Amanda Dandeneauland

WARNING: Images slightly NSFW

Ok, so all of a sudden you feel like you’ve had a run in with Alice in Wonderland’s entrance scene into the croquet game or a barren version of Bosch’s, “Garden of Earthly Delights”… that is kind of the dreamy voyeurism that I felt while stumbling upon the work of Amanda Dandeneau. The New York Native whose images make you pinch your arm for a second. They are portraits, yes, but the characters in the frames have an uncommon commonality that makes them seem pulled from a fairy-tale or the dream sequence in the, “Labyrinth.” Only these characters are not wearing masks, in fact they are not wearing much at all.

Smothered by delicate natural lighting, they are so natural and so “real”. In a Vimeo interview for The World Identity Lab Exhibition, Dandeneau talks about identity, photography and how she bases her work on these issues especially by photographing her relationship with her own mother. Seems like any art school candidate can say the same until you look twice at her work.

Chrissy Reilly: In all I have read about you there is a certain suggestion of identity based off your relationship with your mother, but you don’t really talk or suggest anything more. I really like this approach in how, I, “the viewer” am able to visit your work and try to put together the puzzle of your past. I find myself looking for clues and finding a little more, bit by bit as I go into them.

Amanda Dandeneau: I like to secretly look at strangers on the subway or on the street and play a game in my head where I make up the story of their life. I usually start with simple things like where are they going? Who they are seeing? Are they lonely, or do they have an extraordinary amount of friends? Sometimes I even get jealous of the life I have created for them… and other times I feel incredibly lucky that I am where I am. Photography is an excellent medium for the mystery game, which is a central theme in my work. The viewer has the opportunity to make-up their own story about me and my mom based on the snapshot clue of our relationship that is exposed to the viewer – what’s the fun of it if you have all the pieces put together for you?

CR: You obviously have a very open and nurturing relationship with your mother, yet I see her as a very sexual person (in the image of her making love above her bed, or even that she allows you to photograph her naked).

AD: When I was about 5 years old my mom and I were driving in her red convertible with the top down. It was a blazing hot summer day and I remember asking her if I could take my shirt off like the boys. She gave me the look of approval and allowed me to be free and exposed to anyone driving by. I guess that was my mother’s approach to mothering…

My Room, 2008

AD: In regards to the naked photograph of my mother and my stepfather above the living room couch… it wasn’t the easiest thing to explain to friends, but has always remained a good conversation piece.
CR: What was your upbringing and how do you feel that it effected or influenced your view of sexuality and identity?

AD: My Mom tried to teach me that sexuality is nothing to be shy or ashamed of, rather, something to embrace. I am still trying to understand that and to shed my own inhibitions and fears. She is a remarkable subject for me, because all the while she is open and candid about her ageing naked body, ever since she was my age she has always been heavily vested in her looks. I have learned to recognise the sounds and sights of these conflicting characteristics and enjoy watching that inner dichotomy play itself out in my photographs.
CR: The images of you both together are so intimate and comfortable, is this an everyday norm in your household – or just for the pictures?

AD: We are fairly comfortable in each other’s company and are very much alike in so many ways, and so different in others. We are very connected and speak on the phone and text often during the day. She recognises that I have my own life to live and she seems content to let me make my own mistakes, while I learn to enjoy my own successes. She is more willing to expose herself to me than I am to her, maybe because she is my mother, and I sometimes forget that we are now both women.
CR: My favourite piece is the one of you and your mother lying in bed. The juxtaposition of the outdoor shots next to the image of your mother directly hit the association, but is there a certain sentiment there that you are referring to – time, ageing, change?
AD: I try to create metaphors between landscapes and portraiture, either with individual photographs or creating a composition where they come together in one. There are interesting similarities between a landscape and human nature. I use the landscape in my parent’s backyard to form a dialogue with the life within the house. I like to contrast or sometimes compliment the texture of the outdoor shot, with the textures of the indoor shot. What makes that particular photograph work so well for my eye is how the different lines and textures of the bedding serve as a backdrop to the different textures of our bodies given our varying ages.

Sophie and Alison


CR: “Familiar Strangers” also features portraits of people in their own environments and I feel like there is the same strong dialogue between sitter and situ found in “Us”, was there a similar motivation for this work?

AD: Familiar Strangers is influenced by the work with my Mom. For me it is about feeling vulnerable, for both the subject and the photographer. I think it is important when I have the trust of someone I am photographing. I like the idea of putting people in vulnerable situations because I, myself, feel it just as much as they do.
CR: There is such a rawness in the expression of your images – particularly “Sophie and Alison” and “Felipe”; a level of sincerity that is uncommon in photography today. Did you plan these images or were they the result of time spent exploring both the subject and environments?
AD: Whenever you photograph someone there is always that element of surprise when looking through the images. The expression on one’s face that comes directly from how they are feeling in that decisive moment is one of the reasons why I find photography to be a remarkable medium. There is a moment that you capture that you may never be able to see again. The photograph titled “Us” is another example of capturing the subject unaware. What makes my Mom’s expression so remarkable in “Us”, is that the photo catches her in mid-sentence so it is evident that she was not expecting the photo to be taken at that exact moment, yet, it is also obvious that she is the one who was pressing the shutter bulb. In other words, she took the photograph and was also surprised that she did.

CR: I see “Us” as a lifelong journey, do you have any intentions for the project’s future?

AD: The work with my Mom is a never-ending project. There is so much I still am trying to learn from her, and vice versa. I consider this project more of a collaboration than anything else. I wold love to one day make a book out of it.



To see more of Amanda Dandeneau’s work, please visit her website here.

Chrissy Reilly is a Brooklyn based Art Director and Creative Operations Director, you can join her on Twitter @chrissyreilly

Photography // © Amanda Dandeneau
Interview // Chrissy Reilly (twitterfacebooktumblr)



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