Seeing Through Photographs
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Katy Grannan | Boulevard
The photograph offers a kind of unexpected intimacy and pushing a boundary. My hope is that you can empathize and maybe even recognize something in someone that you might not pay very much attention to. So will you tell a little bit about how you get to a picture like this? I wanted to meet people that wanted to be photographed. I didn't want to be a fly on the wall or photograph someone from afar, and so it's always important to me that I ask permission, and if you're interested, then great. And then we walk around and find a white wall, and my one direction is always don't look at the camera because I wanted them to appear almost as though they were unaware, to reference a kind of street photography. Eventually, they often relax or they're bored or aggravated. Maybe a little bit of “Okay, are we done yet?” And then something interesting happens, and those are almost inevitably the best pictures. When you make a picture that's this reductive, you take so much away, so much context, so much potential narrative. The entirety of all this detail amounts to what makes the strongest photograph. Do you feel like that can be, though, almost... too much information? I mean, I hesitate to say cruel except sort of on the spectrum of cruel and tender, it's like... I think that we all look like that. If we were all to be photographed with that kind of detail, this is what we look like and this is who we are. I find the most cruel kinds of pictures to be the covers of fashion magazines. I mean, nobody looks like that. So in my mind, not only is this much more honest, I find this woman incredibly beautiful, and I don't think there's anything cruel about the lines, and what the sun has done to her face and what that reveals about her, but also what is revealed by the fact that she's put on eyeliner and she's put on her lipstick and her pink... Matching her outfit, yeah. Matching coat and there's a heart button, and that tells us so much about, in a way, her optimism. Part of the criticism of my work has always been, “Oh, you're photographing poor people,” or “you're photographing the homeless,” although that's a broad assumption. They're not celebrities, they're not politicians. I find that when people have a lot of power, whether it's money, whatever kind of power, they have a lot more to lose, and so they present themselves in a very specific light. Whereas with people who don't have as much to lose, they are so much more generous with themselves and so much more at ease with what some viewers might perceive as imperfections. This is not here to make us feel better about ourselves and the way that we see the world. It's here to hopefully have a kind of aesthetic seduction, but then to have to confront maybe uncomfortable truths, and what are we bringing to this photograph? Why am I uncomfortable confronting this person? What is it about me? And I think you have to contend with a lot. And that to me is a very worthwhile experience.