Amy Elkins: Anxious Pleasures

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“In the spring of 2020, panic surrounding COVID-19 erupted and mandatory shelter in place orders went into effect, forcing me to abandon long-planned portrait shoots, travel, and work in progress in my art studio. I found myself in a 340 sq ft apartment in a Bay-area neighborhood that was emptying by the day. The buzzing silence was profound. Two weeks into isolation, my drive to connect with others and make portraits only amplified. With no safe way to do so, I spontaneously turned the camera on myself to create a portrait. I printed it as a cyanotype, a simple nineteenth century photographic process that was only feasible due to the basic materials I happened to have on hand—a budget printer, transparency film and a package of fraying sheets of cotton pretreated with cyanotype chemicals. At first, I exposed the prints in the unpredictable spring sunlight coming through my third floor apartment window. As the seasons changed, I went on to make them in a garden, on the top of a car, or a patch of wobbly concrete tiles. I rinsed them in water and varying shades of blue emerged. I created a daily self-portrait using this technique for more than a year.

I made most of these self-portraits inside various studio apartments that I lived in alone. To make the earliest pictures in the series, I had to move a couch every day to create space against a white wall near a window. I took others in fleeting spaces while traveling—in a guest room, in a medical examination room, during a pause in the wilderness, and later against the wall of an old California bungalow sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. In the beginning, I often tried to cover as much of my body and face as possible as a commentary on my fear of the virus and my efforts to guard against it. My armor and props ranged from common household items—potholders, tinfoil, dish towels, bedsheets, and toilet paper— to more telling evidence of the unusual consumption that resulted from being stuck indoors indefinitely— Amazon packaging, takeout bags and trash leftover from groceries purchased while wearing rubber gloves and sterilized in whatever way was possible and later consumed. These items shifted as the duration of the pandemic blurred into an unknown stretch of time. The portraits became less about those initial fears and more about confronting the boredom, anxiety, grief, and fatigue of living in indefinite isolation during a global pandemic.

In total, I made these portraits for 377 consecutive days. I made the first portrait on March 30th, 2020, a day when my head was raging in pain, my throat was constricted, and the fear that I might have contracted COVID hung over me before testing was easily accessible. I made the last portrait on April 10th, 2021, the day I received my 2nd vaccination. The days, weeks, and months in between feel like a fever dream—frayed and flickering in multitudes of blue.” + Amy Elkins


Amy Elkins received her BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and is currently pursuing her MFA in Art Practice at Stanford University. She has been exhibited and published both nationally and internationally, including at The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA; Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, Austria; the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; North Carolina Museum of Art; among others.

Her first book Black is the Day, Black is the Night won the 2017 Lucie Independent Book Award. It was shortlisted for the 2017 Mack First Book Award and the 2016 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook Prize as well as listed as one of the Best Photobooks of 2016 by TIME, Humble Arts Foundation, Photobook Store Magazine and Photo-Eye among others.

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