The C-Mon Q&A: Photographer and activist Dona Ann McAdams.


Cheerleader by Dona Ann McAdams. (Image courtesy of Opalka Gallery.)

Last year when we spent the year slacking around Rome, we were fortunate to spend many of those hours wandering the streets with photographer and activitst Dona Ann McAdams — the artist best known for Caught in the Act, a book of photographs chronicling the work of performance artists such as Karen Finley, Eric Bogosian, Blue Man Group, Meredith Monk, Ethyl Eichelberger, Ann Magnuson, Bill T. Jones, and Allen Ginsburg, among others. McAdams, a street photographer in the tradition of Henri Cartier Bresson, was a pretty funny companion, riffing on everything she saw. But what we didn’t always notice is that even while she gabbed, she was skillfully zeroing in on her surroundings without breaking pace or even stopping the conversation, snapping away with a three-decade old Leica. “Ninety percent of what I shoot is crap,” McAdams once remarked when we happened to see the hundreds of rolls of black and white film in her refrigerator. Despite what she may say, her filter nonetheless manages to catch startlingly beautiful, humorous, unguarded moments that are intended as much to be chronicles of McAdams interest in social activism as pure beauty.

The work is now the subject of a Some Women, a comprehensive mid-career survey (a sampling, McAdams calls it) at the Opalka Gallery in Albany. The show centers on McAdams longstanding interest in women as subject matter and it’s is well worth the drive, especially this coming Wednesday, December 9, when Paul H-O’s film Guest of Cindy Sherman in which McAdams appears, will be shown in conjunction with the show’s final week. To promote the exhibit and the film, McAdams has agreed to submit to our interrogation.

San Suzie: What’s the biggest stereotype about photography?
Dona Ann McAdams:
That it can illustrate an objective truth, and bear witness to an event. You can’t look at a photograph and know what’s going on. It’s just one person’s point of view.

If you could change one thing about the art world what would it be?
The way it’s looked at. Art should be in grocery stores. I’d like an exhibit at Sam’s Club.

What artist, living or dead, would you most like to party with?
I’d like to be at a jazz club in Harlem with Roy DeCarava and Tina Modotti. We’d be listening to Miles.

If you could have any work of art to hang in your bathroom, what would it be?
An original panel of Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland.

What two artists would you like to watch duke it out in a celebrity death match?
How about Caravaggio and William Burroughs dueling with pistols? But I’d rather see Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag play chess.

If an alien from another galaxy landed on Earth and wanted to take back a single work of art to represent all of humanity, what would you give them?
Duchamp’s ready-made urinal. It says it all.

What imagery do you think is overused in art?
The self-portrait.

If you were to die and come back as a piece of art, what would it be?
I’d be Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider Maman and live in the Cortile at the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.

If you could vandalize any work of art, what would it be?
It would have to be Damien Hirst. But then he’d get even more press he doesn’t need. If you’re not going to eat the animals, put them in the ground or leave them in the ocean.

If art could kill, how would you like to die?
Listening to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. That kills me every time.

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