This year a number of different things came together in a confluence of good for photography in Indianapolis. I was introduced to Mary Goodwin and the Aurora PhotoCenter (APC). In its inaugural year, the APC conducted a number of events, first of all being the workshop held at the Indianapolis gallery space, Tube Factory at Big Car. Keliy Anderson-Staley held a tintype workshop and individual portrait sessions. I sat to have my portrait made, and watched as other portraits were made and observed the process Anderson-Staley took to prepare the tintype plates, expose the plate with a person or small group of people sitting for exposures; commonly in the neighborhood of 10 seconds. This is an eternity compared to the ability of a person to snap and post a photo on Instagram in less time than it takes for Anderson-Staley to make one exposure. It is a beautiful process and resulting image transported me back to first time I ever saw a photographic image developing the darkroom. Pure magic.
I sat down that same morning with Mary Goodwin and had a discussion about how the APC came into being and she gave me a tour of the gallery. Mary has previously served as Associate Director at Light Work in Syracuse, NY, and she actively contributes to photo events and workshops around the country, and she is the founder and publisher of photo books at Waltz Books. She hopes to incorporate some of the same purpose in Indy that Light Work serves to its home community. We discussed the first exhibition the center hosted:[hyphen] Americanby Keliy Anderson-Staley. The exhibition was in tandem with a tintype workshop and portrait sessions. Keliy’s growing collection of tintype portraits in the project, mine included, would be exhibited along with historic tintype photos from the Indiana State Museum collection. The main focus of the exhibition showcased portraits made during her stop in Indianapolis in June 2019, as well as subjects photographed in other American cities from New York to Cleveland to San Francisco.
After Mary and I spoke for a while, we were joined by another of the APC founders, Adam Reynolds and the discussion moved into the direction the center would take for exhibitions in the coming year. The third founder of APC is Craig McCormick. Craig is an architect and photographer and is a Principal at Blackline Studio for Architecture, founder of procurement and maker company Co+Effect, and creator of MarshallStudios.net. Craig is active in the photography scene in Indianapolis, and boards for arts organizations including Harrison Center for the Arts, Big Car, and Pattern.
The second exhibition hosted by the center was also held at Tube Factory from Nov 1st to Nov 22nd 2019. Respecting POTUS & National Trust was an exhibition that featured work by Andrew Miller, whose interiors, architecture, and portraiture explores the intersection of people and politics that is found in the urban environment. The other images in the show were by Jay Turner Frey Seawell who explores appearances and perceptions of historical structures to political spectacles and media culture, and they are all inextricably tied to superficial appearances and perceptions.
The third exhibition hosted by APC in 2019 was Is Everyday Extraordinary? A Photography Show. This exhibition was hosted in partnership with Indianapolis art venue, Gallery 924 for the month of Novemberas well. Is Everyday Extraordinary? was billed as an exhibition that celebrates photography’s power to extract the extraordinary from everyday moments. The show featured work by photographers based in central Indiana, and work from about three dozen photographers was shown. I’ve shown work in gallery exhibitions only a handful of times in the past ten years; as online exhibitions are the norm now. It was great to view the work in that setting and talk with other photographers in the show. One of my professors from college, Mark Sawrie, had several pieces in the show as well. It is always an honor to be included in an exhibition alongside work made by the people who I learned from.
It’s difficult to stop myself from coming up with some optimistic statement on the outlook for photography in the coming year. What does 2020 hold for Indianapolis and the midwest in general? I have felt for a while that serious events and meaningful work gets created somewhere else; and if it starts out in the squishy areas of the midwest, it quickly heads for someplace like Chicago, Cincinnati, Madison, Detroit, or Kansas City. If the author John Green can develop an affection, dare I say pride, for Indy, then who am I to argue? Great work can come from here and maybe it just takes enough people to speak it into recognition. I will write more soon about the work of Keliy Anderson-Staley and her book, On a Wet Bough. Let’s all start talking more about photography. Let’s have meaningful dialog and share the work we create.
Rachael Banks is a photographer from Louisville, Kentucky, and is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Northern Kentucky University. In a recent issue of F-Stop Magazine, I was fortunate to interview her and feature her work in the thematic context of animals – while acknowledging her work focuses primarily on family dynamics, relationships, and nostalgia. She is also especially interested in social subcultures and identity informed by place. Banks’ creates work about her family and the uneasiness of those relationships that are strained but also incredibly involved. The inclusion of numerous pets or animals in her family’s life conveys the importance animals play in our lives as she explores feelings of loss, identity, and meaning in the context of family, love and acceptance. It is immediately apparent that she cares deeply for her family – a tough subject to be subjective with, and also intimately close to.
