Interview with Cheryl Dunn: Part 2Juxtapoz // Thursday, 15 Jul 2010
Katie Zuppann: Many of your projects involve covering arenas not customarily open to women. How have you been able to penetrate these areas and how does your femininity come into play in your work and the story you try to tell?
Cheryl Dunn: The camera is sort of a reflector and an absorber. When you are taking someone's picture and they are aware of it, your energy is totally affecting what they are giving to the camera you can be like a coach, you can be an antagonist, you can be nurturing or you can entice sexual energy.
I have learned that the ego is a big thing. My feminine ego is generally non-threatening to the male ego so if I am knowledgeable about my subject and nurturing, my male subjects are usually pretty open no matter what type of person.
It's more acceptable to display a vast array of emotions and attitudes as a woman than as a man. So whatever the situation calls for, you can access that. If you are in a super gnarly situation, you have to act tough and maybe crazy so as not to become victimized. Sometimes exposing your vulnerability helps subjects be more open to you because someone trusts you to portray them. Gaining trust is a big deal and generally you have to do that in a very short amount of time.
Certain arenas maybe aren’t populated by as many woman and I think this is where I like to be. I like to do ‘guy things.’ As an assistant I was always the only girl. They think girls aren't strong enough so you have to double prove yourself to get in there.
I love to sneak into places. This is way easier as a girl. Every situation is so different and you pull from past experience and deduce the best way to do what you want to try to get the shot you want; the most intriguing, beautiful, disturbing, telling.
There are good things to being a woman and there are certainly sucky things. Non-advantages can become advantages. Whatever you have to work with, you have to use it. Those attributes keep changing as life goes along.
Margaret Killgallen in Her Studio, 1998
Dragged, Manchester Mass, 2000
What do you hope the viewer gains from your work?
Insight mostly. Something they didn’t already know or think about in a certain way.
Maybe something to make someone laugh, feel compassion, or feel anything, really.
Selling Strawberries, Delhi, India 2005
You have some big film projects coming up in NY this summer. Any details you can share?
I have a commission to make a film about street photographers who have created substantial bodies of work using New York City as the subject. This is being created in conjunction with an Alfred Stieglitz exhibition at the NY Seaport Museum opening in September.
He was considered the first NY street photographer and took the 4 x 5 off the tripod, he cruised around NY shooting the building of the bridges and the harbors and a lot of the former neighborhoods of lower Manhattan like five points. He also had a gallery and a photo journal and got people to consider photography an art form. He laid the ground work for so many to follow.
I am really stoked and will be meeting many of my idols and cruising around documenting the city I love…what could be better?
Part 1 of our conversation with Cheryl Dunn released yesterday. It lives online over here.
More on Cheryl Dunn at www.cheryldunn.net
Matt Sweeney and Andrew WK NYC
Paul Major - the Endless Boogie
Claire, Costa Rica 2009