Creatives of NY // Entry #010 // A.A. Brenner

I’m going to open this post by formally apologizing for the extreme delay in posting this - I have been dealing with a slew of problems pertaining to my ankle (to get everyone up to speed, I tore a ligament entirely and split a tendon). Anyways, this was an interview I was really excited about.

A.A. has such a good vibe, and I was thrilled by the chance to interview a playwright. I photographed A.A. in July at Strand Book Store, which I found to be a fitting location for our conversation as well.

Without further ado, I give you our interview transcript.

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

A.A.: I’m A.A. Brenner, born and raised in New York City, spent most of my life here except for a couple years where I went to college up in Ithaca, New York. I am really a true New Yorker at heart. My family has been here for a few generations. Mom is from Brooklyn and Dad is from Massachusetts, and sort of the old Jewish New York niche has fed into my life and my art, so that’s a really big part of my identity both as a human and a writer.

I write a lot about memory, identity, and family, and also being Jewish, and religion, because that is so important. Obviously tradition, especially with Jews, is a hot topic as they say. I’m also very queer, which has fed into all of my art, and I actually have cerebral palsy, very mild, and that has started feeding into my art as well.

I feel like since I stand at a unique intersection of identities, I have a responsibility to try to represent folks in all of those identities (and then some) to the best of my ability. Representation is so important and telling those stories is so vital, especially because a lot of them are stories that aren’t typically told, so I’ve sort of taken it upon myself to tell my story and to tell the story of my communities.

Allison: So how did you get into playwriting then?

A.A.: So I’ve been writing for almost as long as I can remember. My great aunt was a first grade teacher in the Brooklyn public school system for over 40 years and we were very close. She didn’t have a family, so I was basically her surrogate child. She taught me how to read and write and was having me write stories as early as three years old, so she started me off young and ever since then, I’ve been writing stuff.

I always write with a lot of dialogue, so it made a lot of sense for me to start writing plays. I’ve also always been interested in the theatre; I have acted in the past, and in college I tried my hand at directing. I also do dramaturgy, as well as playwriting. Basically we read The Glass Menagerie in my ninth grade English class, and it felt like “This is the form for me. I need to write a play.”

So I did, and here we are almost ten years later!

Allison: So what are some recurring themes or ideas in your plays?

A.A.: Really anything about identity - I’m a really huge fan of James Baldwin and the idea of representing who you are and who your communities are on the stage - it’s really important to me as I mentioned before. I write a lot about queer people. I write a lot about Jews. I write a lot about disabled people, the disability community, and everything in between. Whatever I can represent that is truthful and honest from my life, or from the lives of my friends, people I care deeply about, my family, that’s what’s important to me.

Allison: What artists, either from your medium or other mediums, inspire you?

A.A.: I was initially inspired by Tennessee Williams and the sheer honesty and how personal The Glass Menagerie really was - that had a huge galvanizing effect on my art, and it sort of challenged me to dig into myself, and find that within myself and tell my story. Same with James Baldwin. I’m a big fan of Flannery O’Connor and just pretty much anything where people are dealing with some deep-rooted, familial, blood-and-bone-type stuff, because that’s the stuff that’s really disturbing, but also people connect to it and really resonate with.

Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?

A.A.: Oh my gosh, so many. Pretty much all of my high school English teachers. I had a great teacher in 12th grade, Ms. Muniz, who I took a James Baldwin class with and that really jump-started my actual becoming a playwright, because she was challenging us to dig into that honest place and write from it. Also along the way, I worked a lot with Young Playwrights Inc. when I was coming into myself, so Artistic Director Sheri Goldhirsch was very a very formative influence, as was all the staff at YPI… more recently I just spent ten months as the Artistic Roundtable Apprentice at The Lark. The Lark is an international play laboratory and development theatre, and the folks there have been so supportive and instrumental in getting me onto the next path in my career. I’m about to start at Columbia’s MFA Playwriting program this September, so I’m super excited to work with the folks there as well. I’m sure there’s a million more people that I’m forgetting to name as well, including many great professors I had while completing my undergraduate degree in theatre at Cornell - my professors there were really awesome.

Allison: What are your favorite books and plays?

A.A.: Obviously The Glass Menagerie, and I love A Streetcar Named Desire. I’m in the process of writing a modernized adaptation of that called Blanche and Stella, that’s just Blanche and Stella, so very excited about that. Again, Flannery O’Connor and James Baldwin… just anything by both of them I love. I also love and hate William Faulkner.

