Still Life With Fly Swatter, or Hourglass, or Lemons
May 12, 2020
T: The New York Times Style Magazine
Excerpt of interview by Michael Snyder
for T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Kate Bush, but I was marveling at her being only 17 when she started recording her first album, The Kick Inside (1978), and this weird universe she created, so then I started thinking about how I could use this project as an excuse to escape and create a landscape in my home. When I was taking out the garbage the other day, I found these tree clippings. You know, everything is blooming right now — it’s really beautiful outside — but their buds were already decaying, so I picked them up and brought them inside; these pictures aren’t overly theoretical. Apparently, the cart in the first image belonged to my grandmother; I found it in my parents’ garage at one point and have carried it around from apartment to apartment ever since. Schlepping seems to run in the family.
I did a series of still lifes a couple of years ago for a project called “Nature Morte” that combined fruits and vegetables with man-made objects, where I was thinking a lot about how we package nature in the industrialized world. If you think about oranges and paint, for instance, they’re not actually that differently in terms of how hyper-engineered they are. Throughout the history of still life in painting and photography, the domestication of nature isn’t really challenged as a convention. Nature is an object to be studied, consumed. When I started these images, I had seamless backdrops all ready to go to create some sort of fantasy, but then I thought maybe this was more about creating a fantasy within your given circumstances, and that’s a different question.
I just moved into a new apartment, so it was an interesting moment to do this. I started thinking not so much about the objects that bring me comfort but about the systems and processes that do, and about really basic things like electricity and power and people in, for example, Detroit, who are supposed to be in isolation but don’t even have running water. When I look at my home and consider the systems behind these banal tasks, like turning on the tap or plugging in the coffee grinder, the cord of which is behind my grandmother’s cart in the first image, the injustices feel especially enormous and outrageous. Even the crappy bathroom tiles in the second picture — they’re so unextraordinary, but you have to think about what goes into making what is, at the end of the day, just a bad beige tile. I don’t know whether all of this will change my practice as a photographer. But this is the thing we do know: Covid has exposed all of the cracks in the system.