My friend Chelsea had just decided to leave her longtime home in the East Village and move back to the other side of the country. We did this shoot with the vintage suitcase to commemorate that.
This is one of the most important series I’ve ever done in NYC, simply because this space no longer exists in this way. My friend Faye was living in Williamsburg a few blocks from the abandoned Domino Refinery, and she had a special tie to this building. She suggested we try breaking into it and exploring. In an absolute miraculous turn of events, we broke in TWICE, both on Sunday mornings.
At the time they were breaking ground on what is now known as Domino Park (which is gorgeous, if you want a nice date night) and there was rubbish and piles of dirt everywhere. Somehow we both knew this was our only chance to document the place, and I told Faye we had a better chance of being left alone if we were blatantly there for photographs if we got caught. But we didn’t get caught, thankfully, and we have these beautiful photographs as treasure.
Faye is English so we thought it would be funny if she dressed as Britannia and in a ballgown in this scenario, and she did with gusto. We found that filthy pickaxe on the grounds and it just worked perfectly. The last photo of her by the backhoe demonstrates just how immense this building really is – that is just one level, the basement. Each level was a gigantic cavern that still smelled of burnt sugar and rust.
There had been buzz about a new Amazon complex and development around the Anable Basin, so my friend Daniella suggested we do a shoot around there. The idea of transformation – her own body, the surrounding area – was a fascinating concept to explore. I had discovered a junkyard closeby and thought it would be a fun place to take photos.
The day we shot these a random blizzard came through. Daniella is a performance artist and the weather didn’t faze her one bit. She bore it all. Absolutely one of my favourite portrait sessions. And the development was scrapped soon after.
In 2014 I really started focusing on psychological self-portraits. I was going through a lot of immense changes that year: I broke up with my boyfriend, got back into theatre, and lost my teaching job. After a string of horrifying experiences in central Pennsylvania, I had the beautiful opportunity to start over in NYC. In the meantime, before I knew for sure what my path would be, I started looking at the work of performance artists Carolee Schneemann and Frank Tovey, doing more daring portraits, exploring how I could use my own body to express my feelings, and bringing the idea of performance art to still photos. I knew I wanted to be more provocative, but felt very contained, observed and judged in central PA.
I also felt certain that I needed to be completely comfortable in front of a camera before I could expect others to be, too. That included learning to be perfectly comfortable in the body that currently contains my consciousness. I stopped being self-deprecating and began to really appreciate what I’d overcome. I had to unlearn years of conditioning as to what beauty means, and be more mindful of physical expression through movement and pantomime. I had a background in dance, theatre and even juggling, but performance art always seemed too esoteric for my tastes in the past. Eventually once I came to understand what it really was, it became the biggest vehicle for expression through some of the most volatile times I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I’m proud of my physical form, and what it’s endured: illnesses, immense stress, being hit by an SUV, many scars and injuries, walking thousands of miles, lifting and carrying so much, dance, the many miles I’ve biked. I’m only going to be in this form a little while longer until I die and move to the next vessel, so why not just be present?
My friend Gillian and I have known each other since college. We have a long history of sporadic yet epic hangouts. The first time I really met her I was sleeping in her dorm bunk visiting her roommate Stef (who would later become my roommate) and Gillian’s alarm clock went off…the music being “Uncle Fucker” from South Park. I was laughing so hard and she popped in and cheerfully apologized and we’ve been friends ever since.
When I started experimenting with iPhone photography, I visited her one night and did a series of photos of her playing guitar and singing (she has an incredible singing voice). They’re very early in this vein of work but I love them. I think these were taken around 2013.
Models: Lillian Lewis, Dave Wilkie, Keona Wilkie, Monte Wilkie (as foetus)
March 2015, State College PA
In March 2015, my friend Lillian and I were both experiencing massive shifts in both our lives. She was about to give birth to her third child, and was in the process of moving to Ohio to take a new job at a university. I was about to shed my old life entirely and move to New York City. Lillian and I spent a lot of our remaining time together disposing of what was holding us back and focusing on the future. She asked me to do a maternity shoot, “but not a lame one, a METAL one,” and this was the result of that venture. The photos of her growing family were all taken in her backyard in State College, PA. I am especially fond of the one with her daughter perched in the tree dressed in her crow costume from Halloween.
