Monday, November 11, 2013

Margaret Hiden

from An Unfamiliar Landscape 

Margaret Hiden is a photographic artist and educator based in South Alabama where she is an adjunct professor of photography and art at Pensacola State College. She holds a B.F.A. in photography from Birmingham-Southern College and graduated at the top of her class with an M.F.A. in photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. Her personal work and research explore themes dealing with the photograph’s function; specifically, those that incorporate appropriated and original imagery leading to commentary on philosophies of the medium that pertain to memory. She has a particular obsession with and interest in the extinct, Kodachrome transparency. Margaret exhibits on a national level and has been internationally recognized.

View more of Margaret's work here 

from 15 Glenview Circle 

Ashley Kauschinger: Briefly describe your series 15 Glenview Circle and how that informed or transitioned into your next body of work An Unfamiliar Landscape?

Margaret Hiden: Describing 15 Glenview Circle in a brief way is difficult. What led up to it was important. For a long time I had wanted to explore my grandfather’s disease of dementia, but I wasn’t sure how to do that, or go about that.

AK: How long did he have dementia?

MH: Let’s see, he was about 86 when he passed, and he literally passed 3 weeks after my thesis show, so for several years. He started to go downhill after my grandmother passed away. Which was 4 years before that. The family had been dealing with his disease for a long time. It was something that was important to me, and even looking back on it now, a lot of people ask me if I am dealing with my own fears in that body of work, and it definitely does. It is thinking about our significance and what does it all mean. If you don’t have your memories what do you have? I would rather die of cancer. So, I knew I wanted to explore that, but I didn’t know how to do that. I knew that I didn’t want to go take pictures of an old man dying in his chair. We have seen that. 

AK: Such a literal documentary style.

MH: Yeah—not in a documentary style. We have seen that before, and people have done it well before. It wasn’t for me, but I knew that this was something that I wanted to explore. So, I was in school in Atlanta, and I was close to Birmingham (Hiden’s hometown). I frequented there quite a bit, and would always go visit my grandfather. We were sitting at his house one afternoon, and I  was noticing all the pictures in frames that were surrounding me all over the house. He had a table sitting in front of him where he would play cards and count out money. He had an obsession with counting at the time because of his dementia. Every time I would go over there the pictures would change of who was sitting in front of him that day.

from 15 Glenview Circle 

AK: Did he recognize that photographs that were surrounding him?

MH: I don’t know if he did recognize them. a lot of people have asked me if I have ever showed him this body of work. And I haven’t because to me that was never what it was really about. But your question of if he recognized that photographs is really one of the questions that lead me to creating “15 Glenview Circle”. I started thinking about that, and all these childhood memories came back to me. One of them being sitting in my grandfather’s lap and looking through the newly developed 35mm prints and negatives that just came back from Walmart. My grandfather was always an amateur photographer. He always had the camera and family events. It didn’t occur to me until I started this body of work that I always had an interest or connection to the medium. I started thinking about photography and memory. I was curious if photographs had the power to stimulate memory in people who have memory loss disease, like dementia. That started to get me to think of how I can explore this thought and turn it into a visual statement.

So around this same time I was over at my uncle’s house. And sitting in his basement, sitting around deer heads and taxidermy animals was a projector of my grandfather’s old Kodakchrome slides. I decided that I would scan them in, and give them as gifts to my family members. At the time I didn’t think about that I would use the images to make work. As I was scanning them, I started to feel that these slides were a resource. The next time I was at my grandfather’s house, I was thinking how I could incorporate these slides, and I started to see his house as a metaphor for what was happening to his mind, small things that maybe only family members would know. Say, a pair of shoes that had been sitting on my deceased grandmothers side table for 6 years. Things that stood still in time. Dust that was collecting for years. Cracks in walls. Things that were falling apart. Holes in walls that were covered up by paper plates. Nobody was there to take of it. The ironing board had been upright for years, and not moved since my grandmother last used it. I started to see the space as this stillness in time, and a metaphor for what was physically happening to his mind. I just started to shoot the space because it started to mean something to me. I had the space, I had these old slides and they came together as a commentary on the present, absence, passage, fragmentation of memory, two frames are in each image, creating a past and present.

from 15 Glenview Circle 

AK: How did you decide on the specific aesthetic of 15 Glenview Circle?

MH: A lot of it was experimentation. Layering in Photoshop. But that decreased, as I started to know what I needed to shoot at the house. What perspective I needed, what kind of light or color. I knew each shot needed some kind of window or doorway to serve as a portal, transition or passage.

AK: That also relates to photography in general, a photograph being a window or passage, and to memory in general.

MH: Yes, freezing that moment in time. That idea that really anything photograph is a memento mori. In each frame the “present” is always there—the present at the time, which was the space that was still there. The line in the middle of the images is basically from the scan. Which I choose to leave in to comment on the process. The fact that I am scanning in these Kodachrome slides is important to the images. But the line also started to serve as a dividing line between the past and the present. The line is usually going through a person—blurring the lines.

AK: That line to me, always seemed like a skip in the brain. Like a blind spot, turning your head only to see a blackness.

