Kourtney Roy’s photographic worlds are just that, complete universes that only follow one law and that is Kourtney´s.
It’s like a graphic novel or vintage comic unfolding in technicolour and there’s always the urge to find out what happens next. Unsurprisingly, the description of her – let’s call it coming-of-age years – reads like an entire road movie, preferably filmed by Tarantino, complete with sequels:
“Kourtney Roy, a Canadian photographer, born in the wilds of Northern Ontario in 1981, Canada, now lives and works in Paris. She learned to use an axe before she learned to walk and had mastered the use of her father’s rifle and other small firearms by the age of 12. At the age of 13 she was the regional cross-country ski champion. She then devoted her abilities to smuggling furs and maple syrup across the frozen Acadian frontiers.
After having spent a rather raucous youth drinking, snake handling and bar fighting, she turned her gaze towards Europe, eventually settling in Paris. Kourtney’s days in the French capital are spent hell raising, drinking bourbon and photographing herself in seedy hotels and dilapidated trailer parks.”
Source: Prix Elysée
Since the beginning of the Covid19 lockdown, we have found ourselves drawn into the hilarious “SURVIVALIST FAILURES pandemic” photo series on Instagram created by Roy with “some grass, gloves, a mask, a chicken and a cat”.
Accordingly, we think it a perfect time to reach out and ask the notorious Roy, as we like to call her, some questions!
Covid19 creations ala Roy
The Covid19 scenario seems like the perfect backdrop for photographers in general. Looking at your pandemic series, you’re having a field trip. Is that so?
It was an interesting exercise for me.
How to create work using the basic materials I have around me. Normally I have wigs, styling, various locations, set design etc.
Here it was really about how to manage to create something relevant and true to myself with some grass, gloves, a mask, a chicken and a cat.
The daily carnival of marvellous human folly
I always feel there´s mischief lurking in your work if you just scratch a little but also a stoical gaze and presence. It gives me the impression of two opposites that moreover highlight each other in their contrasts. Is it just me or would you say there is a part of you as the creator of these scenes that is stoical but also mischievous?
There is a play between a dark playful humour, an almost empty gaze of the model (or as you call it, stoical), which turns her into a mysterious cipher, something onto which we the viewer can project whatever fantastical emotions or stories we want.
I feel this heightens the strange and unsettling atmosphere.
The mischievousness is also deliberate because I feel that although I like to take my work seriously, I do not want to take MYSELF too seriously.
This dark humour is perhaps my way of showing that in the end it is just a photograph, that its power should not extend beyond our own personal perception of it. It is not universal and transcendental but weighted down in the daily carnival of marvellous human folly.
How does a story unfold and how do you choose your settings? What is your work process and approach? Or do you just ride along and work with what life throws at you, like now in times of Covid19?
When approaching a project, I have a long “incubation” period where I let ideas and obsessions have free reign in my imagination. Once these ideas start to have a certain solidity and a world of their own, I usually start researching places where I would like to stage the project.
At the same time, I am looking for inspiration from wherever I can find it and reading theory and other works that might be relevant to my idea.
Things also start taking on a practical aspect: what are the pros and cons of shooting in a certain place? Is it financially feasible? Are there locations available that I feel are appropriate? Is there photo and film equipment available to rent? Can I get a local hair and makeup team, or do I have to fly a team in?
All these are important considerations alongside the creative process.
Worlds inside my head
I first encountered your work some years ago at the Photo London fair and I remember my excitement and joy as well as a strong yet inexplicable desire to spirit the photos away from this setting, to take them with me and digest them into my system and mind-set – if that makes any sense. Can you tell us about the reactions you get? Are you interested in what happens inside the viewer when looking at your work?
I am usually more interested in my own reaction to the work.
Does the work convey something mysterious and unsettling?
Is the universe it encapsulates one that I want to enter in and become a part of? I usually find that if the work resonates with me then there will be some sort of reaction as well from the viewer.
What sort of reaction that will be is, obviously, completely out of my control.
I am not looking to send some sort of message or imbue the work with a specific meaning.
It is about bringing to life the imaginary worlds inside my head.
Secret obsessions season 2
What title would your life have if it were a movie? And would there be sequels?
My Secret Obsessions. Yes, it would definitely have at least 2 seasons with 10 episodes each.
Is there any particular artwork, person, place or situation that inspired or motivated you to become an artist?
I don’t have a particular event that was cataclysmic in my artistic trajectory. It is a much more slow and disordered accumulation of seeing and experiencing the world, works of other artists, cinema and culture in general.
I am continually trying to see things with an open-mindedness and a naïve receptivity that is not always easy to achieve.
Disparate and unconventional sources
Do you consider yourself spiritual?
Definitely not spiritual. I am more of a stoic nihilist or a low-life unorthodox and cranky Buddhist.
Is there an author you are reading or in general that stimulates you?
I have always been a fan of Henri Bergson’s writings. I especially love Time and Free Will and Matter and Memory. Lately I have been sucked into the world of cryptozoology and books on survivalist strategies.
I like to get my inspiration from disparate and unconventional sources.
Aesthetics, process, emotion – what is most dominant when you develop your stories and works?
I would say instinct and aesthetics.
I would describe it as though I have an unknown film projecting fleeting and obscure scenes inside my head.
These images replay constantly so the larger story remains mysterious, even to me.
Photography enables me to bring to life these fragments
The future is magical and yet inevitably bleak
If you could, what would you change in the art market?
I am not sure if I have anything I want to change because I don’t think very much about the art market. I live in my own bubble.
I like to do my work and I don’t pay attention to the vagaries of the art market and those who manipulate it.
I am not trying to sound self-absorbed and ignorant; I just think that there are many things that need to be changed in the world and the art market is not near the top.
Please tell us about your current projects and what you will be doing next.
Right now, I am working on film script collaboration for a feature film with a lovely script-writer friend of mine.
I also have a book coming out in the fall entitled The Tourist from a project I have been working on over the past year in Cancún and Miami
The future is ….?
Magical and yet inevitably bleak.
Header Photo: Kourtney Roy, SORRY NO VACANCY, Texas
Author: Esther Harrison