MFA Thesis Exhibition: PERSIST

For the last few months, I have been so busy preparing for the MFA visual thesis exhibition. The exhibition is, in short, the culmination of my work in Columbia’s Photo MFA program. I have spent countless hours preparing and putting up the installation of my work, and in true deo fashion I gave myself way too much to do.

Leave it to me to go into a Photo MFA program and come out as a mixed media artist. My pursuit of the question “How do I photograph trauma?” led me to this point, because I figured out that different mediums can convey different things. Photography can be a mediated experience of trauma. Installation could use more than just our sense of sight, but also smell and hearing and touch. Video, found objects, and performance all have roles to play as well, and as a result my final exhibition became a gallery of different ways to reflect on childhood sexual abuse. My goal was to make something for everyone.

For my readers who couldn’t make it, I’ll give you a little walk-through of the space I constructed (with help– I had a lot of help!)

The installation was two rooms and the exterior walls. On the outside, next to the entrance to the bedroom I created, was the artist statement and my signature book. To the left of the doorway is my piece X Days and Counting, which is a series of Fuji Instax photos of bed sheets I have been collecting. This is only half of the piece, as I had the actual bed sheets in the bedroom (which you will see later.)

X Days and Counting is a project where I have been collecting one bed sheet for each day since I was molested as a kid. I need over 5,000 (and counting) at this point, so I have a bit of catching up to do.

The entrance to the bedroom was marked by a rainbow bead curtain, made with bear and heart beads. But I’m not showing you the bedroom yet– first imma show you the other exterior walls.

YAY TOUR VIA THE INTERNET!

 

 

Around the corner was a TV installation titled It Was All Because of the Bear, which featured 23 mins of me destroying a white teddy bear in 10 different ways such as:

  1. in a blender
  2. burying it “alive”
  3. drowning it
  4. slicing it with a razor
  5. setting it on fire
  6. blowing it up with fireworks
  7. dragging it behind a car
  8. hammering it with nails
  9. hanging by a noose in a closet
  10. via table saw

Perpendicular to the television set was over 150 small white bears, tacked to the wall, awaiting their turn.

Shout out to my mom for all of the sewing she did. I love you.

 

Now, around to the other side of my massive sprawling set-up were my still photographs I’ve been creating for the past year. I couldn’t just not include them– this is a photo program, people!

And I really love them. I used a lot of the same imagery and objects in the still photograph that I used in the installation, so their inclusion was apt.

Believe it or not, hanging the photos was more agonizing than anything else. Well, the plans behind them, anyway. You see, when you’re doing installation, you gotta take every last single thing into account. I knew I wanted to hang my still work on the outside, because like I mentioned at the start of this whole thing photos are a mediated experience, but I knew I didn’t want to hang them in a traditional gallery style in a linear line side-by-side. So I went with salon style, like how people hang family photos in hallways and living rooms and such. I went with simple black frames (sans glass) so the frames wouldn’t detract from the image, like with normal-more-ornate frames you find in grandma’s house.

I had to edit down out of like, 50 images, but the 11 that I decided on looked good together.

 

One of my images was even chosen for the promotional material. You bet your butt momma is getting this poster framed:

So, that makes up the exterior walls. For the rest of the installation, there are two interior rooms. The first is a bedroom, complete with bed, side tables, carpet, lamps, bulletin board, and reading nook. I had a few things hidden around the bedroom that hinted at childhood sexual abuse, some obvious like the razor blades and others that you really had to look for, like notes on the bulletin board or the text on the color guard flag. There were also more oblique hints, like the stacks upon stacks of sheets behind the bed (but no sheets on the bed itself, just a gross stain,) or the 160 children’s watches tacked to the wall.

 

 

Super-special-awesome shout-out to my BFF Christine Elliott, also known as Spooky Art Girl, whom I commissioned the wall paper pattern from. She’s amazing and she puts up with my insane demands so you should check out her work!

Here is her facebook!

