Upstate Diary
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This is Country Living

This Is Country Living

By Miss Rosen   Self-portraits by Guzman

Originally published in No 6

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Welcome to the Guzman home, Oh, don’t mind him…just come on in.

For more than 30 years, the husband and wife team of Constance Hansen and Russell Peacock has created an incredible body of photography produced under the name Guzman. The moniker they adopted embodies their joie de vivre, wit, and charm, embracing the elegant and the absurd to equal effect. Whether photographing Iggy Pop or Sean “Diddy” Combs, Harvey Fierstein or Harry Belafonte, Guzman transforms a fleeting moment into a timeless image of style and grace.

Guzman now embarks on a new chapter in their lives. As they reach the mature period of their career, their Hudson Valley home has become the nexus for a new period of exploration, experimentation, and self-discovery. Hansen and Peacock speak with us about love, life, and art — with an upstate state of mind.

The couple favors French mid-century furniture such as Guillerme & Chambron, Maurice Pre and Jean Proué.

The couple favors French mid-century furniture such as Guillerme & Chambron, Maurice Pre and Jean Proué.

Miss Rosen: I love how your country home is becoming a new space for exploration that opens up a new chapter of your lives.

Russell Peacock: I like nature and am much more comfortable being surrounded by it. I was born in England and when I was nine, we moved to Rochester, New York, where suburbia meets countryside. I hiked and camped a lot. Then I came to the City and adapted to that. It was natural that I would reorient myself back to nature — but I still love coming back to the city and getting that charge.

Constance Hansen: I was born in the New York City. I think I went camping once and complained non-stop — but I’m really enjoying the countryside because I like the space. What I want to do is more involved with natural things like decay. If I were to dissolve… I assume that’s what I am doing: I am walking towards oblivion and things are dropping off. I am excited about that. I was saying, “Russell, I would love if we dug a hole and then you pile rocks on me or just bury me in dirt!” You can do that up here. This is really good for me. The other thing was, “I would really like to get a blowtorch.” I’m a pyro!

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RP: She is. Connie’s background is sculpture. That’s more physical, tactile.

CH: Yeah, it’s more organic. I always thought photographers were sculptors. They are looking at light, three dimensions, and space.

RP: So maybe I helped facilitate you being in the woods and you helped facilitate me being in the city?

CH: Yeah, maybe! There are so many people in the country. We have bumped into the most amazing creative forces and they’re all doing their own thing.

Pottery by Gunnar Nylund and flea market finds.

Pottery by Gunnar Nylund and flea market finds.

RP: Someone said, “New York used to be where art was made and now it’s where it’s sold.” That’s a significant change. Where do all those creative people go?

CH: They’re upstate.

MR: You make a good point. It’s a community. New York City used to be a community for artists and now it’s a community for wealthy people.

CH: And corporations who pretend they’re people.

RP: You need physical space and not have to worry about spending three weeks out of the month to pay your rent. That’s a basic requirement.

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Their photography with desk by George Nelson for Herman Miller. Pottery by Gunnar Nylund.

Their photography with desk by George Nelson for Herman Miller. Pottery by Gunnar Nylund.

MR: How does the house inspire you to grow and evolve as artists?

CH: We’re always manipulating the space as if it’s a big sculpture. Maybe that’s obsessive-compulsive behavior but I can’t stop. Wherever I look, you have to be able to take a picture of it. When I was little, I would rearrange everything because you’re building something and we’re doing the same thing here. The place is evolving into a place where we can play.

RP: It’s a modest house, which is important. It’s efficient.

CH: No lawn. We wanted it all turned back in to woods. No gardening!

RP: We used to own the house next door and we moved. We always planned on building a studio

CH: …and not just for photography. Russell still sculpts.

RP: We never could figure out where to put the studio.

CH: Well, we were arguing about it…

RP: …so it never got off the ground.

CH: It was a stalemate. No winner.

RP: Eventually we built the studio—800 square feet. It’s like you’re going to work. It’s a funny thing. You walk into the studio and you get to work. There are no distractions. The studio is located 150 feet from the house. I wanted it further away. Connie wanted it closer. The building inspector said, “Well, why don’t you just attach it to the house? You’d save a lot of money.” I said, “Yeah, I can’t figure it out.” He goes, “Are you married?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Okay I understand.” (Laughs).

MR: The strength of an individual vision is so powerful — and you guys work together! I imagine sometimes there is collaboration and sometimes there is conflict.

RP: It’s important to keep that.

The couple favors French mid-century furniture such as Guillerme & Chambron, Maurice Pre and Jean Proué.

The couple favors French mid-century furniture such as Guillerme & Chambron, Maurice Pre and Jean Proué.

CH: Oh yeah.

RP: If it’s mushing together, I don’t know if that works.

CH: We’ve been doing it since 1984. There are some struggles. Both of us are stubborn as all hell but we get something to come out of it every once in awhile. It’s good for us because it’s a real edit. If it’s still standing, it works (Laughs).

RP: And then there are times where we are both in agreement and a year later it’s like…

CH: Why did we like that?

RP: It’s not foolproof.

CH: Or we picked a picture because there was a deadline. Then we go back and it’s like, “Damn! Look at this one.” Sometimes you missed the best.

MR: I talk to a lot of people who go back to their contact sheets and are like, “I literally didn’t see it.” You could shoot it, but you couldn’t see it for years.

CH: That’s the best way to say it because that happens. You’re not just randomly taking pictures. It has to move you. For this story, I was making self-portraits of a relationship all through the house.

