Art

No More Blood with Meghan Boody

CBK had the privilege of interviewing Meghan Boody about her work, in general, as well as her involvement in the project.

Interview by Teo J. Babini - teo@citizenbrooklyn.com Photos by Meghan Boody
Photo © Meghan Boody

Photo © Meghan Boody

The project, No More Blood is dedicated to raising awareness of gun violence and getting guns off the street. Artist Meghan Boody has created a series of billboards to inform the residents of the 8th Ward in New Orleans about a gun buyback program. She photographed residents of St. Roch who had lost family to gun violence in their Sunday “black best” in local swamps and cemeteries. Her images will be on 6 standard billboards and will be cycled through 3 digital billboards.  The buyback is sponsored by MONA (The Museum of Old and New Art) who has donated $100,00 towards the purchase of guns. The billboards are part of a larger project by Kirsha Kaechele, founder of KK Projects called The Embassy which is a satellite show of Prospect.3, New Orleans’ biennial. The opening of the show coincides with the date of the gun buy-back – Oct 25th.

CBK had the privilege of interviewing Meghan Boody about her work, in general, as well as her involvement in the project.

Citizen Brooklyn: Take us through the process by which you create your images.

My first step in making a picture is figuring out the story behind it. This usually starts out with a very basic premise, like an orphan lost in the wilderness or dark love in an underground world and these snippets grow as I make the images. Once I’ve defined my main characters, I begin casting. I tend to use professional models that have experience with multi day shoots and the stamina and focus required. Sometimes I shoot on set in different places that capture my imagination, like a 19th C boiler room or a monastery’s refectory. Often it’s more realistic, given the remoteness of my favorite locations, to shoot in my studio and transpose my subjects into environments in post-production. The bulk of my work occurs at my computer in Photoshop where I am busy compositing a gazillion layers. I like to think that this (obsessive!) level of detail generates a believable quality that allows my viewers to step inside my land of make-believe.

Photo © Meghan Boody

Photo © Meghan Boody

CBK: How has your work in sculpture influenced your image creation?

I began my career by making interactive sculpture that housed my photographs. I would lavish so much time on each contraption that I got attached and I was reluctant to sell them. So what got me into large-scale photography was really a practical concern. I needed to produce and sell more and working with editions and multiples enabled me to do this. Ironically, I somehow managed to override my own time saving device. I now obsess over my frames with the same intense attention to detail!

Whether working in sculpture, photography or video, it can often feel as if I’m managing a ragtag theater production, escorting my characters in and out of different settings and predicaments. With each act, I get more familiar with who they are and what will help them spring to life more believably.

CBK: Much of your work has a painting like quality, are you inspired by painting when creating images?

I often pour through books on painting to inspire me. It could be anything from the Renaissance to French Symbolism. I especially look at how artists from these periods translate legends and story into images and how they manage to harmoniously arrange so many figures into a single picture.

Sometimes my inspiration is more direct. Holbein’s portraits of the court of Henry VIII sparked the series I did on his six queens and their warped relationship with their king. Most recently I did a miniature replica of Breugel’s Tower of Babel out of train hobbyist materials. Only my mountain was a bit less lumpy, had a nursery of cocoons inside and a revolving carousel of animals.

Photo © Meghan Boody

Photo © Meghan Boody

CBK: How did you get involved with the “No More Blood” project? Have you been personally affected by gun violence? How has this project been different from your more personal work?

Kirsha Kaechle of KK Projects and MONA (The Museum of Old and New Art), who is sponsoring the project, have been collectors and supporters of my work. I have not been affected by gun violence nor do I usually work in a documentary style, so this was new ground for me on many levels. Normally I hire models to take on a specific, often fantastical character, but for this series it was important for my subjects to be themselves and to implicitly tell their own story. My challenge here was to figure out how to inject some of the otherworldly vibe of the rest of my work into this new series and to do it in a way that would send home the very real and earth-bound message of stopping gun violence.

One thing that links this project to what I normally do is the difficult subject matter. I have never shied away from exploring dark territory and depicting the sadness found there. So perhaps in the end I was perfectly suited for this mission.

CBK: As for your human subjects, your work generally revolves around female protagonists. In this case there are some images with only male subjects, how does the gender of your subjects affect your work in either case? How were they grouped/styled?