I am the oldest of three, but more like a mother than a sister.
I constructed a family of siblings, both real and assumed.
‘Between Home and Here’ addresses deeply internalized
guilt and the essence of loved ones.
There is a history of pain and an apparent inwardness in my family.
My brother has a rage inside of him that I know others can see.
But, I can’t help noticing the way he delicately handles a small rabbit in his arms, gently stroking its ears and shielding its eyes from the fear of the unfamiliar.
I am a witness to their sensitivity and empathy in how they revere animal life, despite human failure.
This is a story about hating and loving where you are from.
It comes from doing anything to go back to a place that you left.
I left my heart in Kentucky and came back to find it.
The photographs are artifacts from my search.
Rachael Banks – ‘Between Home and Here’
Cary Benbow (CB):Your projectBetween Home and Here explores very powerful tropes of Family and inclusion. Let’s talk about the level of trust and intimacy in your work, and I’d like to ask about the project in terms of portraiture versus straight documentary style photography.
Rachael Banks (RB): While I am extroverted at work (I have to be), I am actually pretty shy and slow in how I go about making work, so it isn’t always as viable for me to photograph strangers. There is definitely a level of intimacy I have to achieve with a person to make work about them extensively. I really like to invest in whoever I am making work about. I go back and forth about my work being more portraiture based vs. documentary. In the beginning, I was interested in the concept of aesthetic beauty and portraiture allowed me to explore that. However, as the work has continued, I’ve thought more about my relationships with people and the place I feel I have in the world. I never considered myself a documentary photographer because I wasn’t sure if photographing my family fit within the scope but as the work expands, I definitely feel like the work is more heavily influenced by documentary photography. Portraiture is something I naturally gravitate towards in respect to my working methodology but my intent goes beyond the mode in which I present my images.
CB: Let’s discuss the role animals play in your work; how much of a role do they play in the lives of your subjects, or in your own life?
RB:I’m not sure if this is a regional or family influence (maybe a little bit of both) but I grew up surrounded by animals. My family members have always had a wide array of pets and my dad lives on a farm. I was definitely raised in an environment that placed a heavy emphasis on respect for animals and to treat pets as family. Because my work is so centrally focused on my relationships with immediate family, it is inevitable that animals become a part of that. Additionally, I see that animals often serve as an extension of the subject I am photographing and that they can help inform the viewer with more insight into the personality traits of the individual. On a personal note, I spend a lot of time driving to make work and I bring my dog Ghost with me as much as possible. If there isn’t an animal in the photograph I’m making, there is most likely one sitting next to me while I’m shooting.
CB: With regard to your earlier statement about your portraits documenting your family, what do you feel are the “obligations” of a photographer, or what obligation do you have to the people, your family, in your photos?
RB: I think it is important to have the ability to stand behind every image that you make. I understand that anything I put out into the world for others to see is coming from my own specific gaze and that I am actively selecting how the subject is framed and presented. I feel that I have a responsibility to myself and others to be able to understand that not everyone will see my images the same way that I do and that I have the ability to contribute (both negatively and positively) to how an individual/region/situation is represented. There is always the possibility that something I make can be misunderstood or that I can even cause harm, so with that in mind, I try to make sure that I don’t share anything that I can’t live with later on in life.
CB: What compels you to make the images you create? Why do you photograph?
RB:My mom photographed my entire childhood – and I mean she photographed everything constantly. While she has never identified as being creative/artistic, I feel that her compulsions have influenced me greatly and my need to document as much of my life/surroundings as possible. I have a lot of anxiety about forgetting defining moments or losing sight of what informs my identity. Photography has always provided a way for me to stay connected to who I am and what matters to me.
CB: Who are your photography inspirations or how to they influence your work?
RB:This is a question where I can go overboard so I will attempt to be as concise as possible. I really love Doug Dubois and the way he documents youth in addition to integrating a graphic novel in his series My Last Day at Seventeen. When I think about the muse in the photograph, I always look at Emmet Gowin; because who wouldn’t want to be loved the way that Edith is? I’m really inspired by Nathan Pearce and the way he photographs his life in the Midwest – he also has an incredible work ethic that always pushes me to be better. Jake Reinhart is another big inspiration for me because of his extensive approach to research and his ability to articulate his work in such a thoughtful way. I am also currently excited about Amy Powell, Caiti Borruso, Susan Worsham, and Dylan Hausthor.