I was born in a small village called Woodward at the base of a mountain. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the place my whole life, but I can’t deny that I’m endlessly inspired and haunted by it. I often go back and use it as scenery or a backdrop. It’s a world of immense beauty and endless darkness. A few years ago my dad and I drove around in the early spring, before the place completely thawed. It was a harrowing experience on those icy forest roads, to say the least, but the views were gorgeous.
Model: Andrew Schall
Woodward, PA 2014
A few years ago some friends of mine and I were location scouting for a horror film set in a cabin in the woods. The monster of the film was described in the script as a sort of nebulous shadow creature that appears on a hunter cam strapped to a tree. Initially we were considering using my friend Andrew as the Creature, so we went out to the site and did some test shots to see how they’d register, and if my costuming idea would work. We scrapped this route, but the pictures ended up being enigmatic and weird and I liked them a lot.
Model: Melanie Rosenberger
University Park, PA 2015
Melanie was a college friend of mine whom I had lost touch with for years and randomly reunited with just before I moved to NYC. When I came back that summer to wrap up clearing out my apartment, Melanie and I decided to do a shoot together. She’d just found out she was pregnant with her first child. This series was taken in the Arboretum at PSU.
Model: Chuck Ramsey
Studio portraits, 2005-2007
Chuck Ramsey is the first musician I regularly collaborated with as a photographer. We both worked for the same university department, ran with the same circles of people, drank at the same pubs, and for a while even lived in the same building! He moved to Philadelphia at some point, then NYC, and got married. Later on our paths would converge again when his wife Lesley and I also became good friends. They would always help me time and again when things got rough for a while by giving me a sofa to crash on and kind words of encouragement. Chuck is absolutely my brother and I’m proud of the work we’ve done together over the years! Now we live 20 minutes from each other in NYC. Crazy, huh?
Chuck has always been open to fun ideas for portraits and I’m grateful he gave me the opportunity to spread my wings early in my career. We have had many adventures in our nearly twenty-year friendship.
These photos were taken when I worked for the photo department at PSU. We had an old school portrait light setup in the studio and I used it heavily. These were taken for Something New and Good Morning And Good Night, his first two albums.
Model: Jane Teeple Glicini
Central Pennsylvania, 2012-2014
My sister Jane has often modelled for me and especially came through when I started doing more experimental stuff. Her ethereal beauty photographs so well, and she’s always game for doing some crazy shit. Case in point: I photographed her senior photos in the cemetery across the street from our house. She was a key figure in me exploring some ideas and learning new possibilities.
Since these photos were taken both our lives have changed dramatically. She got married and had a baby, I moved away. We haven’t collaborated in a long time, but this fall we took her daughter on a little walk around the cemetery where we used to play. In fact, she’s learning her alphabet there!
Model: Seth K.
Studio portraits, 2009
Seth and I had a brief but very tumultuous relationship about ten years ago. To this day I’m not able to explain our situation besides “karmic as hell.” Like so many artistic romances, it all ended in spectacular disaster, but our time together was rife with explosive creative energy. I still feel echoes of it sometimes. Sometimes I even miss some of it.
This series was shot in the PSU photo studio when I worked there. We made good use of that fog machine. We had just started dating at this point and were goofing around in the studio a lot. The energetic sparks were a lot of fun.
We ended up going on a lot of little adventures around the area, taking photos with antique cameras, and talking about art and life. He opened me up a lot; introduced me to music and films and random tidbits of philosophy. I was a beaten-down, angry little bitch for a while, mired in a small town with a miserable circle of people. In his weird way, he illuminated just how awful I had become. Sometimes I hear his thundering voice echo, “Alice, you have to stop being so judgemental and closed-minded.” He was right. He was so right. He was in my life at the right time for the right reasons, although at the time, through all of the chaos of emotions I wasn’t prepared (or equipped) to sort out, I didn’t see it that way.
The shadow of this time, however, ended up defining what the light would eventually be.
Thank you for everything Seth, I am sorry it was such a rough time for us both at this point in our lives. I’m sorry for how I acted and how I reacted. We did create some great stuff together. I love you and wish you well in your life.