A New Player Enters the Fray
Autumn Palen is a 22 year old photographer, videographer, and writer from Southern California. A self-professed Sad Clown, she enjoys the company of people who can let loose, and maybe even make a fool of themselves. She is presently an artist-in-residence in what she calls "the lovely, wonky wonderland" of De Liceiras 18.
RS: Alright, I just sat down in front of my computer in Paris and you sat down in front of your computer in Porto. Let's do this!
AP: If I meet someone when we're seated, and then we stand, they're surprised as to how tall I am. One, because I hunch, and two, because I am socially very small. Softest voice in the game.
RS: What, to you, is the role of language?
AP: Language is the most commonly utilized bridge between people's brains. And sometimes, their hearts (cue studio audience "aww.")
I speak English and French, and find it interesting to reflect on the particular subset of "situational self" I am when I speak a language that is not my first. For one, in English, I retain the same level of fluency regardless of my anxiety in any particular situation. This is not the same case in French. If it doesn't seem like the person I'm speaking with likes me (something my brain is on High Alert to look out for), my tongue turns to mush.
RS: You are very soft-spoken so why do you think you'd be a terrible cat burglar?
AP: I feel most comfortable when I feel like the people around me want me to be around -- that I'm welcome in a space.
RS: Don't we all.
AP: It's hard to pin down what's inherently "Californian" or "San Diegan," in my work, but perhaps the perspective of being raised in such a calm and generally open household allowed me to become the big old weirdo I am today.
RS: You've always been such a jokester, eh?
AP: Interest in both visual and written art sprang up in parallel around 3rd grade. With writing, it was more social -- I would come up with something ridiculous at lunch or after school, with friends as a sort of testing ground. If they'd laugh, I'd jot it down, and make little comics.
RS: Favourite tunes or films?
AP: My music library generally houses songs along the lines of fuzz rock, funk, 80s cheese, 50s cheese, and "indietronica" (someone told me the term and what it correlates to, and I was like "yes, alright, I fuck with that"). Film: Raising Arizona, Thelma and Louise, Velvet Goldmine, The Science of Sleep, Lawrence Anyways, The Way He Looks, Ghost World, The Fall -- and undoubtedly, there'll be a few that come to mind in a few hours that I've completely forgotten, and I'll kick myself. Tant pis.
RS: You thrive in urban environments. "Big cities, but outdoors within them as often as I can be," you said.
AP: A day in my life hasn't been consistently the same for some while. Not every day is rip-roaring and jaw-dropping so much as, just plain-and-simply "different," but I am immensely grateful nonetheless. A lot of the time, especially in this recent string of flinging myself to different cities, I'm drawn to the "textures" of each particular place. For Paris, the ubiquitous Haussmannian architecture. For Cluj-Napoca, the glorious cavalcade of street art that comes with a low median age and an extensive amount of international students. For Porto, the wide spectrum of unique tiles and the rainbow of laundry, fluttering outside every apartment window.
RS: How are earth tones and dark shadows aspirational for you?
AP: I feel like my end game, in my obscenely rich retiree years, is having a big, mahogany den where I swish around a round-bottomed glass of whisky and recount tales, loudly and unsolicited, to the uncomfortable food delivery people who will bring pad thai to my door.
RS: So you like Porto in the meantime?
AP: Porto is a really nice little nook of a city. It’s got a real bustling art underbelly, to the point where I feel the underbelly is actually quite a large portion of the city. Someone I’m currently living with mentioned how the older, conservative religious side of the city lives in a calm co-habitation with the young, anarchical artistic side — not particularly blending or mingling, but not clashing either. Oil and water.
RS: What travel destination has particularly affected you?
AP: I spent a whopping total of one day in Seattle as a bridge-over to Vancouver, instead of going to my last day of 11th grade, and I love that one afternoon-to-morning dearly. It still sticks with me. It was just so pretty and foggy and charming, remarkably different enough from the southwestern cities I was used to. I took my little toy Holga 35mm for a spin up there too, which was another little milestone in my photographic interests.
RS: Tell me more about your photography.
AP: I distinctly remember the little narrow camera -- really tall and thin, as one of those mid-2000s gimmicks -- that my dad and I would hand back and forth as we photographed the USC campus before football games, in the sliver of time where he had season tickets. I remember arriving in the morning for an evening game, and having the whole day to kill, so we'd kill it with photography.
RS: Some people think photography is an "easy" art. What are your thoughts on the instantaneous nature of it?
AP: I do occasionally try and swerve away from taking the same exact photo as someone beside me — say, of a view or a monument — but really, although the saturation of it is occasionally quite daunting to reflect on, there’s a space for every kind of photography. If there’s a reason you’re capturing this given thing or moment, by all means, go with it.
RS: Do you ever encounter people who don't see the point?
AP: There was one man I was staying with once (in his 70s, to give you context), who said he didn’t see the point of photography, how it’ll just sit, unseen. How there’s too much of it. To some extent, he’s got some point, but that sentiment is also a bit depressing. I don’t know, for some reason, humanity has developed this medium to the point where photography can be implemented any time, anywhere, by anyone. That seems to be what we as a people want, as a very base desire. To capture things. Share them, reflect on them.
RS: What do you do to foster discipline in your life?
AP: There's not much of a method I've honed, with the exception of, you know, doing it. I'd recommend, to anyone looking to do it: Do it. Do it a lot, and mess up, and meet people, and then you'll eventually not mess up as much, and know people. And you'll be doing it.
RS: How do you "own the crap?"
AP: I definitely get down on myself when it comes to the relative quality of my work, but really, when all's said and done,
- comparing myself to others can only end in losing my mind and
- crappiness doesn't matter. I gotta own the crap.
Failure is not taking that step to put yourself out there. As long as you're out, creating that crap, then at least you've tried.
RS: Main remedies for getting out of a funk?
AP: Baked goods and dancing.
RS: Let's talk about about one of our favourite trends, Ugly Chic. Chaotic Balenciagood.
AP: Balenciaga and their ferociously, confrontationally unattractive, mutated normcore, speaks to me in a weirdly spiritual way. Down to my soul. It also just tickles me. I get a real kick out of it. The Balenciaga Coat Man is my hero. Who is he? What secrets lurk under that big-ass coat? I love him.
RS: Any quirks of your own you'd like to reveal?
AP: Can't remember the last time anyone was like "no friggin' way" in reaction to a facet of my own being. Does exceptionally low self esteem count as a quirk?
RS: What's the scariest thing you've ever done?
AP: Zip-lining. Nothing career-oriented or romantic. Zip-lining.
RS: What do you find romantic?
AP: Not zip-lining, that's for damn sure.
RS: Bring me your loves.
AP: I love most every city street at night.
I love beaches at 5 in the morning.
I love my bed, when I find out I have more time to sleep than I thought.
I love the Centre Pompidou.
I love the Norris Cinema Theater.
I love closing every tab on my browser once I'm done with a project.
I love it when I've successfully recommended a thing that falls in line with someone's interests.
I love being exhausted after a long day.
I love singing a song that everyone in the room (or the car, or the sidewalk) knows.
I love the smell of coffee.
I love the smell of lavender.
I love the smell of new office supplies.
In two very similar red Clairefontaine notebooks, Autumn has a handful of short stories and scripts. You can check out her #streetglassesofparis work on Instagram. She's also carrying out a photo series this month, so keep checking her Flickr & autumn.palen.com.