Monday, January 20, 2014


by Jamie Goodsell
All images © Vanessa Marsh

Remember art class? It gave us a chance to use that wonderful right side of our brain and forget about how lackluster the rest of high school was. Having an artistic outlet early on (whether it be music, painting, ceramics, sketching, or photography) is really important, and I think holds a lot more value than society gives credit. It's easy to forget about our imaginations and fall into the daily grind. My wish is that this interview will inspire you to take some time out of your day to do something creative. It could be as simple as writing a letter to someone, or just getting outside and exploring a little bit. Think back on your experiences in art class and try to make a solid effort in the new year to be creative and to bring more uniqueness and individuality back into the world. I lucked out beyond my wildest dreams and found a photographer who sums up all of these ideals within her work. Vanessa Marsh describes it as, "Exploring the intersection of man made, natural and cosmological power through mixed media process based in photography." How could you not want to know more?


Give me a brief history on Vanessa Marsh.
I have always been pretty creative, my mom is a painter who had a stenciling business -what would now be called decorative painting - and as a kid I would go around to these houses and watch her do different projects. I spent a lot of time in a creative environment as a kid. When I was around eight, my mom went back to school for graphic design (and this was in the '80s), so all of her graphic design work was done by wasn't on computers yet. So I was exposed to all of these graphic design techniques that now don't even exist, and I actually think a lot of my aesthetic comes from that period of my life. I started doing photography my sophomore year of high school and really latched onto it. It's funny in a way, because it was the one form of art that my mom didn't do. I wanted to be creative but for me that was a way of being creative that was totally my own.

Do you remember the first time you started taking photographs? 
I was involved with a leadership program through a summer camp that I did and in the winter they had this teen leadership program. Once a week, I took the bus from the east side of Seattle into the city by myself (I was like fifteen or something). I would have about two hours in downtown Seattle before the meeting would start, so I would walk around with my camera and take pictures. That was the first memory I have from taking photos. 

How do you think your education shapes your work now? 
I actually have a mixed media degree, so I did a lot of different things like sculpture, photography, film making, and a lot of textiles in undergrad. I kind of took every art class I could take and I think it was very beneficial to me because now I have this well of knowledge in many different things that I can pull from for any project I want to do. 

What kind of impact did grad school have on you? 
After undergrad, I didn't feel focused and felt kind of all over the place. It felt like the beginning of something good but I couldn't feel out which direction I wanted to go in yet. Grad school can really help you coalesce and make things work together. For me at least it was very useful and helpful. 

What part do miniatures play in your images? 
For me, they're an easy way to create a sense of other worldliness. Usually with people, there's no question of whether or not it's real. I like that there's a question of reality with the miniatures…you know sometimes you can tell, sometimes you can't and it helps to invoke that dreamlike quality for the viewer. It allows people to put their own stories on the images in a different way. The process of me being alone in a field with a piece of plexiglass with tiny figures glued to it is so different from being on location with real people, it's a whole different thing.

Tell me about Always Close But Never Touchingwhat does the title mean and what can you tell me about that series as a whole? 
I haven't thought about the title for a long time and it actually came before the work. It was right after a really traumatic breakup for me and for quite a while afterwards I found myself walking around with this feeling that I couldn't connect with people you know? So this phrase, "always close but never touching" came into my head and I felt like I was almost making connections with people but then it wouldn't happen. It was the first idea that came into my head and for whatever reason provoked me to start working in my studio again (which I hadn't been doing), to kind of try and get this emotion or this feeling I was having out, like maybe subconsciously making the work was an attempt for me to connect again with people. I think the series spans so many years of my life that it kind of changes in meaning in many ways. A lot of the earlier stuff was really about being alone and lonely. Now when I continue to work on images they're less about that. At the end of the day - as far as my artist statement is concerned - they were about memory and dream, which are reoccurring themes throughout all of it. Also the idea of layering different landscapes together to create what looks like a real landscape. I think you could even say that about False Horizons, taking different components and bringing them together to create what looks like one world.

