This is a continuing series of interviews with the forty-eight artists whose work was selected for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The third OBPC exhibition opened on March 23, 2013, and will run through February 23, 2014.
Megan Ledbetter, who participated in our interviews last autumn, created the work Untitled from the Loveland Series for the 2013 competition.
Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?
A: I was born in Jackson, Mississippi and grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I currently reside in Boston, Massachusetts.
Q: What medium(s) do you work with?
A: I photograph using a 4x5 view camera and black and white film. I adhere to traditional darkroom practices, making silver gelatin prints.
Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.) and how does it contribute to your art?
All of my grandparents were and are amazing storytellers, each with their own style of doing so, from the austere to the moralistic to the outright campy. Life and experiences add up to your own point of view; photography gives me a platform to express mine.
Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.
A: The photograph of Reese was taken in the afternoon on one of my many visits to Durham, New Hampshire. I set up the photograph in response to the natural curve of the grapevine—how it seemed to cup the top edge of the frame. Reese was willing to step in and see what it looked like; I knew that a little flash would help render the shadows and control any slight movement he made.
I took several sheets of film, realizing that he was blinking in one frame. What I didn’t realize was that catching a blink would change the meaning of the picture so very much. He just seemed to emerge from the background. And it felt as though he had really struggled to do so.
He mentioned to me that he is grateful that he has never been as sad as he seems in this picture. Me, too.
Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.
A: At the time the portrait of Reese was made, I was seeking out a different type of working: one more about reading an experience or tapping into a particular feeling or space, never mind where the pictures were made.
The location itself was about sensing a remoteness of place or the uneasiness of being lost, rather than photographing in the Northeast (where I found myself) or the Southeast (where I come from). I did feel a real kinship with New Hampshire and the very amazing folks who put me up and let me explore their grounds.
I continued to photograph in Massachusetts, Maine, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, intermixing and editing the photographs to make up Loveland, a place my friend Dave so joyfully described as “your hope and your desire and the wishful thinking that follows when someone says, ‘Yes! I will sing a song with you.’” I was thinking frequently about magic and witchcraft, of spells and the darkness of fairy tales. I wanted to convey the type of experience that suggests a world beyond the pictures, themselves.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: I’ve been working on the companion piece to Loveland, called Hateland (“but it would be a kind hell with a nice breeze” Dave says). So far it seems more about fecundity, fertility, about the insistence of life and the promptness of death. It’s about restrained joy.
Q: How has your work changed over time?
A: It’s more about my photographic tendencies during a certain period, i.e., a certain type of looking for a certain type of thing; the “what” and the “how” shift and change together as experience increases and the mood shifts.
I’ve navigated through a funnel of specificity, meaning I was literally and physically close to my subject (a deer hoof, a turkey leg, a magazine) contemplatively looking the way only a photographer can. They distill and exude one moment for all time. It feels like a great responsibility. I’m still tending to look at objects closely, with fewer environmental specifics. I think that’s called still life, although I’m uncertain that that is what I’m actually doing.
Q: Who is your favorite artist?
A: I’ve been thinking a lot about the Bauhaus and the New Objectivity movement. Karl Blossfeldt’s The Alphabet of Plants is so lovely and direct. I also think that Frederick Sommer, well, let’s just say that he is a big influence.
Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?
A: I would like to be photographed by Nadar (Gaspard-Felix Tournachon), to observe Josef Sudek, and to talk with Imogen Cunningham.
Q: What is your favorite artwork?
A: That’s a difficult question.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Movies, books, music—the usual, but the ones I’m drawn to involve some sort of astute observation or sound point of view. I take a lot of visual clues from how certain films are edited and how that pacing affects the experience of viewing the work. The way that light travels through my house is quite inspirational.