Roe Ethridge in Conversation with Kevin Moore

Roe Ethridge in Conversation with Kevin Moore


– Good evening, everyone. My name is Steven Frailey. It’s my great pleasure
to be the chair of the undergraduate of Photography
and Video department here at good ol’ School of Visual Arts. Glad to have you here. This, this event this evening is part of an ongoing effort
of Dear Dave Magazine, a magazine that is devoted
to photography and writing and of which I am the editor-in-chief. It’s an ongoing effort
that we put together of conversations between prominent photographers and writers,
critics, curators. It’s good to have you here. If you’re interested in
being on the mailing list, please let us know. We’ll take your email
address out in the lobby where we also are selling copies of the magazine at a
discounted rate of $5. Kevin and Roe are going to
talk for about 45 minutes. There will be some questions and answers. Roe will be signing
copies of his new book, which will also be available
for sale after the talk. We also have a bit of
champagne for your pleasure that I hope you can stay for. In the meantime… Sorry. In the meantime, allow me to introduce Kevin Moore and Roe Ethridge. Kevin Moore is an independent advisor, curator and writer based in New York. Since 2013, he’s been
the Artistic Director and Curator of Photo
Focus, a Cincinnati-based non-profit specializing in
photographic programs and events. He is organizing the
upcoming solo exhibition Roe Ethridge, “Nearest Neighbor”, at the Contemporary Art Center
in Cincinnati as part of the FotoFocus Biennial of 2016. Roe Ethridge has recently exhibited work at the Barbara Gladstone
Gallery in Brussels and has been represented by the Andrew Krepps Gallery since 2002. His work has been showed extensively in institutions around the world, including MoMA PS1, the
Barbican Center in London, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Institute of
Contemporary Art in Boston, the Whitney Biennial, the Museum
of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and The Hammer in Los Angeles. I’m sure I’ve left out a few. In 2011, he was shortlisted
for the Deustche Borse. Is that right, Roe, Borse? Deutsche Borse? Okay. Deutsche Borse Prize. Finally, his work has been commissioned by ID Magazine, Interview, W Magazine, Dazed and Confused,
Balenciaga, Kenzo and Chanel. So, without further delay, please welcome Kevin Moore and Roe Ethridge. – Thank you. Just to start that, I
guess the 10 or so years I’ve been paying attention to Roe’s work, I’ve seen a lot of different kinds of complexity in terms of image manipulation, and different kinds of subject matter, a lot of things that, you know, starting 10 years ago, not
that many people were doing. It felt to me a kind of, a very sort of fresh and confusing,
experimental, you know, approach to making photography,
especially at that time. And I think in terms of the books that I’ve seen Roe produce, The Looks and Sacrifice Your Body, most recently, these books strike me as being much more complicated in some ways than
the new one, Shelter Island. And I feel like I’m seeing here something that looks a bit like,
maybe a return to order, a return to making beautiful
strong images that are edited concisely, maybe in a
more traditional way. The book itself doesn’t feel, to me, like it wanders too far out of bounds. It has a kind of concision to it, almost like a gallery show. So maybe you just want
to start by talking about sort of how you got from
the more complex projects to this approach to Shelter Island. – Yeah, I think that for about 15 years working in this, I was working in what I liked to call, sort of, fugal mode or playing off both the notion of the musical fugue, which is this sort of harmony, disharmony, multiple voices, washing over each other as well as a medical condition where you sort of have an amnesiac… You know, period of
time where you sort of, people when they go into a fugue state, wind up sort of doing these
far flung travel things and sort of come to, or
come back to consciousness in another place and
don’t really know why. And when I first moved to New York, I felt like there was something, you know. I didn’t have that in mind
when when I came to New York, but I started getting
commercial assignments and was also working on
my shows at the same time, and there was something
about these, this feeling of, you know, it was like, my mentor, Philip Lorda de Gosche told me, you know, “You gotta find your voice,
you know, use your voice. “Learn to use your voice.” And my first thought was like, “Well, I have more than one voice, so.” Not necessarily
schizophrenic, but it was like that idea of, like, my identity wasn’t totally locked into one perspective. It was something where it could
be something multiple, and– – It seems like a very
psychological personal response to the state of photography, in a way, where it is still, in a
lot of ways, split between people who do commercial or editorial and people who make art. – That’s true, but, you know, for me, I think it was hard to deny that my projects, which would sort of start in a conceptual, what I thought
was conceptual photography, you know, where it’s like it
sort of had a thesis to start and then would illustrate
that thesis with images. By the time I would get
to the end of a project, I felt so, sort of, tired
and it felt false in a way, and yet, at the same time, I
was something shooting like a beauty image for Allure Magazine, and you know, looking at
this Polaroid from the shoot, and thinking, like,
“This is the best picture “I’ve taken in a month or two months.” I can’t just let it kind
of go by the wayside, and then this notion of
a sort of contamination or pollution of this
pure conceptual project with the random effects of making yourself available for assignment photography. That’s when that started to happen, and you know, in some ways, it was, the challenge was to
sort of simultaneously itemize this notion of
the image while also not losing myself somehow,
or keeping that voice a thread throughout, and so
that was sort of the guiding– – Would you say, then, you
found the voice through going out of bounds with these
expectations of, you know. You have a conceptual project,
you fill in the blanks, you make the pictures, but, you know, you seem to me to have an urge to, you know, to pervert to these expectations in a certain way. – Yeah, I suppose so. I mean, it definitely was… You know, coming out of that fugal idea, the sort of counterpoint
is key to that idea in terms of the musical
form, and that just made so much sense to me
