Fern Nesson’s E=mc² is up at the Griffin Museum until July 9th, 2023. Here is your chance to learn more about her work if you missed the Artist Talk!
Tell us a little about your background.
I am a fine art photographer who came to it a bit late in life. I studied religion in college and law after I graduated. After Harvard Law School, I practiced criminal and constitutional law for 10 years. Subsequently, I got a masters degree in American History and taught history and mathematics for the next 25 years. As must be obvious, I believe in changing things up and, in 2018, I completed my MFA in Photography at the Maine Media College.
Although my career path has been varied, I see it not as a rejection of what came before but as a synthesis of my interests and passions accompanied by the pursuit of the craft and technique necessary to realize them. I try always to remember what I’ve learned before as i acquire new ideas and skills.
What compelled you to combine science and art?
Photography impels me to continually broaden my knowledge and skills as well as my range of experience and perception. I begin each of my projects by choosing a theoretical subject that fascinates me. I do love physics but I also love math, philosophy, translation, poetry — all subjects that employ abstraction as a means of seeking truth.
When I choose a subject, I read as much as I can about it and then write about the ideas that inspire me. Then I go out and shoot. I do not to illustrate these ideas but instead to respond to them aesthetically. Invariably, these other disciplines provide parallels which illuminate the issues I face in creating non-objective, abstract photographs.
Can you describe how you see color and motion, and how that impacts your work?
I don’t look specifically for color or motion. I look for energy. I want to my images to embody the moment when mass becomes energy. Sometimes, color aids in conveying energy, sometimes motion, but neither is the necessary. What is critical is form:
I believe that an energy-filled photograph requires
1) active lines and interesting angles
2) contrast of light and dark
3) clarity of focus
4) attention to scale:
There is immensity in the miniscule as well as in
the cosmos. The immensity within us
is equal to the immensity without.
5) room to breathe:
Empty space in an image is as important
as the forms themselves.
Rhythm gives life to an image.
The universe is not a still life.
7) spare elegance:
Less is more. Too much going on
in an image destroys harmony,
creates confusion, muddies the message.
Form is key to making a successful abstract image. But the deeper question is why I seek to create energy in each of my images. I can best explain this way:
Many, if not most, photographers make images of “decisive moments,” records of the past, memento mori. Like Roland Barthes that believe that ” a photograph is a witness, but a witness of what is no more — a record of what has been. Every image is an image of death.”
I challenge Barthes by aiming to create images that are alive. An image that embodies energy and engages the viewer in a mutual experience of it is not merely a record of a past moment. It creates new energy. Like Cezanne’s paintings, it breathes.
I use my camera to create life and to defy death. Everything in my images is real, never constructed. Even absent living subjects, they possess the energy that was present at the moment of capture and that energy remains there now. A photographe that embodies energy, like a moment of transcendence, reminds us that we are infinite — a part of the universe, connected to and melded into everything else. If only for fleeting seconds, we perceive that we will never die; we will merely change in form. Nothing is ever lost. Those we loved exist forever all around us in a different form. And we will too.
I aspire to create images that breathe and pulse. I (and they) follow the gentle, exhilarating command of that wisest of verses in the Tao Te Ching: “be living, not dying.”
Has there been a piece of contemporary art that has particularly engaged or moved you?
I am captivated by Malevich, Lissitsky and Moholy-Nagy, artists who incorporate the energy of “space/time” (the fourth dimension) into their work.
Where do you expect to take your art next?
One of my completed projects, “Tilt!,” will open at the Beacon Gallery in Boston on September 1. “Tilt!” explores the relationship of point of view in architecture and in abstract photography. It consists of 40 still photographs, 2 videos and a book of essays.
I’ve also just finished a project entitled “The Music of the Spheres” on the mathematics of harmonics amd its relationship to abstract photography. It includes 24 still photographs, 1 video, and an essay on Pythagorus’s Theory of Harmonics.
This summer, I’m beginning a new project on William Butler Yeats. Yeats is not only a superb poet who uses abstraction and metaphor skillfully but also a philosopher. He has a great deal to teach me about the challenge of maintaining the creative impulse and joy as one faces aging and the end of life. I’ve just begun to read, write and shoot and I’m excited to turn to Yeats every day.
ABOUT FERN NESSON
Fern L. Nesson is a fine art photographer who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She received her MFA in Photography from Maine Media College (2018), a J.D. from Harvard Law School (1971.) She has had solo exhibitions abroad at the Politecnico University in Torino, Italy, Les Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles, France, Ph21 Gallery in Budapest, Hungary, the University of The West Indies in Jamaica and in the United States at the MIT Museum Lab, The MetaLab at Harvard, the Beacon Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, the Pascal Gallery in Rockport, Maine, and Through This Lens Gallery in Durham, NC.
Nesson’s solo show, Tilt!, will open in September, 2023 at the Beacon Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts. Additionally, Nesson’s work has been selected for numerous juried
exhibitions in the U.S., Barcelona, Rome and Budapest. Her photobooks, Signet of Eternity and WORD, won 10th and the 12th Annual Photobooks Awards from the Davis-Orton Gallery.