The following is an interview conducted by Tamara Santibañez.for her newest zine, Ugly Dirty Nasty Noisy Vol. II. UDNN Vol. II is a series of thirteen interviews conducted with artists whose work deals with the human body.
Your recent solo show, “How I Use My Body”, featured photographs of a number of women engaging in a range of actions from choking to vomiting to cutting. Can you elaborate on the show title? The word “use” feels powerful and intentional, versus “abuse” which would put the participants in conflict with their own bodies.
“Why I Use My Body” was a series that depicted all female models engaging in self-inflicted corporal punishment as a response to trauma. I wanted to explore how self-harming behaviors have shaped my relationship to my gender and to myself. The definition of abuse is misuse. I believe in the purposeful use of my body and I think that self-harming behaviors can provide pleasure and clarity for some, and I happen to be one of those people. Being in pain or being uncomfortable is often a vital step in healing, even in cognitive therapy. When I look back at the photographs I took for “Why I Use My Body” I see transcendence, not misery.
Your photos feel like discovered snapshots- like you stumbled across a cache of photos you weren’t meant to see when cleaning out your dead relative’s house. That look conjures up ideas of a different, private world. Is this an intentional storytelling or do you prefer your subjects to feel more contemporary and present?
Until very recently, I identified only as a writer and not as a photographer, even though I have been taking 35mm photography on a regular basis since I was eight years old. I only took pictures for myself for a very long time. Photography has always been an extension of my diary and of the storytelling of my own life. Any photo that I take that is premeditated is also directly autobiographical. I think all my photos have strong narrative, even when I am just taking a picture of kid I know at a punk show.
The private quality of your work can often make challenging subjects feel tender- giving violent or sexual subjects a sweet “secret life of girls” voyeuristic feel. Do you think this is largely because of using female subjects? Or because of the intimate nature of the acts themselves?
I could never achieve the photographs that I take with strangers. In the very least I could not work with a person unless I felt that I had a true connection to them. I’m always striving to capture intimate moments. I think my very best photographs are the ones that only I could have taken. I suppose that a voyeuristic feeling would be what I am aiming to achieve, in that sense.
I am closer to women in my life but I have very recently started photographing more men. Of course I make them wear makeup and piss on each other, but I am trying to do new things. I have been considering attempting a male counterpart to the female “Why I Use My Body” series.
There is definitely a punk feminist politic to using your body in a way that is disgusting and repellent as a female. Do you have a greater politic to staging scenes like this and asking women to do these things in a public way?
For sure. Apart from the childish joy that I get trying to just shock people and question conventionality, I am striving for a bit more. I think that documenting very truthful and private moments can be transgressive in the sense that capturing those moments can be very meaningful to people who feel alone in their experience. Giving vision and voice to feelings that are largely perceived as wrong and perverted gives the message to others on the outside that they are not alone.
I feel that this project has allowed me to be a documentarian of human experience and subculture that may not been clearly documented or defined quite yet. This was an important aspect to “Why I Use My Body”, as it was a direct response to womanhood and use of the body and performance. I believe that my whole life is a performance and I want to take control of my life and my body in a meaningful way. Because I consider myself an artist and because I consider my life a performance, I strive to live every moment of my life artfully and intentionally. In some way, these photos give purpose to events in my life that would otherwise be hidden and shameful. It is more a reclaiming of experience and a way for me to work out my own past so that I can move on. Because I asked models to perform in acts that they felt connected to, I hope that they felt the same way. When speaking to many of the models during and after the shoot, it was clear that they did.
How do your subjects endure throughout the process of staging these photos? Did some find it challenging? Empowering? How does it affect your perception of your own body to be able to control it in these ways?
I sent out a public call for models within my own social circles online but only responded to people that I knew very well personally. I sent out a manifesto for the series to each model who expressed interest along with a list of the photo shoots that I wanted to take place. Part of that manifesto asked that each model only respond to prompts that they personally related to. When models responded to the manifesto we had an open dialogue about their relation to the prompt and how we could make each prompt work for both of us.
Staging the photos did not feel strange. In many cases the photo shoots became an opportunity for me to get to know my friends in a different way and share a really special experience of opening up about parts of our pasts that would never come up in conversation usually. I went to each models home when I could, so I would loose a little control by being in their preferred environment and they could be comfortable, even if that meant I had no idea what I was walking into or how I would shoot a photograph. Some of the shoots were more challenging than others but overwhelmingly I was taken aback by my friends’ willingness to participate. I somehow found the right women who wanted to do what they were doing. Everyone seemed to be smiling afterwards. I believe it was a needed release for many of the woman involved.
My perception of my body has not changed much since the shoots apart from feeling less alone. I am working hard to try and take better care of myself and my body but it is really challenging for me. I’ve spent so many years doing bad things that at this point they all feel good. Or at least normal.
Why I Use My Body was originally displayed for two months at Mata Gallery in Los Angeles. UDNN is available here. Special thanks to Tamara for including me and allowing me to repost her interview, it was an honor and a pleasure to be included. You can view her splendid work here.