The Process

In Which An Artist Discusses Making A Particular Work

Leigh Ledare, Shoulder

I first encountered Leigh Ledare’s photographs when I was twenty-two years old. The majority of them were of Ledare’s fifty-plus-year-old mother presenting herself to Leigh in a hypersexualized fashion; in one now-well-known series of images, she splayed her bare legs for her son’s camera, smiling as he photographed her hairless labia, her black panties pulled all the way to one side. In another series, Ledare photographed his mother in the act of having sex with a younger male partner. Those and other photographs were shocking to me, but others were solemn or tender or both, and were complemented by collages and pieces of text. The resulting book, which came to be titled Pretend You’re Actually Alive, was a familiar and disturbing visual exploration of emotional projection, neediness, and familial enactment.

A few years later, I saw Ledare on the Canal Street subway platform, in New York, and almost said something to him. I forgot that he didn’t know me and we weren’t friends (it’s easy to believe otherwise when you spend a long time with someone’s work). A few years after that, I attended a lecture he gave in Oakland in which he screened his short video Shoulder, which we discuss here.

—Carmen Winant

THE BELIEVER: I first saw Shoulder in 2010, when you came to give a lecture about your work at California College of the Arts, in Oakland, where I was a graduate student. Had you made videos before that point?

LEIGH LEDARE: Yes. I initially started making videos when I was a teenager. I would shoot things and edit them with two VCR decks, although these were quite crude.

BLVR: Is this the first video that you have shown as an adult, and in this capacity?

LL: Actually, Shoulder was part of a triptych; there were two other videos that served as counterpoints. The Model is composed of a static shot of my mother anesthetized in a hospital bed and breathing very shallowly. It’s nearly still, except for one point when a noise in the background interrupts the silence and her eyes open for a brief instant. The audio from an interview I had made with her the night before—in which she discussed the differing agencies of the model and the photographer—is dubbed over the top. The third video, called The Gift, is a reedit that I made from a soft-core spanking-fetish video that my mother shot with family friends. The footage was too flawed for them to use, so she sent the raw tapes to me. It arrived unsolicited with a note that read: “This is a gift. Now it’s your obligation to make something out of it.” My edit revealed a portrait of the two men directing my mother from behind the camera, and her playing to and resisting that direction. It’s disturbing, but there’s also an incredible sense of amusement.

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Carmen Winant is an artist and arts writer based in Boulder, where she teaches at the University of Colorado. Winant is a regular contributor to Frieze magazine,, and Art Papers, and she is also the coeditor of the Highlights Journal.

March/April 2014
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