bodies of work
with amy lombard
We're excited to introduce a new recurring feature at Newest York: "Bodies of Work," in which we sit down with a local artist or writer to hear in their own words what influences and animates them. For our first-ever installment, we spoke to Queens-based photographer Amy Lombard. Originally from Philadelphia, her work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, among many others.
1. This painting of her mother
When I was a kid, this painting was actually at my grandparents’ house, hung above the fireplace in their living room. It was the first time in my life that I was in awe of something visually. As a kid, this was like... the pinnacle of art. For whatever reason I was always drawn to it, and when my grandparents passed, I was like, "I need to have that." So now it’s in my apartment. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in. I look like my mom a little bit, so especially when I had long hair, people thought I just had a painting of myself and a cat.
My grandmother was always very nit-picky about appearances – like my mom wasn’t allowed to wear jeans, she wasn’t allowed to wear certain things. For this painting she actually had really short hair, and my grandmother insisted that they paint her with this long, wavy hair.
And I don’t know why the cat would be outside – there are a lot of questions here. But especially because I do photograph animals quite a bit, to see how this was the first thing that ever inspired me visually and how that played out later on when I would actually start making artwork, I can kind of see the path that got me there.
2. Her toy wall
I’m obsessed with my wall of toys. I designed my office to be really fun in the way that the rest of the apartment is not: I have flamingo wall paper, it’s really comfortable, and I have my toys. I don’t remember at what point I started acquiring these things, these toys, but this is just the accumulation of years of going to estate sales, thrift stores, buying things on eBay. I have everything from the Nicole Simpson comic book to The Brady Bunch dolls. I have a Very Busy Barbie book.
What I love about these items is how they can tell you so much about what culture was like at a particular moment in time, in the way that any other kind of vintage item or antique item cannot. Like I have an Amy Carter paper doll, and at that point in time, she was such a cultural phenomenon. What I’ve come to realize is that my interest in these objects that say so much about the way we lived is really not unlike my interest in what I hope my photographs will do one day. It's this historical way of showing what culture was – what was important to people. To have these items in my office is sort of a visual daily reminder of that. It’s like my own little shrine.
3. her dog sasha
I have a bitchy black Pomeranian, Sasha. Her birthday is actually this week – she’s going to be six.
I got Sasha at a time in my life when I had a normal job. I was a social media editor at TIME magazine for a few years, and was at this point where I didn’t know what I wanted to photograph. I had no idea, and I am a really overdramatic person when I’m not taking pictures or working on something that’s compelling to me. I’m just absolutely miserable. I thought to myself: what’s important to me? Sasha was kind of like the center of my world at this point – she still is, obviously – but I was writing this stream of consciousness thing of what am I interested in, what do I love, as an entry point to see what topics I could explore visually.
Because I had just gotten Sasha, I was thinking maybe there’s something to explore here with other dog owners. That’s what led me to a dog beauty pageant, which would bring me into this dog fashion social scene in New York City that I still document to this day. Just getting into that scene had such a profound impact on my work: documenting specific communities and really focusing on these very specific interests, looking at what was important to people. It all comes back to Sasha, really. The reason why I can actually make a living as a photographer today is because of those pictures. It’s all thanks to Sasha.
4. the People of New York City
For starters, the people here are tough as hell, and that at the very least has inspired my work ethic and always reminded me to be on my grind. A lot of cities are like this of course, but in every neighborhood there’s a certain archetype of a person that lives there. When I first moved here, I was really interested in exploring that visually. I would spend time photographing the women on Madison Avenue, and – I doubt these kids are still there – but the big rollerblading scene on Avenue D, just looking at the people that make up these neighborhoods and exploring what community is. I can see how from that point, that evolved into something around the larger exploration of community as a whole.
I didn’t really have any sense of New York when I moved here at 18 for school. I only applied to one school that wasn’t in New York. I just had this idea, this grandiose view of New York. And I just knew that I needed to live there. I still feel this way: there are so many amazing, creative people, and that was the kind of life I wanted to have for myself. I certainly had an idealized view of what that was going to be, but that’s kind of what brought me into it.
Around the time I was moving to school – do you remember the period of time when party photographers were really big? It was like the weird "cobrasnake era" of nightlife. I remember being like, "Oh my god, this is so cool, all of these parties are going to be amazing," and then moving to New York and going to these things and being like wow, expectation versus reality – like a lot of things in New York. But with that in particular I thought "nothing is as cool as it seems on the internet."
5. The Emo music of her youth
I’m talking about Brand New, My Chemical Romance, Early November, like very emo. The older I get the more I can see the path that led me to where I am now in my adult life.
When I was a teenager, music was everything to me. It was my entry point to my social life. All we did was go to shows when I was a kid. Being interested in emo and pop punk and that kind of stuff, through that I had a lot of metal friends too – which is sort of a similar world. My metal friend Dan introduced me to this guy Sam who went to a different high school, so we wouldn’t have met otherwise. Sam signed up for a photography class at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philly, and he asked me if I wanted to do it with him. Really, I wanted a reason to get out of the house and be downtown.
I think back to it, and had I not listened to this music, I wouldn’t have had this group of friends. If I didn’t have this group of friends, I never would have taken a picture, and I would have never been here in the first place, so really my career as a photographer comes down to emo music and my dog Sasha.