Known for vibrant photographic portraits, Parker Day is no stranger to the world of panache. What others may see as randomness in her lavish use of make-up, costumes, and props often conceals a profound statement on our universal humanity. Day explores how personas are formed and what they are created to hide in her thought-provoking Possession series, which challenges viewers to consider the “potentiality and limitations” of the human sensorium. Meanwhile, ICONS is a slick commentary on truth and “the masks we wear.” She takes commonplace, unassuming items – stain remover, for example – and transforms them into shocking adornments on fearlessly flamboyant characters. Day shines a spotlight on who we really are, as uncomfortable as that may sometimes be to behold.
Read the full Parker Day interview from “The REBEL Issue” below.
How did your photography journey begin? Did you ever work in other forms of visual art?
I had a black and white darkroom photography class in high school that lit the spark, but I was always artistic as a kid, which my parents encouraged. My dad owned a comic book store, and I spent a lot of time drawing characters from superhero comics and manga.
How would you sum up your artistic style in a few words?
Colorful, eccentric, and full of character.
What are some themes that your photography tackles?
Identity and the Self. I’m interested in what constitutes an identity, how our personas are formed and what lies beneath them. In each body of work, I shoot a large variety of people playing different characters and often shoot them in the same way to point to an underlying oneness despite their surface differences.
What would you say are your trademarks as a photographer?
My aesthetic trademarks are vivid, lurid color, gritty film grain, and bright studio lighting.
You have an intense color palette – what draws you to work with such vibrant color photography over, say, black and white?
Color is a direct transmission of emotion. Different colors and color combos produce a visceral reaction. I go for that direct gut punch.
Tell us how your first body of work, ICONS, came to be, and how it set the tone for your work to come.
In developing my style for ICONS, I was creating from what I had and what I knew. I had a lot of thrifted clothes, odd tchotchkes, and cheap fabric for backgrounds. What I knew was drama and character, and I was meeting a lot of interesting people in Los Angeles who were eager to model. I knew I wanted to create a large, cohesive body of work, so I devised the 100-portrait ICONS series.
How is your latest body of work, Nowhere is Home, an evolution of your previous work? Can you share the inspiration behind the series?
Nowhere is Home is a semi-ongoing series that I think of like a sketchbook. The only rule is that the photos be out of studio and character-oriented. I’m intentionally keeping it loose since my other series are all super defined. But that’s on the back burner because I’ve been working on a massive new series for months that I’ve been keeping under wraps.
How do you find the models and subjects featured in your work?
Almost exclusively by creeping around on Instagram.
Which of your portraits have resonated with you the most, and why?
I really enjoy Mother. It’s afternoon in a backyard, and a young man is naked and covered in bright red blood. His fist clenched, he stares at an older woman with a bag over her head who gazes vacantly into the distance, her hands in her pockets. The foliage behind them projects hard, black shadows against the home. You can make your own inferences about why it resonates.
What is behind your decision to incorporate elements of popular culture, like brands or media characters, into your photography?
Nostalgia is a powerful tool. It taps into our collective memories and emotions. Plus, wrapping something odd and new up in that which is familiar makes the newness and the strangeness much more digestible. It’s a spoonful of sugar.
You’ve said before that you eschew Photoshop in favor of the in-camera capturing of your subjects. Why is that?
What I shoot is on the fantastical side so capturing it in a matter of fact way makes it feel more real. I like seams and imperfections, that’s where our humanity is.
What audience is your photography for? Do you keep a certain demographic or generation in mind when brainstorming?
Me [laughs]. I want to make what I want to see and if I like it, maybe other people will too.
Tell us about your process for creating a new body of work.
It depends! But in general: I have an idea about what I want to explore and then I make some rules for the series, like how many images to include, how are they shot (studio? What film? What lighting?), etc. I think having parameters forces creativity within them.
Which other photographers or artists inspire you, and why?
Jamie Warren, for her sense of humor and play (my favorite is her as “JonBeignet Ramsey” where her face is a beignet). I love Petra Collins’ lighting and set design. I enjoy Torbjorn Rodlands’ beautiful perversion. One of my favorite bodies of work ever is Understanding Joshua by Charlie White, which is about a pot-bellied, alien-like creature making his way in the world. And the pathos of Joshua! He’s the most twisted sympathetic character I can imagine. And I love Harmony Korine’s characters, they’re always odd and unforgettable.
You recently presented an extensive portfolio of your work for sale as an NFT collection – can you tell us about the experience and the collection drop?
I released ICONS as an expanded 200-piece 1/1 NFT collection with Superchief and Quantum Art, the foremost platform for photography NFTs. It was a great experience, and I’m a big believer in crypto and NFTs. I got my first Bitcoin in 2014 and have been an off-and-on crypto trader since then. I first considered getting into NFTs in 2017, but I didn’t feel the timing was right. I’m grateful the stars aligned with Quantum, a platform started by photographer Justin Aversano, who has really paved the way for the art of photography in the NFT space.
How do you plan to keep pushing yourself as an artist in the future?
I’ll always be true to myself and my vision first and foremost, and go where my curiosity leads me.
What is next for Parker Day? Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or installations on the horizon?
I’ve been working on a very large NFT collection since May and will be working on it into the new year. This is the first time I’ve worked on something I haven’t posted publicly as I’ve worked on it, so it feels weird not getting that immediate feedback. But it also feels good to keep it protected. I believe in the work and the overall vision. I’m excited to be creating something for the NFT space first. With my ICONS NFT release, the NFTs were second to prints. Now I’m fully embracing what this new art world has to offer.
To read our print feature on Parker Day, pick up your copy of The “REBEL” Issue here.