/ Art

Text by Ann Binlot. Portrait by Patrick Hoelck. 07/18/2016


Chuck Grant - Eighty-Nine

When photographer Caroline “Chuck” Grant had the opportunity to shoot rising R&B and soul musician Leon Bridges in the middle of touring, she knew just how to approach it. “I imagined in my head that he needed a break,” says Grant. “I knew he had a show that day, so I was like, honestly, I just want this to be peaceful, like spending the day in the garden.” Grant transformed the location for the shoot into a magic garden filled with rosebushes and orchids. The moment of repose she gave Bridges helped the two build a connection and offered an intimate look at the singer.

The up-and-coming photographer’s happy demeanor helps her to gain the trust of her subjects, who range from musicians like Bridges, the rapper YG (whom she shot for the cover of Fader), Charli XCX (whom she shot for the cover of Galore) and her sister, Lana Del Rey, to Mormons for New York magazine, ultraconservative Republicans for Broadly, alpha females and super fans. Her curiosity draws her to both the famous and, says the photographer, “definitely subcultures, people who have a very strong sense of self. People who feel iconic to me.”

Her online portfolio, which has the cheeky title “Your Girl Chuck,” shows that. There are photos of Leandra Medine, the blogger behind The Man Repeller, holding a fake mustache under her nose, as well as revealing portraits of a 65-year-old socialite named Tina. Her photos, which always include a narrative, have a soft, dreamlike quality, bringing viewers into her subjects’ lives.

The 28-year-old photographer grew up in Lake Placid, New York—a small town with a population of 2,471—with her parents and brother and sister. “I think there’s a lot of isolating factors going into a childhood [in Lake Placid], and I think, at least for me, that made me into an imaginative kid,” says Grant, who first started taking pictures in high school with a digital camera, creating make-believe scenarios and practicing on her sister. She also got her first exposure to life as a professional photographer in upstate New York from the legendary Bruce Weber, who would do shoots near her hometown. “He creates a very natural experience,” she says.

Grant enrolled at Parsons, the New School for Design, where she first got her hands on a film camera, and where she took a class taught by photographer Tina Tyrell, who would later become her mentor. During school, Grant refined her technical skills while working part-time as a paralegal to supplement the cost of shooting on film. “When it came time for graduation, it was like me and two other kids who continued with film, and I feel like that was because film was so expensive,” she explains.

“The past five years my life feels like it’s accelerated to where it feels like a blur…” she reveals, before explaining how she became interested in documenting her sister’s biggest admirers for her series “Superfan,” where she photographs the range of emotions displayed in the front row. “Their connection to that source is so strong, and I have always wondered what is in that connection because it’s palpable.” Grant even built relationships with her subjects and saw some of them go from being superfans to losing interest and moving on with their lives. The fact that Del Rey is her sister didn’t make a difference to Grant, who says, “I’m very good at turning things off.”

The sky is the limit for Grant, who is currently working on a book of her photographs and hopes to expand her practice into filmmaking—possibly turning “Superfan” into a documentary. A lot of musicians have approached her about directing music videos. “Any way to spend more time with creative people to get a point across,” she says.