Der Greif X MPB: Behind the Image with Kerr Cirilo


On May 16th we hosted a “Der Greif X MPB: Behind the Image” Instagram Live with artist Kerr Cirilo. Kerr Cirilo, the recipient of our Guest Room scholarship for Guest Room: David Campany gave us an in-depth look into his practice and his series "As We Mourn Other Sons". Here we are sharing more images from the series and some of the questions which Cirilo generously answered for us during the Live.

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Der Greif: Thanks for joining us. Firstly, could you tell us what the scholarship means for you?

Kerr: I'm currently finishing up my MFA here in Providence, and I have three weeks before I graduate. I don't actually have a digital camera that I work with personally. So the scholarship is really going to go toward hopefully acquiring one, which will be nice.

Der Greif: Sounds like it came at a really good time. In general, do you work with the cameras at your university? What gear are you using?

Kerr: Yeah, I shot the image which was selected for Guest Room with the Fuji GFX. It seems like overkill to be using a digital medium format camera for something I've only printed no bigger than 16 by 20. Now I shoot with the Canon R5.

Der Greif: That's mirrorless, right? Can you tell us about the backstory behind the image which was featured in Guest Room: David Campany?

Kerr: I was shooting with the Fuji GFX, which is a massive camera, really with the intention to see if I could make it really large. I wasn't really thinking about the implications of what my image would mean when it goes beyond life-size and becomes architecture. I'm still grappling with scale. However, when I was shooting, it marked the beginning of an iterative studio practice. I would build a set, capture multiple images, dismantle the set, and repeat the process. I usually do this three to five times during one studio session. While troubleshooting, I had three different studio visitors. My neighbors, helped me properly focus the camera on the stool since I was shooting alone. It was quite hectic. Interestingly, the initial image I was shooting didn't end up being the one I ultimately used. Those were just experiments that I was playing around with based on the various artifacts littered throughout my studio.

Der Greif: So the image itself is a self-portrait then. That process of experimentation, which takes you in a surprising direction toward a new result, is so exciting.

Kerr: The process of experimentation has led me to tear apart my photographic images and reassemble them through collage. It has been quite maddening, but I believe it is a response to the intense pace of production that I wasn't accustomed to. It also reflects my complex and tumultuous relationship with photography.

Der Greif: Do you mean the rate of production within grad school or just in general?

Kerr: Yeah, within grad school. I just had rolls and rolls of really big prints, and it was just collecting dust. It was this graveyard of images that I really wanted to exist again, but in order for it to exist again, I had to re-kill it.

Der Greif: This is something that people, I guess, who aren't involved in artistic practice, they don't realize that all the things you produce, they need to live somewhere. And after school it's a bit like, do I rent a storage place, what do I do?

Kerr: I feel for the sculptors. It's nice to be a photographer. At least I can roll them up.

Der Greif: So the theme of the Guest Room you’re a part of is “the Meanwhile”. How does your work relate to that concept?

Kerr: Yeah, I think when looking at "Meanwhile," there are two modes to consider: the intermediary and the simultaneous. Initially, I believed I was primarily operating in the intermediary mode by repurposing backdrops. In many other images, the backdrops were... In one instance, it was the American flag, while in others, it was Google Street View. These sites, temporarily frozen, then transform the flag into a symbol for America as a whole. Similarly, the Google Street View of a location serves as a substitute for a specific place, despite the presence of people and the specific time of day. Reproducing and re-entering that space allowed me to contemplate the "meanwhile" as a paradoxical intermediary moment, while also acknowledging its simultaneous nature as it becomes fixed through the image.

Der Greif: That sounds like a very relevant consideration right now within photography and the role of images in general.

Kerr: Yeah. It's been something that's been haunting me.

Kerr Cirilo, "Install Shots 2", from “As We Mourn Other Suns” by Kerr Cirilo.

Der Greif: Well, it's good to be haunted for artistic practice. So, with the symbolism of the American flag that you were just getting into, it's easy to read the theme of identity into your work. Is that a main theme of your work, could you expand on the themes in your photography?

Kerr: Yeah, I genuinely believed that my work was centered around identity. It marked the earnest beginning of my attempt to explore the complexities of identity intertwined with colonialism, specifically my own identity. I was born in the Philippines and raised in Hawaii. When I moved to the mainland United States for my undergraduate studies, it presented a different dynamic in navigating the American Empire. Transitioning from Hawaii, with its significant Filipino population, to predominantly white spaces posed unique challenges. As I tried to understand my family's experiences as immigrants and how we navigate the American Empire, I started creating what I perceived as deeply personal diaristic portraits. These portraits delved into the history of imperialism in the Philippines and examined the preservation of the Filipino identity. From its origin to its preservation, I was interested in how images functioned as expressions of identity and as mechanisms that both shape and police that identity. For example, I observed how the colonization of lived experiences seeps into everyday situations, such as my mom posting about a Fourth of July party on Facebook. I can't recall the exact source, but there's a quote that resonates with me: "Colonization is not an event; it's an ongoing process." Through my photography, I aimed to explore this notion and discovered that my true concern lay within the image itself and its circulation within the empire, as well as its historical association with imperialism. This realization was significant for me.

Der Greif: Wow, thanks for sharing that with us! It’s been great speaking with you Kerr. We’re excited to see where your practice takes you.

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