CB: Do you feel there is a significant difference between “documentary” style photography versus “portrait” photography as a label? Or are those labels significant as a category to your work?
RB:I think that there is crossover between portraiture and documentary in my work. In terms of there being a difference, I believe the intent of the photographer is significant in making distinctions between the two. I’ve seen documentary work that is mainly consistent of portraiture so there isn’t much a difference between the two in that situation but I have also seen a lot of portraiture work that is more about visual aesthetics than it is about being documentary. I feel that my work falls in both categories in that I work primarily in portraiture but I am approaching my subject matter as a documentarian. Portraiture is a natural habit for me but I am more interested in the research and document component of making work. I don’t want to be the person that says I don’t fall into a category because I definitely fall into a few! If I had to describe my work in one sentence to a stranger I would summarize it as a documentary approach to family (assumed and biological) portraiture.
CB: Please talk about the role of a photographer as “publisher” and what you think about the recent increased push for photographers to publish photo books and/or zines. I know you are a strong advocate for publishing work.
RB: I am 100% supportive of photographers working in self-publishing and its one of my favorite components of photography. I think there is a lot that self-publishing/zines allow for a photographer in regard to the opportunity for exposure that it provides. While I feel it is still important to show work in galleries, a zine allows a photographer to share work without being weighed down by so many financial burdens. Accessible art is really important to me and I feel that self-publishing allows for photography to be more readily distributed and shared which fosters such a dynamic community that I value being a part of. On another note, I think that there is an over saturation of photobooks in the world right now, but I’m not terribly upset about having more books to collect. If there is a project that isn’t ready to be presented to the work as a traveling solo exhibition or a monograph, it can still be shared/distributed as a zine. Publishing also allows for photographers/viewers to see work as a physical object as opposed to looking at everything through a screen. I definitely appreciate the photograph more as a physical object and publishing encourages this.
Rachael Banks (b. Louisville, KY) is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Northern Kentucky University and is based in Covington, KY. She received an MFA in photography from Texas Woman’s University (Denton, TX). Banks is an avid supporter of self-publishing, accessible art, zines, and collecting. Her work has been shown at The Center for Fine Art Photography, The Kinsey Institute, Black Box Gallery, Darkroom Gallery, and several other institutions. She has also been featured in a number of online photography publications and frequently participates in panel discussions and invited speaker presentations.
Arthur Fields is a photographer from Texas, currently living in Vincennes, Indiana where he is an Assistant Professor of Art at Vincennes University.He currently teaches courses in traditional analog photography as well as digital imaging. He also serves as the director of VU’s Shircliff Gallery of Art.
Fields’ latest artistic research is based on his love of landscape and self-representation. By compiling imagery from online web searches and social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, both virtual and tangible, his work consists of imagery collected through the process of data compiling using hashtags (identity markers). Acting as both curator as well as image-maker he is concerned with choosing, organizing, editing, and remixing, to better understand the collective cultural experience that is mediated through digital processes.
Much of Fields’ recent work involving images and hashtags used on social media platforms (especially Instagram) explore themes of place, sense of self, and inclusion/exclusion; especially in the context of class, race, and culture. His exhibition From Academic to Instagram complied collections of images based around a core group of hashtags. The resulting grid of multiple images from his collection is a manner of both curation and image-making. In his statement for the exhibition, Fields says, “I am concerned with choosing, organizing, editing, and remixing, to better understand the collective cultural experience that is mediated through digital processes. By considering the photograph as data to be sorted, I engage in systems for which modern culture stores and presents images that reflect the pictorial and social relationships connecting the camera, the photographer, and the spectator.”Fields includes more context for the work by addressing the collective social experience people have by being both producers and consumers of visual media. Fields continues in his statement, “As John Berger writes in his seminal book, Ways of Seeing, ‘Oil painting, before it was anything else, was a celebration of private property. As an art-form it derived from the principle that you are what you have.’ These sets of images, placed in the IG grid format, represent my view of the genre or a hashtag as it relates to my personal online experience. The amount of feedback or likes I get from IG followers. Why are these images created? Are they actually memories of daily life or is this just the modern way of displaying wealth, class or culture?”
In a collection of related images and posts on Fields’ Instagram feed (@artfields), he uses the hashtag ‘overheard’ to explore themes of inclusion and exclusion, as well as identity and a sense of place and self. The images are part of a larger project, Seen and Heard. When I asked Fields about these images and the themes within, he said the feeling of being an outsider was especially noticeable soon after relocating from his home in Texas. That feeling has subsided with time, but the series of ‘overheard’ tagged images definitely builds off the feeling of being ‘on the outside’ of a conversation, culture or class.
