This month we are exhibiting the work of Christine Carr in conjunction with In the Abstract. We were first introduced to Carr’s work when she showed in our Between Dusk and Dawn exhibition in 2012. We subsequently visited her studio in nearby Roanoke and are presenting a solo exhibition of her series Monolith. Carr has granted us an interview about her work and process.
Describe your path to photography and why is it your medium of choice?
When I lived in the Virginia Beach area, one of my favorite pastimes was exploring the outskirts of the region. One day in my late 20’s I took a picture in a park that I really liked and decided to investigate photography. After looking through a few magazines I realized that there was much more to it than pushing a button and was intrigued enough to enroll in a few classes. I was taken with it immediately have haven’t stopped since.
It is my medium of choice because it is such a great mix of the right and left sides of my brain. Also, it involves exploration of the world-I love roaming and discovering.
I am also very drawn to the excitement of the unknown. While so many conscious and informed decisions are made while creating images, there is the anticipation of how the film will look, the discovery of which images will move me and the unfolding of an editing solution that will best convey my ideas.
Finally, there is always something new to learn or try-different types of cameras, a variety of techniques or processes and the ability to work solely in the darkroom, solely through the computer or with both. There are also exciting possibilities for paper and presentation options.
Walk us through a typical shoot; what is it you look for when setting out to photograph for Monolith?
If I live in or am visiting an area for a while I will location scout during the day, wait for the right light and then head to the location to start lining up shots. If I am passing through it becomes much more about chance. For example, I was driving home from Baltimore to Roanoke and right as the sun was setting I could see a building looming in the distance. I got off the interstate and wove my way there to find a mill that had smooth, light surfaces and shot all around it until it got too dark.
The type of buildings I’m looking for are relatively non-descript, with smooth facades and often without windows. I shy away from ornate surfaces or buildings that are so distinctive that they are recognized for a certain purpose or location. The ideal light for this project is after the sun has gone down but before it gets dark. At that point the strength of the natural light is in balance with the strength of the artificial light.
How did this series evolve and develop?
In 2003 and 2004 I was shooting broader landscapes at twilight that included a mix of the natural and manmade. In 2004 I came across what looked like a magnificent water tower and framed it without the horizon line. For some time I thought it was too simple, but eventually decided to shoot more buildings in that style and made many more in 2008. I was fascinated by the lack of context-without the horizon line it is difficult to determine how large these buildings are. This project has spanned Nashville, Roanoke and Peoria and the most recent images were shot in 2012. I’m still deciding if this project is done or whether a visit to another city will inspire more images.
Because photographs are often documentation of reality, photographic abstraction tends to cause viewers to ask, “what is this a picture of?” How important is it that the viewer be aware of the subject matter?
For the Monolith project, the ideal response would be that viewers can tell they are buildings of some sort and then wander from there in their impressions. The images aren’t meant to document a particular place or time; they are meant to be transformed structures.
So often, abstract photography involves a macro examination of a subject to remove context. Your work pulls back from the subject and incorporates other elements to distort the context. Elaborate on this.
I believe the simplicity of the images, composition and type of light contribute quite a bit to the final effect. I shoot close to the buildings and from below using a wide-angle lens. In addition, by removing the horizon line I remove the context that normally exists when viewing these buildings. The time of day in which this light occurs is so fleeting that it may seem unusual as well.
How has photographing at night affected your process?
I revel in the quiet and empty streets and warmth of shooting on summer nights. With the longer exposures I feel like the unpredictable can happen (moving clouds, steam) and I also feel some connection between myself and the time in which the image is being made. Also, because of the quiet, I am able to focus very keenly on what I am doing and become very immersed in the work.
Where do you see abstract photography fitting in with contemporary art?
Abstract photography makes sense to me in the current contemporary climate. I feel that much of what is happening lately involves an attempt to break with the descriptive qualities of the photograph.
What inspires you outside of art?
Nature and its power, beauty and constant change. Love and closeness to my family and friends. New experiences and information that trigger wonderment and ideas. Live music.
Finally, we ask this of all of our artists: how do you define success in art?
I’m happy that my life is preoccupied with art. I stay busy teaching, making and showing work and reading about and seeing art. I appreciate being recognized for what I do in shows, online and in print publications.
Monolith is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through May 31.