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  • Interstitiality within Photography: an interview with Kyle Cassidy
    by Erin | March 21st, 2011 |

    (Eds. note: Interstitial March resumes with an interview with Kyle Cassidy, the photographer behind such diverse projects as Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in their Homes and Who Killed Amanda Palmer .)

    photo by Sharon Morrison

    In the photographic arts world, how do you see your work as interstitial – bumping up against, crossing over, or falling between established genre boundaries?

    I’ve never really thought of myself as a photographer, rather I’ve thought of myself as an artist who sometimes uses a camera – which is probably partly responsible for not getting trapped in something pre-defined. I realized a number of years ago that the “traditional” method of displaying and selling photographs was running out of rational. The way I started out in that art world was I’d make a photograph and frame it and work for a year or six months on a collection of ten or twenty or forty photos  and I’d have a show called “recent works” or something like that and some gallery would hang it up on the walls and I’d spend $2,000 framing things and there’d be an opening and I’d sell, you know, a dozen photographs at $300 each or something like that and maybe three hundred people would see the show and if those same people saw three things from me in a year it was a lot. And while much of this was going on, I had a blog where I’d post a photo and two thousand people would see it. And not only were they seeing it, they were commenting on things and influencing what I was working on.

    I realized that this other thing this connection with other people was a big part of what art could be. I wanted to do things that other people could help shape or be part of. And it was this weird power, where I could post in my blog “I’m going to be in Portland, let’s meet at this restaurant and make a sculpture out of $3,000 cameras” and all these people I didn’t know and had never met would show up at some restaurant and we’d pile expensive cameras into a mound and photograph it and there’d be this thing that existed that wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t wiggled my fingers a certain way for five minutes three thousand miles away. It was hard to ignore that magic.

    What are some of your favorite photos that would be considered interstitial photographic art?

    One of my favorites is this collaboration I did with science fiction novelist Elizabeth Bear called Veronique is Visiting from Paris. I’d met Bear on an escalator in Montreal and said “You’re Elizabeth Bear!” – which wasn’t all that miraculous because she was wearing a name tag – but we talked on the trip from the third floor to the first floor about doing some sort of collaboration and decided upon the themes of “time travel, levitation and madness” and I went home and did a collection of images influenced by those themes and then she tied them all together with an amazing plot and the whole thing exists on thirteen post cards.

    There’s another I really love called Leaving Dakota which consists of 25 images I photographed with a really old digital Leica camera – the images are episodic, from a story that I don’t really know the plot to, and you can arrange them to tell different stories and I invited people from around the world to curate a traveling gallery show of the images and to arrange them in whatever order they wanted to make a new story each time and I also asked that if they couldn’t tell exactly the story they wanted, that they should feel free to add their own images. I packed everything up with some of the props that I used in making the photos and it’s touring the world now with people adding to and rearranging it. I like art that’s not necessarily the same from day to day.

    I did a project, also with the Leica Digilux, called The Day My Grandmother Exploded where I got 20 people from around the world to send me a quotation from a book and then used each of those lines as the inspiration for a photograph and you have a series of 20 images that tell a story made up by a diverse group of people who have little in common and it focuses down into this one point.

    A few years back I was at a gallery looking at a photo show and I thought it was terrible. It looked like the guy’s camera was going off at random and I wondered what it would be like to have a remote-controlled camera that someone else would carry around and I’d set off remotely – would it look as bad as this? Would it look worse? Was there some skill there on the gallery wall that I wasn’t recognizing? So I found 25 people across the United States and Canada who were willing to wear a camera around their necks for a weekend and during that time I sent out 10 sms messages that triggered a photograph. Those are at www.inthehive.org – and you have this collection of views of newspapers, diners, bathroom mirrors, and the composition isn’t always great, but that’s not what it’s about – it’s about traveling to the ordinary places you’ll never get to see.

    And it’s not like I’m doing stuff like this 24/7, I have a pretty traditional portfolio too, but once your eyes get opened to another direction, you want to travel in it and explore it.

    How do these photos blend or cross genres? How do they deviate from traditionally accepted photographic forms?

    Like, I suspect, nearly every art form, photography has a really wide range of use and art galleries are equipped and prepared to deal with a lot of weirdness. I had a show once of photos that were all under water in darkroom trays under orange safelights because everything seemed to look better in the darkroom – you didn’t notice all the hairs on the print until you got it out into the light and the gallery director didn’t even flinch when I told her what I wanted – they’re used to outrageous requests in many places. But I think where some of my stuff becomes more difficult is that you need an extra component which is “thousands of people all of the world who are somehow contributing to whatever the art is”.