In his project statement for Seen and Heard, Fields states that the project is ultimately “an exploration of a way that memory is influenced in the digital age. Using the senses of sight and sound, I share my daily walk through the world. These routine and sometimes mundane activities such as driving to work, celebrating birthdays and watching nature are activities that represent my life. Through the use of the social network Instagram, these mundane scenes are revisited and carefully edited to portray my public-self. Upon seeing an image, the brain informs us that we have seen or had that experience. By choosing to print specific imagery, I transform it from experience to object which in turn enhances the ability to recall the experience. This work promotes the intuitive recognition of shared experiences. Like the careful construction of the vanishing ‘scrapbook’, I am selecting and constructing the memories for myself and the viewer. Created to trigger both visual and auditory memories, this selection of images and text are randomly chosen to represent my life.”
“Each image is labeled with its associated information, such as location and hashtag,” Fields explains. “The images are also given the bonus of a quote. The added quote represents an overheard comment or audio blurb, heard by the artist within 48 hours of taking the image. By choosing a particular quote with an unrelated image, a connection between the two leads to the generation of a personal narrative. While this work does mirror that deluge of images and audio prevalent in a digital society, it is curated; filtered to make a particular story that serves as evidence of a unique personal experience.” Fields’ work explores his own personal interactions; yet there is a strong supporting level of universal experience through social contexts, identity and memory.
The collection of images from the Seen and Heard project can be views at Fields’ Instagram feed: @artfields. In connection with this published feature, beginning April 23rd, Fields will be posting work from his project on the Instagram feed for Wobneb Magazine. To see images from this project, please click on the link, and follow @WobnebMag on Instagram to view his work.
Wobneb Magazine is a proud supporting sponsor of the 2019 Rust Belt Biennial. An open call for entries has been announced, and full details can be found at https://www.rustbeltbiennial.com/
We are thrilled to introduce the first RUST BELT BIENNIAL, a celebration of photography with work realized throughout the Rust Belt Region in all its manifestations.
This land, its people, the pride and the struggles, the patina of the past and above all, the histories and memories ingrained in the soil across the region. It is time to make new memories and new histories, while revisiting and reevaluating old ones; It is time to start a new dialogue about the state of photography and it’s social, cultural and political effects in our society; it is time to give back to the photographic community but also the region; it is time for you to join us!
For our an inaugural Biennial we are grateful to have Andrew L. Moore as competition juror.
We are honored to collaborate with the Sordoni Gallery at Wilkes University, in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., where the Biennial will be held from August 27th to October 5th of 2019. Additional information regarding dates of the main exhibition with lectures and presentations will be published in the Spring.
The Rust Belt Biennial juried competition is hosted in an agreement between LensCulture and Rust Belt Biennial. By entering this contest you acknowledge you have read the terms and conditions. Once you click the “enter” button, you will be redirected to the LensCulture website so that you can sign up for an account and submit your entry through the online entry portal.
We are looking for photographic bodies of works that explore the social and cultural realities that represent or make a commentary of this very important region within the American landscape.
Additionally we are looking for both in progress or fully realized photographic work in printed form.
Who is eligible?
Anyone and everyone are welcome to submit work that was created within the Rust Belt Region (New York, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin)
Dates: October 14 – November 25, 2017 Reception: Friday October 13th from 5-7pm
The Yeiser Art Center (YAC) is pleased to be hosting the annual international juried photography arts competition, Art Through the Lens. Originating in 1975 as the Paducah Summer Festival Photo Competition, Paducah Photo has grown from a fledgling contest into an international juried exhibition. Over the past 40 years, this exhibition has become one of the Mid-South’s most prestigious annual photographic events. To honor its history, the exhibition now exists in two parts: the International Show which features the juror’s selection and the Regional Showcase chosen by second juror.
“It was my great pleasure to be this year’s juror for the Art Through the Lens exhibition at the Yeiser Art Center,” said Eliot Dudik. “The first juried exhibition I applied to and was selected for was Paducah Photo 2009, which I believe was the older version of Art Through the Lens, so this exhibition means a lot to me as it was a springboard of sorts for my own work. Jurying an art exhibition is no easy task, especially one with 621 exceptional entries. There were certainly photographs that didn’t ultimately make the cut that I had a very difficult time letting go. Selecting images for an exhibition is by no means black & white. We all have our own tastes and interests. My interests in photography are quite broad, as are my interests in music, film, and literature, which made the selection process for this lens-based art exhibition even more difficult. I do, however, have a tendency toward material and process, experimentation, risk, ideas, nuance, and heart. I believe the selections made for the 2017 Art Through the Lens exhibition carry all of these things, and I hope you’ll enjoy interacting with them as I did.”
