Cody Bratt (b. 1982) is a San Francisco-born and based artist. His father, a photoengraver, and his mother, a multimedia artist, inspired his love of photography and book making, in particular. He holds a BA in Rhetoric with a formal concentration in Narrative and Image from the University of California, Berkeley (2005). Shying away from a literal approach, Cody’s photography employees primarily non-linear emotional or psychological approaches to exploring subjects and concepts. Unreliable memories, displacement, loss and coming of age feature centrally in Cody’s work.
He has exhibited internationally at Athens Photo Festival, Berlin Art Week, Month of Photography Los Angeles, Griffin Museum of Photography, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, ICP Museum, Brighton Photo Fringe, Filter Photo Festival amongst others. Cody is a 2016 LensCulture Emerging 50 Talent and 2018 PDN 30 nominee. Cody’s first monograph, LOVE WE LEAVE BEHIND, debuted by Fraction Editions in 2018. The series was awarded a 2018 Photolucida Critical Mass Top 50 distinction, named as a finalist for the 2016 Duke University CDS/Honickman First Book Prize and had images selected and published as winners in American Photography 34 (2018).
His work is in the Colorado Photographic Arts Center collection and private collections in several states across the US, as well as Europe. Cody’s work has been published worldwide in print and online venues including PDN, LensCulture, Lomography Magazine, iGNANT, Gente Di Fotografia, Blur Magazine, Aint-Bad, Float Magazine amongst others.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Love We Leave Behind
Don't leave me now
Don't say goodbye
Don't turn around
Leave me high and dry
I hear the birds on the summer breeze, I drive fast
I am alone in the night
Been tryin' hard not to get in trouble, but I
I've got a war in my mind
I just ride
Just ride, I just ride, I just ride
— Lyrics by Lana Del Rey, Ride
“Love We Leave Behind,” is born from revisited memories of a formative relationship I shared with a partner many years ago. We loved each other fervently, yet we were unable to manage the respective fears and challenges we each brought to the other. As the relationship progressed, we were unaware that we were endlessly pirouetting between joy and self-destruction with each passing day. Even as we began to realize, neither of us were quite able to let go of each despite passing the relationship’s expiration date.
In making these photographs and the monograph, I wanted to create an “emotional documentary” of which depicts the journey one might take in trying to find the strength to break away from such a sickly love. Each photograph doesn’t mark a literal or specific memory. I mean the photographs to be read as an ambiguous state of mind, as memories and dreams simultaneously half invented and half lived. Indeed, many of these moments are drawn from recurring images I only vaguely remember now.
My goal was to create a series of photographs which felt specific enough to be familiar, yet open enough for the viewer to inhabit and fill in with their own story. I borrowed recognizable visual tableaus from the American road trip and mixed them with intimate portraits in temporary spaces meant to depict the interior moments of the journey. Combined, I hope they render the lyrical, although never reliably factual, sense of searching, discovery and loss inherent in letting go.
When and where did Love We Leave Behind begin?
For many years I just made pictures, a lot at night and some during the day and none with much explicit intent in mind. Eventually, I started taking these long road trips just making pictures as I was searching around. In 2014, I holed up in a little black house in the Mojave desert and pasted 4 x 6 prints all over the wall as I started thinking more seriously about my art practice and what I was searching for in those photographs.
As I pulled on those threads, I started to realize I’d been shooting photographs which felt like flashes of memory from a toxic love many years ago, specifically moments in which I struggled to let that love go. From that point on, my goal with the series was to capture that emotional journey of leaving something damaging but alluring behind.
My proudest moment so far was having the book included in the photobook exhibit at the Athens Photo Festival at the Benaki Museum. It was my first time having my work in a public museum context and I was lucky enough to be on hand for the opening. It wasn’t until standing there staring at the book half a world away in a museum just how far I’d travelled with the series the last 5 years.
Congratulations on publishing this series as a monograph! What was your experience like making the book?
Thank you! It was one of the most rewarding and simultaneously difficult things I’ve ever done. The process from making the work to editing it with Fraction to thinking about the wider photobook industry was transformative for how I think about every facet of my work. I really fell in love again with the book medium.
Where can interested parties purchase this book?
Folks can pick up either the trade edition or the special edition in my store:
Where do you see this project going?
With the monograph out, I’m ostensibly done making photographs for the series, though there are echoes of it that come through at times while I’m working. Little moments that fit along the same emotional spectrum as the series. Some of the photographs I’ve made after the book went to press are in this selection.
The photographs have a very different presence at 45”, so I’m excited to find more venues to show the prints, especially since it affords me and a curator a chance to bring a new version to life of what is a very non-linear narrative.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
My day job involves a lot of problem solving, but it exercises a different part of my creative brain, so context switching can be difficult. Because of this, I tend to create in bursts. My biggest inspiration is actually music, followed closely by cinema. While I’m developing and creating work, I tend to create different playlists that I listen to during that time. Those really become the “soundtrack” to the work and I might interpret bits and pieces of the lyrics visually. I’d love to find a way to bring that sonic element forward in the future.
What’s next for you?
I just recently put out a limited charity edition print which through 100% of the sales and matching raised over $6000 benefiting the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (https://www.raicestexas.org/). There are still a small set of prints available through my store below if you still want to help hit the full target!
That print is also the first in a new series which explores sort of what it’s like to live in this particular moment in American history. There’s an Arcade Fire song titled ‘Ready to Start’ on the playlist for that new body of work which contains the lyric: “All the kids have always known / That the emperor wears no clothes / But to bow to down to them anyway / Is better than being alone” -- that’s really the vibe I’m striving to capture with a retro spin.
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
I’ll recommend 5 more photobooks, besides my own, which is available below!
In Rooms 2016 - 2017 by Brittany Markert is a brave, disturbing and erotic pyschotic detour into the subconscious.
Elf Dalia by Maja Daniels, besides being a damn near perfect physical artifact, strikes the right balance of odd and familiar to explore a community which might or might not be made up.
Positive Disintegration by Tania Franco Klein captures a certain disaffection that I can’t just look away from.
The Restoration Will by Mayumi Suzuki utilizes really unique design elements to tell a tragic story surrounding the 2011 Japanese Earthquake. It’s the only photobook which has brought tears to my eyes.
In Case of Fire by Anton Yelchin bottles lightening and shows how unfortunate we are to have lost his talent so early into his practice.