Monday, November 12, 2012

Ann Mansolino

Ann Mansolino is currently an Associate Professor of Photography at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, California. She received her bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of California, Riverside and an MFA from Ohio State University. 

Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across the United States, as well as in group exhibitions in Canada, England, Japan and Singapore. Recent solo exhibitions include the Hunt Gallery at Webster University in St. Louis and the photography gallery at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. 

In recent years, she has made art, written about art, taught photography in Ohio, Michigan and California, worked in Ireland, taught English in Russia and taught writing and photography in Singapore. 

Her work can be found through Bruce Lurie Gallery in Culver City/Los Angeles

View more of Ann's work here:

Ashley Kauschinger: What draws you to creating symbolic narratives about memory and the self? What do you feel this act teaches you about yourself?

Ann Mansolino: I photograph in order to understand my own self and what it means to be human in the world. My images give visual, photographic form to lived internal experience, and function like a symbolic autobiography. They depict not what particular events looked like, but rather what they felt like, internally. Photographing in this way provides a means by which I can search for and locate meaning and give form to the emotional and psychological texture of the human experience. 

Narrative came naturally to me. I studied English literature in college – I pursued a graduate degree in art later – and believe literature influenced the way I create images. I like the way photographs can hint at a narrative, yet the rest of the story is necessarily left to the imagination of the viewer. It gives the viewer more room to navigate, and a larger place to find themselves and their experiences in the image.

Many of the images are self-portraits. I’ve photographed other people from time to time, yet even friends who have known me for years often can’t tell which images are actually me and which are not. I find this intriguing, as I really do see the entire body of work as an extended self-portrait, even when I’m not the one literally in the image. It is somehow always about self, even though it’s not always a literal representation of self. So I guess another thing I’ve learned is the flexibility and malleability of self, both as model for the camera and as concept.

AK: You have been working on the series Thresholds (in three parts) since 2000. What is it like working on a series for a long span of time and how do you feel the series has evolved? 

AM: I began creating these images when I was going through a difficult time in my life. Thus, early in the series, the photographic self is dissolving and diaphanous, reflecting my belief at that time that the photographs I made felt more real than I did. The images provided a needed sense of certainty and solidity at a time when I couldn’t find such things internally. That’s not where I am with my life anymore (fortunately), but the realization that photography can give voice to the parts of oneself and one’s life that are more abstract and difficult to articulate through other means was very powerful, and has led me to continue to work in a symbolic, poetic, narrative style since then.

In my more recent images, the uneasy interaction between the individual and the landscape has become more prominent, and ideas have shifted toward memory, regret, belonging, possibility, and the idea of home. The work has become lighter in tone and more playful, as well… reflecting the changes I’ve gone through, while still retaining continuity in style and approach. I believe that there’s value in continuing this exploration of identity indefinitely, across the span of my lifetime. I wonder how the photographs will evolve visually in 20 or 50 or more years, as I go through different phases of life, and as ideas of aging and mortality take on a different weight in my experience?

Already, though, the series has become so large that I have had to divide it into sections. The current three parts correspond to the different locations I’ve lived in while making these photographs: Ohio, Michigan, and California. Major changes in geography have resulted in differences in the look and feel of light and landscape, and thus provided natural groupings among the photographs.

AK: How do you conceptualize the constructions and symbols that you use in your images? Do you plan in detail or have a more visceral approach? 

AM: It’s really a mix. I do a lot of writing and drawing, and this process is essential in clarifying the ideas and symbols I’m thinking about. Sometimes, the images emerge fully formed. For instance, the images of the ladder emerging from the lake – I kept drawing that symbol over and over until I realized that I just had to go build myself a winding, curving ladder out of tree branches and put it in a lake to make photographs. The resulting images were very much what I had envisioned. Other times, I go to a place and start exploring it with the camera. I figure out how I fit into it, what other objects are needed in it. Often, even when I arrive at a location with a specific photographic plan, the final image is somewhat different, is something that evolves intuitively as I work.

AK: Your work deals with an ambiguous area of idea and emotion-- a place somewhere between understanding. Is that a difficult mind space to work in? How do you continue to stay in that place and not stray into the literal? 

AM: It’s strangely a comfortable place for me, a place I seek out. When understanding is poetic and not limited to the literal or immediate, it becomes such a rich place to explore. The risk of straying into the literal is very real, and is something I’ve encountered when my (or a model’s) face is clearly visible – the image then becomes about that specific person in that specific place, and loses its poetry, its universality. By leaving physical identity ambiguous within the image, it’s easier to avoid other forms of literal content as well. When the images hover comfortably between idea and emotion, the truths that are revealed transcend the individual experience and speak more broadly. That’s important, because in the end I do want the images to resonate with others: to be derived from my own experiences, but not about only me. After all, we all are trying to find our way through this world, and to understand what it all means, what matters; to articulate how we see ourselves in relation to our pasts, our feelings of belonging and its opposite, and our ideas of who we are and who we think we should be. And when I make a photograph that can touch on even a bit of that, I’m satisfied.

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