So Far I Think / You’re Doing Amazing Sweetie
Anna Brody is a photographer and feelings feeler currently based out of Tucson, Arizona. Anna works photographically to both supplement and circumvent the shortcomings of written word with imagery that can represent, relate, and describe the non-linear, non-binary world of things that grow laterally and exist simultaneously; with this work she hopes to honor okay-ness, and crystallize the quiet accomplishment of just being, now. Anna graduated magna cum laude with a B.F.A. from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and is now pursuing her M.F.A. in Photography from the University of Arizona. Her photographs have been exhibited internationally, and her series Edging, GA was awarded as a winner of the 2017 PDN Photo Annual. She deletes instagram off her phone like 3 times a day, forms strong and hasty opinions a lot, gets enthusiastic and/or sentimental about things a lot, and recently took up kickboxing and loves it a lot.
Photographs function for me as a way to circumvent and supplement the failures of our written word to express the complex, unquantifiable, non-logical, and fundamentally authentic beauty of all this stuff and all these people. To represent the world—exactly as it is, stranger and more beautiful than any fiction—is the most effective mirror for reflecting my own ordinariness, and acts as a reminder to have compassion for my very ordinary self. I’m so scared of being lonely—not of being alone, because that is not necessarily the exclusive precondition of loneliness, but of the feeling-state of loneliness as it arrives suddenly, unexpectedly, in a crowd of many people, or on the deflated tails of a joy or a sadness or an anger that seems too enormous to be shareable. And, as is often the case, in how we separate ourselves from the larger whole by claiming individuality – that we are unique, special somehow, different to and independent from the rest of the crowd; the premium placed on the individual and the need to exceptionalize is both culturally required and self-inflicted, but either way it makes islands of us all. What a comfort, then, to be reminded that we are all as regular as the suburbs, as predictable as the sun, as commonplace as a broken lawn chair—that our joy and sadness, our triumphs and failures, are not actually too big to share but just the same as everyone’s. Quantifiable achievement is not the precondition of devotional appreciation; to see the extraordinary in the ordinary—that is love. That is what our families, soulmates, and our mentors teach us, and that is what I photograph to express and affirm.
Exceptionalism lives within our constructed frameworks of Progress and meritocracy, and together they form an exclusionary narrative and barometer for the righteousness of an existence that dangerously limits our ability to look around. Staring ever forward wearing blinkers larger than our/their own heads we/they (dominant humanity, powerful via generational theft, deception, and indoctrination) march in a straight line towards bottom and dead lines, things being right or wrong, and life as defined only in binary opposition to death. But what of everything that grows around us? What about the inhabited lives of things and beings unconcerned with progress or next-ness to whom achievement attained through ambition and productivity goes unrecognized, uncelebrated? What about the things we can’t classify/tally/account for; is it those things that I see? Or (more likely) am I so indoctrinated that I’m unable to see beyond the progress story, so in fact what I’m choosing are the holes: the pieces of the fabric that are rent apart and fraying softly into a dimension entirely aside from what I can recognize? Can I maybe not see but smell what is growing under the dirt, or vibrating in the caulk between a wall and the floor? Am I giving myself too much credit? Maybe all I can see are the flakey disappointments of a large population of unmet expectations that were set too high in the first place. Or maybe it’s not all that serious or sad—maybe I look for when it’s ok anyway; when it is maybe alright despite it being not alright at all, and everything actually being terrible, but also things somewhere laterally, imperceptibly, being fine in the long run. Because that’s really it isn’t it—in the long run, eventually, given enough time, progress will exhaust itself and give way to whatever soft, resilient force waited it out, purring and stretching and multiplying and breathing until the day of collapse.
What were your motivations for beginning this work?
The year in which this film was all shot was one of major transition for me. I graduated, moved out, traveled back to places I used to live and saw people I used to love, came back to where I just moved out of, ended a number of extremely negative personal and professional relationships, strengthened a number of loving, supportive relationships, drove across the country to visit the grad program here at U of A in Tucson, liked it a whole lot, left Tucson, went back to where I sometimes live, and finally returned to Tucson, moved in, and formed a bunch of new and deeply nourishing relationships with the people in this place and with the place itself. Once I got here, I had a year’s worth of film and feelings to process and a big empty studio to fill so I would say those were the primary motivations.
How long do you like to let images sit with you before you share them?
I don’t think I have a consistent idea of that yet - I’ve always worked on an academic schedule of some kind, which means I have finals and holiday breaks to create timing frameworks, but I also don’t mind putting work out that is ‘unfinished’ - I learn a lot from doing interviews like this one, being pushed to finalize an artist statement to accompany a feature can often function as the structure I need to stop flip-flopping/wishy-washing/overthinking and just put some dang words to it.
Who are some of your influences? What photographers influence your work? Who should we be paying attention to?
