Today we share the work of Robynne Limoges, one of the our selections in this years Rfotofolio Call for Entry.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I am an artist photographer living in London. If I may, I will answer your question more fully with a personal story about a book of hand-printed film images and poems written in calligraphy created as a gift for my mother. It is called Joyce Evelyn, Still.
There is a point in time and a geographic location at which our self-image gels. Joyce Evelyn was 69 years old at the time she and I participated in the making of a series of portraits of her in important locations near the farm where she grew up. It was the first time she had agreed to collaborate with me. The timing doesn’t mean much, as the picture of herself that she holds inside, precious and private, always resides firmly in the place she left when she was 32: a tiny town in the expansive prairie of South Dakota.
It is also the place where I began. When you start your life in such a landscape you learn as a child about nuance, about the need to quiet down in order to grasp onto partly-told stories. Actual disclosure is rare. Conversation from that part of the world is the sparest of poetry, where the reader is relied upon to exhume from minimal forensics a narrative, a meaning, a leading line.
I think I learned then that I would always be drawn to a conversation between light and darkness, to a struggle with an equation of just how little light is required to dispel darkness.
The prairie landscape is one of solitude where small changes weigh greatly. The body runs a racing dialogue between the burden of gravity and the unrelieved horizon and the unattainability of so much atmosphere, such immensity above. The feeling of myself as not much more than a soft footprint left on thin topsoil, left in me a need for crowds, a desire to feel crowded. I left for London in my 35th year, hoping a landscape of urban and historical congestion might teach me expansiveness.
How did you get started in photography?
The photograph played a huge part in the family and community narrative for me as a child in rural America. I was inspired by albums whose dog-eared pages were turned by farmer wives’ hands, then later as I travelled by strangers’ hands.
The physicality of the small prints, the declared preciousness of the studio portraits drew me in, and I have stayed enthralled. But my photography was also formed by the sounds I heard when I read aloud to myself from the printed page. I dreamed of declaring a voice for myself through poetry, which I wrote for many years until it became apparent that I could not find an audience.
During six years at University, I studied art history, which informs and instructs me still; I studied creative writing and poetry. I took one introductory photography class. I was a Teaching Associate, later taught museology at a major museum to talented high school students, still later became Director of Programming for a national public radio network. After leaving America for London, visa restrictions meant I could not work for the first seven years of my application for the right to remain. As a result I immersed myself in photography. I knew then that making images is my native geography.
Would you share with us one image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time?
There are three. One is Don McCullin’s, ‘Shell-shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue’, 1968, which taught me that portraits should always be about more than a specific individual.
The second is a film, Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, because my brother appears in it, still full of his irrepressible joie de vivre. My brother did not return home.
The third is an image which I only discovered recently. It is by Keith Carter, an extraordinary American photographer, which was brought to my attention by a fellow photographer, Utk Tun, through Twitter. The subject is a bald man the back of whose head is lit celestially, seated alone in a small darkened space, leaning forward toward a boxed record player. I do not know the title of this photograph. It is moving, minimal and haunting. Carter’s photograph exemplifies the sotto voce conversation that I strive to achieve between a viewer and my images.
Which photographers and other artists’ work do you admire?
A few of the photographers are Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Paul Caponigro, especially his Running White Deer, Dorothea Lange, Michael Kenna, Ralph Gibson, Masao Yamamoto. Artists include Willem de Kooning, Donald Judd, Arshile Gorky, Milton Avery, Barnett Newman (for his ‘Crucifixion series’), Hughie O’Donoghue. Writers include W. S. Merwin, Lars Gustafsson, J. M. Coetzee, Don DeLillo, Alan Lightman.
What has been your most memorable experience as far as your photographic work is concerned?
It was an astounding experience to go to Amsterdam’s Centrum voor Fotografie to ask the Director for an exhibition. He gave me a one-person show, which took place in 1997. It was the first time I had assembled a cohesive set of film images. The Director revealed to me the art of hanging a show. I will never forget his generosity.
Some of my most powerful experiences have been provided by a continuing process of photographing concentration camps. This has been harrowing and important to me. The series will never end. It is called Darkness as Museum: If Light Were Breath.
Being asked by Hahnemühle Fine Art UK if they could print my triptych, Foundation Stones, The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, and show it as a large, focal point in a major trade show was a wonderful endorsement. Afterwards it became part of their collection. They supported me again for a show in London in March 2017, for which I am immensely grateful.
Please tell us about the portfolio of work you submitted to our call. Black Haiku: Poems for Dark Times
For private, emotional reasons the most significant photographic experience for me thus far is that my portfolio, Black Haiku: Poems for Dark Times was chosen by Rfotofolio for The 2017 Selections.
Black Haiku: Poems for Dark Times are visual poems that reflect my obsession with the emotional and enigmatic nature of light and the dialogue I witness as light grapples with darkness in a metaphorical play for dominance. The mysteriousness of the natural world is what I have sought to celebrate: the power of nature to illuminate a path. The portfolio represents for me the enduring power of all those waiting, gesturing, beating hearts of places that I have encountered and captured during my time as a photographer.
As the series evolved I kept foremost in my mind the question of how could I best translate the natural world’s organic profusion into minimal, yet emotional, images. So I turned to the Haiku poetic form as my tutor. Haiku does not rhyme. It does not conclude. But it does distill. It does invite us to contemplate that radiance still abounds.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
The images in an unresolved series, How Objects Become Sacred. I failed to express what I had hoped to do because I simply had not worked hard enough.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
A day of walking toward an idea. A day of being put down in a place I do not know and will remain for a short time – two or three days. Then, the adrenalin is amazing as I try to locate some essence of that place that speaks to me. I like working fast, not having time
to edit too much in my head, always hoping that I will see in my peripheral vision some glorious surprise.
Do you have any favourite pieces of equipment that you find essential in the making of your work?
No, not really. I require only natural light and a camera whose idiosyncrasies I can figure out, whether it be my Canon system, Fuji’s first forensic Infrared digital camera or the iPhone.
What is on the horizon?
Soon, I will be traveling to revisit two locations. I am in the need of a challenge to see each differently than I have before. Previously I shot Venice only in HIE Infrared film. The challenge with a digital camera will be interesting. I will also be working in the small agricultural town in Minnesota where my mother lives, as well as, returning with her to South Dakota.
Where we were….we are. Joyce Evelyn will be 90 years and nine months old in September. I will be standing on the tarmac as she undertakes an adventure she has always wished for. She will be the helicopter pilot’s only guest. Rising up into that autumn sky should be a snap for the girl who broke wild horses without a saddle on that South Dakota prairie.
Thank you Robynne.
To learn more about the work of Robynne Limoges please visit her site at Robynne Limoges.