Victoria by Max Cook
As a patron of the arts, I have had the fortune of meeting many amazing people in the local arts scene, including gallery owners, curators, artists, and others who equally share my passion. Only recently did it dawn on me that I have access to a quiver of creators, to some incredibly talented people whose lives and work I’d like to share with you, because well, it would be a shame not to.
Our city sometimes lacks the credit that it deserves in many aspects, particularly when it comes to the world of the arts. Some of this criticism is rightly due, but in the relatively short time that I’ve lived in DC it has continued to bloom and take on an identity of its own, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of it.
So I’ve decided to dive head first into featuring creative minds that I know and who shine in my eyes, to feature their work and to share their lives with you. My approach, much like my personality, is intended to be honest and unorthodox, and to educate you as well as myself in the process. I hope to avoid formalities, skip the bullshit, and get right down to the dirt.
We begin with local photographer, Victoria F. Gaitán. When I first saw her at a gallery opening years ago, I was intimidated by her height, 7″ heels, black latex pants, and blonde locks that flowed past her knees. By nature I am not an extrovert, and I sure as hell am not one with a beautiful specimen like Victoria, so it took me a long time to get up the nerve to speak to her. I remember a time when we sat on a couch next to each other, and given my fear factor and her shyness, not a word was spoken. As time went on, I realized that she is one of the sweetest, nicest, most creative and approachable people on the planet, which is why I have chosen her to be my guinea pig.
The rest of this article features strong language and imagery that may not be suitable for work environments. If that’s not your thing, take a gander at this instead.
Max: Good morning, Ms. Gaitán. Thank you for being a sport and entertaining my green reporting skills. Since this is a blog about DC, tell me, how long have you been living here and where on earth did you come from?
Victoria: Well good morrow, Mr. Cook. I’ve been here for almost 3 years. I came from London where I’d been for 10 years. Before that, it was Brooklyn, and before that, it was Australia.
M: London, eh? Would you like some beans on toast with your grease? So what you’re saying is that you’re a relative newcomer to DC, however you’re making quite the splash on the arts scene I must say. Before we get down to the nitty gritty, tell me what your perfect day in DC would be like. Let your imagination run wild, like a goldfish dumped into the ocean.
V: I guess my perfect day would depend on whatever mood I was in, but in general, probably a combination of going on a long drive through Virginia, having a good fucked up shoot, having a good productive printing session, treat bars, snuggling on the bed with the cats watching a movie or a tv show like Dexter or Breaking Bad or something, maybe finally seeing something at one of the incredible (and free!) museums DC has, definitely catching an opening or party, or an awesome shindig at the Capitol Skyline Hotel or one of the Pinkline’s Salon Contras. There are so many great things happening here. Today I had a great fucked up shoot with a really beautiful gal, a hospital gown, a cow’s heart and lots of mystery goo’s, treat bars, a drive, and now I’m making my first batch of brownies (from a box), so that’s a pretty good day. All I need is a printer ink and paper fairy……..oh, if a day involves new shoes arriving in a box at the door, with that incredible new shoe smell and all of that crinkly tissue paper, hell, that’s all I need for at least a week!! Oops, and if it’s a nice day, I love going for a walk around the neighbourhood, and going to Costco’s is always a thrill for some reason, as is going to the local Rite Aid. You really do find the darndest things in your local Rite Aid. Oh yeh, and um, reading with the cats. Sorry for the run-on answer.
The beloved Mr. Bewbs by Max Cook
Shoe Shrine by Max Cook
M: Costco is pretty fascinating isn’t it? I love standing in line with my single bottle of wine and marveling over what everyone around me is buying. What do people do with a gallon of ketchup and a side of beef? Anyway, I’ve read that you dabbled in doodling when you were younger but somehow ended up as a rock star photographer instead. How did that transition happen and when did you fall in love with your first camera? Oh, and do you still doodle?
V: Fanks. Yep. I love the scale of most things. The huge packs of stuff, and the huge cans, and tubs. And the little girl dresses. If only they came in adult sizes. The side of beef with the gallon of ketchup? Sounds like someone’s working on a sturdy and very manly bowel obstruction there!