I connect to the work of Ron Jude and Barbara Bosworth, and the writing of Rebecca Solnit, the Dark Mountain Collective, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Mary Oliver, and Timothy Morton on a philosophical/ontological level. As for who you should be paying attention to if you’re not already: Juan Brenner, Widline Cadet, Derick Whitson, Jasmine Clarke, Anu Kumar, Leonard Suryajaya, Al J. Thompson, Samantha Cabrera Friend, Daesung Lee, Meg Griffiths, Lauren Marsolier, Kennady Schneider, Laura Stevens, Gabriella Demczuk, Zora Murff, Megan Lynch, Ernesto Solana, Fumi Ishimo, Annie Flanagan, Saleem Ahmed, Tara Wray, Rosalind Fox Solomon, and every single artist in the University of Arizona graduate program right now because they are all incredible and I feel extremely lucky to be around them. Whew! So much art!! What a time to be alive!
There is a simultaneous disconnect as if you’re just a passerby, but also an intimacy that your light and subject matter brings. How does this dichotomy work to bring together the overall concept you’re bringing to the work?
Oh man. We about to get deep in it. Recently I’ve been thinking and feeling a lot about photography as the primary medium of seeing both mechanically and conceptually, and about loneliness as the feeling of being neither fully seen by, nor capable of fully seeing, others. I’m not totally sure yet how to put words to where these two things intersect but I know that they do and I think that might be where I’m going next with my work. I also know that there are strong and long-standing institutions whose primary goal is to pull us apart from the web of connectivity to which we all belong, and make us isolate and separate ourselves from others in the name of individuality, exceptionalism, and the precarity/scarcity mentality of bootstrap capitalism. Finally, I know that there is a huge, energetic web that threads its way through all things and beings and, while we may feel disconnected from it, the web shimmers and shivers as inevitably as the sun sets, and is maybe a little extra shimmery at sunset, and that when I feel both things at once - fully connected and totally isolated simultaneously - I see with a hyper-clarity, an ultra-vigilance, that does not visit me at any other time.
Sometimes when I look at your images, they feel like they could be anytime, anywhere. Like somehow I could step outside of my house and see these things, but never exactly in the way that you did. Is there a sense of universality in your work? How might that connect to the passing of time shown in your images?
First of all, I’m so glad you feel that way. One of my lovely friends said recently that sometimes she sees bits of trash on the ground or whatever and goes, “oh! That looks like Anna!” and it was strangely one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. I actually do not think I will ever get sick of taking pictures of white plastic lawn chairs or really wispy trees or things behind chain link fences. The current collection of images that I’m working with is well over 150 files at this point, and I’m trying to work out how to have repetition without redundancy because I want to express how comforting and tender it is that we do and have the same things over and over again. How a lot of this stuff is the trappings of an economic system dedicated to consumer uniformity and conformity, and yet we manage to take this stuff that is all the same and arrange it in our pre-fab duplex that is model 1 of 3 in the housing development and even within all of this conformity and sameness we all feel so incredibly different to each other. I wonder if maybe we feel strange and weird because there is, actually, a pretty basic human model to which we all adhere, but that model is nothing like the one that has been sold to us as ‘normal.’ Normalcy has historically been associated with the now nearly mythical white middle class, and since I was raised with all of the stability and privilege one would expect from this socioeconomic strata, seeking out that disappearing middle has become an exploration of the mutable, subjective meaning of the word ordinary; what does it mean to have my deeply ingrained definition of the word fall away into the widening chasm between the wealth gap’s two poles? What does it mean to try and comfort oneself by relating to others when what we have been led to believe is the common ground is actually not common at all, and is getting even less so? What if the common ground we are grasping for is outside of the linear progress narrative that has been enforced by white supremacist capitalism? Sorry am I ranting? I am definitely ranting.
How did your move to Arizona impact your work? How did you survive the transition of having to make new work in a new place?
Making work in a new place didn’t actually prove to be that challenging; I look so much more closely at my surroundings when they’re unfamiliar. I also learned to ‘just shoot through it’ in undergrad - SCAD ran on a quarter system, so I had 10 weeks to produce a body of work. That meant that I couldn’t wait to feel inspired, or to flesh out a good idea with lots of research (not that I would ever do that anyway). I had to start making pictures asap and keep making them until I had enough stuff to could go on the wall that I wouldn’t cringe at. I guess that sounds like I made work I didn’t care about, but I’ve never been someone with much vision for how I want things to be or how they should be. I look at the way things are, and figure out how that connects to what I care about, and have faith that it always will because all things are connected. Honestly? What’s proven to be difficult is getting over where I’m at now, which is a strange staleness - I photographed like crazy for the first 6 months and now I swear I’ve taken maybe 3 pictures total in the last 3 months? I can feel that shifting though, so maybe it was a rest/hibernating time (and have a mental breakdown about being unable to produce art time). But now it’s spring, it’s Aries season (my season), I’m turning 28, the desert flowers are blooming, the days are long, I don’t have to wear pants, and I feel full of sun and fire and ready to make some bold decisions without considering the consequences at all whatsoever! It’s gonna be great.
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