About the Photographer
American, b. 1969
“(Nicky) was very excited to be photographed, and when I bumped into her in SF another time, she introduced me to her friend by saying "This is Katy, my photographer." I loved that - made me realize that we were both serving a purpose for the other.”
Exploring the American West as a place that promises big dreams and infinite possibilities, portrait photographer Katy Grannan creates photographs of Californians whom she calls “new pioneers”: individuals who exist on the fringe of ordinary society and have chosen to move across the country to Los Angeles or San Francisco seeking a new life in the progressive enclaves of these two west-coast cities. Themes of rebirth and the instability of identity run deeply through multiple pictures of sitters that alternately appear adrift, comical, or withdrawn.
The image Nicky, (U.S.M.C.) Presidio, from the series The Westerns is a portrait of a transsexual who served as a United States Marine Corps soldier when she was a man. Though Grannan met the majority of her subjects on the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco, she found Nicky on the Internet, and photographed her, as well as others in the series, over the course of three years. Nicky’s willingness to open up to the camera in spite of visual flaws illustrates what drew Grannan to many of the subjects in her project: a “courage to be born one way, and feel alienated from one's own body, and then live openly as someone new.”
Several of the photographs are set in lush parks and state forest preserves, which recall the promise of an unsullied countryside that lured America’s original pioneers across the west. Like many of those homesteaders, Grannan’s subjects have uprooted and transformed their lives in search of an ideal that seems to elude them. The sharp light and awkward sincerity in Nicky’s photograph extends throughout the series, and appropriately illuminates the harsh, classically rendered struggles for identity and individuality that are written on each subject’s body. Grannan began The Westerns after her own move from New York to San Francisco as a way to explore her journey west and her new home.
Nicky’s open candor, despite imperfections, exemplifies a tension that can be found in portraits throughout the Grannan’s oeuvre –– subjects that she seems to identify with as they reveal themselves to her camera. In past projects, such as Poughkeepsie Journal, Dream America, Morning Call and Sugar Camp Road, Grannan arranged short photo shoots, usually lasting around three hours, with strangers who responded to ads she purchased in local newspapers. What surfaces across all of the projects is each sitter’s hybridized sense of self-awareness that draws on personal identity, and broader cultural representations of the body, with varying weight. Through the act of posing for the camera, each model allows viewers to witnesses a construction of their own sense of self that is filtered through the ubiquity of photographic representation and the history of portraiture.
Katy Grannan holds a BA from The University of Pennsylvania (1991) and an MFA from Yale University (1999). She has been exhibited work in numerous exhibitions including the Whitney Biennial (2004) and her works are held in collections at the Museum of Modern Art, NY and The International Center for Photography, among others. Her monograph Model America was published by Aperture in 2005.