This year’s opening reception will be held on Friday October 13th from 5-7pm, and will include light refreshments and the announcement of awards. The reception is free and open to the public. After the reception, there will be a $5 admission to see the exhibition. Proceeds support the Yeiser Art Center’s mission to bring exceptional arts educational programming to Paducah. YAC Members and guests under 13 years of age always enter free of charge.
Located in downtown Paducah, the Yeiser Art Center is a non-profit visual arts organization celebrating sixty years (1957 – 2017) of serving the community through exhibitions and education throughout the Tri-State Region. The Yeiser Art Center is wheelchair accessible.
Hours of Operation: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission: $5 for non members, YAC members and children under 13 free. For questions, please email the YAC at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 270-442-2453. Visit theyeiser.org for more info on upcoming events.
Cary Benbow (CB): Can you please explain the idea behind your portfolio images submitted to the Family exhibition in this issue? How do they relate to your other projects, or how is it significantly different?
Nathan Pearce (NP): The photographs of family that I submitted for this issue are all part of my major projects. Mostly my main project Midwest Dirt. Family is important in my life and it’s something that I see as a major theme when I am photographing the Midwest.
CB: Why do you photograph? What compels you to make the images you create?
NP: I love making photographs and zines that include my photographs. It is the most satisfying and important thing in my life. I am constantly compelled to make images. It’s probably because it is so satisfying and rewarding that I do it so often. I simply love making photographs. I’m not sure what originally compelled me to start but I do remember that it was a really long time ago.
CB: Where do you get the ideas for your personal photography?
NP: Everywhere. I usually shoot in Southern Illinois and the Midwest acts as both the backdrop and subject of my work. Where I am from is very inspiring to me.
CB: What or who are your photography inspirations – and why?
NP: Aside from the inspiration that the Midwest gives me, I often look at the work that my friends are making and at my collection of zines and photobooks. I am often collaborating with friends on projects, and that is pretty inspiring as well. I most often make work with Rachael Banks and also frequently collaborate with Jake Reinhart and Matthew David Crowther. Most of those collaborations involve zines created and are released on Same Coin Press; which is a project I co-founded with Claire Cushing.
CB: How are these images different (or similar) to the majority of work you do?
NP: Much of the work that I submitted for this issue is part of my main project Midwest Dirt. Family plays a big part in my work. Family is one of the main reasons I returned to the Midwest and I explore it a lot in my photographs.
Almost all of the pictures I submitted, with the exception of one or two, are of my own family. Several photos are of my nephew Journey. I have photographed him his entire life. I photographed him when he was less than an hour old, and I photographed him yesterday on his 6th birthday and hundreds of times in between. We even worked on a split zine together recently.
NP: In the statement for Midwest Dirt I mention a beauty in having nothing to do. I am often photographing the stillness and the slow pace of life here offers a lot of material and inspiration for photographs. I felt like street photographers in New York often photograph people in a rush on the street, and the constant busy feeling in the city. I try to photograph the opposite here. Midwest Dirt is a project that I started upon returning to the Midwest after years of being away. I photograph the stillness of my native rural Midwest and the restlessness of people in it.
Amelia Morris is a photographer and mixed media artist working with themes including identity, memory, and self-perception. Her imagery’s autobiographical content is expressed through both literal and symbolic self-portraiture, and what she lovingly calls “low-grade performance art.”
This is art driven by deeply personal experiences, divulged like a confession to the viewer. Amelia Morris’ work is often raw – but not in the sense of being brazen or brash. It is intimate and raw due in part to the autobiographical nature of the themes she addresses. We, the viewers, are privy to these confessions – often presented with either melancholy, or dark-humored wit. One can’t help but snicker at her image of someone (presumably Morris herself) hanging out the back end of a car, when the image is titled “I love my ‘lil deathtrap”.
But Morris’ work goes far beyond witty images and titles. Through her staged self-portraits and documentation of provocative pennant banners, the ‘An Honest Assessment’ series explores anxiety, inadequacy, anger, disappointment, and other feelings that are often socially avoided in open discussion. The photographs serve as both private confessions and public declarations of living through these emotional states.
