this photographer took a selfie every time she cried for 3 years

Los Angeles photographer Emily Knecht takes crying self-portraits that are more intimate than your basic nudie pics.

by Jane Helpern
18 June 2015, 2:30pm

Los Angeles photographer Emily Knecht is obsessed with intimacy. Her own. Her friends'. Strangers', even. As such, she's continuously at odds with her comfort zone, and instead opens the floodgates to her feelings. So many feelings. Pushing past more typical tools for provocation such as free nipples and masturbation - although there's traditionally an abundance of these themes in her work - she captures raw emotion and tear-filled self-portraits in bedrooms and bathrooms and restaurants and cars. Wherever the sad strikes, really. "It's so much more vulnerable and narcissistic than nudity," she explains of her crying series, as we sit cross-legged and facing one another on the living room floor of her exposed brick Silver Lake apartment amidst piles of vaguely erotic polaroids and heaps of clean and dirty laundry.

Emily began taking pictures at age 11 when she went away to Plantation, a farm-themed summer camp for girls and boys nestled in Sonoma County. There, she learned chores and lived in tents and documented the rituals of her girlfriends getting ready for the big dance. She'd show up every summer with fifteen disposable cameras and use them all, every last picture. "Most of my friends would use, like, half," she brags excitedly. Who doesn't remember the simultaneous disappointment and satisfaction of winding up for the next shot and realizing there was no more ammo? "I would cover the walls of my parents house in those photos. It was the thing that made me feel okay." It's a typical tale of collaging as a coming of age rite, and something she never really grew out of.

These days, Emily is working a lot. On very personal projects, as well as commercial jobs. She recently shot Gigi Hadid and Shannon (of Shannon and The Clams). She uses her cozy and eclectic apartment as her work studio, and spends the rest of the time shacked up with her musician boyfriend, who, sidenote, doesn't allow her to publish any of the pictures she takes of his penis. "He lets me take them, but I can't use them," she clarifies. These are just the sort of human nuances and unexpected inconsistencies that she's so hungry to study in her work.

After her parents finally accepted that Emily wasn't going to quit photography like she had karate and so many other discarded hobbies, they finally bought her a camera for 10th grade photo class. From there, she stuck with it, and went on to receive a BFA from Cal Arts with plans to become a fashion photographer - an area of focus that she's since moved on from, but that was scoffed at by art-snobs with paintbrushes up their butts. "I had, like, three friends," she says of her time there. In fact, even her professors had all but written her off until she caught them off guard with her senior thesis show, an intense and evocative amalgam of personal nudes and writings and portraits of her best friend's grandmother on her deathbed.

"Feelings," Emily's recent solo show at Innocnts Gallery in Los Angeles, marks the artist's first major solo show since her 2009 graduation, and the climax of a long-term self-portrait project documenting on 35mm film every single time she cried over the course of the last three years. Sometimes over exes, many times over fights with her current boyfriend, and when she was trying to figure out whether she was going to be sober or not. No matter how hysterical she became, her camera was never far away. It was an invasive habit that even her supportive boyfriend occasionally grew a wee bit impatient with.

"In the moment, if we're having an argument and I'm crying and I'm like 'Hold on, I've got to take a picture,' he's like, 'What the fuck is wrong with you?' It's like, is it taking you out of the moment? Is it connecting you more? What are you doing? And I don't know all the answers yet." For the photographer, this is all part of the project's intrigue. "There have been times when I've taken one or two photos and I started to cry harder and I become more upset, and then other times when I took a photo and felt relieved, like I could move on." The photos and the healing process have come to be inextricably linked.

"It is such a secret place, the land of tears," writes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in The Little Prince. And perhaps part of Emily Knecht's bigger mission is to explore this magical, fertile place overflowing with salty streams and flooding rivers. To see how the emotion adapts and mutates when we stop hiding and share the most private parts of ourselves. It isn't always comfortable. It isn't always pretty. In fact, sometimes the faces we make are downright ugly. But perhaps now that we've freed the nipple, it's time to free the feelings. For even more runny mascara and quivering upper-lips, you can look forward to the expanded version of "Feelings" in hardcover book form.


Text Jane Helpern
Photography Emily Knecht

Emily Knecht