Ally Picard and the Emotional Relay – Dayna McLeod

Ally Picard extends to us moments in time that describe community, identity, love, tenderness, glamour and raw experience in her photographs, blurring the borders of the personal, public and private with ease and an expectation of trust. Her work features friends and subjects in everyday moments that are both staged and unrehearsed, candid and dressed up, vulnerable, guarded, intimate, honest: ultimately, playful and fun. Preparing for a move to Portland from Brooklyn, Ally describes her practice, process and the importance of community in her work.

Berlin after being bashed in Philly, 2008

Wounded, 2009

Catherine at the end of summer, 2008

Ethical Butcher: Cutting the Round, 2009

Ethical Butcher: Cutting the Round, 2009

Ethical Butcher: Cutting the Round, 2009

Dayna McLeod: Can you talk about your practice – what you’re interested in, what you look for, how you approach a project? Where does the work come from?

Ally Picard: I always come back to storytelling in the end. No matter the medium, whether artistic or academic, it all boils down to that. Photography gives me the ability to suggest stories and worlds with greater complexity than anything I have ever committed to paper. In my candid work, the emphasis is on witness and documentation. I’ll approach a project with an expectation of the general tone that will result, but without imposing a narrative. In my staged portraiture work the emphasis is still on narrative, but no longer is there a specific personal experience to record – the scope is more general, but also more open to specific direction.

My work comes from a desire to create tiny photographic revelations – of some small truth of a subject’s experience. This is where the bloodhound in Bloodhound Photography comes from – bloodhound as detective. I am interested in using intuition and empathy to seek out hints at larger truths, and using the creative eye to communicate what I find.

DMC: Can you talk specifically about your different projects? Where did The Ethical Butcher come from? What were you interested in when you started, and how did your approach change?

AP: The Ethical Butcher is my partner, Berlin Reed. The photos in that series were driven directly by what he was looking for: documentation of his craft and process as a butcher, writer and promoter of sustainable meat consumption. As well as being a frequent subject in the candid work from my daily life, he is also featured in I Trust Slow Jams, another ongoing subject-driven project. Slow Jams began a year and a half ago, when Berlin and our friend Darrelle Vary began hormone replacement therapy as a part of the gender transition they were each going through. They had approached me together shortly before beginning HRT and asked that I document the physical changes that would occur. That project ended up not only documenting their changes, but it also documented the rapid change in my photographic style and technique.

One of the projects I did last spring was a series titled What the Day Leaves, in which five subjects invited me into their respective homes to photograph them before they left the house for the day, and again when they returned. What resulted was not quite what I had predicted, even though I knew going in that I would inevitably be surprised. In the end, I was left trying to understand what made a series “successful” or not, and re-thinking the methodology of the project, as though it was a behavioral experiment that needed re-tooling. In these very deliberate series, I often feel like a behavioral scientist, or perhaps an emotional scientist – setting out to document and record honest and personal emotional reactions and how they are constantly changing and overlapping. But most of my work leaves aside any imposed framework, expectation or prediction. I’m most comfortable as the creative documentarian.

DMC: What is your interest in staged portraiture? How does this differ from your candid documentation work?

AP: I feel that the candid style gives me the opportunity to see experience on the personal, micro level that is easily paralleled to the universal; the staged style gives me the opportunity to see the macro level of experience – the grand narrative or allegory. The staged portraiture is also a place for playfulness and exploration of ideas and aesthetic boundaries that the more documentary work does not allow. The House of Trisha series is a great example of this. The work becomes large and hyper-theatrical, to the point where characters are caricatures. The biggest difference between the two styles is the depth of emotional relay. Feeling can be conveyed through staged portraiture, but on a more blunt level, as though through a megaphone. In candid portraiture, where my heart lies, the emotion conveyed has a wider range and allows for subtleties of intimacy and expression. It makes a deeper connection with the viewer due to the personal, “real” nature of the source.

DMC: What does your practice look like?

AP: As a self-taught photographer, my practice feels like a constant education built on refining style and technique, experimentation, seeking out knowledge and new experience. I’m at my best when there is no break between projects, and I often juggle short and long-term projects simultaneously. Day-to-day shooting is equally important to my practice, and continues amidst the more defined and coordinated shoots.

DMC: How do you approach your subjects?

AP: Most of my subjects are friends or acquaintances, and approaching them is easy. A call for volunteers generally elicits more than enough responses. But in the last year I’ve been pro-actively approaching people who I find engaging – either based on their unique external presentation or for the work they make or do. Additionally, the more work I do, the more requests I receive for collaborations or simply to be one of the faces in my body of work. Living in Brooklyn I am joyfully surrounded by so many fascinating subjects, and the connections we make in these sessions almost never end there. This facilitation of connection is one of the most enriching aspects of my photographic practice.

