Attention to Detail with Michelle Groskopf

TH: So you got us all with your introduction as a “bad ass lady photographer”. So let us know a bit more about yourself since we are dying to know more what a bad ass lady photographer is?

MG: To start, I think all women are bad ass.

Regardless of what they find themselves doing.

There is a general cultural expectation that women are and should be nice. We’re expected to smile, to be gentle, to lighten a situation. Being nice is a roadblock when it comes to art, especially flash street photography. If I was to do the expected thing for women I would find myself staying home, not roaming around taking photos of strangers, getting myself into uncomfortable situations.

People often suggest I’m not very ladylike when I’m running around with my flash. That’s a quick complaint I get on the street, when I’ve angered someone with my camera. Or else  folks will try to appeal to my kindness. “Be nice and erase the photograph”. Not sure if men deal with that.
I think I’m bad ass for generally ignoring the bias thrown at me!
But yeah. All women are bad ass.

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TH: I wouldn’t have imagined there are people complaining that it is not ladylike. But do you feel that you need a certain aggressiveness to use flash or is it more that flash triggers an aggressive reaction?

MG: I definitely think there’s a certain personality drawn to flash photography. I think that holds true regardless of gender orientation. It takes a certain amount of secureness in oneself and a level of bravery. It’s way more difficult to hide or play the ninja. You have to be someone ok with confrontation.
People on the street are very sensitive to what energy you put out. They feel you. So aggressiveness isn’t always the best approach. At least for me. I’m definitely bold and not shy but there isn’t an angry edge in how I work and I think people feel that. Aggressiveness is a negative for me. I love the folks I photograph so I’m not coming from an aggressive place.

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TH: I fully understand this point. Flash photography is quite often considered as aggressive. But I have the feeling that my favorite shots are coming when I don’t force them but are occur organically. If I am forcing shots, pushing myself too much, I don’t get the results I want and at the same time the reaction of the people is completely different.

It is direct and the flash makes it impossible to hide.  It is a direct way of communication with the photographer and the person being photographed fully understand what is going on and a lot of your shots are taken from a very close distance. It feels as if the camera is nearly touching the persons.  At the same time, it actually doesn’t feel as if you are invading their space or even bothering them.  What draws you in so close?

MG: I’m always trying to distill the essence of someone or something into a single detail. On a good day, on a day when it works, my photos are like tiny little perfect bites. They have the exact information in them that I want to share. No more or less. Too much unnecessary external information and the meaning becomes watered down. I learned that from years of studying filmmaking. Basically I’m a control freak! I’m trying to tell you something specific. “Look directly at this detail, isn’t it interesting? Look at this face. Isn’t it magical”. It’s all a tour of the things that draw my eye in on any given day.

I’m grateful every time someone lets me enter their space, knowingly or otherwise. It’s a great gift. I have a reverence for faces and forms, they really betray so much of the internal world. So I try and get close enough to isolate the meaning of that for myself. It’s all an experiment. Sometimes I feel claustrophobic about my work and swear I’ll take two steps back but then I’m out there and can’t seem to help myself. It’s what I’m working on now.

I’m glad my work comes across as kind. I feel very fondly for the people I shoot. I never get close to things I’m weary of, people included. I’m not curious in that way.

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TH: Sounds a bit like OCD… except focusing on all the details and trying to let out unnecessary information, do you focus or see any recurring details you keep on shooting over and over again? Also I have seen a small series from you on which you focus on one woman but basically all details of her, hands, shoes, clothes, neck, etc

Shooting like that feels like a very intimate process. Is that something you plan or how does it develop? How do you approach such a shoot?

MG: Lately I’ve been obsessed with hands. Not just hands themselves but what we do with them. I like details in general. Details betray a lot about us as people. The choices we make and all that. I love details of clothing and how people wear them. I also love shooting casts and temporary physical ailments. I love braces and acne. I have a list of obsessions. I guess that’s what fuels my photography. It’s a lot about categorizing my obsessions or at least sharing them with a larger audience.

If someone lets me I will shoot various parts of them that I find interesting. I usually only get to take one quick shot and I’m off but if someone is open I will get in there and isolate all of the things I find interesting about them.

Isolating details makes them universal as opposed to being specifically about the person I’ve photographed. I like that. I like when something small can come to represent something bigger than all of us while still feeling intimate. That’s a subconscious goal of mine always.

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TH: You are also working on this incredible series about the Beauty Pageant for girls with disabilities. When you shoot the series, how does it differ from your street work? Do you shoot completely differently? What is your editing process and how do you select your projects?

MG: The Miss Amazing project is very special to me. It was originally an assignment but ended up being one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Anything that teaches young women empowerment, self love, and cooperation is tops in my book.

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It’s a pageant for young women with various disabilities. One which very quickly proves that “disability” is a hugely misconstrued idea.

I treat a series or story like I might an essay. Usually I go in with an hypothesis in mind and am hoping to prove or disprove that hypothesis. That automatically assumes a different sort of photography for me. An inclusive form. Each photograph aims to bring an audience along for the ride. Whereas my street work is primarily for myself. It’s less inclusive, perhaps more opaque or challenging.
My street work tends to lack context whereas my story work is all about context.

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Editing is difficult for my story work only because I tend to shoot a lot. Like a lot. I don’t hold back. So in the end it becomes about whittling hundreds of photos down to 20. That’s the challenge. But I’m generally good at letting go of certain photos for the greater good of the story. I come from a filmmaking background so I am comfortable with keeping things moving. With saying a lot through fewer images.

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TH: Maybe we can compare that series more to a short story while the personal photographs become more of a life story, since it feels strange to call those street pictures without context.

MG: My ideal life would be one where I tell stories for a living and spend my free time shooting street with all the freedom and experimentation that affords me.

By no context I mean I shoot so close and offer very little in the way of location or information. That’s why I do my best to label my photos very clearly with a location and a date. I’ve been doing that for years now.

I like the idea of the short story though! I like to think the details and faces I shoot say a lot
They do to me.

And yeah my street work definitely adds up to my life story. It’s the story of how I see.
How I feel as I walk about.

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TH: Photography should be personal. I love to look at series and it feels like an essay – someone telling a story.

So All of us are very happy that you joined the collective. What are your actual expectations to the collective? What are you looking forward to ? Anything you would like to see?

MG: First of all I am so excited to be joining the crew. I admire all of the different ways you guys push flash. It’s exciting.

I’ve always thought of street photography as a solo endeavor. Perhaps the act of it is. But there’s something so important in discussing the work and sharing the work as a general practice. Discussing, Shooting, Sharing. A very strong triangle for any artist.

That’s what I’m most excited about. The opportunity to bounce ideas off of you guys. To work through the technical challenges together and to create new challenges through group assignments.

It’s a form of group education

Also it’s important to me to inspire other female street photographers to consider picking up flash as part of their practice. It can be intimidating and I think sometimes it just takes seeing one other person similar to yourself to recognize you can handle it.

Plus now I can crash on all of your couches when I come visit.

 

Follow along with Michelle at: 

www.instagram.com/dailystreet
www.dailystreet.tumblr.com
www.mgroskopf.com

or right here on Full Frontal Flash.

 

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