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Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern are photographers based in Rochester, New York. Their first collaborative book East of the Sun, West of the Moon (Études Books, 2014) was released last fall. Lavalette would like to thank Ahndraya and Gregory to taking the time for this conversation while they are temporarily living and working out in Los Angeles, California.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon (Études Studio, 2014)
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

Benjamin Chadbond & Patrick Mason: Études Studio has recently published your book East of the Sun, West of the Moon, a series containing images by you both. The work contains many references to binary concepts such as night and day, birth and death, lightness and darkness and continuity and transition. This is the first time you have produced a body of work together, perhaps a poignant parallel to the ideas of duality expressed in the book. Can you talk a little bit about how these ideas influenced the work and how they manifested themselves through your collaboration?

Ahndraya Parlato: Some of the binary concepts you’ve listed above are a product of the guidelines we gave ourselves while producing the images, which were all made on either a Solstice or an Equinox. Being both the longest and shortest days of the year, the ideas of light/dark, and day/night, are inherent to these days; and as markers of seasonal change, crop sowing, and reaping, also call to mind birth and death. In addition, we were having a baby while working on the book, and this only further enhanced our interest in these ideas, giving them a more personal nature.

We’re also interested in the idea that a thing or place can be both the same, and also not the same, simultaneously. The mirrors are perhaps a clear example of this. The still life does not change, but the season, the light, and the weather do, and so the photographs themselves are different. There is continuity and duality. It’s quite simple really, but also lovely at the same time. What does it feel like to see this happen in a series? There is also a moment when the location does not change, but the subject does; both subjects are naked, though they are not the same person. We found it interesting to see how much we could play with these notions.

In addition to the dualities you’ve already mentioned, there’s also the duality of our own inherent individual photographic styles: Gregory’s practice is more “straight,” while mine is more “interventionist.” We didn’t want these to be polarizing, so we sought to create a middle ground between our two practices, which again was sort of a continuity within dualities.

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

BC&PM: It could be said that this series is in some ways an inverse of Muybridge’s explorations. Where he was using photography to capture events that were beyond human experience due to their speed, you’re using photography to isolate moments of phenomena that happen on a grander time scale and therefore are also obscured from our ordinary experience — the changing of the seasons, the movements of the heavens etc. and presenting them in a more poetic and personal, rather than scientific, way.

AP: Yes, we weren’t interested in a scientific study of these days, but rather the metaphor they provided (although I guess that an abundance or lack of light is in fact a technical attribute of the days and not a metaphoric one). And although this is somewhat personal, it feels very universal to us. The things, places, and people that are photographed are ordinary, recalling to me a piece like Jonas Mekas’ As I was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, a film comprised of snippets of his life, his home movies, and outtakes, but also relatable in a much larger sense.

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

BC&PM: So it sounds like that while working on this project you began to approach photography differently than how you had in the past. This is interesting as you both have quite distinct individual practices. As you mentioned, Ahndraya, your hand is often more evident in your work, with you taking the role of director/producer, while Gregory’s work is more in the straight documentary style. Did you feel that through working together you each incorporated into your own practice a little of how the other works?

AP: Although at times Gregory’s work may borrow from the aesthetics of documentary, it’s not really documentary. Its subjective lyricalism is equally as important as what it depicts. However, we agree that our work is quite different. Though adjacent from working on this project, our practices have been dancing towards each other ever since we got together. Gregory is more open to intervening in his photographs and directing with a light touch, and I’m more open to using the unaltered world to stand alone for its metaphoric or narrative qualities.

BC&PM: The essence of photography is often thought of as being its ability to capture and freeze a single fleeting moment, the “decisive moment,” and for a book that seems to be so much about the relationship between photography and time yours fittingly opens with an image of something which is literally frozen, an icicle. However, throughout the book you attempt to break apart this concept of the photograph as a frozen instant in a number of different ways – here we think of your images that utilize long exposure or even multiple exposure techniques. This together with the imagery of changing seasons gives the book a chronological emphasis and seems to imply that what you are trying to capture is the process of change over time rather than just what is at a certain moment. Is this a fair assessment? And can you talk a bit about your use of these techniques and your ideas on time and photography in relation to this series?

