Tag Archives: Self Portraiture

Medium Festival: Catherin Colaw

Featuring photographers seen at the Medium Photography Festival in San Diego….

I have to admit, I’m not always a fan of the nude, but when the nudes are self-portraits, and the photographer is working alone in a variety of exposed environments that create an incredible venerability for her safety and sanity, it’s hard not to appreciate the results. Catherin Colaw considers her self-portraiture an exploration of women and their bodies and an individual performance done in the environment–and I think she has successfully achieved the conversation between body and place.

Catherin received her BFA from Arizona State University. Her work has been exhibited in galleries on both coasts and the desert in between. She has lived and worked in Arizona, New York City,
and now San Diego.


Original Sin

These images are an exploration of sexuality and nakedness, vulnerability and separateness. A women’s identity is sacred and yet it is often stripped down and defined by her bare body. In this series, nudity is no longer about sexuality, but about vulnerability. Each image is a self-portrait and a meditative practice. They are performances that require a challenging stillness and trust. The dismemberment of the nude women’s body becomes a simultaneously beautiful and oppressive dialogue between the landscape and the female form.

Elizabeth Siegfried

I can’t imagine how rewarding it must have been for Elizabeth Siegfried when she stumbled upon a forgotten box of 16mm film at her family’s  summer home. She immediately knew she had unearthed something truly special. The discovery allowed her a window into her own past and family history, witnessing relatives in summer pursuits, animated and moving.  Elizabeth has created a project about those films, Termina, where in the last grid, she includes herself, bringing the family tree full circle.  Elizabeth rececently opened an exhibition of Termina at The Art Space Gallery in Huntsville, Ontario that runs through July 29th. I am also featuring work from her Off-Season project.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth lives and works in Toronto, Ontario. Known for her work in self portraiture and photographic narrative,
Elizabeth has worked with the historical process of platinum for
twenty-five years and has exhibited her images in Canada, the US, Italy,
Germany, Japan and Mexico. In recent years, she has expanded her mode
of presentation to include iris and other archival digital prints.  Her work has been published widely and is held in many significant collections.

Termina consists of four grids devoted to the leading women of each generation in Siegfried’s family. The first three grids of historical imagery present her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother. The fourth grid consists of the artist taken between 1987 and 1992 and includes three recent self-portraits.

Still from Termina
The films shot by her family between 1922 and 1945 were in remarkably sound condition. She transferred them to digital video, downloaded them to her computer and created Termina, a photographic installation that tells the story of her diminishing family tree and contemplates the ending of one branch of Siegfried’s family lineage: her own.

Still from Termina

Termina addresses a reality that resonates with many people today. It asks questions and provokes dialogue about the choice to bear and raise children, the future of family in both personal and universal contexts and the emotional implications of these realities.

Stills from Termina
Off Season explores
usually active locations during times of dormancy. 
In these technology
driven, overcrowded, chaotic times, the images offer us quiet spaces to
breathe, observe and contemplate—to bring us back to ourselves. 

Each image suggests that
ambiguous state of mind in which one is not certain whether something has ended
or something is about to begin. In that captured moment there is no certainty,
only the timeless hovering of possibility that reflects on the past while at
the same time suggesting the future.

Images from Off Season

Kimiko Yoshida

           “The preoccupation with ‘I’ has become a cliché in contemporary art,” says Japanese photographer Kimiko Yoshida.  For over a decade, she has created large, color photos of herself in which she wears elaborate costumes that reference a wide range of subjects, from haute couture to indigenous cultures to the canon of Western painting to the Zen minimalism of her own culture.  By constantly changing what at first appears to be a self-portrait, “I am basically saying that there is no such thing as a self-portrait. Each of these photographs is actually a ceremony of disappearance. It is not an emphasis of identity, but the opposite, an erasure of identity.”
Born in Tokyo in 1963, Yoshida came of age in a tradition-bound culture where the attitude towards the role of women left her alienated and unhappy. She studied literature and worked in fashion.  It allowed her to hone her eye, but she remained frustrated.  Despite her father’s objections, she enrolled in the Tokyo College of Photography.  Even with her degree in hand, she felt her options for a creative career in Japan were limited. She knew she had to escape the stifling confines of her life and she decided to move to France. (restricted constricted circumscribed limited stifling )
“Since I fled my homeland to escape the mortifying servitude and humiliating fate of Japanese women,” Yoshida says, “I amplified through my art a feminist stance of protest against contemporary clichés of seduction, against voluntary servitude of women, against ‘identity’ defined by appurtenances,”—or accessories—“and ‘communities,’ against the stereotypes of ‘gender’ and the determinism of heredity.” Yoshida came to think of the notion of a solid, permanent self as a “fantasy.”  She quotes the Freudian psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, “The ego is constructed like an onion: one could peel it and discover the successive identifications which have constituted it.”  There is no Kimiko, Kimiko is saying: “the being is pitted; it has no central core.”
Yoshida critiques the idea of a firm and unchanging identity in a variety of ways, most obviously by changing it.  In her “Brides” series, she often photographs herself in indigenous garb from around the world that she borrows from museums.  In her “Paintings” series, she and her husband repurpose items from the archives of Spanish fashion designer Paco Rabanne.  No matter what the source material is, Yoshida riddles the final product with playful anachronisms and cross-cultural references that undermine its perceived authenticity.  The Paco Rabanne garments and accessories, made between 1965 and 2000, are themselves full of unusual materials, from plastic bottles to CD-roms.  Yoshida adds a twist by refusing to wear them as intended: shoes become headdresses, dresses become hats, etc.  Yet another twist comes when you realize that Yoshida’s odd remixes actually reference paintings from Western art history, from Caravaggio to Picasso to Warhol.  And she places these figures, which often display a baroque opulence, against featureless backgrounds that recall the minimalism of Zen art.

