Megan Bent’s work was selected as a Work of Merit in the2019 Denis Roussel Award. We are pleased to feature her work here on Rfotofolio.
“This artist makes chlorophyll prints using medical imagery (her own and that of others) to comment on the hidden, latent nature of illness. Like a photograph, the illness can be invisible until it develops further. The artist engages others with chronic or invisible (to the non-medical eye) illness in this series. The communal nature of the project is important, as illness can be lonely and isolating. The fragility of the leaves and ephemeral nature of chlorophyll prints comment further on the vulnerability of illness.” Jesseca Ferguson
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I live and work in the New England area, and I work as an artist and a teaching artist. I fell in love with photography 23 years ago. I relish in the fact that the medium doesn’t get old for me, if anything I only find it more and more fascinating. Outside of the photographic world I love being in the woods and belting out 80’s ballads at karaoke!
Where did you get your photographic training?
I received my BFA in photography from School of Visual Arts and my MFA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. While in my graduate program it became clear to me that the subject of disability was at the core of my work, so I completed my Graduate Certificate in Disability and Diversity Studies. My research in Disability Studies greatly informs the decisions I make as an artist.
Why do you create?
I think that for me, the act of creating is instinctual, it is just something that I have to do. I find that the visual process helps me to process life in a meaningful and productive way. Overtime the act of creating has also become a powerful tool for me to share my voice, and share in a larger way what is going on underneath the surface.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
I have so many influences, there are many people who inform my work and process. My first influence was my grandmother. She was an artist and encouraged me in the arts from a young age. Growing up around a working artist had a profound impact on me.
I have been influenced by the work of Felix Gonzalez Torres. The quite poetics of his work and his use of minimalism to spark curiosity and create conversation has been influential in my own thought process of how to create poeticism within my work.
The work of Frida Kahlo has been important to me, especially her work as a disabled artist. The way that she asserts her lived disability experience as identity through her paintings and the ways that she includes her patient experience as a part of that.
I greatly admire Patti Smith’s writing and music. A few years ago I got see her perform her Horses album live. That performance really struck me, she put everything into it. I could see that she was in a zone where she was being fully expressive, she was writhing and there were moments where all this spit was flying out of her mouth and onto the stage as she sang. All her passion was pouring out of her, that was really powerful for me to witness and it has influenced me to not hold back.
The work of Disability Studies theorists like Steven Brown, Simi Linton, and Rose Marie Garland Thompson really helped me to embrace my disability identity. Learning about the social model of disability not only positively influenced my work, it positively influence my life.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
There are many but one image that comes to mind is the piece I Don’t Want To Get Over You by Wolfgang Tillmans. The photograph is a seascape, and during the process of exposing the paper Tillmans created a light intervention that merged with the seascape. Visually it appears as a sweeping green curve of light through the image. Roland Barthes talks about how photography creates a new space-time category, “having been there”. I feel like in this piece Tillmans takes it one step further, re-inserting his present energy into the “having been there”. This piece helped me to imagine that my role as a photographer does not have to live in the process of observation. It challenged me to think of ways that I could use my body and energy as part of the photographic process.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
A recent image of mine that taught me an important lesson is Lack of Access to proper Care – 1 year. I chlorophyll printed an x-ray image of my hands in February of 2018. I was excited about the print but was not sure if I would ever use it in the larger body of work. On a whim, I framed the piece and hung it up in my house to see what would happen to it overtime (since the chlorophyll prints are impermanent). I placed it on a wall that did not receive direct UV light while realizing it would absorb scattered photons while framed.
About a year later as I saw the image had degraded quite a bit. I realized that this was actually an excellent parallel to the lack of access and barriers to proper medical care that people face. I re-scanned the leaf and it has become a pivotal point for me in this body of work. It helped me to realize ways that I can manipulate the process even further, and to be more articulate and succinct about what it is I want to say with the work.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
For me, a good day creatively is a day when I have learned something new. A lot of my work comes from a place of curiosity and exploration. I am interested in testing the boundaries of the medium. I tend to work from a place of hypothesis: What would happen if I did this? Any day that shows me something new about the process, myself, the work is a good and exciting day for me.
Please tell us about the work you submitted for the Denis Roussel Award.
The work I submitted for the Denis Roussel Award is from my ongoing series Latency. I am using photography to explore the latency within myself as I navigate the world while living with an invisible disability. I am perceived as healthy but inside of my body my immune system mistakes my tendons, ligaments, and joints as invaders, actively working to break them down. This experience, while concealed, is one that has greatly shaped who I am as a person.
With the processes of chlorophyll printing, which uses UV light to print photographic images directly onto leaves, I am printing medical imagery from my recurring visits to Dr’s. I am also inviting people from within the disability culture community to submit their imagery for me to print as well. I am printing a more traditional portrait of each person along side imagery that highlights what is invisible about their experience of living with invisible/chronic illness.
Printing medical imagery reclaims our medicalized bodies and journey as patients, creating a new sense of agency. I am printing on leaves to highlight the organic nature of disability while also asking the viewer to confront the bodily impermanence we all share.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
I would want to spend a day with Frida Kahlo. I not only admire her work but I really admire her as a person. I would love to be able to have the opportunity to get to know her and speak to her about her life and her work.
How important is the photographic community to you?
I find community to be very important, and I continually strive to find and build community in all facets of my life. One of the most amazing photographic community experiences I have had was being a part of the Analog Sunshine Recorders (ASR) in, Honolulu, HI. It is an ever evolving group of film photographers who use photography as vehicle to create community and share the love of the medium. ASR would create pop up darkrooms in community space, salon style exhibitions, and thematic exercises like swapping and double exposing each others film. Until this collective formed I was used to photography being a pretty solitary medium. It was wonderful to discover photography’s potential to build and foster connection.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
I would say the most important equipment has been my contact printing frame, the natural environment, and a lot of curiosity.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I have so many things that I want to try, and so many ideas swirling around in my head! I have done a few lumen prints, but I would like to take some time to experiment more with the process, beyond achieving a basic understanding of how it works. Anthotypes and working with liquid emulsion are on my list of processes to try in the near future. This is more of a printmaking influence but, I recently saw David Hammons’ work, and was really impressed with his body prints. I had never heard of or seen that printing process, and that is another process that I plan to experiment with soon.
Whats on the horizon?
I just started an artist residency at the Nobles and Greenough School in Dedham, MA. During that time I will be focusing on chlorophyll printing onto fall leaves. Printing onto leaves that are in the process of decay, but are revered for their beauty is really appealing to me. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to focus on making work for a couple months!
I have an exhibition at the Commons Gallery at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, HI. I am excited to see where the work goes in these next few months and how it evolves as a result of these wonderful opportunities.
To learn more about the work of Megan Bent please click on her name.