Interview with Michelle Leedy

The following is an interview with fellow classmate Michelle Leedy about her work and experiences as a Graduate Student in NYC. More information about Michelle’s work can be found here:

AB: I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about some current projects you are working on?

ML: Last week I put up a craigslist ad looking for male nude models. I have a tendency to make pieces and do projects only using myself or other females. So, in the spirit of the ’50 Nevers’ assignment from our Graduate Seminar (I never take pictures of men), I am diving in head first. I am hoping that I can develop good relationships with a few and see what happens from there.
p.s.: If anyone reading is interested, sexuality, race, age (over 18 of course) does not matter, I am looking for a man who is comfortable being nude and being photographed. Please contact me at
I am also trying to blog everyday. I put up video pieces, photos I take with my ‘point and shoot’, and other miscellaneous stuff. I don’t consider the blog a complete project, but rather a break from my need for focus and organization.

AB: What are the main topics/themes in your current work?

ML: I think that sexuality is a pretty consistent theme in my self portraits and especially with this new “nude dudes” project I have just started. The Warriors series was my reaction to feeling too sexy.

I got embarrassed and pulled my dress over my head. Of course there is more to it, but that was how it started.

Death, loss, and coping have become pretty central in my work too.

AB: How do you define your creative process?

ML: I spend a lot of time thinking about projects and when I get sick of thinking about it, I make it. I take inspiration from different places but mostly from my every day experiences. The pieces I make function as responses to those experiences. Obeses Pieces for example, that was my response to seeing news coverage on obesity. I was upset with how the images of the people were treated, depicting the subjects from the neck down, never showing their faces. So I decided to give them a face, my face.

AB: Can you talk a bit about ‘home’ and ‘family’ and how those themes factor into your work?

ML: Both themes were consistently present in my work before I moved here.

I lived so close to my Mother’s family and we all grew up with each other. All of those people, places, and memories became fodder for my work. I took my first nude in my Aunt Julie’s house. I used my twin cousins to explore formal relationships. There always was some piece of family in everything that I made. Now though, I am so far away from everybody that it does not come up as much and if it does it is because there is a lack of it.

AB: How has that affected your working process?

ML: Like I said before, I used my family in my work all the time.
I would drive 15 minutes to shoot at my aunt Julie’s house, I could drive five hours to take pictures at my grandfather’s house, or I could drive three hours to use my little sister as my model. It really means that I have had to step out into the world. I have had to be more proactive, like using craigslist. I have always had family around me and the fact that there is no one in this city to use for project ideas or models is pretty daunting, but I think it will make me a better artist over all.

AB: What was the decision like to leave home and move here for school?

ML: That decision was easy. Austin was not the right place for me at the time. I stuck around for a year, bought dishes, a coffee table, a real bed frame, and curtains. I was trying to settle down but then I got really antsy. I get the itch to move every 5 years or so because thats how long we stayed in each place growing up. So I was happy to have the opportunity to go somewhere new. I got really lucky with my current apartment which has helped me tremendously in coping with the massive amount of stimulation NYC has to offer.

AB: How has that influenced your conceptual process?

ML: The concepts have changed. I am thinking more about staged material and concepts and less about perfection and candid images. I always believed in a truth to images but now I am trying to stretch the truth as much as possible. The process has also become inverted. I think in new places, when you don’t know much, you stick to what you know and what I know is myself. So I have been using myself alot more lately but I am hoping that the new project will help me expand that.

AB: What does it mean for you to be an artist working in NYC?

ML: It means I am surrounded by some of the most creative and driven people I have ever met and that I will be pushed to challenge myself even more than I could have imagined. It means that I will progress. I have a lot of aspirations and hopefully living here means getting opportunities to make them happen.

AB: What was the most exciting/thought provoking assignment you’ve had this year? Can you tell me a bit about it? What you did? What it meant to you?

ML: One of the first assignments we did for Jean Marie Casbarian’s class was to ‘Interrupt our Narratives’. I called my mom and told her that I wanted my roommates to throw a bucket of water on me in the park and she said “Michelle, that sounds like something you would do anyway, why don’t you do something normal?” So I thought about what was normal for my mother and made a piece. I showered, put on a dress that she bought me, applied makeup, and went out and did my laundry.

I think it was one of the first times I have taken her suggestions seriously. It was nice to get out into the world in a get up that I am not comfortable in. I enjoy interrupting my narrative on a daily basis but did not think about the subtle changes I could make, so that piece is all Janie Leedy’s fault.

AB: What’s the last inspiring exhibit you went to?

ML: The ‘Visible Vagina’ was a pretty good one. The Carolee Schneemann’s ‘Interior Scroll‘ was the first thing I told my mom about when she called to ask how school was going. Seeing it up close was an amazing experience. The Hannah Wilke gum sculptures were there too and I was happy to see those. I also really enjoyed the recent Omar Fast show at the Whitney.

AB: Who are the artists you are studying these days? What in particular attracts you to these people or works?

ML: Right now, Kate Gilmore. She is a performance and video artist that puts herself through these exhausting obstacles; scaling walls, kicking through sheet rock, climbing up dangerous wooden structures, all while wearing “proper” female attire. She always considers her appearance in the pieces and puts on dresses with heels. She really exerts herself in everything she makes and the physicality of the pieces is something I admire.

AB: Is there an ‘AHA!’ (as in, discovery, epiphany, realizations, surprise) moment you had this month that you’d like to tell the Internets about?

ML: The internets, I like that. I learned that as much as I try to be opaque, I am as transparent as the ICP school atrium. All glass, no shade. I mean that especially with my photographs. Oh and don’t throw your cell phone at the concrete if you’re mad, it will break.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Michelle Leedy

  1. Pingback: Lacking Issues – March 31-April 2, 2011 | International Center of Photography Library

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