Jalal Sepehr


All images courtesy of Jalal Sepehr from the Knot (2011) and Water & Persian Rugs (2004) series.

Jalal Sepehr (b. 1968) is a Tehran based self-taught  photographer who has been doing photography since 1994. He is known as a fine art photographer locally and internationally. His photos has been featured in many prestigious publications. He has been founding member of  the Fanoos website whose aim was promoting contemporary Iranian photography (2003-2007). He is an active member of Virtual Arts of Iran Association and Advertising & Industrial Photography Association of Iran.

Luna Lopez

Through staged photography, Luna Lopez works with the emotional, the psychological and the erotic. Lopez infuses her photographs with contradictory elements, which makes her work both unsettling and arousing at the same time. She explores the dynamics of intimacy and violence, the calm and aggressive, as well as the strength that exists within the vulnerable and uncomfortable. Lopez stages and constructs photographs that don’t provide any fixed reading, but only hints about what’s beneath the seemingly obvious.

The underlying erotism that recurs in her pictures, manifests itself in what is not shown. Lopez interest in human connection is not only apparent in how she presents her work to the viewer, but also in how she identifies the nuances in a face expression or the gesture of the body when photographing.

Whether it’s a feeling of emptiness or a spirit of connection, Lopez captures these moments for her viewer to play part in. With the artisanal skill of darkroom printing and an acute eye for shape, texture and color, she has managed to create her own visual atmosphere, one imbued with a highly-attuned sense of tension and composition.

In order of appearance

  1. Untitled (Arched Woman)
  2. The Practitioner
  3. Attachment and Separation
  4. Brush of Censorship
  5. Metallic Object I
  6. The Spot (Eternity)

All images courtesy of Luna Lopez

Luna Lopez (b. 1996) is a Danish-born artist, currently living in Gothenburg, Sweden. Lopez completed her BFA in photography at the University of Gothenburg in 2021 and graduated from Fatamorgana, the Danish School of Art Photography in 2015.
Her work has been shown at Oblong, Copenhagen (2023), Oslo Negativ with MELK gallery, Oslo (2023), Göteborgs Konsthall, Gothenburg (2023), Galleri Thomassen, Gothenburg (2023), Galleri Cora Hillebrand, Gothenburg (2022), MELK gallery, Oslo (2022), Gallery Steinsland Berliner, Stockholm (2022), Röda Sten Konsthall, Gothenburg (2021), The Print Space, London (2019) and Copenhagen Photo Festival, (2018).

ML Casteel

American Interiors

Joshua Gordon

The underbelly of alt culture

When Joshua Gordon went to Thailand, he followed a gang of teenage bikers and witnessed their fraternity. He saw how the young boys had each other’s backs and would die for one another. He directed the film about this along with the country’s occultism and witchcraft culture that religious people might completely exile in their belief systems, but that other people base their spirituality and faith on. After a while, he wanted to investigate the drag landscape in Cuba. Armed with his lens, he was hoping to capture the tight-knit drag community in a country that might not yet be open to the queer scene. He ended up meeting twin trans sisters and peered into their intimate life.

Joshua’s thirst for fascination also brought him to Japan. Amidst the psychedelic allure and eccentricity of the country, he photographed the locals’ fascination with toys. He saw young punks living and sleeping with their plushies, a lifelike woman giving birth with the baby’s head popping out of her vagina, and lots of latex sex dolls in stores and homes. Somehow, Joshua knows how to excavate the surface of the social infrastructure. He digs hard and deep that midway, his photographs and documentaries have unraveled parts of him that seem to be hidden in plain sight. These visual cues are snippets of the ups and downs he has gone through in life and art, a narrow gateway to who he is and how he became what he is.

Take ‘Transformation,’ where he manipulates photos of himself using artificial intelligence to bring about different versions of himself. He considers the project special to him, but viewers seem to have only noticed and commented about his physique and the size of his penis. The series has become reduced to a visual commodity for public viewing, making Joshua aware and alert to the current relationship between art and the viewers. What Joshua creates gives nothing in-between; either the viewer gets startled by the brashness of his images and films, or they feel for the emotions the visual works evoke. Every publication and project hides a backstory, and in a conversation with NR, Joshua brings them to light.

Matthew Burgos: How did you develop your documentary style in photography, video, and collage? Has this always been your intended style?

Joshua Gordon: Documenting was always the first thing I did. I started using photos as a tool when I began creating pictures at around 13/14 years old, not for any artistic reason or self-expression. Every skate crew needed a filmer and/or photographer, so that’s what I became. And every graffiti crew needed someone with a camera, so I filled that role too. Over time, through graffiti, I learned more about photography and discovered my favorite photographers. After that, I delved more into what might be considered quite traditional documentary photography.

Matthew Burgos: Let’s discuss your zines Diary Part 1 and 1.5 which definitely have the documentary photography style you just mentioned. Do you see the photos in these zines as a reflection of how you saw and painted the world at the time, with the use of dark and gritty imagery?

Joshua Gordon:  I think it’s dark and gritty because I was depressed and poor at the time. I was living hand to mouth and didn’t really have a penny to my name. When Diary Part 1 was made, I was working in a warehouse loading trucks and stealing stuff from high-end stores for cash. The other zine was created just after I left.

I think that when I started making pictures for those books, I wanted to shock and be brash. I was surrounded by a lot of misery, staying in moldy bedsits with rats crawling on my ceiling, and I was never able to pay my rent. Shocking isn’t my intention now; I’m more interested in evoking emotions.

Matthew Burgos: Your Butterfly project seems to have a similar style yet a different tone. Can you talk about how you approached this project, and what brought you to explore the nightlife in Havana?

Joshua Gordon: Well, I don’t really plan much; I just go with the flow and feel things out. I’ve always been inspired by 80’s drag, and it’s been a constant source of inspiration for me. I wanted to find some older drag queens and live with them.

Aries offered me the chance to go to Cuba and work on a project of my choice, including creating a book. I was going there to explore and see what I could find. When we arrived, the queer world was small and super intertwined. It ended up being less about drag and more about these two twin sisters I met and their friends. I suppose you could say it was a portrait of them and their community. 

Matthew Burgos: You also directed Krahang, following a group of teenage biker gang in Thailand. How did you discover them, and what did you learn about them that wasn’t evident in the film?

Joshua Gordon: There are a lot of interesting things happening in Thailand—hidden customs and alternative perceptions towards topics that might be considered taboo in other parts of the world. What sticks out to me when I spend time in Southeast Asia is the sense of community. The West is obsessed with individualism. Everyone thinks that the world revolves around them and people have the “main character syndrome.” There’s no decency or love among people.

In Thailand, life is hard and fast and vibrant. There’s a strong community spirit. The boys in the gang were best friends and would have died for each other. I was also very interested in Thai witchcraft and occultism, which is something pretty much everyone there is interested in or scared of. I touched on that in the film along with the teen biker gang.

Matthew Burgos: Let’s talk about your investigation into adult toy culture in Japan leading to the book TOY. What specifically drew you to explore this topic in a country known for its eccentric culture?

Joshua Gordon: I love toys; they’ve been important to me my whole life. Objects bring me a sense of comfort and fluffy familiarity when I travel. Everything in Japan is “kawaii:” you see an ambulance speeding down the street and its logo is a smiling drop of blood. Even the police logo Pipo-kun is fucking adorable. Japan is cute but it also has a dark edge. I wanted to show that mix in the book; the duality of cuteness and darkness.

During my time in the Japanese countryside, in a quaint area called Gunma, I found an old toy museum. Inside, I discovered these porcelain sculptures of couples with long robes on. When you turn them upside down, you see the characters’ penises and vaginas with fuzzy pubic hair. A lot of things in Tokyo have a hidden meaning or a secret backside; I wanted to explore that. 

Matthew Burgos: How about ‘Transformation’? Is it a visual anthology of the growth you’ve experienced throughout your career?

Joshua Gordon: I was at my lowest when making ‘Transformation.’ I was dealing with a severe eating disorder, hospitalization due to tumors, a difficult breakup, and substance abuse, and I felt like I was going insane on a little beach in Mexico. The photos helped me escape somewhere else. I tried to use artificial intelligence and children’s image manipulation apps to create a fantasy land of my own.

But nobody understood. I received comments about my physique and penis size—just basic interpretations of something that meant a lot to me, a project that acted as sort of a ladder to help me out of my hole. It was devastating. I spent around 7,000 pounds and six months creating the books and artworks. I managed to sell only one book at the exhibition and not a single painting. It was quite upsetting, but the project (still) means a lot to me.

Vanessa Beecroft

Rules of Non-Engagement

Vanessa Beecroft (b.1969) discusses how her work serves as a form of therapy, exploring personal conflicts and universal issues within a group. Her exploration of body image and gender politics has influenced her perception of herself and society. 

Her performances are known for their powerful portrayal of vulnerability and invulnerability, creating a unique interaction between the audience and the performers.The intentional discomfort provoked in her performances pushes boundaries and stimulates thought-provoking reactions.

This interview offers profound insights into Vanessa Beecroft’s artistic journey, delving into her personal investigation and its transformative impact on her life and art.