I don’t think I’m anywhere near a rock star photographer, but it’s really nice of you to say. I still doodle, mostly just cards for people, but I’m going to start doing some more dumb drawings and dumb paintings again soon I hope. I think I just had one of those totally adolescent moments where you think you know what’s going to be the best thing to do, and I just decided that since the film department sucked so badly, and although I really liked drawing and sculpture, I was undeniably in love with photography, I’d best stick to taking still photos.
My first camera was some crappy instamatic that my mother gave me. She’d get really annoyed as she’d give me a new roll of film and I’d snap the whole thing off within the afternoon or the hour. She’d keep a roll of film going for at least a year at a time, so they were more like annual time capsules, more than anything. I couldn’t stop clicking the button and used to get so excited thinking of what the images that the camera saw would look like. I loved the difference between what my meaty eye took in, and what the camera translated through the lens and the film onto paper.
M: If you can capture the wacky thoughts in your head with a camera, print them to perfection and hang them in numerous galleries, then you’re a rock star in my book. Getting most of the DC art world to bake in front of your hot lamps says a lot about your stature too, but we’ll talk more about that later. So how did the clickity-click-clicking of your childhood instamatic evolve into your grownup obsession with megapixels and paper profiles? Why did you make the switch from winding film to writing 1′s and 0′s? Tell us about your arsenal of picture taking devices.
V: It’s only recently that I crossed over to the pixel-side completely. I’d done a bit of fooling around scanning film and then noodling with it in Photoshop, but it wasn’t until I got a digital camera in 2008 that I fully crossed over into the light. I was still too sick really to do much of anything, so it wasn’t until 2009 when I really started.
I changed from film to pixels as I’d always been frustrated with the limitations of film and the darkroom and saw working digitally as a great way to free myself up quite a bit. Some of those limitations I actually loved about it, and the happy accidents and not so happy ones were things I’d hold my breath over. I loved and still love that waver of uncertainty about what it’ll actually end up looking like, and how badly did I fuck up and create a shitload of extra work for myself. So it’s been a pretty steep learning curve, and was really frustrating at first when I was lucky to have one good hour per day to do anything. The first print I ever made was 42×63″ and was in the Transformer Auction at the end of 2009, followed by the Untitled Hole triptych, again each print was 42×63 unforgiving inches, for Portrait 2.0 a few weeks later. There were many 14 hour days working on things like bits of hair, little parts of the face, and just thinking of what I wanted to do, and how the fuck do I get it to behave. The internet is definitely an almighty oracle.
Devices? Black plastic, lights, Nikon D-300, cats, Epson printer, distractions, external hard drives all with variants of one name.
Untitled by Victoria F. Gaitán
M: Seriously, the internet is an amazing source for photographers, from researching cameras, lenses, printers, paper, how to achieve certain effects, how to remove wrinkly skin in post processing, and how to calibrate your monitor. In the old days you had to learn these things on your own or ask other actual humans for advice. Gasp! Speaking of which, are there any photographers that you’d like to give a shout out to who have influenced your work or helped you in some way? And besides your fabulously gifted husband, Alberto, who are some other artists that you love?
V: Frank Hallam Day gave me one of his old printers for a good price and was really sweet giving me some invaluable pointers. You know…..I think every arts related person that I’ve met in DC deserves a big shout out. There are so many talented people here, doing cool stuff, and being nice is a big fat shiny maraschino cherry on top. And that makes a huge difference to how your world is informed and shaped. Books, TV, movies, old paintings, my own life and music are more of a springboard for me than photographs, but I really loved Cecil Beaton, Julia Margaret Cameron, W. Eugene Smith and Bill Henson when I was in art school. I really like painting from the 16th and 17th Century, a lot of religious art, ‘outsider’ art, and I love the kind of thing that painters like Michael Hussar, Ray Ceaser, and Mark Ryden are doing. I love David Lynch, and am kind of a movie freak.
M: I must say, Mr. Day is one awesome dude, and thank you for turning me on to several artists that I’d never heard of. I think you and I have similar tastes in that we both like things that are…”dark”. Pan’s Labyrinth anyone? This is a good segue into talking about some of your work which I would definitely consider “dark”. Tell me what inspired your Folie à deux series, and was it difficult to convince people to pose with a real pig’s head?
