Q&A with Ahndraya Parlato, Hyeres 2009
Whereabouts in the world are you based?
Ithaca, New York
Your photographs seem intensely ‘real’, but they are spiked with some rather surreal moments, is this dichotomy important to you?
Yes. One of the ways I think of my work is as an expansion of reality, or what we accept as reality, often highlighting the uncanniness or magic of everyday life. It is important to me that my images exist in the ‘real’ world, rather than, say, create their own fantastical world.
Who models for your photographs?
Because there is so often an element of duration or discomfort during the shoots, I often ask close friends to model for me because I’m more comfortable bossing them around!
You seem fascinated by the idea of the human trace, are your photographs your way of leaving a legacy?
I feel like these are two different ideas. I am intrigued by the idea of trace or residue. As for a legacy, I don’t think I have ever consciously thought of my work in that way, though I suppose, if we’re defining legacy as something that will continue to exist after we cease to, then you could apply that to any artist in any medium.
Although predominantly staged, to what extent does spontaneity play a role in your work?
Well, spontaneity perhaps plays a larger role in the conception of the idea, rather than the execution. I may see something in the world that makes an impression for an image I want to make, or somehow crystallizes an idea I’ve been sitting on, but by the time I make it, it’s fairly planned out.
Where do you find inspiration?
The landscape of upstate New York never ceases to inspire me - a great balance of being simultaneously bleak, but also hopeful. I’m inspired by a lot of people including the filmmakers - Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieslowski; the writers Michael Ondaajte, Marguerite Duras and Don Delilo; and the artists David Shrigley, Sophie Calle and Gabriele Orozco.
Which person has most influenced you career thus far?
Probably my mum. I was an only child, and she was a single mum, so we had a pretty intense relationship. She was mentally ill, and at her best, was always finding humour and magic in everyday life, which are elements I definitely think about in my art-making.
The people in your photographs always seem on the brink of unravelling, is this intentional?
I do often think about how people navigate the world by constructing ideals, ideals of progress, perfection, and wholeness, which can mark our path through life - we construct ideals to feel safe and secure, but really, at any time, outside forces can completely unravel our world. I think my subjects are aware of the futility of attempting to control what cannot be controlled.
To what extent does narrative play a role in your photographs?
Well, narrative plays a large part in each individual image, but not in the sense that there’s one story or idea that the viewer should come away with. Overall, I don’t think of them as constructing a linear narrative - more like a poem than a prose piece.
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