What draws you to the subjects you photograph? Are your photographs primarily spontaneous happenings in your day-to-day life or more planned out and intimate?
‘My most successful photographs are almost always found and spontaneous. I don’t have much talent for setting up an image. Sometimes I’ll move someone into better light, maybe give some minor direction. But the real world unfolding around me is way more exciting and fascinating than anything I can engineer.
‘It’s not always my day-to-day life I’m capturing. Normally I’m pretty shy, but when photographing I seek out situations and gatherings where I think I’ll find people interacting, where I think there’s the most potential for seeing the visual expression of relationships.
‘Usually I’m drawn to a particular person by a face, a body, a way of moving – a certain vulnerability, awkwardness or strangeness. I can’t always put it into words. Often there’s this sort of uncomfortable magnetism, kind of an attraction and repulsion working together.
‘I’m obsessed with gestures and looking at what the body does, what people do when they’re together, how our interactions with each other can be kind of melancholy and weird. Dancing, embracing, making out, dressing and undressing, wrestling – any activity that involves a lot of arms and hands and touching – these are always good bets.’
How does writing and the book format play into your practice?
‘I’ve actually been writing longer than I’ve been photographing. Books are my first and most enduring love; since childhood I’ve been an insanely voracious reader, and for a long time I thought I wanted to be a writer.
‘Recently, writing has helped guide and clarify the subject matter of my photography, especially in times of frustration. In the process of trying to understand what was drawing me to the situations I photographed, I wrote these short stories that added a particular dark emotional tone to what I was photographing.
‘I try to explore the ways in which relationships are perplexing. Ultimately people are unknowable, but there is a world of longing in language. Writing stories presents another way of trying to get close to my subject, while also referencing that elusiveness.
‘Over this past year, I began thinking about how I could bring my writing and my photographs together as part of the same piece, and that led naturally to the book. It’s a new world for me. I’m still figuring out the best form for the work, whether it should be in books, or audio tracks with a slideshow, or something else entirely.
‘I want to work in a hybrid form of storytelling that goes beyond medium-specificity, and create these multiple, parallel, fragmented narratives where the two media need each other to become something new and different. It’s kind of like film, but I think there’s something poignant and important about that frozen, subjective sliver of time in a picture, not knowing for sure what came before or what comes after.’
There are a lot of instances of situations where people go to “party” or relax in your work, and the portraits that come out of these are simultaneously intimate and public. Can you talk a little bit about this and how it relates to the various other concepts in your work?
‘On the most basic level, I tend to photograph in places of leisure because it’s where I find people moving and interacting in ways that are the most visually interesting to me. There’s not as much self-consciousness, especially when there’s some kind of intoxicant involved – people’s gestures are more outrageous, bodies are in flux. It’s always amazing to capture a moment of clarity in the midst of chaos.
‘But my motivations are more complex than that. To be honest, I have a complicated relationship with parties and partying. For me, that world is full of strangeness and anxiety. I’m most drawn to situations where you should be having fun – like a party, or the beach, or a parade – but there can be a lot of tension and discomfort in those situations, sometimes even a subtle violence.
‘Increasingly, I have to think about what my role is in the situations I’m photographing. It’s not enough to point at the strange and outrageous – I have to consider my own relationship with what’s going on, and how I’m implicated in the interaction.’
The vast majority of your subjects seem to be youthful, either in appearance, gesture, or situation. Is there something about youth culture that is important to and informs your work?
‘In my experience, young people are more open with their bodies, less self-conscious and less formal, and often more active in their gestures. They’re just more visually interesting to me.
‘I also think it’s a case of the old adage to write what you know, make work about what you know. I don’t know what it’s like to be eighty, but I know what it’s like to be eight.
‘At this point I think my work has a lot to do with people’s relationship with their childhood, and the unique anxieties of being young, making bad decisions, not having a lot of wisdom or autonomy. There’s also an inherent longing to hold on to something fleeting, and the terror of growing up and aging.
‘In many ways, it’s the work of a young person. I’m sure my subject matter will undergo many developments and transformations as I get older.’