Caitlin Teal Price interview
"I find that the less specific an image is, the more specific it can become." Washington-based photographer Caitlin Teal Price talks about the process behind her work.
Interview by Fraser Stanley
Published June 2014
i. Leslie from Annabelle, Annabelle
ii. T from Annabelle, Annabelle
iii. Three Women Walking from Annabelle, Annabelle
iv. Surveillance, from Annabelle, Annabelle
v. 9 from Washed Up
vi. 52 from Washed Up
All images © Caitlin Teal Price 2014
What are you up to today?
Today I am editing an editorial photo shoot I did over the weekend.
How long have you been in Washington?
I grew up in D.C., moved away in 1998 and returned again in 2010.
I understand you spent a huge amount of time scouting for locations and finding the women for Annabelle, Annabelle. Could you tell us a little bit more about the process behind making the work?
Annabelle, Annabelle takes place in all different parts of the United States. I drove around the country for about eight months making the majority of the series.
When I arrived in a city, I would drive or wander around for hours in search of a perfect location. The locations I was looking for tended to suggest some sort of movement or travel—an overpass, a parking lot, a staircase, an elevator. I was looking for locations that were specific enough to start a story but vague enough for interpretation. I was (and still am) drawn to stark, kind of dramatic, everyday landscapes.
Once I found a location, I would go back at various times of the day to scout out the light. I relied solely on the sun as a light source, so time of day was extremely important.
At the same time I was scouting locations, I was also in search of models. I had many methods for finding the women I photographed, none of whom I know personally. I scouted them on the street; I put adds on Craigslist and flyers in acting studios. But the most effective method was connections—many of these women are friends of friends of friends.
"These women, with strength and wisdom in the depth of their age, stand boldly and carefully alone, and can offer us the opportunity to create stories about life and death, power and vulnerability, magnificence and uncertainty."
Could you speak about the role of the women in the series?
The women in the series are in transition. As I was making the work I too was in transition, but instead of making photographs about myself, I was more interested in depicting women who had a few more years behind them, women with a few more stories to tell.
These women, with strength and wisdom in the depth of their age, stand boldly and carefully alone, and can offer us the opportunity to create stories about life and death, power and vulnerability, magnificence and uncertainty.
One of the things I find powerful is the considered and constructed nature of the images and the underlying ambiguity or space provided for the viewer to interpret the work. How do you decide what to include or exclude from the frame and the work as a whole?
As I mentioned before, I am interested in the everyday landscapes that suggest just enough to start a story but not finish it. I want the viewer to have the opportunity to interpret the photograph in a way that makes sense to him or her.
I intentionally strip away anything that will date or place the image: signage, cars, passersby, etc. Even though these photographs are taken around the country, it is very hard to determine which city they are made in; I made a conscious effort to make them look as if they could be anywhere. I find that the less specific an image is, the more specific it can become.
"I fell in love with the little details that give big clues into the lives of strangers."
You began working on Annabelle, Annabelle in 2009, spending about three years on the series. At what stage is a project finished for you?
A project is finished when I have said all that I want to say. And, although I feel like Annabelle, Annabelle is finished right now, I may very well pick it up again in a few years when I have more to add. It’s an instinctual thing for me.
Washed Up is a typological depiction of sunbathers on New York’s Coney Island Beach. What drew you to the subject of sunbathers? What was the process like—did you always seek permission?
Washed Up came from a desire to stare. I was on Coney Island one summer and was amazed at all the different kinds of people. I became intrigued by the way many of them seemed extremely confident yet very vulnerable.
I was also drawn to the stories that could be imagined by observing the way a blanket matched a suit, or by the style and placement of a pair of shoes, or by the scars, wrinkles and spots on skin. I fell in love with the little details that give big clues into the lives of strangers.
The process was (and still is) quite simple. At about 1pm every day for two weeks in August I walk from Coney Island to Brighton Beach and back. I look for people who catch my eye—whether it is the colour they’ve surrounded themselves with or just something unusual that draws in my attention. I never ask anyone to change positions, so when I approach them they are already lying on their backs.
I ask everyone permission to photograph them, and about 50 percent say yes. It would be far too scary for me to sneak these photographs. I am literally hovering above them with a big heavy camera. In the past few years I have gotten pretty good at approaching and asking permission. It’s probably because I’ve become more at ease with the process and less scared of rejection. I have also found that wearing a red beach dress has helped me appear less threatening. I assume people feel more at ease when they can spot you coming and going.
"I never ask anyone to change positions, so when I approach them they are already lying on their backs."
You graduated in 2002 with your BFA from Parsons The New School of Design in New York and went on to complete your MFA at Yale in 2009. How has education influenced your practice? What was your experience at Yale like?
My education has helped me weed out the good ideas from the bad, to become more critical of myself and of my process. And it has taught me to be persistent and determined even when failure is present.
I refer to Yale as boot camp. I loved it, but it was no joke. I was figuring out what kind of artist I was in front of a famous and very critical panel of judges. It was pretty surreal and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I am using the most amazing D.C. resource there is: The Smithsonian. I am starting to photograph bird specimens in the ornithology department at the National Museum of Natural History. I am in the research phase at the moment, but I predict that there will be a typology aspect to the series similar to Washed Up.