as this artist, you know, or like I said, “I am a
photographer living in New York “in the 2000s and that’s my
sort of truth or something.” So how do I do that? And, you know, in doing
so, it’s sort of like, it had to be distorted or
perverted or, you know, I couldn’t take a position of, you know, this is my thing or, you
know (clears throat). And… – I mean, you see a lot of photographers, not just you, Taryn Simon as an example as we were mentioning
her, and she just opened her show, who’s very
tight with her concept. She’s scientific, almost. She sets a topic. She researches it. She determines the format,
and she executes it. – Right. – And I think you have this urge always to try to invent new forms, try to throw in something
confusing or unexpected. It’s either a personal thing or it’s maybe something you feel it has to do, like, what’s available
to do right now in terms of positions in art and photography. People work in series and
systems and all of that, and there are very common
predictable ways of doing that. So, but I what I see you doing there is over and over again, is
something that continually sort of, you know, rides the line between something that’s comprehensible
and incomprehensible. – Well, I think it was important to me, even though I wasn’t sure
why, to try to unname the thing, and decaption the image, and I think, in the case of Taryn’s work, it’s the opposite. It’s, you know, the caption is just as important as the image. – Classification and terminology are important to her.
– [Roe] The text. You know, it’s equal, and in my case, I feel like the split personalities between the shooter, the
person who authors the image or, you know, is like,
in the external world, making an image is just as important as the editor, and I think, that you know, from working in magazines and everything and seeing how fucked up your
shit can get by an editor. – For writers, too. – Yeah, for sure, and so, you know. I was like, “Wow, that’s a lot of power.” And it determines how the
reception of the image, and it’s almost like it’s
really half the voice. So, for me, there was something
that I could play with that structure, the
power of that, and also, you know, seeing how
things juxtaposed suddenly created this meaning for me that was, again, it was better
than my intended thing, and so, you know, if I had a great idea, often times, it started
to look worse and worse as these juxtapositions,
like, came together, and it was like, there’s the world. The model and the UPS drivers and, you know, the sort
of delivery system with representation of, like, the product. It was like, and here I am,
complicit in this thing, which, like, for better or
worse, it’s what I want to do. But so does she, and so does this guy. So it was almost like a, it felt like a natural
stumbling into something, but it was also– – It’s a way of making new connections, and I’m often struck by sort
of what’s allowed in painting. Like I was at the Oehlen,
Albert Oehlen exhibition at New Museum, and I
was reading the Voluble and I was thinking to
myself that the description could almost apply verbatim
to your work, you know, like working in different
vocabularies and all these things, but it struck me, though,
that in photography, there’s so little acceptance of that. I mean, there’s still
this kind of determination to make sure that a photographic series or what an artist is
doing is comprehensible in some, very traditional
documentary-style way. You know, not to diss
anybody, but Alec Soth, for example, does it
very well, does a very traditional documentary
project series kind of work. He takes great pictures, but you know, that’s in some ways, I think what the photo community
still really wants, and meanwhile, you know,
your work, I think, is very hard for them
to understand because it really speaks more in
a vocabulary or language of contemporary art, more generally, not specific to photography. Do you think about what artists
in other mediums are doing? Or are you really, I see, I
think you’re very involved with photography more or less, I mean. – Yeah. – When you talk to students,
you talk very technically about what you’re doing. I think it’s often driven
from a very tech place. – Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a… It is. You know, I never wanted to make movies. I did want to make paintings,
but that seemed like it was going to take too
long, and then it turned out, it takes just as long to
become a good photographer as a good painter, and,
or you can get good random results either way. But, yeah. I think, in some ways,
some part of it was like I loved the way painters
used the edge of the frame, the full composition. I loved Matisse and all over
pattern, pattern decoration, and so when I was in school, I was sort of coming in through that, you
know, just out of curiosity, coming through that place
back into the image. ‘Cause I’ve sort of felt
like, I was doing things like sandpapering posters and
you know, doing things that were ready-made of
sorts, and thinking, like, “You know, all the good pictures
have already been taken, “so now I have to deconstruct,
take this thing apart.” And then I started shooting four by five. I was like, “This is really
fucking hard, you know?” And that challenge with
the craft, with the medium, was inspiring, and then
being able to bring these other things into
the fold, and, you know, influences like, you know,
Cindy Sherman, of course, but, like, you could say Jeff Koons. I love Jeff Koons. Richard Prince, the Girl Next Door. When the light went on,
that was something, like, it made all kinds of sense,
and at the same time, I didn’t feel like, “Well,
I want to use tungsten film “and shoot shitty pictures of upstage.” I wanna make compositional
image, you know? I don’t wanna do something that, like, there’s something about that four by five and it’s like, there’s a
third here and a third here, and you know, how do
you hold the edge there? So. – I think what’s interesting is you take very good traditional pictures. You can take a picture
that looks like a Man Ray or something that has that kind of force, but you’re not treating it
as kind of a precious thing. Like, you don’t obey those
Modernist rules about, you know, and you could
be very experimental with the process and very
irreverent about the print and about the way you
combine prints and such. So maybe take us, through, then. – Yeah, let’s go ahead. – Some images here so we can
show what we’re talking about. – Yeah. – Two series, the previous double bill, and then leading to Shelter Island. We’ll show Very Well, the contrast between these kind of different.
