Katy Grannan Biography

Katy Grannan is a contemporary American photographer best known for her intimate portraits of strangers. Grannan’s process and the consequent images are informed by her own childhood and the American northeast. Each photograph is imbued with secrecy, desire, and hidden intentions. “I have a terror of things being nice as knowing what to expect,” she explained. “Making a photograph is a license to have experiences that I would not otherwise have.”

Grannan was born in Arlington, Massachusetts in 1969. She received a BA from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991, and an MA from Harvard University in 1993, and an MFA in photography from Yale University in 1999. Beginning in the early 2000s, Grannan began posting wanted advertisements in newspapers looking for models to photograph around small towns such as Poughkeepsie, NY. For this Grannan would appear at the willing applicant's homes with her camera and a fan. She invited her subjects to participate in how they would like to be photographed. Many of the resulting color prints show these ordinary people nude and provocatively posed which caused her photographs explore voyeurism, desire, and secrecy. Grannan took similar photographs in black-and-white for her series Morning Call in 2001. In her series Sugar Camp Road (2003) and Mystic Lake (2004), she coaxed her nude subjects outdoors, photographing them in forests or along country roads. In other work, Grannan photographed subjects inside their homes and focused on the way of their environments- furniture or aspects of private life which illuminated people’s character. This work culminated in the monograph The Model American.

With her move to California in 2006, Grannan photographed New Pioneers. This series was made up of images of people who, like herself, encountered something very different from the mythological “West” with its promise of eternal summer and personal reinvention. Instead, these new settlers face the end of a continent and the potential for failure as they struggle to define themselves under the scrutiny of the relentless Western sunlight. In her series Boulevard Grannan was influenced by her surroundings in California. She photographed strangers in Los Angeles and San Francisco against stark white walls during the glaring noon sunlight to serve as an impromptu, decontextualized backdrop. Each photograph was the result of an on-the-spot collaboration, made with the willing participation of her subjects, who were compensated for their time posing.

There are six monographs of Grannan’s work: Model American, The Westerns, Boulevard, The Ninety Nine and the Nine, and Hundreds of Sparrows. Her photographs are included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Guggenheim Museum, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others. She currently lives and works in Berkeley, CA.