Julie Fogarty, Mam on the Bed, 2003 Dublin from the series What's Wrong with Ma? C-print
The C/O Berlin, once the Royal Post Office, is an uncanny setting for artworks. Its grand exterior is a sharp contrast to its industrial interior of exposed concrete walls, old signage on doors, and galleries hidden behind plastic flaps like ones used in a warehouse. However these aesthetics together became the perfect backdrop for the Nan Goldin exhibition Poste Restante Slide Shows / Grids. Like the building, Goldin's photographs also tend toward the raw and exposed. Goldin herself was recently in Berlin giving a lecture in conjunction with her exhibition and despite my attempts, I unfortunately did not get to attend.
I did however, get to speak with Julie Fogarty, a friend, a fan, and a fellow photographer. Julies's work has a similar aesthetic to Goldin's and she connects to her work on a deep level. We got to talk about the influence Goldin has on her works, how poignant is was for Julie to meet her and how she managed to walk away from the lecture with Nan's number.
Jaime Schwartz: Let me first ask, why was it so important for you to see Nan Goldin?
Julie Fogarty: The slide shows were in London a few years ago and I missed them as I was in Ireland studying photography. When I found out that they [the slides] were coming to Berlin I was really excited and when I found out Goldin was going give a lecture, I figured I had to meet her. Nan has always been a huge influence on my own work.
JS: How did you get into photography?
JF: From around 1994 to 2001 I was living in Dublin and addicted to heroin. I spent every single day looking for drugs, looking for money for drugs and getting high. That was my day. After numerous attempts I eventually got clean and suddenly found myself with all this free time. I realized I didn't know what to do with myself. Someone suggested I do a course and keep myself occupied.
JS: So you chose photography?
JF: Yeah. I always had some interest that must have gotten lost along the way. I wound up in Cork at St. Johns Central College and my professor there, Padraig Murphy, also became a big influence on me. Every Tuesday he would show us slide shows of different artist's work. One Tuesday he showed us his own version of the Ballad [The Ballad of Sexual Dependency].
JS: That's Goldin's work?
JF: Yeah. My professor had put together his own own version with music he chose. I remember seeing the work and being so taken with it.
JS: Do you remember what first attracted you to it?
JF: At first I related to the subject matter. You know these were photos from New York in the late 70's/ early 80's of people getting fucked up and partying. I looked more into her history, learned that she was bi-sexual, had her own drug issues, had also gone to rehab. I was also coming out at that time as a dyke- I completely related to all of it.
I also connected to the way she takes photos documenting her life like a diary. The first project I did, What's Wrong With Ma documented my family and like Goldin I shot it all on slide. I still continue, like Nan, to photograph my surroundings, my family and immediate friends.
JS: What did you think of the lecture at C/O. What was it like for you to hear her speak and see her in person?
JF: I definitely was a bit star struck for the first minute or so.
JS: You originally told me you cried!
JF: (laughs) I didn't cry then. That was later when I was waiting to meet her.
So the lecture-Goldin was being interviewed by an old friend, which made it quite informal. He asked her questions about how she takes photos of people when she goes to their houses, what are her methods, that kind of stuff. There wasn't anything particularly moving about it for me.
JS: Did the audience get to ask questions?
JF: Yeah. They were sending someone around with a microphone but for someone reason no one could wait so they kept having to repeat the questions. It was comical. One guy asked her about photographing subculture and it was interesting to see her get a bit defensive about this. I mean it wasn't subculture for her, that was her culture, her life, her friends. She wasn't an outsider looking in.
JS: Right! I mean that is the thing about her photographs and why people talk about her work as being so intimate and personal. Her work is literally a visual diary of her life.
For me, however, that is what makes her work not voyeuristic. Even when I am being a voyeur and looking at it. I feel Goldin has this amazing capability to capture people in these in between moments. That way you feel like you are not just looking at someone but rather at a moment in time or an environment that you can step into through this moment.
What were some other questions the audience asked?
JF: There were the standard lame technical questions, which I always hate. Oh! There was this one fellow, an Irish guy, who stood up and said real loud, “Snapshots!” Everyone was a bit surprised and he went on, “would you say that your work is snapshots”.
JS: Did she answer?
JF: In a round about way. I guess in some way her works are snapshots, capturing these candid moments...
JS: But there is something different about Goldin's work. I find that people take the idea of her work for granted now. Maybe everyone nowadays is taking photos like Goldin's but I think there is an important distinction to make. Sure, her work could be considered “snapshots” but even so these weren't snapshots that were commonly encountered before. The explicitness and subject matter of her work, this was new, especially in the context she created for them. It's interesting how something becomes part of an art historical legacy and how people forget this. Goldin's body of work didn't originally have all this analysis and comparison attached to it. People use her work as a point of departure now to explain other artists' work but this really ignores the weight her work has.
JF: Nan has spawned a million imitators and a lot of this work really pales in comparison for different reasons.
JS: What are you working on at the moment? How do you distinguish your work from other photographers? I know you and your work have a strong connection to Nan and her work. Do you see yourself as following in her footsteps?
