Pin It
Sandy Kim, Analog Brain, Little Big Man Gallery, 2017
Sky FerreiraPhotography Sandy Kim

Sandy Kim shares her most intimate work to date

We speak to the photographer on the eve of her new show, which recreates her studio and offers unfiltered access to her life – from previous shoots to the current state of her personal computer

Since Ryan McGinley marked her as one of his favourite rising photographers in 2010, Sandy Kim has steadily gained notoriety for her candid and often NSFW photos of friends and models, taken in New York and San Francisco. “Intimate” is one way to describe her work – she’s shared pictures of her own period blood-stained sheets as well as friends at parties or lounging half-nude in their bedrooms. Over the past few years, Kim has also transitioned into the fashion world with campaigns for DARKDRON and Iceberg. Now, after relocating to Los Angeles, she’s stripping it all back in a new show titled Analog Brain, open now at LA’s Little Big Man Gallery. Featuring unseen work from the last six years, the show also gives viewers the chance to burrow deeper into Kim’s private world – with her desktop on display, ready for viewers to rifle through. However, with no time after hanging the show to filter the content of her computer (invoices included), Kim admits that the opening was a touch too intimate for her and is planning on a few “tweaks” for the show's full run.

Analog Brain also sees Kim return to installation – her 2015 show at the Ever Gold Gallery in San Francisco featured two friends dancing in drag – however, this marks her first major installation piece. On the walls of Kim's recreated studio are print-outs of her “greatest hits” – including friend Sky Ferreira’s recent Playboy cover, for which they collaborated on the creative direction. In the exhibition's photo series, Kim takes us outside to view the world through her lens with shots captured in and around Los Angeles and mixes portraits, landscapes and illuminated end frames taken on 35mm film.

The day of the opening, we caught up with Kim to discuss how she’s changed, why she’s oversharing and her love affair with Los Angeles.

How was the opening of the show?

Sandy Kim: The turn-out was great. I was a little bit nervous because I’ve not had a solo show in LA yet. I was working right up until it opened because I was making the video part of the show. I’ve been collecting screen tests of all my friends on VHS for the past ten years and I couldn’t get them to burn onto DVDs.

Can you tell us about the exhibition?

Sandy Kim: There’s big framed photos of palm trees and sunset images that I’ve shot since I’ve been in LA. There’s also an interactive installation (where) we recreated my studio and took everything from notes and garbage, to all the film and medical weed canisters I’ve collected. I collect crazy things because I think I want to make something out of them. 

This is my first time creating something that people can interact with and experience. I have notes on the wall, a story Colby (Hewitt, former DIIV drummer and Kim's boyfriend) wrote when he first me. All the photos that I’ve shot over the years are tacked to the walls. Photos from way back when I was in San Francisco, partying images, landscapes... Somebody called it a wall of my greatest hits.

Also included is my computer – I thought people would look at some pictures but people were going in on it. I didn’t filter through it before the opening so I had invoices on there, and people were going through my search history. There was not a single time in the opening that the computer was free.

Do you think you’ve shared too much?

Sandy Kim: I didn’t feel that way while I was putting the installation together but I felt that way after the opening. I didn’t have time to fine tune it. I had friends saying, “Dude, you need to go and make sure people aren’t digging too deep”. People were looking into my Photo Booth images from San Francisco, and I know there's things that shouldn’t be on there. There are some things I gotta tweak. 

“Sometimes I’ll just get the perfect photo when I’m not thinking. Sometimes when I try and take a perfect photo it will be a shit photo. With film, you never really know” – Sandy Kim

Are you more private with your photography?

Sandy Kim: There’s definitely photos that I wouldn’t share because they could be incriminating to some people, or me. I take photos of anything. There's also photos I’ve taken that I plan to share later on.

You have such a strong aesthetic, capturing intimate moments. How do you replicate that when you shoot editorial?

Sandy Kim: I usually like to get to know the person first. When I shot Travis Scott and Young Thug, I spoke to them before and Travis invited me to his house. I think it’s important to shoot people while they’re talking, almost so they won’t notice. 

Do you only shoot on film or do you shoot digital sometimes?

Sandy Kim: I only shoot film now. People are more drawn to my film work. I have a Purple cover coming out in two weeks. I did about 20 digital shots for that but they didn’t want to see them. For me, digital takes so much longer with retouching. If you’re shooting digital you have to create your own style. If you just take a raw image and do nothing to it, it’s gonna look like a shitty digital image that anybody can take.

I still have a digital camera. Colby comes on set with me sometimes and I’ll have him shoot digital too (he studied photography). I have two or three point-and-shoots, three film SLR cameras and a digital camera. There’ll be four hanging on my neck, Colby will have one or two and we’ll just rotate.

Is there such a thing as a perfect photograph for you?

Sandy Kim: It depends on my mood. Sometimes I’ll just get the perfect photo when I’m not thinking. Sometimes when I try and take a perfect photo it will be shit. With film, you never really know. That’s the beauty of it... It’s a surprise in the end. For me, at least.

What interests you about working with video?

Sandy Kim: I watched Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Beautiful Women in the World was inspired by that. It starts with a girl who doesn't blink the entire time. Towards the end, tears start dropping down her eyes. I found it so beautiful. Colby got a mini VHS camera for his Christmas present six or seven years ago… I started taking it to photo shoots. After the shoot I would say “Hey, can I get you to sit in front of the camera for five minutes” and they would do their stuff.

You’ve moved around a lot… Is there something about LA that inspires you?

Sandy Kim: I find once I’ve lived somewhere for around five years, I get so used to everything around me that I slowly stop taking pictures. Then I go somewhere new and find there’s so much beauty. But in LA, the weather here is always nice, there’s so many beautiful sunsets every single day. It’s insane. I love LA, I don’t want to move anywhere else after this. I say that now, in two years from now I might be like, fuck it, I hate LA. 

You're known for images based around your love life and sexuality. Has your perception of this changed over time?

Sandy Kim: I’ve definitely moved on from that. I still take photos like that but I’m older now, I’ve lived more. Those period sex photos were taken when Colby and I first got together and at the time that felt crazy. Now, I think, whatever, it’s just a period. I also have new friends now. I feel like the people you surround yourself with change your perspective on things.

I haven’t updated my website since I made it, it’s a work in progress at the moment. I haven’t even updated my blog in three years. So, a lot of people haven't seen my work in the last six years. I feel like people are stuck on my old images because they haven’t seen my new images. That’s why I put my computer in this exhibition. I’m basically saying “If you wanna see it, come check it out”… I just have to go and filter it now.

"Analog Brain" is at the Little Big Man Gallery, Los Angeles until 11 February