And her etsy store!

The title of the watch piece is 160 Children Are Molested Each Day in the United States. This was a piece that I’ve been working on for over a year now, when I was like “Huh. Watches. Children’s watches. Broken. Lost time. Time stopped. TRAUMA.” Sometimes my thought processes are really elegant (ha) so I started purchasing watches and did research on how many kids are molested each day. I hung the watches in my studio for the past year, trying to figure out if the piece was just the watches or something more, and the answer was: it’s the watches. Children like to collect things, and adding the collection of watches to the installation built on the already existing anxiety I inserted into the installation.

I mean, massive amounts of things, everything organized in a rainbow, grids, lines… Whomever this bedroom belongs to, the child is obviously a very anxious one with systems of organization to abate the nervousness.

Okay yeah, I was totally projecting myself there.

The final room in the installation was the “closet.” It was much larger than an ordinary closet, but the entrance was marked by a closet rod and some clothing, which led into a dark room with black walls and a black ceiling. In this room played my video, titled A Controlled Performance Portraying an Event That Was out of My Control.

This piece was very difficult for me to create. As an artist, I want to incorporate all of myself into my art-making, and one of my skills that I hadn’t used was color guard. I was in my high school color guard for two years, and also a part of the Spartan Marching Band Color Guard at Michigan State University for 4 years, and a member of the State of Art Independent Winter Guard for a season. I coach this sport to high schoolers, and I love it. But I didn’t see how it worked into my practice.

Then I was like “eh fuck it yolo” and decided to give my body power. You see, my agency was forced away from me as a child. Using forms like dance made me more comfortable in my skin once more. My tale was very difficult to tell, as any tales of sexual abuse are, so I sought out flag and dance to share my story. Mitchell Clark, my amazing boyfriend, composed the music for this piece, which was projected in the dark closet. This was the part of the installation that shared my secret, my trauma, my healing.

I’d like to point out that the sound bled from the closet room into the other parts of my installation, so yeah, while walking around looking at watches and photos, you could hear the occasional sob.

Finally (yes, FINALLY) the last, and maybe the most quietly important part of my work, was the book I created.

Here is the thing about this book. I blogged about it briefly last fall, but then kinda gave it up, because I was told that it was “too much,” and “you don’t tell a stranger your entire life story.” Granted, I was kinda like “whatever I’ll do it anyway,” but I just didn’t make the time for it. However, I made some mock-ups of it and left it on a table during my final review last fall, and one of my professors picked it up and said “This has some serious potential.”

I’m so thankful for that professor (Paul D’Amato, you are a hero,) and to Kelli Connell, who helped me work on the book this past semester. The book will have it’s own blog post about it, but I wanted to bring it up because it is a 364 page biography about my trauma, starting with Kindergarten to when I disclosed the trauma in therapy in 2015. It’s super heavy, but I’m so proud of it as I feel that it is a good centerpiece to the sprawling installation I created.

 

I’d like to thank God, my mom, my Mitchell, my thesis advisors Alison Carey and Greg Foster-Rice, my professors, and Starbucks for helping me pull this insanity off. Special thank you to FeiFan Zhang and Sarah Hiatt for staying with me really late during install, and for my cohort who took this entire mess down while I was off messing around overseas.

OH YEAH THAT’S A THING I’M IN ASIA.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR POSTS ON THAT.

HAPPY SHOOTING!

 

Constructions of Childhood Trauma

Last time I checked in with my work, I shared my book, which is a work in progress. I haven’t given up on that– never fear– but I have spent the last month and or so photographing my life away. As you do.

I’ve been dragging around my handy-dandy 4×5 camera and constructing scenes for it.

My work explores the complexities of childhood sexual trauma, identity, and memory through constructed photographs, the personal archive, and metaphor. Childhood sexual abuse is a topic that many shy away from, but I wish to create a safe space to talk about these issues, especially since they are so prevalent. This kind of abuse is hiding in plain sight. By working in the studio, in the real world, and in a world of make-believe, I intend to create tableaus that draw a viewer in and make them contemplate and uncover the trauma hidden in the images.

