Q&A with Stephanie Gonot, Brought to You by Art She Said

by Awl Staff

The Awl: One thing I noticed when looking at your online life is that I think you use Tumblr in a really specific way. It’s very curatorial, and it seems to me that you use it as a way to appreciate and file away images by other photographers. Does that seem right? Was that your intention when you started?

Stephanie Gonot: Yeah, totally! I started the Tumblr as a way to promote the photography I was looking at online, but also as a way to have a dialogue with other photographers.

The Awl: And did it work? Did you make new photo pals?

Stephanie Gonot: Ha ha, yes, it brought me lots of new photo pals, especially here in Los Angeles. There’s a great little community of photographers who really promote their work online and I came to know them through Please Excuse The Mess.

The Awl: That’s awesome. I think it’s sort of lonely to be a photographer? Like you take a bunch of photographs. You go home and edit. (Or print, if you’re a film stickler!) And then… you have a bunch of photographs. So then what? So you guys are working at ways of not just sitting around being uselessly surrounded by your own work. What else do you do in this realm?

Stephanie Gonot: I actually started getting into photography as a way to make art and not be lonely! I studied painting in college but I found it made me pretty anti-social. Photography, and especially portraiture, got me out of the house and talking to people.

The Awl: That makes sense.

Stephanie Gonot: And now I use photography as an excuse to meet new people.

The Awl: It helps if you’re not shy. Shy photographers have a hard time!

Stephanie Gonot: I haven’t figured out yet if I’m shy, lazy, or I just don’t like to bother people, but I definitely found it hard at first to approach people about being photographed. But now that I have at least a small body of work and feel like I know what I want make it has become easier… like the excitement of making new images outweighs whatever nervousness I might have about talking to people.

The Awl: Are there downsides to publishing photography online? Besides the usual thing about how much people love to steal photos on the Internet.

Stephanie Gonot: Well, sometimes I worry that I make certain photographs because I know they will be well-received online and passed around photo blogs. But I guess this can be a good and a bad thing!

The Awl: Writers have a version of that too. They can tell what is likely to be popular. And then do we turn towards that in our work, or against it?

Stephanie Gonot: Exactly. For instance I’ve noticed there are themes people like to riff off of on Flickr because they see it working for other photographers. Eventually you see everyone taking pictures of naked 20-somethings running through a forest or sand dunes, hoping that’s the secret to get people to view their work. (I’m also guilty of doing this. Not the “naked 20-somethings running through a forest,” but certainly with other themes I’ve seen).

The Awl: Well it’s a funny thing right? Because.. well people *do* like to look at certain things! So why wouldn’t we also like to look at them and also like to make things? Although you know, Ryan McGinley sort of blew up that spot and everyone should probably leave it alone.

Stephanie Gonot: Ha ha, yeah, I think people have at least somewhat moved on from the Ryan McGinley aesthetic. And it’s true, the best way to get better at your craft is to emulate those you admire! A painting teacher of mine in college once had a student copy a series of Van Gogh paintings in order to feel more comfortable with a paintbrush. It totally worked! The student was more confident and made some great paintings after that exercise.

The Awl: Yes! Copying works. Because you have to look at how things that are good are made. So, in parting, tell us what you’re making or doing now that you’re excited about?

Stephanie Gonot: I’ve been working with food a lot lately! Normally we see pictures of food that looks enticing to eat, so I find it interesting to make images of food that are a little “off” (such as a pink and blue ice cream cone that is melting down a disembodied forearm). It can create a pretty visceral reaction. I also do some side work for a gourmet ice cream sandwich company here in LA, which is what got me thinking about doing food photos… I love ice cream and cookies, but after a while it starts to not look like food anymore, just a mess of pretty colors and textures.

The Awl: Right! And that’s the thing that photography can do. Your job is to make us look at things in the way you see them, in a way that’s either alien or intimately, surprisingly familiar to us.

“The Smartest Thing She Ever Said” is a Tumblr based digital storytelling art project featuring four teams of two-one artist and one story editor-between now and the end of the year. For three weeks each, the teams were asked to interpret the phrase, “The Smartest Thing She’s Ever Said.” The current team features photographer Stephanie Gonot and writer Sarah Pachelli with support from project curator Alexis Hyde. ArtSheSaid.com and its artists are entirely supported by Ann Taylor in collaboration with Flavorpill.