Allison: So the play you’re writing based on “A Streetcar Named Desire”, will that be produced and shown?

A.A.: So that’s way in the works, ultimately yes. I’m waiting a little bit on that one. Stuff that is actually getting produced right now, I just had a show go up in D.C. at the Capital Fringe Festival that’s called God is Dead and April’s Getting Married. We were very fortunate - I started writing that play two years ago, and when I was a fellow at Shakespeare Theatre Company. STC has a wonderful professional development program, so I got to work in the artistic department there. I met folks who were interested in producing this play I had written, and lo and behold, two years later we’re up at Fringe and getting really kind, generous reviews, and it’s been going so well. It’s unimaginable almost from where we began.

Allison: What is the most rewarding thing for you about being a playwright?

A.A.: Definitely connecting to audiences. Any time I walk out of the theater and folks come up to me and say, “Wow, thank you for telling my story,” or “Thank you for making me reflect more on my life and experience,” that is always very very rewarding for me, and that’s why I write.

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City?

A.A.: My favorite thing is the community here is amazing; it’s so vibrant and widespread. I did live in D.C. for a year as I mentioned, and while the community there is lovely, it is definitely smaller, so it was nice to come home to such a wide variety of artists and such an artistic city in general. The arts are so central to the structure of New York: it can’t exist without it, so that’s really cool and has been very inspiring. Other than that, the worst thing is the money. I’m fortunate that I’m from here and my parents are from here, so I’m able to live with them, but living with your parents when you’re 24 can sometimes leave something to be desired. Happy to have the option, but wishing that it was easier to make a living.

Allison: When you sit down to write, what helps you get started?

A.A.: That’s a good question. I do try to start with free-writing to get the juices flowing and to see what’s on my mind and what I’m interested in. Something that was really interesting, we had a talk with David Henry Hwang at The Lark a couple months ago, and he was saying that he always begins his plays with a question, something that he’s questioning in his life or something he would want to write about, and I think that’s very much where my plays start from as well.

Allison: Is there anything else you want readers to know?

A.A.: Storytelling and representation is what really excites me, and I’m here to write about all the things that make me uncomfortable and other people uncomfortable, so that we can reflect on it in a mature, honest, and important way.

You can follow A.A. Brenner on Instagram here.

A.A. on 35mm film

A.A. on 35mm film

A.A. on Polaroid 600 film

A.A. on Polaroid 600 film

A.A. on 35mm film

A.A. on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #007 // Christian Frarey // Photographer

This week, I decided I wanted to write up an interview transcript on my session with photographer Christian Frarey. Hailing from Michigan, Frarey's love of photography was spurred when his father gave him his first film camera: a Minolta X-700. We met up in Greenpoint and explored a bit, visiting a record store before sitting down for the interview. (This was also delightfully one of my more conversational interviews.)

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Christian: I grew up in Michigan. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was five, but that was because of movies like Jurassic Park. I loved movies. I didn't always have friends to hang out with because of where we lived - it was very rural. I would just go to a friend's house and watch movies all the time. I always wanted to be a part of that world. I gave filmmaking a try, but I didn't really enjoy it too much, so then I got into photography a little bit later, like in middle school.

My dad gave me my first film camera - it was a Minolta X-700, which I still have. If your Canon ever breaks down (I shoot with a Canon AE-1 Program) go get a Minolta X-700 - it's a good time. Didn't have any formal training at all - I wanted to go to film school, but that was expensive.  I thought, "Maybe I'll just take a year off and see what happens". I actually started working kind-of odd jobs for money, like a stint at Jersey Giant, and then saved up enough to move to New York in 2014 with my sister.

Allison: So how did you get into photography then? Was it when your dad gave you the camera?

Christian: My dad did it for awhile - he had a lot of odd hobbies - he likes woodworking and he did some photography classes at the local community college just because he was interested in it. It's sort of a thing you do to get closer to a parent or somebody you like - it was the same with my mom and music. I started to get into records because that's what she knew - you do it to get closer to your parents, I guess. It was fun capturing these little family moments and whatnot: Christmas parties, being the annoying kid with the camera taking pictures of everybody. I still do that...

My dad sold off a bunch of his stuff, which was kind of irritating when I actually did get into photography hardcore. He was like, "Oh man, I should've kept my 4x5 for you." He still enjoys it. He is always asking me, "What kind of camera should I get?" "I don't know. It depends on what you want to do."

