Thursday, January 29, 2015

Interview - Processed Views - China Voyage

You two have collaborated on a lot of photography work. I heard that you studied in the same college and has became good friends  after a road trip in the West. 
Could you tell me how you two decided to go for traveling then?
Is it the  first time you two go traveling together, why did you choose driving in the west? 
What did you expect about this journey?

We met at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a design school within an engineering school. Women were few in numbers, and we gravitated toward each other because of a common interest in photography. We were already friends when we decided to drive to New Mexico to visit Lindsay's sister during a winter school holiday in 1976. We spent a month traveling in the region. The western United States has spectacular mountains, deserts and beautiful light. Many of America's National Parks are located in the area. We were aware of the rich photographic history of the American West. We expected to see dramatic and beautiful land-- New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment .

Lindsay   I had visited New Mexico many times due to my family connections, but the variety in both the landscape and people are profound. 

Barbara  Driving westward gave me a sense of the vastness of the United States. When we arrived in New Mexico, it was misty and overcast and for many days, I didn't realize we were surrounded by mountains. When the sun emerged, the quality of light in the southwest was extraordinary! There are huge expanses of space, often dry and desolate. It was very humbling to feel so insignificant within this land. I grew up in a city in the flat midwest U.S. -- all of this was new to me.   

Where the trip began and finished?
 How long did it last? 
Where did you pass by? 

Lindsay   We left gray, snowy Chicago by car and drove 1,500 miles across the flat Midwest. After a day and a half through cornfields, then wheat fields under a big sky, we saw the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. We stayed at my sister's house near the border of Mexico for seven days. From the south central part of the state, we traveled north along the Rio Grande River valley, a region filled with history and culture. The mountains get taller, the rivers wider and the sky is huge. We stopped to explore the ruins and artifacts of the Anasazi cliff dweller civilization of the 12th century. When we attended seasonal sacred dances in Pueblo villages, we were fascinated that the adobe architecture of the contemporary Native American Indians is completely integrated into the arid mountain landscape. Overlaying the indigenous civilization, Spanish colonial influences date from the 16th century and are still are very evident in the culture. We traveled to many Catholic missions that were established in every small town. We crossed large cattle ranches covering the grasslands. New Mexico's history, light and landscape of hills striated with yellow and red clay, dotted with green pine trees, inspired many American artists, (most notably the painter Georgia O'Keefe) and it inspired us! 
Photographers have always been drawn to this region for the beautiful light and scenery.
Everywhere you see time through the geology.  The hand of man on the land is small and insignificant. This the opposite of living in an urban environment. 

What impressed you most in the trip?

Barbara  What impressed me most on this trip was the great, vast variety and drama in the landscape. Rain storms come over the mountains each afternoon and the clouds are colored by the setting sun. The sky was a light show every morning and evening. The land has a harsh side, too – lack of water, prickly cactus, poisonous snakes and sandstorms whipping through rugged canyons. The Native Americans were deeply connected to this land and knew how to live in harmony with it. I loved learning about their culture.  

Did this trip bring any idea and inspiration about life or photography for you? 
Did you know each other much deeper after this trip?

 Lindsay   During this trip I began to see myself as a photographer, making deliberate choices when looking through the viewfinder. Barbara and I talked about photographs which could be made and realized we had a similar point of view and aesthetic. 

We were constantly reminded of the early photographers who were part of the United States Geological Surveys of the 1870's (e.g., Carleton Watkins, Timothy O'Sullivan, William Henry Jackson), as well as contemporary photographers of the American Southwest (Ansel Adams, Laura Gilpin, Edward Weston). In a way, we felt that we were inside these images, but coming from a different time and place, we could to tell our own stories. 

Barb  We  began exploring the landscape as a backdrop against which to tell stories photographically. We would switch roles as photographer and model. We discussed the theme of the images before shooting, we took notes, scouted locations, and returned to favorite sites.  Fortunately, we shared a similar aesthetic and were compatible as road trip companions, so we usually agreed on how to proceed. 

