by Aimee Levitt
This morning the Reader posted a story about Paul-David Young, a curator whose new show, "To Perform, To Conceal," comprises 30 photographs culled from a cache of about 100 that was discovered in a dumpster in Humboldt Park last summer. Young knew what the photographer looked like, since the collection contained many self-portraits, and he guessed, based on the clothing, the background, and the contents of the collection, that she'd probably very recently been an art student in New York. Beyond that, he knew nothing.
But it's hard for an anonymous photographer to remain anonymous, especially on the Internet. Especially if she's an artist whose medium is the Internet. Within about an hour, Animal New York published its own story revealing the photographer's identity. She is Molly Soda, a 24-year-old digital artist, a star of YouTube and Tumblr, and one of the first digital artists to sell her work at auction.
She was also very surprised to wake up this morning to a Facebook message that her photos, taken when she was a student at NYU in 2009-10, were in an exhibit of found art.
"I think it's kind of funny," she says. "I don't know what the curator was thinking. It's not representative of the work that I do or that I care about. It's funny that someone [would turn it into a show.] But I'm confused as to how it got this far without anyone recognizing me. I'm not a mystery or a lost figure."
The photos, as Animal New York pointed out, are posted online under Soda's original name, Amalia Soto.
Soda lives in Detroit now; she threw the photos away last September when she was moving out of her apartment in Humboldt Park. "I left Chicago abruptly," she says. "I took only half of the things I owned. That's why I got rid of the photos." (She did keep a second set of duplicates.)
Soda's not upset that Young turned them into a show—unless he's making a profit off of her work. "I don't claim ownership over things on the Internet," she says. "It's better he found my photos than someone else's."
UPDATE: Young says that the friend who discovered the photos did identify the photographer as Molly Soda and attempted to contact her via Craigslist and her Tumblr and she never responded. Soda says that she gets so many messages on her Tumblr, it's possible she might have missed it.
Young writes now:
Early into the project I did learn of "Molly Soda." There is a distinction between "anonymous" and "unknown." Yet, I made a conscious decision to withhold her identity . This exhibition is about works that were abandoned and discarded, not the author behind them. Found Photography is ultimately about its provenance, it's about these photographs being in the trash, in the material world as surplus, abandoned, lost, discarded, forgotten, etc. My intent was to take them seriously not to mock or mislead. I could say more about the theoretical backing of the show, but I would hope the exhibition stands on its own and that I see Molly there.
(FYI Lest there be any concern, the photograph's aren't for sale, no one's making any money off of this.)
He clarifies: "For me, to mention her name is/was only a distraction. Now, these photos will only be viewed as Molly Soda's, rather than 'photos in the trash.' That's fine though, so, that's what I mean when I say the exhibition should stand on its own. I hope that didn't seem deceptive, it's a very sincere distinction I made. "
Young will contribute to a discussion of the theory and philosophy of found photography at the exhibit's closing reception on 2/28.