By using a large format camera, a saturated color palette, and childhood symbols, I create tableaus that subvert the connotations of an idyllic childhood. The use of a large format camera allows the images to be huge and immersive. My color palette references bubble gum, cartoons, and children’s bedrooms. The toys are the toys of the every-child; recognizable and therefore a vessel to project the personal onto.

The act of constructing these scenes harkens back to playtime as a child, where we created our own worlds. I am now creating plays for the camera, drawing from my own experience as a survivor of sexual abuse, to create a visual language that can be universally understood. There is a delicate balance I work from, teetering on the fine line between chaos and order, awful and sweet, and presence and absence. Materiality assists me in exploring these binaries, as I use dollhouses, bed sheets, and obsessive collections. The anxiety found in the images reflects the anxieties of not only my experiences, but the experiences of others who have suffered and survived by any means necessary.

This current work is a long term project that I am looking forward to continuing. Childhood sexual abuse is a topic that is ingrained in our cultural psyche, but is hardly ever spoken about. By using my personal experiences, my hope is to open up a space where others can share their stories. To reconfigure the cultural matrix to include this topic is my ultimate goal.

I have a lot of ideas left in me and some metaphors to explore. 4×5 is making me really slow down and pay attention to my process– and can you blame me when it is about $5 a shot? Yeesh. Despite that, I’m really excited about this new work and I feel like everything is starting to come together. I worked last year on installations and now I’m basically making installations to photograph. Things DO make sense! Wow!

Happy Shooting!

Graduate School Update

I am halfway through my first semester in graduate school, and wow. Just… Wow. Here are a few facts:

1.) I’m tired and my brain feels like a strange mixture of oatmeal, jello, and sadness.

2.) My brain is so filled with knowledge on photography things, there isn’t much room left for important things, like pressing the “down” button on an elevator when you are trying to leave the 12th floor.

3.) Naps are the most important thing. I thought they were important when I was in undergrad, but man. This is a whole new level of commitment.

4.) I was hesitant about jumping into a graduate program straight from undergrad, but I am fully confident I made the right choice.

5.) My work is getting heavy and I’m okay with that.

I miss blogging multiple times a week, but grad school is literally my life. It’s sad, but true. When I’m not reading for classes, I’m shooting, and when I’m not shooting, I’m editing or brainstorming, and when I’m not doing that, I’m having an existential crisis, and when that isn’t going down I’m sleeping or eating potato chips while watching DWTS. Is this adulthood?

No, it’s grad school.

For the next two years, I get the joy and pleasure of focusing on a thesis body of work. I made my initial decision about 6 weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. I’ve already created a series that is a work in progress, and it touches on what I’m focusing on: Childhood Trauma and PTSD. It’s different than my usual work, which involves sets, characters, tableau… I just photographed objects with a single light source. I think the juxtaposition hits on what I’m trying to talk about.

I have a lot more work to do with these, including re-photographing them with different light. There are a lot of ways I can explore my thesis, and I’m super happy I’m surrounded by peers who have a passion for photography and can talk about it in an informed way. Undergrad was okay, but grad school is much more my speed. I love a good challenge especially one that takes years off your life and reduces you to a poptart eating sorry excuse of a human.

Overall, I may be frustrated, tired, hungry, and crabby, but I am inspired, excited, and in love with where I am. It’s definitely hard, but everyday I feel myself becoming more informed about the field I love so damn much.

So, yeah. Here is a little update for anyone who stills follows me. Happy Shooting!

Photographer of the Day: Bernard Faucon

Bernard Faucon

b. 1950

Today we’re going to have our minds blown by the photographer/writer Bernard Faucon. Or, rather, you’re going to read about just how in love I am with his work. Because, get this, Faucon’s work is about childhood, presented in a dreamlike manner.

