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BREA SOUDERS

INTERVIEWED BY DARYA KOSILOVA

DARYA KOSILOVA—I read that you began working with photography in high school. As I remember it, in school photography was always made to seem epic and journalistic, like black and white photos of grand landscapes with the storm clouds or candid moments caught of people on the street. When you first took classes, what kind of photos were you hoping to achieve? 

BREA SOUDERS—I wanted to take the kind of black and whites that Man Ray did. I loved his still lifes, surreal nudes, Rayographs and solarized prints. The amount of experimentation that could be done within the medium appealed to me. Of course there were assignments in class where they asked you to hit the streets and capture “real life” but I always rushed through those so that I could get home and work in isolation. Several years ago, I felt some guilt about being a photographer that doesn’t use the medium as a documentary tool. I tried for roughly two years to branch out into that world, and produced 2 projects. Then it hit me – this isn’t what I’m best at. It would take me 1000 times as long to become a great documentary photographer as someone who started off knowing this was their calling. So I decided to stick with what comes naturally to me.

DK—You often work with the theme of memory through personal photographs and objects. What makes you so interested in revisiting the past? 

BS—I’m more interested in exploring the nature of memory itself rather than revisiting specific memories. For me, a photograph never really captures a memory in a complete and accurate way. It serves more as a springboard into a pool of memories, random thoughts and even false recollections. My Film Electric project explores this idea of fragmented memories by cutting up film that I’ve taken throughout the years and jumbling the pieces together to create new connections or in some cases, complete abstractions. In other works, I’ll use objects from my past, but the lighting will entirely blow out and obscure part of the object, or various objects and materials will be layered over one another, obscuring one another or changing the meaning. I’ve experienced a great deal of loss in my family life over the past couple of years and it has led me to look back, sometimes even to stare at my past, in an attempt to try and understand where I am now and where I’m headed. Ultimately, I’ve learned that the more you stare at the past, the more abstract and fragmented it becomes. It’s just like starting at anything too long, such as a lamp or a window shade – the image gets fuzzier, larger, stranger. It becomes giant and separated from everything else that is real and happening around it.

DK—Are these objects that you photograph things that you have kept from your life or are they things that you find that remind you of your memories? 

BS—It depends. In my “Counterforms” project, I used objects that I found in my ancestral country of France. These were objects to which I had no attachment before finding them, but they drew me in. The project was about feeling unrooted, being a foreigner in an ancestral country, about growing and exploring. In newer works, I’ve been using objects that I grew up with – an African Violet terrarium that has sustained itself for 15 years, a plaster mask of my mother’s face that was painted by her 35 years ago, bits and pieces of shell and bone from my parents’ natural history collection, a nude sculpture that my father made, an orange peel that he unraveled, etc.

DK—Do you think you’re becoming more or less sentimental as you’re maturing? 

BS—I’d say I’m softening but becoming less sentimental.

DK—Tell me about your Film Electric series, how you came up with the idea and how you discovered the unusual technique you use to create these images.

BS—I had accumulated a lot of unusable film over the years– my archives were overflowing with bracketed exposures and transparencies that weren’t good enough to print but that I kept because something in them appealed to me. So, I began to clean up my archives, cutting up these cast-off pieces of film into a pile that I intended to throw away. The pieces were cut onto a plastic film sleeve – as I went to toss the first pile into the wastebasket, I noticed that several pieces of film still clung to the plastic. I appreciated the way that these bits and pieces of my life were clinging together in an unpredictable way – it was a beautiful jumbled mess. Now I cut the pieces up and scatter them onto plastic acetate, charge them with static electricity the way you’d charge a balloon by rubbing it on your head, and then hold the sheets up. Some film pieces fall to the ground, while others cling and move towards or away from one another. It’s fascinating to watch it all unfold – like turning a kaleidoscope.

DK—Do you make duplicates of the film negatives before you incorporate them into your work?  

BS—Up until this point, I’ve been using the bracketed exposures that were either too dark or light to print, as well as negatives that I don’t consider balanced enough compositionally or otherwise to print whole. But that leaves out a lot of content, as most of my archive consists of that “one shot”. So going forward, I am planning to make duplicates or if I’m feeling brave, to just cut away at the originals without preserving them at all.

DK—On a certain level I want to say that much of your work is almost sculpture to be viewed in the form of a photograph. Would you agree? Do you connect with sculpture as a medium?  

BS—I connect most with sculpture that is primarily meant to be viewed from one direction. The subtle ways that light falls onto a 3-dimensional object, wraps around it and changes its color are fascinating to me. The physicality of sculpture, the texture and weight are also appealing. All of these elements can be captured for the most part in a photograph. I’d agree that some of my work is sculptural in that it’s made to be viewed only one way, from one angle and with a specific lighting effect. In other words, the experience doesn’t change – among other things, that’s a defining element that separates a photograph from a sculpture.

DK—Which piece do you have the strongest emotional connection with? 

BS—Probably Rosie, African Violets, and several Film Electric pieces – #4 and #5 come to mind right away. From Counterforms, French Bed and Moon, and Burnt Sienna Universe.

DK—It has been argued that if art becomes too self-referential it alienates many viewers who don’t connect with the artist’s reference. As an artist that works from a place of self-reference, how do you feel about that? 

BS—I suppose it could be true for some people, but I’ve always responded to artists working in this manner. I think self-referential work can cut deeper than just the experience of the person making it – it can speak to a broader human experience. Visual art is expected to be more academic than most other art forms, but, just as an autobiographical song will touch a nerve with many people, I think visual art is capable of this too.

DK—Are there any new techniques or photographic processes that you’re keen on trying out? 

BS—I’d like to make some anthotypes this summer. The technique is to prepare paper with the pigments of berries and flowers, and then place a positive transparency or an object directly onto the paper under the sun. The sun eats away at the exposed pigment, leaving an image of just 2 colors – your original paper surface (for your highlights) and the color of your plant pigment (for your shadows and mid-tones).

DK—What’s next for you in the second half of this year? 

BS—I’m continuing work on Film Electric. Also, beginning in September, I’ll be doing a 3 month residency in the analog darkrooms at the Camera Club of New York – I’m looking forward to stepping away from the computer for a while. This July, I’ll have 4 pieces in a show at M+B Gallery in Los Angeles, curated by Tim Barber. It’s loosely themed around the body. Also, I’m excited to have just signed with East Photographic and they seem intent on keeping me busy with assigned work this year.

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