"Picture Perfect: Cynthia Connolly" by Sharon Cheslow
Portions of this interview appeared in Bust Magazine, July 1998
SHARON: What are your memories of the first time we met [at an Adam and the Ants hotel party, 1981]?
CYNTHIA: Well, actually I don't remember much of it. I actually remember feeling really awkward sitting in a hotel bar...just sitting there...because I realized how stupid the whole thing was...and so it was so cool that you came up to me and started the conversation. Funny, because at the time, I was wondering where the hell we were. It turned out to be Arlington, Virginia. Now I drive or ride my bike past that motel/hotel everytime I come back from DC!
S: Sometimes I wonder what in the world we were thinking, being there in the first place, but I'm glad we both went so we could meet! I remember not long after that, we both got involved in working on that local D.C. zine Now What? and you provided some of the photographs. Is that when you first started doing photography, or had you taken an interest in it when you were in LA?
C: My friend Patricia did photography in LA. I started there, and developed and printed stuff from LA in DC (I didn't know how to do it until I got to DC)... but it was all the same year.
S: Are you still friends with girls from that time period?
C: My best friend at that time was my sister...so yes, I'm still very good friends with her!
S: How did your involvement in the LA and DC punk scenes shape your outlook on being a creative female?
C: I really liked the energy of punk rock and the attitude that anyone could get up and do whatever they liked. Since DC was smaller, it was more focused, and I really think that made me more focused. Also, going to art school from 81-85 made me incorporate creativity in anything I tried to do in anything music related.
S: You went to the Corcoran School of Art, which must have been a great experience. I'd always wanted to go to an art school based on some fantasy that all everyone did was sit around and create all day, which is I'm sure far from the truth!
C: Uh- yeah...it was fun but very stressful, because you had critiques everyday and it eventually was like getting raked across hot coals everyday.
S: What role have the girlfriends in your life had on your personal and/or creative development?
C: Well, actually, I was friends with guys more often for some reason. It's really hard for me to be friends with girls. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I went to an all girl high school. So many of them were unfortunately influenced so much by that girl/cheerleader thing and being really loud. I think I just didn't like talking about make up and what boys were cute. That was expected. I wanted things way past that...the unknown...I guess I didn't like that pigeon-holing...so I always tried not to be what was the most natural thing to be expected of me. I always wanted to throw a small curve ball...so unfortunately where I got that energy/outlook was from a lot of guys. Like Ian MacKaye, like punk rock (which had a lot of guys in it...but I always thought more girls should be in it), and stuff like that.
S: You have a very close friendship with your sister Anna. Would you say she is your closest female friend?
C: Yes! Funny you should ask that...she probably thinks I kick ass and I think she kicks ass...but we never really say that...she just goes right out there and always grabs the bull by the horn. She double majored in computer science and Russian at George Washington University...got a scholarship with a stipend from Georgetown University, lived and worked in Russia a couple of times, moved to NYC, and now lives in Boston going to Harvard Business School, because she said, "I just mainly want to do what I'm doing now, but get paid a lot more." She saw that idea, and knew how to get to it, and just did it. She kicks ass! I love that!
S: How has your relationship with her affected your friendships with other women?
C: I think that since Anna was there a lot, I wasn't friends with a lot of girls. Because she was there...we did a lot of hanging out.
S: What is your favorite way to express yourself? Does it depend on your mood?
C: That's really hard. It's always a phase. So, gardening is in there...but, of course, in the summer and fall and spring. Art is really where I try hard to express something...I don't know if myself is the right thing I'm expressing. That's a hard one.
S: Do you still paint?
C: No, I like photography better. I use my painting skills to touch up my photos!!
S: At one time you played bass...why did you give that up?
C: I realized I liked the sound of bass...really low and heavy. But in art, I realized that I was too particular in what I wanted to express...or convey. I knew that I wouldn't be able to do that with 2 or 3 other people, in a music like environment. I think I learned that by being really close to so many people who WERE in bands...I guess I just did something else.
S: Who are your female role models? Are they women with whom you are friends or people you don't know but aspire to be like? Or both?
C: Well, a really good friend, Lely Constantinople, is a great inspiration to me. She is so graceful and collected and calm, but kicks ass. I'm all erratic and sometimes I lose my cool...under stress...she doesn't seem to ever. I'd love to be like her. She is an amazing photographer, and I greatly cherish our friendship and the way we can talk about photography and share that way. As far as art, Sally Mann's photo prints are so stunning...I will always try and do photo prints as perfect as hers. My mom has been a great influence because I look at the life she has created...she also kicked ass. She went to law school in the early 70's...which was really hard for women to do that. She did it because she asked for a divorce and knew she had to raise three kids. She took the bull by the horns and did it. That's great.
S: Do you think this is how you developed your self-sufficiency, having to take care of yourself while your mom was in law school?
C: Well, she stressed self sufficiency...she wanted us to know how to do everything...so she got people to teach us how to paint the house and fix windows when we were like 10 years old. Stuff like that.
S: In your photography you document many of the women with whom you are friends. Is this a conscious decision?
C: Yes it is. I think women are ignored more often. You get it when ordering in a restaurant, you get it in the way articles are written...you see it subtly everywhere you go. So, I make it a concerted effort that women aren't ignored. Women have so long been ignored in art and just like anything, it will change and women will do it themselves...we have a lot of power. Documentation of what women do is very important. We should all recognize that and do something about it, and that alone is change. We all hold a bit of it.
S: Have you ever noticed how many girls developed their photographic skills through documenting punk rock, and especially portraying other women involved? A lot of the photographers from the late 70's were women, like Roberta Bayley and Stephanie Chernikowski, who photographed their friends in NY at that time, many of whom were women in bands, like Ivy Rorschach, Patti Smith, and Lydia Lunch. I think it represents a time when girls were involved in all aspects of creating, when being a photographer was just as important as playing in a band. Maybe it was a way for girls to replace the male gaze with their own perspective, using the camera as a symbol of power as if to say, "I will be the one who gazes and I will choose what is worthy of that gaze." What do you think?
C: Huh - there could be something there. I'm not sure if everyone was like that, but I'm sure some people were like that.
S: Also, this is why I think your photos are simpatico with Nan Goldin's, because you both use the reality of your friendships to create your own truths about the world. Did you see her retrospective at the Whitney?
C: No, actually I didn't, but I had some of my photos in a NYC gallery hanging RIGHT NEXT to hers...which was super cool. Probably the coolest art experience yet!
S: How have the relationships with your girlfriends changed as you've gotten older?
C: They haven't at all. I hope they are the same. Are they?
S: Yeah, I guess they are the same, but hopefully with more wisdom.