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Interviews: Kelli Connell on Double Life

This Morning -- Kelli Connell
Kelli Connell’s exhibit Double Life has been on display at photo-eye since the beginning of May – and during that time has sparked many interesting conversations in the gallery. Connell’s series appears to document the evolving relationship between two women, but by combining multiple negatives of the same model, Connell creates constructed realities. Her captivating images draw the viewer in and after further inspection, viewers naturally begin to wonder if the relationship they are looking at is between twins, cousin or lovers… but they come to find that Connell's work explores much more.

Before the exhibit closes this Saturday, I asked Connell a few questions about her work.

Anne Kelly:     Your photographs appear to document a relationship between two women, however your images are constructed from multiple negatives of one woman. It seems to me that one of the main keys in making the images believable is your interest in body language and facial expressions.

Kelli Connell:     It is important for me that the images read as photographs of two people so that we first are thinking about relationships when looking at the work. I am interested in what happens when roles are reversed in relationships. I believe that identity is fluid, rather than fixed, and it is important that my model can portray many iterations of identity. I take a lot of pictures during each shoot to make sure that I have a variety of facial expressions and poses to choose from for the final image. My model, Kiba Jacobson, is extremely talented in showing a range of emotions with modest gestures.

AK:     Your images have a very intimate quality which has led many assume that you are photographing yourself. You are photographing a friend, however the images are fueled by your life and experiences, not those of your model. Though you have been making these images for 10 years, Kiba doesn’t view the images as images of herself. Are they perhaps self-portraits? How would you define a self-portrait and has your definition of the self-portrait changed since you started this project?

working shots with Connell for Pause and Renovate
KC:     This is something that I have found to be interesting to think about as this work has evolved. Before I started making the photographs in Double Life, I primarily made self-portraits using myself in each of the images. With Double Life, I found it easier to use a model because I had more control behind the camera and by photographing a model with a stand-in, that I could make sure that eye contact and physical touching would be believable in the final images. What is key here is that I use a stand-in, and that most of the time the stand-in is me. Usually, I self-time the images and Kiba and I act out the scenarios for each character in an image. It is interesting to me that she is mirroring my acting and direction, and that she is responding to me literally in each image. Through compositing, evidence of the stand-in is removed, except where there is physical touching, and in those cases part of the stand-ins body is used in the final image. In this work, I use Kiba to represent myself. If I were to make a portrait of Kiba it would be very different.

Reverie -- Kelli Connell
AK:     If you did make a portrait of Kiba what would it look like?

KC:     That is a great question. I would make sure to have the portrait reflect her personality. Kiba is full of energy, has a contagious laugh, and is someone you notice when they walk in a room. The images in Double Life reflect my own personality more than hers, so if I were to make her portrait, I would want to make sure that how I see her would be depicted in the photograph.

AK:     You had mentioned in a previous interview that one of your early inspections was Francesca Woodman – what was it about Woodman’s work that attracted you?

KC:     Woodman's work investigates her body in relation to space, her internal questioning, her passion, and her demons. I was attracted to Woodman's work because of its visceral quality and the palpable sense of her self projected through each image.

Pool Shark -- Kelli Connell
AK:     You have been working on this series for 10 years now and you have continued to make cohesive yet unique images. How have your ideas and images have changed over the course of working on Double Life?

KC:     Over the years, my ideas about myself and relationships have changed. The earlier images, which were made in my late twenties, depict intense first encounters, make out sessions, break ups, games of pool being played, and beer being consumed on hot summer days. The later images reflect a life of more responsibility and insight - depicting the characters relaxing after a long day at work, drinking wine, house renovating, and scenes that allude to the insights discovered through being in a long term relationship.

AK:     The prints that come with your limited edition book reveal part of your process – they are versions of the collages that you make prior to digital production. Tells us a little more about that part of your process.

KC:     For each photograph, I initially shoot 1-2 rolls of medium format film for the figure on the right, then 1-2 rolls of film for the figure on the left. After the film is developed, I make small prints or contact sheets. My favorite part of the entire process is to make small, hand cut collages from these prints in order to figure out which negatives need to be scanned to make the final composite. These collages are practical, yet they are the only part of the process (other than the finished image) where I have something tangible to work with, and I enjoy that.


If you have not yet had a chance to view it, Kelli Connell's Double Life will be on exhibit through Saturday, June 30th. Also on display is a selection of photographs by Richard Barnes from his Murmur series. The gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10-5 pm or by appointment.

Double Life by Kelli Connell from Decode Books
As always, if you are not in Santa Fe, Connell's work may be viewed at photo-eye Gallery here

Connell's book Double Life and the fantastic limited edition can be found here

If you have any questions about Connell’s work you may contact the gallery at or 505-988-5159 x202