JF: I'm coming into my own more now. I no longer work in slide, instead I am working in medium format. My pictures are also more formal than they used to be. They were more candid, snapshot style before. I actually miss this and am thinking of going back to it. Especially in continuing my work photographing my family. But as always, I am still photographing my immediate surroundings.
JS: Does your queer identity play a role in your work?
JF: I am part of a queer community so by default this is a part of my work, but I am not specifically trying to photograph gays and lesbians.
JS: I wanted to get back to the idea of taking things for granted for a minute. Seeing Goldin's work in Berlin made me think about how, like her work, Berlin is also being taken for granted. Berlin has always had a mythos about it, especially since the wall came down, that it is an open city and a place for artists. There is this legend of squats, alternative culture, a general openness towards things that would be considered avant or underground in other parts of the world. I find that people have taken this for granted, the fact that Berlin is a permissive city and that artists can live and make work here. It's unfortunate that Berlin is losing this a bit, this capability to sustain the sense of what it once was. You are doing a project based on this, right?
JF: I was about to jump in there and mention that. Right now one of the things I am working on is documenting where I am staying, which is a community house project that is in a volatile situation.
It is a situation that could come to and end at any moment- next year or in a couple of years- so I have been photographing the building and what happens inside.
JS: For me, talking about Goldin's work in the context of Berlin, is also a way to think about it aside from just a documentation of her personal life. I like the idea of looking at her work as photographical manifestations/representations of time and place. I think that is what is important and beyond the “snapshot”. To me her work is not overly sentimental, it documents what she was living through and that makes me think of what you are doing too. You are not trying to over glorify some sort of anarchistic or queer lifestyle.
JF: I know what you are saying. You mention a time and a place and that really nails it on the head. If anyone's work really nailed a time and a place that would be Goldin, especially her photos of New York in the late 70's and 80's. So yes, my work is also documenting a time and a place and it's important to do so because the city is changing.
JS: Since I didn't get into the lecture I instead went to see the slide shows. I had to sit through them each couple of times. I think part of this was knowing Goldin had such an incredible familiarity with the subjects she photographed. I couldn't just look at them once, I felt like that was not doing them justice. I probably sat through them each at least three times. I needed to relax into the images and take away the first layer of just looking. Only then was I able to begin to understand and concentrate more on the relationship between camera and subject. Relating that back to your work, you also photograph people who are really close to you. How do you want people to look at your work?
JF: It doesn't always happen that I am photographing people I am in a close relationship with.
JS: OK. Then is there a difference between your work with intimate subjects than with those you don't know so well? For example your family versus people you meet at a party.
JF: I think there is more of a comfort level with subjects who I know well or know me well. However, I am not someone who is easily intimidated so I'm quite comfortable taking pictures of people I don't know. I just don't know if I am as interested in it.
JS: A lot of the photos you have taken of your family were during a difficult time. For example, the What's Wrong With Ma series was done while your parents were getting divorced. Are you more interested in these darker periods? Is that fair to say?
JF: I'm definitely moved by pain and get more focused sometimes when I am not the happiest.
JS: A lot of your work is like Goldin's, bare-bones and raw, emotional but without being exploitative.
JF: Like Nan, I am just shooting what is there, nothing is set up.
JS: I came across a quote where one of Goldin's friends says the camera is like an extension of her arm. I think her ability to have trust with her subjects allowed her work to be beyond an interesting or pretty picture but they exposed something underneath the photograph, something underneath the subject. Am I over romanticizing?
JF: No, but I think that happens naturally, through the trust.
JS: So in the end you did get to meet Nan. Tell me about this and don't leave out the part about how you exchanged phone numbers!
JF: I wanted to meet Nan but wasn't sure if the opportunity would be available. I thought ok, I can just walk up after the lecture and say hello but then there was an official guy saying she was going to sign books in 15 minutes....
JS: Is this when you started crying?
JF: Well, 15 minutes turned into an hour. While waiting I started thinking about what I was going to say and how Nan is sitting in that room with no idea how much she has helped people and touched people.....
JS: By people you mean you, right?
JF: (laughs) Yeah, me. It just brought me back to what I was going through in Dublin and it became very emotional and I started getting scared to meet her.
JS: but you guys connected...
JF: Yeah! It was great! I told her everything that I told you, about my addiction and recovery, how she influenced me and how much her work meant to me. We talked about N.A. meetings in New York and Ireland. She mentioned that she liked my tattoos and wanted to know about my tattoo artist so I gave her my connection. She told me she loved the Irish accent, my friend thought she was hitting on me but I'm not so sure.(laughs) She took my email address and phone number so we'll see if I hear from her.
JS: I hope you do! Thanks so much for talking with me Julie and good luck with your new projects. I look forward to seeing more of your work soon.
Julie Fogarty recently exhibited at KUMA gallery Berlin. More of her work can be found at juliefogarty.com
Jaime Schwartz holds an M.A in Contemporary Art Theory and Curatorial Practice from San Francisco State University. Jaime currently resides in Berlin, after many years in San Francisco where she worked for the SFMOMA Artist's Gallery, The Judah L. Magnes Museum and The San Francisco Arts Commission. Most recently, Jaime is the Co- Founder and Director of The Center for Endless Progress, a new gallery and project space in Neukölln. More information can be found at endlessprogress.or