Yoshida not only changes her identity, but she does it a lot—she’s made over 300 of these elaborate, time-consuming images since 2000.  No one character appears to get special treatment: they are all centered in square frames and afforded only a single photograph each.  What individuality that may remain often threatens to bleed into oblivion, as many of her images, such as “The Capricious Girl,” are nearly monochromatic.  Her makeup doesn’t enliven or articulate her character, as in the West, but rather effaces it, as in the tradition of the Japanese geisha.  Ultimately, Kimiko the person disappears behind these suspect masks into a wall of color.

           Cindy Sherman is another artist who dons costumes in front of the camera and who even references art history like Yoshida.  But while Sherman’s post-modernism feels ironic and satirical, and her craft intentionally clumsy, Yoshida’s work feels solemn and majestic, and her craft highly polished. And while the meanings of Sherman’s work reside in its flimsy surfaces, Yoshida’s work provides the artist with an internal, metaphysical space to metamorphose.  “Art is above all the experience of transformation,” explains Yoshida. “All that’s not me, that’s what interests me. To be there where I think I am not, to disappear where I think I am, that is what matters.”  In the end, perhaps the photographs themselves are simply evidence of this performance.  But it is interesting that Yoshida, an artist who is driven by the denial of the self, has made them with such a singular and memorable voice.

In the end, the photographs themselves are simply evidence of this performance.  It is interesting that Yoshida, an artist who is driven by the denial of the self, speaks with such a singular and memorable voice.

Yoshida has solo shows at St. Jakobshalle in Basel, Switzerland, and the Musée Pavillion Vendôme-Dobler in Aix-en-Provence, France, both opening June 13.  Her work is also in a group show at the Musée de la Tapisserie in Angers, France that opens June 29. More of her work can be seen here.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

Photo Shows – Group show I LOVE YOU opens at Tenderpixel London and Mahtab Hussain’s Building Desires on show at mac Birmingham

©EJ Major, Marie Claire RIP (2004-2007). photograph courtesy of the artist.

Today two shows, one opening this week in London and another that has already opened in Birmingham. I LOVE YOU is a group show curated by Richard Ansett at Tenderpixel in London. The show runs from Friday this week until 16 June. One of the series on show is EJ Major‘s Marie Claire RIP (2004-2007), see photo above.

©Mahtab Hussain from Building Desires show. Photo courtesy of the photographer

Already on show and running until 10 June in Birmingham, Mahtab Hussain shows his series of portraits Building Desires at mac Birmingham. Go see, go look, go ponder identity in contemporary British society as explored through the lens of Hussain, who describes himself as a British Pakistani Kashmiri, and asks the question: What does it mean to be a British Pakistani male today?

A photograph is a secret about a secret…the more it tells you the less you know. Diane Arbus
Major says of the series: ”Marie Claire RIP is based on an article published in Marie Claire magazine in 2002 featuring police mug-shots of the same woman taken over a fourteen year period. The article revealed that not long after the last picture was taken the woman was found dead. Marie Claire RIP is a re-staging of these images using the artist as subject.

“This piece was motivated by a desire to memorialise an unnamed person, a woman who had already died and had no control over the use of her image. At the same time the piece is intended to be non-specific in terms of the nature of the character’s demise.. While the piece challenges the veracity of the photographic portrait it also finds an authenticity in a notion of self-portraiture that involves acting. It is me and it isn’t her and yet it is her and it isn’t me at the same time.”

I LOVE YOU also includes work by Grace Brown, Natasha Caruana, Pete McGovern and Andre Penteado. I have to admit though that I am a bit stumped by the accompanying text to the show and how exactly it relates to the title and theme of the show. I leave it with you, dear readers, to follow the link and enlighten me as to how it applies. I get the gist and I can understand some of the references but am not sure how it relates. That said, I will pop along to the opening on Friday briefly as I am back on UK terra firma.

