Portrait of an Artist / Darcy Hemley

First off, thank you so much for sitting down to talk with us here. I already told you how I web stalked you to a frightful degree after stumbling across one particular photo of yours, so let’s hear a little about what got you to this point, and in this profession, shall we?

At about what age did you realize photography was your thing? And what was the first camera you picked up to “play” with?

I was about 15 years old. My dad gave me his Nikon 8008 and me and my friends would dress up Like Eddie Sedgwick or Siouxsie Sioux and shot each other in abandoned houses and buildings. Very appropriate for that age—kind of Photo 101 for 15 year olds.

 

How would you describe yourself as a college student? And what, if anything, would you say might be something that would surprise that younger self about you or the life you’re living these days?

I was a total non conformist in whatever environment I was in—so I went to CalArts and decided I despised art theory, which I was entrenched in, so I set my sights on being the complete opposite of what the school produced: a commercial photographer. I was an outcast—shouted at in critique classes for being a sell out and told to just “leave and go work for Vogue”, which of course, I did. I now appreciate that education—I value that I was exposed to that curriculum as opposed to a purely commercial education.

I’d say the most surprising thing about myself today is that now I am more of a “joiner” professionally. I’m reaching out to my peers and professional associations, where I never thought I would. Must be a mid life crisis by-product, but I do like it!

 

Who did you admire most, out of the big wig photographers when you first started out? Are your inspirations / idols still the same?

When I first started I liked big and weird and gothic and strange, so it was Guy Bourdin. All those incredible YSL ads in the 1980’s in W—so big and gorgeous and those colors! They blew my mind. I also adored Deborah Turbeville. In the 1990’s I was a big devotee and so inspired by the British wave of photographers like Corinne Day, Nathaniel Goldberg, & David Sims. They shot fashion with soul—more narrative and portrait based. I still love every one of them—they are just as inspiring today as they once were. My inspirations have become more conceptually based along the way- I love Eggleston of course, Lewis Baltz, and the young one in the bunch, Katherine Wolkoff,

 

What is it that you most seek while shooting portraits? Or what do you hope to bring out or convey when photographing someone so intimately in that style setting?

Just that—I strive for that intimacy-that frozen moment that feel like an invasion or a secret between the viewer and the subject. Even if it’s been constructed, I want it to appear so natural and organic that it seems like it was only for the viewer’s eye. Susan Sontag said it best: “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
Susan Sontag

 

What would you say has changed since having children, as far as your work is concerned?

I find it challenging—I refuse to say impossible to find inspiration (it came so easily to me before). I’m one of those artists that needs a lot of space mentally and alone to think of work and ideas, and obviously, when you have children, and you are dedicated to their upbringing, it can be hard to find that. Some artists will find it no matter what—it’s in their blood and survival mechanism. I had to reassess what was inspiring to me—before it was always women alone and a variation on that theme. Now I find children and the beauty, chaos and sometimes alienation that comes with mothering to be very inspiring. I know that sounds awfully dour, but I mean it to be more about the process of mothering-you have moments of extreme beauty and joy one minute and the next you feel so alone in it all.
Ultimately, my youngest is now 5 and I am more inspired than ever. I attribute that to just being present in another vein of creativity and now can focus back on photography.

 

Did you feel more inspired after kids, or less?

Recently more! See above!

 

From what I can see you’ve photographed some pretty impressive people through the years. Can you tell us, of all the stars you’ve shot along the way, who proved most fun?

Most fun… I loved shooting Scarlett Johansson. She was smart, gorgeous and very personable. Easy to shoot—she was game for whatever—not self conscious. She trusted me. I also loved my shoot with Benicio del Toro—-we met in a seedy motel I had scouted in Hollywood and my team for the day were all women and it was, well, fun.

 

Speaking of famous folk: Let’s talk about the infamous shot of Leonard Cohen that sliced straight through my heart and left me dizzy for days after running across it randomly online very recently. What I want to know is how one might go about asking Mr. Cohen to pose with a popsicle, what he was like in person, and lastly, why the air conditioning unit there in the shot?

Mr Cohen could not have been kinder or more accommodating. I shot him for Spin. It was a HOT day in LA—we shot at his English Tudor home in Hancock Park, LA. I could have asked him to do almost anything—he looked at me after a few minutes of shooting (as if understanding the photographer’s process) and said “ Are you getting what you need?”No one asks that. They don’t care. He is so connected to people that he thought of that aspect—was I , the artist, getting what I needed? Incredible.

So, that being said, asking him to pose outside his back door with a popsicle he has offered me a few minutes before wasn’t that far-fetched. That was another thing that was so incredible about him—he must have offered me and my crew (all fans!) food and drinks 10 times. He made us sit in his living room and eat cheese and figs and drink Grappa and we listened to his unreleased album. At one point I glanced over at my assistant and friend, who had tears just streaming down her face. It was an incredible experience.