Allison: So why shoot film?

Christian: It makes me think less. I know you can spend hours in a darkroom, Ansel Adams-style, dodging and burning, and all that. You can still manipulate it, even though it's on film. I sort of enjoy the "what you see is what you get." I'm not worried so much.

I shoot a lot of black and white film: it's inexpensive to buy and develop. It is what it is. It sort of relies on you to be knowledgeable about composition and the way the light looks. It makes you think in a totally different way.

I shoot both (film and digital) quite often. It's whatever I feel like shooting really. I'm not one of those people that's a die-hard film only person in the film vs. digital debate. Shoot whatever you want.

Allison: So what made you decide to get the Widelux camera?

Christian: I had first heard of the Widelux through the actor Jeff Bridges, who's 'The Dude' in The Big Lebowski - he's a passionate photographer and over the past 30 to 40 years, he's always shot film on set behind the scenes, and he's had a Widelux. It gives you this really strange perspective because it's a turn-based thing, not unlike the Hasselblad, where it just snaps the picture and it has to swivel around to get the whole picture, and it gives you this sort of weird distortion if you don't level it right, which is always really cool.

The interest in panoramic stuff is from my love of movies - I always liked the CinemaScope look, like the broad, huge frame is really nice. I like it - it's nice and clean. With the Widelux, it swivels, so it takes a moment. Even at 1/250th of a second, it takes a moment. When you shoot at 1/15th of a second, it takes about a full second to go its full rotation, so it's sort of like one part of the photograph is at a different time than another part of the photograph, which is kind of cool. It's a shame, because not many people will repair them anymore. They're very much like a clock inside with all these gears, and if I open it, my head would explode. I would have no idea what to do to clean it. Plus it's pretty.

Allison: It's a very pretty camera.

Christian: I am a big fan of the Art Deco silver and black - I wish they would still make lenses silver and black. I think it looks so cool.

Allison: What artists, either from your medium or other mediums, inspire you?  

Christian: It's kind of weird - I don't have quite a knowledge of classic photographers. I know the basics - like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, and Annie Leibovitz. I know of those people in a sense, but I don't know what other people would consider the "classic street photographers". I still get a lot of my inspiration from movies and the look from directors of photography - people like Roger Deakins, who has been a DP for 40 years and has worked on all the Coen brothers movies. I get a large amount of inspiration from movies, probably more so than from other photographers. Especially because there are a lot of people trying to do things differently, especially in television.

Allison: What are some of your other inspirations? What drives you to take pictures?

Christian: I don't know - it's just something I've done for so long and I enjoy it, and I'm fairly decent at it. I'm not very good at hyping myself and saying, "Yeah, I'm really good at this," but I would say I'm okay at it. When you find that thing, even though you can't explain it, you just know you can do that. It allows me to get out of my head-space just walking around the city taking pictures.

I feel like getting older makes you appreciate the family photos - all the family photos that we have at home I've told my parents to bring just so I can scan them and have them. I feel like they became more important to me when I got older. I'd like to eventually make a whole book of all those photos together, because there's so many chunks of the family that have certain photos, and I want to try and accumulate them all together like a big book, but that's a chore.

Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?

Christian: My father definitely was a big inspiration for getting into photography. He didn't push me in any way to do it - he just thought I would enjoy it.

Along the way, I've met really cool people, especially in New York. Lloyd Bishop is the photographer over at Late Night with Seth Meyers, and I met him visiting the city for the first time in 2013, and it was just one of those things where I saw an article about him, and I said, "Oh, I should hit him up and see if he'd maybe want to meet and just talk about my work and the business and such," and he did. We've kept in touch since then.

I met a celebrity portrait photographer named Mark Mann through Lloyd - they're both Scottish. Mark sort of took me under his wing a bit and allowed me to assist on a few cool gigs like the Tribeca Film Festival and an interview for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Lloyd and Mark have been amazing people just to ask for advice - photography is their bread and butter. I'm always amazed when people can do that and survive, and they have families, and that's scary to me that they rely on this thing, but they're amazing people.

Mark introduced me to Penumbra, so I was grateful for that. The people at Penumbra like Geoffrey Berliner, Jolene Lupo, Molly Rapp, Sam Dole, and all those people are my film nerd buddies. I don't get to see them too much, but when I do it's a really good time. You try to find those people - hopefully they'll be mentors or people to hang out with. It's always fun, even if I ask them too many questions.

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about living in New York City?