It was delightful to leave behind the expectations and assumptions about what photography was supposed to be, and just record what we saw in our own poetic or irreverent way. Our image-making  was a spontaneous, organic process. It was only when we returned to Chicago  that we became aware we were expressing something different. Collaborating challenged the idea of the individual vision. When our  fellow students--mostly men--saw our prints,  they were perplexed and hostile and thought  we should not take photographs like we did!   Those comments made us want to make more photographs!! 

In the previous interview, you said a road trip is important for photographers, can you tell me why?      (“In the US, a road trip is often a photographic rite of passage...”) 

The quest for the unknown is part of the human condition. Whether searching for religious freedom, gold or farmland, travel westward is part of American history. For pioneers, traveling west was a way to find adventure and opportunity in the 19th century. In the 20th century it became an investigation of the nature of the people themselves. Jack Kerouak's On the Road and Robert Frank's The Americans greatly influenced our own coming of age.

This road trip allowed us time and space to explore how we fit into the land. We observed the results of expansion and conquest. We studied the representation of these ideas in photographic history.  As young feminists and photographers coming of age, we began a conversation about how we define ourselves that continues to today.

Did you go traveling together again after that? 
What is the most important thing to travel and work together harmoniously?

Barbara   That was the first of an annual photographic "pilgrimages” for the next decade.  Lindsay and I traveled north through Colorado, Nevada, California and Wyoming and west through Arizona and Utah.  We visited spectacular National Parks, among them Death Valley, Yosemite. We followed the Mississippi River south to the delta. We also traveled to the Southeast, to Florida, Georgia and The Carolinas. The only thing that stopped us was having babies. Then we made photographs closer to our homes.

Lindsay  The most important thing for a harmonious road trip is a sense of humor and good camping equipment.

You said you got the inspiration from work of Carleton Watkins, and created Processed Views. Could you say more about this? 
How and why his work impressed both of you so much? 

For inspiration, we always  turn to mythology and history to guide our research.  The settling of the West is America’s great mythology and is often referred to as the notion of  Manifest Destiny. The historical  photographs of Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) can be seen to illustrate this myth. Watkins is famous for his photographs that framed the American West as a series of amazing views and endless possibilities. However, much of his work was commissioned by the corporate interests of the day; the railroad, shipping, mining and lumber to record and advertise their achievements. 

We used his inspiration to show how American’s uncritical history of using  technology and resources  in the name of progress may transform the land in ways that are unintended without considering the consequences. We hope to learn from the past. 

From road trip in the west to buliding a “west scene” by food, do you have strong emotion about west landscape or culture? Why?

 When we were growing up in the 1960's, the west represented an uncomplicated American mythology:  individual independence, freedom, unlimited resources. The dramatic landscape of the west was the background for this story, and is part of our history.  We hope that the invented scenes we make will reveal another version of the story.

What kind of work are you working on recently? 

We are always working on a few projects at the same time. We are starting a book about  the differences between experiential knowledge and scientific knowledge. We are finishing a book about gender, power and authority. Another project we working on explores the myths we have about childhood vs. the reality of caring for children in our culture. 

Please recommend one of your favorite travel destination and the reason. 

Barbara  I travel to Vermont from Chicago several times each year. The Green Mountains in the Northeast of the United States are older and more rounded than the jagged Rocky Mountains. The shades of green are rich and a sense of time is evident here. There is something so interesting about the way geography shapes attitudes of a region. Vermont is a very embracing place.

Lindsay  One of my daughters is living in Alaska and just gave birth to twins. It was a double pleasure to visit that landscape! I recommend it, even if you don't have babies to watch growing.  Alaska is like visiting a giant's fairytale land. 

Barbara and I I invite you to come and visit us here in the Midwest!

What about your next traveling plan?

Often our travels serve as pilgrimages. We want to see the ruins of Greek civilization to research ancient ways of knowing.

In the end, what’s the meaning of traveling from your perspective?

Lindsay  Traveling makes us think differently about our lives.  I just read an interesting passage about walking (the slow form of traveling) --perhaps it is a good answer to your question:

“The poet John Keats walking and talking and having several things dovetail in his mind suggests the way wandering on foot can lead to the wandering of imagination and to an understanding that is creation itself, the activity that makes introspection an outdoor pursuit...”   Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me

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