Alexandre-Camille Removille: Vanessa, throughout your career, your work has been deeply personal and introspective. Could you tell us about a specific work where personal investigation was particularly critical to its development?

Vanessa Beecroft: The way I work is to live my life like an artwork in all aspects. The hard part is life. Once that is addressed, work comes as a consequence. 

A particularly challenging experience has been the project in South Sudan, which started as a personal venture and became an intricately tangled dilemma that compromised the stability of my own family. I traveled to South Sudan immediately after the war in 2005 in the attempt to shoot a documentary film on the presence of the Church and was invited by the bishop to the local orphanage where three newborns were unable to latch onto plastic bottles. I nursed them for two weeks and continued to return to South Sudan several times while in New York I was nursing my son Virgil. I developed a bond with the twin boys and wanted to adopt them, but in the end I was persuaded by my ex-husband that it wasn’t the best option for the children. I photographed myself breastfeeding the twins in an image that suggested a white Madonna with two baby black Jesus’s which became controversial. I was commenting on the new form of neocolonialism espoused by the Church, using myself as a symbol of white righteousness. The image was purposefully ambivalent—loving, maternal and confrontational. 

Alexandre-Camille Removille:You often use performance art to express complex emotions and concepts. How do you prepare for these performances mentally and emotionally? 

Vanessa Beecroft: I don’t prepare for the performance. I prepare by living a certain life, abstaining as much as possible from the mainstream, living my own version of a contemporary romantic life and always being alert. Many times, I am not prepared for a performance. I just hope that nothing tragic happens. Artistically, regardless of whether the audience is happy or not, I am never satisfied.

 The models are given “Rules of Non-Engagement,” simple instructions to follow during the performance: do not talk, do not smile, do not move too fast, do not move too slow, wait until the end of the performance, you’re like a picture, your action reflects on the others… etc.

Alexandre-Camille Removille: What role does vulnerability play in your artistic process, and how does personal investigation tie into the therapeutic aspect of your work?

Vanessa Beecroft:Vulnerability is in dialectic with invulnerability. Two parties, the audience and the performers, are confronting each other in real time, for the duration of a few hours, without a rational awareness of what is going on or the nature of the confrontation. They are both vulnerable from different positions. The audience is vulnerable in the face of their taboos and the women are vulnerable to the audience’s gaze.

I think the models in my performances express personal issues and these personal issues become universalised by being multiplied by the many women in the groups. What was a particular instance becomes universal by extension to a larger group. I handle my personal conflicts and investigations by projecting them into a larger group of individuals more or less similar to me (at least at the beginning of the work, in the 90’s).

Alexandre-Camille Removille:Given that your work often revolves around body image and gender politics, how has your personal investigation of these themes affected your perception of yourself and society? 

Vanessa Beecroft: I wasn’t fully aware of the themes of my work. I tried to approach my performances as a portrait of a large group of women, similar to how we painted the model in art school. While portraying this woman in the performance, many other traits emerged, mostly not formal, but emotional, social and political. That is when I started to push in that direction, regardless of how that would impact myself socially. Sometimes I went really far and got in trouble.

Alexandre-Camille Removille:In your experience, how has the art world responded to the type of personal investigation you portray in your work? Has there been any resistance or particularly impactful support? 

Vanessa Beecroft: I felt as if art world abandoned me after the initial success. The other worlds embraced me, but I didn’t want to be embraced by them so I tried to use those platforms to further the themes that I couldn’t otherwise investigate. The art world may come back. I became desensitised to these ephemeral worlds that are fundamentally false. I believe in addressing the art world in a historical sense. I had fun pushing my visions, while being financially depleted by these facts.

Alexandre-Camille Removille: In many of your performances, you seem to be exploring issues related to identity and body politics. How have these performances been a means of exploring your own identity?

Vanessa Beecroft: They have been means of exploring my own identity by studying other cases and relativizing mine. Externalizing these issues through my performances perhaps avoids a true healing of the self, which recalls the acts of a saint martyr, which is a hero of mine since a young age (Joan d’Arc, Santa Lucia, Santa Barbara etc.)

Alexandre-Camille Removille:Your work is often characterized by a strong female presence. Can you talk about your intentions behind this focus? 

Vanessa Beecroft: It is self-representation. A portrait. I couldn’t accurately depict anything other than a woman. By being a woman, I can push the subject further. Experimenting on myself first and the group second.

Alexandre-Camille Removille:There have been debates about your work from a feminist perspective, with some critics arguing that it reinforces harmful stereotypes of women. How do you respond to these critiques? 

Vanessa Beecroft: By presenting a group of women naked in front of an audience I am not objectifying the women, I am showing the audience a group of naked women, which triggers them—their beliefs, self-perception, anger, prejudice, and more. The women are placed there for this reason and until they cease to provoke this reaction will continue to be exhibited. The fact that they’re exhibited as art makes them “intellectually safe,” like being on diplomatic ground.

 Alexandre-Camille Removille:You’ve spent a significant part of your career in the United States. How do you navigate your dual sense of belonging to both Italian and American cultures in your work? 

Vanessa Beecroft: I never felt as though I belonged somewhere since I was a child. I relocated to Italy when I had already learned English in London and from that point on, I felt displaced. So what I do is to assimilate the elements to which I feel closer in every culture. Italian language and artistic heritage, music, architecture, landscape. American contemporary spirit, ethnic diversity, power, politics. I absorb culture from other countries too. My work is where all of these elements converge.

Alexandre-Camille Removille: Have you ever felt any tension between your Italian roots and the global, often American-centric, art world? If so, how have you navigated this? 

Vanessa Beecroft: I am probably considered an immigrant. I will never completely adapt to the new country as I don’t need to, and I like to be alien in all countries. The proliferation of my work is probably compromised by this, but I am not running a business. As long as the work itself is not compromised I am happy with the discrepancies. 

Alexandre-Camille Removille: What learnings or insights have you gained from projects that didn’t materialise as planned?

Vanessa Beecroft: Many projects didn’t materialise as I’d hoped. The learning is that certain topics are untouchable politically and that the wider world is one. And it is all connected and self-sustaining.

Alexandre-Camille Removille:How do you decide whether to persevere with a difficult project or to let it go? Are there specific factors or considerations that guide this decision?

Vanessa Beecroft: If I decide that a project is worth pursuing, I will continue until it is completed. Unfortunately the project sometimes gets artistically weakened by complications and adversities. 

Alexandre-Camille Removille: What role does your family play in your creative process? Do they influence your work in any direct or indirect ways? 

Vanessa Beecroft: As they participate in my life, they influence the work too. They humanize me and therefore indirectly affect my perception of the world, of other human beings and my life experience. My son Dean, for example, helps me in the creation of music and photography, I photographed my daughter and in general I created a large photo album of them which isn’t public.

Alexandre-Camille Removille: Many of your performances are known to provoke discomfort in the viewer. How intentional is this in your work? What do you hope the audience gains or learns from this discomfort? 

Vanessa Beecroft: Initially I sought to apply the Brechtian idea of staging the drama, giving clues to the audience from which they might come to their own ideal conclusion or synthesis. As the audience resisted, I started pushing harder. Developing concepts to provoke a reaction. Making them graphic. I could only present the problems with paint or mise-en-scène. I thought the audience to be educated and righteous. I didn’t think the art audience needed to learn anything, but they did. I want the audience to go home touched and to think about what they saw as if it was real.

Alexandre-Camille Removille: Vanessa, looking back over your career so far, what impact do you hope your work has had?  

Vanessa Beecroft: It is almost like a dream. Today I see the world I was dreaming of as a child, visualised. Many ideas and images I had in my mind are now current. Aesthetics mostly, but also fashion and images of women, colors, patterns. Many times they appear differently to how I envisaged them, but now they exist so that I can move forwards towards new dreams.

Richard Kern

I try to sit on a fence where one foot is in one world and one foot is in the other world

Richard Kern, the iconic photographer and counterculture figure, has been capturing the gritty, unapologetic essence of downtown New York City for over four decades. His work explores themes of sexuality, fetishism, and power dynamics, pushing boundaries and challenging societal norms. Kern’s photographs are a raw and honest reflection of his subjects, capturing their vulnerability and strength in equal measure.

Born in North Carolina in 1954, Kern moved to New York City in the late 1970s, quickly becoming a fixture of the city’s underground scene. He began his career as a filmmaker, producing a series of experimental films that explored taboo themes and challenged traditional cinematic conventions. However, it was his photography that would ultimately earn him widespread recognition and acclaim.

Kern’s work is characterized by its rawness and intimacy, with his photographs often featuring his subjects in unguarded moments. He has a unique ability to capture the complexity and contradictions of his subjects, revealing their innermost desires and fears. His photographs are not for the faint of heart, often depicting explicit sexual acts and fetishistic scenes.

Despite the controversial nature of his work, Kern has maintained a loyal following of fans and admirers throughout his career. He has exhibited his work in galleries and museums around the world, and his photographs have been featured in numerous publications, including Vice, Purple, Interview, and i-D, just to name a few.

In this interview with writer Federico Sargentone, Kern discusses his approach to photography, the themes that inspire him, and the challenges he has faced as a counterculture icon. He offers insight into his creative process, sharing anecdotes and stories from his long and storied career. Through his words and images, Kern invites us to explore the darker, more complex corners of the human experience, challenging us to confront our own desires and fears.

