-Donna, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today, both personally and as an artist.
I have always been an artist. I was just not a very good painter or illustrator compared to my contemporaries. I found photography when I was twelve years old and used an old Rolliflex to photograph throughout high school. I studied under photographer Walter Scott while in high school, but by the time I got to college I knew that I needed a consistent income after graduation, so I changed paths and became a creative director before coming back to photography five years ago.
I really could not suppress my artistic nature any longer. I was at a place in my career where I was successful, but not very happy. Photography is how I see and without it, I am blind. It is a way that I navigate life and understand my role in the world.
-What did it take to find and own your voice in your art?
Teaching and learning the basic techniques of photography or filmmaking are very straightforward, but learning to be an artist cannot be taught, it can only be learned.
To learn more about who you are as an artist and what you want to say, often involves someone asking you the right questions. These questions come from mentors, other artists, yourself, and all of the above. Regardless of who asks the questions, only you have the answer. The exploration and discovery period, where we find our voice as artists usually happens over time, as we continue to create work that becomes more and more personal, rather than just something imitated or found.
Owning my voice, for me, means that the visual syntax of the images communicates in a way that allows the viewer to see, not only the subject in an image, but also themselves.
Much of my work deals with liminal space and the subject within it. It represents that moment in time and space where the viewer sees themselves and the other (people or things not like them) at the same time, allowing them to feel empathy for the subject. Muscogee from my series Indian Land For Sale is a great example of liminal space in my work. That particular series was the first time that I had embraced my heritage in a project, which enhanced the organic grounding of the style and the narrative.
My ability to slip outside of the rigidity of “the norm” by creating these unstable images in which the subject operates through two points, in a kind of in-between space allows me to own that space and time by allowing for a visual kind of parapraxis to manifest. The work is allowed to create itself, in camera, with little to no postproduction. Through the use of manipulated exposure, motion and light/shadow influence, it crosses the threshold where subject and object become one. A transcendent moment is created, like a slip of the tongue, when a repressed truth is revealed to the viewer.
-What are the questions that drive your work?
Is my work engaging? Will it be captivating enough for people to want to interact with it?
Do these images make you feel that something is not quite right?
Will this work allow the viewer to know what they didn’t know before, and explore expanded possibilities through interpretation?
How will the process used in creating the work inform the narrative?
Does this work create empathy in the viewer for the subject (the other), and can that empathy help to re-frame history?
Does the subject of the work exist in an ambiguous space? I use abstraction, done in various ways, to cause an inner reality to be exposed when the appearance of certainty is eroded. When things shift from secure and safe to a reality that is indeterminate is when forms detach themselves from their literal nature and are then capable of isolating the most significant expression within their meaning.
How is time affecting the idea of self for the subject and the viewer? There are three roles of self in time - the self in the past, present and future. When time stops literally, as with the pandemic, is there an alienation of self? What does that look like? Can that same alienation of self be created through oppression? What does that feel like and is that being communicated visually?
-Talk to us about knowing what and how to share, and when not to. Walk us through your editing process.
I generally edit images on the spot; unsentimentally cutting off and throwing away those frames that don’t give me an emotional charge. However, over time I have discovered that even when the photographs aren’t what I want, looking at them is instructive.
Like the great Robert Frank, one of my influences, I try to quickly eliminate the images I don’t “connect” with, but use them as a tool to better understand what my good images feel like and how they inform each other in a series. What you reject is just as important as what you show in that regard.
When Robert Frank shot The Americans, when trying to make sense of a vast accumulation of work, Frank knew that just as he photographed by process of elimination, he needed to also edit the work prints that same way and did so in order to “come into the core” of what he wanted to express. That is very much how I approach my editing process.
-What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
Indian Land For Sale will be exhibiting at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Boston, MA from May 26, 2021 – July 9, 2021.