Body in Peril: The Photographs of Roe Ethridge

Roe Ethridge is not particularly known for making album covers; his photographs appear on only a handful. Then again, that handful includes more than its share of brilliant gems. His portrait of Andrew W.K. for the cover of I Get Wet -- an iconic image of the musician’s bloodied face -- is arguably one of the most recognizable album covers ever made. Another standout is his photo for Cat Power’s Moon Pix. It’s a simple black-and-white shot of Chan Marshall in a jean jacket, surrounded by magnolia blossoms; yet the expression of vulnerability and hope on her face perfectly encapsulates the quiet magic that made that beautiful, intimate recording stand apart from the background noise of the nineties.

I don’t remember how I met Roe, but I remember the first time I saw his work, at a party at Carrie Przybilla’s house in Ansley Park. Carrie was then Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at Atlanta’s High Museum, so there was plenty of art on her walls; but a particular framed photograph caught my eye. Although it was like a portrait in its composition (a head and shoulders, more or less centered), it wasn’t a portrait, exactly, because the subject’s face was blurred, the patterned background in sharp focus. And it was pretty, which wasn’t particularly a thing in art at that moment; but it was pretty in a subtly unsettling way. I liked it so much that I asked Carrie about the artist and actually remembered his name.

Roe and I later became friends, which always makes it difficult to be objective about someone’s work; but his success speaks for itself. His work is in permanent collections at a number of major museums, including MoMA, MOCA, and the Tate Modern; he’s had gallery shows all over the world, won prizes and honors too numerous to mention, and his commercial work has graced the pages of publications running the gamut from Vice to Wired to The New York Times and everything in between. It has been over twenty years since the night I noticed that not-quite-a-portrait on the wall at Carrie’s house.

Yet the quality I liked in that picture – that undertone of perfect wrongness, or fucked-up-ness, as Roe himself might put it – still gets mentioned, and often, by art critics writing about his work. Words like Lynchian and unsettling tend to come up; and yet a good percentage of his photographs are pleasing to the eye. In short, Roe’s approach is difficult to parse. With subjects that range from moldy fruit, sinking rental cars, and strange Santa Clauses, to outtakes from fashion shoots, to the artist’s own family and friends, there’s a certain evasiveness in his pictures. He seems to be seeking, always, to problematize the simplest things; yet he does so in a way that lacks the slightest note of aggression or challenge. Instead, it’s more of a bemused and inclusive what are we doing and why? Or maybe just what the fuck?

Roe was kind enough to take time to speak with me for Cover Our Tracks, and the result is the wide-ranging conversation below, which begins with art and music, and ends with The Love Boat and a black eye. Like his work, Roe is disarmingly charismatic on the surface -- funny and warm -- yet he maintains a certain reserve. And, like his work, he never hesitates to take the dark turn; transcribing our talk, I was struck by how often we returned to subjects like mortality, personal injury, and other stark uncertainties of life.

Outtake from Andrew W.K. - I Get Wet by Roe Ethridge.

Outtake from Andrew W.K.'s I Get Wet album cover session by Roe Ethridge.

LKH: Hi, Roe. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

RE: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

LKH: So, I’m going to try to steer away from things that you’ve been asked a lot, because I feel like you must be tired of answering those questions. But the first thing I want to ask about, which has been asked a lot, is the famous Andrew W.K. cover image you did.

RE: Well, initially, Andrew had the idea to do a picture of him holding an axe with blood dripping off of it. So, whatever -- I was game for anything that he wanted to try. But either he couldn’t get an axe, or he found one, but then he didn’t want to walk through the neighborhoods carrying an axe. The official story is that he smashed himself in the face with a brick and his nose started bleeding.

But the truth is that Andrew was making sort of, heavy metal faces and gestures, and doing really extreme stuff. Then he went in the bathroom and did whatever he did to get the blood. And when he came back out he was going back to that same thing -- just sort of over-the-top expressions. Then there were just a couple of frames where I was like, “Just look into the camera, no expression. Just do nothing.”

