(Photo: Gregory Harris)

Brooklyn-based photographer and filmmaker Jessica Yatrofsky has employed a sparse, muted, and– dare I say- poetic aesthetic that explores both male and female bodies and the gender politics that ensnare those bodies. Yatrofsky has previously released two photography books, I Heart Boy and I Heart Girl, that both utilized natural light, yearning gazes, and diverse body types to undermine traditional representations of masculinity and femininity.

Language has always been a part of Yatrofsky’s oeuvre, particularly in her video work. Her film Photography is a History of Masturbation was recently featured in the Museum of Sex exhibition NSFW: Female Gaze. In the video, an androgynous nude boy poses while a narrator, speaking in French, asks the viewer questions like, “Is all art beautiful?”

For a new poetry book, entitled Pink Privacy, Yatrofsky divorces herself from images entirely and gets lost in the written word. As with her visual work, the poems are sparse and direct. But in this medium, Yatrofsky relieves herself of the burden of her work being judged based on the bodies of her subjects. “With photography, I feel more guarded because it [depicts] other peoples’ bodies,” she says. “Poetry is just me. The snarky way that I look at the world.”

The poems are short, sexy and sometimes confrontational. In “A Hard Re-set,” Yatrofsky writes, “Stroke your cocky ego, no thanks, you lost your place in line, and it was the gateway to heaven.” In “Lady Adjustments,” she taunts, “I need more cunt in my vibe, ice in my chill, burr, McFuck me.” The poetry has the playful eroticism of Yatrofsky’s video and photography work, but also gives a window into her humor and self-possession. The book feels like a comedic rebuttal to the oh-so-serious nature of the art world, while still working as a serious work of literary art in its own right.

Yatrofsky and I spoke about the differences between working in visual and literary work, turning MFA theses into manifestos, the importance of becoming aware of your level of attractiveness, and the beauty in letting the concept dictate the medium.

(Courtesy of Jessica Yatrofsky)

BB_Q(1) Do you get more freaked out about showing poetry than you do about showing visual work, since it’s more self-revelatory?

BB_A(1) I don’t know if I can precisely articulate this, but I feel the opposite. Poetry feels so raw, direct, unfiltered. And that’s how I prefer to go about in the world. And when people are critiquing my work I feel like they are being more critical of the subjects than me. So, for this project, I’m like, have at it.

Poetry is auto-biographical. You can criticize how I write, in terms of the content or the flow, but it’s just honest. I read some poetry, but definitely not a lot. I’m not the type to go to slam poetry events. I’m speaking from experience. And truths. When it comes to reading live, sure, I get those butterflies. But I face poetry head on in the style that I made the book. I let the process take a hold of me. I was just writing for hours.

BB_Q(1) Did you always know you’d work with different mediums?

BB_A(1) I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I wanted to be a painter. I’ve done video work since I was a kid and found photography later. But the poetry has been like a freight train because it came so easy. Thank god for iPhone notes. I embraced being taken over. The thing with writing is you’re locked in your own head and you’re not engaged with people around you. I found a way to trigger it. Then [the words] can flow right to the surface.

BB_Q(1) Your photography is direct, like the poems: natural light, nude bodies, subdued expressions. Is that directness and clarity of thought something you’ve always been drawn to in art work?

BB_A(1) I mean, I do love directness. But I also like whimsy, and things that are open to interpretation. I love painting. But a painting can be direct too. A Dutch still life? That’s pretty fucking direct. I’ve always been a fan of Larry Clark and Nan Goldin. Photographers capturing what’s going on around them. I didn’t know them when I started making images, I just wanted to document. And I wanted to compose more formal images. But that comes from painting. That idea of “This must go here, that must go here.” I do that with photography.

BB_Q(1) I read how the eyes and eye placement are a big deal in your work.

BB_A(1) The gaze is really important. That work is very collaborative. A lot of the models have never modeled before and a lot would never do it again. They’re going to to have input. Whether or not to be naked and what makes them uncomfortable, all of those decisions will be honored. But, with poetry, it’s not a collaborative process. It’s like a dirty diary and that’s why it’s so exciting. It’s vulnerable. You’re opening yourself up to judgement. I see poetry as little acts of bravery.