I was reading the essay Matthew Higgs wrote in your catalogue. I’d like to start there, with the definition he gives of your practice as a portraitist. What do you think of the status of poetic portraitist that you have acquired in the art world? Does that fit you? Or is it something that maybe people have said about you that you don’t like?

I like that definition. I’m glad that Matthew made that definition, even though I wouldn’t have necessarily come up with that myself. Still, it’s very convenient for me to use in my bio. You know, if you’re an artist and a critic kind of clarifies what you do for you, it may sometimes come off as unsettling. But I’ve known Matthew for a long time, and his definition was a nice, precise way to look at myself, which I had never done before if that makes sense.

Do you usually try not to analyse your work by yourself?

Oh, you can’t help but analyse it, can you? I studied art and philosophy. And one of the things they taught in art theory (or whatever you wanna call it), this is back in the ‘70s, was that you had to be able to construct a system of meaning around your work. It had to relate to you and have some kind of justification. So I’m constantly trying to justify everything, myself, but not necessarily in public. And I gotta say a lot of those naked women photographs are very hard to justify.

I’m sure! Even though that is still within the canonical form of portraiture, there is a rich history there that you could go over. 

I didn’t realise it at the time but (that type of portrait) is quite confrontational, my old work was all confrontational: the films and things like that were extremely in-your-face — the emphasis was on trying to provoke people. The naked women stuff or naked men or whatever is also a cheap way to create big controversy. The trick for me is to instil in the picture some kind of meaning that the viewer would have to get past the controversy to see. But this method is not applicable to every single photograph, of course. You know, there are a lot of photographs of just people standing around looking pretty or whatever.

Yeah, absolutely. We could also say that the controversial element if you will, is part of your formal delivery of the work, right? It’s as if it’s a technique for a painter. It very much does a similar trick for your images, no?

I try to sit on a fence where one foot is in one world and one foot is in the other world. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve mellowed quite a bit and don’t feel as confrontational as I used to, in my work. I am so far removed from it, I can’t even tell, you know? Maybe it is controversial. I have no idea anymore.

Did you face a lot of backlash throughout your career?

Oh yes.

And how did you cope with it? I am very curious about it. Was that something you went for, in a way? Or you weren’t expecting it?

For me, the logical thing was to be provocative. But then I’d go, ‘What do you mean, I didn’t do anything!’ It’s kind of like that, this weird attitude of provoking people, and then not understanding why they are upset. That has happened to me so many times! I thought what I was doing was completely fine, but then it really bothered people. Then again, I don’t claim to be super intellectual, super smart or anything.

It’s not a matter of claiming it. But if you look at how, perhaps, a new generation of photographers-slash-artists are incorporating that same aspect of controversy in their work, they are super indebted to your ethos. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Haji Shin, she’s based in New York and I think she incorporated in her work your legacy of controversial image-making. I think that the controversial element has been quite adopted as a language nowadays.

That’s probably true, yeah. 

I’m not familiar with a lot of people’s work nowadays, but I do notice that it’s definitely more women photographers doing that kind of stuff than it is men. Most of the photographers I know now are young women.

Yeah, 100%. Critics have described your work as voyeuristic.

Yeah. I totally agree with that one. Every photographer is a voyeur, in a way, I think.

What’s your relationship with that claim?

Oh, I’m totally aware of that and down with it. I mean, my best days on the street are not so much in the winter, but in the summer. I have this little tiny camera I carry around, I get a lot of great shots and just beautiful people on the streets. And a friend of mine described this as, quoting a poet he knew, a two-minute romance, where you pass someone on the street, and you’re in love with him/her for two minutes. 

You don’t catch their eyes but see them as you go. Then you continue with your day, you know, keep walking. I’m taking photos of a lot of these 2-minute romantic people. Most of the time I don’t even know what I photograph, because I’m not looking through the lens. I’m just holding the camera down in my hand by my side. I get home and I go ‘Oh, I can’t wait to see what I photographed.’

Shot with DXO ONE Camera

I look at the photos, and sometimes I realise I’ve got really great stuff. But I can’t even remember seeing them, you know? 

But anyway, that’s a strictly voyeuristic thing. And I also shoot photos out my windows all the time. I’ve got an apartment in Miami Beach for the last two or three years, and I’ve been shooting people on the street out my window, walking onto the beach and stuff. That’s just an ongoing thing; sometimes they see me photographing them but usually, they don’t.

«I’m a voyeur, and always have been.»

Do people get offended sometimes?

I can stand in front of someone, look at them, and when I put a camera in front of my eye, they begin to look magical. But that’s regarding a regular shoot. I shot someone yesterday, it was a fashion job, and I’m looking at the photo through the camera going,  ‘Wow, she looks really good’.

How’d you come across the fashion-image maker career?

I don’t know; honestly, I’ve been doing it lately to pay the bills.

It is something you might enjoy, no? As a professional practice.

It all depends on who I’m shooting and the situation…sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it isn’t.

There have been years where I do it and periods where I don’t, but lately, I’ve been doing a lot of it.

And at the beginning, were you treating it as an art project?

No, it’s more of an occupation thing, but I tried to get a few of my shots in there. There’s one series I’ve been working on forever with girls with their cell phones. And it goes back to before everyone had an iPhone. And during this job yesterday, I shot a couple of shots like that for myself while we were doing the fashion shoot – I always stick some of this stuff in the shot list.

I’m so fascinated by this kind of marriage between the art image and, let’s say, commercial images. Your work perfectly summarises that in a way. You could look at one of your artworks and one of your magazine shoots and maybe no differences would catch your eye, in terms of the involvement of the same compositional methods, sometimes the same subjects.

It’s more doable with today’s fashion and clothes. It is much more relatable and similar to (those of) my art images. I mean, now, when people work with me, they let me keep it much simpler regarding styling. A long time ago, I would be doing these jobs, and they would have these ridiculous clothes, and those photos are pretty useless to me now, but if I can keep it looking really natural with something someone would actually be wearing, then it works for me. The marriage you mentioned might take place. In some jobs they just let me do whatever I want, which is great! 

I can do every single kind of shot I’d like to do. And yeah, that’s fun.

And do you have a studio practice?

No, I have a pretty large apartment here in New York, and that used to be a studio. But then I had a kid, got married and a bunch of other things took place in my life. So now it’s more of a living space. But I do break it down into a studio every once in a while. I’m doing that next week. I just move everything around and create a studio in it. So yeah, sometimes I work from home and use it as a location.

And speaking of New York, what do you think about how things changed? Back then there was this kind of huge community around music and art as well. What’s your take on the present?

As far as I know, from talking to my son and some other young models, there’s still a gigantic community of all these different underground scenes that I don’t know of because I don’t go out at night much anymore. But all that stuff still exists. It may have been a bit more grimy or dirty when I was young. New York has gotten much more cleaned up now.

I know it seems a dumb question but how did you find your voice within that community? When did you realise that you were an artist?

I still haven’t realised that. I would call myself a photographer.  That way I can avoid anyone saying I’m a bad artist [laughs].

But who cares, right? I was wondering though, during that time, you collaborated a lot with musicians and other artists. Is it something that you’ve lost interest in now? Is it not as exciting anymore?

Well, I still do a lot of that stuff, but I’m not going to do it as much. Certainly, I won’t do it for free! Back then I would just do anything even if there was no money involved. But I don’t really have the time to do that anymore. But there’ve been people who’ve been my assistants or models who want to try something who I collaborate with for fun. An example is this Italian woman, Maria de Stefano, who worked for me for free for a long time and has this big project going on in Italy about migrant teenagers and their stories. She worked with me and then she went off and did her own thing. 

A model I worked with when she was young went off to become a hugely successful painter. I helped her turn an idea she had into a short film and shot it for her.  This kind of thing has happened a few times and it’s always good for me to see.  

What do you think changed in the world of photography throughout the years and how has your practice evolved?

Well, the most obvious changes are digital photography and the iPhone! That pretty much made anybody a photographer now, which is fine with me. 


Yeah. What I’d say is that I started when the film was the technology and there weren’t a million photographers. That’s the main difference I’m seeing. And I consider myself lucky to have started when I did and still be doing it. There is one thing I remember from art school. It wasn’t necessarily told to me, but I realised that whatever you start doing, you have to never stop. You have to do it all the time. There are the Sunday afternoon photographers or the Sunday painters who do it in their spare time as a hobby…but whatever you’re doing, you just have to keep doing it. I’ve seen a lot of people fall by the wayside over the years but I don’t know why I keep doing it. I just keep doing what I’ve always done I guess because it’s fun for me.

Since we’re talking about continuity, what’s the next project you’re working on? 

I have three or four books coming out pretty soon. One is a book of Polaroids I took as test shots. That’s called ‘Polaroids’.  Another one contains black and white photos from 1980 to 2005 that have never been published. It’s called ‘Gray’. ‘Cops’ is a fanzine companion to a zine I did two years ago called ‘Cars’. It’s photos of cops in NYC in the 1970s and 80s. And there’s another one called ‘Incorrect’, a collection of photographs of people holding grey cards. Before the current cameras, you had to hold up a grey card at the beginning of every shot, so that you could make sure you got the colour right.  People aren’t posing, they’re just standing there or whatever, and none of the photos have been retouched or corrected, so it’s a book of messed-up photographs.

