We've stuck our noses in other people's business for as long as we've existed—from old-town gossip and public executions in biblical times through the 20th century to their contemporary iteration via tabloids and reality TV, true crime documentaries, podcasts, and the like. There's a hunger ingrained in us for anything outside of ourselves. More recently, the over-sharing of every intimate (or mundane) moment of our daily lives with a sea of strangers might leave one perpetually (albeit unintentionally) fiending for an escape in all its shapes and forms.
Photographer Kristin Gallegos' four-part book series, Disappear Here, takes this fascination with persona and the details of the lives of others and spins it in a way both familiar and surreptitious. Each installment follows a character—spurned of imagination, dusted with real-life and fictional idols—about their day-to-day, which, while ordinary to them, is new and enigmatic to the outsider. You could liken it to playing dress-up as a child, losing yourself in a make-believe role and the world your imagination constructs for it; a melding of influence and creativity.
The latest and final installment of Disappear Here stars painter Tali Lennox as The Photographer—following The Dancer, The Writer, and The Singer, the subjects of the first three books, respectively, each played by an existing muse of Gallegos and limited to 100 signed copies per series. While their vocations vary, Gallegos' focus on strong, creative women navigating their craft and the isolation that often accompanies the pursuit of one's art is somewhat of a biographical exploration.
Growing up as a ballet dancer, followed by a successful career in fashion as a makeup artist, Gallegos fell naturally into photography in her early 30s. So, it was almost inevitable that this project would culminate with a study of a female photographer.
"Of all the characters in the series, The Photographer most closely mirrors my current life," remarks Gallegos, continuing, "but it is also meant as an homage to iconic female fashion and art photographers Deborah Turbeville and Sarah Moon. Both of them, like myself, discovered a passion for photography later in life after having other careers, and both made successful transitions to the medium full-time."
Gallegos' foray into photography began with an interest in the subjects that surrounded her. She moved from California to New York City in 2004, and, in addition to her makeup career, she held a strong presence in the nightlife scene, moonlighting as a DJ. The catalyst for her work? The fun and freeness of capturing her fellow creatures of the night on film. Her affinity for the past, particularly that of the 60s and 70s, seeded a distinct aesthetic immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with her work. She shoots almost exclusively on film—something that colors the Disappear Here series in particular—with an eerie sense of timelessness. The subjects of these books are women, determinedly chasing their dreams, sure of their talent, yet lost in a self-constructed abyss of contemplation, routine, power, and at times, loneliness.
"I wanted the choreography of the shots to feel voyeuristic, as though she is being watched and followed," Gallegos shares. "You may notice that there is a haunting quality, a darkness, in this final book which is absent from the others." One might say the same for the location in which it was shot and inspired by. Gallegos continues, "I was honored to pay special tribute to the city of New York (my former home of 15 years) and to the iconic Chelsea Hotel. Shooting at The Chelsea for a large portion of this series and other familiar haunts of mine felt surreal and was truly the ideal backdrop for this final diegesis."
New York City embodies a magnetic kind of grit and a sense of spontaneity that Gallegos' current home of Los Angeles helplessly lacks, despite its best efforts. It's hard to rid oneself of these tendencies once they've affected your nature, and it's served Gallegos' approach to photography in the best way possible. While meticulous in her planning of each project, part of what thrills her about shooting film is the element of surprise; no matter how much control you exercise while working, your perspective must stay adaptable.
"With digital, you tend to lose these cool moments because you're overanalyzing what you're seeing; you can immediately look at what you've just shot and start to nitpick. You start to adjust too many things. With this project, in particular, I wanted it to feel like film stills and as though I was just observing the muse going about her day. So things aren't supposed to be perfect. And I think if I shot it digitally, I would be too finicky, and then it takes the person out of the character—out of the moment. You're not really catching moments at all at that point."
Gallegos' love of movies likely plays a significant role in this approach. While the characters were inspired by her own personal experience, real-life idols, and fictional movie heroines, the overall look of each book was heavily influenced by films she loved. The Photographer draws from the 1978 thriller Eyes of Laura Mars starring Faye Dunaway, the expert cinematography of Gordon Willis in Alan J. Pakula's Paranoia Trilogy, and the iconic Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up (of which the main character was based on another of Gallegos' favorite photographers, David Bailey). Cinema not only allows for but feeds off of imperfection, mess, desire, and singular motive. Gallegos conceptualized the series as a cinematic glimpse into a 'day in the life,' built around a narrative oozing with mystery and emotion, focusing less on the perfected performance these characters might present and more on the in-between—the stories in the hidden.
"The series began with my past in The Dancer, transitioned into the fantasy world of my dreams represented by The Writer and The Singer, and is coming to an open-ended close with my current life within The Photographer. As you gaze upon her at home in the Chelsea Hotel, spy on her from across the streets of New York, and accompany her on her way to photoshoots, you also gaze upon me, reflected not only in her but in the city that shaped me."