Philip-Lorca diCorica first came to prominence in the late 1970s when he started creating carefully staged tableaux using family and friends to create pictures that were intended to make the viewer think they were spontaneous shots of someone’s everyday life. He continued this work over a period of three decades before it was published in 2003 under the name “A Story Book Life”. The picture below of the woman ironing is fairly typical example of this work. It initially has the appearance of a spontaneous shot of everyday life but on further examination it becomes clearer that it is a carefully staged and lit fiction. The work is a cross between documentary and advertising photography having subject matter more common in the documentary world mixed with the staging and styling used in the advertising world.
In the early 1990’s diCoricia worked on a series of work called Hustlers where he created portraits of rent boys in the US. At the time there was some controversy around this work because diCorcia had paid his subjects to photography them. In fact diCorcia paid his subjects the same hourly rate they charged for sex although in interviews since he has said that he believed that many of them charged him more than their rate. The picture below of “Brent from Des Monies” has characteristics that are common in this work, the portrait is taken a night against the backdrop of a motel, giving it a slightly seedy look and the figures often seem to pose in a relatively feminine way.
Following on from the publication of A Story Book Life diCoricia travelled the world photographing people in urban environments in this work he would hide lights which would illuminate a random subject picking them out from the crowd. The picture below taken in Tokyo is a typical example from this phase of his work which he called “Street Work”. The salaryman carrying is lunch in a paper bag in the foreground is caught in diCoricia’s light and thus really stands out from the other figures around him. As is typical of many of this series of pictures the figure also appears expressionless and really detached from the people around him. It is really quite surprising that the people in this series of work seem to be unaware or purposely ignoring what must have been bright lights.
In the early 2000s diCoricia created a body of work call “Lucky 13” that featured pole dancers hanging upside down. He has said in interviews that this work was created in reaction to the events of 9/11 with the upside and falling symbolising the people who jumped from the 80th floor of the World Trade Center. The picture below “Ephihany” illustrates the theme of falling from this work, it is hard to believe that the woman is not actually falling but effectively walking on the ceiling holding herself in place with the pressure of her thigh against the pole.
Heads where diCoricia hung a flash light in scaffolding in Times Square in New York and set up a hidden camera to capture images of people illuminated by the light. The light was setup very carefully and gives the images diCorcia’s trademark cinematic or advertising feel while leaving the background pitch black. The pictures in the heads series are fascinating, to an extent banal and quite stunning. They show ordinary people going about their everyday lives with no knowledge that they have been photographed.
Head #10 below is one of photographs diCoricia included in the series it is a very well-lit portrait of what looks like a sulky teenager with an expression that seems so natural. It is hard to believe that a picture like this was taken at random although it is equally hard to image such a natural look be achieved in a posed shoot. However, as diCoricia took more than 4000 photographs with this setup over a period of two years and only published seventeen it is clear that while a random approach like this can create great pictures the success rate is fairly low.
Finally in recent year diCoricia has worked on a project called “East of Eden” in which he focuses on themes of banality and decay in modern life. diCoricia has said that this work was “provoked by the collapse of everything, which seems to me to be a loss of innocence. People thought they could have everything. And then it just blew up in their faces”.
The series of work started as a reaction to the crash in 2008 and includes images like the one below that shows a woman in what we must assume is a luxury hotel room staring across a harbour at major city (maybe New York?) while in the corner and ignored television shows a tornado or giant water spout that is presumably wreak havoc elsewhere in the world.
Another image in the series “The Hamptons” features too dogs caught on camera as they apparently gaze at a television showing a pornographic film. While this is an obviously comic and preposterous scene it does project a message that today wester society can corrupt anything.
Throughout his work diCoricia has concentrated on capturing the ordinary but presenting it in an extraordinary way from his early work in A storybook Life” through to his more recent work in “East of Eden” he has created carefully presented tableaux which have a very cinematic feel that make the view think they are looking through stills from a film. Even when he is creating more candid photographs in “Heads” or “Street work” he still has worked hard to retain this cinematic feel through very cleaver if unobtrusive lighting.