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Boston-based photographer Molly Lamb has been garnering widespread attention with her latest project, “Ghost Stepping”. Ethereal meditations on “the reach of the past into the present”, her images have earned Lamb a place in the Griffin Museum of Photography’s 19th Juried Show (judged by Kathy Ryan) in 2013 and its 20th Juried Show (judged by Aline Smithson) in 2014. This summer, Lamb was selected to participate in “Review Santa Fe”, the international juried portfolio review and her work appeared in the Danforth Museum of Art’s “Community of Artists” exhibit (juried by Katherine French). Lamb was a 2014 Critical Mass Finalist and her photographs are currently included in the “New Directions” online gallery at the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography and an international group exhibit at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art. I am delighted to share excerpts from my conversations with Molly Lamb about her imagery and inspirations.
Elin: The wistful quality of your imagery in “Ghost Stepping”, with an abundance of flora and potent references to home, conjure the same feelings I get from the novels of Southern writers like William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. Please describe what you know of your family roots and how you think that history informs your work.
Molly: I grew up half in Tennessee and half in Minnesota, and I’ve lived mostly in the northeast since then. But the landscapes of the South where I grew up – those speak to my heart in a different way from any other landscape I’ve encountered. Others speak to me, and affect me deeply, but nothing like those landscapes of the South. So even though I made the images for this series both in Boston and in Mississippi, I find that I’m always looking for the feel of the South that I remember and that I still have when I’m there. I think I’ve been unconsciously trying to bring those Southern landscapes into these photographs, memories of them and images of them, as a way to be able to enter into this conversation that I’ve started having with my history, and as a way to bridge together my past and my present.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the influence of the past on the present as I’ve been working on this series. I’ve been thinking about how the overlap between them is continually shifting and about how much of our memories and histories are inaccessible and untrustworthy. Trying to visually discuss this overlap and portray the blurring of the boundaries between the layers, gaps, and fragments in time and history, and the elusive nature of memory, is really important to me, especially through using nature to blur and bridge the inside world and the outside world.
Elin: The rich layering of your photographs hints at the diversity of your life experiences. Would you share the educational journey that culminated in your recent Masters in Fine Art from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design?
Molly: I didn’t realize that a career in the arts was an option when it came time to decide what I might want to study in college, so I combined my interests in art and science to study biomedical engineering. At the same time, I worked at photo labs and took photography classes in the fine art department and in the journalism department. The latter lead me down a path of working for several newspapers as a photographer. I eventually moved to Boston and finished school with an undergraduate degree in American Studies in order to better understand the social issues that are important to me and that I wanted to photograph. Gradually, my photography changed to be less of people and more about people and experiences. It took a while for me to turn the lens on myself, but eventually I began to experiment with photographing aspects of my own life, which is what I’m doing now and what I focused on during my time at MassArt.
Elin: What gave rise to the title “Ghost Stepping”? Is it an ongoing series?
Molly: “Ghost Stepping” describes how I feel like I’m continually stepping through the lives and belongings of ghosts, carefully trying to make my way through and understand everything, as if we’re in some strange, precarious dance together.
I’ve been working on this series for several years now and I’m planning to continue with it. I would also like to self-publish a book that will be very similar to a handmade book that I made of the series.
Elin: A notably muted palette along with fleeting patterns of shadow and light are hallmarks of your style. Do you like to photograph at a particular time of day? Do you ever use artificial lighting or manipulate your photographs?
Molly: I only use available light for the images in this series, which means that I spend an embarrassing amount of time watching the light and shadows around me and waiting for the perfect blend of them for the image that I’m working on.
I don’t manipulate my photographs. I photograph everything as it is, as I see it, though sometimes that involves photographing strange sculptures that I create to be able to make the image into the one that I want it to be.
Elin: This series is remarkably cohesive, despite the loose division of photographs into serenely simple images with a contemplative quality and those that possess elaborate compositions, echoing with fragmented elements and reflections. What are the underlying factors that integrate these seemingly disparate types of images into such a fully aligned body of work?
Molly: Working on this series has helped me understand how influential nature actually is on my life. Along with the flora of nature, light is very important to me and I think light helps me articulate the ideas that I want to try to express in my images. I think it helps me connect the disparate aspects of what I’m trying to discuss – the past and the present, memories, histories, contradictions, the knowns and the unknowns, the inside world and the outside world. I think of the light as a character in my story in the same way that I think of the natural world, my family’s belongings, and the people who aren’t present as characters in my story. Having said this, I think light’s opposite, darkness, is an equally important character in my work.
Elin: You’ve commented that “Ghost Stepping” is the result of “an internal conversation about the reach of the past into the present.” And indeed, many of your images feature juxtapositions, particularly the bringing together of the natural outdoors and intimate interior spaces. Can you comment on the methods you use to convey a strong sense of human impermanence without ever including people in your imagery?
Molly: Through working with layers and reflections, light and shadows, I’m trying to express the idea of impermanence and the feelings that are wrapped up in facing the inevitability of impermanence. Photographing my family’s belongings and nature are both ways for me to explore these ideas. Belongings are passed down through the generations, lost, discarded, and broken. They fade. They unravel. Dust and mildew cover them. Through them, I find clues, I decode signs and traces, and I try to reconstruct ideas about my family members and my history. And nothing about nature is permanent, it’s continually changing, which is one of the things I love so much about it. Ironically, maybe, the landscape outside represents more of my internal world, the way all of this feels to me, more than the landscape inside. I’m also trying to bring my own perspective and interpretations into the images themselves so that the result is a narrative of my experiences navigating through the knowns and unknowns of my family history.
Elin: Of this series you’ve written: “It probably began with the crepe myrtle tree outside my window. The tangle of branches made sense to me, and this became the way I made sense of everything that didn’t.” What has the process of making this body of work meant to you? What feelings do you hope it evokes in your viewers?
Molly: Working on this series has been a way for me to construct meaning and understanding that is my own. It’s become a way for me to connect with the past that is less about the past imposing its impact on my life, and more about me engaging with it and creating a conversation. It’s been a process of making something that lives in me presently but is enriched and informed through looking at the past.
If there is any kind of resolution for me, it’s been realizing that there is an understanding that can develop through not being able to decipher everything clearly. I hope that others come away with this sense as well. We have all had our worlds turned upside down at one point or another and with this work, I’m trying to express what that experience has been like for me, in all its aspects and variations.
I think of this series as a story that has no beginning or end. I think of it as more of a conversation, or a landscape changing over time.
For a short piece on Molly’s work in the Griffin Museum’s 20th Annual Juried Exhibit, go to: http://elinspringphotography.com/blog/who-said-it-50/
To view more of Molly’s work, go to: http://www.mollylamb.com/
Feature image: “In The Palm Of Her Hand, 2013” archival pigment print from the series Ghost Stepping by Molly Lamb (courtesy of the artist)