How to Start a Project: Lisa Kereszi

© Lisa Kereszi, Gael dressing, State Palace Theatre, New Orleans 2001

Two years ago, I asked a handful of friends in the photography world if they had advice about starting projects for my students. I continue to present their responses to students each semester.

Under that idea that their responses might be of interest to others, I will be publishing some of the responses I received then as well as soliciting new responses to post a total of a dozen replies from photographers to the basic question, "What advice do you have for starting a project?"

The series has featured replies from Judith Joy RossIrina RozovskyAlejandro CartagenaPhil ToledanoSteven AhlgrenSusan Lipper, and Amani Willett.

Today we continue with a contribution from Lisa Kereszi.

Lisa Kereszi was born in 1973 in Pennsylvania and grew up in Suburban Philadelphia to a father who ran the family auto junkyard and to a mother who owned an antique shop. In 1995 she graduated from Bard College with a Bachelor of Arts. After college she worked as an assistant to Nan Goldin, and in 2000 she received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Art. She has been on the faculty there as a Lecturer since 2004, now serves as Director of Undergraduate Studies in Art, and was appointed Critic in 2012. She was also a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts MacDowell Fellow.

Her work is in many private collections and in that of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Study Collection at the Museum of Modern Art, the Altoids Curiously Strong Collection of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Norton Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Berkeley Art Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery, among others. Her work has been shown in group shows at the Whitney Museum, MoMA, the Aldrich Museum, the Bronx Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Queens Museum of Art, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Urban Center Gallery at the Municipal Art Society in New York, among many others. She had solo shows in 2002 and 2003 at Pierogi in Brooklyn. She is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York, where she had Winter 2005, Spring 2007 and Spring 2009 and 2012 solo shows. Other solo shows include the Galleries at Moore College in Philadelphia, the Alcott Gallery at University of North Carolina in Fall 2006 and also at the Matrix Gallery at UC Berkeley, the latter as part of her 2005 Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers.

Her editorial work has appeared in many books and magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Nest, New York, Harper’s, TIME, W, The London Telegraph Sunday Magazine, Details, GQ, Black Book, Jane, Newsweek, House & Garden, Penthouse, Nylon, Orion, Bon Appetit, zingmagazine, Flaunt, wallpaper* and others. Her pictures regularly appeared in The New Yorker’s "Goings on About Town" section. She was included in the 2003 list of the 30 top emerging photographers by Photo District News, and was granted a commission to photograph Governors Island by the Public Art Fund the same year, which culminated in shows at the Urban Center Gallery and the Mayor's Office at City Hall and a 2004 exhibition catalog, Governors Island, as well as a permanent installation on the island.

Three monographs are in print – Fun and Games with Nazraeli Press in 2009, and two with Damiani Editore: Fantasies in 2008 and her latest book, Joe’s Junk Yard, which was released in early Fall 2012. Kereszi lives and works in New Haven.

There are a lot of ways to start a project, and I feel like I have tried many different ways to do so. I have been interested in a large place, like Vegas, or Florida, or Coney Island, and set out to uncover whatever I can about that broad subject, where it can contain many different kinds of spaces, people and images under a large umbrella. I have also set out to investigate a specific subject, such as haunted house attractions, strip clubs or dive bars, and just do research about where the nearby, feasible places might be to ask for permission to get started. For my work, for the most part, the pictures are made on private property, and with long exposures on a tripod, so there is no sneaking around possible. I have found that it is easier, in a way, when you are student, because no one is all that suspicious - all can be explained with a simple, "Oh, it's for an art class." It's harder to explain yourself sometimes, when there is no assignment, no reason other than because it's what I do; it's my job. I feel like I'm sort of a student-of-life, and can still try to use the student card for at least a few more years, I hope.

And sometimes a project just falls into your lap - like a commission or an assignment, or a chance encounter, like the one evening in which I met several burlesque dancers, who each introduced me to another, and another, until I was able to photograph many women who were burlesque revivalists, which ended up making up my book, Fantasies. Also, many of these smaller projects of mine have been loosely organized in poetic means to join disparate images in my series entitled Fun and Games, and then the more recent follow-up, The Party's Over, in which I generally visit escapist places where people go to deny reality. This work encompasses sort of "mini-projects" with that over-arching theme, so I can mix together pictures from theatres, amusement parks, motels, Coney Island, Vegas, nightclubs, and have them all make sense together.

I have also had projects develop slowly, and over time, llike my last book, Joe's Junk Yard, which was about my family's failed scrap business. The images range from those made with a cheap point-and-shoot camera from when I was 16-years-old, thorugh just about every format and medium as I grew up and learned my vocation, to a digitally-made image made when I was 36. There is a passage of time that takes place in the book, as I tell my story alongside my family's story, which is also revealed thorugh decades-old images and ephemera in my grandfather's scrapbooks that he made in the 70s, before I ever picked up a camera. Once I got interested in taking pictures, I knew that the junkyard was a "gold mine" for images, and I just always revisited the place several times a year, knowing that one day I'd organize them into something when the time came, a book and an exhibition, but it was all very long-term. This was a project I was just born-into, and it became my fourth book, not my first, after it grew and grew, and then sat and sat, giving me time to wrap my head around it and understand the project I had slowly created.

© Lisa Kereszi, Plastic Shark in lake, Poconos, Penna. 2005