Laurie Simmons Exhibition Video
Video Description Text
In her Connecticut studio, Laurie Simmons discusses the repeated—but ever-evolving—themes of artifice, domesticity, gender, and the construct of images in her work.
Laurie Simmons Video Transcript
I’ve always considered myself an artist who uses photography, an artist who uses a camera. I’m pretty sure that’s because I walked out of my photo class in art school and I feel like, because I never had a formal education, I’m always reluctant to call myself a photographer. While I’m very proud of the fact that I work photographically and am self-taught in that way, I still feel like “artist with a camera.” I think until I used Big Camera/Little Camera for my exhibition, I think I wasn’t aware of how many layers that photo actually has for me. Starting with being some sort of self-portrait of my father and myself, because it’s his camera, the camera he gave me and then my little toy camera and then everything that I’ve ever done that involves disparity of scale is in that photo and all my ambivalence about being a photographer is in that photo at the same time that all my respect for the tools is there as well.
Identity—an American identity— was such an important part of the way I grew up because the identity I grew up with was so contrived and created to plant my family firmly in the center of the United States, their new country. Who you were and how you looked and whether you were male or female, a boy or a girl, these things were so strict. So, of course, as I grew up and I moved away from home and the idea that a boy and a girl wouldn’t be together, but a boy and a boy would be together and I imagined a girl doll and a girl doll together. Identity started becoming more fluid and, of course, we live in a time now when the aspirations are to have gender be more fluid. The first pictures I made were about trying to reconstruct a memory and talk about the nature of artifice, talk about both the beauty, the light side and the dark side, of what I understood to be happening around me when I was a child.
My house looked like the dollhouse. The dollhouse looked like my house. My kitchen looked like the kitchen in Life magazine, or did the kitchen in Life magazine look like my kitchen? I started collecting all of this furniture and making these spaces. I was most inspired by Gordon Matta-Clark, his activity of cutting an abandoned building in half. Of course, he was an activist. He was an incredible artist. And I saw the black-and-white works that documented the interiors that he literally bifurcated and I thought, “I want my pictures to look like that.” So I started constructing rooms. I used walls. I put tables and chairs . . . [I’d] play with the scale and the space and shoot from angles that would make you dizzy or nauseate you.
The back of my sets were like smoke and mirrors, tape and toothpicks, and the fronts were like walls that were sort of crooked and falling and furniture that was slightly out of scale. So it felt very much like a collage or even like a movie set.
So it was like a very kind of active engagement with this set. I always had a sense when I was shooting my still photographs that I was a pretend film director, so I would jump all around with the camera, do things that made it feel like my characters were animated though they were very still. They were inanimate objects. But I wanted, through my camera work, to make it feel like they had a life outside the photograph. The reason I wanted to make my first film was that I wanted to create a three-act musical where I said goodbye to twenty-some odd years of work and could start over. So shooting a movie and having that kind of focus on actors and faces, I felt that I could embrace portraiture, or return to a kind of portraiture, because the first pictures I ever took actually, privately, were pictures of my friends. I constantly return to the human figure trying to find a way to make it my work. Shooting underwater, certainly, working with models swimming, I felt like there was a kind of screen between me and the human figure that could make it okay.
Portraiture is really something I never believed that I could . . . do. But somehow, with the idea that I could interrupt the character in some way, paint on eyes . . . in the case of Cyrus Grace, paint an entire suit over a naked body. Somehow, I found a way to get to portraiture and kind of make it my own.
My work changes physically and formally, black and white to color, large to small, human to surrogate. So if the last series was black and white and it was really huge, I think it’s time to come in and focus and get really colorful. Or working with humans, shooting them under water, they were noisy and annoying, it’s time to get back to a doll. Drop one single doll into a pool. Shoot it in black and white.
So I think a lot of the moves that I make are about keeping myself interested in my own work because sometimes I think I’m really like a dog with a bone, that my subject has literally been the same from the first day in 1976 that I picked up a camera and shot a little sink in front of a piece of ivy wallpaper. I’m still shooting the same thing somehow. It’s a figure in an interior space and if the interior space is actually outside, I’m talking about the interior space of my mind.