These Portraits Predict the Future: Fryd Frydendahl at the Camera Club of New York
The new Baxter Street Camera Club's inaugural show 'Mon's Future' is about family, babies, and what comes next.
Since 1885, the Camera Club of New York has been helping young photographers find their bearings in an ever-shifting art world. It's one of the city's oldest nonprofit arts organizations and boasts a pedigree befitting that status: Alfred Stieglitz helped put it together, and early members include the pioneering art photographer Paul Strand, who joined at age 17. Its more recent members include VICE contributors Pierre Le Hors and Allen Frame (CCNY's current president), as well as yours truly. When the lease on the club's Midtown space ran out last summer, it was time to come up with a new location, which would prove to be tricky: The old space included color as well as black-and-white darkroom facilities, in addition to a shooting studio and a small gallery. This kind of setup was no longer practical, and the Camera Club needed to modernize to remain in step with current trends in photography. So they packed everything up and moved to Chinatown, landing in a storefront on Baxter Street. Although the new spot lacks a traditional wet darkroom, members will have access to facilities at the International Center of Photography for all their printing needs. The gallery in the new space is much more beautiful than the old one, and its location near all new downtown galleries of contemporary art couldn't be more perfect given CCNY's focus on emerging photography.
Baxter Street's first show fittingly focuses on family and on days to come. Mon's Future, an exhibition by Fryd Frydendahl curated by Megumi Tomomitsu, imagines who a baby girl might grow up to become, and who she might fall in love with. We talked to Fryd, a graduate of Morten Bo's acclaimed alternative Copenhagen photo school Fatamorgana, to find out more about her unusual way of predicting the future.
VICE: This is first show you've had at the Camera Club?
Fryd Fydendahl: Yes. It's co-curated by my friend Megumi, who I went to the International Center for Photography with. To do a show at Camera Club, you also need to have a curator; that's a part of the way Camera Club does the shows. I didn't want to curate it myself because I just had two shows in Copenhagen—one that I curated, and another solo show. Megumi and I have a production company together called "Birds Production," and we've been working together for like six years. She just had a baby and is not producing art right now, or not that much anyway. So thought this was a good way to keep our conversation going. The show is sort of about her new baby, and how that's changing our art practices.
The production company is for commercial work?
We do artsy music videos, and very conceptual work. It's fun, and it's always been a relief next to our own more heavyweight sort of "up your own ass" photography. It's lighter and fun.
I have a lot of friends who aren't into photography, but the more you get involved yourself, the easier it is to hang out with people who are also involved in the same thing you are, because all you want to do is work, right? So mixing friendship with work is perfect.
So that's how it started. Megumi just had a Japanese American baby, she's Japanese, I'm Danish... We've been speculating a lot about how Mon is going to grow up in this place, how it's going to be different. So that was how it started, the conversation about doing all these portraits of different women. And then there are three portraits of boys, who are her potential future boyfriends.
So the people in the show are women who Mon might become, and also her potential boyfriends.
Yes. And it's supposed to be light and have humor to it—because the way I do portraiture, it can be very heavy. It's usually strained women in awkward poses.
You also photograph your family.
I work a lot with my family, and that comes from a really heavy story, too. So I think it's important sometimes to look at things in more of a light way. Photographers have an inclination to work from a place of trauma.
When you go to school, when you start figuring out how to work with yourself and the narrative coming from who you are, in personal photography and most art photography, that's where our jump-off point is: ourselves. When I teach, that's the way I "get" to people as well. It's the way of like, What happened when you were five in the kitchen with the... Someone died in my case. Several people died. And that's like, the trauma. And at some point you've worked with it enough to understand it and to deal with it in a way that's not so heavy all the time. I do think interesting work has a layer I don't understand. A surreal layer or a melancholy layer. It has to have more than just what's on the surface, you have to want to scratch the surface. And that's often something that has hurt in some way or another, right? But it's so exhausting to keep only nurturing those things. It's never going to get us anywhere, and I think it's redundant, and done to the point of exhaustion, too.
