Anna Brody is a photographer and empath currently residing in Savannah, Georgia, where she is pursuing a BFA in Photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She began making images through film photography and darkroom process in 2005 and has since developed, in both film and digital work, a detail-oriented perspective and emotional vision of light. Her work has been shown in exhibitions across the U.S., and most recently in a digital display at the Louvre in Paris.
This collection of images has been compiled from the visual journal I have been keeping since moving to the South. It is not intended to be anthropological, nor is it meant to communicate any narrative. It is a documentation of what has captivated my eye, scenes and details which I now understand to be extraordinary in their ordinariness. I had an utterly normal upbringing, in a nice suburb in an unremarkable state, and – after years of traveling and living abroad, running as far away from normal as I could manage – I’m surprised to find myself obsessed with discovering what ‘normal’ is here in Georgia.
The foreignness of The South – a part of my country I had previously understood only as a Grimm-like fairytale – exposed itself slowly (in keeping with the pace of the region) and I experience it as a giant, interactive caricature; I photograph people I can’t believe I’m meeting, in places I never thought I would find myself. Certain elements have become apparent only after reviewing the photographs as a collection. I recognize a stagnant quality to much of the landscapes, inherent to marshland and “low country” but also present in the esoteric irrelevancy of left-over architecture. I realize too that the subjects of these photographs are almost all male, and I feel a gutted sadness in how that reflects on my perception of female power and prevalence, or lack thereof, here in the South. It is a strange feeling, to have compassion without comprehension. Perhaps a better personal understanding of this bizarre world, and the people who exist within it, will eventually come as a result of my work. It hasn’t yet.
AB : So far you’ve noticed that the South has appeared almost in caricature to you. Are you actively seeking out how to break that facade down to find what’s really beneath it, or is part of the whole idea to play off of the assumptions of the region and build something from there?
Anna Brody : I am trying to break this caricature down. As an extrovert, I create conversation where there otherwise wouldn’t be any, and if someone else initiates, I almost never shut it down. That is an important facet of my photographic identity, and having been in the South for almost two years now, speaking to everyone who was willing along the way, I definitely have a better idea of the what and the why. However, as a northerner who traveled internationally for quite a few years, the caricature of the South has been presented to me from many angles. Northeast coasters condescending the intelligence of their southern counterparts, people from Australia and Cambodia putting on the accent and asking me, “how’r yew dern?” when they learn I’m from America – the overwhelming caricature of the South as portrayed in our own media – it would be ridiculous of me to say I moved here with no preconceptions. It would also be ridiculous of me to imagine that I have effectively broken those preconceptions in under two years of living in a tourist town that profits off of its own caricature, and attending a university with a far more culturally diverse population than that of the surrounding area. I recently ran across a quote from Flannery O’Connor that was so perfect – she said, “We’re all grotesque and I don’t think the Southerner is any more grotesque than anyone else.”
AB : You’ve also recognized that many of your subjects that you’ve photographed since moving to the South aren’t female. Do you think you’ll try to seek them out more to get an even representation of the culture, or will this become almost a motif of only photographing men? What about gender power dynamics have you noticed since moving to the South?
Anna Brody : This is the first time I have collected these photographs with the intention of publicizing them, and I was shocked at my underrepresentation of women – I will definitely be more proactive in seeking a better balance of subjects, as a ‘motif of men’ is not at all my intention. As for gender power dynamics, I can only speak to my own experience here. I frequently feel disregarded, if not silenced then at least quieted, casually less-than. I am more often the recipient of sugary ‘compliments’ on various body parts, which apparently are not for my own personal enjoyment or utility, but in fact for looking at and objectifying, regardless of my consent. It is more likely that I will feel my gender performance is for the benefit of others, rather than for self-fullfilment, and that the terms of this performance are not within my control. I imagine how much worse it would be if I wasn’t white and cis gendered, or if I attempted to break into the professional world and be respected by my employers/employees, get paid, and get ahead.
