Photographed by Eliza Jouin
Interviewed by Zoe Sottile
Please introduce yourself.
I’m Mickal. I am a junior in Columbia College, and I’m studying Classics. I’m from New Orleans. I am a Featured Artist this month!
What do you do to impress someone?
I have lots of random songs memorized, and poems, so I either do the first few lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” or all of the words to Lil Wayne’s “A Milli.” I also can put both of my legs behind my head. It was a talent that I used for nefarious purposes. One time in middle school, I hid behind this one teacher’s podium. When they came into the classroom, I had both of my legs behind my head and crawled out on my hands. I was that kid.
Place you go to be alone?
For the past two semesters I’ve scheduled it so I have all of my classes on one day and no classes the next day. I’ll go to Butler early in the morning, and it’s like my mindful Butler time. I’ll get a snack and make myself “study” but in a leisurely way, so I don’t feel like I’m studying. The room that faces Ferris on the 3rd floor of Butler has all of those alcoves, and I feel like as long as I have one of those alcoves I cannot be a part of stress culture.
What is your relationship to fashion like?
I love to dress myself; I am a work of art. I get everything that I can from thrift stores. I really like baggy pants; I’m very inspired by streetwear, really love sneakers. Red is my favorite color to wear. For Halloween this year, I went to a party that was themed around The Shining, and there’s the one scene where all the blood comes down the hallway, and I realized that I could go as the blood in a head-to-toe red outfit.
Do you have any style tips?
So thrift for statement pieces and then layering. Tactical layering. Long shirt under t-shirt, love a turtleneck, crazy shoes are always great. Never take it too seriously. My vibe is sexy toddler.
Greatest trend of all time?
Baggy pants - I just don’t like skinny jeans. It is my thesis that skinny jeans are a one-time trend and that I hope that they never return. Mostly because they don’t fit anyone right, especially men, and it just ends up making them look weird, like they have giraffe legs. I like super baggy pants.
When did you start taking photos?
I grew up around a lot of art. My dad painted for a long time, and my grandmother does just about everything: she paints, she sews, she ran a weaving shop in New Orleans. I didn’t get into photography until pretty late but my dad is a huge photographer. All of my cameras are my dad’s that I borrow. I didn’t really get into photography until my first year of college. I came home after college and thought, “I wanna do something,” and felt confident enough to tap into my dad’s resources.
What artists, teachers, and artworks have most inspired you?
Definitely my first artist inspirations were my family members, my dad specifically. We have a lot of his artwork hanging around because he did art in high school and college. He has this one landscape painting of these mountains and a sunset: it’s all different shades of blue and orange. It’s in our kitchen, which he decorated. My dad is also an interior designer and he owned a furniture company briefly, so our whole setup is blue and orange around the painting. That was probably the first one that really inspired me.
In terms of artists, I’m really into art history and have a lot of favorite artists. In terms of painters, I really like Cezanne. I like new media art - like this work called “Valley Curtain” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. I really like that - it’s the opposite of what I do, super collaborative pieces that require big amounts of manpower and space.
What did you first start photographing?
The first few were just around my house and my neighborhood, and I didn’t submit any of those, mostly because they’re so empty and so boring. The exercise there is walking around a space that isn’t really meant to be walked around. I live in a neighborhood that’s close to New Orleans proper, but it’s technically a suburb, so it’s rolling streets of separate houses. It’s a place where you know your neighbors, but everyone drives to work. You don’t walk down the main streets.
I walked around my neighborhood - it was at night too, so it was totally empty - and realized that there are certain places in which people just don’t interact with in certain ways. Walking a neighborhood that I feel like has never been walked before was very interesting.
What do you feel can be captured by an image of an exterior or interior that cannot be captured by an image of a human subject?
In one sense it’s really fun to take pictures of people because your camera becomes the means of interacting with them, and they’re aware of that. With things, they can’t change because you’re taking a picture. So it becomes less about the experience of being photographed and more active on the photographer’s part.
In New Orleans, especially in the summer, you don’t stay outside if at all possible. The only people who are outside are people who absolutely have to be. So you get that suburban feel all over New Orleans because no one really walks, so the streets are empty of people. There are lots of cars, and the streets are very active, but it still feels empty. In my pictures there are dogs and cats, but not people. There’s one where the dog’s on the porch, and the door’s open, and you have to assume that people are inside, because why else is the door open?
I feel like in those pictures you can tell how hot it was by looking at them, and that’s what I wanted to convey: the actual experience of being outside and being alone and noticing little things. By not having anything to focus on, in terms of subjects in the pictures, you look for little things.
How is your artwork reflective of your identity? How is it personal to you?
I use photography as a means of self-exploration. It’s personal, but also I’m inspired by members of my family. I included a few photos from my grandmother’s house, a couple pictures of her bathrooms, which are really great. Her whole house is really cool. She’s been a big inspiration for me, in terms of how she lives her life as an artist. She’s really interested in every kind of literature and reading; she reads the craziest things. I feel like what’s grounded me has been my family and where I’m from.
Why take photos of your grandmother’s house?
My grandmother’s really shy. I really want to do portraits of her, but I haven’t gotten up the courage to ask, mostly because I know she wouldn’t be into it. In addition to being so learned and being so interested in everything, she’s also the bookkeeper of our family history. Her house, it’s like a physical family history, and so in the way that I want to catalog New Orleans I really wanna do that with her house.
Your artist statement grounds your work in the city of New Orleans. Do you also take photos in New York? Do you have a different artistic relationship with the two cities?
The one film thing I did in New York is a whole roll of film that I accidentally shot on the first exposure. It’s 25 images all stacked on top of each other. I feel like that’s my relationship with New York - all of my photos have so much going on, where they really don’t in New Orleans. This is this one [image] that I really like from NY, because you can see trees, but also a building, but also a woman, and traffic. But at the same time, I took all these photos because I was with my dad, and he told me we should just go and take photos today. So the photo is still grounded in me, my family, and New Orleans.
What is your relationship with social media like?
I’m a lot more fun on social media. If the picture isn’t gonna be in some way funny, even if it’s just poking fun at the fact that I’m doing something extra on Instagram, then I don’t really wanna post it. Definitely the way that I interact is like humor value, fun value. I definitely like connecting with people; I’ve met a lot of people through social media, which is an undervalued use of it. It’s hard because it’s really easy to attach worth to it and get caught up in like oh, who has followers. But it’s an easy way of personal expression. It’s like ultimate accessibility photography.
There’s definitely the push that social media implicitly gives everyone to create, create, create, post, post, post, and so it’s hard to say: no, I wanna take the time and have these developed and think about how I want to present them. That’s the hardest part, I think, once you have the photos, not to just post them all immediately. And just keep them and think about what you wanna say with them.
It’s really hard to do important photography through Instagram or representative photography through Instagram. I think it's helpful to think about social media as new media rather than the new way of consuming other media. It's helpful as a means for connecting people, but it's not the same as physically going and seeing someone's photos or painting. It's a very fixed context for representation: there are rules about how your posts are constructed by the apps, like how you have a certain amount of canvas or a certain kind of camera. It's probably the most restricted method of expression despite being so accessible. So yeah, I'd say social media is more a means than an end for me.