See more of Art Nomad’s art at: Art Nomad
For additional interviews with photographers see: Bradley Shelton
In March of 2014, four photographers who often exhibit together and who call their collective, Art Nomad, had a special one week show at Graffiti Gallery. The show was entitled, “Symbiosis”. Soon to graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design (Atlanta Campus), they had already had several shows in Atlanta. This interview was conducted with all the members present a few weeks prior to the opening of their show.
How long have you been together as Art Nomad?
JB: It’s been ten months since our first show, but we began working together as a group about six months before that. Last year we had two shows in Atlanta galleries. One was at The Cube Gallery, and the theme was ‘Identity’. The other was at the C4 Arts Center and was called ‘The Art of Story Telling’. Le Le was the mastermind behind our name, Art Nomad. Originally we started with six people, but being students and having jobs made the logistics pretty hard, so some people dropped out when they found they just couldn’t handle the extra work. Caitlin, myself, and Le Le have been part of the group from the beginning, but this is April’s first show with us.
What dynamics are involved with working as a group?
LL: We’re all dedicated to what we do, and we work together well. We really care about each other as people and not just as fellow artists. Even when we don’t have a show we’re always meeting and talking with each other about what we’re working on, our ideas, critiquing old work, thinking and planning. That’s what makes us tick as a group: we’re always pushing and inspiring each other.
“(In)Justice is a quality relating to unfairness or undeserved outcomes. The past few years have generated an intense and unsettling conversation on injustice within the judicial system. To the general public these injustices were powered by an underlying racial discrimination. Fueled by the media, the cases were questioned over and over again as being a direct effect of racial discrimination. My photos depict the facts that I came across. Whether big or small, these facts were present. I want to present to the viewer a simplified view of some of these facts in hopes that you take away from this your own decision, regardless of the racial influence.”– Le Le Leseur Le Le Leseur
AB: The group drives us and we drive the group. As a group we’re out there getting shows together and promoting our work. At the same time, the group helps each individual process what she’s doing, providing fresh eyes and suggesting ways to make the work better.
LL: As individuals we all have different ideas toward our work, but we all push to create work that goes beyond the traditional idea of what photography is. We all consider ourselves artists working in the medium of photography.
JB: The shows we’ve done and will do are something that working as a group can bring to us, but the binding force in Art Nomad is just the group itself. Before I found Art Nomad I didn’t really have a notion of belonging. Now I belong with this group. I think we all belong with this group.
Do you think it’s important to the group dynamics that you’re all women?
CS: Wow, I don’t believe we’ve ever given any thought to that!
AB: The photography department at SCAD is very female heavy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any guys around who would want to work with us. However, our group is really strong and it just so happens that we are all women.
When you began putting together Symbiosis, did you plan it so each member’s work would re-enforce the work of the others?
AB: When we began working on this show we thought about a theme, but we decided it should be about the group. That’s why we called it ‘Symbiosis’. When you look at how artists have banded together in the past, I think the goal of this show becomes clearer. For instance, Ansel Adams had a group of photographers around him who worked as a collaborative group. Artists have worked both individually and in groups all through time. They influence each other and present work together.
LL: There are narratives in all our work, but we aren’t fitting those narratives to a single theme. We are presenting narratives from our own point of view.
CS: A really important common element in all our work is storytelling. Finding ways to combine the aesthetics of art with a conceptual approach based on narrative is very important to us. Since there are elements and aspects of art that we all have in common, that’s really what forms the central thread of Symbiosis. Each of us will tell our own narrative, but I think the viewer will see general themes emerge based on our commonalities.
Why did each of you choose photography and how did you come to see that as your medium?
JB: My mom was a photographer and a writer who worked for the Amarillo Globe News and some other Texas newspapers. Following in her footsteps, I was on my high school newspaper. They needed someone who had dealt with a camera, and I thought doing it would be fun. I became obsessed with photography and with the whole process, and when people began to respond to my work, even though it was just in a high school newspaper, I realized I could communicate that way. Later in college I had a boyfriend who was a film guy and we fell in love doing art and using cameras, lenses, and film. I got my degree in mass communication but I knew I wanted to go to art school in photography and enrolled at SCAD.
“I chose to feature my series of film stills from my short story Pennae Allae, which means Feather Wings in Latin. This story of redemption allows me to create allegorical characters that represent the actions of the corruptly powerful and the selfless who sacrifice much to preserve their culture. This work focuses on the importance of imagination, forgiveness, and the relentless pursuit of justice and authenticity. The photographs in this series are meant to be viewed in relationship to each other, but they also stand alone as visual escapes from reality and the non-magical physics of this atmosphere.”
—Jordan Bailey Jordan Bailey
LL: I was a late bloomer. I never saw myself as an artist growing up; I just knew I had a creative voice that I needed to let speak. I wrote poetry a lot. In my first college I took an art course and was exposed to the work of lots of modern artists who expressed their messages simply and directly. Then I took a photography course and I loved it—really loved it. I loved the dark room, and the chemicals, and just everything. Then I started working in digital and found my voice. I could tell my own story and have my own voice.
CS: My mother was an artist and as soon as I could hold a pencil she had me doing all kinds of art. I got into painting, drawing, and collage. She was the one who gave me my first camera and enrolled me in a photography class. When she passed away I didn’t do photography for two years; it just reminded me too much of her. In time I came to the realization that art was just a part of me and I was miserable not doing art. I wanted to use art to capture the emotional country I was going through at that time in my life. Photography was a way to explore. I started with self-portraiture and the ideas that came out of that. Now I want to make art for the digital age and my work has a strong emphasis on exploiting the digital aspects of photography – Photoshop and the manipulation of the image.
AB: My dad always had a camera in his hands and took pictures of everything – horrible pictures. He grew up poor and he said he wanted to document everything he could from our family because he had so little remaining from his birth family. I hated being photographed. One day I took the camera and photographed him. I thought, ‘Wow, I can make something from this!’ I didn’t take an actual photography class until my senior year in high school – it was a dark room class – and I fell in love with it. I went off to college at the University of West Georgia and was there about six months before I packed up and came back home. My family wasn’t very happy about that, but I’d made my decision. For the next two years all I did was photography. Then I enrolled at SCAD.
You all work digitally, and the possibilities for manipulating the image are practically endless. How do you feel about that?
AB: The image that you end with is not usually the image that you take. You have to make the final image as you saw it.
CS: As you saw it as an artist.
AB: Yes, as you experienced it and you how you want to portray that experience to the viewer. I don’t do a lot of manipulation in my work. I’ll restore the old photos that I’m working with to a certain point, but I want to keep an essence that says, “I’m old.” As for my new photography, I don’t do much manipulation with that either. I just try to get the artifact, the image, to reflect what was meaningful to my eye when I took the original shot.
CS: I think we all approach photography as a way of making art and not just as documentation. The advertising work that some of us do is more of a gray area. For my fine art work, I think Photoshop is an amazing tool.
So do you take the original photograph just as a point of departure and manipulate your way to personal statement?
CS: It really depends on my concepts and the starting point. I have no problem with pulling material from multiple sources and combining and altering it to get what I want as an artist. Not all of my work is heavily Photoshopped, but if that’s necessary, then I’ll do it.
“Art is more than an expression to me – it is an exploration and a conversation. I find myself turning my work towards the discussion of identity within a greater cultural context. Rather than creating highly introverted work, I want to raise relevant and relatable questions about what identity is, who controls it, and how it can be affected by outside influences. Combining these concepts with my love for digital art is what brought me to my latest series, Lights.”
– Caitlin Sciscoe Caitlin Sciscoe
JB: As an artist I want to create an experience for the viewer. How the camera, as a machine, records ‘reality’ won’t necessarily look the same as my personal ‘reality’. Besides I like to create alternate ideas of reality. I don’t want someone to look at one of my images and think it’s bad Photoshop, and I don’t use Photoshop just to use Photoshop, but I do use it to create something that I feel is both believable and fantastical at the same time. In my work for Pennae Allae, which is Latin for ‘feather wings’, I have used it when necessary in order to create a world of fantasy. It’s hard to find actors who can actually fly through the air so I had to do that digitally, of course. My goal, however, was to create an ‘other reality’ that people will accept.
LL: As far as manipulating the image goes, it’s sort of back and forth with me. What I want to showcase to the viewer will determine how much I use Photoshop. But let’s face it, all art is manipulation. Even if you don’t use Photoshop at all, there are still the effects of lenses and the camera settings that can produce all sorts of alteration of reality. Even the idea of “bad Photoshop” is an idea that some artists art taking and running with. They use Photoshop in ways that are objectively bad, but force the viewer into a ‘why?’ reaction. We learn the rules so we can break the rules.
AB: Context and intent are the key.
CS: Yeah, it’s not taking a photograph, it’s making a photograph.
LL: People think of photography as documenting reality, but as artists, we often go against what the viewer expects a photograph to be.
CS: I think photography in the future will no longer be about reality as much. Just as Jackson Pollock dripped paint and walked on his canvas and took painting to a new place, I think the expression available digitally has done that for photography.
