Ciara Duffy

Ciara Duffy lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She received her BFA in Photography in 2012 from The Savannah College of Art and Design and her MFA in Imaging Arts from The Rochester Institute of Technology in 2016. Ciara operates as a freelance commercial photographer in the New York area.  Today, we interview her about her series, and new Aint-Bad monograph, Down, Down Baby.

Down, Down, Baby

The series, Down, Down, Baby is a visual diary, a documentation of the transitory period of one’s youth. A culmination of ten years’ worth of photographs, Ms. Duffy’s MFA thesis work illustrates moments of fertility, desire, intimacy, and recklessness. The characters in this series exist as a symbol for an undeniable attitude within youth culture that is greater than themselves.  This way of living defies the logic of refined sensibility, political correctness, and good taste imparted on us during adolescence.

Ms. Duffy predominantly explores the seedy underbelly of Savannah, GA and New York City, where repulsion and attraction coincide recurrently, mutually accepting of other another. Here, the artist plays on this concept and pushes it further. Beautifully vibrant, saturated landscapes are mixed in with depictions of over indulgence, blood, inflamed flesh, urination and intoxication. The push of the vulgar behavior and the pull of the loveliness of the characters and backdrop throughout the series builds and adds to the narrative.

The creation of this body of work originates from the artists’ compulsion to photograph the moments outside of the commonplace. Ms. Duffy avoids the pitfalls of the unremarkable and the everyday by documenting the actions in between. Her photographs focus beyond the constraints of one’s responsibility, during the moments that are lived without restraint.

Hi Ciara, thanks so much for chatting with us today about your photographs.  There is so much to discuss within this brilliant and complex body of work, and we’re eager to hear what you have to say.  

Hey, thank you, happy to talk.

Let’s jump right in.  Your work seems to be very much so in the tradition of photographers like Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, and other narrative and diaristic, documentary photographers who capture intimate scenes from their surroundings- always with an undertone of sex.  Do you relate to work like this?  Who are some of your inspirations?  

I relate to artists and photographers that blend the boundary between personal and private. I agree with you that the diaristic manner in which I shot these photographs is very similar to the aesthetic of Nan Goldin. My photographs for Down Down Baby were taken from an insider’s perspective, which is why they might feel so similar to her work. Another photographer I relate to is Elinor Carucci. Especially her work from the late 1990’s, early 2000’s where she photographed moments of intimacy with her partners in a really delicate way. I’ve sometimes tried to emulate this sense of intimacy and affection in my work. Another artist I relate to is Tracey Emin, and her My Bed and Everyone I Have Ever Slept With. Her work is callous and in your face but still feminine and tender. I relate to these sentiments and try to embody them in my work.

The photographs capture fleeting instances, and we can feel the urgency and presence of the photographer behind each image.  These photographs reveal moments that, perhaps, would have otherwise passed without notice.  We see period blood on the sheets, your (lovers?) naked ass, hot dogs in a pan- you transform the everyday, into the “brilliantly banal” inside the structure of the photograph.  How much does the “decisive moment” play into your practice?  

The “decisive moment” played into my photographs more heavily before I entered graduate school when I was photographing the world around me for my own personal pleasure. My camera felt like an extension of myself and I felt this compulsion to shoot, afraid that if I didn’t have my camera on me I would miss all of these wild moments. In graduate school, I still shot compulsively (when I had the opportunity between the horrors of photo theory and essays) but this time with a little more desperation and thought attached. The successes in my work appear out of the anticipation that a certain energy will appear. The moment an undeniable quality of life appears I document it.

Sex is life and life is sex, and your photographs successfully speak to that. I love that we see images of newborn puppies and stained panties in the same body of work.  As you mentioned in your artist statement, these photographs aim to illustrate moments of fertility desire, intimacy, and recklessness.  Why are you drawn to these specific themes?

Intimacy has always been a central theme in all of my photographic work. I have an emotional attachment to my subjects; I love to photograph them and have these moments to look back on, which is one of the fundamental functions of photography. My twenties have been full of alcohol-fueled ill-advised moments, if I didn’t photograph them I would be very disappointed in myself. As for the puppies, I think the photograph of the newborn puppies writhing around in their own shit stained blanket epitomizes the last ten years of my life. Haha just kidding. A lot of the connections I make through sequencing are tongue and cheek.

Flesh and menstrual blood seem to be common themes throughout this work. (ps. love it) What is it about capturing the grotesque body vs the classical body in a photograph that excites you?

I am attracted to photographing flesh in general because it is a natural thing to be drawn to. We all want to know what each other looks like naked. I feel like the reveal is the most exciting part of viewing flesh and that’s what I’m doing, revealing. In terms of photographing period blood, I’ve always managed to bleed on everything I own. It’s a very common part of a young woman’s life to have your period once a month (unless you have that new IUD that gives you your period once every four years or something). It is also very natural to have sex while on your period or to leak through your underwear, it’s human, and it’s part of my life.

We are so thrilled to have just published your monograph, Down Down Baby.  The work is brilliant, and I’m glad we got a chance to chat about it.  Beyond this, what’s going on?  What’s next?  How ya feelin?

Well, I’ve been building sets for a new body of work. My mother works on a musical at a middle school every year and she is helping me build it. It’s a different way of working for me in that there is not a lot of room for spontaneity, but it leaves me with endless creative control, and I think I am ready for that. I met Sarah Moon in 2011 while I was in France and I fell in love with the style in which she photographs. I’m taking inspiration from her work in terms of color, set design, and her sense of beauty.

Thank you for chatting with us!  Keep up the good work.  We look forward to following you on your future endeavors.  

Thank you, I’ll keep you posted.

To view more of Ciara’s work please visit her website.  Purchase her monograph, here and use the code BABY to get 25% off!