It’s Complicated: Dating in the Digital Age

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An Interview with Photographer E.Brady Robinson about her solo exhibit at Addison Ripley Fine Art in Washington, DC by Dawne Langford

Confessional art tends to take itself seriously. Thankfully, It’s Complicated, a solo exhibit by E. Brady Robinson, offers hyper-personal detail, but is also warm and has a healthy dose of humor. The title refers to artist E. Brady Robinson’s relationship status as a “single” woman dating in the 21st century, documenting her life with her phone and other small format digital cameras. Her fresh take on a familiar tale was more about growth than a visual cue for commiseration.

Robinson is the owner and founder of Bmoreculinary food photography and maintains a studio in Hooper Mill in Baltimore, MD. Her documentary Art Desks was published by Daylight Books with essay by Andy Grundberg and distributed by ARTBOOK D.A.P. She is represented by Addison Ripley Fine Art and Amstel Gallery. Commercial Clients Include: Under Armour, Barneys New York, VICE Columbia, Domino Magazine, Google and McCormick & Co.

When I attended the opening reception for It’s Complicated at Addison Ripley Fine Art, I was excited to reconnect with my friend and colleague E. Brady and interview her about her newest body of work.

Women have made tremendous strides towards equality, but a woman’s social status and worth are still being determined by her relationship status. Women are often faced with intrusive questions that can be translated into social currency. When I walked into your exhibition, I felt It’s Complicated was an exasperated nose thumbing to an archaic and tiresome system. Was there a moment or breaking point, when you decided to do this show? Was it important to also have humor and joy represented as well?

There’s a certain point as artist when you have nothing to lose. You’re like, fuck it. I just wanted to be very real with myself, my work and my audience. The past year was a really crazy time. I lost my mom and my marriage in the same year. So, I let go of all these things I thought I was supposed to be: a partner and a daughter. That was gone, and it was time to get real. For me, it was doing the real work I’d never had the courage to before. I was always in the role with my audience as being a documentarian of others’ lives.

I also wanted to use humor as levity… A lot of things are about loss, vulnerability, and drawing boundaries, but there’s a lot of joy in this show. I’m celebrating individuality, agency, authenticity, vulnerability and being real. There’s a lot of reverie there and some metaphors as well. When I wake up, I choose to be happy. I’m not oblivious to what’s going on the world, but life is really short. So, I choose to enjoy it.

Women’s empowerment and equality are also very important to me. I’m in a place where I have more agency with my life, work and relationships. So, it’s been difficult and empowering at the same time. This show is like a record of my life the past two years, but it’s also a conversation with other women, especially other those who have experienced loss.

As we continue to face rapid technological advancement, there have been more than a few thought pieces on technology advancing faster than we can as humans. This includes how we will continue to develop socially. What are your thoughts on how gender dynamics are developing in the digital age, especially in cases when there is an app mediating these interactions?

I started making screenshots of these crazy conversations I was having with men I met from online dating sites. These exchanges were really about me drawing boundaries about how I want to be treated. But I’m also interested in how we use technology in terms of desire and communication around sexuality. I’d rather have someone IRL than on my phone. I much prefer interacting with someone in the three-dimensional space.

This is all new territory. For me, I’m still figuring it out. I have no judgment against it. There’s definitely a social experiment to online dating that I’m super curious about.

I know that you have found a community in your neighborhood and created many new connections and friendships that can be seen in many of your new photographs. How has transplanting to Baltimore inspired your work?

Baltimore has provided me time and space to be an artist and a photographer. I couldn’t afford a studio in DC. Baltimore is my art home. I went to MICA, so I’m very comfortable here and with the opportunity of time and space to make work. I’ve been collaborating with other artists and creatives in Baltimore. I’ve photographed album covers for TT The Artist, started Bmoreculinary, a food photography business, and also done a lot of fitness photography. Baltimore really has nurtured my photography, both fine art and commercially.

It’s Complicated appears to be a departure from your previous work, which is somewhat formal, venturing into others’ lives and artistic practices. This exhibition is presented unframed and casual in its presentation, with the focus being on more of an internal landscape. Could you speak to the presentation and scope of this new work?

I’m using my cell phone as my diary, documenting my life and my travels. I’ve always played with juxtaposition. But now I’ve become a documentarian, and my work has more turned towards a record of my life in the past two years. It also includes friends and creatives in Baltimore.

I wanted to give reverence to the display and execution. I also wanted it to be very raw. There’s a lot of formalism in terms of playing with juxtaposition. I was concerned with how we arrange objects and space by creating clusters of photographs. I would love to take this to the next level and play with scale, if I had a museum show. There just wasn’t enough room for all of the photographs, so I am now looking towards creating a book.

I also want to pay respect to other female artists who’ve allowed me to do this kind of work, like Nan Goldin and Sophie Calle. Calle’s “A Breakup Letter” is one of my favorite pieces/works of all time. I’m really interested in exploring intimacy and vulnerability in my work.

It’s Complicated refers to the artist’s relationship status as a “single” woman dating in the 21st century. For the past three years, Robinson has documented her life in Baltimore using her phone and other small format digital cameras.

E. BRADY ROBINSON: IT’S COMPLICATED will be up until July 21st at Addison Ripley Fine Art in Washington, D.C.

Photo credit Chris Chen on the installation images.

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