AB : In your statement you mentioned the phrase “compassion without comprehension” – can you expand on this? Is this something that you’ve experienced only in the South or is it common wherever you’re moved to photograph something?
Anna Brody : I believe that we on this earth are all of one energy, all of one essential consciousness, and I believe that every piece of this collective soul deserves compassion. I cannot comprehend the subtleties and products of such a deeply complicated and unfamiliar culture, but I also cannot relegate them to ‘otherness.’ Separation from the whole causes so much pain, so much confusion and violence – any sense of “them” being different from “me” is bound to lead to terrible things, as history has proven. So, without full comprehension, I try to feel compassion. It’s often very hard, and I fail frequently. That’s ok. I’m an emotional hippie who sobs at every movie and needs to bend down and touch the grass every day – compassion comes easier to me than to many others, and I’m grateful for that.
AB : How did you become interested in photography?
Anna Brody : Very quickly, very obsessively, and in the darkroom. All of my art classes up until 7th grade had involved blank paper, and some kind of think that put colors or lines onto that paper, and art teachers swooping around in beads and caftans, telling us to get creative with our watercolors or whatever, while I’m sitting there paralyzed – I have no idea how to create something out of nothing. Darkroom photography had structure and rules that had to be observed, and they acted as a jumping-off point or a gentle suggestion for how the finished product would look. There was also an entire world of content to create with – it was all there, the 3-dimensional reality that existed every day, I just had to choose what to include in my little viewfinder frame. Way easier than scraping my brain for something to draw. There was also the whole image-appearing-as-if-by-magic-on-silver-paper thing that everyone loves (I taught photography at a summer camp for years and there is not a single kid on earth that isn’t impressed by this chemical trick). Finally, my photo teacher throughout middle and high school was amazing. Probably would have dropped out if not for him and his classes. Allen Jackson, a for real teacher hero.
AB : How did you become involved with Aint-Bad?
Anna Brody : I had just decided to stay in Savannah for the summer, and desperately wanted something interesting to do. Something not in a restaurant. I loved Aint-Bad, both the gorgeous heavy publications and the online features, and so one day I accosted Carson in the SCAD photo building and asked if they needed help. He was very busy, had a very heavy box in his hands, and the elevator door was closing – catching someone when they’re flustered is apparently a really good strategy for job placement!
AB : What is your favorite memory or experience from working with Aint-Bad and why?
Anna Brody : I have only been a part of Aint-Bad for about 4 months now, and I was out of town for the last launch party, so not many opportunities for experience just yet! But I do love the Aint-Bad group text. I think like, 7 or 8 people are in it? It’s a constant stream of quality cat photos, selfies, and sometimes actual work – plus I feel hella popular when I wake up to 40 messages.
AB : How has Aint-Bad changed your perspective on contemporary photography and how has it affected you as an artist?
Anna Brody : Dramatically, more so on both fronts than anything else in my life. Someone – I think it was Sarah Borst? – said Aint-Bad is their encyclopedia of contemporary photography, and I loved that, it totally is. More than that, though, it has hugely expanded my access to, awareness of, and participation in the current dialogue of fine art and documentary photography – what constitutes truth, beauty, and reality to so many more people, what engages and devastates and captivates in cultures all over the world. As an artist, it has allowed me to believe in the possibility of success and fulfillment in a non-commercial world, which in turn allowed me to shrug off the stressful uncertainties of “what will I do, what will I be, how will I make money and support myself?” and focus on doing what I love, for no other reason than that I want to. I cannot imagine a greater luxury.
AB : What’s next for you and your work?
Anna Brody : Having taken quite a few years off before starting my college education, I am one of the few people at Aint-Bad who is still in undergrad. I’ll be learning to shoot large-format soon and I am wildly excited for that, as well as for my future seminar and documentary classes. I have no idea where I will be with my art in 3 months or 3 years, and that is thrilling!
To view more of Anna Brody’s work, please visit her website.