Here in New York, I’m accustomed to seeing my creative friends try on different caps once in a while. It keeps things fresh, plus why box oneself up? Skye Parrott is of those creative souls who quietly runs her own magazine called Dossier, with a cultural website of the same name.
She also consults clients on creative initiatives, curates art shows, and professionally photographs for large publications. Her background beforehand included managing stints at Self-Service Magazine and Nan Goldin’s studio.
(All images are from First Love, Last Rights, courtesy of Skye Parrott)
The idea was simple yet profoundly intimate. Her entire life had been documented with photographs, except for this one year and a half window, when no photos were taken. It was a dark moment in her adolescence, with a drug habit and the demise of a relationship (her first boyfriend). Skye set out to recollect the memories buried deep within, and reconstructed the poignant and perceived memories with friends who re-enacted the “moment” while she photographed. You can call it some sort of regression art therapy, but to her it was more of a child-like intuitive process in search of healing. We asked Skye a few questions on the night of her big opening…
Tonight, however, in New York, she will be presenting her first major work of art, a show entitled First Love Last Rites. It is a project that has unfolded in her minds eye for several years now, but it was only 1 year ago, that Skye finally grabbed the bull by the horns and committed to exploring, gathering, researching, and shooting the vision.
Jauretsi: This body of work seems deeply personal, and almost a confession of your demons to the outside world? It’s very much a new intimate version of “skye” previously unknown to your art & fashion community. What was the impetus to expose the dark cracks and turn it into a public art show?
Skye Parrott: This project has been rolling around in my head for a long time. Once I began really working on it, I found pieces of writing and photographs I took seven, eight years ago that I now recognize as attempts at starting it. A few of those photographs even made it into the book that goes with the show. I think I knew generally that there was something I wanted to address about that time, but things didn’t really click into place until about a year and a half ago. It was a really formative time in my life, and I realized I wanted to understand it better, and understand the trajectory I took to get from thereto here. I’d had several friends over the years, people who really knew me well, express complete disbelief when I told them about how I spent my adolescence. It was always strange for me that they couldn’t see who I was underneath, but as I got into the project I realized that I had a real disconnect as well. I kept addressing the character Valentine played as “her” rather than me, and that was clearly reflective of my relationship to that part of my history. When I started the project, I also didn’t know it was going to be public. It’s something I started working on for myself, and after a while, I realized it was going to be a big project and that I wanted to do something more with it. I spoke with Sophie at Capricious and she offered me a show, and so for the past year I’ve been working towards that. But that definitely wasn’t the impetus at the beginning.
Can you give us a brief overview of the moments you revisit and recreate in your installation?
I started to photograph the project before I really understood what it was going to be about. I had a vague sense that it was related to memory, and I knew there were a few specific moments I wanted to revisit, but at the beginning it had a broader scope. As I started working, though, I found that most of the moments were related to this time period, like saying goodbye to Alex when he got sent to rehab, or sitting on this specific stoop one night, so I decided that time would be my focus. And then the more I progressed, the more I found this relationship I had with Alex to be the threadthrough it all. I had a few friends help me edit the text, and my best friend (who’s also the editor of Dossier) kept saying, ‘The parts that focus on this relationship are the most interesting part. That’s the story.’ I have a hard time hearing that I can’t do everything, but in this case (as in most cases), I think the work is stranger for being tightly edited. By focusing on that relationship, I was able to tell the broader story of who I was then in a more coherent way.
Did you find this ritual of recreating moments help flush out any jarring specific memories from this 1 year and a half void in your mind? If so, what detailedmemory resurrected the hardest in your gut?
The first time Valentine came over to London to work on this, we shot a scene where Alex is getting sent away to rehab. We were standing in his hallway, with his mother watching, saying goodbye. I probably hadn’t prepared Valentine with enough of the backstory at that point, so she was asking questions and trying to understand the character, and Alex and I both started explaining to her what was happening at that moment. And then they acted it out, and I photographed it. It was really jarring for meto stand there, talk about this intense memory, hear him talk about it, and then see it in front of me. Valentine and I both cried when we left because it was just heavy. When I went home I remember thinking that this project was the first thing I’d done that had made me feel like an artist. It’s a designation I’ve always shied away from. But only an artist would be crazy enough to put themselves through that kind of emotion for no other reason than to make something that maybe no one was even going to see.
Who are your collaborators and why did you choose them?
The person playing me in the photos is Valentine Fillol-Cordier. She’s a good friend from Paris, and we’ve collaborated for years, first when she was modeling and more recently since she’s become a stylist. We’ve done a number of shoots where she’s both modeled and styled herself. They are some of my favorites shoots I’ve ever done because they were always really about building a character and a story. We have a natural shorthand in how we’re working and a real shared mutual vision. I think that those collaborations actually led me to this project, because our work together has always been about creating a world, and that opened up the possibility of recreating my teenage world and having the opportunity to take pictures of it. And she’s also someone I just really like photographing.
The other two people who collaborated on the photos with me were Alex Burns and Hans Longo. Alex was my boyfriend at that time, and Hans and I were together not long afterwards. They both reenacted memories I had that involved them, with Valentine playing me. I have to say, I got really lucky, because not only were they both willing to help out with this admittedly strange request, but they both happen to be actors, so they had the ability to play those parts and had some idea of how to go backto those places.
