We started Rfotofolio for the purpose of promoting photography and fine art. Liz Huston ‘s work bridges both. She crafts a world of imagined places and times, and gives us stories from her heart. It is a pleasure to share her work.
How did you come to photography?
I’ve always loved photography. I remember as a young girl, perhaps 11 years old, seeing the wet plate prints of Julia Margaret Cameron at a museum. That changed my life and inspired in me a love of the first years of photography, especially.
Ever since then, I have collected tin types, CDV’s, daguerreotype, photo postcards, photos of all kinds, so long as something about them moved me. I still collect them avidly.
It was my collecting that inspired me to learn photography, which I did at 18. I had a 35mm Canon AE-1 that was about as old as I was. This was in the early 90’s, before the internet. Needless to say, I taught myself by trial and error, (which got expensive). My friends modeled for me, and the light I used was crude and experimental. I read photography books and magazines, and hung out with photographers at the local community college. I didn’t attend school there, but I was friends with the lab director and he granted me access to the darkroom, showing me a few things. I loved being in the darkroom – sometimes more than shooting itself! I ended up building a portable darkroom in my apartment where I experimented with toning and solarizing – I learned so much there. I think it was there, in that makeshift darkroom, where I became an artist in spirit.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I wish there was an easy answer to this question, as inspiration comes to me in so many ways. I like to go for walks outside; there is something about moving my body and having no particular destination that allows my mind to dream and expand. I visit museums, antique stores and junk shops, libraries and book stores, galleries and quiet gardens. I go on hikes and regularly put my toes in the ocean. It’s all good for the spirit, and what is inspiration but full of spirit?
Having a curiosity about life also invites inspiration; wondering about the who, the what, the when, the how. I like to exercise my perceptions. I’ll see a bird in the sky and wonder what the world looks like from that vantage point. Or, I’ll see a beautiful antique coat, and wonder who wore it, for what occasion and when. With these little exercises, I feel that my imagination expands and new ideas are more able to come to me.
Which artist have had an influence on you?
I already mentioned Julia Margaret Cameron, who had a huge impact on me. I am a huge fan of the black and white photography of Joel-Peter Witkin, Man Ray, Brassai, Doisneau, and Eugene Atget.
Women Surrealist Painters, such as Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Marion Peck and Frida Kahlo have inspired me, and really given me the idea that there is a place in the art world for me and my work. They inspire me beyond words.
Your photographs and photomontage seem to tell a story do you also write?
I do love to write. I write best when there is a longing in my heart to address, and one could say that about my art, as well. There are those times when the words just won’t come, when the longing is so great, and the story wants to be seen, and not read. I really enjoy nameing my work, and sometimes the titles are rather long, novellas themselves…
Can you share your creative process and how you edit your work?
My creative process starts with a core idea. This core idea varies in its specificity; sometimes it’s nothing more than an impression in my mind’s eye of a certain color scheme. Sometimes, that core idea is a specific detail like the moon as a man’s head, or a two-headed woman, or a skeleton and a woman dancing, but nothing more than that.
From the moment the core idea hits me, I begin to gather all of the bits which will go into the final piece. I look through my vast collection of antique photographs, searching for the perfect face, body, shoulders, waist, hair, hands, lips and eyes to create the main character. If I can’t find the details I am looking for, I end up photographing myself. My hands, my body in a bodysuit, my eyes, my legs and my hair have all found their way into my art. I also dig into the thousands of photographs I have taken over the years, which I call, “firewood”. Firewood can be images or pieces of images of children’s toys, trees, animals, paint textures, flowers, clouds, dirt, doors, windows, puzzles, mounted insects, props, antiques – basically all the little details that people don’t readily notice, but their presence really make the pieces sing.
I add firewood, and I subtract firewood. The piece shifts and changes – but as long as my actions and reactions continue to resonate with the original core idea, I follow wherever they lead. There come several points where I’ll print a copy out, paint in some details, re-scan that and layer it using Photoshop within the piece. I’ll go out photograph missing details that I need from multiple angles, and bring it back to the studio, working it all into the piece. The pieces get really complicated, much more than I think most people expect.
For example, one of my pieces, entitled, “Do You Love Me” was the hardest piece I’ve ever made; emotionally and technically. I actually kept a tally of the amount of hours and the number of layers and such, just because as it was unfolding, it was such a huge accomplishment.
The results of that tally:
– 192 hours just on compositing, in 3 weeks time
– Layered psd file size 2.4 gb
– 479 layers (including 46 groups, 96 layers with photographic/pixel information, 47 painted layers, 336 adjustment layers, 452 masks)
How does photography affect the way you see the world?
It has a literal effect, actually. I find that when I speak to people, I move myself to frame them, either so they have flattering light, or to eliminate a bad background. I won’t have a discussion with someone if there is a tree growing out of their head or a bright light behind them. Most people don’t even know I’m doing this as I speak to them, I just gently move, slowly, to a better vantage point, and they move with me. It’s like a dance. Must have come from all of my years as a wedding photographer.
How do challenge yourself creatively speaking?
The best trick, so to speak, that I’ve learned, is expecting one creative act of myself, each and every day. At first that meant Art, with a capital “A”. But not everything is meant to be art! I learned that if I challenge myself to be creative every day, I end up being more creative in the rest of my life. The challenge, really, is in being creative when I truly feel like doing nothing at all.
What do you hope your art says to the viewer?
I want my art to invoke in the viewer a strong feeling. I hope for feelings of love or even longing, hope itself or peace, maybe strength. But really, at the end of the day, if a viewer feels strongly about any of my work, then I have done my job. That says to me that I have translated my own feelings, given them a voice; and that voice has been heard.
You can see more of Liz’s work on her siteLiz Houston.
Thank you Liz for your time and your art.