When the right pair of eyes meets the right characters, what results can only be described as explosive, such is the extraordinary works of photographer Parker Day.
This mind-blowing artist born in 1984 and based out of Los Angeles, celebrates all of today’s glamorous kitsch through her stunning portraits featuring eccentric personalities characterized by saturated vibrant colours captured on 35 mm film.
Hello Parker and welcome to Visual Satiation!
Let’s start by introducing yourself: who’s Parker Day?
Parker Day is a photographer living in Los Angeles, the mother of a fluffy Himalayan cat named The Oracle and a fancy goldfish called Clementine Featherbottom; she’s an Aries, Pisces moon, Scorpio Rising, and an all around weirdo.
What’s your background?
I went to school for photography at the Academy of Art University 2002-2005 and was pretty disillusioned by the commercial focus of my classes (I was a round peg who’d never fit into a square hole).
I went to beauty school after that which is why I’m so comfortable doing hair and makeup for my shoots.
Which themes fascinate you the most at the moment, and who are your favourite artists?
I’m always interested in how identity is formed and performed for others, and how we see ourselves versus how others see us.
I often feel the sense of alternate potential selves and have a fondness for many worlds theory.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about liminal states and being an outsider as a state of mind.
My favourite artist is probably Francis Bacon. He said something along the lines of, “I want a very ordered image but I want it to have come about by chance.” I feel this very strongly.
Photographing other people there is so much that is out of my control, no matter how present I am or how good of a director I am. I thrive on that. It’s the unknown that keeps me on my toes.
I also love Mark Rothko paintings (in person) for their emotional resonance.
And then, of course, Diane Arbus, looking at her images I feel her affection for her subjects.
Francis Bacon “Figure with Meat”, 1954
Diane Arbus “A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street”, 1966
What’s the process behind your pictures, and how do you usually realize them?
I find my models on Instagram looking for people who are unique and not afraid to be vulnerable. I’m interested in smart, funny, and creative folks.
The inspiration for a character and a shoot usually starts with something specific and tangible like a model, clothing, or props.
I sort of free associate what else is needed to bring the character to life, trusting my intuition the whole way. If something doesn’t feel right, scrap it and start over.
You grew up surrounded by comics in your father’s shop, it sounds stimulating and must have shaped the artist you are today.
Definitely! Not only that but all the interesting characters who would hang around the shop. My dad had lots of weirdo artist and musician friends.
Which comics did you fall in love with, and have any left their mark on your work?
X-Men, Spawn, and Gen-13 when I was a youngun, then Ranma 1/2 and all the manga I could get my paws on, and finally Charles Burns’ work as an adult which has had the most direct influence on my work in terms of characters, lighting, and mostly existential angst.
Stan Lee & Jack Kirby “X-Men”, Marvel Comics, 1963
Rumiko Takahashi “Ranma 1/2”, 1987
Charles Burns “Black Hole”, 1995
You’re currently working on a new collection of portraits called “Possession”, based on the idea that our body is the only thing we actually possess, while in your previous series “Icons” you explored identity and the masks we wear.
All the people involved in your shoots are already unique personalities, and in a city like Los Angeles, it seems you’d have an unlimited source of interesting subjects.
How do you choose? And are they all friend & locals?
It felt so good getting on that plane knowing I was done!
My models are interesting people I come across on Instagram.
There are lots of creative unconventional types here in my backyard. And tons more folks come to visit LA so I get to shoot people who live all over the world.
I choose based on an intelligence, creativity, and power I sense in them.
I like how Instagram allows you to get a pretty good read on a person and how they see themselves (or want others to see them).
I like people with bright, sharp eyes, who aren’t too attached to their ego.
Which are your favourite pictures so far?
They’re all my babies!
But my favorites tend to be those that not only have a strong character but are to my mind perfectly composed and where every element (color, lighting, styling) is in service of the character and communicating their emotion.
Some of these are (from ICONS) H8, Blue Lady, and Goosebumps, and (from Possession) my self portrait I Studied the Blade, Flesh, and Disease.
Parker Day, ICONS “H8”
Parker Day, ICONS “Blue Lady”
Parker Day, ICONS “Goosebumps”
Parker Day, ICONS “I Studied the Blade, Flesh, and Disease”
I love the fact you realize all your over-the-top portraits without using Photoshop in a world where the fashion industry in particular, got people used to exaggerated, unreachable, fake beauty standards, which can hurt those people who already struggle at feeling comfortable with themselves…
What’s your opinion on politics with that? And what’s your idea of femininity as a woman and a photographer?
There’s a lot to unpack here lol. I’m not interested in being prescriptive.
What I am interested in is showing the unity in diversity of individuals, and I hope that comes across.
Not only is my work about embracing the different aspects of my self, but I hope that others can see something of themselves in the people I photograph, though they may look very different on the surface.
Besides being a stunning photographer, what’s your other unknown talent?
I don’t know that I have one!
The way I make my art synthesizes so much of my interests and talents and I’m very focused on it and grateful for how fulfilling it is. I do have a hobby now though: I’ve been learning Japanese which is a lot of fun.
I dream of showing in Tokyo and doing shoots there.
Name three movies you love that you think everyone should watch at least once.
What’s the funniest thing that happened to you recently?
Umm nothing particularly wacky or zany has happened lately.
I’ve been very focused on self care and taking it easy lately, since I finished my Possession series.
I discovered there’s a beautiful waterfall in Forest Falls, not far from where I live in dry ass Los Angeles so my fiance and I stayed at a cabin there last week.
It’s so beautiful!
There was a creek running through the backyard and a small black bear was spotted in the front yard! He was just sniffing around for snacks, didn’t want to bother anyone.
I now dream of owning a cabin there.
What’s your favorite place in L.A.?
The pool at the Roosevelt Hotel, on a lounge chair, in a bikini, and with a cocktail of course.
It’s quintessential LA: heat, tropical plants, and cool waters (and colder Margaritas).
The Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles, CA
Thank you very much for having been with us Parker!
Keep rocking and wish you all the best!
Grab your copy and follow the stunning work of this fierce woman & photographer!
Parker Day, Self Portrait