In this project, you blur the lines between actual reality versus the myth or fantasy that memory records. Can you describe how drugs played into the memory absorption — be it the intensification or the amnesia of the moment?
I think that memory is by its very nature amorphous. It isn’t necessarily true, no matter how lucid you were, so being high is almost certainly going to intensify the murkiness. I found that this whole period of time for me was defined by and handful of moments, and I was sure that those memories were true. They had definitely happened. I mean, I remembered them. But when I interviewed Alex, some of them he didn’t remember having happened at all. As an example, one of those memories was that I called him from my last rehab and he hung up on me. To me that was the end of our relationship. But he remembered breaking up a few months earlier when I told him I was still getting high. I had no recollection of that conversation, and he had no recollection of thatphone call. I’m sure they’re both true to a certain extent. But maybe not. One other thing I found really interesting is that now I have a picture of that conversation he remembered, and it’s become part of the story for me. Maybe him talking about it led to me remembering it. But maybe I just have adopted his memory and made it my own and I only think I remember it.
To create, develop, and complete this project, you needed to revisit your first boyfriend, Alex, and conduct a series of interviews. Together it seems you walked down memory lane. How would you say you both evolved from this internal excavating — as individuals and friends?
Alex and I had stayed in touch peripherally, but we definitely weren’t friends at the beginning of this. I emailed him when I was starting – and before I knew how focused the piece was going to be on him – and asked if I could shoot with him for one day.One day became two days, which became, can I shoot again? And again? Can you lend me the letters I wrote you? Can I interview you? The degree to which he extended himself was awesome. There is no way I could have done what I wanted to do without his cooperation. He sent me an email after we shot the first time saying, essentially, I didn’t know what you were doing when you asked to shoot me, but this project is really interesting and I’ll help in any way I can. I think it was an interesting process for both of us. It was a long time ago – half our lives – and obviously this incredibly defining moment. I’ve never dug through my memories in quite that way and ultimatelyit was kind of cathartic. And a by-product was that I actually got to know Alex in a different context. I’m happy to run into him now rather than feeling like I’ve seen a ghost, which is what he was for me before.
Your mother was a photographer who documented you until what age? You then decided to pick up a camera at 17 years old. Can you elaborate on her influence in your artistry?
My mom literally had a camera in her hands my entire childhood. She still does. She takes pictures of everything around her, and when my brother and I were kids, we were what was around her, so she took pictures of us. I don’t think it was any more calculated than that, but as a result I have this incredibly well-documented childhood. The only reason she stopped taking my picture is because I got to be a teenager and, being a teenager, I didn’t want her to do it anymore.
I always had a little camera growing up, but the summer after my last rehab my mom gave me one of her real cameras and got me to take some darkroom classes at Parson’s and something just clicked. I had been taking pictures for a few months when she took me up to see Nan Goldin’s show I’ll Be Your Mirror at the Whitney, and that completely opened up my mind as to what photography could be and had a lot to do with why I continued.
It’s interesting because my mom and Nan (who I later got to work with as her studio manager) both approach photography in a similar way. They both take pictures of what they see, and their photographs really function as a record of their view of the world. Having seen my mom work that way my whole life, that’s how I started taking pictures and to a large extent, it’s still what I do. For a long time I didn’t know there really wasany other way to work. Then I started working in fashion and realized there were all these other ways to make pictures. Obviously working commercially has necessitated me learning how to work differently to some extent, but I think even when I’m shooting something commissioned, and completely staged, I’m searching for something true in what’s in front of me.
Dossier is a bi-annual arts and fashion journal you co-founded in 2008. What can we expect to see for Dossier in the coming year?
We’ve been getting to do some great things with Dossier recently, both within themagazine and with other projects. Alex Wiederin came on board as a creative consultant for our latest issue, and we relaunched in September with a progressed aesthetic. We also did this incredible pop-up space during fashion week called Homecoming, with different events and cultural programming, which I think we’ll do again next September. We curated a show in LA last month that drew from a photo portfolio we published in the last issue. I think we’re going to be looking towards more of those kind of multi-dimensional projects. It’s been really interesting how Dossier has evolved in such a short time from being a biannual magazine to being a kind of creative collective, but I think that all of us that work on it would like to see it progress more in that direction.
Now that the night of the big opening is approaching, how does it feel to be the actual artist instead of being the curator this time around? Is this a reinvention of Skye Parrot?
I think of myself as a photographer before anything else, so it’s actually weirder to have done two shows this year as a curator. That having been said, I’ve only done one real solo show before – I had one last year in Paris – and I’ve never presented a completed project in this way. Most of the shows I’ve participated in have drawn from my body of work, while this show is sort of one piece made of up of different photographs. So it’s a new experience in that sense, which, like many new experiences, is both exciting and scary.
The Capricious Space is located at 103 Broadway, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. Phone is 718-384-1208. Hours: Wednesday to Saturday, noon to 6 pm. The opening is Fri (Nov 19) from 7-9 pm.