Colleen Mullins is a photographer and book artist living and working in San Francisco. Her work, The Bone of Her Nose, will be featured as part of the opens in a new windowHome Views show, and will be on the walls of our Atelier Gallery until December 5th. If you missed her artist talk on November 5th we have another opportunity here to learn more about her work and creative processes. Here is what she had to say:
Tell us how you first connected to the Griffin Museum.
I first met Paula Tongarelli at PhotoLucida in 2007 as one of her reviewees. At the time I was trying to place a body of work I had made traveling, off and on, for six years on cruise ships with my mother. It was so long ago, that in my follow up thank you to Paula, I sent her a sheet of twenty slides!
How do you involve photography in your everyday life? Can you tell us about any images or artists that have caught your attention recently?
My phone has become my most frequent camera, as I use it to take notes, record that which I am also photographing with a “real” camera, and it’s always in my pocket. A picture I keep going back to is An-My Le’s “The Silent General, Fragment VI: General Robert E. Lee and General P.G.T. Beauregard Monuments, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans, Louisiana.” I started working on a project in 2018 in Humboldt County in far northern California, where the first statue of an American President would be eventually removed, William McKinley. Because of a long-term project in New Orleans, I had been watching with interest, both arc of the monument removals there, and the arc of Le’s relationship with the city. But back to that picture: I am enraptured with it. The conversations in scale are terrific—the way Robert E. Lee interacts with P.G.T. Beauregard, and how their grandeur is further emphasized by the human scale of the door. And then there is the building. It is makeshift, and built only large enough to imprison and cover these archaic traitors. The floor is dirt. A good photographer sees these things, and combined with the opportunities of light and access, uses their camera as a big index finger to point. It is informative at its basis. Here they are. Protected and put away. But the picture is so far beyond reportage.
Please tell us a little about your series The Bone of Her Nose, and how it was conceived.
The Bone of Her Nose was conceived as I worked for the Friends of the Urban Forest pruning trees in 2015. Each week we are assigned to a different neighborhood, and I started noticing how ridiculous an amount of house renovation was happening in all parts of the city. Over the weeks, I then started observing this phenomenon that they also had a homogeneity to their completion. It was first and most obvious in the Sunset District that was built all at the same time, and has a particular kind of house number with a little black frame. Those vanished, and were replaced with mid-century styled sans-serif font numbers, on a substrate of grey paint. The phenomenon of removing color from San Francisco had been documented by San Francisco Chronicle writer, John King, the prior year in an article in which he posited that “In the world of San Francisco architecture, black is the new black.” By 2015 this had spread from new development and apartment buildings in the trendier areas of the city to residential neighborhoods. And I was just seeing it everywhere. The doors were often painted a bright color that mimicked, also, the mid-century. And garage doors were either frosted glass or horizontal redwood.
Having returned to the city to live in 2014, after a 25-year hiatus, to occupy my childhood apartment, I had been grappling with numerous internal complaints. What had happened to “real” San Franciscans? Nobody was funky anymore. The streets were filled with over-moneyed 25-year-old tech-industrialists looking to party, and as it turned out, spill grey paint everywhere. The houses, I thought were a physical manifestation of what I had been observing and thinking about. A Greek-chorus of the new folks saying to we “natives” again and again—both verbally and in paint, “If you can’t afford to live here, move somewhere else.” My approach takes me back to that phone camera—a typologic taking of notes. Evidence of what is troubling….a slow tide of “fog grey.”
Has there been a Griffin Museum exhibition that has particularly engaged or moved you?
I have never been to the Griffin! But I am a huge fan of Amani Willet’s book “The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer” (Overlapse Books). I would have loved to see that exhibition in person.
What is your favorite place to escape to?
What is a book, song or visual obsession you have at the moment?
I know I should have some brilliant on-brand answer to this, but I’m going to say Travels with Charley in Search of America. I’ve been taking these trips in a tiny delivery van with no windows, with an idea about being a woman traveling alone in America. In the year plus of the pandemic that has left us without the ability to see America, while America has been on full display in a sense of liberty and death, but not physical space, I have been roaming in my tiny mobile Covid-avoidance vehicle. I’m a little obsessed with Steinbeck’s privilege, as a white male, to forge forth with his largest concern being not recognized as a famous author. But he says in the prologue, “When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet…” That’s certainly where I am.
If you could be in a room with anyone to have a conversation, who would it be and what would you talk about?
My dad. The stuff I didn’t know to ask.