DMC: How do you collaborate with your subjects? What is this relationship like?

AP: Collaborations can be completely different depending on the subject and the intended result. Working with visual or performance artists is generally the most dynamic kind of collaboration. They often come into a shoot knowing what kind of artistic direction or aesthetic they want. What follows is usually debate and compromise to maintain a balance between their vision and mine, almost always resulting in something more exciting than anticipated. That type of collaboration is an artistic relationship, as though between colleagues.

Even when a subject comes to a shoot without this specific vision, I still feel like there is collaboration on a more subtle level. What they give me and how I choose to capture and frame it – their experience through my representation – is collaboration. This is the subject-witness relationship.

DMC: How are you reflected in your subjects’ portraits?

AP: The intimate tone that I cultivate in my work comes from the resilient vulnerability I feel in the world, and the never-ending attempt to connect in that honest space. Photography is where I manifest my desire to see and be seen genuinely and deeply. It’s where I can reach between the subject and myself, between the subject and the viewer. Most of the art I create comes from a desire to honor the role of bearing witness to others.

DMC: How does gender and sexuality factor in your work?

AP: I think that where gender and sexuality are located in my work depends on perspective. My intention is to photograph the people in my life and community- our normalcy, art, bodies, joy- our present and our everyday. The fact that I live, work, and love within a queer community results in a body of work that is filled with an array of subjects who are primarily queer and/or gender non-conforming. To someone outside of that community, the non-normative genders and sexualities represented may appear to be the focus, but I would say that that is a focus chosen by the viewer. A lot of contemporary queer photography aims to show queer bodies and queer lives with the specific intention of creating visual representation in a world where we are still largely marginalized, and I am proud to add my work to that representation. But with the exception of the I Trust Slow Jams series, which specifically examines gender transition, my work is not focused on gender and sexuality. The focus is always on the communication of personal and honest emotional experience, and the celebration of that.

DMC: How do you take a photograph? What is the process? How do you know when the work is done? What do you look for?

AP: When working with a subject, I find that the two biggest elements in creating the image are finding the light, and finding the emotional moment. A lot of time is spent creating the right connection with the subject, waiting for the point at which they start to relax and give me what I need. This act in itself is always fascinating – exploring how long it takes for the intimacy to emerge, be it over short or long periods of time. Years ago I attempted this type of experiment using polaroids of friends taken in 15-minute intervals in an intentionally vain attempt to capture the effects of the passage of time. I am still drawn to portrait series that are taken over specific intervals of time – What the Day Leaves was a recent exploration of that idea.

I shoot with a Canon Rebel, and spend about 2-5 hours on a shoot in post-production, depending. Sometimes I’ll think I know when the image is “done”, and go back to it six months later and re-edit it entirely differently. Mostly it’s a simply intuitive decision, when I believe that the image will communicate the feeling that I originally intended.

DMC: What are you working on now?

AP: I’m relocating from Brooklyn to Portland, Oregon in March, so most of my energy and focus right now is going into that. But photography definitely factors into my preparations. I’m researching the photography scene in Portland, preparing ideas for new photo projects and artistic salons. From what I can tell, Portland is a great city to be a working artist in, and my sights are set on that. I’d like to think that I help create or at least reflect community with my work, but in truth, photography also helps me create a community for myself. It gives me a reason to connect and collaborate with people that I might not know how to reach otherwise. I am working on a portrait series that will begin upon my arrival in Portland, and will facilitate the creation of new connections, both friend-connections and artistic collaborations and relationships. I’m also in the process of setting up a solo show in Brooklyn for early February, which will be a selection of my work over the last two years, and in some ways a visual summary of what my life has been here.

Alison Picard is a Brooklyn-based photographer, multi-media artist and performer whose focus is centered on narrative; framing new ones, revealing existing ones, and honoring the power in relating each other’s experiences through witness and collaboration. Her work over the last four years consists of staged portraiture, collaborative conceptual series, promotional photography, and candid documentation that serves as an ongoing collective archive for a community of young artists.

Comments from old site:

Submitted by mark steele (not verified) on Wed, 01/06/2010 – 22:13.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/06/2010 – 22:12.

this is one of the best pieces i’ve read – very smart, totally captivating


Submitted by Andi (not verified) on Sat, 01/02/2010 – 17:41.

Really great interview – thank you.