I first came across Chad States‘ work during Philadelphia’s first Friday of February this year at NAPOLEON space and immediately asked him to be featured here. Surrounded by a crowd of visitors to the building, which has a few gallery spaces on various floors, Chad’s installation titled Night Sweats which took the entirety of the NAPOLEON space and was the most memorable thing I saw that night. Chad agreed to do a studio visit with me early this April, located in his home in the Old Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. We headed upstairs to his third floor studio and went straight into talking about his process, influences and how he balances his practice as it has shifted from traditional photography to more immersive installations.
One of the biggest challenges in this shift in mediums is the relative easiness in storing images, whether digitally or as prints, and planning shows around them, opposed to his newer installations which due to space restrictions in his studio, which results in seeking out very specific spaces for showing and concentrating more heavily on proposals and prototypes. His previous process involved shooting controlled and staged portraits then showing the printed and framed photographs on the typical white wall gallery space. His practice now involves planning out the details of the entire space, whether it involves painting all the walls black or creating a more controlled entrance to the space by building extra walls. There are parallels to his practice then and now, while it has expanded outside of the usual routine of exhibiting traditional photography.
In recent years, Chad has been drawing from not just his personal experiences but larger shared histories of the LGBTQ community in the 80s to now intersecting with the punk scene of the 90s. He mines the topics of the sexual revolution in the 70s leading up to the AIDs crisis to straight edge clubs in the punk scene and exploring bodies and male aggression through mosh pits. For example, a work in progress in his studio space combines the printed imagery of Henry Rollins with the tension created by the actual parts of a sex swing, which is often associated with BDSM culture.
On his studio walls, Chad has a few print outs, all in black and white, of imagery and mock-ups for things that he is thinking about. This includes a photograph of the Titanic pinned up on its side so that the ship is vertical, another photo of Henry Rollins, and some text for a future neon project that he plans to work out. Around the studio you find framed prints from his older series of portraits made with color film, a couple of disco balls, and a work table that is neatly organized. He is often working on multiple projects at the same time whether it’s working out an installation, planning for another photographic series or researching more about his various influences.
When he is not at his studio he teaches photography at various higher-education institutions. Before settling here in Philadelphia, Chad lived in various other cities while heavily involved in the music scene. He mentions that he was living in Olympia, WA during the height of the grunge and riot grrl scenes in the 90s, and ended up touring around the country often during the early 2000s. I can definitely see how his creative energies once directed towards music have influenced and ended up in his current studio practice.
From our studio visit I could definitely see a sense of humor and playfulness in dealing with such political topics within Chad’s work. The way he titles his works often adds another layer of complexity. I felt drawn to the way that Chad welcomes and includes ambiguity in his work to allow for a less didactic point of view while dealing with these political histories.
You can see Chad’s work in person, this upcoming first Friday, May 2nd in Philadelphia at Fjord Gallery as part of an exhibition called To Labor With Love.