Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Portfolio Showcase 2014: Susan Keiser

When trauma occurs in a child’s life, it is not uncommon to explore the event and its effects through play therapy or art. Susan Keiser’s unsettling photographs of battered and chipped dolls make reference not only to a dark past, but also to how a child might cope with it. Her photographs do not record or replicate actual events, but rather explore abstract emotions connected to the situation. In her series, A River Made of Time and Memory, Keiser’s work is very personal, yet she wants the viewer to find their own meanings as well. “While the project emanates from my life and experiences, working with relics from my own childhood would tie it too closely to my personal history. I didn’t want viewers looking for me in the images. I wanted them to see themselves”

Keiser has indeed removed herself from the photographs, using instead a doll family from the 1950’s. These dolls, mass-produced and dressed more formally than contemporary playthings, allude to a different time. The scenes depicted; dolls left on the ground, iced over, and covered by leaves, could have been made in almost any era. Using natural light and careful compositions, Keiser brings life to these inanimate objects. It is through this attention to texture and detail that Keiser’s background in painting becomes apparent. The delicate lines of translucent leaves on the chipped wooden figures are deliberately photographed in contrast against the smooth ice over rough materials.  

Though all of Keiser’s photographs are made in-camera, she still finds the editing process tiresome. Sorting out the good from the really good can be very painful at times stating, “Very long term projects can be like long term relationships. It becomes difficult to be objective.” Even so, she delights in the printing process, believing that the act of printing is one of the best ways to understand her images. Of digital printing she says, “Seeing an image come up in a developer tray is magical. But what you see when the lights go on is often disappointing. Making digital prints doesn’t have the mystique of the earlier processes, but getting it right…even figuring our what is right, can be just as difficult and ultimately satisfying.”

Like many photographers, Keiser has cultivated a relationship with her subjects. While Keiser’s relationships may be one-sided, and her subjects inanimate, in order to project her emotions onto them in a convincing manner, she has developed a rich backstory attached to each doll. We see the same figures over again, playing recurring roles in the stories she constructs. Photographs of dolls go in and out vogue, as does constructed imagery, and Keiser recognizes the shifting trends around her. “The art world has changed enormously since I created the first image, and it will continue to change until I create the last. Right now I don’t see it so much as fitting in but as developing in parallel.”

Portfolio Showcase 2014 is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through July 30, 2014.

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