That’s amazing! Books are of course a core part of your practice. You’ve done tons of books, and many of them have legendary status. What is your approach when you start a new book? Like, how do you work on that? Do you have a specific process for editing down images, what defines for you the bookmaking practice?

Well, it takes forever. In the past, when I was doing books like ‘New York Girls’, I’d do those with Taschen. And they were specifically interested in photographs of naked girls. That’s what they wanted and for a long period, that’s all I was doing.

But those big publishers don’t do that kind of book anymore. It’s completely unprofitable for them now because of the internet. So the books I’ve done the last few years have all been with a small press because they let me just pick a topic, make me a book, and then publish it. An example of that, and probably the best example is the book ‘Medicated’. 

I shot girls who were on medication for about five years. At the same time, I interviewed them about the medications they were on. Those interviews are the text that accompanies the photos in the book.  Books where I get to do a specific topic, are the best thing for me. I backed off on shooting nude because it’s a lot easier to get stuff published. 

I have Cars which I love, by the way. 

Oh, you like that book? Yeah, that’s a nice one. The cop book is the companion of that one. Same format and everything, same time period. 

But I was gonna say also when I’m shooting people with their clothes on, they still look just as sexy as without their clothes. More provocative, I guess provocative is the word I’m looking for.

One thing that gets me thinking [regarding nudes and representation] is Instagram. Everything is a minefield there. Everything has to be carefully thought out because you get attacked by this group or that group or whatever. And that’s why I like to do books because no one can attack you directly. [laughs]

I haven’t thought about it before, but I’m just realising now that your images have, in a way, transitioned in use-value. Back then, porn movies and online porn weren’t aligned, and there was less circulation. So your images were treated as pornography by publishers, you mentioned Taschen and their interest, and users as well.

I shot real pornography at one time, so I can totally understand that.

But today, maybe, since there’s so much porn online, and things have gotten much more hardcore, those images have transitioned as acceptable in a way, sexy, to quote you, or provocative, but not pornographic. Does that make sense?

Well, also, when an image gets about 20 years old, it no longer is seen as pornographic. Really, I mean, unless it’s hardcore, then it’s going to always be pornographic. But at about the 20-year mark, they just become nostalgic, people look at it in a completely different way. When I first showed ‘New York Girls’ photographs, it upset a lot of people. Art critics mainly but they’re easily unsettable. But now, the same kind of people look at those photographs with affection because they had seen them in their youth. Another good example of that is the movie ‘Fingered’, which caused so much controversy when I made it in ’86. Wherever it was shown there was always a problem! Now it’s in the MoMa collection! That kind of stuff happens all the time.

«Think about ‘Un Chien Andalou’, people ran out of the theatre screaming when it was first screened and now it’s an art classic.»

Every invention had this kind of shock value at its inception. Science, religion, art: everything that breaks up a determined pattern meets some resistance. But I also understand you perfectly when you’re talking about the nostalgia effect. What do you think about the duration of an image? You basically said it, but I wanted to see if you had more. Can images transform throughout their own life and maybe tell different stories?

A good example is something I put on Instagram recently, two girls from Smith College laying on a bed – a couple. They look pretty punk. It was from 2004. A young journalist had written to me asking if I knew this image was all over the place in the gay and lesbian culture. I wasn’t aware of that. He said that image was everywhere and he was writing his thesis on it. I put it on Instagram, and then another friend of mine who’s 25 told me it was everywhere on Tumblr, and that it had been there forever. So that way, I found out that it was an iconic image.

What’s your relationship with galleries and shows, at the moment?

I just had a show in Switzerland. And that was the first one I’ve had in a long time. They wanted to show very old photographs, [laughs] which is fine. The photos were from 35 years ago so any kind of controversy attached to them has been removed. But I think because of wokeness, many galleries I used to work with are really paranoid about working with somebody like me now, but maybe not. I don’t really know.

I can see what you mean. I think there are some huge structural problems with cancel culture and the art world right now, most people are maybe scared to show works that are controversial, like maybe yours. 

Even if the work shown per se isn’t controversial, it doesn’t matter, they look at your whole past now. That’s where the controversy comes in. But it seems to have turned around quite a bit. It’s almost as if wokeness became kind of uncool. And there’s a reaction to it.

«Every scene eventually provokes an opposite reaction!»


  1. Cristina with Guns, 1990
    One of the first series I did was women with guns. I had a slightly paranoid friend who supplied all the guns for the shoots. Shot in my living room in NYC.
  2. Toni Garn for Numero Berlin, 2016
    This shoot was a cover shoot for the first issue of Numero Berlin. 
  3. Lung Leg’s shirt, 1987 (note I had the wrong date on the file I sent). 
    Lung Leg was the focus of many of the films I made in the 1980’s including You Killed Me First 1985 and Fingered 1986. Lung is an excellent painter. Back then she was obsessed with Demons and this shirt shows one of them. She made several Demon short films in the 90’s. Now she paints animals and does commissions for private collectors.
  4. Hunters, 2006
    Shot in upstate NY with my ex-wife (in the orange) and a model from Chicago. A friend in upstate NY offered to let me shoot on backcountry farmland he owned where he secretly grew marijauna. He supplied the guns. 
  5. Julia in her bedroom, 2017
    Julia Fox in the NYC apartment she was living in back in 2017. 
  6. Kemp from GQ Italia, 2008 
    Model Charlotte Kemp Muhl shot in her NYC apartment. For 2-3 years I was shooting women for GQ Italia.
  7. Test polaroid, 2003. 
    This was a test shot for an early shoot I did for Double magazine and as often was the case, the polaroid was better than the shots I took.
  8. Naproxen, Serteraline, etc, 2016. 
    One project I focused on for many years concerned young people taking doctor’s prescribed drugs.  The result was the short film Medicated (2013)(which can be seen on my website) and the book Medicated published in 2021.
  9. Hand in mouth, 2000
    I was shooting this girl for a “leg” magazine in Los Angeles when she said “I can put my whole hand in my mouth” so of course i said “let’s shoot that”. 
  10. Smith College Couple, 2004.  
    A friend attending Smith College suggested that I come shoot and interview some of the students there as it was known as a lesbian friendly environment. She offered to cast.  I pitched the story to ID Magazine.  

    All works courtesy of Richard Kern.

Yolanda Andrade

Dios es bisexual, Oaxaca, 1994

Street photography and cultural identity

Yolanda Andrade (b.1950) is a Mexican photographer and one of the most prominent figures in the artistic landscape of Latin America. After graduating from the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York, in 1977, Andrade developed a career as a street photographer, experimenting with both analogue and digital photography, gaining international recognition as one of the few artists capable to capture the identity of a specific city and culture.

An accomplished teacher of photography, Andrade has taught since 1992 at the Escuela de Fotografia Nacho López and Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City, as well as the Instituto Tecnológico of Monterrey, Mexico. Among other accolades, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in 1994 as well as grants from the Mexican National Endowment for Culture and the Arts to fund her publications and projects in 1993, 1997, 2000 and 2003. Her work has appeared in more than ten photographic books, including Los velos transparenteslas transparencias veladas (1988) and Pasión mexicana / Mexican passion (2002).

Your work fits in the broad category of documentary photography, or as you prefer calling it, street photography. Can you tell me about how you started and what prompted you to photograph in the first place?

I started taking photographs at an early age. I enjoyed photographing my cousins with an old camera, which I was the only one to use. I remember that I went to the camera store to have the film developed and asked to have a new one installed. I started working when I was 15 years old, when as a gift to myself I bought a Kodak Retinette IA. It was a fine camera, manufactured in Germany, and you had to set the shutter speed, the lens opening and the distance. I learned the basics reading the instruction manual, and following what the film box said about the conditions of light: sunny, open shadow, shadow, etcetera. I started by capturing vacation shots and simple moments taken from my daily life. 

Afterwards, until 1973, my interest was to study theatre and movies. I attended an acting workshop for about three years. That was the year when my mother died and I had a series of changes in my life, which made me lose interest in what I thought was a vocation in theatre art. I needed to find a new interest related to the creative fields besides my daily job, so I turned my eyes again to photography. In the lab of a photo club in Mexico City I learned how to develop film and how to print in black and white, with the aid of photo magazines. In 1976 I decided that I wanted to make my passion a true profession, so I went to study photography at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY. It was at this institution that I got to meet the most important street photographers of the time, like Robert Frank, Walker Evans and Lee Friedlander, among others, whose photo books made a great impact in my later work as a street photographer.

Looking at an overview of your pictures there is a clear switch around the year 2000, in which you suddenly leave black and white analogue photography for digital and colour. Could you tell me what prompted this change in your practice and in what way it affected your work?

