Conversation with Catherine Maloney

NWAA Member Catherine Maloney is a talented young photographer based in Wilmington, DE. Her work has been featured on It’s Nice That, I Heart Photograph, the ArtBlog, Zoum Zoum and Print Liberation. In 2009 she was selected as one of Humble’s 31 Women Photographers Under 31. Her work is characterized by its sense of whimsy, exploration, and imagination. The underlying tenderness of her images and collages speak to a time when finding our friends and meeting parental curfews were our grandest priorities and worries.

Selections of Catherine’s work will be exhibited at the NWAA in July 2012 as part of New Fiction, an exhibition developed by Adaptation. Currently, her work is on view through January 2012 at Vox Populi in Philadelphia.

Recently we spoke with Catherine Maloney about her work and her experiences.

Where are you from and how did you initially get involved in the arts?

I was born in Austin, Texas and grew up going back and forth between there and San Antonio. I think I was always making art, as most children do. My brother is a much better artist than me but he decided to be in the Army instead.

Where did you attend school? What were those experiences like and how did they form your current practice?

From kindergarten through middle school I attended Montessori School. The structure was very loose there and learning to block out my own time during the school day has helped me to manage my own time now. The freedom to focus on the subjects I was most interested in continued for me when I went to Bennington College where I designed my own curriculum. I also went to Yale School of Art for my MFA. There I learned to be confident in my artistic choices and connect the work I made to my own nature and desires.

Can you describe what has drawn you to photography?

Originally it was the magic of taking a picture and waiting for the film to be processed. Unlike painting, in photography it is easy to make multiples of one image. I can take a print and alter it in photoshop or physically collage over it and cut it up and still have the original safe to try with again if I mess up.

Much of your work playfully examines narratives of varying scopes. What is your process of developing these sequences and where do they originate from?

I leave the narrative up to the viewer.

It seems that texture and tactility are important aspects of your work – in its physicality and in the treatment of color, tone and subject. How important are these elements to your work?

Color and texture are extremely important to me. I try to be consistent in my choices and use of candy colored hues because I love the way the pictures look hung up together as a group. These elements also help me to illustrate the way I feel about the subject.

An overt science-fiction tone resonates through your series Teleplay Part I. There are threads of fantasy, imagination, promise, yet also a sense of coyness and even failure. Could you share your thoughts on where these “moods” originate from in this project?

The original Star Trek television show is referenced because I love the show. No one important ever dies, everything always works out, it is unrealistic. Gene Roddenberry relied heavily on the actors and acting to make the story believable. If you look closely the sets, props, and locations they are very lo-fi. I think the same is true in my “Teleplay” photographs; I am really looking at the men I am photographing, not the story.

Over the past decade photography has trended towards larger work, greater image clarity and more sophisticated manipulation of digital technologies. Your work retains a decidedly “lo-fi” quality to it. Can you explain your decision making process regarding this and how you feel it relates to your work?

I do not like the way larger hi-fi photographs look. The shine and perfection they often have is off putting to my imagination and I get distracted by their beauty instead of looking at what they are about. I suppose the opposite is true of my photographs; you might get distracted by their flaws. When I have the freedom to mess something up and be careless with it, I come up with ideas and inventions in the accidents.

Given the narrative qualities of your work, have you considered transforming the projects into a book or zine? 

 I do not think the projects are finished yet.  It would be nice to have the pictures from Teleplay catalogued into a big book with a yellow cloth cover. Maybe in ten years.

There appears to be two distinct modes of your work: tableau and documentary. Both have rich traditions in the history of photography. One of the first photographs ever created straddled the line between the two; “Self Portrait as a Drowned Man” (1840) by Hippolyte Bayard, which was made in protest of Bayard’s belief that Daguerre and Talbot stole his process. Are these approaches conscious? What allows you to integrate one style into the other? What in the history of photography excites you?

I do like to oscillate back and forth between the two, there are things to be taken from both worlds and I hate to be limited by having to choose one. When I set up a scene I try not to give too much direction in terms of what I would like the person or people modeling to do. Men are interesting because they tend to be less aware of the camera then women are.  I like it when they are tender with one another. 

 There is a lot in the history of photography and art that has influenced me. I think that photography has not been explored to its fullest extent yet, there are fascinating things going on with the medium that are pulling away from documentary practice and into a more imaginative side.  Works of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Collier Schorr and Henry Darger have inspired my most recent thinking.  In terms of contemporary artists, works of Lucas Blalock, Alexander Binder, Elaine Stocki and Daniel Gordon are pretty neat.  

The majority of your work seems to locate itself between two evolving projects. How do you decide that a project is complete? 

 That is a good question, but I don’t have an answer for that yet. 

Do you have any plans for future long-term projects? 

 Maybe something involving Mr. Rogers.  

(All images by Catherine Maloney)

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