It was pretty clear as soon as we saw that Polaroid that it was like, “That’s the one,” you know? Because there was something about that combination of the comic book gore with just that quiet resolve in his face – you knew in that moment that, whatever your intentions were, this kind of unintended thing was so much better. So that was a picture we made, I guess, in 1999 --

Fischerspooner by Roe Ethridge.

Fischerspooner ‎– "Emerge" 12" (FS Studios, 2001) and Fischerspooner Dancers by Roe Ethridge.

LKH: You were doing a lot of stuff for Fischerspooner.

RE: Yeah, I was I was good friends with Casey, who was Cindy Green’s roommate – Cindy, who went on to have Libertine. She’s a creative person, was always involved in something cool, and she was a friend of mine from Atlanta College of Art. When I used to go up to New York I would stay at their apartment, and we got to be friends and had some generational sensibilities and things in common. There was something appealing about being the in-house photographer for Fischerspooner. The image was such a big part of the brand – and that was before there was such a thing as branding, so we were playing with this idea ironically, the idea of super-hyping something.

LKH: The whole branding thing -- it’s almost oppressive now.

RE: Yeah, it’s ubiquitous. We were doing it as a sort of almost like ironic performance art – I mean, their first show was at Starbucks at Astor Place – kind of just impromptu. People were like, “What the fuck?”

Then they did a show at Windows on the World and Andrew was helping them out, and we just got to talking through that connection, and I took some pictures for him, and that was the most notable one.

Outtakes from Cat Power - Moon Pix by Roe Ethridge.

Outtakes from Cat Power's Moon Pix album cover session by Roe Ethridge.

LKH: Let’s talk about the album cover you did for Chan Marshall. That was before you left Atlanta, right?

RE: No, that was in New York. I think it was the first year I lived in New York; I think it was the summer of ‘98. I had a roommate in a loft in Williamsburg and my roommate had, like, a breakdown and had to leave the city. And I was working on those pictures of the trees on the highway medians –

LKH: I remember that!

RE (laughs): I came back from one of those sojourns down to Atlanta – I drove down from New York to Atlanta, and photographed in between. And I remember it was August or September and it was so fucking hot – I didn’t understand why it was hotter in New York than in Georgia, you know? It was like this E-Z Bake Oven loft apartment. But my ex-roommate had left all her clothes – and she had great clothes, you know?

So, when Chan reached out – “We should take a picture, maybe we can do something for the album cover,” we had a rack of clothes to pick from. I set something up with these fake silk magnolias – I guess I’d brought them up from Atlanta -- and she picked out a jean jacket from the stuff. It was one of those things where we … like, you know, it was very…

LKH: Very what?

RE: I mean… I was freaking out! I didn’t really spend that much time with Chan in Atlanta, so it was it like, “Oh my gosh!” And I’d always had such a super crush on Chan from the Fellini’s Pizza days.

LKH: Me too. Everyone did!

RE (laughs): When I worked at Fellini’s on Ponce, I can remember going to Little Five Points and getting pizza boxes and just being like (nervous voice): “Hey, Chan!” And she’d be back there smoking cigarettes at the cash register: “What do you want?” All saucy and flirty and stuff, and it would just put you in the weirdest state. It’s like being like a teenager – I mean I guess you’re pretty much like a teenager in your twenties, but I mean being, like, a thirteen-year-old.

LKH: You never really stop being a teenager when it comes to crushes and stuff, I don’t think.

RE: I know, right? So, we caught up a little bit and then took a picture. And it was one of those magic situations where… well, I was shooting Type 64 – is that even what it’s called? I haven’t shot film a while, but it’s that black-and-white Polaroid film where you get a Polaroid positive print and a negative. I think it was the first or second one that I pulled, and I looked at it, and I was like, “Do you know what this is?” And she was like… (whispers): “Yes.”

LKH: Yes! That cover is funny because it’s such a good portrait. She looks so innocent and shy. She has a toughness about her -- like you were saying -- but something softer comes through in that picture. I really like it. You’ve worked with her since then, right?

RE: Yeah, yeah. I took her picture for a fashion magazine one time. And then I did her portrait for The New Yorker. We hadn’t been in touch in a long time. That was also, I guess, before – well, maybe Instagram existed at that time, but it was before Instagram was so… like it is now. I’m on social media now. I wasn’t then.