– [Roe] Yeah. – Different ways of operating. – Right, so I just added
these first ten slides ’cause I realized, like, the, you know, Shelter Island book, it’s
a, you know, slim volume. It’s not a sort of
wandering epic like, deluxe, and I thought we’d be
through with the talk, in like, no time, if I
didn’t bring some more stuff. But also, it dawned to me
that it was important to show the project that
preceeded Shelter Island to sort of illustrate
this tendency or instinct that I have to, it’s
almost constantly happening where it’s like, a, maybe idiosyncratic, but it’s like, to counterpoint
the project before or the thing before or play off
with tangential connections, and so we’ll start off
with this picture here. This is a sort of a friend, a muse. She was an abroad photo student. We started taking pictures
together about 10 years ago. No, that’s not right. That’s seven years ago,
and so this initial image, the portrait of Louise
Parker was for a magazine, but I sort of cut her out very crudely, and dropped her portrait into a screenshot from the Google street
view of a suburban home I grew up in Atlanta, and
that Google street view is the last image in the
Sacrifice Your Body book, and so for me, that was
a way to sort of like tangentially connect
that Sacrifice Your Body, with this group of pictures,
which was called Double Bill with Andy Harmon and
special guest Louise Parker. I just wanted to make a TV
variety show title, you know? So, yeah. If I’m jealous of anything,
it’s TV, you know? It’s the best. So. Let’s see, is this right? And so with the Double Bill series, it was the first time that I had sort of coming into this thing,
limiting scope somehow, or keeping myself from the, giving myself some obstruction, rather than, it’s the everything
pizza, where everything, you know, bring it in, bring
in this wild juxtaposition things that just barely
make sense, and so for me, this had a lot to do with my affection for my set and prop guy, Andy Harmon, but also some of the actual
things that we’d made, which, you know, when you’re
doing commercial photography, a lot of times it feels
like there’s an understood boundary, and the relationship
that I have with this guy, Andy, it’s always, we
just go right to the edge, but in a weird way, like
in the case of this, the edge is actually a very
seemingly conventional, almost art historical image. But I also started bringing
in these grid forms that things that were, would happen
say on the day of the shoot, and they’re instrumental during that time, but then nobody ever looked at ’em and needed them afterwards. It was sort of like a throwaway,
like worse than an outtake. It wasn’t anything, but I
also liked how I brought that sort of Tiffany
blue into the background, and there was something, a
sort of language about it that was sort of different and felt right. This is a picture at Andy’s studio. So I went over to his
studio and just sort of spent an afternoon taking
pictures of whatever was there as another sort of way to get
to that multiple perspective. This is a picture inside my studio. I had just gotten this test print back. I started printing on dye-sublimation. It’s on a coated sheet of aluminum, and Ebson transfer print comes reversed. It gets layed down on
the dye-sub aluminum, and has this kind of
weird HD quality to it. It’s not like 3D, but it’s kind of cheesy, and it’s kinda consumer,
and it’s kind of wrong. Definitely wrong. But when I got this eight by 10 sample, I just was like so excited,
I took it around the studio and made little still-lifes
around it, you know? So this is an example of one
of these kinds of, you know, finding the accident, you know? Letting the wrong thing be the right thing or being inspired or allowing things in to the body of work that
are absolutely unintended. In this case, this particular
piece was the first one that we made and
my assistant Joseph had been making model prints. We had, like, a model
scale of the gallery. And so these little pictures
inside the grid pictures were, you know, little prints that were gonna go, you know, to try
out this gallery model. But in his Photoshop
document, he had every layer open, so it turned into
this fucked up compressed thing on the screen that was just like, you really almost can’t read it as one. Well, you can’t read it as one and you can’t read it as 15, you know? So it was kind of a, just a jam there, and later on, we added these backplates. That backplate image of the
pickle and the salmon roe but that was taking, bringing
all these random stuff that juxtaposition stuff
into a single frame, but in that also, like,
doing it exactly wrong, the Warhol thing with– – Can I ask if Roe, personal references in it in this case? – I think so. That’s a picture that
Andy and I made together, and I’d ask him to go to the grocery store in my neighborhood in
Rockaway, and you know, just get whatever he
wanted, but he smuggled in some, what do you call it,
expensive grocery store, you know, salmon eggs, so. – Right. – And I think he was like, he
got a big kick out of that. “Roe, ha ha, it’s your name.” And he poured it out on a
pickle and it was great. But, yeah. – It has, to me, the feeling
of like surrealist collage or something like that, where it’s a very contemporary form of
collage and we feel like we’ve all gotten used to,
we like collage, again. College wasn’t really that
popular in the art world maybe 10 years ago?
