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Louise Parker: Pieces of Me
From "Pieces of Me"Photography Louise Parker

Reclaiming identity through found photos of yourself

Model and photographer Louise Parker appropriates already existing imagery of herself in order to reclaim her identity

Clearly, Louise Parker is comfortable on either side of the camera. As a model, the Minnesotan has walked for Chanel, Calvin Klein and Alexander Wang to name a few, as well as appearing on shoots with iconic names such as Ryan McGinley and Roe Ethridge. As a photographer, meanwhile, Parker is a graduate of Bard College’s prestigious photography program, with an ever-growing portfolio behind her that entangles her experiences both behind and in front of the lens.

Last year, Parker was announced as one of 24 winners photographers of Foam’s 2016 international Talent Call, an annual list which identifies and celebrates young artists shaping the future of photography with new ideas and approaches in their work. Parker’s images – which feature alongside her co-winners’ in the gallery’s travelling exhibition – are a self-reflexive take on modelling in which she takes her image from the under the ownership of the fashion world and reclaims it as her own in a selection of intimate portraits and collages.

Ahead of Foam Talent’s launch in London on May 18, we spoke with Parker about blurring boundaries between fine art and fashion, identity and using her work to deconstruct the façades that come with the fashion world.

“The idea of beauty was never a direct focus of mine, however, when I began making work in and around my modelling career it became an unavoidable point of conversation” – Louise Parker

What themes and ideas interest you when it comes to taking photos?

Louise Parker: Although my last two bodies of work reflect in some way upon my career as a fashion model, the central themes I am interested in vary from project to project. Pieces of Me – completed in 2016 and exhibited with Foam  focuses on authorship and the reclaiming of identity by creating self-portraits with appropriated material. My backstage photographs that I began working on in 2012 are more linear and episodic. I started this series, Work Pictures, envisioning a book and was influenced by the format itself. It uses ideas around diary and storytelling that come to completion once they are placed in this structure.

A lot of your images focus on perceptions and constructions of beauty. Is that something you’ve always been interested in?

Louise Parker: The idea of beauty was never a direct focus of mine, however, when I began making work in and around my modelling career it became an unavoidable point of conversation. Pieces of Me comments on the fashion industry’s role in fabricating and defining society’s perceptions of beauty. The flatness of the paper and the distortion of body parts that is created through collage works to deconstruct the façade of production that is essential to elevating these industry standards.

Your career as a model has been well-documented. Is there an element of satire in your photography, when it comes to these ideas of tropes and conventions?

Louise Parker: Definitely. There is an air of exclusivity and importance that surrounds models and the fashion world. With Work Pictures I try to break down this barrier by normalising and exposing the unglamorous aspects of my day-to-day work life. Pieces of Me works differently by exaggerating the tropes and conventions that are fuelled by the industry.

Is there an element of reclaiming images of both yourself and other models?

Louise Parker: Pieces of Me exclusively sources images of myself from magazine editorials for material. This act of reclaiming my image comes from the desire to take back control and ownership of my identity. I can’t really speak to whether or not my photos of other models serve to reclaim their image, but I do use portraits of other girls throughout Work Pictures as a way to share an honest and unaltered narrative of my experience.

Do you feel that the boundaries between fashion and what some may refer to as ‘fine art’ are blurred when it comes to photography?

Louise Parker: Yes. I think the line is already completely blurred and has been for a while. It also proposes the question of what defines a ‘fine art’ photograph. Photography has so many different genres, and due to social media and the Internet we are constantly exposed to an over-saturation of images. I think Roe Ethridge or Wolfgang Tillmans are examples of artists that successfully deal with the tension between these overlaying genres.

Having worked with Ryan McGinley and Roe Ethridge must have been invaluable for a young photographer. Did they give you any advice?

Louise Parker: Roe and I have maintained a close friendship over the years and I continually seek him out for advice. When I was struggling to move forward with Work Pictures, he encouraged me to get in the studio and start staging my own self-portraits, which eventually led me to my collage work. Ryan is the first photographer I ever worked with and one of the genuinely nicest people I know. I am still close friends with people I met on a trip with him almost ten years ago.   

Has your experience as a model (being on the other side of the camera) been a help or a hindrance when it comes to building your status as a photographer – or both?

Louise Parker: My backstage work certainly opened doors and gave me a platform to show and share my pictures. While this was helpful, I do feel that my interests in photography have been heavily misunderstood due to how both the industry and social media perpetuates and validates the concept of a model photographer. Today, there is a lot of attention towards ‘#film’ and ‘youth obsession’ that are not core to my concerns as an artist. One of the reasons I am so thankful to be a part of Foam Talent is because it has moved the conversation around my work away from fashion. It has helped me think about my work more in the context of art and history as I move forward.

Foam Talent London opens on May 18 at Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall, 22 Newport Street, Vauxhall, London, SE11 6AY