    When conceiving of or setting up these photos, were you making a conscious decision to break genre boundaries? What influences inspired you to tread into the interstitial realm?

    That had been in my mind for a long time, but I don’t think I wasn’t raging against the machine trying to find some new art form, it just seemed to be more fun and, really, easier to do. A lot of the gallery world is extremely rigid when it comes to photography – things are expected to be matted and framed in a particular way. I’ve got shipping crates for old shows that weigh 50 lbs and the idea of something I could fit in an envelope was really appealing. The Leaving Dakota show packs up so small you could fit it in a shoe box four times.And the model of one photo for $300 always struck me as a bit false – you can make all the photos you want, so why not keep printing them? It’s not like a painting where if you sell it, it’s gone. I haven’t really sat down to think too hard about it, but I think what I’m selling now isn’t just the photograph, but it’s the experience as well.

    Although some of your photography falls solidly within the traditional genres of photographic art, not all of it does. How has breaking away from established genres to delve into the arena of interstitial photography influenced or inspired your overall artistic creations or visa versa?

    It’s made me more aware of what walls there are out there and how rigid some people’s thinking is. Leica Camera did a blog post and big interview about some of the work I’d done with this really old Leica Digilux: the camera was made in 1998 and it’s got really low resolution by today’s standards and I was using it mostly because I thought it was a fun camera, but also because I wanted to work within some really severe restrictions just for the fun of it and a lot of traditional Leica camera fans were just baffled by it. I got emails from people saying “your photos are not sharp and they’re really low res, explain to me how this is art?!” and I’m like “the art’s not just the printing of the photograph,” – some people are stuck in two dimensions; there’s the story of whatever’s going on in the image and then there’s often other stuff swirling around that’s intangeable but still affects the piece. Van Gogh was painting Wheat Field With Crows when he shot himself – does that change the painting? It doesn’t change it physically, but it wraps it in something else not painting which, as long as you know the story, makes you look at the painting differently.

    Bio

    Kyle Cassidy has been documenting American culture since the 1990′s. He has photographed Goths, Punks, Cutters, Politicians, Metalheads, Dominatrices, Scholars, and Alternative Fashion, in addition to less prosaic subjects. In recent years his projects have extended abroad to Romania, where he captured the lives of homeless orphans living in sewers; and to Egypt, where he reported on contemporary archaeological excavations. His publications include several books on information technology, as well as a regular appearance as contributing editor for Videomaker magazine. His Photo-A-Week blog (www.kylecassidy.com) was one of the first photo blogs on the internet and now has an average of more than 150,000 visitors a week, he also maintains a relatively exciting twitter feed @kylecassidy.

    Kyle’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Vanity Fair (DE), the Sunday Times of London, Marie Claire, Photographers Forum, Asleep by Dawn, Gothic Beauty and numerous other publications.

    His documentary photography book Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes was awarded amazon.com’s “Best 100 Books of 2007″ “Best 10 Art Books of 2007″ medals. Most recently he worked on the big book of Who Killed Amanda Palmer with Amanda Palmer (go figure) and the wonderfully talented Neil Gaiman. Some of his other interesting projects are In The Hive and American Rocker.

    Kyle is currently hard at work photographing war veterans tattoos and science fiction authors desks.

    finish line

    4 Responses to “Interstitiality within Photography: an interview with Kyle Cassidy”

    1. C.S.E. Cooney Says:

      This is really cool. I knew his name from his work with S.J. Tucker — I had no idea what else he’d done, even though I’d read “Who Killed Amanda Palmer.” Now I want to go look at lots of cool photos. And check out his website.

    2. Elizabeth Alton Says:

      This is a really fantastic article. I love Kyle’s work, and I’m so grateful for the chance to learn a bit more about his thought process and some of the projects that he’s working on!

    3. jenn in champaign Says:

      I also found Kyle via Sooj!

    4. Karen P. Smith Says:

      I am glad to see that Kyle’s Rocking Chair Project is in included within the interview. What I find so meaningful about his work is that it’s obvious that he has a sincere connection with what he photographs. Heck, yes, I’m a fan and this is a good interview.

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