Sometimes macabre, sometimes shocking, Denver artist Danielle Spires is pushing the confines of comfort. For her and for her audience. And, as the multitude of artists before her chose to create, with the notion of suffering lingering large in their minds – Spires has twisted the often hackneyed into a portfolio of imaginable and telling photographs.
One thing is assured in Spires’ work: she has created a unique style. And her diverse history of gallery showings around town have provided testament to her progressive following. These exhibits have showcased her inimitable creations – some predicated on shock value, like her 10 foot tall religious confessional. Or her showing at the Sputnik, which consisted of carefully constructed peep show boxes.
Spires’ diversity is also evident in her oeuvre: From Drag Kings and Pin-up Girls, Spires has even taken a vast array of images of medical visits from her history of health complications.
A regular in the previous issues of syntax, we all look forward to seeing what the future holds for Danielle. With a strong involvement in the local art scene, it was a pleasure to hear what Spires has seen, what has come, and what is brewing for the future, here in Denver.
When did you begin shooting photographs?
I started shooting in high school... I went through the typical ‘amateur photographer’ phases, you know, anything shocking, everything was done in high contrast. During college I grew out of those stages and developed a certain “originality” to my work. I went to a bullshit “art” school with conflicting views of fine art. Several professors had a hard time with my work, especially when it came to the women I photographed. It wasn’t till after I graduated that one professor, Brad Bartholomew, told me that my personal and graphic work deserved more recognition. He definitely made me want to continue working with my style and controversial viewpoints.
What was the catalyst?
Suffering. I have watched it ruin people, experienced so much of it, loved it, hated it... it has made me who I am. I am extremely empathetic to those qualities in a person, and when I photograph them, I try to draw from that. If I am photographing for myself, not a client, you can definitely see underlying emotion in each of them. From great pain comes great beauty.
Do you work in any other mediums?
I started working with a couple other mediums in the last 2 years. I constructed the peep-show boxes as well as the 10 ft. confessional. I had such a hard time with the confessional... but luckily I had help from a fantastic artist, Fish, who was very construction-savvy.
I also started filming recently. I have an old Super 8mm with a projector, splicer, etc. It was so different working like that because I am used to controlling every aspect of a photo shoot. But the first time I used it, I brought it into a pelvic exam at the Mayo Clinic. I was a bit uncomfortable, but it was worth it. It challenged me.
I plan on branching out into short films and would like to work more with instillations.
Why photography? What is it about this medium that interests you?
Catching someone’s emotion or personality on film is a pretty amazing feeling. Sometimes I look at certain photographs I have taken of friends, and just looking at their face, their eyes... my heart drops. I love bringing out that one instance in their lives that brought them passion, whether it be good or bad.
I know that you have a pretty good ear on the Denver music and arts scene, so: How do you feel about the scene?
I have contrasting views on the Denver scene.... although I am glad there is one; it seems to be very subjective. Lowbrow art has turned into concentrating on nationally-recognized artists and ignoring the extremely talented local scene. Unfortunately the palette of Denver’s art patrons are so cut-and-dry. Many people are still afraid of controversy and reality. If you show it to them in a form of art, especially anything that ISN’T a kitschy painting or pin-up girl, they are uncomfortable. But the underground art scene in Denver is phenomenal. I see good things happening... Vincent Comparetto, Fish, Ben “Chase” Thompson, Cristian Whitney, Alex Meyer, William Theidmann and Dave Blackwelder, just to name a few. It is just sad to see so much talent that is wasted because of censoring.
A lot of the musicians around town are of the opinion that something special is forming - do you agree? With regard to the arts scene?
Something special? Like that whole ‘Omaha underground scene’ that happened a few years back? I don’t think so.... There are some seriously talented bands here in Denver, as well as artists, but I just can’t foresee a surge of fabulous new bands and media attention in Denver. According to many parts of this country, we are still a cow town. And with regards to politics and conservative issues, we are. I think the best thing to do would be to have more liberal venues and galleries that are willing to support local bands and artists. I think the Hi-Dive, Larimer Lounge and Cherry Pit are great for bands, and Revoluciones is by far one of the best uncensored galleries in town. These venues need more support. It’s too bad that the local print media has a very narrow view of local talent...how can anyone even find out about them?
What influences your work?
Again, it comes back to emotion. Some of my work is purely aesthetic, but when I go back and look at it, I always see small parts of my personality in them. I can’t stand optimism and happy endings...give me the bad stuff and I will understand it, I will photograph it. Sarcasm works well in my photographs, too.
Has your work changed since you first began?
Composition-wise, subject-matter? Evolution is the best thing to happen to an artist. I can’t stand to look at some of my first shots! Horrible! But I have always kept a specific ‘look’ to my photographs. A majority of my work is saying something, loud and clear. It always had feeling behind it. But I have learned to be open-minded about other subject matter and mediums....i never thought I would own a digital camera, but I found it much easier to bring to the hospital with me than a Polaroid. But the biggest thing to stick with me is ‘breaking the rules.’ I learned how to photograph right, and now I can break the rules. Some of the best photographs ever taken are, according to the “rules of photography,” technically wrong. ....and thank god for the rule breakers.
Visit Danielle Spires' website at: www.catpartyletsgo.com