Carla Williams | Carolyn Drake – Episode 71

In this episode of PhotoWork with Sasha Wolf, guest Carla Williams talks about her 2023 publication, Tender, a book of 80 self portraits made between 1984-1991, and additional guest Carolyn Drake talks about her 2023 publication, Men Untitled, a book of 54 portraits, mostly of men, both published by TBW Books. Sasha, Carla, and Carolyn discuss how the books approach portraiture through personal exploration while also referencing, recontextualizing and questioning their many influences from the canon of famous works.

This podcast is sponsored by picturehouse + thesmalldarkroom.

Carla J. Williams

Carla J. Williams

Carla Williams was born in Los Angeles in 1965 in the front seat of a ‘65 Buick station wagon. She became interested in photography in college receiving her BA in photography from Princeton University and her MA and MFA from the University of New Mexico.

During her years in school her self-portraiture was made using mostly Polaroid 4 x 5 and instant 35mm film formats. The immediacy of results allowed her to interact with the images at the time of the sitting rather than wait for the darkroom process, lending both an energy and technical looseness to the photographic finish. These images reflect Williams’ creative urgency, her desire to render the likeness in the moment. It would become a signature style in her work. Her professor Emmet Gowin called her graduating thesis show the best thesis show in his thirty-six years of teaching.

After graduating, Carla declared her retirement feeling disillusioned with the prospect of becoming an artist. She spent the next decades working independently as a photography historian, writer, and editor. She has occasionally participated in publications and exhibitions, but never pursued a creative career.

William’s first monograph, Tender (TBW, 2023) is a selection of her self-portraiture made between the years of 1984 and 1999 and kept mostly to herself for more than thirty years.

Carolyn Drake

Carolyn Drake works on long term photo-based projects seeking to interrogate dominant historical narratives and creatively reimagine them. Her practice embraces collaboration and has in recent years melded photography with sewing, collage, and sculpture. She is interested in collapsing the traditional divide between author and subject, the real and the imaginary, challenging entrenched binaries.

Drake was born in California and studied Media/Culture and History in the early 1990s at Brown University. Following her graduation from Brown, in 1994, Drake moved to New York and worked as a interactive designer for many years before departing to engage with the physical world through photography.

Between 2007 and 2013, Drake traveled frequently to Central Asia from her base in Istanbul to work on two long term projects. Two Rivers (self-published ,2013) explores the connections between ecology, culture and political power along the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers and earned a 2010 Guggenheim fellowship. Wild Pigeon (self-published, 2014) is an amalgam of photographs, drawings, and embroideries made in collaboration with Uyghurs in western China. This work was presented in a six month solo exhibition at SFMOMA in 2018 and earned the Anamorphosis Book prize. Following this, in Internat (self-published, 2017), Drake worked with young women in an ex Soviet orphanage to create photographs and paintings that point beyond the walls of the institution and its gender expectations. This work was awarded the 2018 HCP fellowship curated by Charlotte Cotton and later exhibited in several festivals in Europe. This project was followed by Knit Club (TBW Books, 2020), which emerged from her collaboration with an enigmatic group of women in Mississippi. Knit Club was shortlisted for the Paris Photo Aperture Book of the Year and Lucie Photo Book Awards and exhibited at McEvoy Foundation in San Francisco and at Yancey Richardson Gallery and ICP in New York.

Drake now lives in California and is currently developing self-reflective projects close to home. Her latest work, Isolation Therapy, was exhibited at SFMOMA’s show Close to Home: Creativity in Crisis in 2021 and at Yancey Richardson Gallery in 2022. Her work has also been supported by Peter S Reed Foundation, Lightwork, the Do Good Fund, the Lange Taylor prize, Magnum Foundation, the Pulitzer Center, and a Fulbright fellowship. She is a member of Magnum Photos and represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery.