“I've come to hate writing captions. I don't like telling people how to read an image,” Stacy Kranitz writes in—where else?—a caption on her Instagram account, which, in December, Time named the best of 2015.
Kranitz may not like writing captions, but she’s quite good at it. For many of her more than 80,000 followers, they’re part of what makes her account so appealing. That’s because Kranitz’s unconventional approach to her captions is the same as her approach to image-making. In both, she openly acknowledges the link between her work and her own experience of making it.
That’s how she ends up with complex, unsettling captions like this one, which describes not only the moment depicted in the photograph but the events that preceded it and followed it: “I went to the liquor store to buy some beer and found this guy slumped over near the door. The cashier explained that he is the neighborhood drunk. He hangs his jacket on the fence so he doesn’t conk his head on the ground when he passes out. A few minutes later some firemen came by to take him to the hospital. They said he has been in the neighborhood for 20 years. Now I’m home drinking beer trying to stave off feelings of loneliness and he is on his way to the emergency room. #alcohol”
The other day someone told me that it is very naive to think that all Native Americans are leftist liberals. Our relationship to history is complicated, in constant flux and multi-dimensional. When will we stop forcing our own ideas about what others should think, believe or feel onto them. I wish I could explain this in a way that @walkyourcamera could understand. His failure to comprehend this idea has lead him to perpetuate the problems of photographic representation in central Appalachia under the guise of solving it.
Today. I met some kids that threw candy and trash at me and told me I was from Asshole, America. They let me know that I came out of a vagina. Although they called it something else and I had to have them explain what they meant. They told me to fuck off. Then some guy came over and asked if I wanted to buy some cheese he said if I didn't, I was missing out. "Best cheese in Newport." Then the kids walked like a gang of baby wolves following me down the street asking if I wanted to sit on their dick. One of them told me they were going to hold me down so their mom could beat my ass. I found a pub and escaped their terror. inside, was the most amazing karaoke singer in all of Newport. He hogged the karaoke machine all afternoon. I drank some pints.
I went to the liquor store to buy some beer and found this guy slumped over near the door. The cashier explained that he is the neighborhood drunk. He hangs his jacket on the fence so he doesn't conk his head on the ground when he passes out. A few minutes later some firemen came by to take him to the hospital. They said he has been in the neighborhood for 20 years. Now I'm home drinking beer trying to stave off feelings of loneliness and he is on his way to the emergency room. #alcohol
Loneliness, in fact, was what drew Kranitz to Instagram in the first place more than three years ago.
“It was toward the end of a four-month-long stint in central Appalachia living out of my car, and I felt kind of disconnected from people. I saw a number of people were using Instagram and I sort of just joined in. Immediately I connected to my friends and they could see what I was doing and I was feeling less isolated from them,” she said.
Since then, a blurring of life and work has defined Kranitz’s Instagram. It’s also defined her documentary projects, including studies of Appalachia, violence, and American re-enactors of Germans in World War II, which we featured on Behold in 2014. She often comes to know the people she photographs as friends and sometimes as lovers.
The work on her Instagram is less “controlled” in its execution than her some of her documentary projects, which tend to develop over the course of years, and she means for it to be taken more lightly. Nonetheless, thanks to the Time distinction, Kranitz has a lot more eyes on her account these days, including strangers who are more critical of the way she interacts with and represents the people depicted in her work. But the joy she takes in Instagram, she says, hasn’t changed.
“What I love about Instagram is it’s incredibly unhinged. It’s immediate and raw and it’s crude and gritty. It’s more of a sketchbook or a diary, so it’s meant to be not politically correct and slightly off kilter.”
Yesterday I left Los Angeles. I’m heading to central Appalachia for a few months. I stopped to get gas in Barstow only to find out my credit card had been shut off because someone has been using it to stay in fancy hotels in New York City. My address is my car and it was difficult to come up with a place for them to send the new card. In the mean time I must call my bank every time I want to use the card. After I answer a few security questions, they turn it on for my purchase then shut it back off. I checked my email on the border of California and Arizona and found an angry email from a good friend. I cried for the next four hours while I drove along Highway 40. I make this drive a lot and I don’t usually stop in the Grand Canyon but I thought it might make me feel better so I headed to the park. I looked out at this incredible natural wonder and felt very small. I realized how inconsequential my problems are. I realized how hard it is, even in the presence of such immense beauty to let go of the things that weigh us down, the things that prevent us form truly engaging with the world in a pure way. I’m not even sure what that means. I watched tourists from all over the world photograph themselves, smiling in front of the landscape. I looked at the barrier the park built to keep us all contained, to keep us from falling over the edge and I felt the weight of this barrier in my life. I saw a woman climb down and around it. I felt lazy because I didn’t want to. Then it started to snow and I got cold because I only packed summer clothes for this trip. I got in my car and drove away. #grandcanyon #snow #crosscountry
I met this young woman yesterday morning when she was looking for a ride to the hospital. She told me she was having a schizophrenic attack and seemed really distraught. I put her in my car, gave her some water and dropped her off. At the hospital she was medicated then she slept and showered. An ambulance took her back to Skatopia later that afternoon with a bag of hygiene products. Today I found her waiting for a ride somewhere, anywhere. After asking around, she hopped in a van with some kids heading to Chicago.
My friend Scot Sothern asked me if I wanted to drive around with him and meet prostitutes in Los Angeles. His invitation reminded me of William T Vollmann’s novel Whores for Gloria. In it Vollmann describes a world of street prostitution and one man’s fantastical quest to find a hauntingly beautiful whore. I pretend to be the protagonist while Scot drives us around looking for the perfect prostitute. Scot writes a column for Vice called Nocturnal Submissions about the prostitutes he has met over the years. Both Sothern and Vollmann do a lot to illuminate the sordid, banal, dangerous and frenetic nature of street prostitution. My contribution here pales in comparison. We find a woman standing on a corner in Koretown. I cant stop staring at her. She's stunning. This is my Gloria. Scot gives her $20 to drive down the street and take a few pictures with us. We find a dark corner next to a closed storefront.
I have been in Boone County, West Virginia this week talking to residents about the decline of the coal industry in the region. I met Bryan Dunlap at the end of his shift. He works for Patriot Coal a company that has been in bankruptcy twice this year. They are about to be bought by Blackhawk a non-Union coal company based in Kentucky. EPA regulations and cheaper gas alternatives have both played a role in the decline of coal in central Appalachia. Those still lucky enough to have a job in the mines struggle with the constant fear of layoffs. For Dunlap this sale will once again put his job in jeopardy. I've come to hate writing captions. I don't like telling people how to read an image. Historically captions have done a lot of damage to the nuanced representations of people. When we collapse and push images and text into an agenda it narrows our ability to have a unique relationship to those we do not know.