Joanne Leah

What is the backstory of the title “Acid Mass”? Does it refer to your whole body of work or your current series?
It started when I was a rebellious teenager. I would take LSD, go to raves, and my mother would make me go to Catholic mass on Sunday morning while I was still hallucinating. My images are based on that world: ritualistic, isolated, trapped, detached, bizarre, childlike and somewhat violent. Originally, it was intended as a one-off series, but quickly transformed into an entire body of work that includes video, installation and performance.

How long have you been working in this series and how has it evolved? (Let us know which of your pieces is from the beginning and then one that is most recent)
​My first photo shoot for this series (I didn’t realize it at the time) was in May 2014. The second occurred seven months later in December. It was a casual investigation at first, but evolved into analyzing my personal history and childhood memories. I applied objects or substances to the subjects’ bodies while they were moving around, standing, kneeling, on the floor, face obscured. I felt as if I was conducting an otherworldly, ritualistic science experiment. Lately, I’ve been pulling from fetish and feeling more playful. Each progression builds on a previous concept.

I really responded to the story in your artist statement: it says just enough about your work to offer more clarity but still allows for a lot of mystery. How did this experience of being sniffed out by these dogs instigate or develop your practice?
I grew up in a small southern mountain town that allowed me a certain amount of freedom. I was exposed to danger and fear at a young age while exploring the woods, the dark, the unknown.

How did it affect your subsequent walks through the woods?
I remember vividly seeing a man with a hunting rifle sitting in a small shed with one window. I felt afraid, turned around and ran home. I revisited the shed several times and there was no man, no window, no gun…nothing like what I thought I saw. I try to use this idea of perception becoming detached from reality.

Your photos are so dark not only in the subject matter but tonally they are quite dark. It adds a unique stylistic dimension to your work. What prompted this choice?
I began working with a more vivid color palette after finishing a dark, low-light, unsaturated series inspired by German Renaissance paintings. I struggled with color for months, and almost gave up because the images looked too commercial. I finally realized the colors should resemble muted jewel tones influenced by my previous low-light series.

To what extent do you plan each photoshoot?
Sometimes I don’t know where the images come from, but I research constantly: painters, sculptors, philosophy, photography, music, literature and history, finding pieces of information that connect with my subconscious vision. I “collect” props, food, liquids, colors and human subjects. Each concept, object and subject is chosen carefully based on how they will interact. I am a meticulous planner but always leave room for improvisation.

Do your pieces have names? If so, what are your favorite names that you have given them?
Sometimes the individual images have names but I try not to take it too seriously. The titles relate to the moment, or the elements of the image itself. I like to think of the text as part of the Acid Mass story. My only recurring reference term is ‘Crotch Study’.

You take very quotidian materials to another level. Your work brings a bit of an edge to them. What is your relationship to the materials you use in your photoshoots?
The objects are ordinary, yet personal, and each have a background story that materializes according to a memory or dream: easter grass that smells like sugar, dirty ballet slippers, fabric found in my old apartment, bubblegum tape, dyed spaghetti, and so on.

Do materials ever reappear in your work? If so, what is something that keeps reappearing for you and do you have a clue as to why?
Materials reappear in my work if I can find distinct uses for them. Plastic, molasses, feathers and grass have been repeated. There is no conceptual reason for the item repetition, although you will see iterations of applications using different materials until the process becomes exhausted.

From following your instagram, I see, your models have started to really diversify. What has been your journey in photographing other people for this series and who did it start with?
I posted casting calls on Craigslist for “Real People.” Strangers visited my studio who had never modeled before. Working with them gave me the confidence to make compelling images using different body shapes, colors and genders.

To what extent does the model contribute to the planning of the shoot?
I methodically plan concepts and select materials alone, and I am very particular about position and motion, although I am always open to model improvisation during the shoot.

That’s such a cool way to “collaborate”. Have you met people that you bring back to shoot with again and again? or made any friendships through this process?
I prefer to work with people more than once and I usually consider the first shoot a test run. My method of collaborating has resulted in lasting friendships and working relationships.

I also see that you have video “memes” of your shoots. You’ve been sharing these through social media. Did you plan to make these before the shoots took place, or was it something you discovered after going through the images?
My shooting technique is based on documenting sequences of movement. Experimenting with video allows a glimpse into my process of creating still images.How did you end up with the name ‘Two Faced Kitten’?
Two Faced Kitten was a joke between friends, but I have always been interested in duality and tension. My partner is Gemini and I have a two-headed snake tattoo on my left arm.Your work seems painterly. The first time I saw them, I thought they were paintings. I can’t quite put my finger on why but is this at all intentional?
I plan every visual component during each phase of the process to achieve a painterly effect. It is a combination of color, lighting and post-processing that has taken many months to refine.Well, it looks great! What do you have planned next? Any big shows coming up or a new obsession or direction for your work?
For the entire month of March, my work will be exhibited as a 22×10-foot billboard at 617 11th Ave, NYC. I will have four large, 40×30-inch prints in a group show in Lower East Side in March. I am also working on a set of fetish images for a new art magazine called BRKFST. For the next several months I will be planning an installation at a gallery in Chelsea, NYC. As far as future projects, I want to continue to work with video and explore how it relates to my still images.