, eventually the snowmelt would drip down into these buckets. Or if it rained, it would drip into these buckets. I look at that as the architectural version of my grief, what we experienced in that environment. If you ignore that hole long enough in the ceiling, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and eventually, you have the decision of: Do I put up with this toxic environment, or do I flee it?

Eventually, we moved from one house to another because that was a toxic environment. And then, the next home had undeniably similar holes. And then we fled that as soon as we could. We were 14, and we both left to boarding school. We asked our dad if we could go to boarding school. And it’s so funny because if you’re not from the East Coast, if you’re from Colorado and you tell people you went to boarding school, they’re like, “What’d you do?” [Laughter] But for us, we were in a position, financially, where we could go—where our dad could send us—and we asked him if we could go to boarding school. He was reticent about the idea. He was like, “Well, okay, if you can take the SSAT and you can call the schools, get the brochures, apply, set up the interviews, and get in—”

SB: “And know where you want to go.”

TB: Yeah. “And know where you want to go, and get in, then you can go.” And I think that was him—

SB: We were both like, “Okay, cool. We’ve got this.”

TB: That was him calling a bluff. And then, being twins, we just fed off of each other’s energy. Next thing he knew, we were out of there. I think he was like, “Whoa.”

SB: We also should mention we were following the footsteps of Brandon, our older brother, who had already gone off to boarding school. 

TB: Yeah, we had visited him and thought, “Wow, this is a way more formative and safe and comfortable environment than our home.”

SB: On the twin front here, too, we did not apply to any of the same schools, and we went to different schools. I think that that was a formative moment for us, too, because growing up, we were always “Spencer-and-Trent.” Like, Spencer hyphen and hyphen Trent. We were one—

TB: Really? You were always first? [Laughs]

SB: I was born first, bro. But no—

TB: That’s a point of contention, too.


SB: Anyway. Anyway.

TB: I breached and was coming out backwards and—

SB: Okay, he has to tell the story.

TB: Well, Brandon and Spencer like to make a joke that I always approach everything ass-backwards.

SB: [Laughs]

TB: It’s fun having siblings, huh?

SB: But we did decide to separate geographically and physically ourselves, which, having grown up always kind of being seen as this unit, that was pretty formative, too.

Just to tie it back to photography, you’d started making pictures, if I can say that, in middle school with a teacher at the school we were at [Colorado Academy], Dania Pettus. And then, you continued on at Kent School, in Connecticut. Tell me about your early photography-making. And how you think about that early evolution of your work. I don’t know if I would call you an artist just yet, but maybe, yeah, you were an artist already. You were an artist in the making.

TB: I was certainly obsessive. Photography, for me, instantly became an infatuation. I would point my camera at anything and it excited me. It excited me more than anything, at first, the way it often does for anyone that learns darkroom photography, to see a black-and-white image come up in the developing tray. I was so obsessed with that process that I was shooting several rolls a week. Unfortunately, I don’t have most of them anymore. I don’t know what happened to them, but I do have some pictures that I made in middle school and high school, all thirty-five-millimeter black-and-white and—

SB: I would love it if you let us run some of these on the Time Sensitive site.

TB: Sure. Yeah, I can find them and can digitize them.

I was photographing my classmates, I was photographing trees. I think I was just interested in making my environment and my surroundings my subject. I can look at pictures that I made as a teenager, and they’re not all that different than some of the pictures that I now make as an adult. I don’t know where I formed my voice, if you want to call it that, or my vision as a photographer, but it was already there when I was 13.

SB: I mean, there’s a lot of different places we could go here. You studied art history and photography at CU Boulder. You interned one summer at the International Center of Photography in New York. This is probably a good time to bring up Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado, which has been such a catalytic place for you, it seems. And I have to also mention Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, whom you assisted while you were living in Brooklyn. All of these are kind of catalytic moments. And I don’t want to skip over anything, but how do you think about all of that, that I just mentioned, and your progression as an artist through that?

TB: I never wanted to give myself permission to be an artist. I really struggled to give myself permission. I finished high school and had won a Scholastic Art Award for the state of Connecticut, where my boarding school was, and was being offered some scholarships from art schools. I just wasn’t interested in going to art school. I couldn’t give myself permission. And I don’t know what that block was.

But I felt like, if I went and studied business, I’d be okay. [Laughs] So that’s what I started at CU Boulder. I got a marketing degree there; I still saw it through. But after one semester of marketing and business classes, I felt that there was a deep void, like a creative lack on the part of business thinking, that I just could not spend the rest of my life doing that, just that.

Thankfully, I was at a large university in-state and was able to apply to the arts college, too, and I used my photography from high school. Immediately, they were like, “Yep, you can get a B.F.A.” I entered into the B.F.A. program and, by the time I was about to graduate from that, I asked my advisor about all the art history classes I had taken and how many more that it would take to get an art history degree. And I was like two classes away from that, so I just took some summer school art history classes. Which, in the end, I stumbled into an art history degree, but really, those professors at CU Boulder, in the art history department, were the ones that have probably had one of the largest influences on how I see and how I think about art and, certainly, how I approach my photography.

SB: Now you have to talk about Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, these incredible photographers who I think also have shaped you and who, if I remember correctly, you met through the Anderson Ranch Arts Center.

TB: That is correct. I got a scholarship when I was in college to take a free workshop at Anderson Ranch, and I saw that they were teaching there, signed up for it, made an impression on them, and then came to visit you in New York City shortly thereafter, and they took me to the Robert Frank “The Americans” exhibition at the Met. After we walked through that together, they essentially said, “If you move to New York, we’d love to hire you.” The rest is history. I moved here and lived here for three years with you and worked for them the whole time. That had a profound influence on me. They were mentors. They lifted the cloak on what it took to be an artist. I got to see how they ran their studio and was essentially their studio manager during that time. I produced some photography workshops for them and assisted…. I mean, I’ve assisted over twenty of their workshops. I got to see the way in which they teach both bookmaking and teach photographers how to approach the world intuitively with a camera.

Most of those were street-photography workshops, and we even got to go to Spain and Cuba. I mean, it was a dream job, for sure, and learning from them, I certainly, as you do when you’re mentored by somebody—or when you see the ways in which they work…. It’s not like I was walking with Alex Webb and his Leica in the street. I didn’t get to see that.

But I did get to see the pictures that don’t get published. I did get to see Rebecca’s pictures that don’t get published. I helped process some of those and did the post-processing before publication or before an exhibition. I got to see exhibition planning. They made a little maquette of the gallery at Aperture when Alex had a show there [from December 2011 to January 2012]. We got to arrange the show, and I got to see how all of those things happen, and that’s something that you don’t really learn in a traditional art-school program. There are some master’s of photography programs now that, I would say, do cover those topics—bookmaking, exhibition planning, that sort of thing—but it was really an apprenticeship.

I actually think that they’re at my show at the Denver Art Museum today, which is special. And I was thinking about them walking through that show, feeling their influence in the work, because it’s present. There are pictures in “The North Fork” series that you can look at, where you’re like, “That one’s probably influenced by Alex, and that one’s influenced by Rebecca.”

But ultimately, I feel like I found my way into their world, visually and otherwise, and found my way out of it, and found my own voice in the process. Because we’re all borrowing from artists that came before us—they did. You can certainly look at the influence of Harry Gruyaert and Robert Frank in Alex’s work. Rebecca’s work, you can see the influence of Helen Levitt and Garry Winogrand’s “The Animals,” and—I could go on. So, it’s special to know that they had that sort of influence on me. It will always influence the work that I make, those years, working for them.

SB: I feel like this is a good time to bring up “Son Pictures”—or bring it back into the conversation. Share with listeners the concept for this project, how you’re thinking about it, and where it’s at right now.

TB: Well, it started by thinking about the plane crash, about Flight 232. I really wouldn’t have begun this project if it weren’t for you and Brandon. Essentially, I felt that both of you encouraged me, or at least said, “Yeah, go to Iowa, see what you find there.” That’s where it all started, was me thinking about the plane crash. But it was all intuitive. It was sort of like, “Okay, let’s see where that leads me.”

I see a lot of young artists, when I teach, that have really grand ideas for their work, or amazing ideas, it seems like, that would be really great visually, but then they just don’t pan out. Visually, it just is boring or not all that interesting, even if the idea’s good. I think a strong idea can guide an artist, but it’s not enough. The work needs to lead the artist somewhere new, into a new terrain. 