What kind of components are involved in that series? 
False Horizons are actually Super 8 film stills that I shot with a medium format camera. For instance with Commuters, I purposely lined up little figures glued on plexiglass so they looked like they were waiting for a train or something. I would drive pretty far out into the country and I would hold up this piece of plexiglass against a landscape and film it with my camera. So when I got back to the studio I would go through the film and find the exact moment when it all lined up. The black border is literally the wall where I was projecting the film still. 

What was your process for Everywhere All At Once and how did it come to fruition?
It's like a big circle. Essentially I start with reference images, so I'm always taking photographs with my iPhone of things that I see around that are interesting. A lot of times what I think is interesting are ugly things like telephone poles, cell phone towers, and things like that in the landscape. I look at all of these images and then I decide what I want to make drawings of. From there I take those images and make drawings from them on clear mylar. Sometimes I'll layer those drawings and juxtapose different landscapes with each other and then I take those drawings in the darkroom and make a photogram with the drawings. So I lay the drawings on top of photo paper and expose it to light under an enlarger. When there's the atmospheric perspective in the images it's because there's more than one layer of drawings and I take them off as I expose it so they get exposed in different intervals. So from there I get a negative and then I scan in that negative. In Photoshop I then invert it into a positive and then print the digital image from there. 

What led you to this process? 
It's funny because I was teaching an alternative photography class and we were going to do photograms, so I checked out this really old book from the '60s on making photograms. There was one section on making landscapes with photograms in it and I was really interested in trying to recreate that with the students. On a total whim I grabbed some of my miniatures as I was heading out for class, so when I set it up and made the image I just had a moment. The students were all kind of wide-eyed and thought it was beautiful and I was like, "Forget what I just showed you how to do!" From there I just became obsessed with experimenting with it and made a whole body of work called Constellation utilizing the models really heavily and then I wanted to try and change the perspective of the images so I started to do these other drawings which became Everywhere All At Once that were more like looking up as opposed to looking across the landscape. 

Do you go by the title of fine art photographer when people ask you? 
I just recently decided to consider myself a process based artist instead of calling myself a photographer. The photography is certainly the end product and definitely apart of it but there is so much more to it. 


Is there a common thread holding your entire body of work together? 
The idea of other worlds being created from other worlds is the ongoing theme from the beginning. Within that, the idea of dreams and imagination and the way all of those things play together. Those are things that come back to me all of the time and lately I've noticed it's been really important to me to create a contemplative nature in the work; something that makes people kind of turn inward a little bit and think about themselves in a way. 

The other day my dad called me up and he was all excited. He was saying that he was looking at a landscape in a different way and he could tell that it was from looking at my photographs. It was such a huge compliment that he would say that. The way that he was experiencing the landscape and the world around him changed from looking at my images. That's ultimately the goal I guess in a lot of ways, to have that kind of affect on people.  

How did you go about getting your work accepted into galleries? 
First of all, I think taking a class is super important if you have the opportunity to take a professional development class. That is really key even if it seems boring and you don't get to make work in it, it will really help you in the long run. On that note, there is a book that I really found valuable that I still use from my class in undergrad called The Practical Handbook for the Emerging Artist by Margaret Lazzari. It really details specifically how to set your resumé up, how to approach galleries, how to do a website, it's just plain language and easy to understand. 

On that note, I kind of thought about my career and how it started, and how I started to work on my resumé. In the beginning, it was a group of friends and I who got together and decided to start doing shows (that we would always put ourselves in). Luckily at the time my school wasn't uptight, so we ended up taking over the student gallery and started curating shows. By the time I applied to grad school I had this list of things that I had done. I think what that shows is that you're motivated and you're really interested in what you're doing. I think that's what they're looking for...people who are not just talented, but are really going to take advantage of this experience. 

What goes into the process of putting a show together? 
The very first thing I do is make a timeline, so I print out a calendar (I need to hand write things) so that I can lay out the really important dates. I start when the show opens and then work backwards. So the show opens on this date and I need to deliver the work to them a week before that, then when do I need to have it to the framers, and then everything starts to get filled in from there. From that point, the decisions are like, how many images do I need to make for the space, how many images do I need to be making each week to get everything done, how many days in the studio do I need to schedule in etc. I just look at the big picture and kind of whittle it down from there until I'm back at the present moment. 

