“reFramed” is a feature showcasing fine art photography and vision-forward photojournalism. It is curated by Los Angeles Times staff photographer Barbara Davidson. twitter@photospice
Danielle Spires, usually working under the name of Cat Party Let’s Go, has been shooting since 1997 and, although completely distraught at the folding of the Polaroid Corp., will continue to photograph fine art, shoot commercially and create installations until the end of her days. She graduated from the Art Institute of Colorado with a photography degree, and the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s in sociology. Danielle and her kitties live in a pink L.A. apartment filled with Danish modern, vintage shoes, Hello Kitty chachkes and a 4×5 camera by her bedside. She keeps busy working in the photo department at Sony, searching for the best French toast in the country, and enjoying everything the city of Los Angeles has to offer.
Q: What inspired your love of conceptual photography?
A: Women have always inspired my love of conceptual photography. When I was 15, I bought a Barbie Polaroid and a film camera. I shot women with ease, and I shot nudes with ease. There was something about their effortless beauty and slight unease in front of the camera that I admired and adored. Soon I progressed to 4x5s, and portraiture became my main focus. I began to tell stories about my unusual and harrowing experiences through the subject. Portraiture has become my way of storytelling. Working in a semi-controlled location, without strict direction, creates an environment where both my and my subject’s personality are represented in the photograph.
As I review my collective work (photography series and gallery installations), I realize I tend to gravitate toward emotive, dark and the overtly sexualized. I am painfully vague about my life experiences, and photography has become a way to share these experiences without having to voice them. The greatest inspiration for my photography is the extremes in life, the rock bottoms and glory days, and I balance them out with ambivalent contrariness.
Q: What is your approach to making pictures? What are your influences?
A: I shoot from where I’m at in life. I reject the mundane and ordinary parts of life, instead using the low and high points to my advantage. The majority of my work is characteristic of my numerous insufferable surgeries, decades of hospitalizations, abusive and violent situations with men … my dark days. But yet, I’ve never assigned a role to myself as a victim, they’re just my experiences that empower me and feed my art. For instance, I have always shot women in a way that is commanding, in control, post-debaucherous and unapologetic. The way I shoot women is fueled by past experiences, feminist ideals and an understanding of how critical women can be about their own bodies. My subjects are beautiful for themselves, not just the viewer.
Another important aspect of my photography is my preference for shooting with Polaroids or my 4×5, because it adds an element of risk and forced perfection; limited film means limited chances to get the shot, especially since I prefer minimal or no retouching.
Q: How did the idea for The “Awkward and Not-So-Awkward Couples” series come about? What is the series about, and tell me about the mechanics of shooting it.
A: Currently, I’m confident, healthy and living a life I’ve always wanted; enjoying L.A., my friends and photography. My “Awkward and Not-So-Awkward Couples” series is inspired by the great relationship I’m in and a reflection of my newfound optimism. I started this series after taking an awkward Polaroid of two of my close friends who are dating. They are that “perfect couple” that gives you reassurance that love is awesome and fun and real. The kind of sappy love that makes you want to vomit a little in your mouth. However, no matter how perfect, how familiar, how close the couple is, they still have uncomfortable moments that create a disconnect, which I want to capture.
This series is different from most of my art; it’s amusing, optimistic and quirky. I love the contrariness of couples who are happy and in love, but with a glaring reminder that we all have our respective problems. I suppose it’s a reflection of how much I love those awkward moments in a relationship because they are painfully humbling. Those moments can cause a disconnect that make people feel powerless, vulnerable and disheartened, but without those disconnects, couples sometimes become content. Nothing more, nothing less, just neutral coexistence.
Each couple took one Polaroid. They were allotted one Polaroid as a challenge to both me and them. The couples had a single chance to demonstrate that awkward moment, which put the pressure on them, creating obvious tension and natural awkwardness. The Polaroids had been sitting in my fridge for eight years, which explains the varied discolorations. One Polaroid per couple with expired film in a 16-year-old Barbie camera makes for an interesting photograph.
Q: How difficult is it for a young photographer breaking into the world of conceptual photography in Los Angeles? Are galleries open to showing your work? How does someone who is not represented by a local gallery get their work shown?
A: I’m confident about showing art in Los Angeles. I started showing work in Denver in 2000, which was enlightening and fun and gave me the experience I needed for displaying art in other cities. I’m sending out proposals for the two series I’ve been working on, and am very excited to procure an exhibition. I’m lucky enough to have a day job in the photography field, but I do find myself struggling with the idea that I’d rather be creating every day rather than working for someone else. This is a struggle every artist battles, but persistence, humility and passion are key in winning this battle.
There are many times I’ve had to leave work early to shoot before the sun goes down or get burnt out from looking at other people’s photography, but I enjoy a challenge. I suppose I might’ve picked the wrong career for a girl that needs health insurance and has [cats’] mouths to feed and likes a fridge perpetually filled with Polaroids and booze.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: Other than “Awkward and Not-So-Awkward Couples,” I’m currently working on a series called “Apartment 203,” and it’s an ongoing series of subjects I shoot in my apartment. The work has developed into a collection of seedy, gritty, sickly sweet portraits; kind of nauseous with all the best vices. These photographs are the perfect juxtaposition of empowering and vulnerable. Most of these subjects have never been in front of a camera before, and after a level of trust was established, the models began to control and guide the shoot. The photographs became the ideal balance of naive and, without sounding too cliched, powerful.
I’m currently presenting this series to galleries accompanied with a short film projection, and working toward every artists’ dream of living in a loft filled with vintage cameras, bizarre taxidermy, creepy mannequins, a hot tub, and waify, chain-smoking, eternally bored muses. Or maybe that’s just my dream.