Evan Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based photographer. He made his first solo debut in 2005 with a show entitled “Reclaiming Puberty” at Schroeder Romero Gallery, then in Williamsburg, while still a student at Pratt Institute. On Friday, June 1st Schwartz will have his first NY show of new material in over two years at PEP in Wallabout Brooklyn.
I met Evan for a smoothie at our favorite Clinton Hill café. The weather was hot, muggy, and irritable.
Joe - How long have we known each other? What’s your favorite thing about me?
Evan - Too long! This is such crap … if I had to choose one thing (pause) I guess you’re good to brainstorm with. I thought this was supposed to be about me?
J - It will be. Calm down a minute!
J - What is your first memory in which you knew you wanted to be a photographer?
E – I can’t think of a specific moment in my art education but it definitely aided in me wanting to do this. I remember a specific moment driving down I-95 with my mom, it was early morning and I looked over and could see the face of the woman driving next to us. You could tell all about her day up until this moment because of her expression. It made me think about the psychology of the moment, what makes people do what they do. I wanted it to be my job to capture that moment.
J – You use the word job, how do you make this your job?
E – I guess it’s pursuing the truth and being in a continuance of self -searching, which is than reflected onto my subjects
J – Ever wish you went to a normal college and became an accountant or lawyer?
E – I would be a horrible accountant! I have a craving for psychology and have sort of created my own degree in that. I would not survive in a “normal” school setting.
J – How did you create your own degree?
E – WebMD and lots of therapy
J – When someone asks you what you do, what do you say?
E – I say I’m a photographer; that I do narrative work, tell stories.
J – How would you describe your first body of work, “Reclaiming Puberty”, to someone who doesn’t know you or has never seen it?
E – It’s about my transition from childhood to now. The first half is about the childhood of my adolescence. The second half is about reenacting it as the gender that I have chosen, which echoes the snapshots from the first half.
J – How did you go about using the snapshots from your youth?
E – I had this idea to recreate my childhood, reenact the snapshots as I am now. I thought we’d use giant furniture and dressed up. A friend of mine said to keep it simple, and they were right. It came to me that I could never recreate the expression on my face I had in the original so I used them. I wanted it to have a sense of humor. I mean, here I am, reliving the worst time in my life as an adult. How amusing, of course, that this would happen to me. All the art you see from the transgender community seems to be about the pain and tragedy; it’s all so ironic. For me the only way to survive the transition was to keep a sense of humor, it was important for the work to have that as well.
J – So that show was obviously received very well, why “Women et Homme” as the follow up?
E – Well it wasn’t supposed to be. I was working on the Vice Project. But someone convinced me to shoot from my experiences and once I started this project it was just so satisfying, the shots were so good, I knew I could continue it for a while.
J – The new images seem to be very straight forward, ladies sharing a moment together, adjusting their make-up and jewelry but obviously that’s not so. How would you describe your new body of work?
E – They’re ordinary; in some pictures you can’t tell that they are not women. It’s not about glitter or entertainment; it’s about fulfilling their identity in a series of moments in the cushion of the community.
J – So in a way this is your community service?
E – In a way, yes. But community service has such a negative connotation because people are forced to do it or the people helping are somehow above the people being helped. This is just my responsibility…and it’s fun, it’s really the ultimate NY experience.
J – Was it a challenge to get them to open up to you and take their picture?
E – I just started hanging around, eventually I came out to all of them, shared my experiences. I wasn’t there shooting for three hours straight. I was just there to capture specific moments. People that started out not wanting to be photographed were ok with it in the end. I wanted them to feel comfortable with me, safe, and I made it a point to be there on a consistent schedule. There’s a certain amount of vanity and pride so they’re ok with it. And most you’d never recognize as men.
J – Is there a consistent or cohesive thread running throughout these two bodies of work?
E – They are both focused on certain stereotypes that are there for a reason; specific performances of men and women, the expected moments from each gender. Also, being true to yourself no matter the consequence and always keeping a sense of humor on the way.
J – Being that you have a show coming up in a few days, how does it feel to see your work on the wall?
E – Well right now I am stressed because I’m not totally done.
J – But once it is on the walls…
E – It’s exhilarating and exciting. I’m proud of myself, I am where I always wanted to be. It feels like you’re being honored ...Of course once things are on the wall, I wish I had put them there earlier.
J – So you do this to be the center of attention?
E – That would be you!
J – Right.
J – So in the gallery is the first time you see the images on a wall?
E – Yes, I always think I need to live with them on my wall as I work but I always forget to do it.
J – Ok, so for conversations sake, the work is on the wall you attend the opening and schmooze with everyone. What’s harder, the social aspect of the art scene or the creative, studio side?
E – Picking my outfit out is the hardest part of the whole thing. I feel weird about this process because it’s not like my job is hard. I love what I do and feel lucky to be able to do it. But to answer your question, all the small talk at the openings is the hard part. Sometimes you feel like it’s a trial with all the questions and you have to justify every choice you’ve made.
J – What does having a show as a student and then a favorable NYTimes review do to your head? You must be rich and famous now, right?
E – I actually need some money to pay for this drink. I made no money from my first show. But the reaction and recognition brought me more success in a specific genre that seemed a little played already. No money what so ever though!
J – So are you worried about being pigeonholed as a queer artist?
E – Absolutely. I stepped away from it for a little while and did some landscapes and different projects. After “Reclaiming Puberty”, I didn’t want to be out any more. I wanted to have more appeal to a broader audience. Then I was talking with Donna Ferrato, who photographs the acts and victims of domestic violence. She strayed from that work for a while and then went back because she felt like it was her duty to capture those moments. She told me that I have an in like no one else because of my own experiences. Nan Goldin said, “One can only document what one truly understands”. So, reluctantly, I went back and got over it. People are going to label me no matter what. I’m not concerned with the title as much as I am the image.
J – Last question I promise. Thoughts on the current art world?
E – Complete mishegoss!