You may have been fortunate enough to catch Whitney Hubbs’ recent solo exhibition at SITUATIONS gallery in New York. Entitled Animal, Hole, Selfie, the show of large-format photography ran 11 January – 16 February and received rave reviews.
If you weren’t able to get along to the gallery, then you can still view and buy excellent examples of her work here. Artspace has a strong array of Hubbs' images, which have the power to both draw in and disturb. Her photographs are a pleasure to view, but not an obvious pleasure. She is, as the fellow photographer Lucas Blalock puts it in the notes to her recent show, “an artist bravely searching for an alternative to the burdensome weight of American optimism.”
“Her images possess a psychosexual tension—not to mention a preoccupation with staging—that aligns them with performance art,” Wendy Vogel wrote in her Art Forum review.
That might sound challenging, but the artist's earliest references were fairly conventional. “Ever since I was in the ninth grade, which is when I took my first photograph, I've been looking at Edward Weston and all those dudes that have taken pictures of women,” Hubbs says.
The artist developed Weston’s methods, both shooting herself and other women. “I started bringing women into my studio to pose the way I would want to pose. I found women that I had an emotional connection with, or a physical connection with, so they could be sort of stand-ins for me. I like moving around the subject, and loosening up. I'll watch them do something, and ask them to do it again, or hold the same gesture.”
Read on to discover how Los Angeles, Cindy Sherman, ideas of the abject in self-portraiture and the Riot Grrrl movement have all informed her search.
What’s on your mind right now?
Top three: the upcoming election, making a book, and balancing studio time with teaching time.
How would you describe your work to a stranger?
I’m performing ideas of the abject in self-portrait photographs that are shot on a 4”x5” camera with color film in the studio.
What inspired you to take photographs in the first place? What kind did you take as a child?
What I’m making now and what I first made (in 1991) come from sorta similar spaces. Back then what inspired me was this inherent need to be creative both behind and in front of the camera in a space/room/place that was empty other than myself.
What feeling do you get from creating your work? How does it make you feel if you don’t create?
It feels joyful and painful to be making photographs, but it also just feels just plain good to have a consistent practice. When I don’t make pictures for an extended time I feel grumpy.
If I buy one of your photographs what should I say to friends about it?
I’d ask you why you bought it. I can tell you what my photographs are about, but I’d be curious to hear why someone bought it.
Where do you fit in, who do you think you belong alongside?
I have artist heroes like Cindy Sherman, Hannah Wilke, Paul McCarthy, and, Mike Kelley. I look up to their risky behavior and creativity. Where do I fit in? I feel like I fit into some of my friends’ work, people working now, mostly in photography and sculpture.
How did being such a key part of the Riot Grrrl scene shape your outlook?
To carve out my own path and go my own way and to not worry about following the rules and to take agency of my choices.
How does your body of work fit together?
Do you mean how does one body of work fit together with my new body of work? If so, the themes of drama and formalism are two key ideas I’m always interested in, and have approached it multiple and varying ways throughout the years.
Is LA still important to your work? Does it manifest itself differently now?
Yes, very much so. Just by having spent my early years there (until age 18), and then for another ten years there as an adult. The light, the film industry, the landscape and nature, my friendships, all of that played out in my work in one way or another. Now it acts in more subtle ways, but I do believe I can’t escape where I came from, and where I came from is L.A.
Can you control where it takes you?
Where what takes me? The work? In some ways, I do have control, but I also work better when I lend my skillset of picture making to chance. Allowing for mistakes and risks in the studio is important to me.
Can you describe a typical working day?
Since I’m a professor, I think describing a typical week is better. Wednesday – Friday I have full teaching days, that leaves me sorta exhausted in the evenings. The rest of the week is a mish mash of studio time / picture making or out in the world picture making. Administrative emails (with work). Hanging with some friends. Going to the movies in Rochester, NY. Reading. Watching things online. And I always carve out time to sit and do nothing.
What are the bits of being an artist you still struggle with?
Top one is insecurity. Under that umbrella is uncertainty, fear, and feeling like a hack.
Your website has a photo of you with a Gibson round your neck. What’s the song or riff you always like to play loud?
Oh yes! Actually it’s 1983 Gibson Corvus. I am learning to play now. So, at this point in time I can only play a few chords. It has always been my dream to play music and be in a band. I was too shy to do that when I was younger, and I think that’s one of the reasons I took up photography (rather than perform in a band).
What are you working on at the moment and what’s next for you?
I am continuing on with similar the similar style of self-portraits. In December of 2020 I will be having a two-person show at the Silver Eye Center of Photography with Patricia Voulgaris and in spring of 2021 I will be putting out a book with SPBH Editions. Take a look at more Whitney Hubbs work for sale now here.