Chan Marshall in Spin Magazine and The New Yorker by Roe Ethridge.

Chan Marshall in Spin Magazine (2006) and The New Yorker (2012) by Roe Ethridge.

LKH: What do you think about Instagram?

RE: I don’t know. It keeps changing in the moment. I have one particular negative thing with Instagram right now, where there’s this one person that liked all of my pictures for a while, and you know how it’s like a few names come up?

LKH: Mmm-hmm.

RE: And so that person seemed to always be the first name, and then it got infrequent, and then it was like, “Are they just not liking stuff, or is it that other people’s names are pushing their name off to the side or something?” And then it got to the point where I’m like, “Ah, I don’t care.” And now it’s gotten to the point where I’m like, “How do I get this person to start consistently liking my shit again?” (laughs)

LKH (laughs): Well, I meant what do you think about Instagram aesthetically? As an artist. But I totally get what you’re saying, and I do that too. There are certain people where I get so excited if I see they clicked ‘like’ on something I put up.

RE: Right. Well, it’s funny because initially it seemed like it was just a crass way to self-promote. Before I was on it, I looked at it like, “Well, that’s already happening.” Because people repost your editorial, or they see something about your art show and repost that. So, the question is, do I wanna co-participate in that self-promotion, or is it going to be something more personal? But it became obvious that you have to do it. It’s too hard to keep explaining why you’re not on Instagram.

But aesthetically, yeah, should I try and make it into a thing where it’s artful or considered or conceptual? Then there’s some silly pictures where it’s like, “Oh this is more fun, just having silly shit out in the world that you took a picture of, and people are like, oh my god, it’s funny.” And you’re like, “They love me. They love me in Instaworld.”

LKH (laughs): It seems like it’d be oppressive to have it – but some people do – to have it all your serious artistic concept, or whatever, and never put any little personal thing up there.

RE: Yeah, no. I think that people smartly use it as a business platform. And I think that’s cool. I follow people who do that, and it’s a great tool, of course. The confusing thing for the photographer is that part of what made your job special is you understood how to use the equipment. Now, everybody has the same equipment: you use the phone.

LKH: But do you think there’s no difference? Even for you, with a trained eye, there’s no difference between and iPhone 7 photo and some crazy kind of Ektachrome large format – I mean I don’t know what I’m talking about, but you know what I mean.

Durango in the Canal, Belle Glade, FL and Pigeon by Roe Ethridge.

Durango in the Canal, Belle Glade, FL, 2011 and Pigeon, 2001 by Roe Ethridge.

RE: No, I’m not saying that there’s no difference, but I actually like it. I think it’s just another tool. I’m working on a show now, for a gallery in Brussels, and somebody took one of my fashion editorial photos, made with a big camera, whatever -- a grown-up camera. And they did something with the image, and I was like, “Oh man, I love how they fucked with my image,” and it’s stayed in the edit for this show. It’s gonna be very pixelated when you get up close to it, but I love how it breaks up, you know?

So, not for everything, no. I wouldn’t do a whole show of that, but I feel like it’s just such a part of our world. I mean, I like this idea of multiple voices in harmony-disharmony. These things become a kind of inadvertent collaboration. Someone takes your thing and does something to it. It’s different than what I would do, but maybe it’s better. ‘Cause I would think about it, or something, and they’re just doing it. The image is a girl singing into a microphone, and it became four girls singing, all in one frame. It becomes this chorus. And the show in Brussels has this mythological aspect to it, so I needed that chorus, for thematic reasons, and getting that from a random Chinese-Filipino boy who likes fashion photography and made a composite of my pictures is… you know? It’s really weird.

Joybang! CD and single artwork.

Atlanta years: CD and single artwork for Ethridge's band, Joybang!

LKH: Let’s talk about the Joybang cover, which I put up on Instagram—

RE: Oh Jeez, when I saw that I was like, oh man. Not my proudest --

LKH (laughs): Is there a story behind the cover image, do you remember?

