"La calle apartó mi trabajo del contexto académico. He trabajado en ella desde que me gradué en la universidad y para mí su encanto es obvio. Podría decir, mirando hacia atrás, que no tenía intención de apartarme de ningún sitio, puesto que no formaba parte de nada. (...) Siempre he utilizado iluminación artificial. Siempre he superpuesto un cierto sistema sobre el mundo que observo. Pero no creo que los electrónicos supongan una modificación de la realidad mayor que el blanco y negro".
Declaraciones de Philip Lorca DiCorcia extraídas de una entrevista realizada por Ramón Esparza, de El Cultural, en el 2003. En ella el fotógrafo se muestra esquivo. Sin embargo, pese a que por lo visto es bastante reacio a dar entrevistas, hay algunas en las que no se corta.
Conducted by Charlotte Cotton, July 2006
Charlotte Cotton: The Hustlers series brought the first art- world attention to your way of staging photographs. How was this series created?
Philip-Lorca diCorcia: It was made over the course of a couple of years, on five or six trips. I’d travel out to L.A. to shoot, staying in the motel where Janice Joplin had died. The meter was ticking all the time, and I had to be very efficient and try to get as much done as possible. I’d figure out what I was going to shoot, arrange the scene with an assistant, take a few Polaroids, go off and find the hustlers and approach them. Then I’d get them to come back and stand in the exact same position as my assistants had in the Polaroids.
CC: The cinematic or directorial approach is one that now enjoys common currency in art. But when you worked on Hustlers in the early 1990s, the idea of photographers choreographing their subjects, lighting a scene in a dramatic way, was something new.
P-L diC: The idea of the images being cinematic had a lot to do with the fact that we were in Hollywood. I thought of the people as puppets who were unstrung, mercilessly disempowered — not preyed upon, but living on the edge and not by choice. The fetishization of self-destructive behavior is only romantic if you have a choice. So it was interesting to set up scenarios that often didn’t portray the real circumstances (...) In fashion, the more a model acts like a model, the less successful the pictures are for me. And it’s kind of the same with the hustlers and the pole dancers: the more self-conscious they are and try to give me what they think I want, the less interesting it is. The way I work is to decide that something is interesting and figure out how to make an image of it.
Dorian Devens and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Transcription of a conversation on The Speakeasy, WFMU.org, 2003
D: Did you do your graduate studies at Yale?
dC: Yes, yes. And, that was quite a bit different. I think I was a bit of an anomaly at that point. They were still in a kind of rocks and ferns, Walker Evans, uh, black and white large format world then. And, Walker Evans had just died. They were in the process of a search for a replacement but his presence was still very strong there, which was not a problem for me… I mean, I totally respect him. But they didn’t have much tolerance for that kind of… at that time, I didn’t photograph people at all, and so, one shift that took place by going to graduate school was a move towards photographing people.
Even now, I think major universities don’t regard art degrees to be serious. They don’t think you have to go through the kind of rigors that a master’s degree in another discipline requires. That may be true, it’s another kind of rigor I guess. And you don’t wind up with a guaranteed income, as a matter of fact, you are almost guaranteed not to have one. So, there’s all sorts of risks involved in taking it on and I mean, I had no problem in that, I didn’t really want to go to graduate school, it was a huge recession then. I just kind of didn’t want to get a job (...) One of the problems that I always had with photography and especially sort of “art star” photography is that very often it is generated by ideas and, these people don’t have a life. You know, they go to art school, they come to New York, they start on their career… you know, you can pick all sorts of topics that might seem to have a lot of gravity but you’ve never experienced any of it, and, it seemed to me that I didn’t really have a right at that age to be talking about the human condition having done nothing much more than gone to school.
D: When you left Yale was that when you got the NEA grant?
dC: I got a few… I got one almost immediately, it was kind of like they used to have these baby ones for emerging artists, I got two of those. And then I got a full on, you know, fat one.
D: And that was a point when you went to LA?
dC: Uh, well, the LA… it’s where I sort of started, I went to LA with more or less money from a Guggenheim Fellowship, and, the NEA was a great thing I have to say… when they were giving grants to individual artists, which they don’t do any more, it was a great encouragement. Even if, for instance, the early ones were not much money, certainly not enough to do a project, and even the major ones were, if you live in New York, not enough to go away and do anything without packing your bags and leaving your home, it was a form of affirmation at a point when people need to be encouraged because the New York art world is a pretty cruel one, and, you’re already working in a world that’s sort of like being a pop star. Pop stardom, once it’s established, is very hard to kill and it’s that same thing with artists and you know, there was a certain hierarchy and that hierarchy still remains to some degree even though most of these people’s work hasn’t changed at all and you know, you just, every time somebody has to list a famous, well known, renowned, respected art photographer it’s the same people every single time and it’s almost like the velvet ceiling or whatever, the… you know, it seems as if it shouldn’t be that way but there seems to be some strange form of… I don’t know, there’s no entropy working in the art world, it just never breaks down.
D: It’s kind of static in a way…
dC: It is! Because, surprisingly, it is supposed to be about change, it’s supposed to be about constantly renewing yourself, it’s supposed to be about, you know, a whole list of cliches which involve an evolution of some sort, intellectual, technical, whatever… but, I don’t see it much. I see people repeating themselves constantly and I don’t care, from really good ones like let’s say, Cindy Sherman, I mean, you could describe her work twenty years ago and you can describe it now and it’s exactly the same. Now, there are good parts to it and there are not so good parts to it and nobody denies how good she is or how influential she is but, as far as an evolution is concerned… I mean, you know, fruit flies have evolved further than her work has.
