GRAB: THE EXHIBITION runs from AUGUST 18 – NOVEMBER 6, 2011 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM.
How was it working TOGETHER as photographers on set? Did you talk about what you were going to do beforehand? And what was it like curating GRAB: The Exhibition?
CYBELLE: Billy’s choice to have all of us on board turned out to be brilliant. He clearly knew that we would be a good fit, visually and personality wise.
TONY: I honestly don't remember! We had extremely early call times and I don't think any of us are morning people. We did have some good laughs at the end of each day, though.
CYBELLE: I believe our first introduction went something like this: Billy: “Cybelle, do you have your driver's license? Great. This is Idris and Tony. You guys go with her. We have to get to the museum to start in half an hour.” We had about an hour of downtime while Billy interviewed the museum director, and it was during that time that we discovered we had similar approaches, with very complementary viewpoints and styles. I think they loved me right off the bat!
TONY: Idris and I eat, breath, sleep, and shoot together on a daily basis, so it's quite natural for us to work in a team environment. This was our first time working with another photographer. Cybelle Codish is our "first."
IDRIS: It was like we were a trio. We never really discussed what we were going to do beforehand. We just went out and did what we each do best.
CYBELLE: It was a kind of dance. You need to be aware of the other photographers at all times, knowing full well that if you can see them, they can sure as hell see you. It is a mutual respect not to get in their shots while also getting yours. And oooooh, can these boys dance! I was so excited to see their final images.
IDRIS: Usually photographers have such big egos. Curating the exhibition was intense…
TONY: (interrupts) SUCH a learning experience! Being a person who is so detail-oriented, I probably drove Idris and Cybelle crazy at times, but the truth is the entire process was quite harmonious.
CYBELLE: Three very creative minds, all very passionate. I think we would never have survived it without each other. Tony and I were kind of the dreamers who were insistent on visions of grandeur, while Idris would bring us back down to earth every once in a while, explaining that it really wasn’t necessary to be able to see the entire show from outer space - we wanted to go BIG.
TONY: We never had any big obstacles to overcome...other than raising the money in order to produce the works. There was very little time between receiving the invitation from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian to the opening date of the exhibit and at first we were not going to do it because we could simply not afford to produce it on our own. Then we thought it would be foolish of us to not even try because it's not everyday that you get an invitation like that. We reached out to friends and family and so many of them supported us financially and mentally in order to put this exhibition together.
CYBELLE: At the end of the day, the final images make complete sense together and are a perfect representation of us as artists and documentary photographers.
IDRIS: I’ve become such a fan of Cybelle, not only of her work, but as a person. I wish her all the success in the world and hope we can work together again.
What was your reaction to seeing the film for the first time? Does it compliment the photo exhibit or are they completely separate experiences?
CYBELLE: It was THRILLING!
TONY: It's always great to see Billy's work. I love that he tells a compelling story all while letting his humor shine through.
IDRIS: My first reaction was, WOW he has done it again. It amazed me how he made such a straightforward story have so much complexity and emotion. The true genius in this film is how he made The Pot into an important character that the audience becomes emotionally attached to.
TONY: Seeing the film for the first time was emotional because we were a part of these peoples lives for a time, and it was great to re-live that experience through the film. When you mix in the soundtrack, it's over for me! Even though the film and the exhibition are separate entities they are born from the same mind, so they easily complement one another while maintaining their own identity - kind of like fraternal twins.
IDRIS: Put together you get a true sense of the wonder and beauty that is the Pueblo of Laguna.
And how was it working with director Billy Luther?
IDRIS: Working with him has afforded me the opportunity to see places I would have never seen, meet people I would never have met, and experience cultures I would have never have experienced. He’s a great director as well as a great friend.
CYBELLE: He’s got quite a vision, this one. I did notice that I picked up some of his mannerisms for weeks after, too. I still say “hussy” a lot.
TONY: He has a great work ethic. The entire production team for GRAB all had a blast. We all share in these great memories that will last a lifetime.
IDRIS: This was my second time working with Billy, the first time was on (his 2007 documentary) MISS NAVAJO, and each experience has been extraordinary. He knows exactly what he wants, but also lets you put your own spin on it.
CYBELLE: It was a dream come true. (laughs) I knew Billy when he was in school in Chicago, and it was great to be able to re-connect with him on this film. We have come a long way since our scattered Chicago days! This subject of the contemporary Native American is near and dear to me.
What kind of attire did you wear for your first grab-day? And was it hard to find accompanying footwear?
TONY: Shoes can make or break an outfit so it's always stressful deciding between pumps or flats. Actually, being photographers we can get away with wearing just about anything to just about any occasion. There is always someone in the crowd who says "It's okay...they're artsy."