RE: Well, I did that. I took that photo. I was doing these little tableaux things at the time. I was in and out of ACA during that time, and I think it was kind of like I was commissioning myself to do it and then taking it to the guys (laughs). It wasn’t just an artwork that I was making for myself; it was with the intent for it to be for the cover. And you know, looking back on it, I kind of wish that I had not done that.

LKH: Why?

RE: I wish that it had been something that I’d made as an artwork. But I still like that idea of kind of taking the piss by being businesslike. Like, “I have no idea about professionalism, so I’m just gonna pretend to be professional.” (Laughs). It’s the story of my life.

LKH: That’s kind of what I do, too. Like, “I’ve seen movies, I’ve seen what writers do in movies, we’re emotional and we’re in our pajamas –“

RE: Right! Like, I don’t know! It was the same when I started doing commercial photography. But yeah, so, the commercial artist brings it to the band, and they’re like, “Yeah man, I like it! The cow is singing, man, it’s cool!” Like in Spinal Tap: “It’s blacker than black,” you know? Like, I used to take a briefcase to shows.

LKH: Ha! When was this?

RE: In between Needle and Joybang.

LKH: Whatever happened with Joybang? I remember you telling me – or was it Needle that had a weird ending?

RE: They both were kind of weird endings.

LKH: Let’s start with Needle, then. You guys had like label interest, right?

RE: Yep, yep. No, it was going good. And what the fuck did happen? It’s really weird. I mean -- I think that you know this already -- it started out as just a stunt. You know, Thys [McGoran] would say, “It’s just a publicity stunt band.” The idea was to never play an actual venue. We would only play ---

LKH: Like strip clubs and stuff.

RE: Right. And this is why I liked the Fischerspooner guys so much. It was a similar idea of doing it wrong, but right – “getting it exactly wrong.” That’s why we played at the Clermont Lounge. We were the first band since Jerry Lee Lewis to play at the Clermont Lounge.

LKH: I didn’t know that!

RE: On Valentine’s Day. And that was really because Thys was such a problem child or whatever -- you know, he just wanted to create issues! But Clermont Lounge was like walking into a David Lynch film set. And we wore, like, satin jackets and stretchy pants and Beatles boots. With pearls, and all kinda glammed up. It was the perfect place. I mean it was made to be played by Needle.

LKH: Yeah, and then everybody played there after that. It became a normal thing.

RE: At some point we played at CBGBs, and Hilly was really into it. We had a good set and a decent crowd, which was rare there. Thys had this prop with the hanging light bulb thing, and he was spazzing out, and he broke the light bulb. I can’t remember if it was on purpose or not. But it was, like, hanging down in just the right spot, and he went up to sing, and it’s still plugged in, and zzzt. He electrocuted himself onstage (laughs). We just kept playing, and eventually, he got up.

LKH: He did seem like – I mean, I didn’t know him that well, but he seemed like someone who would be impossible to have any kind of business relationship with for very long.

RE: Yeah. Well, he was. But I do remember -- it was after that -- Hilly was like, “I want you guys to come back and do this CMJ type thing I’m doing.” He was trying to set up his own thing, like his version of CMJ, and it was pretty poor, but it got us taking ourselves seriously, and then this guy from Atlantic Records came around, and all of a sudden it was like, “What the fuck? Are we actually…?” Like, this joke band turned into a real band. And that kind of – you know, it’s the classic tale – that kind of messed it all up. And I don’t remember what the actual breakup was, but I remember our last show was New Year’s Eve at Masquerade –

LKH: Oh my god.

RE (laughs): Yeah. And there was like … nobody… there. It was just like, “This is so fucking sad, I cannot do it, I’m out.” And I think everybody else felt the same way.

LKH: New Year’s is always a good time to end something.

RE: Yeah. So… but I have amazing memories of it.

Refrigerator and Apples, Almonds, American Spirit by Roe Ethridge.

Refrigerator, 1999 and Apples, Almonds, American Spirit, 2017 by Roe Ethridge.

LKH: What are you working on now?

