By: Lauren Ali
ALL IMAGES BY PARKER DAY
Fascinated by the exploration of identity, Los Angeles photographer, Parker Day photographs 100 portraits of larger-than-life personalities. Nipple vests, detached eyeballs and lipstick on teeth – Day creates images that are garishly disturbing and in your face. Interestingly, Day chose to shoot this series on 35 mm film but favoured a bright, highly sharpened quality to the film unlike the usual soft and muted effect it can give.
Day had only gotten back into photography seriously just over a year and a half ago. Her previous dabbles into film began as a child with a disposable camera capturing highly staged scenes of her toys. She collaborated with LA’s most unusual and bizarre characters to create her portrait series entitled, ICONS. Examining the connection between fiction and reality by exaggerating prominent internet personalities in extravagant hair, makeup and costuming to smudge the line of imagined identities versus portrayed identities. Most of her inspiration draws from people in general – how they act and perceive themselves – and her subjects that she photographs. Parker was kind enough to do an interview further discussing her photo series, which can be found below.
Hi Parker! Thank you again for doing the interview. So, ICONS, can you give a brief little overview of the series?
ICONS is an exploration of identity presentation. The characters I create with my subjects are at once outlandish and authentic; the line between reality and fantasy is skewed. I hope viewers will question who it is they’re seeing and began to question who it is they themselves present to the world and what lies beneath.
These characters are weird – extremely weird, highly disturbing and highly fascinating, in the greatest of ways of course. How did you begin to imagine or create each individual character?
There are many different points of departure. Sometimes a prop or an article of clothing will trigger a narrative in my mind. I’ll imagine the type of person who would own it and how they might feel. Other times I’ll just look in the mirror and play with different faces, contortions of my body, and see what different moods look like. Really all the characters are reflections of my own freaky self.
Did you approach people from off the street to participate or hire models? Did each person create, embody or have an influence on the hyper realistic character they were portraying?
Well, I’m basically a recluse so if by “street” you mean “internet” while I’m huddled in a dark corner with my cats, then yes. I pick my subjects based off of the symbols and energy I perceive from them. When they actually come over to shoot and I meet them for the first time, the energy exchange we have informs the character. There’s a lot of collaboration and improvisation. I don’t like to shoehorn anyone into my ideas. I want to go beyond the aesthetic and get something real out of my subject, something that anyone can connect to on a visceral level.
I understand you shot the series on 35 mm film, any particular reason why?
Yes! The dirt, the dust, and the grain are so essential to making these images work. I hope it comes through that I don’t Photoshop these because I don’t. Film looks and feels more real which is necessary for presenting these lurid, fantastical creatures. If I shot digital, it would look too manicured, too contrived. I like art that is “perfect” (in that you can’t imagine it coming together any better) but feels like it was just on the verge of falling apart.
Why did you choose to focus or tap into identity with this project?
It’s something I’ve long been drawn to and think a lot about. The first time I recall being consciously aware of the malleability of identity was when I was about 12, maybe even 11 years old. My mom had just bought me my first mini skirt, a shiny silver Rampage wrap skirt fresh from the mall. I wore it out for the first time, very proudly walking the streets of San Jose I always went down and there were some boys across the street and they whistled… at me! There was a shiver of shock that ran through me when I realized it was for me. I felt vulnerable but at the same time knew I had discovered a new power, a new existence. Costuming is just one way of presenting ourselves to the world. Our energy and the way we speak and use our bodies is another. Even within the set of parameters we find ourselves in because of our genetics and the society we’re born in, we have a great deal of power in changing how others see us and in turn how we see ourselves.
Several photographers claim they don’t shoot too many pictures during a project as they wait for the opportune or best moment to capture the photograph, do you agree or shoot in a similar manner?
Yes and no. I shoot about 1 roll of 36 exposure film per subject. Sometimes I think that’s too much! But it can take time for the model and me to get in the swing of it. I’m trying to achieve that perfect moment where we’re both on the same wavelength and the lighting, the composition, and the emotion all harmonize just right.
Favourite three images of the series?
Definitely “Classic White,” one of the first of the series. It’s the one with Sarah Hartmann who has a shaved head, unibrow, an open blazer, and a fresh n’ fluffy loaf of Wonderbread tucked proudly beneath her arm. “The Female Gaze” with Penelope Gazin as a maniacal glitter lizard is another, and lastly “H8” with a petulant Ernie Omega in a rubber wig and a flight jacket covered in 8 ball patches. My direction to him was “you’re in the school yard, it’s your senior year, you’ve been bullied all your life and you’ve had enough!”
Do you have another project in mind to begin once ICONS is completed?
I do indeed. I mustn’t give it away but Identity is a theme I plan to continue toying with.
Image sources: dazeddigital.com