RP: Photographers tend to be very curious people. You are always looking at other people and how they live. You discover things about how people see the world. So you are turning all of that on yourself.

CH: Oh my God, Russell! You’re really good at this. If you go into his bathroom downstairs [in the New York apartment] and you open one of the closets, it’s a tableau of trinkets: pictures, mementos, bowls, fish hooks — and they’re all designed and sculpted like a Joseph Cornell. It’s so considered. It really is a work of art.

The Studio.

The Studio.

RP: It’s interesting the way people live and the stuff they choose to surround themselves with — especially the people who build their houses themselves because then you discover things about how they see the world.

CH: There are so many levels of home.

MR: The house becomes an entrée into someone’s personality, character, and persona. How did the country house come into your lives?

RP: The land next to the house where we were living became available and my parents needed a place. So we were like, “Let’s build a house.” It was built by Clarke Olsen, a very close friend.

CH: I went to Pratt with him. Excellent woodworker.

RP: The house has two 1,000-square-foot floors with a fireplace in the center. It’s open. It’s very flexible. The same with the studio. You could live in it if you wanted to and work in the house (Laughs). I never thought I would live in the house.

CH: We built the house to our style. Everything we would own would fit perfectly in the house. His father was like, “Oh my God, the ceilings are too high!” But for us it was perfect.

RP: Two years ago, we wanted to downsize. We were going to sell the house and then we decided to move in.

CH: He was getting ready to sell. The house was empty…

RP: …and then Connie was like, “Ohh!” (Laughs).

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CH: What happened was: I let him get it ready to sell even though I knew that we would be moving in. Russell was polishing things up and I wasn’t saying a word. After he got it all done, I was like, “I think this is for us.”

RP: And it, in fact, is.

CH: I have not been happier. When you can move forward, you feel lots of energy, and you can shut the door. You get so much more life and you can keep going.

RP: What I have realized is you keep those memories. So, do I need to own it?

CH: You don’t really need to own anything. Right now, we just need somewhere to crash and keep the stuff we need around us. Keep it all simple. I’m not in an expanding mode but rather a more magical mode. Now that we have the studio, I have work to do. I have been waiting all this time for that. I have big plans for this baby. I plan on being there for a little while.

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MR: Beautiful! Let’s talk about the self-portraits you made.

CH (to RP): I was wondering: do you think any of the neighbors saw us?

RP: We were in the front yard naked. It’s a private road but there are cars going by — and the people driving by will be living there.

CH: There’s a lot of freedom up there. People do what they want. There’s pockets of real unusualness.

RP: At the same time, being naked ain’t that radical. There’s that phenomenon of when you first take off your clothes, you feel naked and then after about ten minutes it all goes away. After you get over the initial shock, it’s no big deal.

CH: I was very analytical about the experience. What am I looking at? How am I doing it? You are using yourself in your vision and making all of these creative decisions. We were like, “Ohh, that is so boring, throw it away.” You are editing. It’s emotional feedback. You’re making a story that has no written story and then you put it out there to see what other people bring to it. It’s the relationship between the two of us…

Lamp by Robert Sonneman for George Kovacs on a George Nelson side table. Alek Wek by Guzman above the bed.

Lamp by Robert Sonneman for George Kovacs on a George Nelson side table. Alek Wek by Guzman above the bed.

RP: I wasn’t thinking of all this stuff.

CH: He was having so much fun! You can see: he was jumping on the bed laughing.

RP: You’re in your house with no clothes on so once you get over that…

CH: It’s not necessarily what we normally do. We don’t throw darts at each other. (Laughs) I was like, “That’s significant!” It was almost like a performance piece.

RP: Yeah, we were just horsing around.

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CH: You call it horsing around but I call it performance because I felt like I was outside of my body, acting. I was like, “Okay, let’s see how far this goes.” I wasn’t completely naked. He had his pants on and it was like: cowboy. The only reason I had my hanky pankies showing is because I had Mom jeans on and we can’t have those! It’s best just to have nothing.

MR: Having done self-portraits throughout your career, is there something different about being older — and nude?

CH: Yeah. I have some pretty outrageous nudes I did when I was young. I gave Russell a nude of me with a Tampax string coming out (Laughs). I was in that mindset when I was a kid and I kept going. Then there was a period of time where I stopped taking pictures of me as a solid body. The reason I could take pictures now is because I have embraced the crone in me (Laughs). I’m not going to dye my hair — and I’m going to announce my age. I feel like I am freer. I can say what I want.

MR: Russell, how does the issue of aging occur to men?

RP: There are differences but there’s also a lot of overlap. Some people try to fight it off and others just give up or let it go. Personally, I am aware of it. It’s natural to be in good shape and look healthy. At the same time I know that it’s a losing battle (Laughs). There’s a point where it can get in the way so it’s a balance.

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MR: I look at aging as a natural evolution of life. When you look at artists, you can see their maturation from an emerging talent to an established figure throughout their career. I always love the later period, where things get very experimental after having acquired so much knowledge and experience.

RP: You need to have a lifetime to have that arc. When you are young, you want to be older. When you are old you want to be younger. At some point we should figure it out. It’s okay to be young and naïve. It’s hard for us to accept that. You wonder, was it always that way?

Learn more: lesguzman.com

Miss Rosen is a New York-based journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo VogueVogue, DazedAnOther ManAperture, and The Undefeatedmissrosen.com