V: It was just an image that popped into my head and felt right. The rest just fell into place. I just asked people who I felt would be right, and no one seemed really to mind. I explained the basic idea and that it would be pretty gross.
Folie A Deux Part 1 by Victoria F. Gaitán
M: You have one of the most lovely, eccentric, and creative minds of anyone I know which is perfect fertilizer for being an artist. Tell me how you came up with the idea for your Hole series and explain the meaning behind the title.
V: In our shared mythologies we tend to have creatures and unpleasant things that live in holes. A dark hole that doesn’t know daylight doesn’t usually make a snug bed for something pretty and fun. We all have, to varying degrees, these dark holes within us. Places we don’t want others to know about, often places we don’t want to know about, and just keep the lid closed on it. The Hole series is about exploring the life in these places. It’s kind of a foundational series.
Untitled Triptych by Victoria F. Gaitán
M: Aside from portraiture, are there any other types of photography that interest you?
V: Nothing really comes to mind, but I’m sure there must be something. I’m a sucker for the cheesy, cutesy animal stuff!
M: I had the honor of posing for you as part of your DC Arts series. I hate having my picture taken, but to be in the hot seat in front of your lens, where so many other talented people have been, well it was a no-brainer. I really love how your subjects aren’t all sparkly and glamorized, but instead somewhere between moody and neutral. Is your intent to show a different side of their personalities? Tell me how the idea for this series popped into your brain.
V: That’s incredibly sweet of you to say. Thanks so much for letting me shove that big lens in your craw and blind you like a bug under the sun with those lights. I really appreciate how you and so many others have just given over such a great deal of trust in this process.
I’m interested in finding that slippery moment where the subject is ‘in between’. Somewhere in the gray area of unguardedness, zoned outness, and being present but comfortable. I try to find somewhere very personal, and catch it. My intention is not to exploit their good faith and trust, but to show that quieter, more vulnerable and true side. The side they usually only show themselves, (if ever) and select others (if ever). I find a great deal of beauty in who we are when we’re just being.
The idea came about as I landed here, and was just blubberingly incredulous at how cool the art scene was. I’d been told, ‘You’ll hate DC, it’s a hole’, which set me up with pretty low expectations, that got rebalanced to normal quickly. So many crazy talented people are making stuff here, and the level of support amongst artists and galleries continues to make me curse out loud in appreciation. My health was still pretty dire when I got here so I wasn’t up for anything but ninja shoots, and it just seemed like a great combination – a long running series on DC artists, that isn’t strenuous. I shoot quickly anyway, but now it’s gotten kind of ridiculous!
M: For our readers who would like to see your work up close and personal, where can they find it?
V: Right now, there are twelve prints that comprise the Sweet-Meat Part 1 series up at G.R.A.C.E. for the exhibition Beautiful, curated by Joanne Bauer. That’s on until June 11th. On May 25th there’s a moderated panel with Philippa P.B. Hughes of the Pink Line Project and the three other artists in the show.
You may have seen my contribution to DCAC’s Cuisine de Artistes, making some exploding dark red, sweet and sharp, mystery goo balls with Chef Logan Cox of The Heights restaurant in DC.
I’ll have some stuff at the Addison/Ripley gallery over the Summer for a portrait show curated by Frank Hallam Day. I’m hoping to show work from the Dry-Drowning series for that.
At the end of June I’ll have a photograph in Jeffry Cudlin’s show By Request at Flashpoint gallery.
I was asked on Friday night to be in a show at Curator’s Office in July. It’s a benefit show for Doctors Without Borders.
Victoria by Max Cook
M: So basically you’re everywhere, ubiquitous shall we say. You’re a shooting star, leaving glittery pixie dust in your wake. And being on the up-and-up, what would you say your end goal is as a photographer?
V: I don’t think I have one other than to just keep on making the images in my head. It’d be really nice to stop living the cliché and to just make stuff and not have to worry about where the next pbj is coming from!
To view more of Victoria’s work, step into a DC art gallery at pretty much any given time, or visit her website. Many thanks to her for taking time out of her busy shooting and cat-snuggling schedule.