GETTING IN BED WITH CASS BIRD
The fashion photographer Cass Bird doesn’t like her subjects to be too stiff. Indeed, if there’s one word that could summarize her images, from her work for The Last Magazine (including her cover shoot with Imaan Hammam from our new issue), Vogue, Self-Service, and WSJ. to personal photos of her family, it would be free.
Her latest exhibition, “In Bed,” draws on her work over the last seventeen years and juxtaposes her professional fashion photography with personal photos of her wife—The Wall Group director Ali—their two children, and Bird herself. The family images are displayed inside a mock bedroom set up as part of the show. In the show’s footnotes, Vogue’s creative digital director and longtime supporter Sally Singer writes that “there is very little distance between Cass Bird and her subjects,” as photographer and subject get lost in a world that is “often semi-clothed, goody, unwashed, a tangle of attitudes, emotions, silly poses, sideways glances.” Both Bird’s professional and personal work are equally spontaneous, intimate, and carefree. She shoots with film, which lends her images a raw, organic energy that’s hard to find in digital. That, combined with her ability to be constantly, unfailingly curious—“The work for me is knowing, learning, and discovering who I am,” she explains—is perhaps what makes her photography so captivating.
The exhibition, at Red Hook Labs, was put together by Bird, Ali, and Red Hook Labs founder Jimmy Moffat. The result is what could almost be called an unofficial retrospective of Bird’s career over nearly two decades. “It was interesting to see what feels most like me—and then have it reflected back to me,” she says of the combined effort.
Perhaps what is most fascinating in having so much of her work displayed in one place, though, is seeing the common themes that run throughout, such as Bird’s never-ending exploration—and challenging—of what femininity means in both her fashion and her personal work. It’s a theme she also developed in her book Rewilding, featuring images of women in the Tennessee countryside reveling in their freedom from imposed gender expectations.
And, in a fruitful back-and-forth, just as her investigation of these issues infuses her work, so has what she learned along the way informed her own personal life. “I think gender and fashion are an incredible playground to express yourself in all ways,” she says. “Clearly fashion puts boundaries on [the idea of sexuality], like a high heel or a frilly dress. It creates boundaries around the container in which those energies get expressed, and then you get to make conscious or unconscious decisions on how you would feel inside of your body, and you make a conscious or unconscious decision on how to strip that away.” But, she admits, “I got to see how it played out in my pregnancy, and my children and I’ve definitely experienced an unknowing of what [the difference between masculinity and femininity] is.”
“In Bed” runs through September 24 at Red Hook Labs, 133-135 Imlay Street, Brooklyn.