Switching to digital cameras and colour was going to happen sooner or later. I think that for some time I was reluctant to make the change, but with an invitation that Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer made to a group of photographers to make a digital book in one day, which meant to shoot the images, design the book and upload it to internet the same night, prompted me to buy my first digital camera. At first, it was a slow process because I had to learn a new technique, but after a while I became fascinated by the colours in my pictures and finding a new way of seeing. This was the beginning of a new phase for me; traveling abroad became more frequent and photographing other places besides Mexico City was a refreshing new start as a photographer. Walking the streets of new cities, discovering new surroundings made me feel as excited as when I printed my first black and white photograph in the darkroom.

Cebras Tijuana, 1998

Talking about your working process, it’s clear that you think in terms of series, every single picture is part of a broader thematic umbrella, in the attempt to tell a story or simply to convey the impression of a specific cultural phenomenon. Your passion for photo books is therefore explained: they allow you to deliver your work to the fullest. Thinking in these terms, when do you know when a work is finished?

I would like to add something to your previous question. My interest in photo books started when I was studying at the Visual Studies Workshop, where there was a whole library and research centre that allowed us to explore the best photo books in the history of photography. But to have a book of my photographs published was a complex issue. The new digital technology opened to me the opportunity to play, explore, design and publish small, limited edition photo books on digital press. This way of editing my own books allowed me to publish a second edition, gave me the freedom to change the sequence or decide to let out some photographs or add new ones. To answer your question, I think it’s hard to know when a work is finished, as you keep producing images from recent shootings or you rediscover some pictures from reviewing old work. 

In general, the medium of photography is the attempt to freeze time: how does this practice relate to memory, and the time passing in an ever-frenetic world that constantly changes?

Every image, at least in my work, is a fragment of a memory of what I’ve seen and experienced in my life. One single photograph, even in the fast passing of time we are dealing with in our contemporary world, contains several layers of information about what we remember, what we observe in the actual taking of a photograph, and what we add when we edit and process the image. These actions are actually like a blending of the past, present and future.

Guerrillera gay, CDMX, 1994

«What intrigues me more about photography is to freeze an instant in the flow of time, and turn it into an ever-lasting image.»

Relating to this, we talked about social media and the way we perceive images nowadays, consuming enormous amounts of visual information at a high speed. I am curious to know, how do you think this new fruition method impacts social work?

Artefacts like cell phones, with high quality cameras to take photographs, are evolving at a fast pace every moment, offering automatic programs that produce perfect and beautiful images at the hands of millions of people around the world. They are the equivalent of the first Kodak cameras made for the amateurs. Perhaps, in this case, the themes are the same as in the past: family shots, vacation, social gatherings, sunsets and outstanding landscapes, but far away from the work of photographers, who are dedicated to build a body of work.

«In my opinion, the over production of ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’ images by amateurs complicates the comprehension of photography by the general public, especially when they are exhibited in galleries or museums.»

In a previous interview, while describing the first years of your work and the photographs you took in Mexico City, you stated that:

Life in the streets of Mexico City is the common denominator of my photographs. What I propose is the presentation, from a personal viewpoint, of different aspects of Mexican culture: images of death, religious processions, political events, social life, street theatre, popular culture, sexual identity and the combat against AIDS. The sum of all these themes also constitutes a visual autobiography.

In what ways does your work constitute an autobiographical reflection? How do you combine the individual with the collective?

All my photographs reflect my interests, my ideas, my way of thinking, as well as my experiences and my personal history. All together they are a sort of autobiography where the personal and the collective come together, creating one single story. 


Photographs · Courtesy of Yolanda Andrade

Ziyu Wang


Photographs · Courtesy of Ziyu Wang

Gabriele Galimberti

Recording society and its patterns, arrangements and faces is Galimberti

Homes are provisional. Society lives within borders and over bones. Recording society and its patterns, arrangements and faces is Galimberti. The Italian-born Gabriele Galimberti is an internationally renowned photographer and visual storyteller. With a committed gaze, he observes and recounts scenes of being with a practice that is as creative as it is concrete. Entering his subject’s private world, he captures images of people at their jobs and in their homes, with their belongings, families or certain possessions to research and align intra-human patterns across the world. Exhibiting on a global scale, Galimberti works across commercial fields, collaborates with National Geographic and maintains a steady production of his stories. 

His lens is nearly within touching distance of subjects, and the product is an analogue of involved intimacy and exposed vulnerabilities. His techniques render a symbolic, slightly unsettling representation of subjects as being behind one-way glass in another room. His approachable character and honest intentions allow him to engage with his subjects and become a part of their lives in the intimacy of their homes. Galimberti’s work offers perspectives in a clear-cut, highly-descriptive form. Everything he captures is sharply focused, developing an image over time. 

One might say, therefore, that Carter has rapidly evolved into the photographic equivalent of a visual statistician. Indeed, Galimberti’s projects emphasise a fine-tuned address of social, economic and cultural contexts without departing from the documentary tradition of photography. He sits down with NR to discuss his practice, thoughts and intentions for his ongoing work. 

The image of America has many iterations. Emanuel Leutze’s Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way (1860) and John Ghast’s image of the land as a holy ground in American Progress (1872) had a sharp promise of infinite beauty and pushed the land into one which was a spiritual resource. Then, in the 19th Century, Matthew Brady brought photography to the table with his documentation of the Civil War. Suddenly the land of the free appeared spoiled, the sunset decolourised, and soldiers soiled. His images changed the image of the US and, as put by Robert Hughes, changed the idea of what war was, ‘like TV for Vietnam’. Similarly, Gabriele Galimberti shifts the focus of reality into a newer, more contemporary slide. His work echoes conceptions of place and person in relation to their purpose as human beings and the meaning assigned to the products that surround them. He highlights an exquisite variety of human life in the most intimate of locations: a home is a spiritual resource, possessions act as conduits for human expression, and Galimberti changes the idea of who we are. 

You completed your project, The Ameriguns, three years ago, but you were just in the United States a few days ago. How did it feel to be back? 

I was in Washington DC for National Geographic, which is based there. They were having their annual meeting, so I stayed for five days before going to Los Angeles for a few meetings. Work-wise, it’s a good city. I always find good connections there, especially since I’ve been working for NatGeo since 2016; in their building, you can meet a lot of really interesting people who go in and out, whether photographers or explorers. When I started being a photographer, I wanted to work for National Geographic, so when that happened a few years ago, it was incredible. 

Do you travel there a lot? 

I actually come to the states pretty often, and I’ve been back a couple of times since I took my last picture of the series (in January 2020). I’ve been going there for the past 20 years, and it’s the place I’ve been to the most outside of Italy — I’ve probably been there more than 40 times. On my first road trip to America, I went to Houston and drove to Austin, and on the drive, I probably saw 20 gun shops on the sides of the roads. That stuck in my mind. I would see McDonald’s, and then a gun shop, and then Mcdonald’s and a gun shop. 

The late writer and critic A.A. Gill wrote in his book, To America with Love that ‘Guns in America’s story are a constant, a plot device, like coffee cups in European films. Guns are Hollywood’. Your work depicting Americans with their firearms sparked considerable conversation. How did that all start? 

I was in Kansas for a National Geographic shoot four years ago. On one of my days off in the middle of November, I was driving outside of Kansas City and saw a huge gun shop in the middle of nowhere. For the first time ever, I walked in. I was curious to see what was inside, and when I entered, I realised they didn’t just sell handguns but war-level firearms. I started to speak with some of the customers, and one of the customers was at the counter. I asked, ‘Is this the first gun you are buying?’ to which he replied, ‘no, of course not, I have more than sixty’. It came to me to ask, ‘can I come to take a picture of you and your guns’. The first photo was completely natural, without the project of Ameriguns in mind. A few days later, it happened again in Dallas, and I decided to do some research and immediately found out the numbers. 

Your images in this series conveyed these numbers more than just people and their guns. What numbers did they show? 

In America, there are more privately-owned guns than people. There are 1.3 guns per person in America, but then you discover that only one-third of Americans own guns; that means there are five guns per person who owns a gun. Then, counting all the privately-owned guns in the world, 48% of them are in the USA, which constitutes 4% of the global population. It’s a lot, so I thought, I want to photograph these numbers. 

You quite literally put the statistics and the facts on the floor. What were your intentions for the series? 

I wanted to understand more, so that’s what I did. After mass shootings, there would be waves of popularity for my photos, going onto Twitter and on the media. Mass shootings are a huge problem in America, but it’s not, in my opinion, the biggest problem related to firearms. Analysing the 2018 statistics, there were nearly 40,000 gun-related deaths, and 77 people were due to mass shootings; the larger number of people (more than 100 people dying every day from gunshots) is almost normal. But, with mass shootings, especially in schools, the media talks about it. 

Out of the 500 people I contacted, I ended up photographing around 50 people. I went pretty much everywhere in America and photographed in 32 states. There are many things I liked and photographed in the country, so it wasn’t the only project I made there, but one of the aspects of American society that triggered my curiosity was their relationship with guns. 

This bare-bones bluntness to the concept has translated throughout many of your series, including your work with National Geographic. How does this line of work with National Geographic differ from your personal practice? 

It’s really stimulating working for them. I’ve taken three assignments from National Geographic, and you work alongside the photo editor. You create a conversation with them, and when you reach an idea of how you want to create the story, then you go and shoot it. It’s one of the best work experiences I have had in my life. It is a magazine that cares a lot about photography and the quality of work they publish. The people there know what they do, and the whole team are great. 