For me, with this project, that’s what it’s been all about. That first trip to Iowa, I was dating Emma, it was early in our relationship. I left Denver on this completely bluebird day, just beautiful, probably high seventies, windless, blue-sky day. And then, literally got to the Nebraska-Iowa border, and this just monumental Midwest storm blew through. And it was like what I was feeling on the inside about entering this world of grief that I had really ignored my entire life, and the gift in that. I just took out my camera and started taking pictures of this storm that was passing through. I was incredibly frightened driving through it, and wondering if I was going to have to hide out under an underpass. The storm cells were like something I’d never seen before.

“Untitled (Tarmac), Iowa” (2016) from Bailey’s ongoing series “Son Pictures.” (Courtesy Trent Davis Bailey and Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco)

Once the storm passed, even the color of the sky was like a red that I’d never seen before, which I made a picture of. I felt like that was the universe opening itself up to me. But then, I get to Sioux City, and I check into the hotel and the receptionist at the hotel where I’m staying for a few nights was like, “We’ve got you in that room at the top of the stairs right there, room 232.” I was like, “Can you say that again?” And she told me. The flight number was the room that the hotel put me in. And I’m like, “Okay, who’s….?” At that point—I’m not superstitious, but I felt like Mom was somewhere playing a part in this, just laughing at me, like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, keep going, keep going.” 

It definitely felt like there were these forces that just kept leading me in a direction. And that’s all of my projects. And you have to work slowly. It has to be methodical. Or at least the method is in the madness. It’s in letting the universe teach you.

SB: There’s another component to this project, which is that you’re using some found photography and existing photography. You found yourself in the Sioux City Journal photo archive, looking through the negatives of the pictures that were taken by the photojournalists documenting Flight 232. Tell me about the time there, the process, going through those pictures, what you saw, what you learned. I’ll never forget you calling me and saying that you saw things that you almost hope I never have to see.

TB: Yeah. Yeah, it’s gruesome. For those who don’t know, Spencer was in a coma for four days and doesn’t…. Spencer doesn’t remember the crash because of the coma, and also because we were not quite four years old. We were at an age in which you’re on the verge of having your earliest memories. My earliest memory is actually from our fourth birthday. But that’s besides the fact, I think—

SB: Wait, wait, wait, wait. 

TB: [Laughs]

SB: I want to hear the earliest memory, and then go back.

TB: Well, so on our fourth birthday, our grandmother [May Louise Lockwood], my mom’s mom, had Spencer and me at her house in Lake Placid, New York, and invited a whole bunch of local kids that were right around the same age as us, but we knew none of them. So there was this bizarre thing of these children or kids our age that ostensibly could have been our friends, but we didn’t know any of them. So it was like, “Who are these people?”

SB: And I’m one month out of a plane crash, and maybe a week or two out of a hospital.

TB: I remember there being this sort of gathering, and then there was a scavenger hunt. Our grandmother had put M&Ms in all these little, small crevices and hiding spots—

SB: Piano keys.

TB: You nailed it. In the large, nave-like living room that was at her house. There was a piano in the living room, and the keys were covered by the piano cover that slips up. I remember lifting that and seeing M&Ms—this array of morsels of black, of brown, blue, yellow, red—and they were alternating on the black-and-white keys. There was this sort of starburst of color placed upon this black-and-white scene. It’s sort of like uncovering a latent image.

SB: It’s photographic, for sure.

TB: It is. And I’ve thought about recreating that photograph, but I think the description of it is more potent. I’ve started writing about some of these memories that feel like photographs. And maybe I’ll do something with them one day, but this is one of those memories.

SB: And M&Ms were Mom’s favorite candy, so, in a way, this was Oma having us searching for Mom, which is a whole…. I mean, maybe that wasn’t intentional, but that’s a component. Aside from a fire truck I played with in the hospital, that was my earliest memory, too, was that M&M scavenger hunt, and then Dad helping me break open a piñata on the back porch a little after that.

TB: Yeah, I remember the piñata, too. Yeah, it’s wild. It’s wild. I can’t—I often rely on photographs to remember periods of times in our youth, but the photographs stopped, too, after the crash, because our mom was producing them. 

SB: Mm-hmm.

TB: So that’s another element of the archive in this project that I’ve been dealing with. 

But to answer your question about the pictures from the Sioux City Journal archive, yeah, I do hope that you never see some of those. Including them in the work, I feel a responsibility of how I share them. But there is also a complete prowess to the three photographers at the Journal who were photographing that day: Mark Fageol, Gary Anderson, and Ed Porter.

