Gregg Evans New York, USA
Gregg Evans is a photographer living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He holds an MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago and a BFA in Photography from the State University of New York at Purchase. Interested in the similarities and differences between the dynamics of power in photography and romantic or sexual encounters, Evans creates images laden with tension between dominance and submission, and inhibition and brashness. Recent exhibitions include The Griffin Museum of Photography, Aperture Gallery, White Columns, and United Photo Industries, as well as The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Ebersmoore gallery in Chicago. He likes milk shakes in almost any weather condition, Roseanne, and My Bloody Valentine.
Gregg Evans was chosen by photographer Elmar Vestner
Laatikkomo’s interview with Gregg Evans August 9th, 2014.
L: Where are you from? Or what cities, and/or countries have you lived in – what places have influenced you?
GE: I grew up in the Hudson Valley in New York State, USA – about two hours north of New York City. The area I grew up in is very much romantically beautiful but was also very much working class. In a lot of ways I think I’ve been influenced by the area in how it’s sort of this incredibly ordinary place which is also incredibly majestic, incredibly beautiful. I think those are some of the same notions that draw me to autobiographical themes within my work – taking something ordinary and trying to find something poetic in it.
I’ve lived in a few of the boroughs here in NYC (I live in Brooklyn at the moment), and I lived in Chicago for a few years during grad school at Columbia College, but the Hudson Valley has always drawn me back home.
L: What is your first memory of photography?
GE: I think my first real memory of photography was looking at the J.C. Penney and Sears catalogs on my family’s living room floor when I was a kid. My family didn’t have a lot of money, and we only really shopped at those stores when they went on sale. I remember trying to pose like the kids wearing acid washed Bugle Boy jeans, Reebok pumps and Ray Bans with bad spiked hair, thinking that if I could look like them nobody would notice I was wearing fake LA Gear sneakers my mom got me from Payless. There are albums full of me striking “sassy” poses in neon clothing in my parents front yard as a result.
L: Your images seem to embody poetry, from the titles of your work to the atmosphere created in each scene. Is there a poem that inspires your work?
GE: I couldn’t pinpoint a single poem that has inspired a specific work, but I have always been inspired by literature, poetry, graphic novels, and books in general. I’ve always really loved the work of Eileen Myles, Carson McCullers, Chris Ware (I have a panel from his book Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid On Earth tattooed on my stomach), and Frank O’Hara.
L: The titles of your work set the tone for your images. And some of your more recent work is uniquely text. Do you use words as a starting point when beginning a new project, and what makes you choose words over image on occasion?
GE: I’ve always liked writing, and have been influenced by artists who work with text for a long time – I’d become interested in artists like Ed Ruscha and Jenny Holzer pretty early on in art school – and have been working visually with text in one form or another ever since. I think of the text pieces as a different way to talk about the ideas in my photographs, another way of fleshing out tensions which are in the photographs on a different level. I usually try and make my text work hint at an idea without directly stating it, and really love phrases which can be read multiple ways, which have multiple meanings. For me, text is just a different means of expressing similar ideas – the photographs I make usually inform my text work, and vice versa. Sometimes ideas just work better as text pieces, sometimes they feel more effective within a photograph.
L: Photography is often the preferred tool to talk about memory. Many of your projects are dealing with a personal story of something lost, or something of the past. What is your relationship to photography and memory – are you interested in recreating your own truths?
GE: My work has always had a strong relationship with memory, whether it’s memories associated with objects from my past, places I’ve lived, or past relationships. I think photography is inherently about memory in many ways, since on a very basic level a photograph is always an object which references the past. In many ways I think recreating my own version of the truth is a good way of describing a lot of my work – I’m often sort of sorting through my own memories of my own past and reforming them into something new.
L: It seems your projects are somewhat autobiographical. How important is it to you to maintain personal privacy when revealing intimate objects, scenes, memories..?
GE: Privacy is sort of a sticky subject lately, especially here in the US. A lot of my personal information & identity is already pretty public right off the bat– I have an iPhone: I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. I have an abandoned Google+ account, as well as a series of now defunct blogs, and long since abandoned Friendster, Make Out Club and Myspace accounts that all reveal a lot of pretty intimate details about how I was feeling on most any given day, what I was listening to, what I bought for the past 10+ years of my life… The list of information I’ve put out into the world about myself really goes on and on. In a way it’s kind of unnerving when I start to think about it. I don’t want someone to know my whereabouts at any given moment, for example. But at the same time, these are all things I’ve chosen to put out into the world, so there’s sort of something powerful about that openness. I grew up with the internet from the time I was maybe 11 or 12, so I think that sense of intimacy and connectedness is just something that was a given for me. I guess my work is sort of a reflection of that desire to share experience.
L: If I understand correctly, the people shown in this project are strangers from cruising sites. As an outsider, and without having read texts about your work, this detail would not have been completely obvious to me. Although they hold a kind of sexual insinuation, it is not clear how well you know the subjects. Is the fact that your subjects are strangers important to how you photograph them? Could you make similar photographs with people you know?
GE: At the beginning of the project, the role of the cruising and dating sites within the work felt really important to me. I was mainly recreating snapshots from a five year relationship with my ex, and it felt really sad and poignant to attempt to recreate them using men I met online through cruising and dating sites. Conceptually, at that point, a lot of my ideas revolved around notions of failure – failed relationships, the failure to recreate a memory, the failure of photography to truly convey an experience – and so the idea of looking for an emotional connection among men who were looking almost exclusively for a sexual one seemed really important. As I continued on with the project, however, the importance of my own memories began to become less and less paramount to the work. I began to become more interested in the awkward dynamics of portraiture, the inherent power dynamics built into the portrait process, and began making work that was less distanced, more intimate. Around the same time I began to work with a number of my subjects again and again as we got to know each other, which is more like how I work at the moment. Many of my subjects are now people I consider good friends, a few have been people I have dated. As my photographs changed, the dynamic between my subject and I gradually changed as well. So to make a long story short, it’s not as important as it once was, and it seems like the photographs I make with my subjects kind of change as we both change.
L: Could you list 5 (or more) words that you were thinking about when you made this work (shown in Laatikkomo)?
GE: Loss, Failure, Tension, Discomfort, Desire, Connection
L: Part of the Laatikkomo project asks the artists to choose the next photographer in their link of photographers. Without revealing the identity of the artist you have chosen, can you express what qualities are you looking for in the artist you will choose, what criteria will guide your choice?
GE: The artist I chose for the project works with ideas of communication, and an imagined future, sort of questioning humanities role in the universe. His work references science fiction and hollywood movies, and he makes images which are fun but thought provoking at the same time. He’s also a friend of mine, go figure.
Thank you so much Gregg!