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l r i G n ca i r e m A Exhibition catalogue includes an interviews with photographers

Colm McCarthy Liz Mares Sebrina Fassbender

Photographs by:

Design by:

Colm McCarthy

Mandana Ahmadvazir

Liz Mares

Also available as a colour, e-publication:

Sebrina Fassbender Published by: Curated by: Kathleen Brey

Viewfinder Photography Gallery 52 Brixton Village London SW9 8PS

Interviews by: Laura Berman

Kathleen Brey

Š The artists and authors. The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily the views of the publisher or the editors.

Edited by: Laura Berman

First published February 2011

Interview with: Colm McCarthy by Laura Berman and Kathleen Brey

• How did you gain access to the environments and places that you photograph? The bulk of “American Girl” was shot in my apartment in Madison, Wisconsin, mostly in my bathroom. My apartment was large, empty and filled with floor-to-ceiling windows, so it made a natural studio. I was going through a painful separation and I was broke, so I didn’t really have a choice as to where to shoot. I think it worked out quite well, photographically anyway. • How do you feel when you take photographs of this nature? I enjoy working with the human form- portraiture and the nude in particular. I view the nude as an extension of portraiture. It adds a vulnerability and openness to the subject, which I think is more important to the actual act of taking the picture, rather than the picture itself. It seems to remove the subject’s mental barriers. Frees them up. Makes them more honest. It’s not so much the nudity itself that I look for in a picture. It’s the tilt of a head, a facial expression, how the hands are positioned. And it’s very much about the eyes. It’s all portraiture to me. • Are your photographs honest if they use some kind of staging? Is any photograph honest? It’s merely an image of the photographer’s interpretation of what he/she sees through the lens, after all. Every photograph is artificial and staged to some extent and subject to the photographer’s interference during and after taking it. Photoshop just adds a whole other layer of dishonesty. I think that’s wonderful, as long as the image isn’t harmful, exploitative or an outright lie. As long as it tells a story, or conveys a mood, or extracts an emotional response from the viewer. • Was your relationship with the subjects affected in any significant way because of your gender? I don’t think so. Everyone involved seemed to understand what I was trying to convey with the project, even if I didn’t. I still don’t. It starts out with guns and cigarettes and whiskey, then just descends into a sort of detached sadness. In retrospect, I think all of these images are probably self-portraits about my own sense of isolation and loneliness at the time. But no-one wants to see pictures of me looking morose on a toilet, and if they do then I don’t want to meet them. • How much of the girls’ emotions came through in the photographs? Did you feel like you were directing them to act a certain way, or do they assume their own personalities? I gave very vague directions: ‘How do you feel when you’re alone?’; ‘You’ve just come back from a date you’d been looking forward to for days and it was shit, and it’s 3 a.m’; ‘You're thinking "What's the point?"’. These might seem alright on paper but verbally they’re terrible


Directions. But that’s what I gave them. That, and no nudity, which I think actually made it more difficult for them to “act” for me. However the work is all very much collaborative; the emotions are theirs. • Do you think American women are empowered or exploited by sexuality? I think it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, probably. 6

• Is this different for American women in particular? I don’t think so. I think it’s quite universal, in the western hemisphere anyway. Perhaps women in other countries view American women as more brash and headstrong and spoiled. But America's a hard country to be a person in, and it can only be harder to be a woman. • The female nude is perhaps one of the most popular subjects for art making throughout history. Do you think of yourself working in that tradition of employing the female form as subject matter? I view the nude as an extension of portraiture. I feel the subject’s nudity adds an openness and honesty, brought about by the mere fact that they are totally exposed and vulnerable. And that’s what appeals to me. The nude tends to be poorly done for the most part. It can come across as exploitative, or titillating, or voyeuristic, or shocking, or just plain boring. It’s a very difficult medium to work in. I see my work more as portraiture. A portrait where sometimes the subject also happens to be naked. It’s that vulnerability I look for. I photograph both men and women. But mostly women, due to the simple fact that it’s extremely difficult to find men willing to model for my style of photography. I don’t think they like to be seen as vulnerable. Women don’t seem to share that problem. I modeled for a friend once. It was a horrible experience. Not so much that I was naked, but that I felt totally helpless and at their mercy. I can understand why men are reluctant to work with me. • Is there beauty to be found in your subjects? I hope so. I think people look at their most beautiful when they’re a little sad. • Do you feel that your photographs serve as document of an event or idea, or are they more about conveying your own ideas on a particular subject? My work tends to be highly stylized and contrived. For me it’s about telling a story or conveying an emotion, rather than documenting something. I see myself in all of them. I’ve managed to project myself into them. They’re all self-portraits, in a way.