Can you talk about your experience from being involved with multiple galleries?  
I worked at galleries for a number of years after grad school, so I probably tend to be more careful than most people are because I had all of that experience. I think that my main piece of advice is if you have a relationship with a gallery, once you have a relationship with a them, be very respectful of that relationship. You don't want to sell something out of your studio and then have your gallery find out about it later so you lose your gallery representation over something stupid. 

What are some ways to get your work shown in a gallery? 
That's kind of the question of our career path right? I think it's really important to be present. Just showing up and introducing yourself, being confident, networking, and talking to people is really important. You want to show your work (especially when you're starting out) as much as you can and be telling people that you're showing your work as much as you can. Even in grad school I was not adverse at all to showing my work in cafés and just trying to have the show be about who I invited to the opening. I hate to say it but it's kind of a crap shoot. You have to have persistence and you have to be talented as well. 

Could you tell us some more do-nots when dealing with galleries?
It kind of depends, some galleries get really annoyed if you send a packet, they'll just throw it straight in the trash. I've also worked at galleries where they've looked at every single packet that comes in. It's hard to know who's doing what, so I would say just try not to be annoying. Don't be too persistent and know when to leave it alone, but also follow up when people ask you to follow up. Don't lose hope because someone says no and tells you to follow up. I've totally gotten shows with people three or four years later who told me to follow up after sending a packet. 

Do people still send packets?
I think packets are falling out of favor to some extent, so like an email with attachments to your website is what people are doing more of now. 

Do you ever feel a lot of pressure being a fine artist? 
I used to feel a lot more than I do now. Now I feel like I've gotten into a rhythm more with my practice. I can go like four months without working in the studio and then I go back in and I'm really productive. So I know that those periods happen and I've gotten less and less uptight about them as I get older. Now I let it be way more organic, if I want to be in my studio, I'm in my studio…it's not a set of rules or that I have to work a certain amount. 

Do you grow special relationships with your miniatures? 
I kind of do…there are a couple that remind me of people and tend to stick out but not really. They're part of the process and the way I have to glue them to the plexiglass (which means I can't be precious with them) and they're pretty delicate. In other words I can't become really attached because they break really easily. I also have thousands of them, so…I will say that the ones I built myself are more precious for me. 

What does the word creative mean to you? 
In a lot of ways, it's just open-mindedness and being able to look at something and see all kinds of possibilities. 

Can you tell me about some of your proudest moments so far? 
The first thing that comes into my head is graduate school. I'm proud of getting into grad school, not even completing, it just getting in. In 2007 I went to MacDowell for five weeks and was very proud of being accepted there. Overall, I'm just proud of the fact that I continue to make work all of the time. It's a combination of pride and stupidity maybe that I continue to push forward and try to make this my career and try to make this what my life is. 

How can more people be creative and find time more for it? 
Well…some people aren't creative. Not everybody needs to be creative everyday, but I think it just depends on how you're creative. Ultimately the answer to 'how do you find time for things, at least for me is to not watch as much television (as depressing as that is) it's giving yourself the space for it too. If it's really important for someone to start writing for example, you can't not change your lifestyle and start writing. You have to decide, "Monday morning, I'm going to go to the coffee shop and write." I think creativity is something that has to be fostered, - you have to actively make time for it and work on it and feed it. 

What benefits do you think would come to a person from not watching so much television and being more creative? 
It would certainly help them know themselves better. It would help you understand your own emotions and your own reactions. In general, I think being creative helps you understand yourself and your role in the world a bit better. 

What kind of music are you into right now? 
This is off the top of my head so it is sort of a strange mixture of music, but here are some favorites: Arcade Fire, Paul Simon, Broken Social Scene, RadioheadBon Iver, The Dodos, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, older Modest Mouse, Bob Marley, Charlie Parker, Elliott Smith, Badly Drawn Boy,  to name a few. Sometimes I listen to Ravi Shankar or classical music in the studio. 

Please take some time and enjoy the rest of Vanessa's vision here: