The Night Albums:
Interview with Myself

August 15, 2021

I’m posting this under August 2021, so that it appears next to my other posts about The Night Albums but, in fact, I wrote this in August 2020. I won’t be the first to note that things got a little loopy in the year 2020. This faux-interview was intended to document a very fleeting moment in the life of a writer (me): that moment when you’ve just sent off a completed manuscript, you know it will be over a year until it’s published, and you’re abuzz, and it’s deep in a pandemic, and you’ve spent much of the summer squirreled away in your garage furiously re-writing and editing, and you’re about to start teaching full time on zoom for an entire year. That fleeting moment.

In short, I wanted to have a record of how that moment felt, and what was on my mind. So, I interviewed myself. This is more or less a straight take with no edits. To be as clear as possible, I am “KPA”, of course, and, I am “I”, the interviewer.

Interview with Myself

August 15, 2020

Kate, gosh, it’s great to get a chance to talk with you about your book. Thanks so much for taking the time.

KPA: It’s really my pleasure.

I: so let’s get right to it. How are you feeling?

KPA: Honestly, right now, just really relieved. It was funny, or, maybe just interesting – I told a few people when I sent the manuscript off how happy I was, and I realized that, for me, that moment is the big moment. I know there’s some work left ahead – the index, the copyediting, the thing as a book. But the intellectual work is done. The writing is done. My only experience with seeing something actually in print is a kind of vague or abstract or uncomfortable sense of “huh” – there’s not some point in the future where I expect to be happy or energized about it, so it’s good we’re talking now. That moment of sending it off, and the few hours after, is the thing.

I: Huh. I wonder if other people realize that.

KPA: I doubt it.

I: They’ll be happy to see the book, though.

KPA: Yea… I hope so.

I: I’m curious about how you got into this topic, anyway – I know you wrote that it had to do with Snapchat, but then, in the book itself, you barely addressed social media at all.

KPA: I got much more interested in the history. It was so fun diving into the 19th century and reading those early journals, all those anxieties about photographs disappearing left and right. Of course, this is the thing I’m most terrified about, I feel totally unqualified to write about this period. But, if someone more qualified had already written it, I wouldn’t have needed to.

I: Interesting that no one had.

KPA: Exactly.

I: Your text is pretty anecdotal, and I also noticed you touched on a lot of topics in very few pages. What’s that all about? Aren’t you a scholar?

KPA: I don’t know. I mean, yes. But I’d really, truly like to see scholars working in a broader field than they do, generally, and I had to try it, a little, myself. I’m worried about the field of art history, and I’m worried about how art historians communicate. Even Obama used art historians as an example of the kind of job that is a little preposterous, a little useless. In this visual era of ours! This is a big problem. If I worked at a place like the Getty and had one of those jobs where they figured out the challenges in the field and set up grants to encourage new behavior, I would definitely be funding art historians to write differently, to think about audience and topic in a different way.

I: Would you want a job like that?

KPA: It’s the kind of job I’ve thought about most seriously, aside from what I’m already doing as a professor, which is an immense privilege and pleasure.

I: Do you think it’s a little out of touch to want photographs to just disappear all the time?

KPA: I don’t want that at all. Or, rather, I don’t want them to disappear at a faster rate than they do already. I just think it’s useful to be a little more aware of how fast they are disappearing.

I: Who was that person who talked about the number of times we die: first our body, then later as we are remembered, and finally when the last image of us is gone .. what was that?

KPA: I wish I could remember. Someone was just telling me about this recently. It’s provocative, isn’t it?

I: Is the whole book really just about death, then?

KPA: Ugh. I hope not. I felt adamant at the outset that it not have a tone of nostalgia. I have felt this the whole way through.

I: I wasn’t asking about nostalgia.

KPA: Were you asking about Barthes?

I: God no.

KPA: That’s a relief. Well, then, maybe. I don’t know. A lot of photo theory is about death, and the past. I’m just tired of it. I want another way to think about photographs.

I: Vanishing photographs was your answer to this conundrum?


I: Sorry. I do like the idea of photographs as live experiences.

KPA: thanks.

I: I also noticed there are a lot of men in the book? Definitely more than half.

KPA: I know. It’s really a problem.

I: Couldn’t you just have included more women?

KPA: You’d think so. I’d think so. I felt awful about this with Uncertain Histories. I really wanted to include in that book Susan Meiselas in that book, but that was complicated for extraneous reasons. I was working on the book most intensively in the few years around 2008, and it was published in 2015. Since then I’ve learned about a lot of work by women that would’ve made sense – some of it just hadn’t yet been made, or was just being made, when I was working on that, but other things I just didn’t know about. Another way to ask the question, though, is, maybe I was asking the wrong question? In this case, I had a theory early on that only men felt secure enough in their positions that they were willing to experiment with things disappearing. That never seemed worth pursuing, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if I slowly come to appreciate a different way of asking whatever it is that I’m asking.

