"Even when dealing with reality, I try to make it look like fantasy or theater. That's what makes it art for me."

An interview with Andres Serrano by Julie Ault

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Julie Ault: In your work from the 1980s, you constructed and photographed scenes and environments first conjured up in your imagination and subsequently realized with the help of props and particular visual strategies (i.e. cropping), such as you used in making the Bodily Fluids and Immersions series. Those methods rendered spectacular results. Subsequent bodies of work including The Morgue, The Klan, Nomads and many others, up to America, are less dependent on internal fantasy but rather focus on externally locating your interest in the theatrical, for instance, in social groupings such as in The Klan or The Church. In many series you have specifically focused on surface, whether on the surface of the bodies found in the morgue, or on uniforms, clothing, costume and various iconography employed and embodied by individuals. A couple of questions emerge. What are you looking for, and what do you want to show or reveal with this attention to surfaces?

Andres Serrano: I am looking to express my unconscious. My constructions have become more refined, and in America, the props and uniforms are real. Nevertheless, they still feel like figments of my imagination, like they were twenty years ago. I have always photographed, to some extent, the pictures in my head. Even when dealing with reality, I try to make it look like fantasy or theater. That's what makes it art for me. My desire is to see what ideas look like. Sometimes my choice of models or subjects is a statement in itself. I champion the underdog and the unheralded as much as I applaud the normal or original. My curiosity and interests are constantly extending, yet they remain the same. I am particularly drawn to the strange and unusual. Surfaces are important because that's what the camera sees and that's what the audience responds to. When I first started shooting The Morgue, I was at a distance of several feet from my subjects. The more I shot, the closer I got. By the end, I was doing close-ups and focusing on details. It's the same with America. Toward the end, the portraits got bigger. As you mature as an artist, you realize that what you leave out of a picture is as important as what you put in.

JA: Would you talk about this shift of the location of the theatrical from the total construction of an image driven by your internal vision to this new method of selecting subjects and subjecting them to your art direction and photographic point of view.
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Jewel-Joy Stevens, America's Little Yankee Miss, 2003.
(c) A. Serrano