New York Living Rooms
New York Living Rooms is not exactly about interior decoration. Although it represents a special stylistic and aesthetic approach, it is above all a document. No rearranging, no adding of bouquets, no use of floodlights. I approach the living rooms like I approach the people I photograph: a portrait as close to reality as possible.
I have always been an advocate of photography free of heavy equipment; if I can avoid strobe, flash, and even a tripod; I do. I believe in mobility. For this book I used the Polaroid camera 600 SE, this time with a tripod and the Polaroid Colorgraph type 691 film, which provides a full color positive transparency in 4 minutes (exactly the time it takes to boil my eggs)–what a thrill and relief it is to have the result right away! Color photography is rarely a satisfying medium–too beautiful or too ugly, and mostly banal. With this particular film I like the accidental, eccentric colors. The color tones do not alter the impact of the image.This lightweight, unobtrusive, and fast approach to shooting, with itsaccidental and immediate results, gave me the wonderful feeling of being a sleuth-voyeur. I could easily go on and on, opening the doors of New York City for years–what fun! Unfortunately it seems impossible: this film has been discontinued.
New York June 17, 1998
Paris Living Rooms Introduction
"Portraits without the gloss"
introduction by Andrée Putman
Interior decorating magazines always show interiors after a full-blown beauty treatment. Often, the spontaneity of those who live there is lost to an art director’s exercise in style.
Here, the opposite happens: there is no hint of a flower delivery about to arrive. These living room photographs are unaffected snapshots, portraits without the gloss.
Like a thief, the photographer enters to capture the essential intimacy of a room left unguarded.
These are straightforward photos, permeated by a flavor of the illicit. The aggressive approach is akin to a trespass, to a burglary. Yet each image has been agreed to beforehand, with the owners of the premises taking only a slight risk – that of not recognizing themselves. No need to feel nervous or worried – Dominique Nabokov has demon strated a subtle conceptual approach that is softened by her deliberate technical nonchalance.
Some of the pictures reveal a painful desire to impress, or a facetious juggling with styles. These are the little games that invariably reveal the fragments of the soul, or the entire soul, of the owners. Even if the room’s inhabitant has used every trick in the book of seduction, called up troubadours to sing poetic lies in the hope of embellishing their portrait – beware, that kind of killer artifice never works for long – those piles of books still won’t make us believe in their owner’s amazing erudition, nor a profusion of exotic masks in their adventurous past: impostors are always unmasked in the end.
How does this jumble that is a living room come to be? From a succession of sudden, passionate coups de foudre? From a desire to conform to some fantasy or simply a banal wish to seem important?
Questions come to mind: is every one of these items the fruit of a personal quest, or were they chosen by someone else? Were they gifts? Were they bravely and tenaciously tracked down through the labyrinth of an auction house? Were they inherited, perhaps?
Do the occupants know that in this room they have an object, a work of art, a piece of furniture that’s almost an intruder, a cherished but shadowy memory that really shouldn’t be there, except that it holds a secret, a story known only to itself and its owner?
You’ve adored it ever since you can remember, but it kept slipping away from you. Now that it’s yours at last, it rules over all your other possessions even bringing them into harmony – because the objects in an interior are rather like bits of seaweed: they look much better floating on the waves/ floating through your life/ than washed up dry and dead on a beach.
I like spotting those little glitches that put the room they’re in slightly out of order, that bring a portrait to life. After all, isn’t that what a living room is for, to look like us?
And there we have it, the link between all those objects in a living room, the invisible thread that runs between every item in your decor: what else can it be but the loving attention you give those disparate objects each day makes them live together happily even though they never belonged to the same family?
You are the one who staged them and you are the person we recognize.
Paris, June 2002