cass bird's intimate new show takes us into her bedroom
At Red Hook Labs, the photographer mounts a show blending playful portraits with personal family snapshots.
Ali en Treehouse, 2000, Fotografia di Cass Bird
When I call Cass Bird to talk about beds, I'm laying on my own, beneath a Quentin Blake poster and surrounded by magazines. On hold for a moment while the photographer patches her wife, Ali, into our call, I realize that bedrooms are perhaps our ultimate self-portraits. They're museums of who we are, and laboratories to experiment with who we'd like to be. Tonight, Bird opens hers to the public (kind of).
The i-D contributor's new solo show at Red Hook Labs is titled In Bed. It collects pictures from Bird's decades-spanning archive, and features an intimate recreation of the bedroom she shares with Ali at their home in Brooklyn.
Many of In Bed's pictures feature (you guessed it) beds. But Bird insists the title isn't wholly literal, or even nocturnally naughty. "Think about the amount of time you spend in your bed when you're not sexual at all. It greatly outdoes those moments when you are getting sexy," she reasons. "That other 95% of the time you're in bed, you're with your thoughts, you're with yourself, you're with your family, you're on your phone with your people. It's where we can connect in the world."
That notion of connection is really what drives the show. In Bed's images are culled from Bird's playfully tender fashion portraiture and her personal snapshots. Both bodies of work convey feelings of closeness, ease, and comfort. According to Ali, they're symbiotic.
"The idea of exposing the personal in the professional is something that you do all the time, within the intimacy of your subjects," she tells Cass. Those subjects often include Ali herself, the couple's two children Leo and Mae, and models like Daria Werbowy, who Cass has photographed for over 10 years. "It's almost like you get your ability to do what you do professionally in the home," says Ali. In Bed exposes that relationship.
Let's talk about the show's title. What led you to In Bed ?
Cass Bird: There are a lot of images of subjects in bed, but it's not a literal reference. It's about the feeling of the pictures. With my images, I try to get to the heart of the matter — to get to a place where you can feel that feeling you have in your bed. You can laugh, you can cry, you can move fast or slow, you can sleep, you can stay up all night, you can be restless. Beds are exploratory, experimental spaces. I want that kind of range, and that kind of closeness in my pictures.
How do you go about achieving that with your subjects?
CB: When you're shooting people, it's always a collaboration. You're working with another human being. In fashion, you're up against a lot of requirements that you don't have when you're just taking your camera out in your home or in your life. However, I try to approach them in the same way. I try to feel my way through things, I guess, and locate some kind of expression that feels impactful. It's about finding that middle zone, when you both feel like you're both in a place to avail yourself.
Is collaboration about confidence for you?
CB: Collaboration is an act of understanding. But confidence is not an outward pursuit of other people's thoughts and opinions. That's a tricky place to find yourself. It's through your own experience, your own trips. Falling down, picking yourself up, and discovering that you didn't die in the process. Looking outside of yourself for confidence or validation is like filling up a bucket with a hole in the bottom. And the truth is that confidence comes and goes in waves. Sometimes I can feel it and sometimes I can't find it. For me, the power is being able to be honest about it. If you can identify that and share it, you can work with it — you can navigate through that space, and still create in it. Working in that space of being insecure is just as valuable as working in a place where my instincts feel really strong.
Many images made by queer photographers ( Nan Goldin or Peter Hujar for example ) assert the bedroom as a space of desire, intimacy, playfulness, experimentation, self-affirmation. These pictures of Ali and your kids add something different.
CB: We're not shy of putting ourselves out there as a lesbian couple and as a family model.
Ali Bird: We just didn't have role models for doing what we wanted to do. We knew one couple that had a baby.
CB: But we were adults at that time, like in our 30s. I think that even if you're not gay, just being a woman and seeing a female-headed household is something I find inspiring. I'm happy that we can do it. We're doing it! [Laughs].
Tell me about the bedroom installation.
CB: Ali and I have shared a bedroom for over 15 years. And that bedroom has taken so many different forms: when we were out of college and our furniture was found on the street, to now. So this is somewhere in the middle of the ground we've covered. And inside of the bedroom, we're going to have the family pictures that feel more nude, more intimate. In our home, we have a Family Wall — pictures of us, the kids. It's kind of inviting that into the show, and creating a cozier atmosphere within an exhibition. A bed, some furniture, sit down and get cozy. I prefer laying down, so it'll be great.
AB: I think the installation comes back to that feeling of intimacy in your pictures. Regardless of if the work is shot professionally for an assignment, or it's a personal picture, you're getting a real sense of the person you're photographing. That's one of your special attributes as a photographer, Cass. Some pictures of models that aren't in the show are more beautiful. But they're less real. They're less capturing that moment. Where is it that the connection is actually happening? What feels like a moment that's true? That's what we were trying to get at with the curation.
What do you hope people come away from the show feeling?
CB: That I don't suck! [Laughs]. I know that my pictures can sometimes feel more playful, but I do experience isolation or a sullen moment within my work. I try not to shy away from the range of human emotion; it's not just all joy. So I hope they leave feeling connected to some aspect, even if it is a difficult one.
'Cass Bird: In Bed' is on view at Red Hook Labs through September 24, 2017. More information here.