– [Roe] Uh-huh. – It felt to me like
images were very straight, and now collages are all over the place. Heineken has a, you know,
retrospective at MoMA. Suddenly, he’s resurrected,
and I was wondering, “Why is collage making such a comeback?” But I think we’re so
used to seeing collages on our computer screens.
– [Roe] Right. – All the time now. We’ve always got like
five our eight windows up at the same time, so
we think in collage now in a way, maybe we didn’t, you know. – Well, I was, I think
it was a couple days before I shipped out these pictures. I was standing in front of the print frames in the studio and
looking at my iPhone. I was like, “Oh, it’s the iPhone. “Damn it, it’s the damn iPhone.” And, so, I think for me,
it’s quite accidental. It wasn’t a thing where I was like, “I wanna take on collage
or something like that.” But there was something about the that sort of vernacular internet brochure kind of design like, I’m very
bad at that kind of stuff. So I enjoy, you know,
making bad design choices or something like that,
but still with using these compositional images, and
then, there was something about hyperbolizing that
vernacular that was appealing. – Yeah, it looks to me
like familiar object to a computer screen or an iPhone screen, but you’ve sent it into a fugue state. – Yeah. – You’ve made it sort of crazy, but it has the kind of
sensuality to it, you know. I think your choices are not
simply to make the point, you know, intellectually. It’s more about this looks
really interesting and amazing. It comes from a very visual place. – But it’s also, for me, it’s
also like a desperate place because I didn’t wanna uninclude,
edit out these pictures. I wanted to have something,
but instead of it expanding out into the space, it was
compressed into that screen, the sort of frame that
contained, you know? Cheers. – [Kevin] Our cappuccinos. – Yeah. I’m gonna have another one in a second. Not sure what to tell ya. (audience laughs) Pickles and peas. There’s a grocery store
in Rockaway Beach called Pickles and Pies or, I can’t. Somehow, I always associate that with the grocery store there. And so this was originally
how the Louise image ran in the magazine. So that cutout, we just
slid that cutout back if you remember that first
thing with the screenshot from Google Maps or Google Street view. And so now we cut to Shelter Island. – [Kevin] Which, right
off the bat, has a strong pictorial, you know, quality. The cover’s very, almost kitsch, but at the same time beautiful. – [Roe] Kind of like an elevator button. – [Kevin] That, too. Taking you to that good place. – [Roe] Yeah or down to the bad place. – [Kevin] Right. – So this is a little bit
of a different variation of what is an actual
book, but this is a grid of screenshots made by my daughter while we were in Shelter Island. Oh, I guess I should
just, should we bring in the context of what Shelter Island? So Shelter Island was shot over the month of August on Shelter Island. It’s a house that we had rented. This was the third year we had rented. It’s one of those sort
of American kit houses. It’s like a Sears house
from the early 20th century. I guess mid, early 20th
century that you sort of, you ordered it, they delivered it, and it got put together on site. And the family that owned it has kids who are in their 20s
and so their, the garage on their property is
full of, like, you know, this sort of like infancy
through adolescence of all the stuff that you, all the summer things that you want. So it was like, in a way,
it was like a prop house for my, you know, enjoyment, and a set as well. But, you know, it’s
also, there’s something about, in this, there
was a narrative idea. It’s something about
like, containing that time making, putting that limitation on it, which was different from what I had been doing with Sacrifice Your Body and Le Luxe where it was like anything can enter and this was a little bit more not anything, I mean, anything
could enter, but you know. – As long as it was already in the garage. – Yeah, on the property. But, so this image that
we’re looking at right now is a grid of screenshots
that my daughter made, and it’s, you know, an amazing thing to me to watch her; she was
seven at the time, and her dexterity with the iPhone
and making these screenshots. I actually had no idea
how she was doing these. She was swiping and shooting almost like a decisive moment for a
screenshot, you know? – [Kevin] Between screens, right? – Yeah, but also, for
her, these are things that she liked and had meaning. She was doing screenshots
of a video of her like driving a boat, you know? So it has epic narrative
qualities, but for my daughter, and I also liked the idea that, you know, in the same way that I’m working with Andy Harmon on
Louise Parker and there’s a collaborative or complicit relationship. There’s something, there’s just like a slightly exploited labor question, but that also was interesting to me with the family, sort of
exploiting that because to me, using your family as a subject manner was a big no no. I was like, “You don’t go there.” – It got Sally Manning into some trouble. – I know. I don’t want that kind of trouble. It was just like, there
was something about that forbidden pleasure of
using the kids’ production and incorporating that in. And so, yeah. – Maybe this is a place to emphasize, in case it wasn’t already apparent that you absorbed so much, sort of, familial. You’re making images that
look, a lot of critics describe them as glossy and, you know, in a kind of negative way. They’re beautiful, but
they have the kind of slick advertising look to them, but you’re absorbing very
personal and sentimental. Your process is very involved with people who matter to you and so even though the product is something that looks like advertising, the content of it is actually really traditionally
personal in many ways, and you know, I was
thinking, musing earlier about the fact that
advertising photography used to look so different
from the kinds of pictures that we all take on our iPhones and post on Instagram,
and I think in some ways, we’ve all become kind of
professional photographers, and at the same time,
professional photography looks more ordinary or something. – Like Instagram. – So I think in some ways,
if you just think about how people, you know,
see these representations that we see all the time, if that. How do we find our own
identity within that? How do we salvage that? You know, I think that’s
kind of the big question for a lot of people who see themselves packaged, you know, as something that, like I would’ve never, you would’ve never seen your wife’s picture
like in a movie marquee you know, 15 years ago. That sort of didn’t happen
’til pretty recently, and now we’re all looking at, you know, our personal stuff in very
slick, professional formats all of a sudden.
