ICP Projected: Jacob Krupnick
Wesley Verhoeve: What is the story behind the “Young Explorers” series? Did becoming a new father play a part in inspiring the work?
Jacob Krupnick: In America, raising kids is a process filled with love and fulfillment, but also characterized by paranoia. There’s a tendency to protect our kids from any potential sources of harm, shower them with praise, and carefully curate their every experience. But this anxiety and vigilance is a recent thing. It certainly wasn’t always this way—my dad grew up hunting in his backyard after school; my mom grew up casually cruising around Greenwich Village in the 1950s.
Last year when my daughter was born, I began thinking more about all the ways people think about becoming a parent. All our watchfulness is well meaning, I think, but it’s also stifling. And ultimately, I think it’s probably limiting. “Young Explorers” asks us to imagine what happens when we lower our guard, and trust that things will be alright.
WV: With subjects this young, are you able to impart any direction at all, or is it a shoot-as-you-go environment?
JK: The kids I work with are mostly between one and a half and two and a half years old. Their verbal communication is basically like secret code; only the parent understands. My goal beforehand is to be likable and trusted, but in truth, they don’t really care who I am or what I'm seeking to get out of this.
We give kids small motivations and the freedom to pursue what they’re curious about, so the filmmaking process is essentially reactive. Each one is a different challenge. There are no second takes and because we're working between naptime and snack-time, we have to enter each session with a highly adaptable plan.
WV: You must get varied reactions on the street while shooting. Can you share a particularly memorable one?
JK: I love working in public space because there’s so much luck of the draw. Circumstance tosses you opportunities, hazards, trials, and better moments for serendipity than you could ever dream up. My experience is always that no matter the camera you’re toting—and our setup is not subtle—people tend to ignore you.
While filming my daughter walking around Coney Island, she passed a boy her age who was tied up in one of those child nets, tethered to his mother, unable to experience life outside her reach. Ada, my daughter, marched past him. His look of astonishment read something like: what is that creature? Half an hour later, they met again along the boardwalk. He was still attached to his mum. He looked at Ada tentatively and tenderly offered her a piece of popcorn. In these moments, you come to see how desirable freedom is.
WV: These videos can be enjoyed on multiple levels, from the basic cuteness to deeper thoughts about the place children have in the world. What do you hope to inspire in the viewer?
JK: While they’re playful pieces, I’ve approached the films seriously, taking careful control of movement and focus and timing to help them rise above cute. I know they’re lovely and punchy and humorous, but these things can eclipse the underlying messages: kids are strange, mysterious little people. And they need a little bit of danger in their lives. I hope the work is a little bit provocative in this way, and uses the joyfulness as a hook to draw viewers into a two-minute adventure.
WV: The inclusion of “Young Explorers” in the Projected series marks their public debut, but you have filmed nearly ten episodes so far. Do you have a vision for where you’d like to take the project?
JK: Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see these films made with kids exploring Mexico City? Lagos? Amsterdam? Istanbul? In my experience shooting around the country, we’ve developed a little methodology that I would love to bring to other places around the world.
I’m also eager to screen the films in public because there’s something magical about sharing work that allows people to see their own city in a new way.
Images from “Young Explorers” will be literally “projected” onto the windows of the ICP Museum from July 17 to 23 as part of ICP’s Projected series. They will be visible from the sidewalk outside the museum and will be most apparent after sunset.