In Morris’ statement about her work, she says, “I have trouble maintaining my own psychological well-being and acknowledge the ridiculous paradox of feeling miserable when everything else in life seems to be fine. In that spirit, the elements of handmade whimsy in these photographs intentionally mock these heavier emotions. This is a light-hearted portrayal of serious concerns.”
Years ago, during a time of artist’s block, Morris was dealing with several personal disappointments and found it impossible to force herself to make something happy. During this time, Morris says, “I researched an assignment/project by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher: Learning to Love You More. Participants were encouraged to take a personal positive mantra, translate it into a colorful display, and hang it where someone who might need to read those words could see it.I decided my banners could retain the outward cheeriness of the original assignment juxtaposed with the less optimistic statements floating through my subconscious. Each piece of the banners are hand-cut and sewn, a labor-intensive but meditative process, and the finished object is photographed in a meaningful setting. Completing each piece offers the catharsis of expressing troubled thoughts and emotions.”
But if the viewer is expecting overly dramatic, cliché “tortured soul” images, there are none to be found. Morris presents her well-conceived and thoughtful images in a way that transforms allegorical vignettes of her life into examples of coping, and hopefully healing, with the intangible troubles many people face at some point in their lives.
Wobneb Magazine (WM): Why do you photograph? What makes still photography your main choice of expression?
Amelia Morris (AM): Growing up, I was lucky to have a few really great teachers who nurtured my interest in art and exposed me to as many techniques as an inner-city public school could. I always enjoyed standard art class exercises like drawing and painting, but would become frustrated when I couldn’t accurately translate my subject or ideas. My first real experience with photography came as part of an eighth grade mentorship program which matched students at my experimental middle school with people working in our areas of interest. I remember saying I wanted to work with a photographer because I had never tried anything like that before, but I didn’t expect my choice would have such a far reaching effect on my life.
When I first started taking photographs, I considered it a means to further explore my world and share it with whomever might be interested. I remember being drawn to photograph the grittier parts of my near Eastside Indianapolis neighborhood. While learning photography I went through a strong phase of documenting trash and blight with the intent of finding something inherently beautiful in it. Looking back, I think I was also trying to express another, more-rounded side of my life, “Even though I appear to be the usual middle-class white kid, this is where I grew up, so don’t think you have me figured out.”
These days I’m still drawn to photography because it implies an element of definitive truth (the idea of “pics or it didn’t happen”) combined with the fact that, like any creative outlet, photography can produce fiction. Since my photos are based on autobiographical experiences, I’m interested in how memory or perception can skew how I express my ideas and how an audience then interprets the information by taking it as face value or questioning its authenticity.
WM: What or who are your main photography inspirations – and why?
AM: I feel like I’m constantly discovering new image makers (not just photographers), powerful artwork or hearing a new philosophy that lends some inspiration, but here are a few artists I enjoy:
I think I discovered Francesca Woodman in my junior year of college and immediately felt drawn to her work due to her performative use of the self portrait. Looking at her work, I always feel like I’m witnessing some private and mysterious ritual where the artist is both vulnerable and self-possessed in her control of the situation. There’s something about how her actions make relatively ordinary spaces (an empty corner, a dusty floor) feel so… dreamy. Her self portrait behind pieces of wallpaper stops me in my tracks every time I see it.
I really enjoy Lorna Simpson’s work, especially those pieces utilizing text. I remember spending lots of time in front of her untitled piece at the Indianapolis Museum of Art trying to decipher her message. I think we’re used to text being joined to photographs to give some clarifying information or add to the narrative. I’m inspired Simpson’s use of text because it can raise more questions than answers. The ambiguity is intriguing. I don’t want everything to be spelled out.
I’m drawn to Joel Peter Witkin’s photographs in the same way that people have trouble looking away from car crashes. It’s disturbing and gross and sometimes nightmare-ish – and yet so strangely beautiful and sensitive and well-composed that I can’t stop studying them. I love that dichotomy.
My teachers are definitely an inspiration. Again and again, I’m drawn to the surreal, and Mark Sawrie’s provocative use of the figure in this photographs, including his own, fits into that category. Jacinda Russell’s exploration of her own life and family history has helped me pause to consider my own inner monologue might be worth expressing.
WM: Do you feel your work makes a comment best on a universal level, or on the personal level? Your work is very specific to your life experience and emotions… Do you feel it translates well to other people’s experiences or lives?
