The people she photographs are strangers to her, but the routes she travels...correspond curiously to her own personal road map. Her own experiences and identification with life in locales that stretch from the Hudson River Valley to Mystic Lake in Massachusetts, near her hometown, serve as a springboard to orchestrate encounters that supersede the so-called documentary impulse in photography. For a brief time, she and they become intimate strangers, mirroring each other's motivations and creating a drama that draws us in as the viewer and gives us a prominent role to play.
(Reprinted from a Greenberg Van Doren 2006 press release; Catalogue originally built in collaboration with Greenberg Van Doren Gallery.)
Katy Grannan (b. 1969, Arlington, Massachusetts) was first recognized in 1998 for an intimate series of
portraits of strangers she met through newspaper advertisements. Grannan worked for years throughout the
northeast and produced several different series entitled Poughkeepsie Journal, Morning Call, Sugar Camp Road,
and Mystic Lake, each referring to a local newspaper source or secluded location. Grannan’s process and the
consequent images are informed by her own conflicted childhood in the American northeast. Each
photograph is imbued with secrecy, desire, and hidden intentions.
With her move to California in 2006, Grannan photographed “new pioneers,” people who, like herself,
encountered something very different from the mythological “West” with its promise of eternal summer and
personal reinvention. Instead, these new settlers face the end of a continent and the potential for failure as they
struggle to define themselves under the scrutiny of the relentless Western sunlight. The Westerns explores the
relationship between aspiration and delusion – where our shared desire to be of worth, to be paid some
attention – confronts the uneasy prospect of anonymity.
Grannan’s Boulevard marked the beginning of a lengthy series of “street portraits.” These photographs appear to
be made without the subjects’ knowledge, but are in fact, spontaneous collaborations between Grannan and
strangers met on the streets of San Francisco and Hollywood (and later throughout the Central Valley).
Boulevard and the subsequent series, 99,unfold as an enormous procession of humanity – a danse macabre of
marginalized and powerless members of society. Grannan uses the ubiquitous white walls of city buildings and
the glaring noon sunlight to serve as an impromptu, decontextualized backdrop that emphasizes each individual
and defies any preconceived assumption of their “anonymity.” Grannan exhibited Boulevard at Fraenkel Gallery
and Salon 94, New York in 2011. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) mounted a
comprehensive exhibition of this series and a three channel video installation entitled The Believers in a twoperson
show in 2012, titled The Sun and Other Stars: Katy Grannan and Charlie White.
The 99, Grannan’s continuation of “street portraits” refers to Highway 99, which runs down the spine of
California through the Central Valley – a place Joan Didion described as “the trail of an intention gone
haywire.” Grannan followed Dorothea Lange’s trajectory (made famous in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men ) and
discovered a similarly austere terrain and stoic sensibility. Grannan’s large black and white vistas describe a
uniquely psychological landscape enveloping cities along Highway 99, where for most, the “American Dream”
is pure myth. The region and its inhabitants remain overlooked and undervalued, yet there exists a quiet beauty
in the seemingly mundane interactions among those living within this parched landscape.
The Nine is the title of Grannan’s upcoming film about a marginalized and charismatic community in the
Central Valley that struggles to find meaning and moments of grace in a hostile environment.
There are five monographs of Grannan’s work: Model American, The Westerns, Boulevard, The Ninety Nine and The
Nine. Her photographs are included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Guggenheim Museum, New York,
the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others. She
lives and works in Berkeley, CA.