Cecily and I go way back; in the summer of 2011 we attended Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Summer Intensive together. After we both graduated college, we both found ourselves living in NYC. Myself, as a photographer, and Cecily as a designer and filmmaker, but both of us remained intertwined in the world of dance, exploring choreography and meeting in the fall to have a discussion about the choreographic process. When deciding where to photograph Cecily for this project, we both knew the location shouldn't be picturesque - Cecily's work is raw and human, and I felt these images should be focused more heavily on expression rather than scenery. I decided we should shoot at night in the Lower East Side. I had never shot on film before at nighttime, but I think the images we captured turned out quite great. Check the photographs along with Cecily's interview below.
Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.
Cecily: I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and went to Tufts University in Boston for college. I studied computer science. In high school I really thought I wanted to study engineering, so I applied to the engineering school at Tufts. Halfway through college I said, "Wait a second. I don't actually really want to do engineering." I just sort of felt a little bit pressured into that. So I stuck with my major and I self-studied a lot. Tufts has a partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, so I took a lot of design classes there. Now I live in New York - I've been living here for about a year, and I'm a freelance video artist and digital designer just trying to find my way in this big world.
Allison: So how did you get into videography, filmmaking, and design?
Cecily: I came from a pre-professional dance background in grade school in high school, mostly in modern, ballet, and jazz. In college I was in an extracurricular dance company called Sarabande Dance Ensemble where I started choreographing and I became really into that and very serious about it within my school company context. From there I started filming myself dancing and would create little montages or short films, pair it with music, and sort of create a video piece out of it. That developed into a more artistic approach my senior year. I knew some people who curated independent art shows in the Boston area, and I started creating video art, movement-based pieces for that. The exhibition's called Polykhroma, and so through that I really found a voice with video art and dance film and performance art. Through a lot of self-studying, through freelance work, and through internships I honed my skills in video production.
Allison: What other artists, either from your medium or other mediums, inspire you?
Cecily: So I've always really been inspired by net art. Some specifics, Molly Soda, Petra Collins, Signe Pierce recently... in terms of aesthetic, I follow a lot of CGI artists and 3-D artists with holographic aesthetics. Signe Pierce is one of them, Jess Audrey Lynn, Nicole Ruggiero... a lot of Instagram names. They do more 3-D modeling, which I've always been interested in. It's kind of a very steep learning curve, but their general aesthetic I really like.
Allison: What are some of the inspirations and influences behind your work?
Cecily: I think coming from a choreography background, and that a lot of my early work was self-portraiture and filming myself, a lot of my work is inspired by my body and my personal depictions of my body and how the outside world perceives my body versus how I perceive my own body. I think body image and bodily autonomy and how that intersects with social constraints or expectations has been kind of a fundamental underlying tone of my work. I'm just going to be open about it - I've struggled with eating disorders and body image issues in the past especially with my dance background. It sort of was a way for me to take that anxiety and that internal struggle and deal with it and also create something out of it. I feel better about myself now, but whether that's causation or correlation, I don't know.
Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?
Cecily: One of the first professors I had through the Museum of Fine Arts, her name is Sophie Hodara... she was one of the first people who really convinced me to pursue something artistic and creative, and she gave me this confidence and reassurance that maybe this isn't just a dumb hobby or something I do on the side. There may be a future in this. She helped me with my first portfolio - this was when I was taking beginning graphic design. I think before then, it was my high school dance company director. Her name is Helen Hayes, and honestly, in elementary and middle school I wasn't dancing seriously. It was a recreational, few times a week thing, and then I on a whim choreographed for a youth choreography showcase that she was one of the judges for. She actually reached out to me after and asked me if I would audition for her youth company, and she ended up being one of my greatest mentors in high school and really helped me develop this creative voice originally through choreography, which then blossomed into something else. She was really the first person who told me, "Hey, you actually are pretty good at this."
Allison: Use three words to describe your style of art.
Cecily: Glitchy... Dreamlike... Shiny.
Allison: What's the most rewarding part of your medium?
Cecily: I think it's a way that really connects a lot of different aesthetics and aspects and things that I like. What I mean by that is that I've always loved music... I'm not a musician by any means, but I'm also a dancer, I'm also a choreographer. I am very moving-image based, and I do love film, movies, TV, and entertainment in general. I feel like it's a very natural and interesting way to put music and movement and images together.
Allison: What is your relationship between ideas of self and your art?
Cecily: I think that a lot of my art is autobiographical. Most of the themes come from personal struggles or personal stories that I've experienced. I think it's hard to create art that doesn't come from something somewhat personal, and I strongly believe that if you haven't really experienced it, unless you do tons and tons of research, it's really hard to accurately portray a message about what you are trying to say. I think it comes from a somewhat... "fraudulent" isn't the right word, but it's difficult. For me, it's always easiest to go back to what I know personally. That being said, I have a ton of respect for directors and artists who do communicate other peoples' stories in a respectful and accurate way. I think that's really hard, and it's something that I'm not necessarily that good at, which is why I try to stick to the personal.
Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City?
Cecily: My favorite thing is the creative freedom - I was working at a digital ad agency a little bit ago, and while I loved working there and while I loved working on the creative production team, at the end of the day they weren't my ideas - I was selling a message. I was selling someone else's message, and to have complete liberty over your own message I think is the most rewarding part. The worst part is when no one ever wants to pay you. I don't know - that's kind of a cop-out answer, but it does suck. I think this isn't really New York-based, but it's kind of a personal thing. I hope my parents never read this interview... they support me and they're proud of me and want to see me succeed, but I think fundamentally they don't really understand what I do. I wish that they did. I can't ask them to, but it's a little bit of a "Dang, maybe if I were just a software engineer who worked for Google" they would get it more. I remember showing them a piece that I made with one of my friends: he directed it and I danced in it, and I helped edit it. It was about mental illness and sort of suicide, or this internal self versus your external self within the lens of mental illness. I remember showing it to my parents and they thought it was supposed to be funny, and I was like, "That's not quite right," and they obviously didn't mean to hurt me or hurt my feelings, but I was like, "Oh... that's a bad take." I can't really blame them; I don't think they grew up in an artistically-enriching lifestyle like I have, but that was hard for sure.
Allison: Where do you see yourself heading with your art? What direction are you hoping to go in?
Cecily: I'm in the process of applying for grad school. I'm looking at commercial film and production-based programs, like directing and such. I feel like I'd like to get the more commercial side under my belt, and I feel like that would really help diversify my strengths and hone my narrative voice. Past that, I don't know. I can see myself working on and directing music videos, which is something I've begun to delve into. In a way that feels very comfortable and at-home for me based on music, dance, entertainment, video... all that.
Allison: How does your dance background influence your work with film?
Cecily: I think that whenever I listen to music I pretty much always imagine movement going along with it, or I move along to it - it's ingrained in me. I think it's easier for me to see a dynamic arc or how music ebbs and flows in a movement-based or image-based way, just from dancing and choreographing. I think in a way, producing a short film that's set to music, which is often what I do, is the video equivalent of choreographing a piece, and I tend to view my approach in the same way.
You can follow Cecily on Instagram here.
You can view Cecily's website here.