This month we are exhibiting the work of Joyce P. Lopez in conjunction with The Alternative Approach. We were first introduced to Lopez’s work when she showed in our Creatures exhibition in March 2013. We fell in love with her series The Trouble With Birds and are presenting a solo exhibition of the work. Lopez has granted us an interview about her work and process.
You are both an artist and an advocate. Beyond the aesthetics, there is an environmental and political message to your work. What issues are you discussing with The Trouble With Birds and how do you feel your work has impacted the way people think about these issues?
Hopefully, I can add my one small voice to the voices of many that are trying to call attention to the destruction of our planet and what it really means for all of us. Scientists are saying that in these next 20 years, it will become extremely apparent and probably too late to make important changes in how we use the earth. Birds are a metaphor for all of us on the planet. They contribute much to our food production with helping to control the insect population, for example. If birds are exterminated, we will soon follow since all ecosystems are connected. Habitat protection is of great importance for all creatures and plant life.
Upon close examination, bird's scarred beaks attest to a difficult life often with lengthly migrations in search of food. Poignantly, they often have insects still locked in their beaks when they have died while feeding. Though these birds have lost their lives, it gives me great pleasure to hold them in my hands feeling their still, warm bodies. This allows me to study them, and truly appreciate each feather, face, feet and other aspects of their bodies. I hope the viewer has a feeling of intimacy when viewing these images.
You have a background in sculpture and fiber arts and have received many public art commissions for your sculpture. How does that background influence your photography?
When I lived in Denmark, I became interested in fiber. At that time, people were weaving and making pillows mostly, as well as simple wall hangings. I bought a large, beautiful, hand made loom in Copenhagen and started weaving. Soon I wanted change in my work and tried to make my it more graphic in design then what I was seeing at the time. I moved "off loom" and chose to use chromed steel tubes that I hand wrapped with French thread. Leaving some areas unwrapped with the chrome gleaming through, I worked out complicated designs using positive and negative areas resulting in these unique sculptures. This technique with the combined hard/soft materials became my style at the time and resulted in many commissions and exhibition opportunities including Latvia and China. In this work AND in my photography, my work remains graphically strong devoid of the superfluous in order to focus on the most important. I have my own self imposed rules for all my work and adhere to these in all the work I do.
The Trouble With Birds is a cameraless series. How did you come to use the scanner for this project and what are its benefits over a traditional camera?
I live on a pretty tight budget and while I have camera/lens envy for much of the equipment I can't afford, I looked for an alternative for achieving the appearance and resolution of images that I wanted. Also, I was able to isolate the objects, against a black or white background in a classical, painterly style but as "still lives/still lifes". However, I do lots of other work with the camera, that supports the look and message for that subject matter. I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III. I love moving between these spaces depending on the voice I need to use.
Two Cedar Waxwings
Please explain why you choose to incorporate a rich black background into your work? Why do you isolate your subjects in this way and how do you feel your photographs connect to that style of painters?
I use the black background for maximum contrast. As I said, I want the viewer to just look at the bird, in this case, and have nothing else to compete for the viewers attention. "Look at this, give it your full consideration!" How often to we pay attention to anything this closely. Nothing in the background, no sound, nothing. Completely still. There is a connection to 17th century painters but there is always something odd about my images. It is perfectly imperfect, not just in death but in how it is positioned, cropped or placed. A wabi sabi sort of thing. Beauty in imperfection.
Where do you find inspiration outside of photography?
I find lots of inspiration in nature. Being an extremely curious person, I am always questioning. I am not a "birder" for example and don't pretend to be an expert on them, but I am learning. The same with lichen and fungus, plants, etc. and so I learn with everything that interests me enough to photograph whatever. Cutting edge dance, performance, films, books on all subjects are also of interest to me as is the work of other photographers. Honestly, how they think is what fascinates me more than the end product. Thankfully, I have never had a "dry" period which I credit to curiosity and working many, many hours at my craft. Other interests of mine are medicine, flying, botany, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and so many other things. I have lived in Europe and Africa which has had huge influences on how I look at life in a more "world citizen" sort of way. My "Earth Series" references that.
Finally, we ask this of all of our artists, how do you define success in art?
How do I define success? That's complicated and simple at the same time. First, my art must satisfy me. I have high criteria for myself and many images don't make it. And if my work engages the viewer and makes them more mindful, then I have succeeded. If the work sells, then I have some money for new materials, etc. Affirmation in any form is important.
Joyce P. Lopez’s series The Trouble With Birds is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through March 1.