And on the topic of I Love You, here’s a link to the short video mash-up to Lionel Richie’s Hello that I posted in February but feel like linking to again.

Hussain’s project – created over the last four years since he was at Goldsmiths studying for a BA in Art History – introduces three key elements of masculinity; the young boy bound by cultural and religious constraints, the teenager who begins to form a new identity on the streets away from the security of family, and the contemporary Pakistani male who has adopted desirable mainstream ideals of what it mean to be man living in the UK.

For Building Desires, Hussain is also engaging with the local community in Birmingham and has created a live working wall where the audience can answer his key question about identity. “I also add an interview (text format) that I have conducted with an individual each week, talking about masculinity and identity and also an image of the week.” I saw some of Hussain’s portraits from the ongoing series quite a while back and was impressed by his gentle approach to both the individual photographic subjects as well as the topic of identity, as a whole. However, I’ve yet to see the recent portraits.

See more from the project…

©Mahtab Hussain from Building Desires show. Photo courtesy of the photographer

©Mahtab Hussain from Building Desires show. Photo courtesy of the photographer

Filed under: Documentary photography, Photographers, Photography Shows, Visual Artists, Women Photographers Tagged: Building Desires, EJ Major, I LOVE YOU, london, mac Birmigham, Mahtab Hussain, Marie Claire RIP, portraiture, Tenderpixel Gallery

Looking at Success: Natalie Dybisz aka Miss Aniela

I first saw the intriguing and surreal photographs of Miss Aniela five or six years ago.  It was one of those visual encounters when late at night you have gone down the rabbit hole of links and come across work by someone who is of an age where they still can’t legally buy a drink (in the U.S.), and it leaves you slightly depressed.  But I wasn’t the only one discovering her photographs–her images and her story was gobbled up by blogs and e-zines all over the world and Natalie Dybisz (aka Miss Aniela) became an overnight internet sensation.

Recently I was interviewed by Fabiano Busdraghi of the Camera Obscura blog/magazine, and Natalie happened to comment on the interview–it was then that I realized that she was working through her own idea of success, how to navigate it and how to achieve it, and that she would be interesting person to interview.  How does someone who has had so much acclaim at the beginning of their career sustain that momentum, and then how does someone grow, experiment, and make mistakes in front of a watching public?  And for Natalie, most importantly, how does she move from fine art phenom to working equally successfully in the commercial and editorial worlds?

The Fourth Soil
Let’s start
at the beginning.  What drew you to photography and at what point during University did
you know that it was what you wanted to pursue?

My foray into photography happened whilst I was at
University, but studying something else. It was an English and Media degree,
during which I discovered other artists/amateurs around the world sharing their
work on the internet, and to my surprise, openly sharing their
self-portraiture. This re-awakened a desire to take pictures (I had had a brief
stint with self-portraiture a few years earlier with a digital camera loaned
from my college’s art department) but here, the artist pseudonym ‘Miss Aniela’
was born, Aniela being my middle name, and a new body of work emerged which I
started to share online. Being a creative person, photography became the
appointed vocation, mainly through the allure of the immediacy of digital
photography. Self-portraiture began for me as a somewhat shameful habit, so I
liked the private process of being able to take a picture of myself, see my
results straight away and take it forward to experiment in processing, always
in control.

The Escape

It seems that you had huge successes while still in school–did that
success impact your college experience?

I made a lot of images (though I didn’t think of it so
‘professionally’ then) and had my first exhibition locally in Brighton, started
to sell some prints, and whilst that’s certainly a great start, I guess I never
saw it as groundbreaking. I have always been hungry for massive things, in
fact, so much so that I’ve have to curb that humongous desire a bit to avoid
being naïve about how quick ‘success’ can happen, and indeed, how meaningful
quick successes really are. However, in answer to your question, I still had
plenty of time to attend my lectures (the schedule was quite laidback!) and get
a first… it was the employment I entered afterwards that was promptly disrupted
by growing photography opportunities.

The Adrenalin

An Impromptu Performance

It also feels like your work was well ahead of the visual learning curve– the
kind of self portrait imagery that you were (and are) exploring at that time
was quite unique.  I remember seeing your work 5 years ago and your visual
voice was so powerful right from the beginning….

Thank you, I think the biggest compliment people can
make is when they speak holistically about my work and about me as the creator
– when they suggest that I have a ‘voice’ that not only uses the skills of
photography but the creativity, ‘talent’ or so on – it suggests respect and
longevity which is ultimately what any artist wants in their life. 

On another note, it’s interesting you mention seeing
my work from 5 years ago – it does make me wonder when people mention having
known my work for a long period of time who I wouldn’t have imagined seeing it.
It makes me hope for more of those onlookers to reach out – the smallest
spurring-on from others in the art industry can be uplifting and leveraging.


Having achieved so much publicity and accolades at an age where most other photographers are still finding their way, does it feel like you missed your “photographic childhood”?

