Collier Schorr and John Edmonds assign life through photography


John Edmonds: We start with sensitive subjects, so a sensitive subject for you is women?

Schorr necklace: Yes.

I. : And a sensitive topic for me is?

CS: Men.

I. : Yeah.

CS: Having the gender that attracts us as a sensitive subject – the subject of care and curiosity – is so inextricably linked to our sexuality. It was clearly always there in gay men, gay creativity, but it was mostly gay men and mostly gay white men. I think, in a way, trying to tear down is where we meet. What is the word? The paradigm, the monument.

I. : I like that you say the word “monument”, because when I think of a monument, I think of something that is hard to forget. It’s on the way. It’s hard to see the past because it’s such a strong visual that can also block the view.

CS: It’s interesting to know our story – that you were my student at Yale for two years in the graduate program. It’s a very specific dynamic; more than a simple teacher-student, the doctoral school has its own dynamic. You came as an artist, and you practiced it in front of us, your teachers, your fellow artists. I was drawn to you and curious because I felt like we were both dealing with the same monument, something both seductive and unsettling.

Photographer John Edmonds. Portrait of Collier Schorr, taken on July 29, 2022.

I. : That’s a great way to put it: seductive and unsettling. When I first met you, I was in a place where I didn’t know much about my past. I was so drawn to you and your work because you were interested in questions. It’s easy when you can ask someone else and they can give you the answer, but when you have to ask yourself the question, it really changes the possibility of what can be.

CS: One of the questions I asked myself was, Can I live with what I want to do? My training in the 80s was so rigorous in terms of representation. We considered the gaze problem, but the gaze we were warned about was always the male gaze. And so, as women, what were we going to do with our own? We knew we had it.

I. : Apart from this look, I think we are both artists who work from a place of affinity. The people you relate to and the people you see yourself in. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a reflection of you, but that they are somehow living a life that you could see yourself living. . I remember you were talking about “This is the life I would have had if I was a man.” It’s both interesting and complicated.

CS: The complication is that I don’t think I would have such a different life because I would still be the same person. I think maybe that’s why I’m not trans. I never thought that if I made the transition, I would be very different from who I already was. Speaking in a wrestling room, I said this about what I could have been if I was a boy – the water boy. What I meant by that was that if I was a boy, I would have been close to this life. I had so much access because I’m a queer woman – I was the least threatening and the least distracting – but I couldn’t get into the locker room. I imagined what I didn’t have – the locker room – which was a forbidden space. I love this idea of ​​affinity now, because coming from an era I come from, it was hard to find that. There were so many hidden cultures. Now, when I look at the landscape, I am part of it. There are artists who look at me – lesbians who look at me – and feel an affinity. It is a very beautiful reality and a good reminder that I am not always in resistance either, but that I am in pursuit of free connectivity.

A woman seated on a chair, her arms behind her head.
Photographer Collier Schorr. Portrait of John Edmonds, taken on July 29, 2022.

I. : What I find so interesting about artists who defy the gaze—which you’re basically talking about—is that they end up in a kind of hot seat. Sometimes we do things that fade from time to time, but I don’t think that means we’re fools or idiots. It means we are deeply invested in the questions we ask. I see the issues in your work, whether or not you try to be humorous or mean.

CS: It is the closeness of desire and the desire to eviscerate mistranslations, the desire to simply raise the ground out of anger and frustration, and the desire to literally sprout through the earth to simply be self- same. I’ve read Audre Lorde’s Cancer Diaries, and she talks about the idea that we live and die at the same time. Germination and decay and wilting. It really struck me, because I thought that miseries and sadness were actually movement, and there are things that we carry that actually break down. We want to free them, but there’s a sense of loss because there’s death in there.

