When I first met Brandy Eve Allen in the desert town of Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea, she was preparing a series of milk cartons featuring "missing person" photos of those she has photographed who are no longer in her life. The cartons were to be displayed at an art festival we were both helping prepare, where Brandy also built a confessional. Far from religious, she encouraged festival attendees to write down something about themselves that they were ready to shamelessly own.
This kind of intimate personal investment rings true in everything Brandy makes. She photographs her friends and lovers; she made a book about running away to Italy when LA let her down and a tarot deck of her images matched to concepts of intuition. "Beauty is about transparent sincerity," she once said — and her photos exhibit a sincerity unlike any I have seen before. While they resist comparison, the ornate aesthetic and implicit emotional stakes of Irina Ionesco come to mind. She shoots exclusively on film, mostly rare infared and expired varieties.
I caught up with Brandy about these processes and inspirations:
When and how did you start with photography?
I've always been making art in some kind of medium. The first photo I loved of mine is a portrait of my mom I took holding a fake penguin when I was about five years old. It wasn't until I was about 18 and a friend of mine wanted to make a modeling portfolio, so we went out and shot some rolls. I brought them to A&I and the head printer there told me I should keep going, so I did.
What drives you as a photographer?
There's something that takes over when I'm making photographs; it's total escape for me. I can lose myself in creative process, leaving everything from my real life behind and able to create somewhere else I want to belong.
You shoot entirely on film, primarily rare and expired films. Why make this choice?
The alchemic process and subject to chance is fully embraced. I know what these films are going to do most of the time, but there's that one here and there that go either completely wild or totally bunk; I can still see photos I took that never developed because of a shit roll. There's a graveyard of imagery that exists in my mind.
You created a boxed set of tarot cards using your images, called Invisible Light Tarot. How did this come about?
I love making books or box sets of my photos and giving them to friends or keeping for myself. I honestly don't know how the idea came to be, it just popped in my head and I ran with it. I love the idea of sharing a collection of images with people in any tactile way, an alternative to the computer screen. I also found a lot of archetypal connection between what the tarot represents and what my photos convey. Most of the photos I used for the tarot deck are made with infrared films which are meant to pick up light invisible to the human eye but exist, similar to the way tarot is mean to reveal that which is hidden. There's a lot of connection between tarot and creativity that lies within how we access our intuition. It's not necessarily meant for the occult, above all, this is a way for me to share some of my photos.
How do you approach objectification of the female form? Is it something you try to disrupt or challenge?
I'm not trying to do anything but take a good photograph that speaks true to me in some way. I use the body's form as an anonymous story teller; body language is another way for me to communicate feeling. It's not about sex, although it does not ignore sensuality. If I choose nudity, it's because I want something anonymous of era, something timeless. I am deliberate and considerate in what I show and how I put someones image out into the world, it's inherent in me to connect with the sensitivity surrounding how a female is presented and represented. I think my work is part of a conversation that's more primal than political, although my experience as a female artist is definitely wrapped up in experiences that reflect what is fucked about our culture today and the continuance of male privilege.
Who are your inspirations as a photographer?
The women I photograph inspire me a lot, they're all really talented and deep people who I respect and vibe off of. My friends inspire me, the ones who write, and dance, perform, and paint, and take pictures themselves. Sally Mann, Francesca Woodman, Ana Mendieta inspire me for their honesty, emotion and bravery they exposed in their art. I read books and find a lot of ideas through history, poetry, science. Nature, light, tribal communities and the way they embrace ephemerality.