Much of your source material was originally made or printed during the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period you describe as bringing a certain mid-century idealism to its conclusion. Does the present moment also seem like a point of transition or inflection?
I think it does. For example, the reason I wanted to make a project about the rose-gold iPhone is that I believe it exemplifies so many of the qualities that objects from that earlier period represent. For one thing, selling something purely around a color—a color “invented” for an object—feels very much of the 1960s-’70s moment. Corporations and designers re- appropriated colors for commercial uses all the time. There’s also something resonant about how the rose-gold iPhone is the same as another, more commonly available iPhone; it simply has a new veneer. That feels like a “modern” way of selling something—a very idealistic way of pitching a product.
I wanted to point to the way you can look back at that time and see its crass commercialism so clearly. The distance permits a certain cynicism about the mechanisms for selling products. You can even acknowledge how those practices led us to where we are today. But despite our sophistication, the same forces are in play today—even if we believe we can see through them. I wanted to talk about the iPhone party because it totally got me; I was seduced by it. I wanted to think through my personal relationship to these broader forces. Even though you see things clearly, even if you’re inherently skeptical, you sometimes can’t help but participate in them.
You’ve begun making videos. How does their durational nature, the possibility of their narratives changing or even corroding over time, correspond to your thinking about these decades-long changes in society?
I want to revisit some of the advertising strategies I critique in my photographs, but only reveal that critical stance slowly. Perhaps viewers won’t realize, at first, that what they’re seeing is not exactly what it looks like.
Speaking procedurally, I wanted to make videos because I wanted to present projects featuring rapid editing. I was imagining hypothetical viewers who can only pay attention for one second before needing something else to look at. Those people exist now; rapid cuts fulfill the expectations of a certain kind of present-day viewer. Attention spans are so short; I can feel how short mine is. I thought that a rapid-fire structure made sense for showing all these objects that have themselves faded away from popular consciousness. I give each of them only a moment in the spotlight before moving on to something else. That frantic progression feels to something like today’s advertising feels, or how being in the world feels.
We likewise live in an era of seemingly sped-up news cycles and political developments …
The cycles are so fast. I think about the rose-gold iPhone in the context of the soft jewelry boxes that are featured in Soft Film. Those boxes likely had a decade or two of use and relevance. The rose-gold iPhone already feels like it’s falling out of favor, or as if it’s out of date. It’s much more accessible today, and therefore less desirable, than when it was first introduced and cost something like $800.
I give each object only a moment in the spotlight before moving on to something else. That frantic progression feels to something like today’s advertising feels, or how being in the world feels.
Perhaps this is why your video never shows the rose-gold iPhone, except in an image you recorded off of a screen …
I purposely never put it in the film. I actually have a rose-gold iPhone now because I was entitled to an upgrade through my phone plan. I was using a mangy, cracked iPhone 5 for at least a year, so that’s what’s lovingly held and touched in the film. I could barely see its screen.
Your hands hold the phone in the film, and elsewhere a narrator describes you as owning a “collection of pictures of women demonstrating technology.” Is that one way you conceive of your work, as demonstrating or revealing technologies?
That’s definitely part of my work. I want to make mechanisms clear, which is perhaps even more important given how technically sophisticated art photography often is. The barrier to entry for art photography, in terms of access to technology, can be high. I have always been interested in making things that don’t require such technologies. Or perhaps deliberately misuses them, creates something filled with more mistakes than what I initially thought was “real” art photography, like Jeff Wall or Andreas Gursky.
Do you think that’s partly a generational divide?
The way I work seems more prevalent in the last five or ten years, when photographers were making more low-key work, making art within their economy of means, making photographs as photographs, not as monuments. I don’t know whether that’s a response to the moment, or to the art market, or whatever, but it feels like the most vital aspects of art photography have moved away from epic projects. What can Gursky do today to surprise us?
He could incorporate bodies! In the past two to three years you’ve begun making portraits. Can you discuss the relationship between the people depicted and yourself, or between the people depicted and the objects that surround them?
I photograph people like I photograph objects. I’ll take a portrait and then, at least when it’s printed and placed into an arrangement with other objects in the studio, it becomes part of a still life.
Everyone I photograph though is someone I am close to and know well. I photographed my ex-boyfriend a lot, and he appears in both of my recent films. Having someone in the film with whom I have a close relationship helps to temper some of the dry theory that makes up part of the narration. Just when you can’t listen to any more of this academic language, the film shifts into a more personal register.