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First Love, Last Rites

Dossier magazine's creative director Skye Parrott tests the limits of autobiography in her first solo photo exhibit

by Katie Olsen
on 03 December 2010

In today's hyperreal visual landscape, erasing lines between fact and fiction has become a controversial trope. "First Love, Last Rites"—photographer Skye Parrott's new solo show at Brooklyn's Capricious Space—does just that, revisiting a year-and-a-half of the artist's tumultuous teen years, beginning when she was 15 and in a relationship with her first love. Casting her real-life ex-boyfriend and a model as herself, Parrott recreated and photographed the events of her youth—defined by the couple's drug addiction. The resulting works not only shed light on this hazy period of her life, but also provide real insight into the subjectivity of memory and the possibility of ever having a "true" experience.

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After comparing notes with her then-boyfriend Alex, Parrott began to realize that what she so firmly believed to be the reality of their years together was not exactly cut and dry. "I was struck by the discrepancies between his memories and mine. The more I delved into the story, the more I had the feeling that we were both, in a way, telling the truth. We had both made choices—conscious or not—about what to remember based on what narrative we needed to tell. I found that memories are something more layered than I'd thought them to be, and that truth can be a bit more fluid." To make these disparities explicit, she even goes so far as to deliberately change a detail in a photograph from corresponding text in the accompanying book (featuring personal artifacts like letters, photographs of Parrott herself and items discovered inside old pockets) so that the two fail to tell exactly the same story.


There's no question that the work is deeply, almost shockingly, personal. (A sensibility not unrelated to Nan Goldin, with whom Parrott used to work.) Originally, the project was for her eyes only, so there was no limit on the details she divulged in the work she assembled. But the night before the show opened at Capricious, what she was about to do finally struck her: "It seemed kind of insane. And I think it probably is a little insane, but it's also honest. I know that's something I really respond to in other people's work, so I hope this work will give someone else that feeling."

Whatever it ultimately evokes in others, it was a cathartic experience for Parrott, whose other ongoing project is the magazine Dossier that she founded. "One of my drives in working on this originally was a real feeling of disconnect between who I was then and who I am now, and I feel like examining that history helped me to bridge that gulf. The whole experience was therapeutic in the sense that I felt, in finishing the project, like I was putting that time in my life, and that relationship, to rest."

First Love, Last Rites is on view now through 15 January 2011 at Capricious.

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