Yes, I feel very close to the challenges of female experience and tend to focus my stories on women. In fact, my first impulse was to only photograph women and young girls for No More Blood and make it about sisterhood in the face of male dominated violence. Of course that would have been a single note endeavor and would not have captured the complexity of the situation. When Kirsha told me that she wanted to include a group of mostly male rappers and musicians, I initially wasn’t sure how it was going to fit in with my vision and then I just let go and went for it. I had to do the same thing when only young boys showed up for the picture with the tree and the blue smoke. Ultimately this project has allowed me to get out of myself and approach the interior world of men and boys as I do with women.

Photo © Meghan Boody

Photo © Meghan Boody

Wardrobe and styling was definitely an issue, especially as we were not sure if people would be open to being styled. Foremost I wanted the starkness of gun violence and the authentic presence of the participants to speak for themselves. But on the flip side, I wanted to beautify my subjects and capture my viewers’ imagination by delving into the realm of the magical. We started off asking everyone to come in their black “Sunday best”, thinking that at least they would be wearing something commemorating the occasion, even if no styling took place. I decided to have a full battalion of accessories and bedazzlement at the ready should people be game for dressing up at the spur of the moment.

Bonnie Young, couture fashion designer and stylist to the stars agreed to lend her expertise to this chancy endeavor. She came equipped with trunk loads of amazing pieces from around the world and I rented a bunch of period costumes. Not knowing how many people we’d have for each shot, we had to be prepared for any eventuality so we had a TON of clothes. When people began to show up, they came dressed in black, but way more casual than expected, more like pants and sneakers. It turned out to be an excellent base for our creations. Our first participants had no interest in any of our clothes. Then one particularly adventurous woman strutted in and asked for “the works”, and suddenly everyone wanted in. By the end of the day, women were bringing their friends for the general glam fest we were providing.

Photo © Meghan Boody

Photo © Meghan Boody

The most challenging thing about the project was getting the subjects on set for the pictures. My mission was to photograph people from the 8th Ward who had been affected by gun violence. Lisa Lozano and Tora Lopez, the producers of the project, installed themselves in the St. Roche neighborhood a month before the shoot, scouting locations and rounding up people who wanted to be involved in the project. The first hurdle occurred when the crew assembled on the first day when, despite all our well laid plans, no one showed up to be photographed. Lisa and Tora quickly went door to door to encourage participants. They also hit a few convenience stores and got some of our most eager participants on the fly.  Slowly over the course of the morning we were able to gather a group of women and the rest of the groups came together just as spontaneously (except for the rappers and a government anti-gun committee who arrived on set intact.) The crazy thing was that everyone in the neighborhood has been deeply affected by gun violence, so even random people we corralled ended up having a meaningful connection to the project.

CBK: Backgrounds play an important roll in your work. Where as the cemetery is a more direct reference, could you expand on the natural backgrounds you chose for this project?

I wanted the backgrounds to evoke the quintessential spirit of New Orleans and it seemed that swamps, cemeteries and big, old trees with Spanish moss would do the trick. I was happy to discover that the climbing plant on those giant trees is called Resurrection fern, an uplifting note in this homage to the departed.

CBK: Much of your work, when displayed together, creates a narrative. What is the story in this case, or is the narrative element absent?

Photo © Meghan Boody

Photo © Meghan Boody

CBK: Some things that struck me were the umbrellas, subjects being barefoot, the birds, and the artificial smoke. Can you explain those choices?

Some of these esthetic “decisions” were actually requirements that ended up making sense. We used umbrellas because it was raining and many participants are barefoot because I had them standing in puddles and we didn’t want shoes to get ruined! But I welcome the connection to the many rainy funeral scenes in movies where the grieving characters are huddled under the shelter of their umbrellas. And to me, being barefoot in nature connotes groundedness and contact with the earth, a posture of strength and empowerment for my subjects. The birds? They simply belonged. I’m backing into this one, but you could say they’re an allusion to an alliance with birds of prey aka predators and forces of destruction. And the smoke? I’d like to leave one mystery intact!

CBK: As far as styling, some of the pictures feel almost period where others are very modern. Can you explain this contrast?

I am very interested in mixing time periods and styles, both within series and individual pictures. I like the idea of stepping outside of time into an “antiquated future”, a place that escapes any dated qualities. I would be disappointed if some one came across my work and said, “This is so early 21st Century!”

CBK: What are your impressions of New Orleans? The people? The places? The food? The music?

I love New Orleans for the explosion it offers to the senses on so many levels. It’s a place of such rich, celebratory tradition with an equally rich underbelly of gothic darkness and haunting beauty. Couldn’t be more up my alley!

To see more of Meghan’s work:

http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/Meghan-Boody/

http://thomastreuhaft.com/photographers/meghan-boody/editorial/

http://www.lookingglasslabs.com/mb_images.html

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