MARCIA LYONS DRIVE BY SHOOTING
Tom Tavelli: I see your LA work as a contemporary extension of the great American still tradition exemplified by such masters as Arbus, Eggleston, Winnogrand and Frank.
Marcia Lyons: I don't take still photographs. I do drive by shooting.
Tom Tavelli: Drive by shooting? What do you mean by that?
Marcia Lyons: I'm a drive-by shooter. I take a succession of shots in second intervals with a video camera, from a moving car, of a scene that I witness by chance. Sometimes, only after I review the roll at the end of the night do I make choices. In that sense, I'm closer to a cinematographer on location, working out improvisational shot lists.
Diane Arbus said she was attracted to photography because it felt like a "naughty thing to do." I'm also attracted to the voyeurism. The ethics of viewing is an issue that I think about. What she was doing was dangerous. What I'm doing is dangerous. I'm out there with the pimps and drug addicts; some violent, some near death situations. I try to capture people, doing what they do, some 'acting out' on the street, before they become aware of the camera. I'm flattered by the comparison to Eggleston. I think the pose, whether architecture or portraiture, is designed in a way that I'm not as conscious of. Maybe, I should think about it more. Winogrand, yes, that odd perspective and fixation on New York, specifically. I wonder why it took me so long to get to LA. I read that he would wait a year or more before developing a shot.
I notice that you see things in the pictures you've chosen for this book that I'm not aware of. That kind double distancing works well for me. I made documentary films to make a living in Paris and London. That way of working probably accounts for my move to the street in LA. I see why you would mention Frank in terms of his Hollywood set candids. I do that on location, when I'm working on a film. Access to actors on location is part of my behind the scene job. But, French New Wave film and Italian directors, who were all influenced by Caravaggio, and Scorcese's heightened color and brutal subjects, influence me more. The geo-centricity of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, when you step out on the street, wait a few minutes you're a witness, and a storyline develops right in front of you.
I shoot a lot. 300-500 shots a day. I fill up a memory card and that's when its time to go in. I believe in taking a lot of pictures and shooting, even if I don't know if I'll get it. I don't always look through the camera. I don't look at what I've shot right away. That instinctual thing, about real behaviour... is influenced by the editing room, in terms of continuing to shoot for a cut away. Even when the person has left the frame. Does that make sense? In the end, its about the capacity to look at these people directly, enhanced by this intense light that only exists in LA and reminds me of Fellini or a Mardi Gras sensibility that I saw at Cinecittà studios in Rome.
Tom Tavelli: Wow! There is a lot in your answer that I would like to talk about. You articulate a number of things that I sense in your work, but could not quite pin down. You confirm my feeling that the base of your photographic voice is cinematic. Your description that you work like “a cinematographer improvising on location” nails it. I see in your “drive by shooting” you searching for a Neo-noir film that has yet to be created. One thing that you did not mention is your Heroines? In particular your images of women. To play devil's advocate, I would describe as Post-Feminist.
Marcia Lyons: That archetype may have been called for by the casting director, but, usually, I'm cast as the BITCH at the bar, "I dig you baby, but I've got to keep moving." The 'crime of fiction' that is not fiction – that really is a fiction – confuses the work with the personal. Not to be coy. I was exposed to very strong women in New York. Women who made their lives up from an idea. No one every spoke about Post-Feminism. That was the realm of the readers of images that came afterwards; that developed after an unconscious intention to be engaged with something that energized you enough to express it. I came out in the art world during the Bitch Art, Guerrilla Girls, "Truth or Dare" (Madonna) Media+Performance, The B52's and CBGB's Blondie, if you call that a cultural milieu. I made sexy, fisted, punctuated objects that 'objected' in public situations. For several years I worked in BLACK and then I worked in RED. I experimented with the body and space and transgressive acts.