AM: I don’t make work with the direct intention of addressing some universal theme. The images are meant to illustrate a particular thought or emotion or situation I’ve found myself in. But with that being said, even though at the time we may feel that we are alone in our experiences, we really aren’t that unique. I think that given a little life experience, we can relate to someone else’s creative expression, and I’ve seen that in people’s reactions to the work.
WM: Can you please go into detail to explain the idea behind the ‘An Honest Assessment’ series? How many different images did you start out with in his series? Is it an ongoing project?
AM: I graduated from college with several accolades and couldn’t help but feel optimistic that I’d be able to go out and do interesting things in my field. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons I entered a dry spell, creatively, professionally, and socially. Like many people entering the world as the financial crisis hit, I felt stuck. Meanwhile, my younger sister continued to experience success in her creative life as thespian and stand up comedian which was constantly celebrated by my family (as it should be!). I began to feel that no one really cared about me or what I had worked so hard to accomplish. I was being eclipsed.
At some point, I realized I could illustrate this feeling through a double portrait of my sister and me. In the photo, everything seems to be going as planned, except a mysterious breeze has caused my sister’s hair to fly up and obscure my face. It felt like a great metaphor for how I was feeling. The title from the piece comes from a comment a relative made at family gathering. Things people say, especially hurtful things, stay with me, but it feels cathartic to use in the piece.
The series continued to develop by exploring the weird emotions and situations in my “post-graduate” life. I remember talking to someone about some of the early images and acknowledging that while they were sad or even disturbing, I was just trying to be honest with myself and the audience about how I was feeling. And thus the title – An Honest Assessment.
The series is ongoing but purposely slow-going. I don’t want to force the photos, so sometimes months go by without producing anything connected to the series. There’s a pressure to explore an idea and then wrap up the project, but I’d like to keep moving along at my own pace. I’m really inspired by Kelli Connell’s Double Life, a series that began in 2002 that continues to grow as she and her model move through their lives. If the work is good and relevant, I want to stick with it.
WM: Your photos sometimes include hand-made objects (Banners, specifically) – do you see these as being more props/elements to the photo work, or as separate artworks that you are documenting? Why did you decide to include these objects rather than use the sayings as titles, for example?
AM: I’ve gone back and forth on whether the banner photos should become its own series, but the sentiment behind them feels like an appropriate part of An Honest Assessment, and for now they’ll remain in that series.
The banners live somewhere between being props and being separate artworks. When I first started making banners, I intended to hang them in their specific locations, photograph them, and then leave them wherever they were. I thought they could be ephemeral and photographing them would be like documenting a piece of performance art. I’ve followed through on that plan with a couple banners, but I’ve taken many down after the shoot to bring back home (probably with the thought that I want to photograph them differently later). I’m not opposed to sharing those particular banners as artwork separate from the photograph. Even though they were made specifically to be props, the thought and craft invested in making them transforms them into art objects.
WM: How do you approach creating an image to express your concepts? Do you take many different ideas and whittle down, or is it very focused on one specific idea you wish to execute?
AM: I’d like to say I have a designated studio time to work on my projects, but due to erratic work schedules and bouts of general laziness, I don’t. Fortunately, I’ve realized that ruminating on an idea for a while is a huge part of my process. While I’m at work or doing some repetitive task, I think about where I want my concept to go. Sometimes ideas become clear quickly. Sometimes this pondering process takes months. However, by the time I realize that I MUST MAKE THIS PHOTOGRAPH the main part of the idea is tight enough that I can move forward without feeling like I’ll be wasting precious time on a half-baked idea.
Little details (which I’ve realized often make a big difference in the final image) may change over the course of shooting. If I’m working on a self portrait, I tend to shoot much more than I need with small adjustments to pose or expression. If I’ve constructed something for a photograph, whether it is stacks of canning jars or a banner, I try not to take it down immediately so that I can shoot again with variables like different lighting at a different time of day or camera positioning.
Most of the time this method works and I can get the shooting process done in one session, but I’ve had my share of duds. When that happens, I go back, consider what went wrong, and if the idea still seems to have some promise, try it again.
WM: You participate in projects like the Postcard Collective, and Crusade for Art’s program ‘Crusade Supported Art’ for print collectors, as well as involvement with the Society for Photographic Education — How important is it for yourself, and photographers in general, to seek out recognition; to market or self-promote their work? How much self-promotion do you do?
AM: I think photographers are in a unique position in that so much of our work has a digital element which makes it easy to throw work on the internet for the world to see. If you’re trying to make a living with your creative/skilled work, you should probably be out there letting people know what you can do. But of course, there’s a certain delicacy to promoting yourself without appearing to be an egomaniac, a certain turn-off of mine that seems to arise again and again among artists.