Sound Familiar?

Bernard Faucon was born in Provence, France, and studied philosophy (which explains why he’s a writer, since what else can you do with philosophy? I kid, I kid…) He was initially a painter, but like other painters he switched over to photography. His work has won numerous awards (most notably, the Grand Prix Nationale,) and has been in hundreds of exhibitions. So, what’s the big deal about this guy? I’ll let his work speak for itself.

I only chose images from Les Grand Vacances, but call me bias because these are amazing. What draws me to his work is attention to detail, the obvious planning these shots took, the construction of the scene, and the tension between the real child and the mannequins. What is not to like?

Also he set things on fire. Yasssssss.

There are a few interpretations of this work, mainly centering on the play of childhood and the play of adulthood. An interesting thing I found out was Faucon ended his photography career in 1996, and some speculation is due to his work being centered on childhood, and how all childhoods must come to an end. Another speculation is the increased paranoia over children and safety, either imagined or real. For example, Sally Mann’s nude images of her prepubescent children. People have the tendency to make things into things they are not. (This happens frequently in art.)

So, he took up a much more objective career: writing.

I wish I knew of this guy when I was working on my Domestic series, because I had a couple dummies in a shot. It’s one of those things: when you think you came across something brilliant, someone probably has already done it– but as a professor told me, WHATEVER it hasn’t been done before because it hasn’t been done by YOU. How’s that for uplifting?

Well, I’m feeling inspired to go create some tableau images myself, so that’s all for Bernard Faucon. The next PotD will be Alexander Gardner.

Happy Shooting!

Tungsten Tungsten Tungsten

Today we’re taking a detour from my London adventures for a tutorial on how to shoot tungsten film with a hot shoe flash. Get ready, because I’m going to make this is as clear as possible.

I really wanted to try shooting with tungsten film for over a year now. Since I’ve been gathering photography supplies for my trip abroad, I figured now was as good as a time as any to get my hands on some of this mystical film. Two rolls later, I had no idea what I was doing, and as any sensible person who needs guidance, I took to the webs for answers.

And I found less than satisfactory results.

SO I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU A CRASH-COURSE IN TUNGSTEN FILM.

I’m a huge amateur when it comes to this film, so if you too are an amateur trying to shoot tungsten for the first time, I hope that my simple descriptions will help you in a way that I wish I had help. So let’s get started.

Tungsten film was used back in the good ‘ole days when digital photography was just a dream and studio lights gave their wonderful 3200K yellowish color cast on photographs. Tungsten film has a blue-ish tint to it to counter the yellowish/orangish color cast that is signature to tungsten lighting to balance the image and give it more neutral tones. So, what that meant to me is that I could shoot this kind of film everywhere but places with tungsten light, just to see what would happen.

The goal I had in mind was to shoot with a hot shoe flash with a yellowish gel. Ideally, my subject would be normal colors, being “corrected” by the tungsten film, and the background would be bluish. I got those results in some pictures, but not most. It probably had a lot to do with flash power and composition.

I shot with expired Kodak EPT 160T Tungsten Ektachrome 35mm film. The ISO is 160 for this film, which for me is a little odd since I’ve only shot 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600 speed film. So that was new. The film has been expired since 2009 but was cold stored according to the eBay listing, which explains why some images are a bit grainy.

When shooting this particular film, keep in mind that it is color slide film and that you will need to find a lab that will develop it. Going to your local CVS or Walgreens or where-ever probably won’t get the job done.

I’m super excited about these images, I’m so relieved I knew what I was doing enough to have exciting results, and they are so dreamy and beautiful and ahhhhh I’m just really proud of myself okay? I’m looking forward to using my other roll on my trip here in London, especially now that I see the potential.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll return to ranting about London soon, don’t you fret. Happy Shooting!

 

Home Sweet Home

At last, my lighting final is complete.

