It can be hard to find your footing in the loosely networked sprawl of Los Angeles, but when Bay Area photographer Parker Day moved here in 2015, she used social media to curate a community.
Using Instagram as her guide to an eclectic cast of local freaks, Day found a bevy of willing subjects for her “big, fat and juicy” 100-portrait series "ICONS," on display at Superchief Gallery through Feb. 26.
Drenched in lurid color, full-frontal flash and a metallic, glossy veneer that presents each eccentric, heavily made-up subject in a light that’s as reverent as it is raw, "ICONS" seizes the means of identity construction and runs amok.
“There’s real energy that’s communicated in how we look, in our gestures, in all of these little choices,” Day says at her home studio in West Adams. She wears a shocking orange silk blouse and flowing red pants; stick-straight black bangs frame her face. “I feel like I’ve lived many different lives. … You can take control over how others see you and [that sets] you off into a new reality,” she explains.
For ICONS, Day reached deep into her closet — er, costume room — for cheeky treasures and “weirdo stuff” collected during a years-long thrifting jag. On these racks, nothing is a non sequitur. Furbies and fishnet face masks exist alongside clip-on nails and bags of Wonder Bread; Von Dutch gear adorns lobster claw gloves; leather chaps butt up to beehive wigs.
Day says her early childhood informed her aesthetic. She spent hours immersed in the aisles of her father’s comic book store, where characters like Archie, Cherry of Cherry's Jubilee and girls drawn by R. Crumb catalyzed a fascination with people and the symbols they use to present themselves. At that time, she was obsessed with collecting Marvel superhero cards, she says, gushing as she describes the specialty editions that came with metallic details and embossing. "ICONS" has a similar, collectible quality, each image like an oversized trading card.
With a photo booth–esque aesthetic, the series also feels like a yearbook populated with pictures of John Waters’ inner circle. Deliberately un-Photoshopped, all of the irreverent perversity is served up to the viewer unvarnished. The lineup is stacked with arty freaks, many of whom worked with the photographer to collaboratively style themselves. Day gravitates toward models who've already taken ownership of their image by cultivating a unique look. Day worked with her models to draw out and exaggerate an element of their personality, while simultaneously constructing a new persona. “It was important to me to have a blurry line between the image being the person in it and a fiction,” she says. “A lot of how we present ourselves is a fiction. Who’s to say what is a real person and what’s a character?
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
At Saturday's opening, Day instructed the models referenced on the warehouse gallery walls to attend the event in character. She welcomes the “mind-bending,” dynamic, chuckling, “It’s going to be sensory bombardment to your eyeballs.”
"ICONS," Superchief Gallery, 739 Kohler St., downtown; through Feb. 26, by appointment. superchiefgallery.com.