For me…well… it’s complicated. I used to tell myself that it didn’t matter if anyone cared about my artwork as long as I could make it. Maybe that thought came from the idealism of youth, but I know I’ll always have a drive to create, even if no one has anything to say about it. However, I’ve realized that it’s quite human to want positive recognition once in awhile. It’s nice to know that people like or respect or are simply curious about what you’re doing. In college, I remember telling a professor that I won an award in a juried show. His response was something like, “Congrats! Now don’t get a big head.” That’s really stuck with me. For better or worse, I tend to downplay my achievements more than celebrate them.
Selections from Postcard Collective
I participate in The Postcard Collective as a way to force myself to make new work (often with subject prompts I wouldn’t have considered on my own) and to be exposed to other people and their work. If sharing my work through avenues like The Postcard Collective leads to other opportunities, that’s great but not expected – I’m just happy to be involved in a great artist community project. As for promoting gallery shows or Crusade for Art’s programs that I’ve been involved with, I spread the word (on social media particularly) to promote the event and the other people involved. I want these ventures to succeed, and if I can help by getting a few more people interested, game on.
WM: Artists over time have addressed the human feelings of anxiety, depression, fears, etc — Since your work is dealing with very personal issues, what type of reaction do you get most often to your work, and what is your response? What inspired you to express these issues in the ‘self-portrait’ technique?
AM: I usually get a couple different reactions. People have said that the work is really funny, “hilarious” even, which I didn’t really understand. There are elements of dark humor in the photos, especially in the self-deprecating elements of “I love my lil’ deathtrap” and “His advice: Fake it til you make it,” but it makes me wonder how much they’re actually looking at/absorbing from the photos. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a friend’s father was struck by “She asked what I’d do when my sister is famous…” and said, “She’s so sad!” I’m not sure if his reaction to the work came from his age and experience or if he could just relate to what he thought I was conveying, but I was happy to hear that someone had a charged response to the work. And some people have said that what they get from the work is a sense of truthfulness. It’s hard to acknowledge tough feelings in a world where we’re not allowed to be sad, and this pushes those moments into the light. I think I appreciate that interpretation the most.
WM: One might think it would be ‘safer’ to use a model and have a buffer of emotional distance – why not play it safe?
AM: There are several reasons why I use myself instead of models. One of my drawing professors at Ball State liked to say that when we are in need of a subject, we can always turn to ourselves. I’ve held on to that advice by using myself as both subject and model. I’ve worked as an model for drawing classes and artists for about 10 years. After being so closely analyzed for other people’s work, using myself as a subject has been a way to reclaim my body. And, well, I can be shy, especially when it comes to asking for help with projects, and even more so when they can be so personal. If the photo is about me and my experiences, maybe it’s best to use my physical self in the image. I don’t have to explain motivation or feelings associated with a concept. The photo is just a natural expression.
WM: What gives you more satisfaction in the creative process – making something handcrafted, the process of image making, or option C (something else, or both of these)? AM: They’re both satisfying in different ways, but my greatest satisfaction comes from simply getting something done and having something to show for my efforts. I spend a long time working out the logistics of a photograph before the urge to get out and shoot becomes overwhelming. After all that planning, it feels pretty good to flip through the camera’s playback and know I have exactly what I envisioned. Working on banners or other objects is satisfying in a different way, probably because I get immediate tangible results. With every step in the process (choosing the fabric, cutting out letters, sewing), I see the progress I’m making toward my end goal. I feel best when I can marry the handcrafted and image making process. I’ll think of a phrase to put on a banner, contemplate the perfect place to hang it, consider lighting and other ambient factors that would contribute to the atmosphere of the final image, adjust my banner components accordingly, go out on location to hang the banner, take a few photos, and hopefully like what I see. I’ve reshot several of the banner photos because one of those elements didn’t quite align with everything else, and I’ve had to put a few photos indefinitely on hold because I haven’t found the right conditions to get what I want. But when everything comes together it makes the whole process worthwhile.
Amelia Morris is a photographer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Morris’ photographs are included in collections at Ball State University and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. She is an active member of the Postcard Collective, an international artist postcard exchange group. Morris was a 2013 Robert D. Beckmann, Jr. Emerging Artist Fellow through the Arts Council of Indianapolis. She won a “golden ticket” scholarship to attend the Photolucida portfolio review festival in 2013 and was a 2014 Critical Mass finalist.