Interview: Andrea Modica

© Andrea Modica

Andrea Modica has been exhibited across the country and is in many collections, such as The Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. An MFA graduate of Yale University, she is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship among other prestigious awards. Andrea's work has been featured in many magazines, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and American Photo. Her five books, including "Minor League" and "Treadwell", have met with critical acclaim. In addition to teaching at the International Center for Photography, the Woodstock Photography Workshops and the Maine Media Workshops, she currently is a professor of photography at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

This interview focuses on Modica's latest body of work, Best Friends, in which she made portraits of best friends at high schools in Connecticut, Philadelphia and Modena, Italy. She previously answered a few questions for Zoom magazine about the work.

This work will premeire at Philadelphia's Gallery 339, opening May 11th and running through July 24th.

© Andrea Modica

fototazo: You mentioned in the Zoom interview that this project came out of making portraits of high school students in Connecticut and finding that frequently the subjects had their best friend hanging around as you made the images – but how were you invited to this high school to take portraits originally?

Andrea Modica: A high school teacher, who was taking a one-week portrait class with me at the Maine Media Workshops, invited me to do a brief residency where he worked, the Loomis Chaffee School, in Windsor, Connecticut. When I returned to my home in Philadelphia, I found three high schools that allowed me to visit with my 8x10 camera and make portraits.

f: Unlike the portraiture in your other projects, you chose to work with a blank wall background for most of the images in this project and to remove most of the spatial context from the images. Talk about this decision.

AM: Actually, the structure of these photographs is not very different from that of my much earlier series and book "Minor League". The reason in this case is largely due to the fact that I had very little time with each pair, since they were essentially cutting classes to be photographed, so I kept things very simple. But, in fact, I like the way the subjects sometimes push against the edges of the frame, enhancing the power struggle or some other dynamic between the friends.

© Andrea Modica

f: The images range from almost allegoric, such as the girl with her head to the chest of her friend, to something between sensual and sinister as in the image of the boy in a striped shirt in the background staring at his friend in the foreground who faces the camera, to the somewhat comic, for example the skinny, shorter girl and her tall best friend. To what degree did you work with the dynamics that you sensed between the subjects and to what degree did you invent the dynamics or narratives to serve the making of a strong photograph?

AM: The beautiful thing about this project is that the students chose each other. The "casting" was done and the drama began long before I ever showed up. I find the best portraits are made when I listen carefully and watch closely. Inevitably I fall in love with something that presents itself, and hopefully I step up to the plate with the skills I've honed over the years of working with the view camera. Working with the big camera often requires a collaboration between the photographer and the subject - one that is slow, and at best, encourages things to unfold.

© Andrea Modica

f: You photograph with an 8x10 and make platinum / palladium prints that by their nature have something of an atemporal sensibility. The subjects, on the other hand - through clothes, shared headphones and gestures - seem of this moment. I would be interested in hearing about how you feel time functions in these images.

AM: Tough one. What do you think? I might be more interested in knowing what the viewer thinks about this.

© Andrea Modica

f: Judith Joy Ross said about her school portraits, "I don't want the picture to explain school in some documentary sense. [I] want it be an emotional journey. I want the viewer to reconnect with what it is to be a kid." Your school portraits perhaps push for a third thing that's neither about the schools or the observer reconnecting with childhood. They seem to explore the nature of friendships, who we chose to have close to us and how we connect with others, both in the high school subjects themselves as well as in a more generalized sense through them as subjects. Would you agree? Did doing the project Best Friends change your understanding of the theme of friendship or how to work with this theme through photography?

AM: Yes, okay. Yes, I'm often surprised by how the world presents itself in front of the camera. I think these pictures are generally very optimistic, and this isn’t something I was particularly expecting or searching for.

© Andrea Modica

f: You have made portraits over your entire career. How would you say you have evolved and grown as a portrait artist over time?

AM: I’m not sure I'm the person to answer this question, as it pertains to the work. I'm more interested in how photographing people has challenged me personally, and enhanced my life, providing me with gift after gift of great intimacy, both with people I know well and with strangers.

© Andrea Modica

f: What portrait photographers do you go back to regularly for ideas and inspiration – and who are some newer discoveries you’re enjoying at the moment?

AM: Julia Margeret Cameron, Bellocq, Man Ray and Sander will always be among my heroes, as well as many, many of my contemporaries, including Lois Conner and Greg Miller - too many to list, though only yesterday I was very moved by Paul Graham's current show in NY, as well as Alec Soth's new show. Perhaps my greatest pleasure in looking at other people's work these days comes from returning to academia after some years, as a professor in Drexel University’s Photography Program. There is something truly inspiring about watching a young person get excited about seeing the world through a camera for the first time.

f: Lastly, who was your best friend in high school?

AM: Rosemarie Loconsolo Rizzo, who remains a close pal and confidante.

© Andrea Modica

© Andrea Modica