9/8/2009 - Snapdragon Interview with Dorothy O'Connor

Dorothy O’Connor is an Atlanta-based photographer with loads of talent and charm. I saw her 8×10 black and white series earlier this year at Composition Gallery and this photograph in a group show in New York – one of my favorites.

Snapdragon: Hello Dorothy! First off, I’d like to welcome you as the first guest photographer for the Snapshots Spotlight series. It’s no surprise that I picked you – I am absolutely in love with your work, and I happen to think you’re one of the coolest ladies on the block.

Dorothy O’Connor: Thanks Man!

S: So tell us a little bit about yourself. Where you are from, how long you have been taking pictures, and what led you down this path.

DO: I was born and raised in lovely Atlanta Georgia. I took my first photography class in the 8th grade and continued taking photography classes in high school after getting shipped off to boarding school in Maryland. I started as a photo major in college but eventually felt burned out and frustrated with the program and ended up graduating with a degree in English. I went in different directions after college – not knowing what in the hell I wanted to do. One of the jobs I had was working for a mobile marketing company, which took me all over the country. At one point, the truck I was driving broke down (which it constantly did) in a small town in Northern California. Luckily the mechanic’s shop was about a mile away from a little flea market – so I made the walk and found an old 1960’s Polaroid camera. Over the next year – it kept me company and got me obsessed with photography again. After several more years of shitty unfulfilling jobs – I decided to go back to a commercial school for photography here in Atlanta and have been working in some capacity or other in the photography business ever since.

S: Tell us about your latest collection

DO: I have actually been working on three collections simultaneously for about the past 5 -7 years or so (I think the Gemini in me needs the variety).

The first project I began was photographing wedding dresses which I found at flea markets and thrift stores. I love making the dresses come alive and exist on their own – without a person to change its form or meaning. These dresses take many solitary hours to style and capture just right – this project satisfies the part of my nature that is meticulous and quiet, which craves concentrated alone time. It is fulfilled by bringing an inanimate object to life.

The second project began with the use of a friend’s borrowed 8×10 camera (I have since bought my own). I guess it is sort of my take on the landscape – which is odd because they all have a person in them. Most of these “landscapes” began with an image in my head completely obsessing me and driving me outdoors to find the perfect location in which to photograph it. I think these pictures are purely about illustrating emotions and also satisfying my need for adventure and curiosity – which scouting the locations and putting my model in somewhat compromising positions seems to quiet.

The third project/collection began as a collaboration with my friend Caroline – who is a prop and wardrobe stylist. I told her my idea and she helped me to gather all of the props and together we built the set in what is now my studio but then was my roofless garage. We have an extremely similar aesthetic, which made working together easy and fun. We loved the results so much we decided to do a small series based on the elements – since the first shot was built around fire. Since then – it has personally grown into so much more. This last project enables me to completely create and sort of briefly live in my own imaginary world.

S: The set making must be extremely involved. How often do you get inspired to build a new set, and then once you have the idea, how long does it take to execute?

DO: Yes, the set making is extremely involved! I usually get inspired to build a new set before I have actually finished the current set I am working on. And sometimes – more often than that. This last set took me six months to build (Caroline’s life has gotten extremely busy over the last year – therefore she is more involved in giving quality feedback and not really in the set construction anymore) even if I have the time to devote – the funds are another story. So basically – it’s a long slow process on many levels.

S: Tell us about the tableau party you are planning for Atlanta Celebrates Photography.

DO: The idea actually came from Atlanta Celebrates Photography’s president Louis Corrigan (whom I cant say enough wonderful things about). After seeing the photograph of my last scene during the ACP portfolio review last year – he asked if it was still in tact and mentioned what a cool thing it would be to have a sort of tableau vivant party. After looking up what in the hell that actually meant and after more harassment on his part – we (he and my friends helped me put the whole thing together) decided to do it. And he was right. People should experience what I experience being in my scenes. I love the photographs from them but they are such a completely different thing to see in reality. So – as terrified as I was to invite people into my world (so to speak) and my home too – we held the first Tableau party in my back yard and studio. It turned out to be a really great experience and I loved the entirely new dimension that it brought the project. So, once again holding my breath and with Louis’ support, I am going to have a tableau party/opening as part of ACP this year. I should go ahead and qualify one point: please don’t expect to encounter a sober Dorothy at the party – cause I will need a fair amount of alcohol to deal and I am sure my model will too.

S: Anything else we should know about you? Favorite leisure sport? Most regrettable hairstyle? Best talent show performance?

DO: I have a treadmill in my house and I enjoy watching old episodes of Buffy while I run, um, I had a tail in my early years of high school (I cant believe I am admitting that) and my best talent show experience was definitely a lip syncing, tennis racket guitar playing, synchronized dance to Queen’s “we are the Champions” in the 2nd grade. It was talent gold. Bonus fact: I cant ever relax at professional sporting events because I am terrified that my face will appear on one of those huge screens during the filming of goofy crowd antics.

S: Thank you, Dorothy, for sharing with us. I can’t wait to attend your tableau party and try to make the model crack up. Wishing you the best of luck and success!

DO: Thanks for asking! I have forewarned the model (one of my best friends) and even though she is going to try to ignore you – I am thinking you will probably have some success – although she might try to kill you afterwards.

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