Many of your compositions have an intimacy that glazes over nostalgia and incarnates a realism in subject matter and context. When did you begin formulating your distinctive style? 

The love I have for photographing people in their homes started in 2009-10. Over those two years, I was working for the Italian Magazine La Republica. I made a project, Couchsurfing, where I travelled for two years all over the world — over 50 countries, I think — and I used the Couchsurfing social network (a sort of Airbnb for free). I was hosted by people in 58 countries, reporting stories for the magazine from a person’s home, and every week had a new chapter in a different place. The story was about the host and their life for a week. I would take photos, maybe go to work with my host or visit the school with them and take photos. 

You take photographs that are about something. They are more than what they are of and step outside the realm of literal relation into a heightened contextual language. How did your view as narrator come into the picture with Couchsurfing

It was amazing because I got to do this work across Africa, Asia, Alaska and everywhere. That was the first time I pointed the camera towards normal people and normal lives. Beforehand, I was always looking to find special stories that were of interest and the media’s interest, but when I did Couchsurfing, I thought, wait for a second, this is interesting; it’s interesting watching normal people’s lives because you can learn a lot of things from them. I was super lucky to have the opportunity to do this project for two years in so many countries, meeting people from different religions, different cultures and different everything: each place gave me a different piece of something. I was so curious to see how these people lived, and I wouldn’t take my camera with me all the time; there were days I wouldn’t bring it with me because I was just living with these people. I never take pictures of somebody without knowing them, I need to understand something about them to photograph them. 

Does this stripping down to the essentials create a narrative? What makes you most engaged with your work? 

What I really love to do is photograph people where they live. I like to enter people’s houses and take photos of that person where they live in their environment, and that’s the common line in all my projects. But I also like to work in advertising and creating sets from zero. Sometimes, I’ve shot a few campaigns for clients where we created scenes out of nothing. In that case, it’s more of a collaboration where I am there as the photographer, and then there are set designers who fill the scene. With people in their homes, every time I do a project, I tell my subjects that they have to be patient. I’m not going there to take a snapshot, I’m coming to take one or two days of your life. It’s always a collaboration between me and the subject. 

Do you believe that your work is emotional? Is the human reaction simply an outcome of images created to solely inform? 

Yes, I think some of my stories are emotional. Everybody can have an emotional reaction to every story, so it depends upon the person. When I present my work, I always see people getting close to my work, and they do react. I’m happy to see people being emotional about what I do and what they say. Whether they are reading my books or at my presentations, it’s nice to feel that what you do has a sense of meaning. It means you are going in a good direction. 

What project makes you most emotional? 

My grandmother’s book, In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World. I grew up with my grandmother, and there are lots of memories related to that book. The reason I made the book was that, while I was travelling for my Couchsurfing project, my grandmother was extremely worried about the food I was eating. That was her only concern, and so I said, don’t worry, ‘I am going to have dinner with other grandmothers because they know how to feed me for sure’. So, I started taking these photos of recipes and of the grandmothers every week, and I was sending these photos to my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother would relax. And at the end, I looked over all these images and recipes and thought I could make a book out of them, so I did it. I think it’s my greatest success because they printed 25,000 copies of the book in English, and it sold out, and then we had 14 different editions in different languages. It’s weird because the book is a cookbook and not a photography book, and there are photos in it, but if you look for it in a shop, it is in the cooking section. I made it because it was a homage to my grandmother. I remember going back home to her and telling her about my trips and the food that I tried, and sometimes I would cook some of the recipes for her to try. 

Honing into your series Home Pharma, what was the impetus to capture the relationship between person and pill? Is this a very personal relationship? 

It’s personal because when you show the medicines you use or have in your house, you have them because you have certain needs or fears. It really opens the door to intimacy. That was a project I worked on for National Geographic when they were preparing an issue about Health. I proposed the idea of going to 20 countries and looking at what medicine people had in their homes. It was easier to ask people to show me their medicines rather than guns, but when you show such a thing, you say a lot about yourself and where you live. Certain countries had people that tended to rely on medicine a lot, but other countries had less trust in them. The places where I found strong relationships between medicine and people were France, Switzerland and the United States. It doesn’t happen as much in Africa or the Caribbean. 

Is it hard to find a balance between the intimate subjects (and their possessions) with their presentation? 

It was interesting to see that while I was shooting, people would lose their shyness and end up bringing out more and more of what they had in their medicine cabinets. It was a step-by-step process as people can be protective and not want to show you everything. It is an interesting way to measure shyness and fear. 

Your images are uncondescending and honest. Does their formal composition shift often? Do you still experiment? 

There’s a certain type of photography that I am very confident in, but I’ve worked on a few things that are outside of that. I worked on a project with National Geographic on the concept of ‘Genius’ and what it means to be a genius. The story was split into three chapters, divided by Albert Einstein, Picasso and Leonardo Da Vinci. How do you make stories of these people? You can’t take photos of them, so together with my photo editor and another photographer, we worked as a team to create a narrative with these three characters. It was really challenging, but I find challenges really fun. 

The photographs, as compositional and separate entities from their subjects, convey respect for the scene. The light and angles in your style express a vantage point that leaves room for clear sight and observation. For instance, the eye level of your subjects transfers between adults and children. Do you spend a large amount of time preparing for an image? 

I don’t take many photos. For a project like Couchsurfing, once I had the right picture, I could leave my camera at home and not take it out with me. Once I am satisfied with the portrait, the focus is on the story. I take photos of what I want and need for the story. When I find out what the image will be, I go looking for it, and when it’s found, I’m happy. With Ameriguns, I needed six or seven hours to create the scene; every single gun has to be in the right place, I needed to sort out the lighting, and then maybe I take 50 photos but build up the picture. 

How do people feel when they are placed on the scene? 

It’s a bit of a surprise for them. Most of the time, they are having fun. Something weird and unusual is happening, and they feel like they are a part of it. Most of the time, people think that when you ask, ‘can I take a picture of you’ it will be a quick snap, but when they have to do it with me, it’s a completely different thing. Some people don’t care if it takes five hours because they are having fun, and they like to be included in the process; for example, while we are setting up the picture, we could be having a conversation. In the process of creating photos, many things are happening and it’s a process with people together. 

You have been in more homes than, well, most people. And you are quite well travelled. Is immersing into lives and places fundamental for your current practice? How does it feel to be allowed to probe and surround yourself with varying lives? 

I’ve noticed that photography now is a language that connects people from everywhere. Everybody speaks that language, and you can look at an Instagram of somebody in China, not speak Chinese but understand something about that person. When I am with my subjects, and they see the lighting and process, they are curious because they also take photos every day, but they find it interesting how a professional does it. I like to interact with people in this way because I need to keep them happy to be there, especially if the shoot takes five hours. 

Do you use assistants for your projects? 

90% of the time, I’m by myself. I usually have a lot of equipment with me. When I shot Ameriguns, I had an assistant with me for 50% of the project, and he came with me for 20 days. We shared ideas sometimes on scenes and compositions, and I liked having somebody that was a part of my life already. In that case, it was because the scenes were very big. It wasn’t like Home Pharma, where everything was on the table, and I could do everything by myself. 

Does this change with commercial jobs? 

With commercial jobs, I always have one or two assistants, and on most of these jobs, there are quite a few people on set. It’s fun, but when you work on a set like that, 90% of the people are people you only just met. Even if I’m good at communicating with people, sometimes it’s not the same for others, and sometimes I have to work with people I don’t know for a few days, which is not as natural for me. But it’s part of the job. 

Do the impact of your photographs tend to raise a level of controversy? The Balenciaga scandal looks to have been clarified, and you are now finally absolved from culpability. How does that feel? 

It’s a sad story. It was the first time I made a campaign for a fashion brand, and it went so poorly. I was accused of being a paedophile for over two weeks everywhere in the world. They didn’t do anything to protect me, but now a few things are happening; I’m working with some of the media and talking to Balenciaga. I was trapped in something that was not my fault: I was there as a photographer. What they did with the second campaign (with the Supreme Court documents and books) was pretty weird, but a lot of people think I was the mind behind that too. I was not even there. For the first shoot, I was there for two days to take six photos of kids and objects; two of these objects were teddy bear bags. I don’t work in fashion, so when they gave me these bags, I thought they were ugly, ugly like punks. I didn’t see anything weird, but what happened later was incredible: I received over 5000 death threats and people calling me in the middle of the night. I was getting covered by shit, and nobody said a word about it. Now, it’s flipping over and is going in the other direction. I got a lot of positive attention from the major media, with interviews about it and people approaching me about documentaries discussing what happened. But it’s flipping to the other side. 

When it comes to the media and the public, it is quite interesting how even the credits on a shoot can scale a misleading representation of what a photographer’s role is. 

The problem was that they wanted my style of photo for the campaign. Children and toys and children with objects are something I have been shooting for 15 years, so it’s something that is clearly me. So with that vision, it is a lot more ‘me’ than Balenciaga in the eyes of the public. So, when the scandal came out, I think people needed to find somebody to blame, and since these photos are so close to what I have been doing for 15 years, they thought it was my mind behind the bags. When people had these reactions, Balenciaga erased everything from Instagram and the website and then published another campaign made together with Adidas, which was even worse because it felt like it somehow confirmed that there was a message behind these campaigns. It was unfortunate because everybody thought it was me behind the documents and both campaigns, even if I didn’t decide on a single detail about that campaign and was only at the first shoot. 

