Interview with Annie Flanagan

The second of Boreal’s two new members talks with Ian Willms.

Ian Willms: Tell me about the time we met.

Annie Flanagan: It was NYC April 2013. There was a giant banana that we found on the side of the road. And we shotgunned beers in that park and my friend Van Dave met up with us. It wasn’t rainy I don’t think, but I remember the post rain night light and the light glisten of the yellow street lights and Kuba was there and Tommaso. I haven’t seen Kuba since. Tommaso and I went to Eddie Adams. I was staying in Van Dave’s van. And y’all were shotgunning beers in public and I was like maybe these guys don’t realize it’s America and we are going to get in trouble. We did not. I think I was the fastest shotgunner. Anyway. Then we went to that bar with that giant Banana and played pool and then I went to Van Dave’s van to crash and we went to the NYT Portfolio Reviews the next day. It’s probably all jumbled cause our memories jumble the past but thats all that I remember of that day. I was also like I am going to make Ian be my friend. It was when I began to friend court you!

IW: Describe your work – in three words.

AF: I forgot them.

Just kidding. But that is three words, and I did forget them.

Compulsive, Intimate and.

IW: Tell me about the most important photograph you have ever taken and what it means to you.

AF: Man. I don’t know. I guess can I talk about someone else’s important photograph in relation to my photograph? Cause that is what I am going to do.

For whatever reason, in high school and college, I was neither surrounded by nor aware of a lot of female or queer photographers. And certainly not photographers using photography to process their own experiences with sexuality, gender identity or rape. So, in college when I saw Nan Goldin’s image Nan one month after being battered everything changed. Earlier that year I had made a self portrait where I had a black eye and, at the time, I was not speaking to my best friend, Hannah, because she was in a violent domestic relationship. It was not until that moment, when I saw that image, that I understood that I could share vulnerable moments in my own life. And those moments did not make me weak. And admitting when you feel weak is okay. And being vulnerable is okay. You can be strong and be vulnerable. And understanding what that vulnerability is like, what it feels like to document and share your own trauma, it has made me a more compassionate artist. So, that single image was a huge influence. It gave me such courage.

This is one reason why I think it is so vital that we work to support and encourage different perspectives and why diversity is so very important because if you don’t see people you can identify with making work, it can make you not only doubt your own ability, but also doubt the worth of your perspective. Especially, in my case at least, when I had people (police, friends and people in the photography community and maybe even professors) telling you that certain things happened to you because you were drunk, you know the shame of others can fuck you up just as much as the violence. Which is not limited to experiences gendered violence but being open and honest about your own life, there are complications and judgement that comes with it. So, that portrait I made of myself, which, image-wise, is not great or anything, but it was so shameful for so long. I didn’t show anyone so much of my work because it was filled with shame and confusion. And now I find power in it. I find power in placing it next to the image of Hannah with her first black eye that her mom took. God, I really need to fucking get this book published. But, it was the experiences surrounding those photographs that made me commit to photographing experiences of gendered violence and all that surrounds it.

IW: I think we can agree that it’s hard to survive as a young photographer these days. Why do you do it?

AF: Since I was 13 I have had a camera by my side and since then photography has always been how I learn to understand the world and myself and only in the last like 9 months have I started to try and make a living with it. So, yea it is going to be hard. But I don’t know, its sounds so stupid but I don’t do it to make money as it hasn’t been how I have financially supported myself. I have had shit random jobs and side hustles but this isn’t that like, “I just follow my heart and I think it will all work out don’t worry about the money.” That is a bullshit sentiment that I fucking hate ‘cause bills are real and finances are real and it doesn’t have to all work out, but, photography is a way of life. It’s a reflex. It’s everything. And it is never about the industry or the publications or the bureaucracy and it is always about the people you are photographing with and that will never stop no matter how I am getting by or not getting by.

IW: What were initial impressions when you first heard of Boreal?

AF: I think internet told me, or you told me, we were friends then? I don’t remember, but, yea, I think y’all had like something and laundromat? Maybe a party with photographs on the wall? An art show? And y’all struck me as collective who started making work out of their own desires and curiosities. I mean maybe that was totally incorrect and that laundromat wasn’t actually a laundromat but for whatever reason y’all struck me as not seeking approval from people and just making work and pushing shit out there regardless, in a real and meaningful way. And I liked that. I like that.

[Editor’s Note: It was the Private as Public group show at Harbord Coin Wash in Toronto in 2013.]

IW: Why did you decide to join Boreal and what are you hoping to get out it?

This is regurgitated from those other things but It rings true so I am going to use it: 

I am constantly impressed by the sensitive yet striking nature of the photography Boreal is putting out, their commitment to long form documentary projects and their creative approach to sharing and making work. Those are the main reasons I was thrilled to join Boreal. 

Additionally, I am a big the whole is greater than the sum of the parts person. I find making work in a vacuum to be very dangerous and, therefore, being apart of a collective of people you can count on to challenge and support you invaluable. Having people that you can bounce ideas off of and collaborate with, which are things you should be able to do without the structure of a collective, but having that intention and commitment to each other is huge. It is goes beyond me and is a commitment just as much to my own work as it is to the other members and the art form of photography. 

IW: What is your favorite number and colour and why?

AF: 21 because that was my number when I played basketball. I also really like 533. It’s a nice one. If you say them all fast they are nice. 533. 533. 533.

Right now I am partial to the barf green. With a slight hint of neon green. That electric barf green.

IW: What’s next for the illustrious Annie Flanagan?

AFI need to focus on publishing this book. So, all the glory of making a budget and understanding the logistics for all of that. I also have a ton of fucking work to edit and like a million rolls of film to process and a couple secret projects I have to work on. I just need to buy one of those desk calendars so I can organize all my thoughts. I need to find a project while in NOLA because I need to be a part of this city in a real way and photography is the only want I know how to do that. I am playing the bass for at least an hour every day. 

On a personal note—well, its all personal, but I don’t know, I am just typing cause you told me to just type and I am on so much coffee so there!—but, I spent all summer with the impression I was learning how to be alone, that I had left New Orleans to photograph and to get more comfortable with myself in myself and not to feel shame of not being that person that has a normal life that allows for normal relationships, whatever that means. But turns out the road makes being alone way easier and being here and having a home and a bed and being stationary and not needing to focus on how I’m getting where next or where I am sleeping next and the frustration and allure of that, but being stationary is way more confronting. So, in short, I am learning how to be comfortable being alone and healing and making work and just letting the creativity take over my brain. And man, I have like a million invoices to process and I am slow as fuck with that shit because 1) I hate math and 2) I fucking hate math. Also, learning how to have better business practices and being more efficient.

IW: What did you have for breakfast today?

AFNothing yet. I drank shit ton of coffee. With a shit ton of half and half.

IW: Any last words? 

AF: Dinner’s ready.

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