Words by Ayanna Redwood-Crawford • Photography by Cary Fagan and Various Artists
To be honest, I went into this thinking Cary Fagan and I would primarily talk about his photography. Maybe he would outline how the nature of play weaves its way through his work. The work allows entry while seeming almost untouchable, somewhat of a metaphor for the artist himself. It soon became clear that his art would provide a firm foundation for a discussion in which I discovered the man behind the work; how his curiosity, playful nature and ever-present search for expansion seeps its way into the visuals he creates.
It was only about five minutes into my conversation with Cary that we started discussing the concept of growth through deep introspection. A few minutes more and he was walking away to fetch a book that has helped him work past his ego into becoming a more self-trusting person. As an artist whose work at times precedes him, he places importance on allowing himself to be accessible; making it clear that he’s a normal guy willing to have a conversation with or give advice to anyone who asks.
That’s not a surprising tendency when you consider Cary’s trajectory. He went from a young boy discovering his talent by sneaking into the woods with his father’s camera, to buying his own camera only 10 years ago, to collaborating with the likes of Kanye West, Solange and most recently A$AP Rocky—all while exhibiting his fine art across the world. He has swiftly gained access to an exclusive and gilded universe, but he’s still that humble kid with a camera at heart.
On the weekends, Cary likes to spend time learning Japanese - gearing up for two trips he has planned for the new year. Japanese is known to be one of the more difficult languages for native English speakers to learn, but he talks about it like it’s one of the more fun things he’s doing right now. This can be attributed to his reasons for going to Japan in the first place.
He tells me, “This whole Japan trip is to find myself again because I think I’ve been in a rut, I think I’ve been holding myself back, I think I’ve also been giving myself a lot of excuses.” He elaborates that while he is happy everyday, he’s also a real person who wants to seek more and continue to grow. For him, the quickest way to grow is to face fear head-on instead of running from it.
“I ask everyone what’s the worst that could happen? I don’t even think a ‘no’ is bad, it’s actually another way of telling you [that] you need to do better. You’re missing something. Go search for it.” In Cary’s own life, getting that ‘no’ and experiencing failure has shaped his work, spurring him on. He explains that there was a time in his life where he experienced an awakening—a moment where he saw what and who he was going to be—but he couldn’t get there without accepting his past.
At this moment, he jumps up to retrieve a book by Eckhart Tolle that helped him learn everything about the ego. After finishing the book he realized how important failure is to the creative process, and with this newfound understanding he was able to maneuver through the world more gracefully while trusting himself.
When working exclusively with film in a world of digital photography, as Cary does, being able to trust yourself is paramount. Capturing the best image isn’t as simple as pointing, shooting, examining, deleting, and then shooting again. Working with film takes patience, planning, precision and specific skill. Without having the privilege of being able to view his photos immediately, Cary still prefers to stop shooting when it feels natural rather than exhausting his capacity to get the “perfect shot”.
This can be a huge gamble when working on high-profile collaborations. On his project with rapper A$AP Rocky, shooting the cover for his latest album Testing, Cary tapped into this self-assuredness to rise to the challenge. He explains, “For me at the end of the shoot to be okay with everything [even though] I cut it pretty early… I think if I was not in my shoes I would panic a little, I would worry a little. But in that moment, I was okay with it because I knew it felt right. It just felt right.”
Cary admits that while his confidence comes mostly comes from his experience in this medium, he believes it is further enhanced through his recent search for balance in life. Only two or three years ago he finally started to believe that photography could be the thing he could happily do for the rest of his life. He was able to get to that place by discovering how powerful manifestation is and how big of a role it plays in his life. Once he decides what he wants and says those words out loud, those things come to fruition. In fact, this realization is how he knows that manifestation is one of his superpowers.
I ask him what other superpower he’d like to have, and after taking a full minute to think about his answer, he replies “I don’t think I would even call this a superpower…” After ten more seconds of silence, he chooses teleportation but quickly changes his mind. “I think I would want to speak every language. I think that’s a superpower. Like every single language. To speak a language and to fully understand.”
In his own artistic process he’s just as analytical, approaching each project from countless pensive and playful angles. He says, “When I work with people I love to be hands-on and I love seeing what people can teach me, help me learn and understand. As I said before, I don’t know everything and to have someone else help me and give me knowledge and then for us do something together as a team—that’s play to me.”
Cary recently dreamed up an even more playful way to bring people together through collaborating with his art. He’s made 250 piece puzzles out of his photography in an effort to, in his words, ”bring an old pastime back and to give people the opportunity to disconnect, because we live in a world that’s always connected”. Cary thinks of his puzzles as art therapy, in a similar vein of adult coloring books, it allows for one to reconnect with themselves while disconnecting from everything else.
With inspiration and input from his girlfriend, he was able to bring this fantastic idea to fruition. It took months of testing to see which photos would work best as puzzles, but he now has five images for people to choose from. Putting together the puzzles is a multisensory experience: they’re visually impactful and densely textured.
Cary does life by fully engaging with it, without fear and full of trust. He creates a world for himself where doing things the hard way allows him to gain the most satisfaction from them—from learning Japanese to shooting with film to playing the theremin, the only instrument you can play without using your hands. He never misses an opportunity to completely immerse himself in a new experience.
Cary has a lot going on in the new year, but what he’s most excited for is his month-long artist residency in Japan. He’s also on the cusp of fulfilling a childhood dream back in the States —something he can’t talk about publicly yet. I’ll be waiting with bated breath.