Tuesday, March 11, 2008
interview part two: daniel shea and caitlin arnold
today, part two of yesterday's interview with Daniel Shea and Caitlin Arnold. the photos above (by Daniel, top and Caitlin, below) are more that can be seen on their websites.
now we get to the juicy stuff: subverting the idea of the democratic power of pictures, wrangling with the subject, and close readings of Daniel and Caitlin's favorite photos by each other....
Daniel: So would you describe yourself as a portrait photographer? Is that important? Does it some how set up a frame of reference both historically and conceptually?
Caitlin: Yes and no. I know that some of my strongest images happen to be portraits but there are other photographs of mine that are equally as successful because they ad context to the issue at hand.
I don't think it's important to label myself as a portrait photographer but I think we get labeled these things and it's hard to get out of that mold, you know? For the past seven months or so I've been photographing girls in adolescence, focusing on how fast they are maturing. Yes it's really hard to photograph maturity or the essence of it but I think that I'm starting to figure out what kind of pictures describe this time.
Daniel: That's a huge thing to tackle. Are you looking at the issue broadly or do you find yourself gravitating towards something specifically within that framework?
Caitlin: Lately in critiques we've been talking about moving in a more specific direction. I think that I've found it and now I have to actually take the pictures and make sure they work. I'm going to be focusing on mother/daughter relationships, recreating scenes from my adolescent years and getting input from the girls I've been working with.
Daniel: That's interesting. So are you going to stage these scenes with the subjects that you were previously more passively photographing?
Caitlin: The photographs depicting mother/daughter relationships I will be staging, something that's very new for me but I'm going to keep a positive attitude about it.
Daniel: I'm excited to see it. I think my favorite picture from that series so far is 9/12 on your site, the "girls" section.
All the visual elements are working in this image. It's the perfect starting point I feel for a work about girls today. There's a sense of awkward sexuality, that's really disturbing, and in case we don't get what's happening, we have the child cartoons to remind us on the wall. Which just happens to be a coyote chasing the effeminate road runner. Along with everything else happening.
Did you make her grab that pool stick? It's fucking disturbing.
Caitlin: That photograph is like the one that makes people really uncomfortable. I told her to hold onto them but never directed her to doing it that specific way.
What I find most interesting about directing people, especially young girls, is how they interpret what I say. What do you think about that?
Daniel: About directing people? Well I don't pretend to hide behind any pretense of objectivity in photography. I mean I can understand people doing that maybe 80 years ago.
So I direct my subjects constantly. I'll tell them to look at something, or not to smile, or whatever. I try to find that perfect balance of working the environment/person into a cohesive picture while upholding the integrity and idiosyncrasies of the subject. It's a fine line, but i think that makes or breaks a good portrait.
Also, you mentioned context earlier... All my work is about context.
It's about a context-based narrative, that emphasis my points of view and a limited sense of perception. I feel that when photographers do this successfully people are critical of image looking immediately.
And that's what's important to me above all else.
And this all ties into portraiture on a very primitive level.
One that predates photography, and that's the search for a ground to stand on when looking/relating/empathizing with another human. When people look at portraits and they can't figure out where they should be standing, they get extremely uncomfortable.
I don't buy into the democratic power of pictures. I know there was a conceptual push for that sort of ideology-based thinking in the 70's, but i think we're well past that.
Daniel: So I told you my favorite picture of yours
What's your favorite of mine?
Caitlin: Oh man there are a ton
But 15/33 under portfolio.
i just love her as a character. and i think from the information you have given me via text on your blog and from conversations, makes her story more interesting to me.
Oh and then 18/33
mmmmmmmmm i love it.
And i finally remember why I love it so much.
It's so delicate.
and weird. like, why is there one sock and a wash cloth?
It raises a lot of questions for me and I think that photograph has the quality that I look for in photographs. The good ones make me ask questions and keep my interest.
Do you agree?
Daniel: Yes. ha
Caitlin: ha awesome.
Daniel: What is the most difficult part of taking pictures of other people?
Caitlin: There are a couple parts to this for me. First it's getting people to understand what I'm doing and why I want to take their photograph. I can tell them til my face turns blue that I'm interested in young girls in adolescence and the differences they all have but sometimes they still don't understand. Another hard part for me besides getting them to understand is for them to relax. Most of the time I'm in their homes, which you think would make them relax but sometimes it's worse. I try not to get frustrated.
Some people either can't sit still or try to delay me from photographing and that's when I almost don't know what to do. There have been times where I've set up a time to come over to someone's house and when I got there they told me to leave.
And it wasn't the parent, it was the girl.
Daniel: That's sort of intense.
Caitlin: Yeah it was like, I'm not prepared to be photographed today, please come back next week.
Daniel: That's interesting.
Caitlin: Yeah that's why I'm so interested in photographing these girls. They do and say the wildest things.
Well let me ask you something
For you, what makes a successful portrait?
Daniel: Well, I sort of touched on that a bit, but overall it definitely depends on what you're going for. For me, in order for one of my portraits to be successful, ideally I'd like them to have some self-containing elements that makes them strong as stand-alone images, as well as elements that make them absolutely necessary in the narrative.
And of course there is the whole audience bit...
Uneasiness, confusion, interest, sublimely attracted, political indecisiveness, these are all things I would deem "successful" reactions from an audience.