Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Colin Murphy. I’m an 18 year old photographer from Athens, Georgia. I identify first as a human, and second as a brother, sister, son and daughter.
A lot of my experiences, especially as a photographer, have been pretty third person. There are many things I connect with, such as cat-loving and art appreciation and queerness, but on the whole, gender is odd for me to navigate–not because I find it good, bad, problematic, whatever–but because it permeates literally everything. Clothes, facial skin care (#reasons i’m a feminist #the patriarchy even oppresses itself), jobs, habits, and personal characteristics can be easily associated with, and are sometimes a result of, gender.
I don’t like to say “agender” or “genderfluid” to describe my own experience largely because I am constantly in flux between heavily gendered and non-gendered. I view my own presentation as an aesthetic game more than a reflection of my own association, because I am both associative and dissociative with many elements of the both sides of the perceived binary. I would describe my preferred look as “high masc/high femme” (As in, hit the gym on the weekdays and hit the MAC counter on the weekends) OR I present gender-ambiguous. A lot of this is also predicated on my environment; I can’t realistically wear femme chic to my fraternity-casual school. I’m fairly gaudy though, regardless of my environment.
What’s your life philosophy? How do you try to apply that to your work?
I think too much of art is “less is more”. I’m a very more-is-more kind of person. I got it from my mom, she’s the kind of woman who gives several unnecessary lectures daily and talks a little more than perhaps she should. And I’m the same way, so we get along well but also battle for top-bitch-of-the-house all the time. Mostly it’s fun. Anyway–“more is more”. In photography there’s this really big boom in minimalist color-theoryish aesthetics these days and I’m not a huge fan. It can be beautiful, but the images often lack some dimension and depth that I need in an photograph. I can play the minimalist game but it’s not mine. In photography, I like to find as many relevant elements as I possibly can in an environment and compose them and tighten them in to something manageable. I just think that gives the viewer more of an opportunity to gawk. It also makes the image come alive and have a vibration to it. You can see this a lot in my Camp Carolina series, but it’s still present in this one with Nihilist Cheerleader. My portraits tend to be more minimalist, but they are evolving. More elements=more fun, in my opinion.
Could you tell us what you think makes you stand apart in the art industry?
Because of my experience as a queer person, I am really fortunate to have an outsider view on a lot of things, which behooves me as an artist. It doesn’t make me stand out though. To be totally honest, my exposure to “the art world” is minimal. I just take photos. Not to say that I don’t appreciate other artists. I’m a very visual person, but I’m only 18. I’m not really in it yet. I think it’s important to explore my own viewpoint before trying to engage the field around me. I would rather shape the field than allow it to shape me, though I am definitely influenced by a number artists, more in ideology than aesthetic.
What are a few of your inspirations that drive you to success?
I love good storytellers. Whether it’s in photography, writing, or other media, I want to see and feel experiences that I might not have myself. Chimamanda Adichie is an absolute magician with images in short stories and in her novels. I’m reading Half of a Yellow Sun by her right now. It’s about the Biafran secession from Nigeria through a variety of political and social viewpoints by way of a number of very different, but connected, characters. That kind of bouncing narrative which provides a number of stories, told and untold, interests me. It’s reminiscent of Larry Fink’s work in photographs (look at Social Graces!), or some of Harry Gruyaert’s work. Both are very dimensional in individual images and in social perspectives. I just like material that I can look at for hours or reread a number times, and find a variety of stories inside. To me, that’s the power of “more is more” which gives the viewer/reader all sorts of possible narratives to follow. (Less is more can also provide this, but gives less of a lead to the viewer, in my view. I like that a more-is-more approach offers both freedom and constraint for the viewer instead of just the former.)
Since you also work with bands, such as Nihilist Cheerleader, do you plan to keep going in that direction with music photography? What are some of the different emotions you feel with music photography opposed to your other work?
Music photography is fun, and certainly I’ll do more of it, but I don’t want to limit myself. The only reason I work with Nihilist Cheerleader is because they incredibly fun to photograph. There’s a lot of good energy in punk music. I don’t get paid, and sometimes I pay to get in to their shows (even though i could get in for free) because they are musicians and need money for recording. I’m actually shooting an upcoming festival in Athens, called Slingshot, with Lil B and Angel Olsen. (also not getting paid–volunteering because it’s super fun!!) Realistically I don’t intend to pursue music photography, but if it pans out i’ll go with it. Generally I prefer more editorial kind of stuff.
How has your past influenced where you are now? What were some of the early signs of you pursuing photography?
My parents got me this tiny 1.7MP digital camera in 2004. It was a 3x3 inch square. I’m sure the photos were terrible but I had such a great time. My brother and I would just saturate the shit out of every image we took. We loved colors. I remember my parents getting frustrated because we took this amazing trip to the Grand Canyon when both of us were 7, and we only took pictures of ground squirrels. I was, even at that age, passionate about photography, and passionate about what I’d have in front of the camera. My parents have always supported my creative endeavors (more emotionally than financially), especially my mom. She’s the usually first person I show my work to and she’s always excited about it. I really appreciate that, though sometimes I don’t show it. I am so incredibly lucky to have supportive parents. I didn’t choose to be queer, or a photographer, (or sometimes a childish asshole), but they DO choose to support and show love for pretty much everything I do, so long as it isn’t outright stupid.
Do you have any words of advice from the experience you’ve dealt with when it comes to putting yourself out there?
The best thing to do is just make a lot of friends. Talk to people, be nice to people and just photograph everything all the time. You’ll get better really fast. As a young photographer, it’s tough to break in to the industry, so do a lot of stuff and start really cheap if you decide to charge money for it. Eventually things start to line up and you get some clients.
What’s a typical day for you?
It depends on the season. In Fall and Spring, I’m doing a lot of shoots and whatnot for friends and clients. In the winter I get really bad SAD (the apt abbreviation for seasonal affective disorder) and shoot less than I’d like. I lose a lot of creative energy then Usually shoots happen after school from 4-6ish. I go to school. I do a lot of homework, I am a good student. It’s a tough balancing act because I am pretty uncertain about my future plans, though obviously I want to pursue photography. As far as daily rituals go, I work out pretty much every day to stay sane. I usually lift weights or swim. In free time, I’m reading articles on politics or arts, or maybe working on something dumb in photoshop. Or maybe trying to get my cat to like me.
What are some of your goals for 2017?
I want to get some experience in fashion/editorial photography. I secured an internship sort of thing with a clothing company called ūmano, and I will be involved in shooting their spring line. Other than that, I just want to keep my mind open and make more connections. I also want to savor these last few months in Athens before I ship off to college. I think I’m going to Bard in upstate NY but I’m not sure. (the photography professors are incredible and there are a lot of queers!)
What makes you happy?
This depends seasonally for me. In the winter I need a lot of time to decompress and think. So in those months I really like arduous facial skin care routines and exercise. It takes my mind away from other frustrations and brings me to the present. And it makes me feel great! In other seasons, I like to go hiking or talk with friends. I take photos all the time, that’s always a little dopamine high.
Any closing comments?
Being in love with your own work as an artist is not a bad thing! Own it. Of course, be critical, but at a lot of points in your artistic development you have to be your own strongest advocate AND your strongest critic. I feel like most people succeed in the latter but fail in the former. So believe in your work and love it.
Thank you for reading!