Colm McCarthy


How do women see themselves when they’re alone. What sort of toll does it take on the inner self in order to perpetuate the societal expectations of the outer self? I have tried to take this sense of disenchantment and disconnection and then manipulate the image until it resembles a picture from a fashion magazine which, I feel, emphasises the disconnect even further. They are cold, removed and heavily stylized. Beautiful, yet steeped in a harsh ugliness.

Interview with: Liz Mares by Laura Berman and Kathleen Brey

• Do you think American women are empowered or exploited by sexuality? I believe it has a lot to do with the generations. The thoughts of sexuality are vastly different from those of our grandmothers, to our mothers, ourselves and those that are much younger. What was once perceived as immoral or unethical, has now become a societal norm. • Is this different for American women in particular? By nature, I think that American women are much more flamboyant of their sexuality, which is easy to misinterpret as empowerment, and, in the long run, leads to the exploitation of self. It almost seems as if it is a Catch-22. With so much commercialization of sex and sexuality, it is easy to become confused about what is empowerment, since it would be unethical to show any signs of exploitation by the media. Sexy is the only way a woman should be and the only way she can have any authoritative power. To be anything else is deemed masculine. • Does your depiction of women play to the larger cultural sentiment towards female sexuality, or do you work from your thoughts on the subject? My work is influenced by the cultural view towards women, but I work from my own personal thoughts on the subject. My work is my interpretation of what I see employed by the media and trying to uncover the subliminal by using their own abstracted methods. • The female nude is perhaps one of the most popular subjects for art making throughout history. Do you think of yourself working in that tradition of employing the female form as subject matter? Is there beauty to be found in your subjects? Nudity is the ultimate form of purity. We enter this world as a naked self. When we are infants we are pure and innocent and once we grow older the skew of what nudity means drastically changes. An underlying message, I try to convey, in a lot of my work is independence and freedom. I feel that the nude body is the closest form of freedom a person can get to and, like all things, there is beauty to be found as long as you choose to see it. • Do you feel that your photographs serve as document of an event or idea, or are they more about conveying your own ideas on a particular subject? My photographs are more about conveying my own ideas on particular subjects. Most of my works employ such recurring themes as gender placement, sex, feminism and social unease. • How do you think the models you have chosen to work with challenge the image of ‘ideal beauty’ portrayed by the media?


All of the models in this series have a unique beauty about them. They do not conform to the standard ideals of beauty. Magazines, television, movies and anything media related has a very stereotypical view of what is considered beautiful, sexy and alluring. I challenge that one dimensional way of thinking by showing that true beauty is not only an outward visage, but one buried deeper within...bringing what is on the inside out. 16

• How has the way you photographed women evolved throughout your career? My artwork has evolved through my search of what sexuality and empowerment means to me. I had never been one to express what it was like to be a woman or to even show what my underlying thoughts really were. I had confusion and questions and felt that the roles of women were changing faster then I could keep up. I felt as if I was innocent and blind to most things. My early photographs were heavy with innocence, depicting women as near childlike entities. The more I explored and learned, the more complex and openly verbal I became. I don't suspect that my artwork will stop evolving, I feel as if I'm just getting started. • What is your technical process- do you create the layering effect in the camera or in post-production? In these images, everything was done in camera through a series of movement and multiple exposures. The process isn't difficult, but is rather time consuming to get the correct effect I was looking for. • Do you feel that you make your pictures more for yourself or for other people? The images that I photograph are made from the vision I have of the world, they are my voice and allow me to speak to a wider range of viewers. I don't create art for myself alone, but also for those around me as a means to build awareness and personal questioning. • What artwork inspires you and your process? I am a big fan of all genre's of artwork and I don't try to emulate any others. I try to capture and convey images as I see them in my minds eye. I am, however, partial to the surrealist works of Man Ray and Lee Miller.

Liz Mares


Faced, everyday, with outward appearances it can be challenging to see past what the mainstream media has dubbed, "ideal beauty." Ingrained imagery on television and in tabloid magazines poses an unrealistic standard for most women; focusing only on surface aesthetics, rather then inner qualities. I find inner beauty to be a balance of harmony and femininity. My work is an exploration into what makes us the emotional creatures we are, what brings them to the surface and what marks our characters as the sole subject of our beauty. Sticking with the value that women are complex, I have used double exposures to support the abstract nature of that statement. By layering the subjects, I weave them into both simple and intricate patterns to evolve them from a solid base to a state of disembodiment.

Interview with: Sebrina Fassbender by Laura Berman and Kathleen Brey

• How did you gain access to the environments and places that you photograph? Were you in any way attached to the subject matter/ involved with the scenario or did you take the photographs as an observer? I went into New York City with no job and no money and stayed with a friend. I sat in the parks all day long getting to know the regular street crowd that bought drugs, hustled and slept there. Since I had no money I would sip my $1.25 coffee and eat my cheese sandwich and go hungry the rest of the day until I went back home. I think because I was not living that differently from anyone else, I was immediately accepted. After about half a year at the parks, I started getting invited up into crack houses where a lot of working girls stayed on and off. The funny thing is, that because I was sober yet could emotionally relate to everyone, I was actually intriguing to the heads of the drug houses. These guys would swoon over me and I would end up being able to come and go as I pleased. I barely took out my camera during my time there; for me, I was living the experience. I wanted to understand the women I met as a friend first and photographer second. I became close to most of the women I took pictures of and knew them for several years, only taking their pictures 2 or 3 times. In many ways the whole experience was not really about the photographs, it was about the deep relationships I built. • Unless you are directly involved in the sex trade, as either a sex worker or a client, do you think you can understand (or empathise) with the situation you are photographing/ the models you are taking the pictures of? Do you have direct experience of the industry yourself? I would have never gone into that world if I didn't think I could relate to it. I have struggled my whole life with serious sexual issues and felt that if I didn't confront them I would end up on the streets myself. This project was really about healing for me and confronting the truth of that lifestyle. The photographs I took are images not only of the women, but also self portraits. In the end the experience was healing on both sides and many of the women I photographed eventually got off the streets. • Are your photographs honest if they use some kind of staging? Do you think staging the photographs detracts from the reality of the situation you are trying to capture? At the time I felt it was really important for the women to be aware of the fact that I was taking pictures of them. I wanted us to make art together. If they gave me a feeling, I wanted it to be because they choose to show me that side of themselves, versus me stealing it from them in an unaware moment. In some ways this may make the pictures less appealing to some. However the overall experience of sharing in


the creative process, was for me and the women, both positive and empowering. • Was it important to get an insight into the models lives? Was it important for this to be portrayed in the images or were the images more a commentary/your view of the circumstance/situation? 26

It was extremely important for me to get an insight into their lives and their past. All the women I photographed had been victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse as children which, to me, created a direct link as to why they were in their current situation. There was also a tremendous problem with drug use that inevitably led back to their past. I often found a strange and wonderful mix of innocence and hardness in their world. I think the photographs can only say so much about someone’s life. I always try to provide a little background on my subjects in order for the viewer to put context to the images • As a male or female photographer- do you think your gender altered the experience you had photographing your subjects? Was your relationship with the subjects affected in any significant way because of your gender? Absolutely, my gender affected everything I did with the women. Being a female the women automatically felt safe with me and trusted I wouldn't hurt them. I could also relate directly to the experiences they were having with men and with their bodies. • Making a project like this, you must have encountered some difficult situations- do you think the industry can change/improve? Do you think there is another alternative, for example how this industry appears in countries like Holland? Have you explored this industry in different countries and if so, how did it differ? I think this industry is very dangerous in this country because it is illegal. I believe making sex work legal here in America would keep both women and men safer. Individuals who work this job are often not considered human and are looked at as second class citizens that don't even deserve the basic human rights or services. I believe the legalization of sex work could increase the number of organizations available to help women and men in this industry to stay healthy. It could also result in providing a space to heal, acceptance and easier transitions back into other jobs, if that was what they desired. • If the girls are not models, how did they initially react to having their photograph taken? Did anyone refuse to have their picture taken? How long did you know a subject before you photographed them and how do you think your relationship with your subjects came through in the photographs? I found that most of the women were willing to be photographed if they felt you were not judging them, but empathizing with the intensity of their situation. I would often wait untill the moment felt right no matter how long that would take. It was important to have a discussion of the exact kind of photographs we would be doing before I shot them. I was always worried about offending the women but found that they were

much braver and more open then I expected. I hope the viewer can feel the closeness that I had with my subjects. I think it's an energy that comes off the work when your viewing it. One can't put a finger on what makes intimacy between subject and photographer...It's either there or not. • Are you trying to raise awareness about this industry? What are you trying to achieve with a project like this? I am trying to raise awareness of the women's situation and the brutality and damage of that lifestyle. But I also want to show the inevitable beauty of these individuals, in their courage to share such deep and personal parts of themselves. I hope that the images move people to think about these women and their lives more deeply, and provoke people to keep asking questions.


Sebrina Fassbender

This work is very personal to me and close to my heart. I spent 5 years in New York City photographing and documenting sex workers. All these woman had been victims of physical and sexual abuse at an early age. These photographs are intimate and extremely raw images of where these women were emotionally at the time I met them. I was close to everyone I photographed. I am inspired by and in awe of the fact that, with love and courage, so many of the women have healed their hearts and moved their lives in a more positive direction.


Viewfinder Photography Gallery 52 Brixton Village London SW9 8PS

American Girl