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SPBH Ten Questions

Carolyn Drake

The photographer talks to us about Miranda July’s Instagram, how Boris Mikhailov’s book Yesterday’s Sandwich fought back against fake news, and her new work which investigates American perceptions of privacy, safety and the neighbourhood.

1. Show us a sample of your work.

1. Carved inkjet print on wood, a collaboration in Vallejo, California USA, 2017

2. Rachel at home, Vallejo, California, USA, 2016

3. Natalie at home, Water Valley, Mississippi, USA, 2017

4. Collaged inkjet photos, a collaboration from the Wild Pigeon series, Urumqi, China, 2013

5. Last page of the book Wild Pigeon, 2014

2. What research is currently most informing your practice?

Most of the work above was made during the decade I was based in Istanbul. Halfway through that decade I started exploring ways to collaborate with the people and places I was photographing, making images that were part me, part them, part something new. I moved back to the US a few years ago and am now making images relating to neighbors, neighborhoods, clubs, craft, American ideas about safety and privacy and space, and the role that images play within these circles.

3. Which photograph are you obsessed with right now and why?

I don’t get obsessed with single images. Im more interested in approaches, ideas, bodies of work.

4. What video can you not stop watching?

5. Can you give us five links to things you think we should know about?

James Baldwin – The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity

Marin Street Watch

Walid Raad artist talks

Miranda July’s Instagram account

Lapham’s Quarterly issue on Fear

6. How many photos do you have right now on your phone? Please share one

…and feel free to give us some context if you feel like it.

There are 446 images on my phone…This one is of a book my partner Andres is putting together. Being in a relationship with another artist/photographer, I find myself reacting to/absorbing/resisting the other’s ideas all the time, always thinking through how my work is in dialogue with, or sovereign from his.

7. Can you send us a pic of your desk/workspace?

8. What is the most coveted photo book you own and why?

I wouldn’t use the word coveted, but I’ve opened up Boris Mikhailov’s book Yesterday’s Sandwich a lot lately. He uses the words “poetic” and “ugly” to describe the series of images, each made by projecting two slides simultaneously. They were printed years later in a book that is a stack of image cards. “My approach was based on the deliberate pursuit of chance” he writes in the statement. “This was a period of hidden meanings and coded messages in all genres. Given the scarcity of real news, everyone was on the lookout for the smallest piece of new information, hoping to uncover a secret, or read between the lines. Encryption was the only way to explore forbidden subjects such as politics, religion and nudity. The ‘Sandwich’ series went against the tenets of official art. And like all unofficial work, it concealed within itself many coded allusions.”

Perhaps I’m drawn to it because I have worked in places – western China, Uzbekistan, a Ukrainian Internat – where coded meaning seemed like the only way to continue working, where it was not politically possible to be overt or direct while being honest. Despite being rooted in the specific atmosphere of Soviet Ukraine, Mikhailov was tapping into a condition or state of confusion that I think has parallels in other times and places. Nations tend to condition people toward a right way to be, a correct way to think. But these right ways conflict with the complicated inner needs of human beings. Yesterday’s Sandwich taps into that conflict.

9. What concerns you?

Social media
Blind faith

10. What makes you happy?

I love the things that give me a short reprieve from my work mind. These days, planting things in my backyard and going for a swim help with that.



About Carolyn: I’m based in Vallejo, California and working mainly in the US right now. Ive made three books, all self published, all working with the Dutch designer Syb. I do a lot of work independently but also make pictures for magazines. My latest book Internat was published in 2017. An exhibition of Wild Pigeon will open at the SFMOMA in March 2018, and Internat will be shown at the Houston Center for Photography in May 2018.

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