How does a commercial shoot run? Did the Balenciaga set involve you being the only one controlling the image? 

I was there with 25 other people around me, including the parents of the kids. Everybody was having fun and was there. I thought, OK, I trust these people, so I’ll take the picture. I didn’t see anything weird going on, and I can’t decide to take a photo of something just because I think it was ugly. I was already in Paris, and I already signed the contract. They said, ‘I want you to make the same style of photo for us but with kids and our collection’, so I said yes, because I knew they had bags and sunglasses and it was a commercial. So the first time I saw the collection was after I signed the contract and went to Paris. I had never seen it before, so I was there and saw these punky bags and everything else and the 25 people around me, and if they say the set is OK, then I trust these people and take the picture. I didn’t see anything weird. When something like that is put in front of you, you think, ew, this is ugly. But that’s it. It just looks like a little monster. My nephew is seven or eight years old and plays with monsters, and they are super ugly, but if I put that monster together with Balenciaga’s bags, they would look alike. 

How do you feel about the idea of cancel culture and people being influenced by mass media? 

The media played a big role because many major media sources created stories that were a lot bigger than what it was, and they triggered an atomic bomb. Balenciaga made a huge mistake, especially with how they handled the whole thing. It was weird because they sued a company, then the set designer, and then admitted it was wrong, and they wouldn’t be suing anyone. Even the communication with the scandal was weird, they stopped communicating with me during these days, and I was trying to reach them as I was getting death threats and wanted them to do something. Anyway, it was a sad story, but it’s luckily over at the moment. 


  1. Kitija Shiroma, 29 years old – Honolulu, Hawaii. Kitija Shiroma, Mae to her friends, owns the biggest firing range in the Hawaiian Islands. She owns it with her stepfather, a former military man whom she thinks of as her dad. It was he who instilled in her a passion for firearms. She was 10 at the time and had just moved to Honolulu from her birthplace, Thailand. “I used to watch Hollywood movies. Like any kid, I wanted to learn more about what I saw, so my father would take me hunting with him, up in the mountains. People hunt a lot around here. There are deer and pigs—it’s a rich land. That’s when I started shooting.”  
  2. Noel Hawthorne, 5 years old – South Dallas, Texas. Noel is 100% Texan! His ideas are already very clear, he wants to be a pilot! Play only with airplanes, of all sizes and sometimes with the playstation but only with a flight simulator. His favorite game is to put the little men in lego with the big boing that his father gave him and then make them slide to the bottom of the garden where there is a small pond. He imagines taking the legos on vacation to the lake, then after giving them a bath he puts them back in the plane and takes them home.
  3. Taha, 4 years old – Palestinian Fields, Beirut – Lebanon. Thaha is Palestinian but was born in Beirut, Lebanon where both he and his family have almost no rights. They live in a kind of shantytown with a thousand other people and they all come from Palestine. In order to have water and electricity, the people who live there are forced to illegally connect to the systems that pass nearby, because even these rights are denied to them. Taha doesn’t have many games and when I asked him what his favorite was, he had no doubts and replied: the racing car.
  4. Allenah Lajallab, 4 years old – El Nido – Palawan Island, Philippines. She was born and raised in El Nido, a small town north of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. There are no hospitals in El Nido and she was born at home. Her games are just puppets, her favorite is the orange rabbit, but only because she loves color, while what she doesn’t like is the white bear because it gets dirty too easily.
  5. Floyd and Lesia McMillin, both 49 years old – Topeka, Kansas. Floyd and Lesia McMillin’s enormous home is a showcase of hunting trophies. Stuffed deer, squirrels, ducks and geese, eyes frozen in time, stare as visitors pass through each room. There are quite a few—more than one per room, so at least 20. The sole exception is the bedroom, hung with portraits but otherwise strangely bare. It is here, however, that we find the guns that were used to hunt the animals. Most aren’t loaded, the couple say. Only one or two are ready to be fired at a moment’s notice, “in the defense of the family.” Their collection consists of 65 pieces, and there’s always something new. Each month, the McMillins spend roughly $2,500 on ammunition, accessories and new additions. Their passion for guns has been in their blood since childhood. Both come from families of hunters, people who would spend every moment of leisure time escaping into the great outdoors in search of prey. Floyd first shot a gun with his father, when he was 6 years old. At age 12, he was already spending much of his time pursuing game. At 17, he began participating in shooting contests. Lesia, on the other hand, had never fired a weapon until she was 46, when her husband bought her a Sig Sauer 380 and taught her to use it at the firing range. Until then, while on hunting trips firstly with her father and then her husband, she had only ever given tips and instructions. The McMillins own a very busy gun shop. “65% of our new customers are women who’ve never shot a gun before. Many have gone through something that’s made them want to learn how to defend themselves. Most of them say that, between the time they called the police and the time the officers got there, the worst had already happened. A gun gives them more power, more security.”
  6. Latoya Piper, 32 years old – Huntsville, Alabama. Not many people can say they stopped a mass shooting, but Latoya Piper is one of them. It was the night of December 31, 2018, and she was working as a security guard at the entrance to a club. Two men began to argue, then one of them went back to his car, took out an AK-47 and tried to go into the club, shooting. Latoya responded swiftly. She fired once and he shot back. Then she fired again and was able to stop him. The man did not die. It was Latoya herself who called the first responders who took him to the hospital. That episode only strengthened her convictions about the importance of carrying a gun. “I encourage victims of violent crimes to learn to use guns, to buy them and practice with them. It only takes one bullet to stop a mass shooting,” she says with confidence. Latoya’s familiarity with firearms runs deep. She practically grew up in the sheriff’s office where her father worked. She was 11 when he taught her how to shoot. At just over 20 she was in Iraq, serving in the military. Today, as a veteran, she believes there should be no distinction between ordinary citizens and members of the armed forces. “There’s no sort of firearm that people should be banned from buying. Anything the military has, individuals should be able to have, too.”  I like military-style weapons because they are more powerful. You’re the one who controls the explosion in your hands, the one who directs it. It’s having the ability to control something that powerful with my own two hands. If, tomorrow, the government decided that some of my guns were illegal, I don’t think I’d turn them in. I think I’d ask them to come and get them, and I doubt that they would.  If I don’t have a gun with me, I feel naked.
  7. Dimitri Procofieff, 22 years old – Geneva, Switzerland. To reach Dimitri’s family’s home, a sort of sanctuary for the ecologically-aware wayfarer perched high in the mountains above Geneva, travelers must first traverse over 6 miles of dense forest. It is a very large house, constructed almost entirely of wood and set on the shore of a small lake with a clear view of Mont Blanc. There are no neighbors, no connection with the rest of the world. Everything is zero-environmental-impact, recycled and sustainable. Their energy is produced by wind turbines and solar panels, rainwater is collected and circulated into the house and heat is generated using wood from the nearby forest (but only from trees that are ready to be cut, of course). It’s thanks to that wood that I ended up couchsurfing with Dimitri and his family. Every year they organize a get together, three days when friends, acquaintances and couchsurfers recruited from far and near help cut all the wood needed to heat the house through the winter. Think of it as a sort of jamboree, where you work during the day and at night you party with people from just about everywhere. Dimitri’s also a photographer and, because our paths had crossed once before, I knew about his family’s summer tradition. So it was that I decided to go and claim one of the numerous mattresses he puts out for visiting couchsurfers. Their home may be simple, but it’s very big and Dimitri, his mother and her partner open their door to whoever passes through. Dimitri’s incredible hospitality may be, in part at least, a consequence of his own nomadic history. Born in France in 1989 to a family of Russian origin, he spent his first 15 years moving from one place to another: Paris, Moscow, Tbilisi, Sri Lanka and Belgrade Ð the place where finally, at the age of fifteen, he started to feel at home. He doesn’t have many memories of his early years, apart from the fact that, for some strange reason, his family’s kitchens always seemed to catch fire. When his parents went to live in Senegal, he headed to Geneva, which is where he lives today, surrounded by friends and couchsurfers. As he tells me, «The thing I’m most proud of is having maintained real relationships with friends whom, unfortunately, I only rarely see.”
  8. Eric Arnsberger, 30 years old and Morgan Gagnier. 22 years old – Lake Forest, California. During his eight years in the Army, Eric Arnsberger was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosovo, Russia, Vietnam and several different countries in Africa. He’s been a policeman in New Orleans, one of America’s most violent cities, and he grew up in Florida, where gangs were rife and very mean. “When I was a kid, I experienced all kinds of violence. I was stabbed, beaten up, robbed. Then I went to war. I saw what happens when someone else points a gun at you. I had to shoot at people and they shot at me, hundreds of times.” Now, back in the civilian world, Eric teaches people how to handle guns and shoot them safely. He lives in California, and he knows very well that many of his neighbors disapprove of his lifestyle and of what he does. “When I go off to work dressed in a certain way, I can see that people are judging me.” Morgan, the woman with him in the portrait, is not one of them. She’s a trainer in a gym, and she fell in love with him through following him on Instagram.  Eric never goes out unarmed and has a predilection for military-type firearms. “I’ve never bought a complete gun. I always buy the parts, then make myself a custom piece. I learned how to build guns in the Army. One of my jobs was to test and assess firearms, and that’s how I fell in love with them. If some new law made my guns illegal tomorrow, I think I’d break them down, hide them and go off somewhere else.”  First weapon: .22-caliber rifle.
  9. Boonlom Thongpor, 69 years old –  Bangkok, Thailand. Six big photos with all the members of her family keep Boonlom company every time she prepares a new delicacy among the cookers of her kitchen. A 69-year-old mother of two daughters and grandmother of the young Mai (in the photo between the hi-fi speakers), all her life spent in Bangkok, Boonlom considers herself the best cook of her neighbourhood. Until a few years ago she used to run a small street restaurant, the typical kind you find everywhere around the South-East of Asia, where people eat simple and quick (but often very tasty) dishes, standing or sitting on stalls on the street borders. At present her restaurant is run by one of her daughters, who has changed it slightly: in what functioned as their old garage, her daughter has arranged four squared tables and people can finally eat properly, sitting at them! The average cost of a full meal at her restaurant rarely goes beyond two euros!
  10. Wholl-Lima Balthazan, 56 years old, her mother Silemoieux Charikable, 76 years old, and her son Lozma Astrel, 20 years old, in their house, Port au Prince, Haiti. Wholl-Lima works as a secretary for a Haitian cultural organization called Fokal. She uses traditional Haitian medicine to cure herself and her loved ones. It is mainly leafs that can be found in local markets or provided by a ÒMedsen FeyÓ, a leaf doctor.
  11. Julia Enaigua, 71 years old Ð La Paz, Bolivia. Julia was born more than 70 years ago in a little village on the shores of the Titicaca Lake. In her family everybody was, and is still now, a fisherman or a farmer. Indeed, she grew up first playing and then working in the fields, too. When she was 25 she got married and moved to La Paz, the city where her husband came from. Since that moment her job has changed: from a farmer into a seller of vegetables. She has got a small stall in one of the many markets in the city. Every day she wakes up very early, takes a bus to go to the countryside outside the city, buys huge bags of vegetables from the local farmers, goes back to the city by bus and, after arranging her stall for the day, she is at the market until she sells almost all the vegetables. Unfortunately, nobody is waiting for her home now, her husband died a few years ago and her children live in another house. However, itÕs a pleasure that every weekend they both gather at her house and she can cook for them and her 5 grandchildren. 
  12. Jean Toussaint, 28 years old, is a policeman in the National Police Force of Haiti. He has built the house where he’s photographed in the suburbs of the city of Jacmel, Haiti. Like many Haitians he does not own many medicines and usually buys the single pills from street vendors if he needs them. He has here some cough syrup and some Paracetamol.