I feel that my photographic ‘childhood’ is my initial foray into photography, the self-portraiture from 2006-2009 which gained a lot of attention. But
there was a question of where the attention was going and getting into
the right circles, and I knew my dream was to make a long-term impact. 
It was also a ‘childhood’ because I am happy to consider that phase a fun and memorable period of letting loose, experimenting and setting foundations to who I am now: what I would call the more refined ‘adult’ who has more of a focused consciousness on what they are doing, manifested specifically in my current work, and everything that work suggests of my future direction. 

Also, as this new ‘adult’, I feel as though I can and will attain more rounded respect and not just a single-faceted ‘wow’ at a technique employed as in my earlier work. Another major thing I am noting is the mileage to be had in sharing one’s work in new circles, accessing more places on the ‘internet map’ than the known territories of mostly unprofitable photo-sharing sites, just taking advantage of the many opportunities both virtual and physical to get one’s work into different contexts that can be more intellectual, lucrative, or both.


you are a popular image maker with close to 11,000 FB fans and have influenced
a whole generation of young photographers… Do you feel a responsibility to
your fan base?  And do you feel you have to stay creatively one step

Those are good questions. In terms of
‘responsibility’, yes and no. Yes, because the nature of my work, by which my
popularity/profile has been raised, is something that should be noted and observed
as inherent to my ‘brand’ as a creator, in order to keep that accrued audience
satisfied. But then sometimes the notion of a ‘brand’ is at odds with being an
‘artist’, which is about being true to your fluctuating, complicated self.  But surely in either case, the audience
is exactly that – the audience – who have chosen to come and view whatever you
are putting out, there is something they like and trust about you. I have
always remained true to following my instincts and expressing what most stimulates
me; the only troubles have laid in the continuous self-doubt of how exactly to
build, extend and monetise that audience to be able to make a living from art.

Migration Season

To some degree, the ‘Miss Aniela’ name has become a bit
of a brand, with my partner Matthew on board as a business, the name through
which we sell our workshop-style event (big, laid-on fashion shoots) and pursue
clients. But it will always be an artist-led ‘brand’. I will always put out
what I am passionate about, whether it’s a piece of new work or an event where
I show people that being a photographer is about ‘doing it for yourself’. I would
not feel comfortable otherwise. Miss Aniela is only a ‘brand’ in terms of
taking on an ostensible form and structure that resembles a business. Behind
that, I am always a thinking feeling artist.


I do feel inclined to keep ‘one step ahead’, but
that’s mostly because I naturally veer away from trends and ‘what everyone else
is doing’, at least, from the things that become hyped or mass-trends (I
dislike that in any form: music, film, TV etc). So, in my personal artmaking,
it’s a natural in-built mechanism that keeps me moving from one thing to the
next, when one thing feels ‘done’, I can rarely produce another perfunctory
image to fit alongside it, no matter how much it might keep the momentum of my
audience’s lips moving. I talk here in particular about techniques: a good
example is my phase of ‘levitation’ photography which I unpick at length on
Fabiano Busdraghi’s Camera Obscura blog. 

 But I’m also referring to other
phases: phases of feeling/desire (e.g. my fairly lighthearted ‘cloned’ self
portraits), or being drawn to a particular location (doing a series with
abandoned buildings from which I made a dedicated self-published book).

Her Fleeting Imprint

And then, currently in my Ecology series, I am
expressing a more troubled outlook, rather than using the subject as a
character in a fantasy world, it moves towards inferring the crumbling
infrastructures of our real world – a shift from the personal to the
environmental, but with the human element and often still using myself as a model.
This series is fuelled by my personal phase of having the urge to just go
laying naked outdoors, to present a ‘stripped down’ scene of starkness, with
other elements such as litter, ironic objects, and surreal distortions at once
alluring and revolting.

 Gyre Falls
My series ‘Surreal Fashion’ began as playing around
with fashion portraits, trying to make them more contextual and interesting –
and also, for them to take on a different appearance in post-production that
would transform them from just being a shot anyone could take in that highly
contrived, ‘styled’ situation. I find that a lot of fashion photography has
that ‘samey’ look to it, and I wanted to take the images a dimension further. Inspired
by the paintings and objects in the locations where I shoot the portraits, I’ve
started to incorporate them into the actual photos, giving the
objects/paintings a new lease of life, literally re-animating them. 

Storm Door

favourite one was in making a painted sea spill and crash around a model in
‘Storm Door’.  The painting was in
the adjoining room, and had previously frustrated me with inspiration I did not
know how to vent! The picture became my way of consuming it, in a creation of
my own.

