"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

Page 1 2 3 4

AS: My shift has been from the subjective to the objective, while still remaining true to my roots as a tableaux artist. I chronicle and document the real in an unreal environment: the studio. Even when I shoot outdoors, I make it look like a backdrop in a studio. When I began America, I was photographing singular portraits as is always my custom. Half way through the series, I realized that these portraits would be shown facing each other. Therefore, the portraits needed to work together, either by size or disposition. Certain portraits immediately fell into place, while others just cried out for each other. In the end, America turned out to be a story that told itself, with a beginning, a middle and an end, and I felt like a movie director with a cast of actors who wrote their own scripts. Had it been entirely up to me, I might have written a different script, but this is the hand that I was dealt and the story just kind of wrote itself. I often don't have a point of view, and if I do, I keep it to myself. I explore with an open mind and let the work take its own course. I don't have an agenda except to create. I remember when I did The Klan a Klansman asked me, "Do you know much about the Klan?" When I went to the morgue I was asked, "Have you ever seen dead people before?" The answer to both questions was "No." I'm an outsider, just like the audience.

JA: What are the stimulus and criteria you have when identifying a subject?

AS: I usually start with an idea or title, such as The Interpretation of Dreams or A History of Sex. In both cases I felt the titles were umbrellas I could fit almost anything under. I start with one or two pictures, and then the work takes off in its own direction. In A History of Sex, I investigated and fabricated sexual scenarios. The Interpretation of Dreams allowed me to give full rein to my imagination. In the case of America, it was easy to come up with a cast of characters, starting with some of the more obvious ones. At first it was a Boy Scout or airline pilot, but later, some of the people I sought became the embodiment of issues and ideas that represent different aspects of America. There could have been others, but these are the ones I got.

JA: Can you talk about your relation to, and interest in, fame and infamy, which seems to be very American.

AS: America loves a hero and an anti-hero. We are just as fascinated by the bad guys as we are by the good guys. Everyone likes to hear about everyone else's downfall. That's why the news is so full of gossip and hearsay. We are a nation that thrives on other people's misfortunes, as well as successes. In my own case, there still seems to be a question in some people's minds, as to whether I'm a good guy or a bad guy.

Page 1 2 3 4
Margaret C. Walker, Jehovah's Witness, 2004.
(c) A. Serrano.