Devil horns, third eyes and cigarette smoking bras – enter the visceral world of Parker Day
“I was born and bred on the weird side of the road,” says Parker Day, LA based photographer. Known for her saturated, hyperreal 35mm portraits, it might seem surprising that Day has only been shooting seriously for just over a year and a half. However, somewhere between being given disposable cameras to play with as a kid and becoming an “arrogant prick” at art school, Day found herself losing interest in photography as a medium. After picking up a camera again and reigniting her interest in shooting film, the photographer has found herself building a solid reputation shooting the weirdest and wildest characters of LA’s art scene.
Bucking the trend of saccharine, hazy 35mm shot imagery, Day’s work delves into the seedier side of film photography. Exploring the relationship between reality and fiction. Exaggerating the personas of internet personalities such as Molly Soda by using costume and makeup to blur the line between imagined and actualised identity, her work exists somewhere in the intersection of John Waters’ films and the post-tumblr age of identity. Below we catch up with the photographer to discuss gender as a construct, feelings of darkness and #FreeTheNipple.
When did you first pick up a camera?
Parker Day: When I was a little kid my mom gave me disposable cameras to play with. I remember even then I was very deliberate in what I would shoot. I’d schlep my toys out to the yard and set up tableaus to photograph, like a Barbie sitting under a fern with a little stuffed tiger.
Your work seems to play with hyperreality. How do you hope to convey identity in your work?
Parker Day: Hopefully by toying with people’s perception of a real person and a fictional person. I believe identity is as malleable as you want it to be and we all have the power to forge a new identity if we choose.
Who – or what – inspires you artistically?
Parker Day: There are loads of artists I adore, from David Lynch to Francis Bacon and Basquiat. And of course all the photographers, especially black & white street photographers like William Klein and Weegee. But, on a day to day basis it’s people that really get me going – their quirks and gestures. I like to think about how people communicate who they are in unconscious ways.
Why the conscious decision to only use film?
Parker Day: For the grit of it. I do not like heavily photoshopped images – shooting film is like thumbing my nose at the world of retouching.
You focus mainly on portraiture, and more recently a large series of work called ICONS. What’s the thinking behind this project?
Parker Day: ICONS is based on the idea that identity is something we put on and take off; it’s not fixed. But as it develops I see that the characters I create with my subjects are a reflection of me, of my moods and madness. So while I’m photographing different people, costumes and characters, I’m really shooting myself.
“There’s this certain quality of a person who’s gone through something. I’m talking some real deep, dark shit, and they’ve climbed out of that shit to become a more powerful, radiant person. It’s hard to define but it’s something I can sense and those are the ones I find most fascinating” – Parker Day
By large are your sitters fictional characters, or real people?
Parker Day: Where is the line?
Similarly, a lot of your subjects seem to be artists or internet personalities. What attracts you to someone and makes you want to shoot their portrait?
Parker Day: Well, there’s this certain quality of a person who’s gone through something. I’m talking some real deep, dark shit, and they’ve climbed out of that shit to become a more powerful, radiant person. It’s hard to define but it’s something I can sense and those are the ones I find most fascinating. They’re a bit of a rare breed but those are the diamonds I’m trying to find.
How does being based in LA influence your work?
Parker Day: LA is the promised land! It’s been so effortless to make connections and collaborate with people. As long as you’re driven, LA is the place to be because people really want to be a part of your success and have you be a part of theirs. There’s an incredible feeling of potentiality here.
You recently had a photograph depicting a vest made entirely from nipples deleted from Instagram. What’s the story behind this image?
Parker Day: The nip vest is the creation of the genius LA artist Sarah Sitkin that she had given my model Delaney. I love how it's appealing in its tactile quality, but revolting in how it speaks of dismembered body bits. I like it when I can represent attraction and repulsion to exist in the same image. I think it makes you question what draws you to something or pushes you away. I thought it was utter rubbish when the photo got yanked! I mean, c’mon, they're gender ambiguous fake nipples and Delaney's fully clothed up the neck.
“I like it when I can represent attraction and repulsion to exist in the same image. I think it makes you question what draws you to something or pushes you away” – Parker Day
Would you consider your photography inherently political?
Parker Day: I certainly don’t have a political agenda to push. I’m much more interested in affecting how people feel than in changing what they think. But it can’t not be political! I’m not over here making decorative landscapes to match your drapes. There’s a point of view behind what I do. My foundational philosophy is that all of identity is a construct, including gender – I don’t believe any one form is more valid than another. It’s all equal; we’re all equal. So, yes, I am a feminist and so is my work.
What do you want people to take away from your imagery?
Parker Day: A tingly feeling of darkness and curiosity rumbling in their belly.
Check out more of Parker Day's work here