In this series, it’s hard to ‘plan’ exactly what I
will do with a prop – I just get a feeling that something will happen with it,
and I play around with possibilities. So I am able to keep it growing into a
‘series’ because the main criteria is that it involves an object taking on a
surreal force within the image, and together, all the images become like a
colourful tapestry. I am aware that some of the images are less suitable for
the commercial interest of fashion than others – it is the more subtle ones
that become part of my actual fashion stories. On the whole though, my goal is
to exhibit the best of the series, as they have already proved enticing to

The Hunt
The White Witch

How is that recognition impacting your current desire to make commercial work
and get a foot hold into that market?

Gaining commercial work is very important to me,
because my idea of success of having someone believe in my ability to create,
and the trust that I will create what they want. The same applies to fine art:
having a gallerist or curator believe in my work and vision.

I know what it is like to be so compelled by someone
else’s work: no matter of the age, credentials, or any other factor, you just
‘know’ that someone has ‘it’. That ‘it’ is like love, it becomes the meaning of
life, the feeling that defies fear of mortality! An example is the contributors
whom I choose for my books, like you have said about your own blog, going
beyond ‘me, me, me’ is the next level of self-fulfilment in that you are
helping share other talent with the world. Passion for art is like a common
language, but unwritten or unspoken; it is about just feeling the conviction
that someone’s work needs to be seen, shouted from the rooftops. I also feel
this way when I meet an astounding model or hairstylist. I love meeting people
who are – genuinely – passionate and hungry, who never rest (even to their
detriment), who are so serious about making something happen that goes beyond
money or logic. The bonus is when you can meet someone who does also have a sense of business and logic
– whose passion doesn’t send them completely to cuckoo land! For that is how
dreams and wishes become real and serious. I strive daily for that balance, and
to convey it, as well as find it in others.


 Do you want to straddle both the worlds of fine art and editorial/commercial

I do want to straddle both, and I’m realising it is
possible, as long as focus is applied in equal amounts to both – which is the
tricky part. Sometimes I get lost wasting time in the blurry worlds in between
the two – entertaining an audience online, doing admin or simply procrastinating.
Then there is also another facet to my work which is the fashion shoot events
we hold in different countries, which takes a lot of organisation, but my
partner oversees most of that, and the events themselves lend well to the
creation of the fashion work that I am currently submitting to magazines and
using to get a foothold into fashion, as well as building my art/fashion fused
series which I’d like to exhibit too.

Harmony String

I see other photographers able (and indeed, almost
obliged) to pursue commercial photography of all kinds as well as keep doing their
‘personal’ projects. So I see it as no matter that I have to do the same – but
I relish the idea of commercial projects, in working with budgets large or
small, to put together productions, and make ‘art’ happen, albeit
commodified.  My partner Matthew
and I live and breathe photography, we are constantly thinking of new ideas,
and whilst waiting for clients, we get busy making our own productions happen. We
are genuinely connected to the creation of art using whatever means we have at
hand: whether that’s a reflector, smoke bomb, and my naked body in a spot of
woodland, or a 17th century stately home with thousand of pounds of
lighting and 6 models in full Regency attire.

Another Whirl

How does it feel to expose so much of yourself through your work, physically
and mentally?

I used to expose more of myself mentally, as in
‘personally/anecdotally’, through journalistic dialogue alongside my images. This
became a drag, because as well as my work becoming reminiscent of a sighing
teenage girl’s diary, I just felt as though it undermined the work a bit. Now I
separate the two more, and use places like Twitter as an anecdotal outlet, and
give my work some conceptual breathing space.

But, I am an artist who likes to ‘talk’. I engage
regularly in the written word in different ways, but I try to balance it out by
blending the technical, artistic and anecdotal together: ultimately to engage
with people and not encourage the saturation of any of element. A key example
is how I write my books – in my most recent book Creative Portrait Photography,
I try to talk about the whole process of creation, showing the story behind the
making of an image including the tools, the intentional thinking, and the
surprises. I also get involved as much as possible with speaking engagements at
fairs and events.


On a level of physical exposure, I am exposing myself
naked even more than ever. It stems from an increasing yearning to take the
focus off the exclusively-male titillation element, and instead stand exposed
on my own terms, as a female human body that is not just always sexually
suggestive, but also can be, quite unashamedly – after all, sex is fundamental,
and a massive part of our consciousness, it is life itself. And sometimes I
even take a sensual or suggestive pose and choose not to settle for its beauty
or simplicity, and play on the viewer’s expectation, almost to subvert or
disrupt the subject’s vulnerability to the gaze of the spectator.

 The Corkscrew

The Invasion

The milestone where I really felt as though I was
‘exposing’ myself physically and sacrificing myself to my art was when I did a
shoot naked with a python last year, to produce an image inspired by John
Collier’s Lilith and Evelyn de Morgan’s Cadmus and Harmonia (my image ‘Double
bind’). I walked about naked in front of the team on the day, who were to that
point strangers. I also put out a ‘behind the scenes’ video showing myself
wandering around starkers and thought, well, that’s it, that’s me exposed

Double Bind

My increasing desire is to lay myself bare, and use
myself as an instrument sacrificed to art. The safety net is in keeping the art
less about ‘me’ and more about the message or aesthetic being conveyed,
although of course that ‘message’ is always filtered and shaped through the
personal experience of the artist creating it. It is always personal to some
extent, but at the volume we can turn up or down.