Christian: Ugh... the subway. No. Ummm, my least favorite thing is moving here, luckily I had my sister and our friend from Michigan - we were roommates, and that was fine, but even though there are so many people that live in the city, it is really one of the loneliest places ever. Everybody has their own bubble, and everybody is concerned about themselves and what they're doing, so you walk by all these people and they couldn't care less about you. It's a very lonely feeling, and I was so homesick for months after moving here. Eventually you just push through it and recognize, "This is where I am now. Let's try to make it better." You meet people and just grow from there.

The flip-side is that there are so many people and that’s a way for you to branch out and meet fellow nerds of photography or movies or music. The best thing is just walking around the city taking pictures and seeing these random moments that for those people are just their everyday life, but to you it's something interesting.

Allison: Advice for people who want to move to New York City?

Christian: Save as much money as you can.

Like with moving to any city, be sure. I guess you're never actually sure. My sister and I moved here kind of on a whim just because the opportunity came up. I mean, nobody's ever really truly ready for something like this, because it's a huge life change.

Just be outgoing, as best as you can. Get involved with activities here in the city - something that you enjoy - there's movies in the park - there are a million things happening here every day. Just try to put yourself out there - something I wish I had done a bit more when I first moved here.

Also eat good food. Try to find good food. I always tell people who are visiting, "Save your money for food and drinks." You can buy any of the stuff here online, but the food is a fun experience. I love cooking and baking.

Allison: Is there anything else you want readers to know?

Christian: Hey man, follow me on Instagram. (@frareyphotography)

Allison: I was gonna link your Instagram anyways!

Christian: Just do your own thing. This is a hard question. What did other people say?

Allison: They said, "Do your own thing and don't be afraid to follow your dreams." (I know this is a dramatically redacted version of the amazing answers other artists and creatives have given to me.)

Christian: I try not to say that, because following your dreams is a tough thing to do. I came here kind of following a dream of sorts, and it sucks. Should I say, "Don't follow your dreams,"? Try, but be cautious.

Allison: That's good.

Christian: Try, but be very very cautious. Unless you have a foot in the door for an internship, it is so hard to do anything media-related: production, dancing... there are so many people wanting to do that thing that it's just so overrun with people. You really have to try to do something different or just get lucky. Just get lucky - that's what you can do. Try to meet people and get lucky, not in a sexual way, but you can do that too. (This made me laugh a little bit.) Just have as good a time as you can. Enjoy the little moments just hanging out with friends drinking on a Friday night - maybe take some pictures.

You can view Christian's Instagram here.

You can order prints of Christian's photographs here.

Christian on FP-100C Silk

Christian on FP-100C Silk

Christian on 35mm film

Christian on 35mm film

Christian on 35mm film

Christian on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #004 // Lauren Pfieffer: Blogger

I recently decided I wanted to interview Lauren Pfieffer of Passing Whimsies. As usual, I had been following her Instagram for awhile - this is how I've connected with most artists and creatives so far - and her passion for thrifting and absolute honesty with her readers made her a perfect subject for this project. I had never been to Fort Greene Park before, but I met up with Lauren there for our interview and portrait session to gain insight into this style blogger's interests in all things vintage and writing. 

Lauren Pfieffer originates from Ohio. At sixteen, she started her blog: "I had just started getting really into vintage fashion and thrifting. I had a really tough high school experience. I grew up in a small town, and there wasn't really a lot of people like me; they didn't understand the way I dressed and what I wanted to do. I was just kind of weird, and my English teacher who I really connected with in high school pulled me aside one day after school, and he said, 'Have you ever thought about starting a blog and documenting your personal style and your vintage finds?' and I said, 'No. It never even really crossed my mind.' I didn't even really know what a blog was - this was in 2008 when blogs were first starting to really become popular. He said, 'You should definitely do it. I think you have something really unique and special, and you could go really far with it.' It was the first time someone had believed in me, and that was just the spark that kind of ignited my love for fashion and blogging and the internet and just helping other people, because sometimes you just need one person to believe in you to believe in yourself." 

Pfieffer's love of all things old started with a namesake, classic movies, and a church rummage sale. "I didn't really have access to the latest fashions, and even if I did, I don't know if I would have necessarily connected with them. Growing up, I had a connection to old things. My name comes from Lauren Bacall, the famous 1940's film actress. I'm named after her, which is so cool. I feel like it's ingrained in me - I started watching vintage films, and I just started peeking around the internet and discovering vintage fashion. One summer when I was sixteen, I went to our church's rummage sale, and there was just all of these incredible vintage hats and jewelry and clothes - it was like a whole new world was opened up to me. I was thinking 'Wow, I can create these looks that I see online and in these movies; I don't have to spend a lot of money, and it's right here. What is holding me back?' That's kind of how I got into it." 