– [Roe] Yeah. – So I think, in a way, there’s a kind of, there’s an important
cultural, I think maybe you’re doing a lot of us have to
do in one way or another where we salvage something
from this kind of distribution, production,
distribution of images that we’re all participating
in all the time. – Yeah. I mean I find it totally confusing, but maybe other people
can explain it to me. So this is a portrait of my wife. Initially, I thought that
this Shelter Island book was just going to be pictures of Nancy, and then it sort of took
a turn more into this narrative thread of end of summer malaise, and, you know, last
summer, as you all know, it was so fucking hot. It was like, you know, it
didn’t rain for 30 days, and it was just like, ugh, so in some ways I feel like this sort of
contains some of that, but it’s also, like, the family picture. I love those Alex Katz
paintings, you know. So it was kind of like
those things sort of mixing together and all that vacation heat and saltwater and… And while I wanted to make
pictures of my family, I also wanted to find
that, whether you call it slick commercial, in
some ways, I feel like every portrait in the
book, the figure has a mask or some mediating, some way
to distance you from them and not tell you their personal story, and it becomes a play between, like, “Is this a formal image or is
this telling us something?” You know, it’s like, it’s also
happening in the sequence, which is, basically chronological. I love the, I started taking
pictures of the weeds. It was summer. It was like, “Man, got that
sort of photographer’s block.” And it’s like, “Well, what is,
I need to be grounded here. “What’s gonna ground me? “What’s close at hand?” And it was like, “Ugh, these
damn weeds are everywhere. “They’re just so energetic.” It kind of made sense in that way. And also, you know, for me, I’ve been growing the beard out, and I thought, “I don’t know why I’m growing it. “It’s just getting ridiculous
with the hair and the beard.” And then when this project
started, it was like, “Okay, this is what it is.” It’s sort of like Walt Whitman every man thing, but in 2015, so. That became my disguise. In this particular picture,
you can see my son Auggie. He’d painted himself and
said, “I’m a golden dragon.” And so I had the camera already set up, and we just went out and
made a picture with it. I feel like that, too, his makeup and that kind of thing, like, in
some ways, it insulates him from this thing being really about him, and he becomes more about a boy, you know? Father and son.
– [Kevin] He can be a superhero, you know, in his outfit. – [Roe] Right. – [Kevin] And there’s a reference that you probably didn’t even think of. It’s Longfellow and Hiawatha,
as well, is what I thought. It’s a classic, you know. Camp Gichigumi, summer. – [Roe] Okay. – [Kevin] Summer thing, yeah. – [Roe] I’ll have to Google it. Someone Google that right now?
– [Kevin] Did you put the weed in the picture intentionally too? Like how did that plant get there? – [Roe] Yeah, I mean that’s
an old photographer’s trick. I can’t tell you. It’s called putting
something in the foreground. But it’s just lucky that it was there because we had the camera on a timer, so. Yeah, that’s one of those things where you get lucky like that,
you praise the photo gods. Little bit lucky too. So something like this. This is like a, this really… There’s a weird sort of difficulty in making a picture that
that’s basic and sort of, you know, people talk
about the deskilled image. In that case where we’re
so skilled already, it’s hard to tell when
something is deskilled. In my sort of order of
how images get made, this reminds me so much of these, like, I kind of, I grew up in Miami from, you know, from zero to
10, and this kind of, whatever that is, the conch
shell itself as a subject, but also that kind of
image was so ubiquitous, and so it felt a little bit
like hearkening back to that. – Certain subjects like
shells or flowers or sunsets. I mean, they’re hard to take pictures of. James Welling.
– [Roe] Yeah, yeah. James Welling took on the flower series just as a challenge.
