Inside Anna King’s Photos of Pleasure and Tedium

The Daring Magazine
Magazine

“My visual language is a little chaotic, human.” The photographer revels in wild, disorienting photos that turn the everyday into magic.


It’s just that watching people do everyday things is really interesting, Anna King says. They are reenacting this YouTube video of a woman refilling jars with food in the pantry of some rural house. “This is how I store all of my food,” Anna says waving over an invisible arrangement of dry goods, and then laughs for thinking this is so mesmerizing. They can’t help but watch people go about their routine, they tell me, especially when it comes to their body language. They stop for a beat to think, and then they blurt out: “I’m nosy!”

Anna, a photographer of spontaneous romps and subtle details, is tucked in a hoodie and talking with me over Zoom from their aunt’s house, pouncing on openings to laugh and muse about pretty much anything. They tell me they love watching these personal vlogs and all kinds of TV. Even when they’re watching a bad movie, there may be just one scene or one note in the background music that wins them over and it becomes an obsession, a clip they have to keep listening to.

Anna works instinctively, prying open new possibilities as they go and quickly scrapping photos or entire projects that feel stale. “I need to do something different, or I’ll just get stuck in the same box that I’ve been living in,” they say.

Their use of light, playful and unstaged, floods images with a casual and immediate sincerity. Much like Nan Goldin and Ryan McGinley, they champion a gritty photography style, and their pictures pack profound and raw emotional power. Even the party photos, the most buoyant of their work, are tempered with a pensive undertone that’s not obvious at first, but that everyone can relate to. While you are distracted by the sparkling jokes and loose framing, they are quietly reaching for the deep nooks of your psyche. One snapshot shows a party girl standing in a kitchen thinking, another shows friends bursting with blitzed exuberance. Anna is of and near the life of the party, an observer, documentarian, appreciator of everything. They’re letting you in on the fun of it all, pushing the line between liveliness and disorientation.

In two other series, developed in tandem, Anna captures details from friends’ closets and eerie scenes from home in Alabama, creating a constellation of vignettes that are refreshingly direct and span a wide range of emotions.

In their photos, as in life, they are working to defy expectations. They sneak out of all of the boxes that people want to trap them in: the queer photographer, the Black photographer, the Southern photographer. As they make more photos in the coming years, it will be interesting to see what critics and peers fixate on and how that empowers Anna to keep making the pictures they want to see in the world.
Anna King, Glamour
Anna King, Nothing Fake
Anna King, Fresh Air
Anna King, Red Door
Anna King, My Beanie Babies
Anna King, TJ Birthday
Anna King, VASA Halloween Party, 2019
The Daring: In what ways does being from Alabama influence your work?

Anna King: I grew up in Opelika. Then in Auburn, Salem a little bit, and then back to Auburn. I’ve been around the whole area of Lee County in Alabama. That’s my resting grounds. My family history in Alabama goes back to slavery. And growing up there, you can’t run away from history because they’re constantly trying to teach kids, “Hey, we messed up, now we’re learning to be a better country and state.” But they’re not really learning to be better. So it’s a weird experience.

People are curious about my life in Alabama, but they don’t realize that my life didn’t begin until I left Alabama. People expect me, as a Black queer artist, to make Black queer work. To trigger-porn them with how terrible life was in Alabama or how terrible it was being gay in the South. And I don’t want to make work just because people think it will sell well or because it’s what people think I should be making.

TD: There’s a sense of motion running through your photos, and you’ve said that TV and movies have influenced you greatly. How so?

AK: My mom didn’t put a limit on what I could watch. She gave me the remote and said, “Here, don’t watch anything bad.” That’s how it went.

I like movies with the wackiest characters, the ones who don’t worry about fitting into society even though they’re expected to. Austin Powers is just trying to live a groovy life. And Captain Jack’s just looking for the rum. How are they surviving? They have some weird sense of luck that gets them through whatever situation. It’s like Looney Tunes and Adult Swim. There’s no real limit to what’s going on because there’s no need to have a limit. I love how they express stuff. It’s fearless.

So, when I take pictures, I just ride out what happens. I look at the first few photos, and if they’re really bad, I’m like, I’m overthinking this. Then, I either stop the project or switch to something else for a moment. Why am I thinking so hard about making the perfect piece when my favorite cartoon, Robot Chicken, is nothing perfect? Perfection’s a weird thing to think it exists at all.

Movies give me that shiver, where I can fully relate to what’s happening in a scene. The Lighthouse, that whole movie confused me. But the soundtrack is so lively and eerie that I feel like I’m in the movie walking on the wooden steps as I listen to it. And I actually look behind me because I get a little bit scared. I love that this soundtrack can still make me feel paranoid and confused, just like I felt when watching the movie. I listened to it when I was making photos for Haunted Alabama.
Inside Anna King’s Photos of Pleasure and Tedium
Copyright The Daring Magazine 2022
Updated Dec 2021
Location New York City
Topics Media, News
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