I envisioned this series last summer, but didn’t get around to it because it was easier said than done. Which is code word for I procrastinated and suddenly I had to go back to school which is where all hopes and dreams shrivel up and die in the folds of texts books.

And, at that time, I only had two images planned. Since I had access to lighting equipment, and since I had a deadline, I chose to do it for my final.

But enough of the back story, here is my artist statement and my images.

 

“Home Sweet Home” is a self-portrait series about the relationship I have with the house I grew up in. My house was and never will be an ordinary house, as it has been cycling through adverse conditions since I was three years old.

At the age of 3, the ceiling started to leak.

Almost a year later, we discovered that our house was slowly caving in.

At the age of 4, we swung in a steel beam with a crane and jacked the house up, like a car getting new tires.

When I was 8, after years of catching rainwater in buckets in our living room, we decided to rebuild the front of the house.

At the age of 9, we dug up the front porch and broke the main sewage line for the neighborhood- but only after we were approved to dig by the city.

A year later, my father fell off the roof and severed his wrist and broke his hip. While he barely escaped with his life, his left hand will never work the same way again.

At the age of 10, I moved out of my room so my family could finish working on the front of the house.

At the age of 15, the front of the house still was not done and I still did not have a room of my own.

When I was 16, I moved into the downstairs bedroom, formerly my dad’s office.

At the age of 17, the declining economy affected my family.

At the age of 21, the house is incomplete. There are still open ceilings. Power outlets don’t work. The roof still leaks, we have table saws in the place of beds, there are wires instead of curtains.

It may not be much, but it is home sweet home.”

Front YardFront Yard
We used to have a garden. While my mother would work on it, I would play in cardboard boxes, pretending they were a house, a rocket ship, anything.

Living RoomLiving Room
The ceiling has been exposed for as long as I can remember. I would try to hang sheets from the rafters and swing like I was Tarzan. I tried to make a hammock a few times.

Bathroom
Bathroom
We’d always use out shower rod to dry our clothes, since the dryer was broken every other week.
 

My Room
My Room
This room was going to be my bedroom, once the house was finished. Ten years after moving out of my room, it’s still a construction site.
 

Mom's RoomMom’s Room
I lived in my mother’s room for about five years, from the ages 11-16. I did a lot of growing up in that room, which was half-storage-half-bedroom.
 

Dining RoomDining Room
The kitchen table is frequently a mess, as my father runs his small business from it. We’ve learned not to move anything, because if we do, it’s guaranteed to go missing.
 

Kitchen
Kitchen
In-between the refrigerator and the wall, we store plastic shopping bags to recycle as garbage bags. We’ve had an overabundance of these for all my life, and I’ve wondered if we would ever run out.
 

Back YardBack Yard
In the summertime, my mother would build me blanket forts on our clothes line. We would sit and read inside these tents until the sun went down.


This series, as you might be able to guess, is very personal to me. This is my house. I didn’t do anything to make it look like it does, I only went to each room and made my sets. Sometimes I was embarrassed of my house, since all my friends had normal homes with walls and carpets, with a dining room table meant for eating, with a bedroom of their own to play in. Now that I’m older and I don’t live at home for most of the year, I’m able to take a step back and examine my past in that house. And it was not bad. In fact, if it weren’t for my house, I doubt I would be the creative person I am today. I wouldn’t be as resilient, as thankful, or as diverse. My mother and I made it work.

ANYWAYS onto lighter stuff.

Those boxes? Yeah, called ABC warehouse and they gave them to me.

That hammock? It was a pain to string up. I got a nice arm workout from all the knot making I was doing. Getting in and out of it was no picnic, either.

AND THAT GARBAGE BAG GOWN? My mother is a saint. A sewing saint. I told her what I wanted to do a few weeks ago, when I initially got my final assignment, and she got to work. We ran out of white garbage bags- I guess I proved to my childhood self that getting rid of those things can happen!

I’m happy with my project and I’m on cloud nine. I hope you enjoyed looking in on my life as much as I enjoyed making these images.