– [Roe] Right. – Like how can you actually
make a rigorous picture of flowers because it’s such a distracting, beautiful, kitsch subject. – Right. This is the one sort of disruption inside of the Shelter Island sequence. It’s something I showed
in June for Gentle Woman. It’s Pamela Anderson
eating grapes, obviously, and it was a picture that I really loved and wanted to use it, but
couldn’t figure out why, and then this fall, I was in London and I went to the Wallace
Foundation, which is amazing. You should go, it’s free, and they have this 19th century
French like, everything after the Revolution or you know, like, and they have these figurines
that represent the seasons. There’s a figurine eating
a grape, and I was like, “Oh, man, I inadvertently
referenced that picture, “but it works so perfectly
with Pamela as the tool time “kind of a girl, but also, like, beckoning “in the harvest season
and the end of summer.” It’s a little hard to tell that it’s her because you don’t see that frontal view, but I just really love
that, her sort of slightly disrupting instead of a
kind of, you know, form. – [Kevin] It’s a kind
of a fantasy of a bounty in the middle of what I think is otherwise a kind of melancholy series. I mean, as you proceed
through the pictures, it’s that fading of summer,
the fleetingness of it. You know, coming up is a
picture of dried flowers. – [Roe] You know, just a little note. I love this. This is Auggie, my son’s hand. You know, it’s a tiny
hand with a tiny crab, but this crab is called
an Asian shore crab, and apparently it’s an invasive species that hitches a ride in the
ballast of container ships as they sort of suck in water
in Japan or China or Russia to, you know, weight themselves down, and then they come to New
York or Baltimore or Boston and they release their
ballast and so these crabs are in these little time
warps and then they, boop, come out on the east coast, and they’re doing really well. They’re eating up all the
mollusks, and you know, I think they’re called
opportunistic omnivores, which I like that. – [Kevin] Sort of like us. – [Roe] Yeah, I love it. Some dead flowers. Some empty Coke bottles. So this is the kind of
stuff that’s in this house, and I’d been looking at
it for three summers. “I just love that stuff. “Why am I not taking a picture
of that thing, you know?” But I also love this, you know, for me, again, it was like with the
weeds that I was saying. There’s something that I
felt I really needed to, like, sort of apprehend images of things that were close at hand,
and that didn’t involve a kind of, “What can
I do bigger and better “or more ambitious and make
people just freak out?” It’s like, “I need to be
right here, you know?” So the shell, the
flowers, the Coke bottles, the empty vessels, this kind of, like, thing just kept coming back. And so this is one of the
screenshots that was in the grid. And what I really loved
about this image besides the fact that it was sort
of a little bit wonky, a little bit devastating, beautiful. It’s a picture of my
daughter taken by my son. So he’s taking a picture of
her, and she takes the phone and zooms in on her face and
makes a screenshot of that, and somehow, it’s that thing
like I was talking about again, the four by five, holding the edge, that compositional, the diagonal. Like there’s formal qualities to it that’s a bit wrong but– – [Kevin] She’s following your footsteps. It’s a very tight crop. – [Roe] Yeah, but it
also, her face becomes a little bit more of a
mask rather than like telling you who she is. It’s more about a seven-year-old girl. – [Kevin] Well, I think there’s a lot of surrealism in the
pictures, and I don’t know if you think about this
or not as you’re doing it, historical surrealism where you have this ability to take something familiar and make it kind of uncanny and often it’s about the crop or a close-up. Man Ray did this too.
– [Roe] Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. – [Kevin] But even with that shell picture we just saw, that could be Andrew Weston, but he would’ve put it right
in the middle of the picture. You’ve got the edge cutting
of the edge of the shell and the weird shadow and things like that. Things become something
else in the picture. – [Roe] That’s nice. This actually was the
last day that we were on Shelter Island and I
had such an ominous sunset. It really was like, “Okay,
yeah, this was meant to be.” I’m just gonna do this one real fast. (audience laughs) – [Kevin] And you shaved
it off the next day, right? – [Roe] No, no, it took
a little while longer, but a friend of mine was like, “Oh, you’ll live with
that for a long time.” I’m not exactly sure what he meant, but I kinda know what he meant, and the last two images
in the book sequence. This was a recreation of
something that had happened the last two years in Shelter where, I guess we’re on the
southwest side of the island, and so the south shore of Long Island is within view, and I assume
that people are flying kites on the beach on the Atlantic Ocean, and you know, that thing
to have near a kid, and you’re letting it run
out, run out, run out, and then (blows), kite goes. And so we had this thing where we had kites landing on our beach, and this particular case, I saw the string going out into the water and
start pulling it back in, and I was pulling it, as
I was pulling it back in, I was like, “This is like the Ray. “It’s like Chardan. “It’s like this thing is
like this just barely alive “kind of anthropomoriphized thing, but also I love that checkerboard pattern, and it has a relationship to a picture I took in Sacrifice Your
Body with the palette and the football and the lavender. There was also something I really liked when I was thinking like, “I’ll
call it Kite in the Water.” And then I was like,
“Oh, Knife in the Water.” Then I was like, “Oh, oh
me and Auggie and Nancy.” You know, really perverse
triangulation, you know? So. (clears throat) That’s the end of the book. Should we show this one too? – [Kevin] What is the next one? Is it just a more series or. – [Roe] No, it’s just the next two, things that were not in the
book but were in the show. – I think it might be a good time to start asking for comments
or questions from the audience. – I’ll let them imagine. – Yeah. Comment, question?