D: It seems that it has a lot to do with how people are, I guess you’d say ‘trained’ or how the evolution of looking at pictures, hearing stories has come, or, to what point its come. I am not saying how far. Because, you could imagine that maybe people many years ago, not that your photos would have existed then, might have been able to deal with this in a different way. Now, we’re use to having everything really spelled out to us. Every piece of information is right there. You don’t have to do any thinking, you don’t have to make any associations… it’s always there. That’s why you walk away feeling nothing in the end. It’s like the Chinese food syndrome, an hour later, it’s like you never ate.
dC: Or the porno syndrome. (chuckle)
D: Is that the same? (laughter)
dC: I sort of think of it as the same thing, I mean, you know, this sort of ubiquity of things that are extreme. I mean, one thing is that there are naked people, there is the intimation of sex I suppose in some of my pictures, but, it’s really, really veiled and I don’t think anywhere near what you get from the vast majority of work that is out there now. I think that a lot of work tends to pretend that it’s using the same devices that it’s criticizing as a kind of double quality. It can both be cheap and dumb and stupid and obvious and therefore sort of enjoyable and at the same time it’s supposedly talking about the condition of modern life which is cheap and dumb and stupid and obvious.
D: You had mentioned, when we started talking about “The Miracles of Everday Life”, that idea of mystery in things and then the suspense series it seems like that is something you’ve maintained throughout your career, keeping that openness for the viewer to go in and enter the work and actually experience it rather than just be this far away and see it.
dC: Well, I think that I’ve always been interested in the extremely commonplace and initially that might have been when I was, you know, sort of hot blooded as a student and I thought that it was kind of reaction to the way people considered… photography at that time was all about bringing it back home for the masses. You know, it was all about having an experience that you could not have in your own life, you know, voyeuristically through another person. Whether it be war or you know fashion models or sex or whatever form, I mean, that was the vast majority of the use of photography. And, I guess, I decided that in a way I was going to remove all those normal stimulants from the subject of my work. I pretty much kept to that the whole time. I mean, in almost all of the things that I have been photographing, with the exception of doing a fashion assignment maybe, have been something that anyone has access to… anyone. As a matter of fact, you know, it’s often been noted that they seem to point out things that are in front of your face but you never notice. And, that’s not necessarily the point. I just, I like to keep it to a very democratic position. I’m not doing anything that anybody can’t do.
D: You said it just disturbs some people that you used set up situations. Some of the pictures are street photography and some are not… and then here is this dichotomy you’re talking about between I guess sort of the photojournalistic school more or less and then the art school. Maybe you could say the non-fiction versus the fiction world of photography. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you set up these photos and the reactions people have when you explain this? Some of these look like they’re candid shots but they’re not and you said that some people are rather disturbed by that.
dC: Well, I don’t know, in regards to A Storybook Life, since most of that work has not been seen… not many people have had opportunities to have a reaction to it but in general, I think that there was a time, and increasingly that is not the case, when if you violated certain codes, people got annoyed. Even if it was sort of like jumping out from behind a door and surprising someone. You know, very often they react violently to that and it seemed to me that there was a whole entrenched world of photography which almost reacted violently to the fact that, not that I did it, or any of the other people who did the same kind of thing did it, it’s the fact that it was taken seriously. I don’t think they would have cared at all, it’s just that they saw the fact that there was interest in it. It was probably some form of a threat I think that they are invested in this concept of ‘truth’. Otherwise, I don’t think that they could possibly do what they do. I mean, I don’t think that it’s easy. I am not pretending that being a photojournalist is fun or easier to do than what I do or something like that. I think that they by necessity though have to believe in what they are doing in order to put up with it basically. And, I don’t know what the rewards are but I think they’re largely moral and, you know, morality is a very shifty thing. It depends on your point of view. And, a lot of people seem to think that truth is just really a matter of perception and I think that photojournalists have to believe that there is an absolute standard for it and they do not want to be questioned on that. And, any authoritative affirmation of some alternative way of seeing a photograph is a threat.
D: They have to be kind of blinded to there own subjectivity…
dC: And the fact that, like let’s face it, there is nothing that is being said by any photojournalist that hasn’t been said a million times before. It’s just another example of man’s inhumanity to man or, you know, chaos, violence and you know, special moments. It’s good to be informed and maybe people need to see visual evidence of what’s going on but it’s been going on for centuries and the photographs themselves may differ but I think a corpse is a corpse is a corpse.
D: It’s funny because people can perfectly well accept a film being set up and being shot and still accept it as a story. I mean, maybe this is why there have been comparisons with your work to film, which I know you don’t really subscribe to.
dC: You know, the resistance to all of that, I mean for one thing, I am speaking about a period which is now gone. I think with the advent of digital, I mean, now the basic assumption is that anything can be changed. I mean, fifteen years ago, you had to cut and paste and there are programs with every little digital camera that retouch. And, I think it’s assumed that the media is highly malleable, and as a matter of fact, people are becoming more savvy and sort of read between the lines, okay, like you’re listening to CNN and you know you’re getting this point of view, and you’re reading the New York Times and you know you’re getting another point of view, and you’re reading the Post and… you know, that’s quite a sophisticated development for the United States. I think in Europe it’s always existed… there, you know, people pick their paper according to the political party that publishes it almost. In the United States people tended to think of the media as Walter Kronkite, and you know, like a kind of monolithic entity that was friendly and informative…
Fotografías de PL DiC en el Moma. NYC. Julio 2011.
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