The work I'm doing now is, literally, about plotted plots; how to get from East LA (point A) to West LA (point B) on Hollywood Blvd in one night and live to tell about it. I've constructed a life of movement. [Beware what artists say] Curiously, ‘fiction’ and my ‘real’ experiences seem to merge these days. When I was in school in New York, I was lucky enough to go to Louise Bourgeoise's studio. Judy Pfaff gave me a studio in her loft on Greenwich. Marsha Tucker supported my work. Ursula von Rydingsvard gave me a job and taught me to work harder than I thought I could. I studied with Marguerite von Trotta, Claire Denis and Catherine Breillat in Switzerland. Chris Kraus influenced my writing. I paid attention to Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. My grandmother, Hassel Bogle, used to disappear from time to time without telling anyone where she was going. She had her own terms for her movements. I felt closest to her. I was also influenced by amazing men. I studied with Mike Figgis, hung out with Sam Shepard for a couple years, dated Mark Strand, I married James Jackson, an indie Aussie/UK producer (I'm editing out for the sake of space here. LOL). I guess my influences are Bi-gender.
Tom Tavelli: I think your working process, now that I understand it, is brilliant. I see an invented form that contains both an instinctual thing about real behavior and a stylized unreality like a movie or circus. Your method of plotting process boundaries, “(point A) to (point B),” sets up a documentary format, an attitude of objectively collecting observations of social behavior. What I find compelling about the resulting images is the sense that truth is stranger than fiction. Within your objective boundaries something, not traceable is happening.
There is a mix of elements in your work: the “voyeurism,” the “acting out,” the “struggle for survival,” the sense of danger, the cinematic perspective that leads me to characterize this drive by work as your search for a contemporary “LA Confidential” is this somewhat accurate? If so, could you describe the movie you would make as writer/director.
Marcia Lyons: Well, the whole thing doesn’t come at once. Fragments of things come, and these fragments, what I call 'plotted plots,' form themselves into a script. For me, my ideas come on location. I shoot first and gather scenes that trigger ideas. The story is more abstract, fragile and open. I think DaDa was like that; like Tristan Tzara's cut-up technique. I think that when you write a story in a 3 act way there is a formula that tends to be predictable. But, when you turn a corner and the person you were following disappears and another situation grabs your attention, then you can't predict the next storyline and the suspense builds. In a way, its a series of irrational spaces that you try to connect and make seem logical, in the same way you do when you wake up from a dream. I write observationally. "What did I just pass through? I know that somehow I have to keep moving, so that I might find out where I am.”
Tom Tavelli: LA is home to Hollywood, Disneyland and the city where Warhol first exhibited his “Campbell Soup Cans.” There is something in LA’s DNA that fuses reality, fantasy and media. Is LA the perfect place for you? Is that what you mean when you say “curiously, ‘fiction’ and my ‘real’ experiences seem to merge these days?"
Marcia Lyons: My condition, where my real experiences and fiction are merging, is so deeply woven into my character that it would be impossible to untangle the pathogen from my own strands of DNA. Like lying to people you love for their benefit, it’s hard to explain this chronic irony to people who don’t suffer from it. Are you saying my work is the cinematic equivalent of a Campbell Soup Can? He ate Campbell Soup everyday. The soup in his gut was represented in a detached, ideal Mad Man ad push. What I'm getting at is... He cracked it with those paintings. He chose a subject that was in everybody's psyche. There's a tension in those images that creates a weird fetish that I identify with. He also made decisions by committee. I think that is hilarious. LA got “IT” first. Cinema really leads the art world, and it has for some time. When I first got to New York, Robert Longo was hot with the graphic "Men in the Cities" (1979) and his thrusting "American Psycho" poses. That's what influenced me early on. I hung out at the Odeon where the hiss of egos inflating and deflating in the room was almost like watching multiple screens with much more interesting casting choices. I love famous people. They’re so much better than the real thing. It’s probably why Hollywood felt so fauxmey (faux-home-y) to me, now that I think about it.
An exerpt of an interview for a photography essay book in progress curated by Tavelli Curatorial.
For more information on the availabilty of Marcia Lyons' work contact Thomas Tavelli at email: firstname.lastname@example.org