Hello Diana. Introduce yourself.
I’m an artist. I’ve been living in New York City since 1995, was born in Philadelphia, PA, and had some lengthy stints in LA and Budapest in between.
Do you think your background and location affects your style of photography?
I think my background probably does. And I would add the word “sensibility” to “style.” My WASPy roots may inform the work; you can see a reverence for good manners and decorum—a well-choreographed style—functioning as a thinly masked desperation for continuity (i.e., dread of change) that collides mercilessly with unpredictable forces in both the world around us and ourselves. That collision is the territory of slapstick. Add to that my inexplicable obsession with Eastern Europe, where the comedy of futility has such a rich tradition, and I think you can begin to tease out where some of my influences lie.
Are there any favorite artists who inspire you?
So many artists have inspired me: Haim Steinbach, Paul Outerbridge, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Robert Mapplethorpe, Francis Stark, Sarah Lucas, Giovanni Garcia-Fenech, Tom Moody, Rachel Harrison, Franz West, Michael Smith, William Wegman, Laurel and Hardy, Charles Schultz, Manet, Hogarth, Daumier, Titian—the list could go on, and it changes all the time. Bruce Nauman was a very early inspiration; I loved his back-to-basics, absurd studio antics and films—very sad and sexy. Writers hold a special place because the whole process is much more mysterious to me. George Eliot, Anita Brookner, Marilynne Robinson, Alice Munro, and Jennifer Egan are among my favorites.
How did you first get into photography?
I honestly had little interest in photography per se as a young artist. I had been using photography in some of my work along with many different kinds of media, but it wasn’t until graduate school that I started to exclusively use pictures. I was working on a sculpture—it was a big plastic pocket protector with leaky pens in it—and it was turning into a really bad Oldenburg knock-off. So I said fuck it, I’m taking a picture of this idea, just to have a record of it—or rather I hired someone to take a picture: I didn’t even have a decent camera at the time.
The picture had everything I was going for. It was succinct. It was one picture of a guy with a huge ink stain on his breast pocket, and it seemed to sum up a lifetime of frustration. The model (an ex-boyfriend) held so much tension in his small frame that you had the feeling that he was ready to explode: his neck muscles were tight and his veiny hands were clenched. The most trivial setbacks, the small indignities, almost always end up standing for something larger than what they are, so for an artist that’s potentially very rich territory.
At first I was really rebelling against a lot of photography I saw—I didn’t like much of it. I hated the idea of a series–variations on a theme that was supposed to make some sort of schematic sense. This is nothing new now, but then I think that my refusal to offer cohesive subject matter really stumped people. In terms of style, I was going for a crisp, deadpan, anti-arty look—nothing fuzzy or collagey. I thought I could force people to see by paring it down; I wanted to be blunt and not obfuscate—for me that’s where the mystery, the humor, and the difficult viewing is.
How do you choose your subjects?
Subjects come from everywhere: a line in a book, an overheard non sequitur, a supermarket display, the wrong outfit. I leave myself open to suggestion, one work hints at another, and the original impetus may be unrecognizable in the end. But as I alluded to earlier, it’s really more about a sensibility than any particular subject matter: seeing something that embodies an ambivalence, low-level despair, resignation, thwarted desire, sensuality, humor—a whole mix of contradictions. It’s not necessarily autobiographical, but it is personal in that I work with what’s in front of me.
What equipment do you use to shoot?
I shoot everything with a Hasselblad 503CW, and then I scan the negatives. But I’ll soon move to a medium-format DSLR, like a Hasselblad H4D. My iPhone functions as a sketchbook.
What do you like about photography?
When I was a kid I would take art lessons with my grandmother every week; she would set up a still life, and I would draw and then paint it. One of her friends finally suggested that I should set up the still life myself, and I remember thinking that THAT is where the art is for me—the noticing, the picking out, the setting up.
So I like assembling things, the self-conscience arranging. I guess you could do that in any medium, but maybe photography lets me use the shared detritus of our visual world with an immediacy that’s not there with painting or drawing. I appreciate that it can be less illusionistic than a drawing or a painting. I like that I can be direct with it, take something very familiar and still leave people a bit mystified. That’s fantastic.
Why is self-expression so important to you?
For me it’s more like endless trial-ballooning–to feel less lonely, to connect to something beyond the self, to imagine a community.
What do you plan on doing next?
I’m currently working on a book with the poet Tan Lin. He’s creating an annotated index to over 40 works, and the index is a sprinkling of biographical details, piling anecdote on anecdote, sort of taking the idea of backstory to the extreme. It’s a new way of looking at my work, which is really exciting for me.
And if you came to my studio today you’d see a glass table covered with multi-colored rocks and many varieties of seaweed. I’m lighting it from underneath and getting beautiful white star shapes. On the wall you’d see one photo of a shaggy black water dog sitting on the beach with sand clinging to his hair. Somehow this will all come together.