Somewhere between dreams and the almost forgotten memories of childhood are where Carolyn Hampton’s photographs dwell. She takes us back to fighting our fears of what lives under the bed at night, to becoming the fearless adventurer hiking through the woods. We can journey back to days when dancing in our living rooms, could become a dance in a castle in a far-off land.
Innocence and heroics, skill and imagination, bring her photography to life.
It is like feeling the sun on our face.
What photographers inspire you?
So many and it’s an ever-evolving list, but I really love the work of Jock Sturges, Sally Mann, Rodney Smith, and Keith Carter. I keep piles of art history books by the side of the bed so I have to say I am also inspired by a large number of painters.
Can you tell me what a typical day (when you are shooting) is like your work process?
I typically will recall a certain dream or memory from childhood and I will sketch it in a notebook. At that point, I search for a shooting location, props and wardrobe. Then I discuss the concept with my daughter and we try to bring it to life. We only shoot if she feels up to it that day and it is never forced on her. Sometimes, she will improvise and add her own elements while we are shooting, and many of the images that are not pre-planned are among my favorites. Unlike me, my daughter was born with such grace — we have always called her the “tiny dancer”. As James Taylor wrote, “there is something in the way she moves, or looks my way or calls my name…”
Do you feel like your photography is a collaborative art form?
Most definitely. My daughter is so generous with her time, with her emotions, with her soul. I would not be the photographer I am today without her willingness to give so much of herself. We have a very strong bond and I hope it shows. My husband often assists with the shoots and gives advice, so it is a family effort.
What makes a great photograph ? ( not yours but someone else’s).
While I can certainly appreciate a beautiful landscape, I am most drawn to portraits. For me, the strongest portraits are the ones where there is some kind of bond between the photographer and the subject. I didn’t really think about that as an overall concept when I first set out to do serious work, but that is something that Jock Sturges really hits home when he mentors emerging photographers, and he is so right. I do admire the imaginative, clever and whimsical work by someone like Rodney Smith, but I am most drawn to portraits that pull you in and make you stop and stare. They make you wonder what else is going on, what the back story is. In that sense, I also enjoy images that tell some kind of story.
What feelings or messages are you trying to convey with your work?
I can’t say I am consciously trying to convey a feeling in that I am intent on recreating my childhood memories and dreams, but I do think that overall, there is a sense of melancholy and isolation in a lot of my work. The dream work can be surreal and bewildering. I also think that since the images are in a sense, through a child’s eyes, there is at times a sense of innocence and wonder. These are the emotions and adjectives and people most frequently reference.
How do you feel navigating the fine art world?
For the most part, it has been amazing to see that the work I feel compelled to create, almost as a form of therapy, has been well received. I am so honored when I get comments from people all over the globe telling me that the work affected them in some way. I have made many friends in the art world, some by meeting in person, and many via the Internet, and I cherish those friendships. I am constantly learning from all of them and we share information. Sometimes I am confused when I get very strong, conflicting opinions about what I should or shouldn’t do, especially in a portfolio review setting. I have gotten better at sifting through the opinions and listening to my gut instincts.
Any big surprises?
To be where I am today — with gallery representation, with some collectors of my work, to be published in various places, to have exhibited on 3 continents — that is still a surprise to me!
What photographic endeavor would you love to do next?
I need to finish my two main series because I hope to have a solo show later this year. I am also going to learn how to use a large format camera and possibly wet plate collodion. If I have the patience for wet plates, I do have a series in mind. I will keep you posted!
Your photographs seem to lend themselves to becoming a special edition book, such as something made by Cloverleaf Studios (as in Ken Rosenthal’s catalogue) or 21st Editions. Anything like that in the works?
Nothing to report, but that would be a dream come true!
Thank you for time and your art.
To learn more about the work of Carolyn Hampton.