Margaret Durow is a Wisconsin-based photographer. When she’s not taking poetic, moving photographs, she studies Biological Conservation and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
THE LAB MAGAZINE—Although your images have an intimate and personal quality, the universal themes of love, time, and memory that are present are easy to relate to. Can you explain whether accessibility is a conscious goal or if you think it’s the natural result of honest storytelling?
MARGARET DUROW—I take photos so that I can look back at them later and remember how I felt. I’m not trying to create photos for other people, but I am trying to express to them how I feel, and make them feel something when they look at my photos. I think strangers have felt the same emotions I have, so I share my photographs with them online. I hope that when people look at my photos they understand that the feelings are personal to me – I want the image to make them feel what I felt, but also make them feel something personal for themselves.
TLM—Would you say your images directly document your feeling about each moment, or do you use the camera to intentionally manipulate these moments, creating and emphasising certain emotions?
MD—When I experience anything, I think about how it makes me feel and want to remember that feeling. I look around and see that the visuals, the light, the colors, etc., express emotion. When I’m taking photos, I have to make a choice about which emotions to remember and which visuals I will use to create a photograph that represent them. I want to create beautiful poetic images that don’t just capture or mimic reality, but that show my feelings and create a new feeling for the viewer.
TLM—Some of your images capture what seems to be pain and sadness. How does it make you feel to record such moments and is there an element of catharsis?
MD—I take photos to remind me how I felt even if the feeling isn’t good, because I still find beauty and poetry in pain and sadness. Photographing not only happy emotions shows me that there are always ups and downs, and sometimes the best way to get through bad times is to accept how you feel, allow yourself to feel and express it, and create something new out of it – a way to look at it more objectively and move on.
TLM—The titles of your series Weightless/Weight and Fires/Ease, and the qualities of your imagery, would suggest an interest in binary opposites. Is your goal to achieve harmony or tension and how do you do this?
MD—I want to express both harmony and tension, because I want to explore seemingly opposite feelings at the same time, like strength and vulnerability, or real versus surreal. I think they can be felt at the same time, and almost reinforce each other… like strong vulnerability or strength in vulnerability… or when everything is so real it feels surreal.
TLM—What do you think photography’s role is and how has photography affected you, as a viewer and artist?
MD—I use photography for memory and communication. Taking photos has made me realize how everything is constantly changing, seemingly meaningless, yet connected and continuous, making each part important and influential. I love looking at other people’s photos and being inspired by all the different ways to see and experience life.
TLM—It can be argued that today’s intense visual clutter, online communication, and camera technology have made photography common-place and weakened its effect as a means to document and express ideas. Do you believe this is true and how does this impact your work?
MD—I think today’s culture and the Internet, especially Flickr, really helped me get into photography. It showed me that anyone could use photography to express something and share their work with an audience. I love looking at photographs that other people make to express themselves. I think photos are always useful to document and express ideas, but with so much content being made and shared so quickly and easily, people are more likely to use photos without thinking about who made it or why. I’m happy if people want to share my photos but I like it if they ask first because most who do are respectful and try to support me as a photographer, instead of just using my images.
TLM—You seem to prefer film to digital, can you explain why and if you find it to be a limiting or liberating creative medium?
MD—I love digital and film. I love shooting analogue because the visual qualities of film photos, like the grain, help bring out the feeling I had when I took it. I love my digital SLR because it gives me a lot of control over the photograph’s color, tones, etc. Whenever I’m shooting or editing, I try to use the tools I have to make the visual qualities match my feelings.
TLM—Most who use digital cameras wouldn’t have the stack of developed photos I’d imagine you’d have. What do you think about the diminishing presence of physical photos in our lives?
MD—I don’t think it’s necessary to have every photo I take in a physical form. I love how digital seems like a paradox – I took this photo to preserve a moment, maybe forever, yet it can be deleted just as easily, and added again to all the moments that are not saved in photograph form. Each photo, each moment, is just as meaningless as important. What I love about physical photographs is sharing them in person, but digital photos can be printed and technology allows us to share in different ways, so I love both digital and printed images.
TLM—Can you tell me about the subjects in your photographs and their role in your images?
MD—The main subjects in my photos are myself and those I am close to. Sometimes I’m not comfortable taking photos, so I often take photos when I’m alone, when people aren’t looking, or in close or comfortable moments with friends or family. When I photograph anyone I try to show how I felt, my connection with them and the beauty and poetry they can create.
TLM—Many of your photographs have a great sense of movement, is this intentional and have you ever considered venturing into film?
MD—I am always thinking about the continuous change and cycles within and around me, so I end up photographing movement to represent that. I think I am better at composing still images, but I do make videos sometimes and would like to make something out of them someday.
TLM—Can you explain why water and smoky textures appear in many of your images and if you see them as central to your work?
MD—Water is central to all life. It is always around and within me. We all depend on and impact the earth’s natural recycling systems (water, nutrients, energy). The water cycle is something we can observe. I try to photograph and become more aware of my place in all cycles and ecosystems. I want to remember my connection to bodies of water in Wisconsin (Rock Lake, Lake Mendota, Lake Michigan), and I love the way water interacts with light and the feeling it creates. I also love when smoke interacts with light and creates a foggy, dreamy feeling that I often experience.
TLM—Describe your dream photo – where in the world, with whom, and in what time in history?
MD—I have dreams about taking photos under the Northern Lights. I haven’t experienced them in person yet, so I will make those dreamy photos sometime in the future, in Canada, with someone I love.