– [Roe] Any questions? – It’s elaborating on
the use of your family and friends work in your own work, but you’re also asking about how the advertising gets? – Right. You know, I have to say,
I never actually used an ad, so like, pretty much
everything that I’ve used are things that I have not been paid for, have been out of pocket. There was times when,
like, magazines actually used to pay you and that
doesn’t happen anymore. So forget about it,
but, you know, in a way, there was some passive
aggressive sort of like, haha moment, but it was more about the image, you know? And I think, like, there is something, for better or worse that
in a way I’m starting to regret it, but I felt like, “Yes, I, within this
capitalistic shit show, “I am a, you know, I’m labor, you know? “And I depict labor.” “You know that model? “We, she and I, we worked today.” You know what I mean? There was some way of representing that, and you know, I didn’t, I was in a big Marxist, it was like part
of the thing, you know? It was part of that, like,
there was something about work. – There’s a little bit of the
feeling that you’re stealing office supplies from work, too, though. Do you actually make a separation between, do you have contracts
with people and you know what you can reuse in a gallery show? Like that J, was it the J.Crew
cover that you put in a show? – Yeah, yeah, that’s true. – And it’s okay to do that? – I don’t think it is, no. But nobody got upset, so. – But it’s different
incorporating your family’s, you know, production in this too, and I think you rightly have
some reservations about it. – Well, you know, I think
that, the first thing that I did when I was a beauty
picture for Allure Magazine and it was the first time where
I was like, “Is this okay?” You know, so there was
something, that kind of anxiety. And I remember the model,
it was a PS1 graded New York the first time,
and she threatened to sue me and so I gave her money and I was like, I only recently found
out, I guess I shouldn’t. I’m not a legal expert,
but that it was okay to do that kind of thing
if it was only used as an artwork and not as a thing to sell a product or, you know. Photographers have certain
rights in New York City. – It’s a bigger issue with
photography in general, too. Anyone who does street photography, they take pictures of
picture they don’t know. Those people don’t sign anything to say, and then that person can,
the artist can sell that work in a gallery and profit from it. I mean it’s– – Right, and I used to say like this is, the studio work is
like my street photography where anything could happen here. There is the job that
we’re trying to like, “How do you put on lipstick “or how do you put on eyeliner?” Or something, but then
there’s this off moment that happens that has nothing to do with the story and, you know, because it is editorial, I can sort of, in that case it’s not unnaming, it’s naming it as an artwork
and putting it into this sort of field of Roe Ethridge Photography. – You don’t think consciously
of what you’re doing with the outtakes as like
a critique of advertising or something like that. I think.
– [Roe] Not really. – Something you and I talk about sometimes is the way we both want
to evade the existing categories or just not use
the word archive, for example. We call your work inventory.
– [Roe] Yeah. – Just ways too–
– [Roe] But it makes more sense as inventory
’cause it’s not really– – ‘Cause it’s more accurate, yeah. But, you know, if we were jumping onto this sort of art jargon bandwagon, we would be sitting here
talking about archive and, you know, index and things like that. – Maybe, yeah. I mean, I feel like I picked up the term inventory from Ann Goldstein,
so that’s pretty official art world stuff, you know? But it made so much sense to me because of the way the relationship with commerce that photography has and
I have as a photographer, and the way these images
were being deployed like it’s like a selected, you know. You see one t-shirt, you
know, but there’s 10 others hanging up over here. But you know, it’s like
how these things got– – Inventory’s dynamic in a way, you know. An archive isn’t. An archive is– – Well, inventory is The Gap. – Boxed up.
– [Roe] Right? – Right, yeah. – Or JCPenney or whatever. An archive is like, you know, art school, and you know, German things, and (laughs) The Dekkers. – Yeah, it’s boxed up
and, you know, put away. But inventory is, “We need more inventory. “Let’s move this inventory.”
– [Roe] Right. – “Let’s bring this.”