I: Are you wondering why I’m asking all these questions about things you did wrong?

KPA: Not really. I ask myself all the time.

I: Hey did you ever think about, like, printing the whole book in disappearing ink?

KPA: Ha ha, yes, that idea did come up.

I: But did you like it?

KPA: This goes back a little to that question of how something is positioned. I don’t really know how to not do something that is positioned in a scholarly way. I want to learn, though. But do I think it would have been cool and interesting and made sense to have had an element like that in some kind of well designed book? Totally. I love that. I can’t see myself there, in reality, but I like the idea of it.

I: What if you lose your job in the pandemic?

KPA: You’re suggesting I’d also lose my academic baggage. I’ve thought about that. Baggage, lifeline, identity … it’s all intermingled, isn’t it?

I: Are you still talking about your book?

KPA: Aren’t I?


KPA: What are you working on these days? What’s on your mind?

I: Oh! Gosh. Did you see that recent “challenge” on Instagram, the one where women had to post a black and white selfie of themselves looking cute, for no reason at all, but maybe as a distraction from, like, Black Lives Matter, and social justice, and the depth of racial inequality in the United States? I’m writing a little essay about that for an online magazine.

KPA: That sounds worthwhile.

I: I was also wondering why you didn’t mention your miscarriage and how seeing that ultrasound image without a heartbeat was one of the factors in how you got to this topic, about how disappearing images can mean just as much, more, even, than images you can return to again and again.

KPA: Yea. I thought about that a lot. I had a version of the introduction that included that story, and then I had a version of a Coda with it. It’s really important. And I really believe art historians can, and should (could), be more upfront about the personal contours of their interests. As I thought about it, though, I imagined it becoming the reason for the whole book, though, like, a way to almost write it off. “Oh, that’s her miscarriage book,” or something awful like that. I wanted it to read as an element of the backstory that mattered, but wasn’t anything like the whole story. I guess in the end I felt it seemed better adjacent, rather than embedded. Like it is here. I think there’s still a lot of risk for women to reveal themselves and both be taken seriously, and have that not be their identity.I don’t know what a male equivalent might be. Maybe I’ll give that some thought.

I: Hmmm. Were you just scared?

KPA: I don’t know.

I: What do you think you want to do now?

KPA: I have a few things in mind… I’ve wanted to both see and learn more about Erin Riley’s weavings and rafa esparza’s adobe panels, both of which use photographs as sources but take them into very different material, and physical realms. I’m not sure why. But, they’ve been on my mind for what feels like ages, now, and maybe that’s reason enough. I also really like the idea of stepping outside of photo totally, and getting involved with something like the Yucca Valley Material Lab or something else in the desert, or, closer to home, the Los Angeles River. I suspect I’ll be consumed by school and campus stuff pretty soon, but, on the other hand, it’s always nice to have something else on my mind.

I: Did you see that Karl Ove Knaussgard is the next author for the Future Library?

KPA: I did see that! Amazing. So great. God I’d love to read whatever that text is. I could make a bucket list of fantasy travel destinations. A forest in Norway. Talbot’s estate.etc.

I: Aren’t you also interested in Valeria Luiselli?

KPA: For sure. Yes.

I: Wait, so do you have a favorite artist or work of art in the book?

KPA: This gets back to the question of why not Snapchat, after all. One of the readers for UC Press asked why I didn’t write more about other kinds of photographs, like journalism, for instance. It’s because I like artists. I like understanding the world through artists’ thoughts. They are my theorists. Writers also do this, but I don’t want to write about writers, or writing. That said, I realize it’s a stretch to describe Daguerre or Talbot or Niepce as an artist. But, gosh, I do love the questions and ideas and thoughts their work proposes, and seeks to work out. I just love that stuff. And, I really am envious of 19th century photo specialists. It’s all there. It’s so good. It’s so rich. It’s mind boggling. The Heinecken/Sontag portraits are also mind boggling. Honestly I don’t think I cracked that nut, it’s too much! But I love that it’s so too much. It’s good to have a challenge.

I: That seems like a good note to end on. A good challenge. Thanks so much, Kate. I really appreciate it.

KPA: Same. It was fun. Thanks.


I: Oh wait I meant to follow up on Barthes. You don’t like Barthes?

KPA: I like Barthes a lot. He was brilliant. One of my favorite things about him was that he allowed himself to change, he proposed so many ideas about photography that he’s endlessly quoteable, and that sometimes gets things mixed up. But that variety and expansiveness in itself is quite brilliant, and of course it matches what photography really is. It’s never one thing.

I: Thanks, Kate. You’re the best.

KPA: You’re sweet.

The Night Albums: Visibility and the Ephemeral Image is available in paperback for $30, hardcover for $85, and ebook for $30 from:

UC Press

Photo-eye Bookstore