Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I come from a long family history with the arts. Painting, poetry, and music were common in our household and we had many talented family friends as well. When I was very young, my family modeled for the drawings in the iconic coming-of-age story “Jane’s Blanket” written by famed playwright Arthur Miller as a children’s book for his daughter.
Prominent illustrator Al Parker was a close friend of my mother, and needed a range of models from infancy to about 7 years old. My five sisters and I fit the assignment perfectly. Parker photographed us and later transformed the images into drawings for the book. When the book was published in 1963, we were given a signed copy, along with several of the original photographs. Reading the book became a central part of our family time together. It made a very strong impression on me and was the first connection I had between drawing, photography, and storytelling.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I first learned about the darkroom process from family friend George T.C. Smith, a photojournalist for the local newspaper. He lived in a one-room apartment and rigged the entire room to become his darkroom at night. He built panels to block the windows, and strung wet prints across the room on a clothesline to dry. I thought at the time that the whole thing was magic. He gave me my first camera, a Pentax K-1000, when I was about 12 years old. It had a broken light meter, so I had to learn how to read light and bracket. Soon after, I signed up for a photography class in school and learned how to develop film and print in the darkroom.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
I mostly look to fine art for my creative influences: early Dutch masters for their use of light and color, and contemporary painters like Gerhard Richter, Anslem Keifer, Peter Doig, Uwe Witwer, and Laura Lancaster, all of whom use photography as a basis for their paintings. I have learned a lot by looking at how they transform a photographic image through their own thought process, and turn it into a painted image.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
“Eight Student Nurses” by Gerhard Richter was part of a retrospective at MOMA in New York in 2002. I had the entire gallery to myself, where it was on view. I was mesmerized by how he captured a moment in time that marked a past event and the emotions around it. He used photography as another voice in the story. He approached the painting from a photographic perspective, removing visual information, like dodging and burning in the darkroom, to render the faces in a simplistic and graphic way. It was very powerful.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
I studied at the San Francisco Studio School for a few years with Lon Clark, a painting teacher who was also a photographer. He pushed me to view my photography empathetically and to express a sensate quality in my work. My image “Baby Doll” came from this period of time. It is a portrait of a young women by Rembrandt from the 17th century. I photographed the image of the painting, then printed it as a negative image, then overpainted the photograph. It reminds me not to get too attached to the image and to push for something deeper and more meaningful. The things you can’ t see in an image are what make it interesting.
What makes a good day for you, creatively speaking?
A good day for me creatively is a day in the darkroom. It is where I discover ideas and feel a sense of creative immunity; the mistakes I make are more a goal than the pursuit of precision. The sound of water has always lulled me into a sense of calm as well, and the sanctity of the darkness gives me courage to try new things without my own judgment.
Why do you create?
Making art is the way I understand the world and it helps me make sense of what is happening around me. I keep a little piece of paper above my desk that says:
It reminds me that I am just a vessel that creativity flows through.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or past, who would it be?
Without a doubt: Paolo Ventura. He is an Italian photographer who paints on his photography. He also has a background in theater, and he designs costumes and creates scenes for subjects that he photographs. I would love to simply watch him work and observe his process. In my eyes, he is a creative genius.
What equipment have you found essential in making your work?
I will always use a camera, whether I am creating photographs on film, or photographing photographs I have found. It has taught me how to see, more than my own eyes, and given me a voice that I don’t have with words.
What hangs on your walls?
My house is filled with art from artists that I have met or would like to meet. It includes photography, drawing, painting, and collage, etc., and is a patchwork of creativity that gives me energy when I look at it. One of my most prized pieces of art is a handmade book by Brian Taylor. Every time I look at it, I am reminded to push myself further with my own work. It is exquisite.
What is on the horizon?
I have been working with found photography for many years, and am currently working on a project using my own photography. It’s scary and exciting at the same time, like riding a motorcycle. I feel like I am working “without a net” and I really like the uncertainty.
My new project involves my interest in memory and is based on a literary source. I am immersed in it daily and it involves reading, drawing, writing in my journal, and working with images that I am shooting in my studio. I have wanted to indulge in a yearlong project for a long time, and am a few months in to it and just starting to make the images. My goal is to create a body of work to exhibit and publish a book of the process and the work.
Thank you Molly.
To learn more about the work of Molly McCall please visit her site at, Molly McCall.