I. : I’ve always seen you as a very defensive person, but I think defending comes from a place of love and the desire to protect – to be a guardian, someone who is a resource and perhaps a source of strength. ‘inspiration. That’s something I think about a lot when it comes to African sculptures and the idea of ​​the black figure. There is a relationship there. Whether it has been analyzed or not, there is an inherent relationship to our bodies of work and our stories and how we both navigate to understand them. You told me once that you’re shy, but you’re interested in being seen. I would say this is a very interesting type of puzzle that many photographers face. I see your work largely in relation to a child’s imagination. That’s why I raised the villain. We talk about photography and the camera as a license to be naughty.

CS: Well, provocative.

I. : Provocative to be mean. To incite. It really is the core. This is how you are able to both agitate and create affinity. It’s fascinating how you talk about access, whether it’s access to a culture, to a group of boys, to a group of women, to a place. How do you do this?

CS: It’s because I didn’t have any friends in high school, and I’ve been recovering ever since. It’s not that I want to be friends with everyone, but that I want to be friends with people who are different from me because I feel different from myself in some way. You have to be the opposite of the Native American mythology that photography is soul theft. I often enter the body of the person I photograph. If they engage with me, I get my soul back when I get home. If they don’t, then they took it. It takes me a day or two to recover.

I. : You and I are both interested in photography’s ability to assign life and this can be taken very seriously.

CS: I can live with it. Photography is a form of promiscuity for me, especially as someone who hasn’t been particularly promiscuous in my life. There are times when I am very committed. What happens is that I feel my own availability in terms of love. This is the great likelihood for me to be open and to feel the joy of service in some way.

I. : I see where we are similar, and I also see where we are different. People told me that I was too serious about certain things. When I was in my early twenties, I felt I was emotionally promiscuous; I shared my feelings with many people who didn’t need them.

CS: We are twins with that. People always think the camera is cruel, but the cruelty of photography is that the photographer isn’t always there. I was thinking a lot about your work, the rejection of patriarchy, the rejection of toxic masculinity, and the way patriarchy is framed by sympathetic people like us must be very different for black men, because a black male patriarchy is one thing completely different. The power and patriarchy of black men was cut short by slavery in this country, so a white man or white woman’s idea of ​​”patriarchy” is white American business or middle country farmers and white waste. I wonder if it’s a little more complicated when you didn’t grow up with black authority?

I. : Absolutely. This is something I wrote in my essay to apply to Yale. As someone who didn’t grow up with a certain male figure or authority, I come back to this very often. I have a younger brother who is 17 now. I think a lot about what it’s like for him to grow up with his mom and dad, and what it means to have that advice as an example. When I heard the news about my biological father, I was really interested in how I would age; know the health problems I should have as I get older. Because if you don’t have that, then the future seems like a void. A lot of my work has been kind of creating the foundation based on that lack of presence, that kind of absence of body, that absence of mentorship. The violence of absence, the violence of… It’s like the monument that you know who should be there but who isn’t. What happens when we know something should be there and it isn’t? What does this create inside of us in our heart?

CS: On some level, it creates this liminal state where you can’t knock down a monument if you can’t see it. It’s kind of what we’re still learning about language – that when we only hear our language, or only read others through our own language, we miss the whole story. There’s no way a black man can have the same relationship to patriarchy as a white person because it’s some type of monument that just hasn’t been erected. It was not allowed to be erected until recently. Now, of course, there are monuments. There is love or no love, Kanye or LeBron or Dave Chappelle.

I. : I love LeBron.

CS: I love LeBron. What’s crazy is that Shaun King has finally spoken out against Dave Chappelle’s trans jokes, which is remarkable because I don’t think Shaun King has mentioned the word “trans” since he’s been on the scene. ‘antenna. In terms of freedom of expression, I really lean towards the side of comedy that doesn’t trump humanity. I would like to get my trans jokes from trans people at this point and my black jokes from black people. But I like the idea that when I look [your] new photos, it’s like you’ve spread seeds on the ground and developed a monumental community. It’s the best we can do as people who have somehow been seen as outside the builders of the structure.

I. : I am interested in the full extent of our humanity. And I think violence is part of it. I think defense is one of them. I think protection is one of them. At the end of the day, we’re only human to the extent that we allow ourselves to be, and I think that’s a necessity to put it all out there.

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