As for the AC units, my eye is always drawn to the unsightly—the things usually eliminated from images are the very things I tend to want to frame the subject around. It’s a compulsion almost.

I like the fact that in a formal way, we are told to shoot a certain way, yet I find beauty in those ordinary ugly everyday objects. It also doesn’t hurt to shoot Leonard Cohen in front of one!

I have been shooting a series, called Trash, for about 12 years and I am just so fascinated by the ugly—I shoot trash compositions wherever I find them.
I love the juxtapositions: a pair of pink lace underwear next to a discarded pack of cigarettes next to a kid’s flattened toy.
I have one rule: I can not touch or arrange the trash I come upon.
(attached are a few shots from the series).

 

Ok, back to the profession (Because I know how easily I could turn this whole interview into a L. Cohen crush fest) – I have quite a few friends who say the whole industry has changed drastically in recent years due to the online presence of social media sites making budding photographers out of just about everyone. Have you experienced this aspect of the shift yourself? If so, how would you say it has affected your lot as a seasoned and studied photographer out on the scene these days?

I’m trying to not get discouraged and believe in humanity! I swear, that is the only way I can be with the digital age of everyone and their mother inventing themselves as photographers— yet, it’s a bit naive of me to say that. Essentially, it’s great because everyone can document their lives and what they see- why am I so peeved that that is happening? It just makes it more difficult for us who have been in the game honing our craft to get jobs. But, I need to be positive and say I must keep at it.

 

Lastly, can you tell us a little bit about these special items in these photos shot around your home?

Bookshelves in our studio—self help/kids reference section on the bottom for easy access!

Our collection of Japanese pillow box vases—I love pottery. I also have a lot of pieces from my friend Adam Silverman (gray vase in middle). The painting is an antique online auction score.

Our living room with our year old Goldendoodle Blue. I like pops of color in my space.
An oil painting from 1947 of SF cityscape. My great aunt bought it at SF MOMA.

A painting by my friend Lousie Bonnet. It’s from a photograph of Glen Campbell in the 1960’s.
She is amazing.

An ancient Inuit eagle that was part of my father’s collection—he was a big collector of primitive sculpture. I love how clean and pure in form it is.

Some of our massive collection of art books, We are bordering on hoarder status with these.

My film negative files in our studio with the library ladder that leads to our sleeping loft. Have to store those negs somewhere!

Old school “Pintrest” board!

 

Fashion wise, what is your current Spring uniform?

I always wear the same things:
St James shirts that I alter
thin oversized men’s tshirts
Jean & old corduroy cut offs
Hippie leather flip flops
Gypsy sundresses

 

I love both of your daughter’s names. How did you come to decide on them?

We both have a southern gothic romanticism that seems to rear it’s head in decisive moments like NAMING a human being.

We loved Emery for its inherent pretty sound and the fact that it was also a boy’s name.

Augusta is just obvious—love the name August for all its romantic implications
( heat, summer, getting lost, youth, freedom) and Augusta is a friend of mine and I just fell in love with it! It’s a very classic old name, which I also love. Big on the validity that comes with age :).
We both also love names that have open vowels to start!

 

And lastly, photography, and celebrities aside, can we hear a bit about your husband? I met him briefly but could tell right off the bat that he is a solid and genuine guy. What it is that first attracted you to him? And what, if we can know, was your very first date like?

Ha! HIs name is Christian Casucci. He is mainly a writer, but also makes large scale collage and does design work and just finished a ten year stint helping to manage a private art collection.
He is one of those humans with a rare combination of great looks, immense integrity, great wit and humor, an encyclopedic knowledge of art, music and books, a voracious reader and has a minor in POERTY—I mean come on. We met at a party and I could stop laughing and staring at him. Luckily he felt the same way. He asked for my arm, walked me to my car, procured my number and called the next day. We were married 3 years later. Bliss ever since 😉

 

Closing round / bonus question: who, if anyone, living today, you could photograph, who would it be and why?

I would shoot Chris Burden , the artist because he has an incredible mind and inspires me, Terence Malick for the same reason, Charlotte Rampling- timeless beauty and incredible actress, Isabelle Huppert ( same reason!) Joaquin Phoenix ( so amazing to watch), Kim Gordon ( she would be an easy subject!) Joni Mitchell and Chrissie Hynde and Lou Dillon and actress Eva Green ( both so beautiful and have such great style).

DARCY 5

DARCY 2

DARCY 3

Darcy one

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For More of Darcy’s Photography see her site HERE

And to RSVP a spot for her mother / child portrait session taking place tomorrow at the YEAH! Furniture pop up event, go HERE

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