RE: It’s a gallery show in Brussels. I’ve been on a little bit of a tear. I had a survey show in October of 2016 in Cleveland – mid-career retrospective kind of thing -- and it was interesting and challenging. It’s a crazy-ass, anti-art, Zaha Hadid-designed building. It was one of those things where you’re like, “Well, I’m gonna sink or swim; we’ll see.” There was a lot of preparation, and a lot of other things were happening in my life at the same time, and I was realizing that I had to make some major changes health-wise and relationship-wise, and then, fucking… Hillary lost.

LKH: Yeah, that was a big—

RE: And Trump won. And it was like, “What in the fuck is going on?” And I had already planned that I was gonna have a show in February at Andrew Krebs. But it was like, “Maybe you shouldn’t do the show.” ‘Cause, you know, a white guy from the South taking pictures of, like, girls and football, or whatever…

LKH: Oh. Not the right cultural moment --

RE: Like, not exactly what the world seems to need three weeks after the inauguration of Douchebag-in-Chief, you know? But I knew because of what I was going through that I had to do it. If I quit, all the inspiration would be gone. I was really inspired coming back from that retrospective. It was almost like surviving a near-death experience. It’s like, “This is what I’ve done up to this point in my life.” Even though it’s not, you know? It’s not everything at all. It’s just sixty pictures, a curator put it together, it’s just mid-career. But it has a kind of finality… a little death to it.

LKH: Like your life flashing before your eyes kind of thing?

RE: Yeah. So, I felt like I’d survived so many things at that point, and I was really inspired, and I did this show at Andrew Krebs. I sort of snapped out of my world a little bit. I wouldn’t say that was because of anything cultural that was going on, though. It was more my own whims and, you know, my unconscious desire to make something fucked-up to put on the wall. It was one of those things where all that fucked-up stuff had to be happening for that work to happen.

But I’m going to have this show in Brussels with Barbara Gladstone. And I don’t know what happens after that. I don’t have anything booked. I continue to do my commercial work, but it does feel a little like… don’t get me wrong, I’m still running. I cannot see the tape at the end of this marathon. But I’m a little bit nervous about what happens after I finish the show at Gladstone. Is that it? Is that when I expire? Is it done? … Am I gonna die now?

LKH (laughs): That’s terrible! That’s just one of those things -- like thinking that you’re gonna die when you graduate high school, though. Everybody feels that way. It’s just something that happens when people don’t know what’s next.

RE: Exactly. And you know, the social context is certainly a part of the work. My show at Gagosian opened in September, and then three weeks later, the Weinstein news breaks, and then three weeks after that, it’s “MeToo” and that’s …. You know, I mean, I take pictures of women for fashion magazines, like, all the time. And I don’t even know --

LKH: Well, wait, what do you mean? Like… are you questioning your entire body of work because of those scandals?

RE: No, no. You know what’s funny is it’s almost like I’m having flashbacks to the early 90s at Atlanta College of Art. Because that was, like, the Second Wave moment or whatever, and when it hit, there was a sort of visceral shift. There was this group called Lilith – and I don’t even know if it’s true or not, or if I was being crazy or hysterical myself, but it was like, there was a sense of the power of this group – like, they were gonna censor your shit if you got out of line.

Double Jess Gold and Model Prints on Broken Pencil by Roe Ethridge.

Double Jess Gold, 2015 and Model Prints on Broken Pencil, 2014 by Roe Ethridge.

LKH: So, it’s more just like – in the cultural moment that we’ve arrived at, how does that stuff change? A picture of a woman, taken by a man, how does that have to change? The male gaze and that kind of thing?

RE: I think that I’ve always had this wrestling match with that situation, and it’s been because of that time. I mean, the time that I was in school, where we sort of arced out of the tragedy of AIDS decimating the art community. That was the thing you had to reconcile with, but immediately following that, it was like, “Pick your issue. What are you speaking about? Is it theoretical? Is it conceptual?” Whatever. It felt like that’s what you’re supposed to do. And, trying to be the good boy, I always wanted to do that, but I could never do it, and finally when the dam broke for me was when I quit thinking in those terms. It’s still conceptual or theoretical or whatever, but it isn’t “right.” Whatever it’s gonna be is gonna be my fucked-up version of it.

