Brian M. Cassidy & Melanie Shatzky in Conversation with Stephen Frailey
Stephen Frailey: Childhood is, of course, an enduring topic in photography as well as a source of great inspiration in terms of the past. Remarkably, The Children substitutes some of the usual narrative tropes of childhood and their literalness (and obvious props) for a luminous clarity, almost hallucinogenic in its detail. Yet the mood is almost somber, melancholic or at least absorption. It’s an unexpected contradiction. Is this accurate, in terms of your thinking?
Brian M. Cassidy & Melanie Shatzky: One, of course, wants to avoid familiar tropes when making photographs. And yet, we did not approach this work in a pre-meditated way. We’ve tried to make honest images about the less-celebrated aspects of childhood. I think the use of flash during daytime hours contributes to a certain alienation felt in the images. Isolating our subjects from their surroundings permits a certain kind of scrutiny. Formal elements such as color relationships and maybe even the interiority of the subjects become amplified.
Frailey: There are a couple of pictures in which a child shows great delight and, separately, unhappiness, but the others seem lost in thought; we are looking at a child looking and thinking; trying to comprehend what they are seeing—perhaps it mirrors our own relation to the image. So, this ‘less-celebrated’ aspect of childhood would involve their depth and complexity?
Cassidy & Shatzky: Yes…and perhaps a certain inwardness. The children seem to look both inside themselves as well as out at a world which encircles or threatens to engulf them.
Frailey: But with the exception of a couple of grungy surfaces, shown apart from the children, much of the world is lush and verdant, and what looks like summer and the glee that the season suggests. Any threat is subtle?
Cassidy & Shatzky: The images were made to hold certain ambiguities. Feelings of uncertainty and alone-ness while coming of age are an important component in these images, as much so as the fleeting moments of gaiety.
Frailey: Which returns to the ideas of the inherent complexity and depth of childhood. There is a backstory here that I wanted to delay because it seems there is a desire to allow the work to exist without context. But shall we discuss the work in those specific terms?
Cassidy & Shatzky: There is no backstory, per se. While the images may share a certain resemblance to documentary image-making, we wish for them to remain free of any extraneous information and instead encourage the viewer to simply look at what is there within the photographs. Our decision to use flash during the day comes, in part, from an interest in crime scene photography as well as the uneasy relationship that one can achieve between the real and the theatrical. Having applied this approach to the realm of children at play permitted us to communicate a certain anxious mood.
Our work frequently employs a documentary style, and yet, we are largely uninterested in journalistic pursuits. It could be for this reason that we are reluctant to talk about any extraneous biographical information that might locate the pictures within a defined time and place. There is something appealing to us about images that can be experienced in a more distilled manner. For the most part, our work originates from a gut response and not a concrete thesis.
Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky have had their photographic work published in GUP Magazine, Der Grief, FlakPhoto, and Slate. Their film work has been seen at the Berlin, Toronto and Sundance Film Festivals, and their first feature film, Francine, was selected as a New York Times Critics’ pick. They have received fellowships at both Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and hold an MFA in Photography, Video, and Related Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York.