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Sunday Salon
with Greg Fallis

Katy Grannan

p>Katy Grannan

This is what I know about portrait photographer Katy Grannan: she was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, in 1969. In 1991 she received a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, two years later she took an M.A. from Harvard University, and in 1999 she earned an M.F.A. in photography from Yale University. She now lives in Brooklyn.

That’s it. That’s all I know. It’s not much. But it’s enough to give us some insight into how she sees the world. We considered the background of Josef Sudek and how it might have shaped his work; we can do the same with Katy Grannan. If Sudek’s weltanschauung was shaped by war, by the physical and emotional trauma he experienced as a young man, then surely Grannan’s world view would have been shaped in part by the ivory tower of academia.

Grannan’s process for the Poughkeepsie Journal collection (as well as her other main collections) was remarkably simple. She placed an advertisement in a local newspaper.

Art Models. Artist/photographer (female) seeks people for portraits. No experience necessary. Leave msg.

Her subjects, then, are people who want to be photographed, people who want it enough to call and make an appointment with a stranger. The example photograph is from her collection entitled Poughkeepsie Journal.

For her interior portraits, Grannan arrives at the subject’s home with one camera, one light, and a fan. She’d encourage the subjects to pose with as little clothing as they felt comfortable. Some remained fully dressed, some partially undressed, some became almost aggressively nude. Grannan arranged the settings, but she required the subjects to pose themselves…one reason they so often appear awkward and ill at ease. The entire shoot would last no more than three hours.

There is, I think, an academic chilliness to Grannan’s work. She seems to examine her subjects with a sort of clinical detachment, in much the same way an entomologist would study a particularly strange beetle.

But there’s also a strange intimacy in her work. I’m inclined to think it’s an intimacy created by the subject wanting to reach out to the world by exposing some aspect of themselves…or, more likely, some aspect of who they’d like to be. But there’s no denying the power of Grannan’s portraits.