Alex Thebez: How are you Elizabeth?
Elizabeth Renstrom: I’m good. I’m a little fried from the past couple weeks but excited to have this conversation today.
ATZ: Okay, well let’s start with my first question, how have things changed for you professionally and creatively since we started TAGTAGTAG so long ago?
ER: I’m sure you will say this too, but I think that we’ve both developed and went on different paths in our careers. I feel like creativity and making artwork have become challenging in that balance, but it’s something we’ve always been dedicated to. It’s taken different forms over the years. Full-time work always shifts priorities and I think it was easier for us to carve out time to do this when we first started at the beginning of our careers a decade ago and now I think it’s in a different space because we’re really intentionally restarting it with the limited time we both have. If that makes sense?
ATZ: Honestly, I’ve been thinking about time a lot and how we’re spending it, how limited it might be. When I was starting out TAGTAGTAG, I was freelancing or doing more stuff that is directly related to photography and publishing. It’s not that I’m doing things that I am not interested in right now, but overtime my interests have grown and then the amount of time that I can dedicate meaningfully to each one of those interests has just continuously decreased. Maybe it’s just things that you realize as you get older.
ER: We needed to take a break to see like where both of our professional careers would go. I think for you that meant developing a whole different skill set and having positions that have had you grow and change your priorities. For myself, with my the positions I had the chance to hold, I’ve been executing the rubric that TAGTAGTAG gave to us when I started, but I’ve been doing it for institutions and magazines, which was exciting. I do feel TAGTAGTAG has influenced all my decision making in most of my jobs. But that on top of maintaining a personal practice, TAGTAGTAG fell to the wayside, which is why I’m really excited that we’re both in a place where we want to prioritize it again.
ATZ: It’s true that the work that we did to set up our thinking and intentions around how we want to communicate and collaborate with artists, maybe even unknowingly while we were younger really helped clarify a lot of the things that I feel are important to me now. No matter where I end up working, and no matter what the project might be, despite it not maybe looking or feeling traditionally creative—I feel like the lessons apply.
You know, we both maintain a consistent passion and deep care for our community of creatives and people who are up and coming. I always admired your stamina and your unwavering optimism in a lot of situations despite the challenges of working and trying to make a living in New York City within the photo industry. That said some of the ideas that kind of made me want to restart TAGTAGTAG again goes back to the idea of sharing and building resources. Thinking about how people are making their creative practice sustainable, not just creatively but professionally, and economically. These are questions that become more clear as I keep thinking about areas that I want to investigate or think more deeply around. So hopefully whether it’s this collection or our upcoming projects that are related to TAGTAGTAG, we could hone in on some of our thoughts and feelings around these areas. Just really quickly, are there things that you kind of note from the interviews and the content that we have lined up for this collection so far?
ER: This collection reflects our reasons for wanting to reinvigorate TAGTAGTAG. It’s been very interesting and inspiring to re-read through the interviews. A lot of them are about artists who have had to persevere to make work and have found different ways and reasons for making their work through the communities that they’ve worked hard to build. It feels like a good reminder of, yes, this is why we started this. And I, yeah… does that answer the question?
ATZ: It makes me think about, you know, Tommy Kha’s recent rise to more mainstream success in the art world. He’s getting a lot of recognition after years of challenges and uncertainty. I think about Pete Volker who is so representative of a time in which when we first started coming into the photography scene in New York, and his commitment to keeping his projects going with Pix and Spotz Studios. I really admire Pete’s thinking about collaborating and making space for other people. On the, you know, up and coming side, I think about Sophia and Paul, who have done so much in galvanizing a group of young creatives, and also thinking about new models of cooperatives and the way that they work with their immediate community.
ER: Yeah, and how Laila had her family as an inspiration point for her to expand this project that she is working on, inspired by Black photo archives. In starting with her family, she now is looking outward towards other families. Everybody that we’ve interviewed is, again, finding the people and communities that make their work possible, bringing it into the different iterations that we’re highlighting through the series. It was really inspiring to read them all together. We curated the list based off of people who we perceive to be, you know, in collaboration with one other person or again, as we said, a whole community of people. I think that was the surface reason why we reached out to these people. But as you know, when you when you read everything together, the narrative thread comes through a lot. It reminded me again of like why we decided to re-introduce TAGTAGTAG with this collection.
ATZ: I am excited to be building something with you again, you know, kicking this project off and hopefully making a regular space for the two of us to collaborate. I was just gonna ask you, what was your why for bringing it back now?
ER: A lot of it is just like in this moment when we’re seeing a big shift in media and how artists present themselves in their work online. I’m just curious, it’s so funny, in 10 years, how we consume photography has changed so much. Yet I still think because of those shifts, something like this is sort of needed again. I think that’s really exciting. I’m curious about your why.
ATZ: The number one thing for me is that through my work, in my day job, and as we started teaching together again, I realized that a part of my creative practice that’s important is to think things out in public with somebody else, or with a group of people. I know that sounds very specific, but in a weird way, I think TAGTAGTAG enabled that for me back then. I lost track of time and now we’re here. I want that space again, and trying to cultivate it in a maybe more sustainable way. That’s the more selfish reason for the why. The second part is tied to the way that you’re framing how places for community, especially for photography have shifted in the last few years. Honestly, I think, you know, a lot of the spaces are maybe more institutionalized or more formalized, or they are highly commercialized. I just want a place that feels a little bit more casual, approachable, but also, you know, has no pretense, I guess.
ER: Not sponsored by Recess.
ATZ: And, you know, just something that can let people play and think about serious things, but not take it too seriously at the same time. I don’t know what it’s gonna end up looking like and we’re just trying to kind of start sketching it out to see what it looks like.
ER: Also to see the realistic things, like, how long does it take to put these things together? From the start to outreach to execution, which I think we’ve both learned a lot about over the years.
ATZ: The main thing is to create a place where I can remember all the wonderful things and people that I end up meeting or talk to over the years.
ER: Interestingly enough, we are now kind of at a point where we don’t have the same institutions motivating us. My selfish why is like, I’m always looking at and consuming artists and photography. I think having that personal space to highlight and connect people in an editorial way is still super important to me, even if it’s not my full time role as a photo editor. So I look forward to the opportunity of connecting, highlighting and cataloging, different projects and having people view them together. I enjoy drawing those connections with TAGTAGTAG so that artists can think about their work in a different way.
ATZ: Is there anything specifically that you’re excited about for the rest of this year, personally and creatively?
ER: I feel like this past year I’ve been navigating going freelance and reassessing what my personal work and practice means to me, while also having to do the real thing of figuring out how to make income to live. I feel very lucky to have had some support and a space to showcase a new project at the end of the year with another great community we love, Baxter Street. So I’m looking forward to finishing that work and reintroducing that side of my practice outside of my editorial work and my work as a photo editor. What about you?
ATZ: Just spending more time with creatives and friends. I think I made a conscious decision to allocate a lot of my time to more leisure things this year and also to spend time with friends and family. I’m just grateful that I’ve managed to be able to do that so far and I’m going to try to keep at it till the end of the year. But also, I think the second goal here is to make more space for creative projects for myself. And this is kind of it. So, yeah, it’s been fun to kind of get it started again, even though it’s hard sometimes.
ER: The first one, the reintroduction is always the hardest. It’s like any project, like you just have to start.
ATZ: That’s true. And to those who are reading this, thank you so much for being part of this with us. And hopefully you’ll be along for the ride.