Parker Day: the LA based photographer and artist flaunts a new collection of 100 portraits using unretouched 35mm film, hyperbolizing personas of the people she shoots. With influences such as John Waters, David Lynch and R.Crumb, it is easy to see where Day draws her ability to blur the lines between real and imaginary and to uniquely juxtapose the sombre with the comical. Ahead of the New York opening of her first solo series ICONS, we catch up with the photographer to explore themes such as gender fluidity, identity and how we use masks as a tool to project an image of ourselves to the world.
Okay, let’s start at the start, I read that during childhood your father ran a comic book store; would you agree that this has influenced your work?
Yes, I think that has informed my aesthetic language a lot because I grew up drawing from comic books and just seeing that as a representation of women and people in general; but especially women in underground comic books left an indelible impression on my impressionable mind. Women were powerful but also hypersexualized in an absurd way that was very confusing to me.
So how did you get into photography and art; how did that transition happen?
I went to school for photography right out of high school and I took a class for photography in high school so I knew that’s what I wanted to do but life kind of derailed me for a while and it wasn’t until just shy of three years ago that I got back into it, you know, because I realized that I needed something more in my life and it was my passion.
Your new photo series ICONS has it's NY opening this Saturday 4th of March in the Superchief Gallery in Queens. With ICONS, I feel like I was looking at characters from Cry Baby if it was directed by Tim Burton and David Lynch with hints of 90s Mario Testino. What were your main inspirations for the portraits, what were they trying to convey?
Yes, exactly! So, obviously, a lot of John Waters and David Lynch and R. Crumb in a tasty smoothie all swirled around. I knew from the get-go that I wanted to do a series of 100 portraits. It just sounds so big and juicy and I wanted the overwhelming visual assault of seeing these hyper color portraits altogether. Conceptually, it’s all about exploring identity and how we craft our identity through how we visually represent ourselves. I think that we tell people who we are through how we present ourselves and if they believe it then we start to believe it too and then a whole new world is opened up.
I felt like each portrait had its own unique ambiguity and gender fluidity; was this something you wanted to display?
Yes, definitely, because gender fluidity ties into the whole notion of our identity and ourselves being infinitely malleable and there not being boundaries to who we are. As in really, the only boundaries are conceptions individually and collectively but as those perceptions shift; reality does. I like to keep a heavy base but then on the surface, the photos are really light and comic and absurd and hopefully funny and endearing.
My favorite piece, well one of, was "the female gaze." I feel like her and Paleman from Pan’s Labyrinth could be together, but obviously she has a lot more going for her than him; what are your favorite portraits from the collection?
Yea, I see that with the eyeballs. I love "H8," which is the cover of my book and should be ready for the show. I love that one because he’s got so much feeling and graphically it’s just intense and I remember my direction to him was like “okay, you’ve been bullied in middle school for years, you’re on the middle school playground and you’ve just had enough and you’re about the burst, and you’re just tense and you’re about to explode" and he’s got this little, amazing scowl.
For each portrait, did you have a particular angle and direction that you wanted to pull out of the person, or was it more led by the people themselves?
It was led by intuition. In this series, there was a lot of collaboration in terms of aesthetics, the mood; everything. You know most of the people I didn't meet until I opened my door so the end result was determined by our own kind of energy. It keeps me pumped, it keeps me on my toes.
So you mentioned that the main themes are identity and in some ways, the masks we wear. What do you think are the implications for wearing masks and why do you think we do it?
I think we do it to play the role we think people want us to inhabit; you know in our jobs and we think oh we have to present this face to get ahead; to be accepted and or at home; to hide your tattoos in front of your grandmother or pull out your piercings because we think that’s how grandma will see us as her perfect little angel. So it’s really about acceptance and love and how when we strip off the masks we’re actually in acceptance of ourselves…not to be too cheeseball. The masks are a tool; just don’t let the masks become, you know…
We use them, they do not use us.
Exactly, that’s it.
What is in the pipeline for you in the future –— are you going to stick with art photography, or are you going to move away from that?
So yeah, I am going to do an amazing story with BUST magazine, but also I am going to start work on my own personal project in the near future. I am looking into doing more set design and panning out a little bit more full body theatricality and more conceptualized characters.
What would you like to say to anyone who has never heard of you; what should they expect from the show?
Ooh, expect a sensory bombardment of eccentric characters from the seedy underbelly of your imagination.
All photos via Instagram/Parker Day, @heyparkerday
WHAT: Parker Day's debut solo exhibition ICONS
WHEN: March 4 - 26, (Opening March 4th 7-11PM)
WHERE: Superchief Gallery, 1628 Jefferson Ave. Queens NY
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