Artist Rachel Cabitt Is Trapped in a Quarantine Horror Film

In a pandemic, mundane tasks become material for a horror film script: Handwashing, answering the door, looking at ourselves on a video call 10 times a day. Moments like these, along with flickers of inspiration from Cindy Sherman, the Italian horror film Suspiria, and the seductive glow of a neon sign, led photographer Rachel Cabitt to her latest project: drafting a storyboard for a suspense-laden tale about her lockdown experience in her New York City railroad apartment.

Lauren Joseph: How long have you lived in New York City? What’s it been like for you?

Rachel Cabitt: I came here for school in 2012. I live in Ridgewood, which is technically Queens, but it’s right on the northern edge of Brooklyn. So, super in the center of it all. I remember reading a New York Times article with all of the zip codes and statistics and thinking, “Wow, I really hope my mom does not see this.” She’s been very worried. In the beginning, she really tried to have me come home to Massachusetts, but I told her that I’m going to stay here, and it’s healthier that way. She freaked out. Ever since then, I’ve tried to not look at the New York City numbers.

How have you been keeping sane?

I feel like every day is a little bit different. Before all of this, my best friend and I had just started a creative agency, Pond Creative, geared toward the music industry. We were doing campaigns, album artwork, music videos, basically anything visual that musicians need. I freelance and most of my work has dissipated, but I do still have one constant gig, which has been really nice. I’ve been making sure I do a little bit of that every day.

Now that everything is reaching some sense of normalcy, I’ve really just been trying to create art, and I think this project really helped with that. Most of the work that I was doing prior was portraiture, so there’s always a subject. The lack of another person besides my roommate has made me really itch to use my camera. So I thought, “I’ll just do a self-portrait—why not? It doesn’t have to go anywhere, it can just be a fun thing to do.”

The first one I did was the one of me smoking on my windowsill. Initially, it wasn’t even a thought related to this whole project. The next day as I was editing it, I tried a 16×9 crop and thought it looked very film-like so that got my brain turning, and I thought, “What if I capture a bunch of other things I’ve been doing in quarantine, like getting all dressed up on Friday night just to sit on my couch?”

When I look at this series, the light seems to act as its own character.

My main light source was this faux neon light. That’s the pink and purple that you see all throughout. I combined that with a green 50-watt light bulb and a bunch of LED orbs whose colors you can program.

I drew inspiration from the horror film Suspiria. To me, it’s not really scary because the whole time I’m watching I’m thinking about how beautiful it is. The light is amazing! The character comes out of the airport, and it looks like a club, and I’m like, “Wow, I would go to that airport.” I was really inspired by that because, in a way, the light doesn’t have to make sense. I think that sometimes you just become set in your ways, and you’re always ordering the same equipment. After quarantine, being more flexible with how I shoot is a big thing that I want to carry over.

The self-portraiture aspect was definitely in reference to Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills. It’s an attempt to make humor from a dark situation. I like to make fun of things, and it does kind of feel like we’re in a weird horror, or sci-fi, film right now, so I figured I should just make this thing.

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