Born in Arlington, Massachusetts in 1969; Lives and works in Berkeley, California
I’ve always photographed people, in part because I feel anonymous. The impulse often comes from a place of feeling overlooked, and perhaps this is just an existential question. Do I really matter? One way of addressing this, or acknowledging value, is to make a photograph and create something that has a life of its own. — Katy Grannan
We the People
Portraiture: A Private Room
Katy Grannan (b. 1969, Arlington, Massachusetts) was first recognized in 1998 for an intimate series of portraits of strangers she met through newspaper advertisements. Grannan worked for years throughout the northeast and produced several different series entitled Poughkeepsie Journal, Morning Call, Sugar Camp Road, and Mystic Lake, each referring to a local newspaper source or secluded location. Grannan’s process and the consequent images are informed by her own childhood in the American northeast. Each photograph is imbued with secrecy, desire, and hidden intentions.
With her move to California in 2006, Grannan photographed “new pioneers,” people who, like herself, encountered something very different from the mythological “West” with its promise of eternal summer and personal reinvention. Instead, these new settlers face the end of a continent and the potential for failure as they struggle to define themselves under the scrutiny of the relentless Western sunlight. The Westerns explores the relationship between aspiration and delusion – where our shared desire to be of worth, to be paid some attention – confronts the uneasy prospect of anonymity.
Grannan’s Boulevard marked the beginning of a lengthy series of “street portraits.” These photographs appear to be made without the subjects’ knowledge, but are in fact, spontaneous collaborations between Grannan and strangers met on the streets of San Francisco and Hollywood (and later throughout the Central Valley). Boulevard and the subsequent series, 99, unfold as an enormous procession of humanity – a dance macabre of marginalized and powerless members of society. Grannan uses the ubiquitous white walls of city buildings and the glaring noon sunlight to serve as an impromptu, decontextualized backdrop that emphasizes each individual and defies any preconceived assumption of their “anonymity.” Grannan exhibited Boulevard at Fraenkel Gallery and Salon 94, New York in 2011. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) mounted a comprehensive exhibition of this series and a three channel video installation entitled The Believers in a two-person show in 2012, titled The Sun and Other Stars: Katy Grannan and Charlie White. The series was also the subject of a solo exhibition at FOAM Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam in 2015.
The 99, Grannan’s continuation of “street portraits” refers to Highway 99, which runs down the spine of California through the Central Valley – a place Joan Didion described as “the trail of an intention gone haywire.” Grannan followed Dorothea Lange’s trajectory (made famous in American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion) and discovered a similarly austere terrain and stoic sensibility. Grannan’s large black and white vistas describe a uniquely psychological landscape enveloping cities along Highway 99, where for most, the “American Dream” is pure myth. The region and its inhabitants remain overlooked and undervalued, yet there exists a quiet beauty in the seemingly mundane interactions among those living within this parched landscape.
The Nine is the title of Grannan’s film about a marginalized and charismatic community in the Central Valley that struggles to find meaning and moments of grace in a hostile environment.
There are six monographs of Grannan’s work: Model American, The Westerns, Boulevard, The Ninety Nine and The Nine, and Hundreds of Sparrows. Her photographs are included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Guggenheim Museum, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others. She lives and works in Berkeley, CA.
Art in America
Financial Times Magazine
The New Yorker
The New York Times