MH: It definitely enhances the idea of fragmentation. A lot of people have compared that body of work to moving pictures. Like a glitch in a film, where is skips, and something is not quite right.

from An Unfamiliar Landscape 

AK: Can you talk about what An Unfamiliar Landscape meant to you when you started finding what that work was about?

MH: Yeah, part of my problem is that I feel like I always need an idea before I even start, and that never works. So it was it was more about me exploring the materiality of the slides, and what had happened to it over time. Time has taken over the memories within these images. As I was scanning them in, there would be images of landscapes, football games, birthday parties, things that families do. But certain ideas of the slides would be more damaged than others. So what I would do is appropriate these images by scanning them in at a high resolution, and curating an area of the image to create a whole new photograph. Taking some context out, and leaving some in to create new meaning. They started to look apocalyptic. Like bombs going off. This made me start to think about my own fears, and thinking about me loosing my own memories, forgetting things, and thinking about significance. This was more about those fears within myself by creating the landscape of time.

from An Unfamiliar Landscape 

AK: Did you manipulate these images in any further way than how you found them in the box?

MH: Yes, I have. I think I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t change them in some way. I am all for appropriation, but I feel like I need to do something to it. In Photoshop, in specific areas, I would make selections of the deteriorated areas and maybe duplicate it and put it in an overlay mode to enhance that area of the photograph so that it stood out more than the others. There is a lot of masking that is done. I am not going in there and changing the saturation.

AK: But you did not further take a match to the physical slide?

MH: No. I haven’t done that. For this, everything you see on the image has happened through time, or from my uncle’s hand. I just enhanced areas.

from An Unfamiliar Landscape 

AK: What do you think the emotional difference was between 15 Glenview Circle and An Unfamiliar Landscape—where there is must more deterioration?

MH: They are very different. I’m more emotionally tied to myself in An Unfamiliar Landscape. I am exploring why I am interested with these objects, and working with them. I think that it is my way of holding on to my past, and my childhood. When my grandfather died, I was 30 years old. And for me it signified that it was time for me to be an adult. I have so many memories of being at my grandparent’s house, and the death of both of them really ended that.

AK: I totally understand that because it doesn’t matter how old you get, whenever you go to the place where you were a child, something about you is either treated like a child from your family members or how you emotionally feel in that space reminds you of those feelings. It is totally a death of that.

MH: It is, and with An Unfamiliar Landscape, I am dealing with the objects that keep me tied to that place. But it has more to do with me, then 15 Glenview Circle, which had more to do with my grandfather’s disease when he was alive. When he died, that work became more about the space. I didn’t realize when I was doing that work how much I became attached to that house. Since then, my cousin has moved in and it is totally changed. I never got to go photograph the house after my grandfather died. I felt like something was missed, photographically because of that. I think that is why I am also working with these slides because I didn’t have the opportunity to go see what might have happened with the spaces. So the Unfamiliar Landscape is my way of creating that missed space.

from An Unfamiliar Landscape 

AK: You can see the connection between them, but they feel like totally different spaces.

MH: Yes. It is interesting. I showed that work at the Art Papers Auction, and I was shocked that young people were so interested in the series. I think there is something modern about it, even though it comes from film and an analogue process the way is has been manipulated I think makes sense to how young people process photography and artwork.

AK: Yeah, there is nostalgia about Kodachrome, especially since they stopped making it.

MH: The thing is, even though I talk about it in my statement, many people don’t know what Kodachrome is. Well that is interesting to think about. On top of the work being about photography as a medium, nostalgia, and talking about memory and how we use photography—the materials are also extinct, they have died out now.

AK: Yes, something that has been hard for me, is that I am in love with processes that are going away. I just started working with slide film two years ago, and Kodak isn’t even making it anymore. What does it mean to fall in love with processes that feel like “how long can I love this for?”

MH: So maybe part of the work for you and for me is just about our love of photography, for the material. We want to preserve something and make it an art.

from An Unfamiliar Landscape 

AK: It seems like it often happens that when something becomes commercially irrelevant, that artists picking it up as what they use. And about film, for awhile I felt like artist would be able to use film for awhile, because I was thinking about all the alternative processes that still exist, but then I remember that film has to be made in batches in factories, you can’t really make it one sheet at a time.

MH: Yeah, I think the issue that happens is that you have the small group of artists who want to use these materials, and then there are the companies that are not making money to the masses like they used to. So they are not thinking about catering to this smaller group of people still using their products. This feels like it can degrade photography. But then I think about how I am an avid Instagram user, and am I degrading fine art photography by participating in Instagram? Do we need slide film to create art?

AK: Sometimes I feel like I need my 4x5 camera--I need my film. Because I need the validation that I am an artist, because look at my materials. That might sound stupid, but it is really hard to have confidence in yourself as an artist. I feel like you are already questioning yourself so much, it is really easy to convince yourself that your work is stupid or it is irrelevant or other people can be an artist, but I am not meant to be an artist. So I feel like using a process that not everyone uses or that I know is beautiful validates me.

MH: That brings up the question of can the vernacular be art? To me, that is why I have loved the processes I have gone through in my work. Because I feel like have taken something that is mundane, something that is not even a good snapshot, and totally re-contextualized it into art.

1 comment:

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