CYBELLE: We were told that we needed to move fast; regardless of a fear of heights we had climb trees and scramble on rooftops; all while families were throwing objects that had the potential to destroy our equipment.
IDRIS: Since I only packed one pair of sneakers that choice was simple.
CYBELLE: I believe I wore something athletic-ish, but probably with great accessories. Be ready to run, but look good doing it - in case there was someone filming it.
Given that outside photography is not allowed on the reservation, did you encounter any resistance while you were photographing?
IDRIS: There were a few times I was questioned, being the 6'2'' black guy taking pictures on an Indian reservation I kind of stood out a bit. Once I pulled out my permit it was all good.
CYBELLE: It was an incredibly welcoming community and seemed to get used to the cameras quite easily. Even when the 6’2” black guy was around.
TONY: No resistance from the people, but there was a moose - I swear! -that almost ran me and Huy (one of the film's cinematographers) off the road. No one believed us because apparently there are no moose in New Mexico, but I have a very visual memory and I know what I saw. And no, I did not get a picture of it. It all happened so fast.
What is your favorite food you discovered at Grab/Feast Day?
IDRIS: Green Chili, its so good. I want some now.
TONY: Fry bread!!!
CYBELLE: Fry bread or green chili. I think they go hand in hand.
Were there specific interests you had going into the shoot that came through in the final exhibition?
TONY: The images I am familiar with of Native Americans are from way back in the day. We really wanted to portray contemporary Native life and juxtapose that with traditional Native life.
IDRIS: We wanted to capture the vastness and stillness of the land.
CYBELLE: I knew I was there to document a particular span of time and events, and really just wanted to make sure I was able to take everything in and depict it as accurately as possible.
What is your favorite photograph in GRAB: The Exhibition?
IDRIS: I can’t decide. Each one has a special place in my heart
TONY: Trailer Trash. It speaks volumes about the influence of American greed and how it has affected the landscape of this country.
CYBELLE: It depends. I remember being so excited to see Idris and Tony’s images for the first time. I was obviously there, and had poured over the images I had captured endlessly, so to see their take on the same experience brought new life into the exhibition for me.
What artists influence your photography style?
TONY: When it comes down to it we are more influenced by the subject matter that we are capturing. For this particular project we wanted to portray the story of an outsider looking in.
CYBELLE: My first influence (and continues to be to this day) is Anton Corbijn. Dynamite.
IDRIS: When shooting landscapes I always refer back to Ansel Adams. He was a technical genius.
If you could be Native American, what Tribe would you be?
CYBELLE: (long pause) Tricky question. I have such an affinity for the tribes from Michigan, but the Laguna Pueblo really made this experience possible with their culture still so steeped in tradition…
TONY: Probably Navajo because I would love to roll up to the Grand Canyon, roll down the window and say "Navajo" and be waved right in. I hate waiting in lines!
IDRIS: Laguna of course!
What person from Laguna Pueblo do you remember the most?
TONY: That's a tough one...everyone was so welcoming and friendly. I am a sucker for miniatures especially when they are in the form of little old ladies. One in particular was Grandma Elizabeth. I love anyone who reminds me of my Grandma.
CYBELLE: Well, since Tony stole my answer, Gertrude from the senior center reminded me of my grandmother in most every way. I would probably say that meeting Lee Marmon was pretty incredible. I had seen his images for years, and it was truly an honor to meet the man behind the curtain.
IDRIS: Even though I love Josie and the Seymour family, I keep thinking about Harold the bread maker. His bread was so good and having the chance to eat some straight out of the outdoor adobe oven was priceless.
CYBELLE: Oh, and the other person who stood out to me was the woman who yelled and cursed at me at Sky City. I hope she enjoys the exhibit.
What would be your dream place to exhibit the show?
TONY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
CYBELLE: Having the opportunity to display the exhibit in any museum where it can educate the viewer about the life of the contemporary Laguna Pueblo—or any Indian Nation-- is a dream scenario.
IDRIS: By being exhibited in a Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and The National Geographic Museum as well as its homecoming at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, my dreams have been more than fulfilled.
Any words of advice for someone who will be attending their first Grab Day?
CYBELLE: Try to catch one of Josie’s pots----and don't drop it. They're STUNNING!
IDRIS: Always be alert. You never know what and when something is going to fly your way.
TONY: Wear safety goggles and a helmet.
|The Crew of GRAB from left to right: Idris Rheubottom, Huy Truong, Tony Craig, Ashley York, Cybelle Codish, Jay Visit, Young K. Kim, Billy Luther, Gavin Wynn|