Rfotofolio is pleased to share the work and words of Carolyn Marks Blackwood.
Please tell us about yourself.
Hummm . . . I’m bad at talking about myself. I have lived a very lucky creative life in so many ways. I have been writing, making music and taking photos since I was a kid. I received my first camera from my father (who was a beautiful photographer!) when I was seven and spent many happy hours in the dark room with him. I also started writing poetry and short stories when I was about eleven. I still have my note books filled with the most angst filled writings. I played the piano by ear when I was five. I had a lonely childhood and creative pursuits saved my life, as they did for so many other artists.
I was a singer-song writer in my late teens and twenties, recording all kinds of music and commercials as a back up singer. I sang Jazz with the Joe Newman Quartet and the George Coleman Octet for a few years. It was wonderful. Then, I realized that performing live made me very anxious ( I was great in the recording studio) and I decide that I wanted to be behind the scenes instead. Read a book on how to write a screenplay and off I went-I wrote my first one, called “Barbette”. This script attracted the producer Gaby Tana who I became partners with a few years later when we formed our company Magnolia Mae films.
Being a writer is wonderful when you have a baby and by then I had my son. Gaby and I have been working together since 1992 and formed Magnolia Mae in 1997. We’ve produced “The Duchess”, “Coriolanus”, and last year we produced two movies “The Invisible Woman” and “Philomena”.
I always had been taking photographs. It was a passion of mine, but I never took myself seriously. In 2006, I acquired a house on a 120 ft cliff with sweeping views of the Hudson River, Kingston and the Kingston light, and the Catskills mountains. I had just gotten a computer to use for Garage band as I planned on starting to write music again, but the view before me beckoned and I started shooting my little heart out. I offered two shots to our little local library for their silent auction, and they sold very well, so I was asked to be in an art show to raise money for the library. I had ten photos on the wall and they all sold and then Barbara Rose, a rather famous art historian and curator came in and saw my work. She told me she was curating a show with two painters and two photographers in Chelsea and would I be the second photographer. Wow. That spun me around and forced me to see that I was a photographer. After so many years working in a group on films, it was wonderful to have something that was just my own. I found a gallery in NYC the following year (The Alan Klotz Gallery) and appeared in the 2008 AIPAD photography show in Alan’s booth that year and have been in the AIPAD show ever since . . . . It was sort of unbelievable to me. I know it shocked a number of my friends who were artists. Somehow I had shown up in a balloon while they had spent years and years working on their art and nothing like that had happened to them . . . . It was a very strange time for a few of my friendships . . . But for the past seven years, photography has dominated my life . . . happily. I never did get back to writing music.
How did you get started photography?
Got my first brownie from my father when I was seven when I went to a sleep away camp for the first time . . . . I loved it even then.
If you could work with another photographer from the past who would it be. What about his or her work inspires you?
To be honest I don’t come from a photography back ground, I come from a contemporary art background. I may have had a lonely childhood, but the one thing we did have, was exposure to the arts. We went to ballets and the New York Philharmonic and went to lots of museums. My Grandmother collected art and was a painter. We were bombarded with the arts. My eyes are informed by color field paintings and the abstract expressionists . . . . Because I did not come from a photography background, I did not know what I was and was not supposed to do. For instance, when I told Alan Klotz I wanted to show him my cloud series, he rolled his eyes. Apparently clouds were verboten in the photography world. Stieglitz’s, “Equivalent Series” was the apex of cloud photography and was not to be tread on. But thank goodness I did not know this . . . . when Alan saw my series he realized it had nothing to do with Stieglitz’s clouds . . . he showed them. The painters I just love are Richter, Joan Mitchell, and Agnes Martin. These painters and others have completely informed the way I see. I did not realize it at the time, but I try to flatten the plane when I shoot . . . . Many people say my photographs look like paintings.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
I had a book with the NYC shots by Alfred Stieglitz when I was kid and remember this shot from a big snow storm. I just loved it . . . . As you may know, I love winter. I was born in Alaska and left when I was two so I have no idea if this has influenced me but I hate the heat and love the cold. Last summer I went to Alaska and the Arctic for a month on a Coast Guard Icebreaker . . . I was in heaven.
If no one saw your work, would you still create it?
Of course. I would be doing it for myself as I did for so many years . . . it is an obsession. But I think this is true of most artists.
Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day of photography is for you.
Sometimes I know what I want to do like go to the Arctic and take photos there or I wait each year for Ice to form on the Hudson River and take photos of the ice moving in the tide. I drive around in the fall to find the large flocks of birds that feed on the harvested fields before they fly south . . . . I wait for icicles and am ever alert for sunsets. I have my routines but much of what I shoot is ephemeral, a mood. Light at the end of the day. Fog, weather . . . . Here for a minute and gone in a flash . . . so I am vigilant. Much of my work is very spontaneous. But I do have planned trips on Coast Guard Icebreakers and on the Riverkeeper boat which I so look forward to. I have been allowed to shot in Olana Frederick Church’s house which was a great treat (I am the photographer for a booklet they are making on the grounds) and I look forward to these kinds of assignments that are given or I give myself. Most every day can turn into a perfect day.
What challenges do you face as a photographer?
My vision verses my technical ability. There is a gap. I keep trying to close that gap and I realize I never will.
With the rapid changes in how people make and view a photograph how do you view this time in the history of photography?
I love it. I am on the brink of doing some crazy things with my work. I have a story series which is very different from much of my other work, which I am developing and hoping to turn into objects which will be in multiples of three instead of prints. I see myself as an artist who uses a camera rather than a photographer. I hope that doesn’t sound too grandiose. You need to have a special vision, your own vision to be a sought after photographer these days. But I love that the boundaries are being blurred. I am in favor of that, because that is how I think anyway . . . .
How do you over come a creative block?
I’ve had a creative block in writing, but never in Photography. In my experience with it, it was more a lack of enthusiasm or motivation for what I was doing . . . . being stuck and not having the next thing. Lately I have been working back and forth between photography and writing and the film world. When I am stuck in one, I go to another discipline and use a different part of my brain and it just opens things up. Sometimes you need to have a different perspective and then go back . . . .
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Enormously. I did not know I had sort of different way of seeing the world until I brought some friends out to see the Ice moving in the river, and I saw amazing things and they just saw ice moving in the river . . . . or looked at the river and saw patterns that they did not see it was a revelation that I saw things slightly differently. I see things abstracted and that helps my work . . . . I find details that fascinate me. I guess we all have refined senses that are different in us all and that is mine.
Thank you Carolyn for sharing your work with Rfotofolio.
To see more work from Carolyn please visit her site, Carolyn Marks Blackwood.
To learn more about the work of Alfred Stieglitz please visit, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
To learn more about the RiverKeeper please visit their site, Riverkeeper.