In crafting her blog, Pfieffer realized she would have to post photos of her wearing her vintage finds - she learned the art of the self-portrait, using her camera's self timer and a tripod to develop her own visual content for her site. "Both of my parents worked; I didn't have anyone to take my photos for me, and I didn't want to bother anyone with my photos so I just learned to take my own. Throughout the years I have just kind of kept doing it." 

Pfieffer also commented on the difference between the act of self portraiture in Ohio versus New York City: "A lot of times in Ohio I would do it in forests. I would go to my local nature center where no one could see me running back and forth taking pictures of myself. It's really weird to do it in New York. In terms of how I think about it, I have an outfit and I plan the outfit out first. Then I think about all of the places in either Manhattan or Brooklyn that I really like and would kind of set the scene. If it's more of a modern outfit, I'll probably go to Manhattan, maybe to the West Village or the Lower East Side. If it's a more vintage-inspired outfit, I usually will stay here in Brooklyn and go onto a brownstone-lined street or maybe a local park so it kind of fits the scene." 

Pfieffer fondly remembers her first vintage find, a piece she picked up at the church rummage sale. "It was this vintage cameo necklace, and it had gold detailing. It was a white cameo, and it was hand-carved from ivory. On the back it actually had a workable clock, so you could turn it around and tell what the time was. I don't know... maybe because it was my first piece and I maybe only thrifted it for a dollar, I have a lot of personal sentiment to it. It was what really made me fall in love with vintage, so it's a prized possession of mine." 

Other finds she remembers being excited about include vintage Salvatore Ferragamo heels and a 1950's red ball gown. 

In addition to building her own wardrobe, Pfieffer loves to ignite a love of classic fashion in others by selling vintage items online through Etsy. Pfieffer has also scouted out the best thrift shops in New York City listing L Train Vintage (the Gowanus location), Urban Jungle, and Goodwill in Downtown Brooklyn as some of her favorites. 

For Pfieffer, she remains inspired by classic actresses such as Audrey Hepburn and strong, independent women. "I just think she (Audrey Hepburn) can truly do no wrong in my book - I know it's so cliché, but she truly is iconic for a reason. Also, I follow a lot of Instagrammers. I think the space can definitely be really cluttered with people just simply following the herd and falling into making a living out of blogging or Instagramming instead of really truly looking at, 'I can really change peoples' lives through this.' One person I really love following on Instagram is Chinae Alexander. She is a lifestyle influencer, and I actually got the chance to meet her when I was working at my previous position through an event we were having. She's just so inspiring - she's so real, so down-to-earth. She is not originally from New York, but moved here with nothing, and she's just a badass female making it in New York, taking names. She talks a lot about body image and women empowerment and knowing your worth and jobs and careers and relationships and just everything under the sun. I'm always inspired by her captions and her genuineness to truly help others in the community." 

New York City serves as another point of inspiration. "The possibilities are endless here. I always feel when I walk out the door anything could happen to me that day. I could have my Audrey Hepburn moment... I could meet someone who could change my life. I could get a call that could change my life in a great way. It's just a really exciting city: one full of hope and promise and very inspiring people. Even though I'm very introverted, I think one of my favorite things is the people here just because I love observing them. There are so many different personalities and backgrounds... so different from where I grew up in Ohio, and it makes me feel at home being with all these people. I can truly be myself because everyone's accepted here."

Pfieffer recently took a leap of faith and quit her full-time job to actively pursue a career in fashion and explore what freelancing is like. She encourages others to follow their dreams as well saying, "It's so important to go after what you want. Don't spend your life doing things that don't fulfill you or you know aren't right for you. At least give what you want to do a chance: if it doesn't work out, what's the worst thing that's gonna happen? I'm so scared of failure, and I need to take my own advice. I was scared about moving to New York. I was scared about quitting my job. I've been scared about so many things here, but I think every step and mistake and chance I've taken has gotten me closer to my end goal and my end dream. Just take the chance. I know it's scary, but there will be people rooting for you." 

You can follow Lauren on Instagram here.

You can visit Lauren's blog here

Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on Polaroid 600 film

Lauren on Polaroid 600 film

Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film