Monday, September 22, 2014

Rebecca Drolen

Ear Hair

Rebecca Drolen received her MFA in Photography from Indiana University in 2009. She joined the art department at Belmont University in Nashville, TN in the Fall of 2013, before which she served as a Faculty Fellow at the University of Georgia and as an assistant professor at Michigan State University. Drolen’s photographic work explores constructed narratives, using the element of truth that a photograph carries to imagine and validate impossible scenes. Her work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions on a national and international level, notably, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, Texas Tech University, and the Theory of Clouds Gallery in Kobe, Japan. Drolen has had work published in several art magazines and has a piece held in the permanent collection at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.


Ashley Kauschinger: How did you series, Hair Pieces, begin? What started your interest in how we socially view hair, and the beauty standards associated with it?

Rebecca Drolen: For very many years, I have been a person who is recognizable by my long and somewhat wild hair. My series, Hair Pieces, began with a bit of self-reflection and essentially laughing at myself as I wondered why or how I wrap up so much of my sense of identity in my looks, specifically my hair.

The first image was made when I found a braided ponytail that I had cut off years earlier with intention of donating. For whatever reason, I thought…I can use this! I fashioned the braid into a necktie, put on a short wig, and made the first image of the series, Hair Tie. The image is one part liberating and two parts manic. I loved the notion of telling an ambiguous story with only the figure and their interaction with hair as the contents of the frame.

The Wet Look

AK: After creating this work, what do you think it is that makes hair beautiful and grotesque? Has your perception of your own hair changed?

RD: I entered making this work with a sense of fascination that hair is both beautiful and repulsive in our culture. The fragile influence of context is its only distinction. We see long hair on a woman as a symbol of beauty and femininity, but as soon as the hair is cut or removed the body, we think of it as unsanitary and strange. Likewise, we seem to never have enough hair in the places we want it, and too much hair in the places that we don’t want it to be!

As an artist, I keep coming back to ideas of a common human struggle as a main point of inspiration. Making this work helped me realize how it truly is a futile act to shave hair on one part of the body (knowing it will return all too quickly) while wishing hair in another place would grow faster. I am going to keep doing these rituals of hair removal and growth even though I know they are an endless and useless struggle – that sense of irony and dark humor is both inspiring and entertaining as I make work.


AK: Take us through your photographic process. How do you begin thinking about bringing an image together? How do you think about the construction of an image? What is a day of shooting like for you?

The start of making individual images for this project happened in a lot of different ways. Sometimes I would begin with a phrase that I wanted to illustrate, sometimes I would find an object or prop that I knew I could transform in purpose, and other times I would tinker and struggle through means of illustrating how a view of a certain kind of hair could be forced to walk the line between beautiful and strange.

Simplicity was my one rule in terms of frame construction and design. I wanted the photographs to be illustrative of an idea, but not documentary in nature. The blank spaces and limited depth of foreground to background space allowed the images to feel like the subject offered is something akin to a specimen to be studied.

Each of the images have been shot in my home. I tried to start with as blank a space as is possible and then only add the few necessary elements to tell the story. I made the work while I was mostly alone and became a bit compulsive about arranging and re-arranging items in the frame. The images were all constructed in front of the camera, as opposed to later in post-processing, which means I got to buy a huge amount of synthetic hair!


AK: Can you discuss a bit about the jewelry pieces and what they signify in the series?

The jewelry pieces that are a part of the series offer a tip of the hat to one of the main elements of historic inspiration for the project: Victorian Mourning Jewelry. After the death of her husband, Queen Victoria spent the remaining decades of her life in public mourning in the late 19th century. Her celebrity and influence over culture at the time meant that it became fashionable to mourn, thus an industry of mourning formed. One very popular product/service of that emerged at the time was jewelry pieces made from the hair of a deceased loved one. The hair was intricately woven in to bracelets, lockets, and other ornate casings. While our current culture may get squeamish or find it morbid to wear the hair of the departed, at the time it was an incredibly sentimental and loving gesture.

There is something about the archival, lasting quality of hair as well as its link to memory that is mirrored in how we treasure and store photographs of loved ones. This link was one part of the compulsion to make my jewelry objects of hair mixed with images. I was also interested in twisting the sentimentality of the Victorian pieces and instead mourn the loss of the hair itself. Commemorated and given a sense of nostalgia within my jewelry pieces is hair that may have otherwise been undesirable – toe hair, eyebrow tweezings, etc. Instead of the hair being discarded, it is elevated to a state of beloved memory.


AK: What advice do you have for fine art photographers navigating the world? What has been your process of finding funding, time, and jobs after you graduated?

You have to be consumed with the will to make work and willing to put in a lot of hours to do so. There are countless distractions and no right answers or direct paths toward success. It seems incredibly important to show up, work hard, meet other people who are making art, create community, and take a lot of risks. It can be overwhelming to observe how many talented Photographers are making work right now, but there is always room for unique voices and compelling new images. The most important element in staying motivated is to remain sincere as you find the content that you care about and are willing to take some authority to speak about in your art-making. Other than that, whether it is jobs, exhibition opportunities, or reaching out to new artist friends, I try to put myself out there as much as possible, manage my disappointment with failures, and let the successful moments fuel me forward!

Hair Cut

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