Photos courtesy of Skye Parrott
Text by Alec Coiro
From Dossier and working with Nan Goldin to her future with Double or Nothing, the through story has been Skye Parrott’s excellent photography. We sat down with her to discuss her photography and her journey.
What inspired you to start Dossier? Do you feel that through working on Dossier you had a unique perspective on the cultural transformations in New York and the world?
My first real job was as the managing editor at Self Service when I was 23. At the time, the magazine was only six of us in a tiny office in Paris, so I got to see firsthand how a very small group of people can make something that has a major creative impact. After that, I moved on to work with Nan Goldin, which was the job I had while I was starting to shoot as a photographer. When I moved home to New York and stopped working with Nan later that year, I felt like I had all this space and creative energy that I wanted to funnel somewhere. Starting a magazine seemed like the obvious path. There are so many interesting independent magazines all over Europe, and it felt like New York was in need of that kind of independent, creative platform. The positive response we got to Dossier seemed to confirm that; although I later learned that independent magazines don’t flourish in New York for the same reason that independent designers struggle. New York is about business, and it is really challenging to bridge that divide between art and commerce in a way that remains balanced. At a certain point, you have to decide what compromises you’re willing to make to continue, and with Dossier we ultimately decided to fold it rather than turn it into a business. Making it into a business would have taken away everything that was fun for us about doing it. Culturally, though, I learned through Dossier that there is an overflowing abundance of creativity and of wildly talented people in New York — not that I needed to have a magazine to know that. I still find New York to be incredibly inspiring on that level, more so than anywhere else.
Do you think your time with Nan Goldin shaped you as a photographer?
I saw Nan’s show I’ll Be Your Mirror at the Whitney when I was 17. I had just started taking pictures, and it was unquestionably a formative moment for me. I’d never seen pictures like that stuck up on a wall and assigned such an aesthetic value, and it completely changed the way I thought about photography as art. When the opportunity presented itself a few years later in Paris to work with her, I have never wanted a job so badly. I had to keep my hands behind my back because they were shaking when I walked in to meet her. I started out as an assistant in her studio, then spent a couple years as studio manager, and for the last year I was with her I worked on special projects — exhibitions, books, slideshows. Nan doesn’t shoot with an assistant, so what I learned was less about the actual moment of photography than it was about the process and everything around it. I learned a lot about the art world and how it works, which was eye-opening, and not always in a positive way. I learned a lot about the history of photography because Nan is incredibly knowledgable and would always bring me a book or a photo from someone I’d never heard of. And I got to spend time with an archive that I already knew pretty intimately, but then I got to go really deep into it, to learn which images came before or after some iconic image, and to think about why Nan had chosen the one she did. In a lot of ways, my time in Nan’s studio functioned as my art school (which I didn’t get to). I was surrounded by this amazing work, and I had the space within there, because I had a steady but flexible job, to go out there and make work of my own.
You’ve worked extensively as a curator. In your experience what are the skills needed to practice curation?
At its most simple, I think curating is just about funneling other peoples’ work through your vision so that disparate work comes out looking like it’s part of the same thing. I guess that having a coherent vision is important to curating, but for me it’s a really intuitive process. I always know what I like, and because that’s what I choose, it all comes out looking like it belongs together.
Your photography has taken you to many places, including Norway, Odessa, Haiti, Iceland and the Rockaways. How important do you think travel is to the development of a photographer’s perspective?
I feel like travel is important for the development of a human being’s perspective, not just a photographer’s. I love it because it takes me out of myself — it gets me looking and feeling rather than just wrapped up in my head and sleepwalking through my routines. When I arrive somewhere new I pay closer attention and just generally notice more than I do in my everyday life. It
What are some of your favorite places around the world?
Iceland, Zanzibar, and the American southwest. But if I had to pick only one place it would probably be Italy. I love the food, the weather, the people, the landscape. And the Amalfi Coast is pretty much perfect.
The art of ballet is in a large part kinetic. How do you capture the grace of ballerina’s motion in still photography?
With a fast shutter speed! I am always amazed at how quickly they move, and when shooting ballet I have to remember to set the shutter a little faster than I imagine I would. I really love working with dancers and capturing movement. It’s one of the things that makes photography magic for me, its ability to freeze time. It’s happened that I’ve shot several ballet pieces recently, and each time I’m newly in awe of the dancers’ control over their bodies and how perfectly relaxed their faces are when they’re mid-movement, doing some incredibly challenging routine and perfectly calm.
You’ve already had a rich and varied career. What are you working on currently, what are you plans for the future, and do you see a continuity across your various projects?
After we stopped publishing Dossier last year, I suspected that I might get a little antsy just shooting commercially. As much as I love taking pictures, I also really love the process of collaborating. And besides, having my own thing allows me to work on the projects that are most exciting without waiting for someone else to give the green light. So not long after we wrapped up Dossier, I began considering what I wanted to do next — what I loved about Dossier, and what I didn’t love. The new project I’m working on — which will be launching in a few weeks – is a content platform called Double or Nothing (doubler.com). I’m creating it with Erin Dixon, who was the managing editor at Dossier, and it will include content we make both on our own and in collaboration with other companies. It’s digital for now, although we may consider other formats down the line. Having published a magazine for so long, we’re excited about exploring a new medium and seeing what we can do with it that feels different. We really wanted to stay away from the feeling of a print magazine that just happens to be online. Instead, we’re looking to see where we can push the medium and take advantage of things you can’t do in print.