I utilize portraiture as a genuine reflection of the queer community, inviting viewers to not only look, but see my subjects for who they are. Recently, I've been focusing on the power of social media and the representation of the Internet persona - I'm interested in the curation of identity via the portals Instagram and Facebook, and the manipulation of public opinion. With this new direction, I pose questions about forging one's identity through these online channels.
tell us about your hometown and how it shaped and supported you as an artist.
I grew up in the small New York City suburb of Valhalla, part of the town of Mount Pleasant. I think the name Mount Pleasant says it all, but I guess you could say the same about Valhalla- essentially a Norwegian death valley?? I was definitely an outcast growing up, but I always had the city right there. I started taking Saturday art classes at FIT when I was 15, and hanging around Manhattan a lot, finding solidarity with other teenage freaks & queers there. It was definitely really formative. I also relied heavily on the Internet because where else does a young person go when they feel like they don't fit in?? The city and the Internet nurtured me as an artist growing up for sure.
you are interested in the utilization of social media platforms as a mean to explore queer identity. what was your attitude toward social media when you first signed up, and how has your attitude changed? what role do you think social media plays in identity exploration / development, and how would you improve the experience?
I don't think I knew all the power social media had when I first signed on. I guess for me that begins with Myspace & Stickam, then Tumblr. I definitely was some cutie-scene girl who made web friends from the get-go though. So even that had me subconsciously maintaining an image as this "cool girl" when I was outcasted in school. I don't think my attitude towards it has changed so much but I do think I realized the weight and the power of it all. I think that social media is an identity-building platform. You can start from scratch and be anyone, someone else or an alternate version of yourself. I think I've always used social media to portray a cool girl version of me. I adapted the nickname Cece on Instagram, which is fun because anyone I meet solely through Instagram just knows me as such. So Cece is powerful; a misandrist, a protector and lover of women, body-positive, sex-positive -- a take-no-shit kinda babe. I do think I am all of these things.. just kind of muted. It's really neat how you can shift people's perceptions of you by word association and image, and how that manifests in your IRL self.
what is your relationship to your photographic subjects? how do your projects influence & develop those relationships?
My relationship with my photographic subjects varies from non-existent to intimate. A lot of the time I have an aesthetic vision and seek out someone I loosely know to just freak it with. I like photographing people I've never photographed before, and people who have never been seriously photographed by anyone before. It feels more collaborative and as though they are lending themselves to me with trust in my vision or goal, even when I don't know what it is. I had once done a pretty extensive project in which I photographed queer folx that I had met through the Internet and talked about our relationships with the net, and that was a really wonderful succession of photographing and developing relationships with strangers. Generally I maintain a sphere of people I don't know, loosely know, and know well online and thus far have had good luck by putting out open calls on social media.
what has exploring portraiture and self-portraiture helped you understand about your own place within your community, both personally and artistically?
Exploring portraiture & particularly self-portraiture has helped me make space for myself in my communities. Community is really nurturing and I think it's important for anyone to create a space for themselves to exist and thrive in. Artistically, portraiture has given me a huge boost in connecting with others. I love meeting people and getting to know others through photography. I love that it is often the thing that takes so many of my connections from URL to IRL.
when did you begin taking pictures? are you self-taught or did you take classes?
I think I started taking photos more thoughtfully when I was around 16. (I'm 23 now) I took my first class in high school; I fell for it & took the other photo course offered and then a pre-college Saturday course at FIT before embarking on the BFA journey.
think back on some of your earliest works. are they very different from your work now? how do you feel about them?
My past work was different from my current work in that I think I felt I had to follow some sort of formula. Everything was very pre-thought out, nothing was post-rationalized or spontaneous. Ironically it seems much less informed than my work now. I feel pretty good about it though, I think it was all an honest effort and I have always learned so much by photographing & connecting with others.
you've recently begun playing around with video work. how does this process feel different from your photography, and what kind of projects do you think you might explore through this medium?
Yes! I'm still really new to it and taking a very DIY bootleg approach. I think video is really neat because it engages viewers more intimately than a still image; I guess less people will give the time to watch, but those who do are engaging more closely. I'm not really sure where I'll go with it but right now I'm only working on video selfies. Kinda stems from video chatrooms and my soft spot for that sort of performance.
what kind of material(s), spaces, or experiences do you seek out to restore your creative output?
Romantic comedies and high school movies for sure! I draw a lot of inspiration from those types of films, they're my favorite to watch, fantasize about, and aestheticize. If I'm ever feeling dry and like I want to shoot, I usually link up with someone willing (via the Facebook status open call), grab some fabric and misc. items, outfits from my closet, and freestyle it.
any upcoming projects we should know about?
I'm actually trying to make my own romantic comedy of sorts...its in the works.
Other than that, I'm working towards an exhibition in August that's a big collaborative effort with 3 other artists working in all different mediums. I'm really excited to see how that plays out.
Clarissa Caponera is a contemporary photographer living and working in Philadelphia. Her work is comprised of explorations of identity, the pathways of Internet culture and how it molds one's persona. Her photographs are gentle, honest, and seductive depictions of a singular untainted moment. Check out some her work here, and follow her on Instagram.