I do a lot of video work that is about this slapstick, deadpan comedy thing. All the stories that these characters I do come from are always kind of sad. Humor is sad. It is that place. I was calling it the trauma pool the other day. You know, you can just dip into the trauma pool. Taking that trauma and using it in a productive way is important I think.
But this is a hopeful show.
I am that person, but I'm also the person who is really excited that my partner in crime just had a beautiful baby, and it's bringing us a lot of laughter and conversations we've never had before. I have a Danish accent, Megumi has a Japanese accent, but this kid is going to grow up and is going to be speaking American English to us. Which is terrifying in a way, because that's so far from who we are.
The big photograph in the show is Megumi. She needed to be in there. We have an intern in our company right now, a Danish girl, and there's a photo of her, too. We also went on a road trip and photographed strangers. Which was really interesting, because we did it with Mon on Megumi's belly and her husband and our intern in this little car filled with madness—we went to New Jersey and Staten Island and were like, "Hey can we photograph you, here's the story."
One of the photos in the show is my nephew. I do a project about my nephews. Sort of like how the portrait of Megumi is in there—instead of doing a self-portrait, I wanted him in there. It's a representation of what I come from to give to Mon.
It's kind of a family affair.
So many people who move to New York are so far away from where they come from, you know.
That's what the show Friends was about.
Yes, Megumi and Mon are like my couch at the coffee shop.
Some of the photos in the show are repeated with a gradient overlay. What's up with that?
I photograph analogue, often on old expired 120- or 35-mm film. That's what I've been doing for a long time. I just had a show in Denmark called Salad Days, which was sort of the same kind of sculptural portraits of young, nervous anxious beauties. I needed to do something to differentiate this show from that in my head. When I did the flyer for this show I used a gradient, and it gave it this feel of separating it from reality. We don't know what Mon's future will be like. We can only guess or make assumptions on her behalf. So I felt like the gradients give it a fantasy layer. It's sort of the color from a manga comic. I'm really excited about them. I think I have to do more.
How has the Camera Club helped you?
It differs from a lot of other communities in the photography world, because in a lot of the other communities I've been a part of there's also business involved. If you have a show at a gallery, it's also a business relationship. It might evolve to something else, but there will always be that layer of them wanting something from you. That's the thing with Camera Club as well, because it needs to live and breathe and function, but it's not about money, it's about keeping a community. Like in any small club there's chit-chatting and different groupings in the corners, but overall people love what it is. You know the same crew will be around, and it's going to be awesome.
I recently co-organized the Camera Club's Zine fair at Foley Gallery. It was my first time doing something for Camera Club like that. It was exciting because it was a new space, and it was a temporary space, but it still really felt like the Camera Club spirit. For me that was like, Ah, things are going to be alright. There's always a little anxiety when things change. But if you can have a Camera Club event at whatever gallery and make it feel like Camera Club, I feel like that's a good thing.
I also feel like this is a great first show to have in this new space. It's kind of about the future, and it's about a family, which I think the Camera Club is kind of a weird family.
Yeah, like a put-together family. When you go to an opening, there are these features there, that always make me really happy. People are always helping each other. It's not selfish.
It's so not competitive! I don't know about Denmark, but photography in New York is a lot of people trying to step on each other to get jobs and shows, and I've never gotten that feeling from the Camera Club. Everyone wants to help each other.
It's genuine. Even after the show on Thursday, I went out with some people from the Camera Club, and I thought, Wow this is way better than some gallery dinner, where I have to network and talk bullshit. It's just fun, and people are happy because you're happy. It's like this weird ecstasy on your behalf.
Catch Fryd Frydendahl's exhibition Mon's Future, curated by Megumi Tomomitsu at the new Camera Club of New York before it closes December 6.
See more of Fryd's work on her website.
Follow Matthew Leifheit on Twitter.