One of them was photographing from the sky. He actually knew a local pilot and had gone into the air shortly after the crash had occurred. He was photographing the sort of smoldering ruins of the crash from the air, which was a vantage that had been published, but I had no memory of seeing those pictures. So that had been really surprising to me, to both see the crash from the ground at Sioux Gateway Airport and from the sky. 

Another element of it was just that Gary Anderson knew how to sneak onto the tarmac before he got kicked off, but he managed to take a whole bunch of pictures, one of which is of Spencer, and—

SB: Well, several of which. And that’s—

TB: Yeah, well, the one that was widely published is of you, but he said “several of which,” because I discovered the whole sequence that led up to the iconic photo that is now a sculpture on the banks of the Missouri River, which is the “Spirit of Siouxland” memorial [to] the crash.

I think finding these sort of cinematic sequences, seeing the way that those photographers saw that day—the event—unfold, it gave me an eerie sense of being there behind the camera with them, in a way that I hadn’t felt before. And really, a lot of my memories of the crash were solely based on media. I had this tightly cropped, tightly edited version of the crash that had been just the published images from that archive. And so I saw it opened wide up. There are some impeccable photographs that never saw the light of day. They were just gathering dust in this folder until I found it.

SB: I’ll never forget the sense of awe I felt when you sent me that sequence, because for me, it always felt so static and still—that moment, that one famous Gary Anderson photograph of Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Nielsen carrying me. But then, seeing it as a sequence made it all the more real. Not having any memory of it, of course, it is—and always has been—this sort of out-of-body experience for me, seeing this experience I went through mediated in that way—and mediated so broadly, and yet I don’t have any memory of it. So seeing that sequence was really powerful and profound for me.

You’ve also spent a lot of time on this project in Lake Placid, where Mom grew up and where her body is buried. It’s also where we spent our childhood summers. What has it been like for you to return to the Adirondacks as a part of making this work?

TB: Yeah, most recently, I got the opportunity to be an artist-in-residence in a traveling artist residency. It’s sort of a one-of-a-kind thing. It’s called Brooklyn Darkroom, and it’s a nonprofit that operates a 2002 VW Eurovan. I got to take the Eurovan up to the Adirondacks for three weeks—two weeks on my own, and then the final week I was with my wife and children. So I’m fresh off of that trip. I literally returned the van this morning to South Brooklyn, where it’s stationed.

I have been thinking a lot about that. I think the idea of time as it persists in the Adirondacks, for me, is one that’s based in these really sweet memories of going there as a kid and getting to experience this place that I know my mom grew up in, that was meaningful to her, and the natural environment that really shows up in a lot of the artwork that she made when she was alive. She often drew the riverine edges of these brooks and streams that had ferns bursting out of them. I found myself attracted to those subjects.

When I first went to the Adirondacks, in 2019, while working on this project, I was looking at a lot of Mom’s artwork. She maybe at some point in time aspired to be a serious artist, but the bulk of her archive comes from her years in college, which were wildly experimental and, I think, much looser than the way in which I [previously] allowed myself to work as a photographer. If you look at “The North Fork” series, it’s very in-the-zone. It’s constrained. It’s medium-format color photography, and very specific types of distances from subjects. I was loose and intuitive, but there is a rigidness to the work, as well. You can see there are some tight parameters. And I looked at Mom’s work and felt like, where are the parameters? This is awesome. I want to take what she did, working in black-and-white and in color, layering images the way she did in the printmaking studio, but I wanted to do all of that in camera.

So I went there with color film and black-and-white film, a large-format camera, a medium-format camera, made multiple exposures in the camera, kind of in the way that she might layer pictures on top of each other while making a screen print. I wanted her subjects to become my subjects. So I photographed these same environments with her in mind. And it’s really just a way of accessing this idea of Mom in the natural environment. You could go so far as to say Mother Earth, but I think it’s more about me accessing this relationship with her that I never had. And it’s really a conversation between her native dialect in art, which was drawing and printmaking and painting, and my native dialect, which is photography. I’ve become really excited by placing the photographs I’m making in the places that she lived and died, in Iowa and in the Adirondacks, next to the works that she made when she was alive. It feels generative. It feels alive. There’s an aliveness to that conversation that has never existed for me with Mom.

SB: We were in Lake Placid together on the thirtieth anniversary of Flight 232, and there’s a picture in this series of a splash in the lake. That splash is my body going into the water. I was hoping maybe you’d talk about that picture.