That’s what got me off of that treadmill of feeling like there was a certain way that you were supposed to do it, you know? I’m like, “This is art. It’s supposed to be fucked up.” Part of that was becoming a commercial photographer in New York City. My first assignment was for Allure: “How to Put on Lipstick.” This beautiful Australian woman shows up, and it’s January or February and her lips are so chapped, there’s skin peeling off, and meanwhile I’m like, “I don’t even know if it’s legal for me to be here, do I need a permit to take these pictures?” This is another story of me faking my professionalism. I’m pretending, “Okay, I know what I’m doing.” But I have no idea.

So, we were taking the pictures, and I was telling her bad jokes and one of the pictures is of her laughing at my stupid joke and I’m like “That’s the one! That’s the one!” I wound up putting that one in the Greater New York show at PS1 in ’99, and people were fucking freaking out. Like, “What the fuck is this!”

LKH: Because it subverts all that stuff.

RE: Yeah. It’s like the oil in the puddle, you notice both things. It’s like, “Wow I didn’t think about the oil or the puddle until I saw them mixing and it was so weird and so unexpected,” or something.

Optical Allusions by Roe Ethridge for W Magazine.

"Optical Allusions" by Roe Ethridge for W Magazine (2013).

LKH: That reminds me of those photos you did that were inspired by the Residents. With the eyeball heads. For W, maybe?

RE: Yeah, that was for W. The theme of the season was “Op,” so it was really just trying to problem-solve: “How do you make something optical about pattern and graphics,” and me and Giovanna, the stylist, were talking with the art director, and one or the other of them was obsessed with the Residents. I wasn’t that obsessed with the Residents but I liked them. So, I called this prop person I’d worked with and she just fucking made those eyeball things. It wasn’t so much about the Residents as it was it was inspired by them.

LKH: You know that self-portrait of you with a black eye? What’s the story behind that? I wondered if it had anything to do with inspiring the Andrew W.K. picture.

RE: Hmmm. Well, it was around the same time. I believe the black eye picture came before the Andrew W.K. picture. I also think, though, that there was a little moment right then where it felt like there was something about that image of the injured person… Because also, things like Jackass were happening, you know? It was sort of something that was in the air. Body in peril – or not even peril but just ignoring the physical self.

LKH: Like a Sacrifice Your Body kind of thing? But that was later --

RE: Sacrifice Your Body, yeah, the book was later, but that phrase was from earlier --– did I tell you about that?

LKH: No, we didn’t talk about that; tell me that story.

RE: That was something the moms used to say in the stands at football games in DeKalb County! The Dunwoody high school moms would like – you’d hear them, like maybe ten of them, all together, screaming: “Sacrifice your body!”

LKH: That’s messed up!

RE: So messed up. I can remember being on the field and, like, trying to play against these awesome DeKalb County athletes – I mean, you know, we were a good team, but these guys were great athletes -- and I can remember hearing that from the stands and just being like, “Shut up!” And at the same time, maybe not being able to consciously process everything that it’s about. Like, it’s about Jesus, and it’s about football,

and --

LKH: Kind of the ultimate lethal cocktail of weird suburban ideology --

RE: Southern Christian Gothic –

LKH: Although it’s Southern but I could see it happening in Connecticut too. On the Lacrosse field, or whatnot. Whatever your New England competitive sport of choice might be.

RE: Yeah! As a matter of fact, I met a guy a who said that when he played Lacrosse in Connecticut or Pennsylvania or somewhere, the athletes used to say that to each other. Kind of jokingly, but still: sacrifice your body. And I just heard it the other night, too, when I was watching a basketball game. (In a sports announcer voice): “You know, when somebody is willing to sacrifice their body like that, it really lets the team know…” Or whatever. And I mean, it’s like, I get it, but…

LKH: Especially with what we know now about concussions and CTE –

RE: I know, right? I mean, it was kind of a joke before that football players had, you know, mental problems – you know, “They got their bell rung one too many times.” But now it’s like, “Actually, yeah, that’s… that’s accurate.”

LKH: So that’s kind of a long-running theme for you.

