American photographer and filmmaker Katy Grannan is well-known for her intimate portraits of strangers and focus on capturing subjects that would not typically be photographed in mainstream media. She photographs people in a range of different locations, including subject’s homes, vacant parking lots and outdoor spaces, with subjects often appearing nude. This range of contexts allows Katy to explore the inherent complexities in the relationship between the subject and photographer as strangers, as well as focusing on the subject as an individual.
Katy was first given a camera by her grandmother, but only became interested in photography as a potential career after discovering Robert Frank and his photography book, ‘The Americans’. She first gained recognition for a series of portraits she took while studying for her master’s at the Yale School of Arts. Finding models by placing advertisements in the newspaper, Katy created a series of intimate portraits of strangers, often alone in their own homes, by capturing the mixture of secrecy and anticipation elicited by this unusual arrangement.
Katy began developing this style of stranger portraits following her move to California in 2006 with her series ‘Boulevard’. Influenced by her new Californian surroundings, she photographed strangers she met on the street in Los Angeles and San Francisco in front of blank, white walls in the harsh afternoon light. By removing context from the image Katy emphasized the individual, often waiting until they were relaxed or agitated to capture the most organic photograph. Noted for her unforgiving style by some critics, Katy strives for honesty in her work, finding that individuals on the edge of society often feel less pressure to perform when having their portrait taken.
More recently, Katy’s series ‘The Ninety Nine’ and film ‘The Nine’, have specifically focused on poverty and the lives of people often overlooked in the American consciousness, exposing the flaws in the mythologised idea of the American West. In ‘The Ninety-Nine’ Katy follows the path of Dorothea Lange’s ‘An American Exodus’, which documented poverty during the Great Depression. As Lange’s work has become more renowned, however, its relevancy to today’s society can often be overlooked as the work itself has become mythologised. By following Lange’s trail, Katy provides a new insight into poverty in California, particularly focusing on the community on Modesto’s South Nine Street in ‘The Nine’. Despite the significance of this work, Katy does not see it as a call to action, but rather something ‘more personal, more intimate’, that allows ‘connections – and generosity – to flow in both directions.’
By Melissa Spreadborough