I met Laura June Kirsch at some shitty marketing job we both did. She had stolen my best work-friend and I thought she was this stuck-up, friend-thieving bitch. After saying horrible things to her in bars on a couple of occasions I discovered that she is my favorite photographer. Sometimes her photos are funny, sometimes they're abstractly beautiful, sometimes nightmarish. There's always a sense that Laura's great time is being had entirely at the subject's expense and maybe at the viewer's as well. There's an impish quality to everything she does. When I met with her to do this interview she presented me with this sign that she'd stolen.
Vice: Why are you doing this? Laura:
I had an interest in photography at a young age. I got my first camera when I was in kindergarten. My high school had a fairly extensive program and I took every class that was offered. Printing in the darkroom was my favorite part of the day. After high school I continued my photography education at SVA.
I heard you recently stole a ventriloquist dummy.
He is a lifelike mannequin of a small boy, kind of like the Chuckie doll but wearing a tux! I named him Chuxedo. I grew up on Long Island in a town called Baldwin, home of Joey Buttafuoco's auto shop. In the town over, Oceanside (home of a garbage dump and my high school), is a weathered tuxedo rental shop. This is where my sister Meghan and I borrowed Chuxedo from.
In your Facebook picture it looks like you took him to a party.
We wanted to take him to my grandmother's 80th birthday party but my parents refused to let Chux in their car. They were not happy about his kidnapping and told us we probably ruined the tuxedo store owner's weekend. That might be true but I still believe it was the best day of his life. Despite missing the party.
It also looks like he is armless.
Chuxedo did not have hands that day. He had a napkin from a local cab company in its place.
What's your history with this small fake man?
The first time I saw him I was probably an infant. Despite always being aware of his presence, it wasn't until adolescence that I really pondered his creepiness.The idea of luring in formalwear consumers via a shoddy child mannequin became hilarious to me. When I reached high school my friend Cory Abbey and I would often pass the tuxedo shop and muse about kidnapping Chuxedo. We would tell our other friend Laura Munzing that one day she would wake up and find him in her skylight window. She did not favor the latter part of the plan.
How did the final nabbing take place?
Last week I had gone to Long Island for my grandmother's birthday. My sister and I were driving home and for the first time in my life Chuxedo was OUTSIDE the window. He was joined by a creepy dummy of a little girl (also no hands) and a larger one-handed mannequin that appeared to be his father. At first I just planned on taking some pictures of him with his entourage but in the end that wasn't satisfying enough. Kidnapping Chuxedo had been a dream of mine for too long. We knew we couldn't let this opportunity pass and went for the kill.
What did it feel like to achieve your childhood dream?
Pretty amazing. I feel like I can die happy now. When I do die, my final wish is to be buried with Chuxedo. In a perfect world Chuxedo would have come to my grandmother's party as my date. I wanted to take photos of him sipping champagne, eating cheese, dancing, kissing babies, and hitting on grandma. Unfortunately, as said, my parents were driving to the party and refused to let Chuxedo in the car. After a few drinks, however, my mom found the situation more humorous than she originally led on.
Speaking of your family, I was looking at your site and your photos of your family are awesome. They seem voyeuristic and like you're making fun of them. That photo of the dog with the cone approaching the girl looks like he's a walking Victrola blasting her in the crotch with sound.
Thanks! Almost all of my pictures are candid so any mockery wasn't intentional. Not in the beginning at least. If an awkward situation is playing out I grab my camera. It's kind of a bad habit.
Does your family ever get sick of being photographed or dislike the moments you're capturaing of them?
Hmm. They don't really have a choice and I think they know it. I am sure most of them don't enjoy it but are too polite to say anything. Also, since I shoot mostly candid it is usually too late for them to protest.
My favorite photo of yours is this one of the girl in the plum dress stepping out of the dark room. The slightly off symmetry, darkness and texture of everything reminds me of dreams.
Yikes! I hope you don't have dreams about catering halls on Long Island.
I have a lot of dreams of dimly lit and uncomfortable places. Also I am usually trying to convince some sort of vampire that I'm a vampire too so I don't get eaten.
I am a vampire.
What's going on with these fancy people partying in the bathroom?
That's what happens in any ladies' room. A fancy party. It's like going through the wardrobe.
But there are dudes in this bathroom too. And a giant bathtub.
OHHH. THAT picture. I thought you were referring to the one of the two girls in the yellowish bathroom. That bathroom belongs to a wealthy friend, hence the fanciness. He hosted a New Year's Eve party a couple of years ago. Apparently he has a lot of Asian friends. I find it odd that the bathroom has no wall.
What's the story with "Little Darlings"?
That was shot during a tumultuous family vacation to New Orleans. After buying about six boas, I learned that I have a feather allergy. Sadly none of those women are my relatives. I enjoyed the juxtaposition though.
What were you going to do with all those boas in the first place? You only have one neck.
Says you! I kept leaving my boas at the hotel. It was easier to buy another than go back.
Who's this weird transgendered hippy in front of the van?
When my family was in New Orleans we went on a swamp tour. That guy drove us to the swamp in his van. Despite his enthusiasm, he was not part of the actual boat tour.
What kinda stuff did he have to say?
He was very knowledgeable about New Orleans, alligators and the swamp. Also, he took my picture, which he said was for his website…
What's the story on Santa Claus making out with the little girl?
Oh man. It was a fun year when hip-replacement Santa came to Christmas. If you look closely you can see his cane!
Where'd you see this spiderbook thing? "Will you eat or be eaten?"
The kids' section of the Central Park Zoo. I love it, I think it's really strange and creepy.
You hear about all the falling tree limbs that are killing people in Central Park these days?
Yes. So terrible. The poor father was trying to take a family photograph. He must have witnessed the whole thing. Can you imagine?
What was that story you told Meg earlier about the guy that gave you bad shivers?
In high school when my friends and I weren't discussing Chuxedo we would go to TCBY. Our favorite thing to order were Shivers which is just frozen yogurt with toppings mixed in. There was one employee who was particularly disgruntled and put hardly any topping into his Shivers. We called him the Bad Shiver Maker. One day I challenged him on his poor Shiver making skills and asked for more toppings. He told me it would cost more money. I took the difference out of his tip jar.
That is a bold maneuver. Did he notice that you'd robbed his tip jar?
The amount of money taken was like a dollar. I don't think he noticed.
You also told me some story about how you had a goldfish that refused to die the other day. How did that go again?
Yes, you had asked me if I was ever involved in some form of pet crime. Oddly enough there was an incident involving a fish called King. I had won him at a carnival in middle school. A week or so later my family was going on vacation and King needed a caretaker. My friend Marissa said she would watch him and when I got back she wanted to keep him, which I let her. About six months later the fish was still alive and Marissa didn't want him anymore. We thought it would be funny to leave him on a doorstep in his bowl with a note. Our friend lived nearby so we left it on her stoop and rang the bell. When nobody answered we tried the house next door. This time a woman came out and was totally confused by what was happening. After some muttering she reluctantly took the fish. Marissa and I thought it was pretty hilarious. Later that week my mom told me this story she found bizarre. Somebody randomly left a fish on her friends doorstep. My mother thought it was extremely odd and slightly appalled that somebody would leave a fish on somebody's porch. I started hysterically laughing which led to my confession. I loved it. Apparently King had a nice long life with his new owners.
What did the note that you left with the fish say?
I am not sure I think it was something along the lines of "Hi. I am King. I need a new home. My owners abandoned me. Those jerks. Love me, please?". INTERVIEW BY NICHOLAS GAZIN