RE: Yeah. But I mean, also, in the case of that book and that show -- like in so many of my shows -- it sort of has an underpinning connection to my relationship with my mother. Like in therapy, it’s all about your mother. Although after I finished the book, I showed it to her, and I said: “The name of it is Sacrifice Your Body,” and she’s like “Mmmhmm?” And I’m like, “You don’t wanna say anything about that?” And she’s like, “Oh, I never said that! It was the other moms that said it!” Never mind that it was a family joke. But maybe I just assumed she’d said it. I don’t know.

Thanksgiving, 1984 and Bonne Maman and Football by Roe Ethridge.

Thanksgiving, 1984, 2009 and Bonne Maman and Football, 2013 by Roe Ethridge.

LKH: I think you should re-confront her about this. Let’s get her on a conference call.

RE (laughs): Right. But the twisted irony is that I wound up with a fractured vertebrae halfway through the season in my junior year. It was against Tucker, and we lost by one touchdown, and it was my guy that scored, and then it was like, “Something is really wrong with my back.” So I did, literally, sacrifice my body. But it also saved my life. Because I wasn’t that great of a football player, but I would’ve played another year. And there was family pressure to keep playing, and I might have gone to a crappy college so I could try to play there...

LKH: And then you wouldn’t have gone to art school, and who knows what you’d be doing now, or what your life would be like.

RE: Exactly, yeah, once I was done with it. I mean, I was already interested in art anyway, and like, my coach called me “Madonna,” ‘cause my girlfriend was like, the new wave girl at the school, I think? So, my name was Madonna, somehow? I don’t know.

LKH: Sports culture is weird. You know, it just is. All that masculinity stuff is just as weird as the intense femininity stuff that Southern girls deal with.

RE: Yeah, it is.

Self-portraits by Roe Ethridge.

Self-portraits from 2000 and 2007 by Roe Ethridge.

LKH: If not more so. Loring told me she heard you tell a good story once about that self-portrait of you wearing that white captain’s hat -- that you’d tried to get Chan to wear it?

RE: That was Chan in the Chanel moment. I don’t know if you remember that she was a Karl Lagerfeld muse for several years. She was super popular in France, and it was kind of another wave for Chan there. I guess it was a picture for Spin and I rented this captain’s uniform from a prop store. I wasn’t thinking of the shoot like a fashion thing but they brought some fashion clothes, and I kept trying to put the captain’s hat on her and she was like, “yeah, I don’t know…”

LKH: But what was the idea? Was it just a random thing? Was it the masculine-feminine theme or, like, a Captain and Tenille kind of thing?

RE (laughs): I guess, you know, I guess it was. I had started working on the Rockaway, NY book and so there was this sort of nautical theme. And maybe it was a little bit like, she’s …you know, what do they call them, they sing by the sea—

LKH: Siren?

RE: Siren, right -- you know, luring people with her voice. So, I guess I got the hat for Chan to wear, and there was something kind of kitschy and siren-y and I think that’s how I was pitching it to her: “You’re a siren, and the ship wrecks, ‘cause your voice…”

LKH (laughs): “And like, in the wreckage, you find this man’s hat…”

RE: And she was just not interested. The dude from one of the Australian bands she’d played with was there hanging out, and she was just kind of like “Whatever.”

LKH: But so then how did you end up wearing the hat?

RE: I finally got to use the hat for this Vice shoot -- I had a girl in a bikini with that hat on, and it was like a pinup thing. Then I did this series of self-portraits with me in the hat and it was more like a Captain Stubing idea or something. God, I don’t know (laughs). You know, The Love Boat kinda thing.

LKH: It’s a funny picture. When we were talking about your self-portraits, we started jumping around from topic to topic, and I realize now you never really said why you had a black eye that day. Do you remember what happened?

RE: Oh, right. I was out at Montauk Point on New Year’s Day, 2000. I was on the rail, but I wanted to get close to the water, and no sooner had I thought, “That rock looks slippery,” did I go down and smash my head on the rock.

That black eye lasted for like six months. I told people that Matthew Barney head-butted me for a while, and I was surprised how many people took it to be true!

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