AP: I think this is a fair assessment, although “the process of change over time” implies to me a bit more grandeur than the small changes actually captured in this book, which, given the constraints of the series and its size, can really only speak to quiet, more minute changes.

For me, the use of long shutter speeds and multiple exposures was not just a way to render the passing of time, but also to give a more surreal, dreamy quality to that which at first glance seems quite banal.

Gregory Halpern: I don’t think it has to be one or the other, and I wouldn’t necessarily say we are limiting ourselves to trying to “capture the process of change over time.” Some of the pictures speak to change over time (i.e. the mirrors in different seasons) but some speak more to, as you put it, what is at a certain moment.

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

BC&PM: I guess that when we say “the process of change over time” in reference to your series we are thinking of the minute and the grand rather than exclusively one. When arranged in a sequence, the images that speak directly to change and those images that depict was is at a certain moment form another set of dualities and perhaps this links back to what you said earlier:

We’re also interested in the idea that a thing, or place can be both the same, and equally not the same…

This idea has a very dialectical quality to it, in which the process of development and change is brought about by the conflict of an internal antagonism of opposites contained within the thing itself and that the true being of something consists in this process of transformation.

AP: If I understand what you’re saying correctly, I agree, but I also think the question is true of photography in general, and not only our project.

BC&PM: You have said that the photographs were made in a number of locations. Were these locations arbitrary or did you have particular places in mind that you felt would suit the work? How much do you feel these locations influenced the final form of the series?

AP: We simply shot wherever we found ourselves on those days. I don’t think the specific places are essential to the project, or rather, that we aim to say anything about them as places. We made a point to re-photograph certain places and things, and that is important to the structure of the series, though not necessarily the symbolism of the specific objects that were re-photographed. Many other things could’ve been chosen instead and sufficed just as well.

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

BC&PM: How important has your general outlook and understanding of the world been to this project? We ask because we get the sense from this work that you’re both Romantics. Here we’re referring to the word Romantic in the vein of Romanticism rather than romance, as pertaining to love. Can you speak a little to the metaphysical quality and perhaps even Romantic quality of the work?

AP: I think that one’s understanding of the world is important and applicable to everything one makes. How could it not be? There is, perhaps unfortunately at times, no way to escape oneself.

The way that Romanticism sought to emphasize individual experience and emotion would be applicable – I always want to trust intuition over reason. But in the way Romanticism reacted against urbanization, I would say it is not. I think the work celebrates the industrial, urban space.

BC&PM: East of the Moon, West of the Sun takes its title from a Norwegian fairy tale of the same name. Can you tell us a little about how you happened upon the title?

AP: I read the story!

GH: We liked the idea suggested by the title – the idea of trying to rely on two shifting landmarks as navigational guides, how disorienting that idea is and how it creates an impermanent, elusive, if not impossible, place.

BC&PM: You have published East of the Moon, West of the Sun with Études studio, which is split between Paris and New York. What was it about the Études Blue Book collection that suited this work?

GH: We liked how the Études books are somewhat experimental, shorter books, and that they tend to be studies, riffs (or études!) on a single idea.

BC&PM: As a team and creative duo this is the first work that the two of you have completed together. Do you have plans to work together in a collaborative capacity in the future?

GH: We’re actually still working on this! We would like to make a larger body of work spanning a larger period of time to explore the same ideas. Ideally, we’d like to keep going for five years or so, and sort of chart time via the growth of our daughter, and then do a larger book.

BC&PM: Lastly, Do you have any advice for other partner teams attempting to make work together? Perhaps a what-not-to-do list?

AP: As with anything in life that requires interacting with another person, I think it always helps to be nice.

GH: It’s hard to do, but maybe one piece of advice is that collaboration allows you to diminish the role of your own ego in the work, which can be helpful. In some ways, you create a third person when you collaborate, and that can be freeing.

from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
© Ahndraya Parlato & Gregory Halpern

Purchase East of the Sun, West of the Moon here.

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