Your new work is so much about mixing ideas: self-portraiture and
self-starting, combining the landscape and portrait, surrealism, environmental
concerns seeping into the work and mind, merging of surrealism/digital
manipulation with fashion portraits, colour vs. b/w.  Your well of
inspiration seems limitless.  Can you talk about how you approach an
image, and ultimately create a body of work?

Sometimes I feel I do too much different work, there’s
always a way to organise all the output, even if that comes later down the line
after months or even years of creating the material. When I produce an image
there is always a sense of spontaneity that I have learned to embrace, ie. a
sense that I don’t have a specific pre-vision of the actual image, only of a
mood or couple of elements that will be involved. This means that sometimes,
the outcome of my shoots literally become ‘shoots’ that go off all over the
place! I have often said that the ‘artist’ side of myself spills work forward
in an unkempt flow, and the ‘business’ or ‘publicist’ side of myself checks in
every now and then to organise the assortment of expression and make it into
series, books, cohesive projects, etc.

That said, I have found it easier in recent times to
mainly stick to two bodies of work – the Ecology series and the Surreal Fashion
pieces. That’s because I have made sure my bases are covered in terms of what I
want to express at any one time, and how to house it. Before, it wasn’t easy
for me to formulate a specific series title. As long as the series is broad
enough to accommodate the spectrum of urges and desires I feel at any present
time, then a resultant image can be showcased as part of a set even though it
might move around later.


Sometimes the series will become too broad, and I’ve
yet to see how cohesive (or not) my Ecology set will seem when I present it to
galleries. Subsets form within one series, and could potentially become a new
series. A prime example is my use of both colour and black-and-white in
Ecology. I know that it’s not a norm to exhibit both together, even though the
conceptual dialogue ties them together. But as I continue to make more and more
work for Ecology, it may be that those subsets take on their own organic life.
Whilst I am my work’s creator and it ‘obeys’ me to some extent, I have also
learned to ‘back off’ and not force my images to be/do something that doesn’t
work. For my work to be genuine is the most important thing for me. Ironically,
you need to work hard to make something look natural and effortless. You have
to learn to unlearn, and keep challenging yourself to find your true inner

The Divorce

recently stated: 
“one of the main
frustrations to my own Internet-spawned career is having all these ‘hits’ on
one website and another, but those hits not translating into anything
ostensible or lucrative per say, and most of the interest that does come to my
work being from people who want to know how to grab some of those seemingly
desirable ‘hits’ to try replicate the life and success they think I’ve got.

Internet creates a big illusion. Artists make work and share it, and their work
might have lots of popularity online. In that popularity they accrue a mass
following of inspired people, some of whom are fixated on winning the same
label of artist – they want a shortcut to get what the artist apparently has
(which may be little more than just Internet hits) without realising that first
they need – and should want to – make a body of work that, without years of
dedication and marketing, might never make them any money at all.
With that said, what platform has
given you the most exposure, and what took your work to the next level?”
In terms of what has taken my work ‘to the next level’ – it
is probably a self-started thing, my ‘Fashion Shoot Experience’ event, which on
a personal level threw me into the deep end of organising and shooting with a
5-person styling team and 5 new models each time. Over a year we have shot over
50 models – a saturation I would never have experienced by other means. It’s
been great experience not just for getting better with fashion photography, but
just for working with models in general, and opening doors for new
possibilities with both fashion and fine art. There are also countless other
benefits to the experience we’ve add in putting together these productions, and
it also highlights my partner’s influence on ‘Miss Aniela’ and how it’s
intensively evolved the creativity.

In terms of platform on the internet, by far it is
Flickr that has given me the most exposure, but that’s because I have used it
so much, regularly, to put out an image one by one as they are made, and watch
a body of work grow.
Flickr is the place that seemed to physically lead to
what I would describe as a big break – it is where my work was apparently seen
and recommended to a contact at Microsoft, who invited me to speak at their Pro
Photo Summit in 2008 shortly after I’d just left University, and this
opportunity gave me exposure to photography-related contacts (as well as my
first trip to America!) I’ve also had other little breaks stemming from placing
my work on sites and being featured in certain magazines, but overall it’s a
case of just chipping away at everything hoping to increase one’s profile over

Stay Awake and Watch

One of the main good things about flickr – or rather, how
I’ve used flickr – is that it has given me a self-imposed ‘deadline’, an
end-time to work towards when I am producing an image, by which time it gets
uploaded and is called ‘finished’. There is no dithering with images that are
stuck in some limbo folder on my computer, which might well be the case if I
didn’t have an online outlet where it’s ‘published’ in the view of others.