TB: Yeah. That picture is much more than a splash. On the surface, you could say, oh, it’s a splash, or it’s this brilliant burst of energy, which it is. But for me, it’s a portrait of you. I struggle to make extremely formal portraits, and I like looking at things indirectly. This is a case-in-point example of that, where I feel like I could have taken straight portraits of you that day and said, “This is Spencer on the thirtieth anniversary of the crash,” and had this big explanation of why I did that. But I think, you look at that picture, and if you know the story that precedes it, which I am telling visually in this series, by the time you get to that picture, there’s an understanding of both the visual vocabulary that I’m playing with, but also there’s a narrative arc of our family story that exists within it.

By the time there’s this picture of the splash, of you landing in the lake on the thirtieth anniversary of the crash, it’s proof of your existence, which brings me back to that idea of photography as commemoration. That photograph commemorates a very particular moment in time, one five-hundredth of a second probably, of you landing just beneath the surface of the lake in which Mom grew up. All the layers are there, but it’s basically a very simple photograph of a splash, but it’s beautiful. It’s the weight of your body falling from the sky and making this beautiful shape in the water.

SB: I want to finish this conversation with a big question. We’ve both dealt with the profound void of motherhood and the mother in our lives, the lack thereof, and the attendant grief of that. So I wanted to ask—and this is sort of selfish, and I obviously have my own version or answer to this question—but now that you’re a father with two kids and have been parenting alongside Emma as she’s become a mother, and now having this more intimate relationship with Mom, through engaging with her work in the way you have been through this project, what have you learned about motherhood and this void—this abyss, really? And, to tie it back to this podcast, what has it taught you about time?

TB: Well, I’ll try to keep the first part of the answer really simple, in that all life would not exist without mothers. And to witness Emma in her motherhood is a gift. To see a mother so fully committed to her children—it’s incomprehensible, given the upbringing that we had, or the trauma and experience that we had. I’m trying to find the right words for it, but it’s profound. What was the second part of that?


SB: The second part of the question was how or what it’s taught you about time?

TB: Being a parent to young children—I have an infant and a toddler at the moment—any notions of time that I previously had, I’ve had to do away with them. I’ve had to grieve the loss of my previous existence, of what time felt like before being a parent. I don’t use the word grief lightly, because there is a sadness associated with the word grieving or grief, but it’s also about letting go. And it’s about letting go of notions of time and accepting new versions of time and new experiences of time. And the way in which your schedule shifts. The ways in which I can make work now versus before I had kids is completely different, and I’ve had to attend to that.

But I also have had to attend to the ever-changing schedule of my children, and I mean that biologically. As a young child develops, they’re developing at a rate that is far more quickly changing than I’m developing, as a 38-year-old, now. And to witness that, every single week, how I experience time is often determined by my children—and their notions of time are ever-shifting.

SB: It really makes me think about how special—how lucky—we were to spend three years and eleven months with Mom.

TB: Yeah. And I know confidently that her influence is there. 

I just took Bennett to her gravesite, and Audie and Emma—those are my children and my wife. We all went there with Emma’s mom, Victoria, and stood on a rainy day in Lake Placid at Mom’s gravesite. Her gravestone, when it’s wet, is illegible. They couldn’t read it. But I had it memorized. They said, “What does it say?” And I said, “‘SHARE WITH ME MY LOVE OF FRIENDS, OF FAMILY, OF MY BOYS.’” Which I’m sure Dad wrote. It sounds like it came from him. [Laughs]

SB: Dad did write it.

TB: Yeah. But it’s a lovely sentiment. The rest of that trip, anytime we were driving through the Adirondacks, anytime we passed a cemetery, Bennett asked to pull over because he wanted to say hi to Grandma Fran. And he’s 3. He’s nearly the age that we were when the crash happened, and so we’re approaching that, and it’s something that’s on my mind. But to see the way in which his mind is working and making sense of the world, it made me think about how we did that in those years—and how we’ve done that since.

SB: Trent, thank you.

TB: Thanks, Spencer. Happy birthday. [Laughs]


This interview was recorded in The Slowdown’s New York City studio on August 18, 2023. The transcript has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity. The episode was produced by Emily Jiang, Ramon Broza, Mimi Hannon, Hazen Mayo, and Johnny Simon. Illustration by Diego Mallo based on an photograph by Zeke Bogusky.