ELIZABETH SHEAR, 1990, USA
YCS: Your work deals with some intriguing cultural themes, concerning the constructed forms and representations that shape our present identities. Would you outline what they are, and how they came to be of interest to you? Has it been an easy process to isolate your main themes?
ES: My work at large has dealt with the way in which we construct the world around us. My interests often lie in the psychology behind why we make these choices in design, and this motivation has remained at the core of my work. This idea began in my project, Designed Encounters, and became more fully realized when I began work on The Shape of Things, which deals a bit more heavily with the subject of cultural influences. This theme in my work progressed pretty naturally. I was interested in shooting interiors, and so the question came up, why do things look this way? First semester of my senior year I made a picture of a pool painted to look like it was in a forest, and since, unpacking the motivation behind making this sort of simulation has become my main focus. The entire idea really behind The Shape of Things is that we learn something about our desires and our interests through examining what we chose to preserve, recreate, and simulate. Now, how those events are represented has become very important to the project. The fact that certain cultural themes are at times reoccurring is mostly coincidence, but is certainly not unnoticed. The desire to be a part of something historical, or infamous, or fanciful is definitely a prevailing part of our present culture.
YCS: I enjoy the way your images build upon each other and result in a softly compiled underlying statement. How did this come to be your visual style, and what response are you seeking to achieve with it? Is the openness of context created by your minimal use of text a related choice?
ES: I’ve always wanted my viewers’ experience with my work to be strongly psychological. This requires a delicate balance between what parts of my process I let my viewer know and what I leave out. In the past I have included lengthy statements and no details about the location of the pictures, but when I was making The Shape of Things, it was suggested that I try the opposite, and it worked. The details about the photographs location become important to know what sorts of things a particular place wishes to put emphasis on—the connection between the place and the audience of that place. My hope is that when you stand in front of my work that you are confronted with this space, that you may have been to or seen something similar, and now you see something that you hadn’t noticed before. That is what dictates my visual style. Although I don’t really believe a photograph can be truly objective, I do try to give my viewer enough space and information for them to make their own observations. I hope to offer a perspective that allows you to have a different, more reflective experience with the space I’m photographing then may the one that you have when you are actually there.
YCS: Do you remember the first picture you made that you valued? What initially drew you to photography, and what led you to continue it as a long-term process?
ES: I can’t really think of an image early on that could be considered the first picture I really valued it was probably a very long time ago. I do however remember a picture I took my freshman year at The Art Institute of Boston of my kitchen that was sort of a turning point. I had been working on portraiture all semester and when I put that picture up on the wall for our final crit, the TA turned to me and said, “You should shoot interiors” and I sort of never looked back. I remember being really enthralled with taking pictures even when I was very little. As soon as I understood that with the click of a button I could freeze a moment and keep it forever, I was hooked. When I was looking at colleges for business or liberal arts where I could minor in photography, my dad suggested I look into schools where I could make it my major and again, I sort of never looked back.
YCS: Having recently completed your degree, would you reflect on the experience and how valuable it proved? Why was an academic theorised path to photography the one you chose? How does the cost of graduate education reverberate with you in terms of how challenging it can be to achieve related employment afterwards?
ES: This question sort of comes up a lot when you tell someone you’re going to school for photography. To be brief, I never regretted it for a second. I completely understand the fear of going to school for something so specialized where the world can only employ so many photographers. I do think however, that my choice to go into a BFA program where I not only learned the technical aspects of photography but also theory, history, and business has made me eligible for positions outside of making a living with photography alone. It has also put me on the path to grad school which has been a serious consideration of mine. It sounds cliche and maybe a bit naïve, but the degree has given me all of the tools for me to be able pursue something I really love doing, and that is very important to me. It might be challenging to find work but I’m glad I have passion driving me.
YCS: The first year post graduation is often hard for practitioners transitioning to supporting themselves; how do you plan to do this? Where do you aim to position your career, and is achieving an income from photography an ambition? How do you plan to keep motivated and avoid putting down the camera?
ES: It has been weird not returning to school this September. I think my approach thus far has just been taking things slowly, and accessing opportunities and issues as they come. I have a lot of aspirations as to what I want to do with photography, a key in deciding how to spend my time wisely is determining what is most important. I would say one of my biggest goals is getting into a graduate program. I’m interested in the furthering of my education and development of my art, but this is also a necessity for me to teach at the collegiate level, which is an aspiration of mine. This means that right now my priorities are saving money and building my portfolio. I have a lovely job at my alma mater, which the schedule has worked in a way that has allowed me enough time to keep shooting, reading, writing, and producing.
YCS: You have achieved some key professional experiences by volunteering your time – including assisting Irina Rozovsky – how did you achieve these opportunities and what professional insights did they provide? How beneficial has interning been and would you recommend it for others?
ES: The biggest piece of advice I have as far as attaining jobs and internships is to make contacts and keep them - essentially networking. I was asked to TA a class for Irina after my portfolio caught the eye of the chair of the department at our end of the year crits. The assisting position turned into an internship when she asked me to help her with a showing of “This Russia” which coincided with her book release of “One to Nothing”. Working on putting this show together gave me great insight into organizing my own exhibition the following year in terms of what needed to be done and the timeline it needed to be completed within. The other main internship on my resume was achieved through a connection I have maintained at Whole Foods since some shooting I did in their stores junior year. She has also been a great resource as to gaining more work with the company post grad. These experiences have been huge and I really can’t advocate them enough. Real world experience is really important during your undergrad so that you don’t end up floundering post grad. They have given me direction and confidence.
YCS: For your series The Shape of Things you produced a publication; what did you learn from the process? How does bookwork as a final presentation hold value for you over wall display? Is it a feature of your practice that you will continue to use, or how do you foresee your final outcomes taking shape in the future?
ES: The book making process was really rewarding. The exhibit for The Shape of Things was actually a series of projections. The images were projected onto 6’x7’ screens in a dark empty room. I see the book as a documentation of the show. They are all the images that were projected, in generally the same sequence. The book also became an important companion to the exhibit because it enabled me to add captions to the images. I don’t necessarily think one holds more value than the other. For young artists like myself books have become an important mode of exposure because they have become so easy to produce and market with sites such as Blurb and Lulu. Presenting in the manner that I did requires a lot of space and resources. I would love to use projections again, it’s how I believe my work should be viewed, but realistically I’m not sure when that will happen again. As for the book, I’m currently revising it and hopefully finding a more affordable publishing outlet so that it can be more widely distributed.
YCS: You were recently featured as part of the All Visual Boston slideshow, alongside some recognisable names – how did that come about and what was the experience like? Do you see the value in submitting or promoting yourself; how do you plan to expose your work going forward?
ES: I was so thrilled to be a part of All Visual Boston. I got involved through a friend of mine, Kelly Burgess, who was guest judging the show. She advertised the call for entry on Facebook. The most immediate value I can see in submitting to these sort of group shows is being able to meet other young people trying to make it in the same way. It’s also really great to see your pictures up there with other individuals who you have known about and have a lot of respect for. It’s these sort of events where lots of photographers come together that you are able to meet people to build a support system that will keep you motivated and thinking. Ultimately that’s really the most important thing, to not stop.
Image Copyright belongs to Elizabeth Shear.