The Archives: Coco Young
What initially inspired you to pursue photography? How did you begin the transition from model to artist?
There was never a clean break. Before I ever modeled, I took photographs and have always painted and written. When I began to model, I kept a photography practice because I travelled a lot and was alone a lot, so my camera felt like a friend I could take along with me. When I began my studies at Columbia University, I didn’t have much time to make art because my program was very theory-driven and demanding and I needed to devote my whole attention to it. Towards the end of my studies, started connecting my art practice with the things that I was exposed to during my schooling. I don’t know if you can call this a transition more than an organic growth that most people in their early twenties experience.
How does having been on both sides of the camera help you as an artist?
I didn’t learn any technical skills from modeling, but I benefited from the situations it exposed me to by default, such as traveling and being engulfed in the world of persona as commodity. I would observe and make mental notes on the impact of fashion/advertising and on the standards of our culture industry. This has given me a lot of material to work with.
How has your European upbringing impacted your life or art in any way? Alternatively, how has your time in America also had an impact?
In France we are taught to think in a Cartesian way, so the French side of me is overly critical and analytical. In high school there, I read a lot of French literature and looked at French painting and sculpture. Going to museums often, I was very influenced by 19th century painting like Manet, Cezanne and Renoir. I didn’t realize how “old” France was until I moved back to New York as a young adult. This newness of New York gave me a freedom of expression and of being that I didn’t feel in France. France is very bureaucratic and sometimes people get stuck in the “system.” But there are a lot of French contemporary artists that I am very much influenced by such as Camille Henrot and Pierre Huygues. In terms of practicality, I notice that in America people can pretty much do whatever they want: organize exhibitions without being very experienced, experiment with mediums. It’s easier to do things here. America is also more advanced than France in terms of technology. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. Sometimes I struggle with being half-French and half-American, because I unconsciously apply French ways of thinking to American situations and vice-versa.