The more specific the interpretation suggested by a picture, the less happy I am with it.
– Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Philip-Lorca diCorcia (born 1951) is an American photographer, living in New York City. He teaches at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. DiCorcia studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and received his MFA in 1979 from Yale University.
His works encompass both documentaries and staged photography, lending his large-scale color prints a narrative mixture of truth and fiction. His iconic staged compositions often have a baroque theatricality. Using a carefully planned staging, he takes everyday occurrences beyond the realm of banality, trying to inspire in his picture’s spectators an awareness of the psychology and emotion contained in real-life situations. His work could be described as documentary photography mixed with the fictional world of cinema and advertising, which creates a powerful link between reality, fantasy, and desire.
During the late 1970s, during diCorcia’s early career, he used to situate his friends and family within fictional interior tableaus, which would make the viewer think that the pictures were spontaneous shots of someone’s everyday life, when they were in fact carefully staged and pre-planned. His work from this period is associated with the Boston School of photography. He would later start photographing random people in urban spaces all around the world. When in Berlin, Calcutta, Hollywood, New York, Rome, and Tokyo, he would often hide lights in the pavement, which would illuminate a random subject, often isolating them from the other people in the street.
His pictures have black humor within them and have been described as “Rorschach-like” since they can have a different interpretation depending on the viewer. As they are pre-planned, diCorcia often plants in his concepts issues like the marketing of reality, the commodification of identity, art, and morality. In 1989, financed by a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship of $45,000, DiCorcia began his Hustlers project. Starting in the early 1990s, he made five trips to Los Angeles to photograph male prostitutes in Hollywood. He used a 6×9 Linhof view camera, which he positioned in advance with Polaroid tests. At first, he photographed his subjects only in motel rooms. Later, he moved onto the streets. paying them whatever they typically charged for their services to instead pose in scenarios he had prepared for the photo sessions. MoMA presented diCorcia’s first solo museum exhibition in 1993, featuring Hustlers. The titles of these photographs, such as Chris, 28 years old, Los Angeles, California, $30, list only the facts. Yet by inserting their bodies into prepared scenes in hotel rooms or on the street, diCorcia made portraits that operate in tandem with—but do not exactly reproduce—the fantasy roles these men were usually conscripted to play.
In 1999, diCorcia set up his camera on a tripod in Times Square, attached strobe lights to scaffolding across the street, and took a series of pictures of strangers passing under his lights. This resulted in two published books, Streetwork (1998) which showed wider views including subjects’ entire bodies, and Heads (2001), which featured more closely cropped portraits as the name implies. Originally published in W as a result of a collaboration with Dennis Freedman between 1997 and 2008, diCorcia produced a series of fashion stories in places such as Havana, Cairo, and New York.
DiCorcia’s works are held in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.