Garland Gallaspy has the best stories. It's not just that he tells them well, although he does. It's that they exist to be told in the first place.
"You know what's better than making out with a tranny on your birthday?" he asked me, before delving into one of the most gut-wrenchingly filthy stories I'd ever heard. "Cock-blocking a guy by making out with the tranny!"
Gallaspy's stories aren't for the easily offended. This one continues through promises of dirty sex, a spray-painted pink Camaro and two piss-soaked mattresses.
Gallaspy has the ruddy complexion that comes with being a redhead, and his vintage plaid shirts and lined face would be right at home in a Dorothea Lange Dust Bowl portrait. But Gallaspy's wired, gum-smacking exhibitionism puts him right smack in the 21st century, with all its excesses and self-consciousness. He's a charismatic hedonist who can charm your grandma and then go get fucked up with your baby cousin, and he documents every step of the way.
Gallaspy started taking Polaroids as a way to remember stories like these that would inevitably unfold on any given night — it was half art project, half blackout-shirking memory enhancer. He recently put together a self-published book that collects an assortment of his favorite shots, and a corresponding exhibit that opens tonight at Ovvio Arte. The book is called Tender Moments; Garland Gallaspy, and the Polaroid on its cover features the artist, naked and facedown atop a wrecked hotel room's armoire, like a background prop in the middle of a set that's been torn to pieces.
He says he doesn't stage his photographs, which would mean that every little girl in blackface, every bruise and black eye, every guy pissing into his own mouth, and every big-tittied hot tub party is 100 percent authentic — and depending on your perspective, that will either scare or seduce you.
But it's more than a Bacchanalian party trick. Garland's Polaroids are in the vein of Nan Goldin, whose photographs documented similar excess and its aftermath — poignant self-portraits taken after a lover's beating, friends in caskets who've died from AIDS. But Gallaspy's work borrows more from filmmaker John Waters — instead of focusing on the morning after, his work concerns itself with capturing the exhilaration of someone who just doesn't give a fuck.
Gallaspy's deepest connection, though, seems to be with Larry Clark. During college, he took an introductory photography class, and at the time his two roommates were junkies and drug dealers. "I woke up in some awesome places," he says of those days. "One time I was talking on the phone with this girl, trying to set a date for the night, and the phone just started pulling away from me." Gallaspy makes the motion of yanking a phone cord toward himself with the receiver, all annoyance and confusion. "I tell the girl, 'Hey, hold on a second,' and I look over and it's my roommate David. He's using the fucking phone cord to tie off with."
So Gallaspy took pictures of his friends shooting up as part of a class project. "I was a sophomore in college, and to a college kid that shit's edgy. Wretched. Shocking. And I thought, that's what I've gotta do — shock the world." His professor saw the series, and immediately recommended that Gallaspy learn as much as he could about Clark, who is also from Gallaspy's hometown of Tulsa, Okla.
"Growing up in Tulsa, that was a town that was really against the youth. There were no clubs for kids, so we could only go to gay clubs, or after-hours clubs, between 2 and 6 in the morning. Before everyone decided it was meth, we called it 'crank,' and that's all it was — crank and pregnant teenagers. That was all that Tulsa seemed to have to offer. It was really stark. We had to make our own fun, the same as any country kid. We'd just eat acid and go climb buildings." Being a bored kid in Tulsa, Gallaspy says, is probably what gave both him and Clark an eye for the shocking and depraved.
Still, Tender Moments may not be a purely ironic title. The photographs are surprisingly nostalgic — even the shots of the transvestite he proudly brought home with him on his birthday — and there's a preciousness in Polaroid film that turns youthful debauchery into something to treasure.
But Gallaspy admits he can't keep it up forever. Polaroid doesn't manufacture its film anymore, and although he has a stockpile, he keeps a constant eye on its expiration date. Gallaspy, too, may be close to retirement.
"Going to parties takes a toll on you," he says. "You see your friends settling down, getting married, people you used to party with move away."
"I can make it easy and say that the kids don't party like we used to, but that isn't fair," Gallaspy explains. "They should have a chance. They should throw down and make mistakes and get all fucked up, and there should be pictures of them doing all of it."
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That clip is horrifying. It looks like postmortem makeup. Very uncanny valley.
AGGGHHHH that last picture!