Grant Spanier is a director/photographer (among other things) based in Minneapolis & LA. He is mostly focused on making dope stuff with dope people.
How did the idea for the series come about?
I approach shoots differently each time. It also varies if I’m at home or on the road. I spend a lot of time in Los Angeles, but it’s definitely less ‘home’ than Minneapolis. This shoot was in Los Angeles, so it was less of a specific, planned concept. It was really loose, the idea developed during the shoot, and crystallized once I got my film back. Sometimes it’s nice to just explore the shoot with the subject and create as you go. There’s something really freeing and present about letting go of expectations, or trying to bring a specific vision to life. One of those freeing elements of a less specific design is the opportunity to discover who the subject is, versus trying to fit them in line with your idea for a shoot.
How did your shoot with Nihan go?
After discussing via text a bit, she came by an AirBnB I was staying at in East Hollywood. We were (literally) just getting to know each other, since we’d actually never met. I find photography can be a really unique, and ultimately, incredible way to become acquainted with someone. It’s a super vulnerable context and there’s a sort of trust fall that has to happen. That being said, It was pretty relaxed. She has such a fun energy, I think we were both pretty instantly comfortable. We looked through some of the outfits she brought and decided on one in particular – I’m obsessed with that red-orange colour she’s wearing, so I gravitated to that instantly. I shoot relatively quickly. We made images for an hour or so around the apartment … playing with light and with a few of the different film cameras I had with me. Most of the time was spent laughing and chatting about biographical/life stuff. I got to learn about her ambitions as an actress and filmmaker. I got to hear a bit about her family, her time in Los Angeles, her plans and dreams. It’s so exciting to get to know someone in this way. Honestly, it feels like an honour to get to create with someone, especially so quickly, and I think it creates a really special type of bond/relationship.
Can we photograph the female body differently in a more powerful way?
This is a great question, an important question, and one I think about a lot. I’ve had lots of different conversations, including critiques about my own work and portrayal of the female as human and as form (critiques/discussions I welcome, especially since I am a male artist). There are a lot of misconceptions about this style of photography … I think it can sometimes be seen as objectifying, over-sexualizing, or otherwise misrepresenting/glorifying a purely physical beauty and a specific type of physical beauty. What I see in this work is simultaneously way beyond aesthetic and not at all. It’s a celebration of physical beauty (which is subjective and varied), certainly, but what I see is beauty far beyond ‘surface’. Sometimes simply creating these images is a form of expression, a genre of kinds. Like a musician who only wants to play rock-and-roll or something. In that way it’s purely aesthetic. And I’m okay with that. But regardless of the visual aesthetic/categorization, I find the actual process of photographing in this way liberating and empowering. I think if you spoke with people I photograph they would agree with that sentiment.
What can’t be seen (though perhaps it can be felt) is the process of making these sorts of images. It’s an almost-sacred ritual from my perspective. And it’s an act that can create a sense of new jurisdiction over the body. By creating our own visual representations of the body I think there can be an opportunity to take back something, or at least add our own interpretation. So, can we photograph the female body differently, and more powerfully? Yes. Absolutely. In some ways I think we do this by making sure the intelligence and inner-beauty, the actual humanity of the subject doesn’t get lost. I like to think that some of my photographs make people uncomfortable. In that way they can be subversive. I like to think they can also make people feel less afraid of the human body. In that way they can be constructive. I like to think that the way I approach creating those photographs can be empowering. In that way the process of photography can be powerful.
What inspires you?
All sorts of things. A lot of it starts with music though. I find myself most in the ‘flow’ when listening to music (or dj-ing/making music, a newer exploration for me). Usually the things that end up being the most inspiring involve dancing with some sort of fear. The things that scare me are typically worth doing, and typically the things worth doing are inspiring. From a practical standpoint, I’m really, really inspired by other artists. Studying their body of work, looking at the decisions they made, the evolution of their philosophies and aesthetic and output. Films are such an exhaustive and intimidating piece of work, I find the fact that a film gets made at all inspiring. Podcasts and interviews consistently get me excited. With technology/the internet/podcasts you can have access to someone you’re generally inspired by. Most of the artists I love have spoken about their process, their stories, their methods. This is such an underrated source of knowledge and inspiration. Live music, especially when it incorporates a visual/motion/light component, is fucking uhhhhhhh. So good. So inspiring, (a few of my favourite live shows this year: Gesaffelstein, Gallant, Odesza, Beach House, Purity Ring, Flume).
How would you define beauty?
Oooh. This is a tough one. I think beauty, to me, is often related to honesty. I can typically feel the honesty of a piece of work, whether that’s my own or someone else’s. It’s hard to fake honesty. And in that way, true expression is really beautiful. Tapping into something real and expressing it is beautiful.
Film or digital?
Haha, this is a trick question. If you asked me two months ago I’d probably be a bit more hardcore in my answer of ‘film’. That being said, I think ‘both’ is my answer. Film, because it forces patience, and deeper intention. We shoot less, every shot becomes more specific. We don’t see images (besides Instax/Polaroid) until later. I love that process. I’m way more engaged, way more present in the creation of images. The subject is sort of forced to trust and is less concerned with seeing results immediately. Besides that, I adore the aesthetic results (and occasional surprise). I also typically don’t edit my film photos (though occasionally I do), which frees me up from the burden of processing later — the act of creation becomes the result. It’s worth noting I shot this set with Nihan completely on film and didn’t retouch the photos at all. Zero edits. That being said, I have been embracing digital a bit more lately. Especially since I’ve been touring (with Gallant) and this requires the flexibility of digital (low-light, quick turnaround/control). I’ve also gotten to a point where my editing ability has more interesting results. I’ve had my first published digital photos come out recently, and I’m actually more proud of the digital versions of those photos than the film I shot that day. Starting as a film shooter has been helpful in the way I approach digital though. I think both film and digital photographers should experiment with both methods.
What makes you happy?
Above all, probably creating. I’ve dedicated my life to creating, to making stuff. I think it’s important. Connecting with other humans makes me happy. Seems like it’s one of the best ways to spend time in this world. Also, music. Photography. DJ-ing. Learning. Yoga. Kissing. Orange juice. Gin. Directing. Reading. Loving. Butts. Writing. Travel. Family. Sunshine. Plants. Tacos.
What’s next for you?
Continue creating! I’m focusing on music more and more … I really want to dedicate time/energy/passion to the crafts of producing and dj-ing. I want to keep evolving as a photographer. I feel like I’m only just getting started with photography. I’m directing a couple of music videos right now that I’m super excited about. I want to continue collaborating with people. Making dope stuff with dope people is really what it comes down to for me.