Artist based in Brooklyn, NY
Sydney M. King, Portrait of the Photographer
Tell us about yourself, what's your background?
I’m originally from San Francisco and currently live in Brooklyn. Growing up, I’d always been interested in visual art, especially in oil painting and drawing with charcoal. I come from a family of doctors and pharmacists – I grew up knowing that art was something I enjoyed, but I ultimately expected to pursue a career in a scientific field.
My father photographed the family extensively when my brother and I were young. I feel really lucky because our childhoods are so well-documented. His interest in photography encouraged me to explore the medium. He used a black Pentax MX, which I would borrow to complete my high school photography assignments.
Okaeri, 2020, Single exposure on 4x5 color film
I also remember taking my mom’s point-and-shoot camera around the house and photographing all the things that I loved when I was a child. I ended up making a collection of out-of-focus pictures of Altoids, plastic easter eggs, and flowers. It was by no means a monumental project, but I remember the satisfaction of being able to capture and otherwise maintain a record of the things I enjoyed at a certain point in time. In a way, I was able to keep these things with me and return to them whenever I wanted.
"I’m interested in intersecting disparate planes and timelines, conceptualizing my body as a container of personal and ancestral memory. As a woman of mixed race I occupy a state of inclusion and refusal. I’m Japanese and Caucasian but cannot completely identify as either. Throughout my life I’ve been perceived differently depending on my context; this project is a way for me to commune with a part of me that often feels hidden."
In the studio
What are you currently working on and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I’m creating plaster molds of my body, photographing them in conjunction with their reflections and amidst photographs from my grandmother’s archive.
Peggy, Hibachan and Miki, 2020, Single exposure on 4x5 color film
My interest in plaster molds came early on, when I was studying photography at Princeton. The photography classroom was located in the basement next to the ceramics studio. Students often left behind their two-part molds used to make ceramic vases or small objects. There were stacks of them everywhere. I was interested in the way that the molds appeared to be simultaneously concave and convex when photographed. I was drawn to this indeterminate space, of objects constantly switching between two states.
Painted and dyed body molds in the studio
The family photographs came a bit later. A few years ago, my mother and I visited my grandmother and we all started to look through her photos together. My grandparents never spoke much about their past. They lived in LA and were sent to the internment camps in Arizona during WWII. When they moved back to California they returned with the community they had built while in the camps. My mother grew up with an extended family of aunties and uncles and cousins that she was not necessarily related to by blood.
With this project, I’m interspersing traces of my body with images of my mother’s family. I’m interested in intersecting disparate planes and timelines, conceptualizing my body as a container of personal and ancestral memory. As a woman of mixed race I occupy a state of inclusion and refusal. I’m Japanese and Caucasian but cannot completely identify as either. Throughout my life I’ve been perceived differently depending on my context; this project is a way for me to commune with a part of me that often feels hidden.
Redcliff St., 2020, Single exposure on 4x5 color film
Innovation does not only happen in the field of technology — it occurs everyday in an artist's practice. What do you do for inspiration?
A lot of my inspiration comes from the process of making. There are so many unexpected results that can happen when an idea is manifested into a material physical object. I’m most excited by what I cannot anticipate. I spend a lot of time following my visual instincts and then trying to process and understand why certain things are compelling to me.
Auntie Miki and Vivian, 2020, Single exposure on 4x5 black and white film
Where do ideas start for you? In the studio or being in the world?
A bit of both. What I love about photography is that I start to see the world in relation to the medium. Certain things – arrangements of objects, tonal values, shadows – catch my eye on a day-to-day basis and I like to keep a record of them on my phone. The more absorbed I get in the studio the more I see or notice in the world.
Extracting a mold. Photograph taken by Nazli Ercan
Tracing the silhouette of a mold
Many artists live by their creative routines, do you have your own studio ritual? What does that look like for you?
I like to work late at night when I can. In the daytime I’m hyperaware of my productivity; most hours hold some kind of understanding of what I should be doing and when. Working at night makes me feel like I’m occupying my own space and set of expectations.
In terms of work foods, I have a deep love of sour gummy worms. A collaborator and I once bought a 5-pound tub of sour worms and consumed them all in the span of a week during a residency.
Printing in the darkroom
Who are your biggest influences?
The people that surround me – my partner, family, friends, professors, mentors. I feel intensely supported and challenged by the communities I’m a part of and I’m really grateful for that.
What books or films are an important source of inspiration?
Casts, Imprints, and the Deathliness of Things: Artifacts at the Edge, by Marcia Pointon
Camp Notes and Other Poems, by Mitsuye Yamada
No Archive Will Restore You, by Julietta Singh
Listening to Images, by Tina Campt
The Miracle of Analogy: Or the History of Photography, Part I, by Kaja Silverman
A Short History of the Shadow, by Victor I. Stoichita
Engaging Subjective Knowledge: How Amar Singh’s Diary Narratives of and by the Self Explain Identity Formation, by Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph
Nobody Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July
Reeling for the Empire, by Karen Russell
How will Innovate Grant contribute to your practice?
It’s important to me that I use analogue processes in my work, but film can be pretty expensive! I’m excited to use the grant for darkroom supplies and for experimenting with new sculptural materials. I’m really grateful for Innovate Grant’s support.
Hibachan, 2020, Single exposure on 4x5 black and white film
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A close friend and mentor sent me this quote by Martha Graham when I was having a challenging time with my work: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”
What is the best advice you would give to other artists?
Take things one step at a time.