Relive The Photo Show That Was Hosted at a Gothic Revival Church in Koreatown
Over Labor Day Weekend, Renee Parkhurst, LA-based photographer, exhibited her latest work at a Gothic Revival church in LA’s Koreatown. Upon stepping foot into the holy venue, the audience’s gaze was immediately directed towards the altar; just before it laid one of Parkhurst’s props—a human-sized birdcage, surrounded by angel statues. Weaved in the center of the cage were chains, a red vinyl chair, and neon-red lettering that read “PURE”, the name of the show. The concept of her exhibition was to focus on “the natural push and pull of [humanity’s] connection to purity and wickedness, lightness and darkness.” Even the venue highlighted opposite notions—the subjects’ diverted gaze, the grim motifs, and cinematic qualities of Parkhurst’s work stood in stark contrast to the religious Mexican tapestries that clung to the church walls.
For the first quarter of the show, South African musician Nick Leng added to the ambiance with his improv piano performance. After the show, the crowd made their way to the Echo in LA where synth pop and performance artist Geneva Jacuzzi performed with two opening bands, followed by a DJ set by Drab Majesty.
We caught up with Parkhurst afterwards to learn more about her inspirations and intentions for this show. Read below for our full interview, accompanied by photos from Lindsay Arth and Ilona Slama.
Tell us about the inspiration behind “PURE”.
I’ve always been extremely interested in observing the true form of human behavior, and seeing it for what it really is. Using the word Pure is more mocking but still defining the ideology behind human intention and surviving within intense stages of temptation, desire, sexuality, survival, hunger, love, lust, greed, innocence. Taking a look at how we evolve from the stages of birth, and these elements that play a crucial role to bring us to our animalistic ways.
In a previous interview with Live FAST Magazine you had expressed interest in creating darker imagery in LA, but said it might be better for an NYC or European audience – what changed? How were you able to push this narrative?
I still think that creating work with a darker, more moody feel is confusing to LA clients in terms of reaching out to their audience, but I realised if I don’t create what is within me I might lose my mind. Personal projects and expression are the root of it all. I still bring my style within each shoot I do anywhere, but sometimes there are limitations.
You said the concept of your show “lies around the natural push and pull of humans connection to their purity and wickedness, lightness and darkness”—how were you able to craft several shoots around this idea, but keep the idea fresh?
I wrote down ten different concepts to execute that fell under the main concept pretty early on, and each one having one element that carried the story. For example, some held symbolism from children, one a snake, another ravens, and so forth. Each story was pretty strong to me, some came to me in dreams, and some I just thought about for god damn days so they were strong in my mind.
How do you bring out the darkness and passion in your subjects?
I think if they are open, and trust me, it is completely the most natural occurrence.
When you’re shooting, how do you get someone to go one step past just being comfortable in front of the camera?
There’s usually a mirror effect with shooting people, if I give them a deeper feeling of me and slight understanding to who what why without actually explaining in words it comes quite easily.
What are you passionate about right now?
Working on the next exhibition for 2019, I’m working on three books at the moment, and just doing as many feel-good things as I can. Maybe working on a sneaky music project with a friend from Aus next year. Surviving plus some, I suppose is important.
What was the most exciting thing about designing the inside of this gallery exhibit? I know creating an actual experience was very important to you.
Ah, I loved this part. I don’t think I could ever do a normal gallery space for a show after this. I really loved bringing in elements from the shoots inside. The cage, the angel statues, I loved working on the playlist, I loved attempting to please as many senses as possible. Essentially gutting the church of everything inside, still using its beauty, but beyond having my art as the primary art, using the church as a blank canvas was dreamy as hell. (no pun intended haha)
What was the process of securing the venue like?
It actually wasn’t that hard! I Googled church for hire, had a meeting with them, paid a bunch of money, and they were really cool with me. They trusted me, surprisingly. Haha.
Music is commonly credited as one of your largest influences. Nick Leng played the grand piano at the first half of your exhibit and the second half of this experience took place at the Echo with Geneva Jacuzzi – why did you choose these musicians to partner with?
Definitely, I always come to music for initial inspiration for shoots. Taking what emotion a song will give me and creating something visual from it. I’m going to start booking band’s next year so it all just fell into place to curate the after party with amazing talents involved. Geneva was my original muse, I think it’s wonderful to collaborate with an artist who has an interesting aspect of themselves, their art which they already are part of. Nick is a good friend and when I walked into the church the very first time and saw the piano thought of him straight away. He’s a freak with that. I’ll be doing a big exhibition like this one every year, with different musician(s) every year so should be fun. Always looking for someone rare and unique in style.
What would be the ideal takeaway for your viewers?
I’d like them to find their own personal connection to the images and also understanding to the concept or story.
What part of the imagery do you think they’ll relate to?
I think the vulnerableness. I’m not really sure really. I feel vulnerable when I look at art that hits somewhere.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a person going into photography that has no clue where to start?
Stay tuned to Milk for more west coast vibes.