– [Roe] Right. – Is there music that goes with the work? – Yeah, I mean, it sounds
like such an old timer thing, but I’m gonna say, but it was, we went to see Neil Young at the, what’s that place in Jones
Beach Auditorium, and… Oh, god. I’m not gonna sing it. – You used to be in a band, right? – I know, right? Can I bring my guitar out? Yeah, I didn’t… You know, it’s funny. I don’t have soundtracks. I feel like you can, it’s
almost like that thing where if you turn the sound down
on a TV and you put music on, it goes together, you know what I mean? And somehow, it’s timed
up with the commercials. It’s like, “Holy shit. “Slayer goes with, you
know, Days of Our Lives? “Who knew?” You know, like, but they’re, so for me, that synesthesia of the
sound and image thing is more internal, maybe. Like, you know when it’s making a sound when it’s singing or humming. – Do you play music in the studio when you’re doing a professional shoot? – Yeah, that is a complaint. I don’t hear it. You know, usually, someone’s
like, “Can we turn this off?” I’m like, “Oh, there’s music on.” And so, you know, I love music
and I love having it around, but it seems like these
days, like, you turn it on, and someone calls. You turn it down, you
start talking on the phone and you forget to turn
it back on, you know? – Right. – So it’s more of a relaxing
thing than a working thing. Bad jokes are very good and
awkward silences are good. You just gotta make sure you’re, you know, taking a picture at that point. I think it’s, for me,
that was something also that it was learned where I was like, being a director wasn’t
really what I wanted, what I wanted to be was surprised or moved or, you know, emotionally
involved, and because it was photography, I didn’t
need it to be the whole movie. You know, I didn’t need
this one image to, like, “This is the character who
goes through this and that.” Like, I just need this
one image, you know? And that’s hard to get, but,
you know, how do I get that? So it didn’t seem subversive,
but there was something about a model smiling in a picture
that’s an art picture that just seemed, you
know, I guess Heineken had that because he was
using, he was appropriating imagery of that sort of
American healthy smiling figure. But for me, it was like
this sick pleasure of like making a girl laugh is
like the best feeling ever. Something like that, and
it wasn’t every time, but it was like, you
know, there was something about that that was, it
was like a representation of that moment where it was
like everything was dropped or in other cases where
everything was awkward, and I assisted a photographer
who insisted that, he liked to infuriate
subjects because it made a better picture, you know, and so, like, a lot of his subjects were like intensely looking at the camera like, “Go to hell. “I didn’t really wanna do this photoshoot “and you’re really bugging me, you know?” And so he has this quality or something, and for me, it was sort of more close, and you know, sort of. – You were looking for
something more ambiguous. Maybe it was just, a– – Yeah. – Yeah. – I don’t know if I do. I don’t think that I do,
but there is that thing, and maybe it’s something that’s
like learned over doing it, but like, it happened, it
started happening to me. I tried to work with Quark,
okay, back a long time ago, and then someone’s like,
“InDesign is easy.” So I started working with InDesign, and I was working with
it, I was realizing like this is like writing music, you know? As I’m like putting one
thing next, taking it out. Now it’s like, mmm,
you know, making sound. I used to play in a band and I know a little bit about music. Not much, but it started
to have that feeling of like, it wasn’t an album. It was a song, you know? It was like, and so this is a longzong, and you know, whatever, and I noticed that it was happening in
the gallery exhibitions too where if you could like
get the right combination, it sort of, it’s not
like you go into a state or have extrasensory things,
but you could just feel it. I don’t know, that seemed
risky in a way at the time because those things
needed to be so buttoned up and theoretically sound and not intuitive, and so that was also,
like, liberating for me because I was so, I don’t
know, repressed or something or wanted to be repressed
and wanted to express repression or something like, so yeah, that was like, I wouldn’t stake, I wouldn’t claim any,
yeah, extrasensory thing. – Putting together any
sequence or group of images, I mean, if it sings, to use a metaphor, it needs to, it’s an intuitive process. You just kind of know it. I mean I know it when I’m
hanging pictures on the wall for a show, two things start
to bounce off each other. It’s a formal relationship
or it’s an idea or something between them or multiple,
ideally, but yeah. – Yeah, I think, you
know, there’s a sort of, there are certain artists
that you connect to early and then you sort of
reconnect to them later, and for me, Alex Katz was
so seductive right away. It was like that flatness,
that semi-photo realism, and he was so cool, you know? And I think there’s been
a lot of Alex Katz, like, in my face recently because
of the Gavon Brown thing, and you know, it’s like,
he’s also like, I don’t know. He’s getting up there, master
class Alex Katz, you know? So that kind of thing, but
also the subject matter where you, you know, and
I feel like that’s part of the Matiss thing too
where you take this intimacy this close at hand subject manner and then you flatten it
out or you stylize it. So you bring the thing
that’s closest to you, and you put some sort of
mediating style or flatness to it. It creates a kind of tension
that I think I want to have in my work and you know,
with working with the family as a subject, that was part of that. Yeah, I mean, it’s, like I said, it started off feeling like the right way to do it is to like sit down and, you know,
really think about it, and write down a tight thesis and make sure you reference Rollin’ Barts, and you know Walter Benjamin. Don’t screw that up, you know? And so I was trying to be a
good Methodist student, boy, you know, I’ll do all the right things and you know, like, the work will be good, and I started to feel
like, this is really, this isn’t true somehow, and I found that, like, it’s really hard to do it any which way you do it. There isn’t like an easy way, but for me, what made sense was
having the work guide it, rather than me decide what
it’s going to be about and then execute that. I don’t think it’s invalid to do that. I think a lot of great
work that I’m inspired by does exactly that: illustrates
a thesis or, you know, it was like about a thing. Like Christopher Williams, I fucking love Christopher
Williams, you know. It’s endless. Like the footnotes and
citations are, you know, great. But, like, for me, I
couldn’t live in that, or make work in that
paradigm or that platform. Does that answer your question? – So let’s end it there, and everyone meet in the lobby for book signing. – And champagne.
– [Kevin] And champagne. (audience applauds and cheers)

1 thought on “Roe Ethridge in Conversation with Kevin Moore”

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