Interview: Ahndraya Parlato

© Ahndraya Parlato

Marta Shumylo: Where do you get your inspiration? Any specific books? Particular people? Philosophies about life? Interests?

Ahndraya Parlato: I love photography, and I look at it all the time. But as someone whose process often entails constructing images rather than encountering them, I am more frequently inspired by music, films, or writing than by photography. It's easier for me to go from another medium to image-making, rather than using still images to make other still images.

I gravitate towards very ambiguous, open-ended works and music that often contain opposing forces within the same body, such as calm and chaos, or simplicity and complexity. I am drawn in by the tension these dual forces create.

Tension is often caused by the occurrence of the known but unacknowledged fact that whatever lies on top of the surface isn't the whole or actual story, leaving many things unsaid. Or it is caused by a dual emotional response, such as being both scared, and excited, or both sad and hopeful. Tension is somewhat of a constant presence in life, and for me, work that stylistically or metaphorically employs tension often speaks to the ever present, but not always acknowledged, complexity of life. This is something I also strive to evoke in my own images.

I appreciate non-linear works which may contain a few threads running through them, rather than one over-arching narrative.

Some filmmakers I love: Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Krzystof Kieslowski, and Wang Kar Wai; some writers: Chris Adrian, Michael Ondaajte, Marguerite Duras, Don Delillo, Rosemarie Waldrop, Paul Auster, and S.D. Wright; some artists: Roman Sgner, Annika Von Hausswolff, Bass Jan Ader, David Shrgley, Sophie Calle, Gabriele Orozco, Collier Schorr, and Andrew Wyeth (Esp. Helga Pictures). Some music: Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Modest Mouse, The Clash, Cat Power and Jason Molina. Also, the landscape of upstate New York never ceases to inspire me- a great balance of being simultaneously bleak, but also hopeful.

© Ahndraya Parlato

Marta Shumylo: You seem to have an interest in attaching/connecting your subjects to their surrounding/themselves. I love the subtlety of the one image with the eyelashes and the thread but the one with heels and thread is striking in a whole different way. Why connect? These photographs seem very metaphorical to me, am I on the right path?

Ahndraya Parlato: Althought I have used metaphors of thread and stitching in my work, oddly eough, it is very seldom to create the same metaphor. When I made the photo of the heart sewn into the foot- I was thinking about an internal pain that we all carry around within ourselves, and how we can never really know what one personhas been through by just looking at them- I was trying to find a way to make a visual manifestation of this.

I have also used the symbology of connecting one person to another person, such as in the photo of the girls with their hair braided together (Other Orchards), or of the two girls whose clothes are sewn together (Inscapes). I often think about how society is essentially a series of constructs, and how some of these constructs are somehow arbitrary. One common societal construct is that in order to be complete as a person, you need to be in a relationship with another person. In these photos, I was taking a kind of humorous jab at this idea by connecting the girls to each other in a physical, funny method, as a way of speaking to the absurdity of the two-some as an idealization of completeness.

© Ahndraya Parlato

Marta Shumylo: How do you photograph? Are these very logical/constructed photographs or do you work intuitively? If an idea comes naturally, how do you go about making physical photographs from something invisible, like a thought, without making it look posed/ constructed?

Ahndraya Parlato: Sometimes, before taking a photograph I have very specific ideas I want to convey and I will write them down and think about the things that visually connote these ideas.

Things like:
Trying to contain the un-containable
A private language
A fractured reality
The outside is an extension of the inside
Where do people place their reality within a socially constructed/accepted reality and how much do they deny that reality in order to fit in?
I am, however, a creature of habit, and the image ideas I come up with usually are sparked by something I have seen a million times, a thicket I pass in the car everyday or a gesture someone often does. I am TERRIBLE at shooting on the fly or in a new, unfamiliar location, so even though I travel a lot, I often don't bring my camera. Despite it being a 4x5, which can be a bit cumbersome, I also hate the stress of creating an image in a place I can't readily come back to or don't already know.

The last part of your question is very interesting because I am often trying to make visible something invisible, as well as trying to make sure the image feels like it exists in the world.

It's important to me that that the images I make appear to exist in the real world. I think they gain momentum by revealing aspects within our actual world rather than creating their own surreal or fantastical world. One way I try to execute this is by combining some of my visually un-theatrical images with my more constructed or staged images. Another is that,
I shoot in a very straightforward manner, and always use natural or available light, which I feel lessens the theatricality of the gestures. I want my audience to feel like these instances could be encountered.

That being said, I do consciously try to stretch the limits of what we find believable. One wt I do this is by having some images that appear very clearly to have been constructed, and others where it's unclear if they are constructed. Both types of images push against each other. This leads me back to tension. I find or some that the more theatrical images charge the more banal images, and that the more banal images lend an amount of believability to the more theatrical images. I realized in the worst case scenario that people would only be looking at my images for the thing that had been constructed, and in an attempt to complicate the work, and to subvert viewer expectations, I started making some totally straight images where nothing is altered.

© Ahndraya Parlato

Marta Shumylo: Name a few artists that you are greatly influenced by.

Ahndraya Parlato: See my first answer.

Marta Shumylo: If you had to pick one image from your website that is your absolute favorite, what would it be and why? (It is also OK to pick for sentimental reasons if you wish to do so)

Ahndraya Parlato: This is a very complicated question. First off, I am not a fan of favourites in general, and I find something frustrating about qualifying one's experience, or likes/dislikes. Second, I very rarely find that artists are that overtly into their own work. Or at least my friends aren't! Being an artist is essentially agreeing to a life of self-doubt. I have a series of questions I'm asking of myself, and of the world around me, but all these questions have myriad answers, all of which are completely subjective. So it's very hard to feel certain that you're answering them in the best possible way, and all you can do is answer them in the way that makes the most sense to you...

I will say two things: one, I tend to like my newest work the best, and two, I have noticed that whichever images I like a lot at first, chances are, I will eventually come to believe them too "easy" or perhaps, visually compelling, but conceptually weak, and subsequently less interesting. I am wary of things that hook you immediately, I prefer a slow unnerving.

More of Ahndraya's work can be found on her website at:

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