On the flip side, there are many different communities within
Flickr, and often your preferred circle of people becomes infiltrated with
people who are just browsing for pretty shots and make flippant comments on
your long-thought-out pieces that make you cringe. I would turn comments off if
it weren’t for my fondness of the deeper comments I do get, some which inspire
me in turn: once I even made a montage of comments and placed them onto my
image and re-shared it as a new piece of art.
And then there is the issue of internet culture. Most people on
Flickr, on the internet as a whole, like to be stimulated within seconds. They
are the ‘like’, ‘sooo beautiful’ or ‘wtf’ generation, and often judge
photography on the immediate singular visuals for which there is a clamour for
authorship, as people emulate props and techniques they see in others’ work
like clattering bottles falling round in a recycling truck. It’s important to
contextualise these platforms, each being one limb to a wider operation.


What advice can you give to emerging photographers?

Give yourself time to create a body of work, which you
could share ‘in progress’ through internet platforms but don’t feel the
pressure to ‘present’ yourself with a website and pursue exhibitions, publicity
etc until you have something solid and worthy to show. Things might might move
faster in the internet age but as the saying goes, ‘there is no shortcut to the
places worth going’. Some patience needs to be had in being able to first form
a foundation from which you are happy to stand for the long-term.


And finally, what would be your perfect day?

I live many perfect days that I often try to write
down. I am very lucky to be in a solid relationship that is also a photography
‘team’, and on a more superficial level we’re currently living in a house we
really love, which makes every day a treat. I also can’t describe how happy I
feel just to see and hold my two cats! All these things combined, every day
becomes a treat. A perfect day would be to go out into the surrounding
countryside to shoot some nudes and then come back to the hearty meal of steak
and lots of vegetables, following by hours of processing and tea that leads to
the making of a final image that gives me flutters for days. (That is pretty
much what happened for the making of ‘The Fourth Soil.’) Any creative day is a
perfect day. A future perfect day that I dream about is bringing our own
‘creation’ into the world, into our home, peacefully and joyously.


Katie Shapiro

Spring is in the air and Katie Shapiro has lept into April taking no prisioners. Her work seems to be everywhere this month with exhibitions including, In Proximity, curated by Miles Coolidge, at the Ann Gallery running through April 28th, she is on the walls at the Photography Now 2012 Exhibition jurored by Natasha Egan at The Center for Photography at Woodstock, and is part of an exhibition that kicks off MOPLA (The Month of Photography in Los Angeles), Pro’jekt LA (Part1): Progress and Regress. LPV Magazine featured her work in Issue #2, and an interview accompanies the work.

from Apart/Together

Katie lives and works in Los Angeles. She received a BFA in Photography from the California Institute of the Arts and her work investigates the territories that surround her, always inspired by what is held deep within her subjects. Katie recently shared a new project (Pilgrimage) with me, and needless to say, I’m a big fan. The simplicity of the concept of is smart and perfectly executed.

From Portraits

In Pilgrimage, I employ the codes of performance-based self-portraiture to depict myself and my partner, a native Texan, in National Parks from the Channel Islands to Big Bend. We become progressively more cowboy-like as we approach Texas. I have staged these double portraits in U.S. National Parks in an effort to bring an often idealized and taken-for-granted history into the present. The New Deal, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s great social welfare program, included expansion of the National Parks systems through the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today, the Parks offer the classic American sanctuary, but with the looming threat of closures and budgetary cuts, they also evidence a country in distress. Taking cues from sources as varied as Cindy Sherman’s film stills and Ansel Adams’ exploration of the West, my work seeks a synthesis of nature and culture, tempering deeply felt emotions with self-conscious irony.

When the Personal Turns Political: LaToya Ruby Frazier at the Whitney Biennial

From the outset of her career as a young artist, LaToya Ruby Frazier has always found inspiration at home. In thoughtfully constructed black and white photographs she began, in her teens, to document herself and her family life in Braddock, Pa.

“What’s the most intimate thing you can portray? For me, it’s myself,” she says.

The work Frazier has featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial in New York City, which starts Thursday, builds on the classic documentary work she studied while in college at Syracuse University. Over time, the photographer, now 30, began to incorporate staged narratives and self-portraiture meant to challenge viewers with questions about the artist’s objectivity and representation, and that of her loved ones.

She was inspired by the famous work of the Farm Security Administration photographers like Dorothea Lange, but questioned those images. “We all remember Lange’s photograph of the migrant mother but how many of us remember her name?” she asks. “I felt social documentary can only go so far and I started to think, ‘What if the subjects of the Depression-era images photographed themselves?’”