Female Pentimento

Female Pentimento conjures mystic portals that lead to personal wonder

Female Pentimento summons liminal portals to apocalyptic ecstasy, fairytale daydreams and irreversible escapism. They blast saturated white beams more powerful than a spotlight; more sacred than a burst of sunlight at the end of the rain. They draw from human experiences, seemingly projecting the artist’s personal encounters at times, and lend support to viewers by digitally opening new doors for their worries and fantasies. Female Pentimento’s nurturing principles have harvested a tight-knit community whose eyes for art are satiated, ears for wise words quenched, and minds for optimism fed. 

The New York-based visual artist positions herself as virtual holy water solidified by her purpose in this lifetime to impart beauty and hope through words, images and music. She finds her self-design in bringing positivity into the double-tap realm to be a constant spring of inspiration for her followers to lap up. Her unearthly visuals reap the seduction for optimism. Her floating palm-sized butterflies pocket luck that guides people out of their limbo thoughts and toward a deep sense of calm. Her multi-winged phoenix brings the prophecy that whoever holds their gazes at its orb of light shall be gifted with prosperity, in a way that it has never entered their lives before.

Every image she creates even comes with a short caption that offers itself as a mantra for manifestation. I protect my inner landscape from all harm, forever. I no longer scare myself with my own thoughts. The most miraculous things happen to me, and I am in awe of all the incredible experiences that enter my life.And when the sinews of my thoughts tear, the miracle I need comes gently into view.

For NR, she lets our readers in on her light-filled purpose and life that ranges from art to music.

What were your earliest memories of art?

I think on some level I’ve always wanted to do something with the arts. As a child, I was mesmerised by the piano, and later down the line, painting. I didn’t truthfully grow up with a ton of art influence around me though, outside some of the obvious avenues, like cartoons and anime. 

My earliest memory of encountering fine art is when I was in 6th grade and my mom brought home prints of Ansel Adam’s work. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but that was likely the gateway to me dialoguing with artwork in a more critical and meaningful way. 

How did you come up with the moniker ‘Female Pentimento’?

For me, the power of having a stage name is that it gives me permission to explore a new heart dimension without being constrained to what I already think I know about myself. My ultimate intention is for the name to touch on this idea of revealing hidden aspects of oneself, just as a pentimento in art refers to the reappearance of earlier layers of paint.

In this context, the female’ aspect of the name emphasises the idea of a feminine presence, revealing parts of the self that were previously hidden. I hope to others ‘female pentimento’ suggests a sense of uncovering and reemergence with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of a feminine energy. 

As for the history behind it, I was brainstorming ideas of what I wanted my moniker to be and I kept returning to Picasso’s ‘The Old Guitarist’. In the work we know today, we see the iconic, downtrodden figure of a man in anguish — however, underneath the image is an original underpainting of an unnamed woman breastfeeding a child in a much more lush, idyllic scene.

«I always thought that relationship made for an interesting metaphor around my own gender identity and mental environment.»

Tell me about your journey to light becoming your source of visual inspiration. 

Over time, light has just become an instinctive element I’ve been drawn to. Since I started focusing on photography, I’ve been interested in all sorts of different natural phenomena including sunlight, lightning and rainbows.

I love how symbolically loaded these elements are throughout cultures and art history. I find light (and nature) a universally understood language that doesn’t have all the conceptual red tape that other subject matters have. One could look at a photograph of a wildfire stretched across a landscape, teeming with wildlife, and know instinctively how to feel about it.

Many, many creatives have influenced my present work, and the lots of visionary artists that come immediately to mind are Agnes Pelton, Hilma af Klint, Belkis Ayon — the list goes on and on. 

How was your environment growing up?

Growing up, my environment was a bit chaotic. I was raised in a single-parent household in a small southern town in Virginia. We moved around a decent amount as my mother was a minister, and the church relocated us regionally every couple of years.

I imagine anywhere I grew up would have been a challenge for me. When I was young, I was a very sensitive and shy child. I used to see those attributes as more of a liability, but as I get older I revere the tender and reserved parts of me the most.

Do you see your works as touching upon religion, faith, or both?

I think the first part of the question is for the viewer to decide. What I can tell you though is that when I’m creating, I borrow a great deal of inspiration from different religions and spiritual practices like, but not limited to, interconnectedness, spreading kindness and advocating for mindfulness.

As for my personal practice, I’ve been describing myself recently as a biospiritualist, which is an ideology that posits that the biological is inherently intertwined with the metaphysical. 

How does nature empower you as an artist?

It’s the catalyst, the subject, and the artist in my mind. I don’t think I’ve created any recent work that doesn’t bow deeply to the natural world.

«I see our earth as the ultimate wellspring of inspiration.»

What’s your inspiration for making portals that seem to be passages to unearthly worlds?

Portals are probably one of the most magical elements I experiment with in my images. Sometimes, they border on the fantastical (or unbelievable) end of the spectrum, but I think living in a para-reality is often the job of an artist. That is, thinking beyond what you know to exist and imagining a world of what could be. I like the idea of living in that space of potentiality full-time; it keeps me curious. 

Do these portals symbolise a form of escape from reality?

Certainly. In some instances, portals convey the idea of transitioning from one realm to another, offering a way out of the physical world. In others, I find it fascinating to reimagine myself as the light source or portal, and to consider what it would be like to exist in a non-corporeal form. 

How do you come up with the often inspirational and reflective captions behind your visual works?

The captions I attach to my images often stem from phrases and ideas that I feel compelled to remind myself of. They are often direct affirmations that I use to uplift and empower myself. Through these words, I hope to offer others a similar source of comfort, hope, and inspiration.

I’d also add that I’ve been deeply influenced by authors such as Jack Kornfield, Louise Hay, and Marianne Williamson to name a few, who have shaped my understanding of the power of affirmations and positive thinking. They have inspired me to craft mantras that not only accompany my visuals but also uplift and empower those who encounter them.

Do you see yourself as a guardian of light, both visually and linguistically?

Over the last few years, I’ve felt strongly that my calling in this lifetime is to impart beauty and hope to the world.

I trust in my ability to live up to that goal. I know I can do it.

«Whether through words, images, or music, I think my greatest purpose may be to bring positivity into the lives of others and be a source of ongoing inspiration.»


Artworks · Courtesy of female pentimento

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