14 February 2014
Last updated at 20:56 ET
Influential New York art photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia has opened his first UK retrospective at the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield, Yorkshire. DiCorcia is known for his stylised scenes that blur the line between fiction and reality. The exhibition, which opened on Friday, features 120 photos spanning his 40-year career. Photo: Bob Collier. Image courtesy the artist and The Hepworth Wakefield.
DiCorcia made his name with his series Hustlers, for which he picked up male prostitutes in Los Angeles, photographed them and paid them the rate they usually received for their services. Hustlers gave DiCorcia his first major solo exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1993. Photograph title: Chris, 28 years old, Los Angeles, California, $30, 1990-92. All photos courtesy the artist, Spruth Magers, Berlin/London and David Zwirner, New York/London.
Title: Roy, "in his twenties", Los Angeles, California, $30', 1990–92. DiCorcia would meticulously prepare his shots before going cruising for subjects. "I went onto this street where they all basically sell themselves," he says. "I would pull over, ask them if I could take their picture for the same amount as the lowest common denominator of sex and most of them said yes. I don’t think any of them really believed me, though. But, you know, they’re hustlers."
Title: Ralph Smith, 21 years old, Ft Lauderdale, Florida, 25, 1990–2. DiCorcia began the Hustlers project two years after his brother died of Aids. "It was done in an environment of Aids and political repression, with Reaganism at its height," the photographer says. "So a lot of this was a reaction to the political and cultural wars that were going on at that time." DiCorcia has also had solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.
Titled Hartford, this was taken in diCorcia's Connecticut home town in 1979. "The man’s name is Robin. That’s his apartment. I got lucky, which is part of photography, that the tip of his cigarette is glowing red. These are details that are intentionally understated and hopefully picked up on. If you don’t want to pay attention, you probably don’t like my photographs anyway. My work tends to be described as melancholic. That’s partly in the editing. It’s also, in his case, true."
Like Hartford, this photo, titled New York City (Bruce and Ronnie, 1982), is from a series called A Storybook Life. Many of diCorcia's shots, like this one, are totally staged. "Bruce is not a writer and Ronnie is not asleep," he explains. DiCorcia's pictures are not documentary or journalism. "Being fake is meant to be an indication of the fact that in the end, everything is a figment," he says.
DiCorcia's son Bruno is in this 1999 photograph, named DeBruce after the location in New York. It is also from A Storybook Life, a 74-picture series that is meant to tell a "lopsided narrative" in which the first and last images are of his father but which otherwise jumps in time and place. "The point was to have a sequence which has a similar effect as a dream or a half conscious state," he adds.
While some scenes are totally constructed, for others, like Tokyo (1988), diCorcia meticulously sets up his camera and lights in a public place before waiting for the right shot. "All of them have a degree of predetermination and none of them [is] a spontaneous reaction to any particular situation," he says. DiCorcia has been an influence on fashion photography and advertising as well as fellow artists.
A series of pictures of pole dancers from 2004 was inspired, diCorcia says, by the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York. The dancers look as though they are falling, an echo of photographs of people who fell from the Twin Towers and a comment on how far he felt the US had fallen after 9/11. "There was a weird fetish about 9/11," he says. "In the world of mythology, sex and death are intricately combined. It occurred to me that this was a comment on what happened in the United States after 9/11 as a result of it. There were two wars on false premises and the re-election of the worst president ever."
DiCorcia says he does not work digitally and does not know how to use Photoshop. The proliferation of digital photography has made people think "photography as an artform has to be in some way overtly different or creative or any one of those other terms that children in kindergarten tell you about art", he says. "I think that’s going to be a bad thing. It’s going to lead to a lot of pretentious overly elaborate photography just to separate itself from the muck of all that photography that happens every second." The exhibition runs until 1 June. Title: Lynn and Shirley, 2008.