The work featured in the Biennial leaves the confines of her family home and addresses the larger history and representation of Braddock, Pa.—yet it’s all inextricably linked back to Frazier’s life. The first series, called Campaign for Braddock Hospital (Save Our Community Hospital), began when she discovered in her research that the history of Braddock had omitted all the black families that lived there, including that of her own grandfather, who was a steel worker. It didn’t help when the clothing company Levi’s began using Braddock’s industrial history as the inspiration for a major advertising campaign. In one ad, the denim company calls for the “New Pioneers” to “Go Forth” to new opportunities in Braddock and invigorate the town’s growth.

Frazier was left stunned by what she saw as the irony and greed of the ads and eventually repurposed those images in her artwork. The series is made of two parts: first she begins a process of “copy editing” the ads with comments from members of the community, and photographs them. Then she made documentary photos of an actual protest to save the town’s hospital. All the images were made into black and white lithographic prints referencing both turn-of-the-century advertising and social documentary of the 1930s.

In a second series debuting at the Biennial, called Homebody, she created a set of narrative self-portraits in her step grandfather’s now-abandoned apartment in Braddock. The work is a more personal complement to the Campaign series and records a place steeped in memories for Frazier, memories of her deceased grandmother Ruby. The images document a performance in front of the camera as she moves throughout the empty, decaying environment. The Homebody photos expose a fragility that’s often apparent in her work: in an earlier series, The Notion of Family, she had recorded the end of her Grandmother’s life. Frazier herself, her mother and grandmother have all suffered chronic illnesses. Her portraits and self-portraits, she says, “are meant to be factual records of those things and are reflected in the collapsed landscape that is modern day Braddock, Pa.”

“I’m archiving history thats been erased,” she says. “I’m showing what the media is not showing—moments in the town that have been omitted from history and not just African American history, but the working class people I’m speaking about.”

“Braddock started to fall apart when I was born. I’m interested in how I contextualize myself,” she adds. The collapsed interiors and old blankets depicted in the Homebody series don’t provide comfort, only the feeling of whats been lost for Frazier, in a town that’s struggling to move toward an American dream that faded generations ago.

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s work is currently on view in the 2012 Whitney Biennial in New York City. She has previously exhibited her work at The New Museum, MoMA PS1 and The Andy Warhol Museum. She was featured last fall on the PBS program Art 21. To see more of her work click here.

Kelli Connell

Kelli Connell’s photographs seem to be everywhere these days, and soon they will be in Los Angeles, opening on February 25th at the Kopeikin Gallery. The exhibition, Double Life, will run through March 31, 2012. I have been a long time fan of her constructed realities, executed to perfection and visually charged. Only recently, I discovered that it is not Kelli Connell in the photographs, but a long time collaborator. No matter who the subbject, Kelli ‘s work is a powerful investigation of identity, sexuality, and gender roles and in some ways, the truest sense of self portraiture. She forces the viewer to explore their own identity and the process can be slightly unsettling.

Kelli received an MFA from Texas Woman’s University and currently lives and teaches in Chicago. She has exhibited widely and her work is held in many collections including Microsoft, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Haggerty Museum of Art and The Dallas Museum of Art. Her monograph, Kelli Connell: Double Life was published by DECODE Books in Fall 2011. Kelli will be at the Kopeikin Gallery for a book signing on Thursday, February 23, 5:30 – 7:30.

I’ve always seen identity as something that is very fluid and as such I usually shy away from labels altogether. Still, a larger part of this work explores the nature of identity formation. In my own personal history, the process of questioning my sexuality was confounding, because the conventional categories, and even the need to categorize in the first place felt like…something being pushed on me. Meanwhile the internal experience of my sexual and gender identity was quite natural and yet not a static thing at all. Perhaps this work is trying to figure out why we rely on categories and labels the way we do.

These images were created from scanning and manipulating two or more negatives in Adobe Photoshop. Using the computer as a tool to create a “believable” situation is not that different from accepting any photograph as an object of truth, or by creating a story about two people seen laughing, making-out, or quarreling in a restaurant. These photographs reconstruct the private relationships that I have experienced personally, witnessed in public, or watched on television. The events portrayed in these photographs look believable, yet have never occurred. By digitally creating a photograph that is a composite of multiple negatives of the same model in one setting, the self is exposed as not a solidified being in reality, but as a representation of social and interior investigations that happen within the mind.

This work represents an autobiographical questioning of sexuality and gender roles that shape the identity of the self in intimate relationships. Polarities of identity such as the masculine and feminine psyche, the irrational and rational self, the exterior and interior self, the motivated and resigned self are portrayed. By combining multiple photographic negatives of the same model in each image, the dualities of the self are defined by body language and clothing worn. This work is an honest representation of the duality or multiplicity of the self in regards to decisions about intimate relationships, family, belief systems and lifestyle options.

The importance of these images lies in the representation of interior dilemmas portrayed as an external object – a photograph. Through these images the audience is presented with “constructed realities”. I am interested in not only what the subject matter says about myself, but also what the viewers response to these images says about their own identities and social constructs.