(Courtesy Jessica Yatrofsky)

BB_Q(1) What I like about it is that we all have these infinitely rich inner worlds. Worlds within worlds exist within our minds. With poetry you’re reaffirming that somehow. It’s like, “this is a thought, I’ve now immortalized it on this page.”

BB_A(1) This is not to be vain, but I love Pink Privacy so much. It’s my favorite thing that I’ve ever written. I love that I was able to create a project where I was able to channel this piece of me that other people think are funny. I’ve never been able to capture that. In interviews, i’ve always been portrayed as being very serious.

BB_Q(1) Yeah, they’ll bring up gender politics, body politics.

BB_A(1) Yeah, and I am very serious about those things. But I also have a very strong sense of humor. And a darkness that surprises people. People think it’s an alter-ego in these poems but I don’t, it’s just me. Some of my closer friends were really blown away and asked, “Are you really going to print this?” “Fuck yes I am!” It became like comedy, in a way.

BB_Q(1) I did it once. Stand-up. It was at an open mic at a biker bar in Tucson. The bikers seemed to like it, but the families walking by were scandalized. I don’t think I’d do it again. Glad I knocked it off the bucket list. I think there was a gag about how mediocre attractive people, like me, have the hardest time finding their person. Because beautiful people couple up, and really ugly people couple up. The people in the middle have life struggles with romance.

BB_A(1) That’s actually true. Plus realizing what level of attractiveness you are is jarring. I was dating this guy a few years ago. When we started dating, he was the worst, but I just couldn’t get enough. I was like, “Give me more of this asssssshoooollleeee.”

BB_Q(1) Did you write about him in the poems?

BB_A(1) No, but I remember that he told me that I looked like this actress and it reframed the way that I saw myself. I looked in the mirror, and thought, “I don’t look like what I thought I looked like.” But it was also empowering, to see what level of attractiveness I was. It allowed me to then develop personal style based on how I look.

BB_Q(1) That video you did at the Museum of Sex show, Photography is a History of Masturbation. That one has a poetry to it, correct?

BB_A(1) I won’t tell you too much because you’ll figure out who it’s about. But there was this guy, a fashion photographer, who came to our class half way through the semester at Parsons. And he just hated everyone. I was like, “Why does he need an MFA?” But he wanted a Master’s for the cred. But he hated all the nudity in our work.

Illustration of Alphachanneling (courtesy Jessica Yatrofsky)

BB_Q(1) Why? The nude form is one of the most essential tropes of art history.

BB_A(1) He just thought what I was doing was crass. His thinking was that photography isn’t art. Some people don’t have that perspective. So I wrote these sarcastic, open-ended questions down: “Is this art?”, “Is that art?” I spent time so much time not thinking about it, but executing it. The video is kind of tongue-in-cheek asking those questions about this kind of imagery.

I think of my video work as these meditative pieces. I offer a take on something as opposed to something completely linear. Even the poems are very short, but I like the uncertainty when someone asks, like “Oh, it’s over?”

BB_Q(1) Well some of my favorite poets favor a shorter length. Jim Carroll wrote a lot of short poems for instance, and they worked (laughs)!

BB_A(1) Well even like Jenny Holzer.

BB_Q(1) Yes, but for her it’s very much about where you see this text that changes the meaning of that text.

Totally. That one line of hers, “Men don’t protect you anymore.” My god. It gives me chills.

BB_Q(1) She’s a genius. Do you have any other projects upcoming aside from Pink Privacy?

BB_A(1) Yeah, I have another photo book coming out in a year. It’s going to be bodies in nature. Because every fine art photographer has to have that nature project. And then to go along with Pink Privacy I recorded a song based on one of those poems. I don’t have any illusions about being a musician. But I thought of it as an art project. I worked with a producer, and I told her all the inspirations I had for it: Madonna talking, ‘90s clashing sounds. She sent me a bunch of samples of sounds she was writing. And then she sent me this one, and it was perfect; I immediately wrote the chorus on a napkin. In Berlin, I co-curated this exhibition with this artist Lauren Moffatt. We loved each other’s work. She makes these 3D things, and VR work. She wanted to collaborate, and I had the music video that I wanted to make, but I didn’t want it to be this Housewives of New York Lip-synching thing. I wanted it to be cool. So we had this idea of putting Post-it notes on me. We shot it on a green screen and now it’s going to be available on Spotify next week. It’s funny to me! It’s comedy. It’s called “CuntKeeper.”