AB: Really, Photoshop and digital techniques have just brought manipulation of the image out of the shadows, or out of the dark room, so people are aware of it and can question it. It allows them to ask more direct questions about what they see. In the past, photos, such as those in Life magazine, were taken as simply true. With the coming of digital age, people are becoming visually sophisticated enough to see the image as the truth of the artist.
LL: You can manipulate your photo 1% or 99% but you have to take in to account what the viewer will accept as the truth – literally or artistically.
CS: And the pendulum constantly swings back and forth in art. When digital alteration of the image has been pushed long enough there will be a swing back toward a more minimalist approach.
LL: Yeah, I think that’s already happening.
Let’s talk a bit about your subject matter. To what extent does it need to be personal for you and to what extent is it just material to work on?
CS: Anything you choose to photograph becomes personal because you chose to photograph it.
LL: I feel the same way. And even if it has nothing to do with you, you still find connections with it as you work with it.
JB: Yes, even with commercial photography there still can be a personal element. I shoot for a jewelry company and my goal is to make the best possible photographs and to use my skills to please the client, but of course It is more personal and more meaningful doing art photography. I’m very interested in ideas and was a world religions minor before coming to SCAD. I am drawn to explore other people’s belief systems and how those exist. Work involving that sort of thing is very personal for me.
AB: For me it definitely has to have a personal element, and I find that to be very powerful in the old photos I use. It has to be personal but you also have to have an eye for compelling aesthetic portrayal, too. I’ve been asked if my source material had to be my own family photos or could I just use something I picked up in an antique store. I could certainly do it technically from someone else’s pictures, but my family photos have meaning for me because I feel I’m giving life to the people of my past.
“Forgotten objects left out for the earth to devour, homes left without families to house and once cherished photos now forgotten and hidden away. For me these things are only mysteries waiting to be solved. I’m presenting five different sets of photographs in this show and each set contains a combination of found photographs, abstractions and abandoned objects. Each has a story to tell. Some are about the people while others are focused on the objects they’ve left behind.”
– April Bell April Bell
CS: As fine art photographers we’re lucky to be working at the present time. Photography has changed so much, and now things are wide open. For this show I’m creating visual abstractions and really pushing and stretching myself.
In what ways do the colors you choose or the choice not to use color impact your work?
AB: Since I’m working with old photos that are sepia now or have a pale washed-out color to them, my palette has to be muted. It’s funny, but I only became aware of that after looking back over work I had done. My color choice evolved organically. Now, I’d have to say, those choices are much more consciously made.
JB: I think I tend to gravitate toward cool tones – blues and greens. But really, my palette is suggested by the subject. In Pennae Allae there are two different worlds, and I use different color tones as a way of making the differences explicit. In the more magical world I use smoke and blues to create a different atmosphere.
CS: How you choose to use color is very important. There’s the whole psychology of color and the cultural reference it has, so once again, I think it all relates back to the narrative of the work you’re presenting. I always shoot in color and then make decisions on if and how to modify it.
LL: The way I like to approach color is to think in terms of both how people react to color and how they will react to the juxtaposition of colors. In the work I’m doing now, the backgrounds are these jubilant pinks and blues, but the objects in the forefront are peaceful and serene greens.
How does the size of the finished piece factor in?
AB: When I work from family photos I want the intimacy that a small print size provides. The old snap shots are intimate things, and I want the viewer to get close, see the detail, and enter into a dialogue with the image. With the really large format panoramas I’ve done, it’s very different. With those I want people to experience a sense of actually being in, and enveloped by, a specific place.
LL: Sometimes there is a real struggle around the issue of size. Viewers usually want to see everything big. We get told in our classes to “go big or go home”, but that demand can be at odds with the subject or with what we want the viewer to feel about the subject. You have to ask yourself if bigger really is better or if smaller would be better.
Granted you are all at the beginning of your careers, but do you have a sense of where you work will be going over the next few years?
JB: I’m going to be working on and expanding Pennae Allae. That’s the big project that I want to get done.
LL: I see myself exploring how photography relates to other art forms. I also think that a strong narrative approach will remain important to me.
CS: I got into photography to explore who I am. Looking back, I see a progression from self-portraits, to my family, to my immediate surroundings. Moving forward, I see the process of exploring my identity continuing and spreading outward. Culturally who am I? How do I relate to the outside world? I’d also like to start exploring the possibilities in printing on things like glass and aluminum.
AB: I’ve become interested in installation, so I may do something there, but frankly, I’m in love with what I’m doing right now, so I’ll just go where the art takes me and try not to overthink things.
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