In the time of Corona, our exhibitions at the museum are quarantined along with the rest of us. One of the programs the Griffin has is the John Chervinsky Scholarship, which includes a monetary award to produce a body of work, along with an exhibition at the museum. While Corona had other plans about us being open to showcase our latest Scholarship winner, opens in a new windowMichelle Rogers Pritzl and her series opens in a new windowNot Waving But Drowning in person, we thought we’d bring you a conversation we had with Michelle about the series, the ideas behind it, and what is next for her.
Installation views of Pritzl’s Exhibition in the Griffin Gallery
About Not Waving But Drowning –
Not Waving But Drowning is a look inside an Evangelical marriage. These images show the truth of a life lived in the confines of oppressive gender roles, cult-like manipulation, and the isolation of Fundamentalism.
Each image is equivalence for the unseen, for the reality behind facade. Despite the smiles and appearance of perfection, Complementarianism is an abusive system in which a wife serves her husband as a helpmeet, remains silent, and prays for her spouse to become a better man.
I use self-portraiture to share my own experience within the Fundamentalist Lifestyle without being explicitly autobiographical. My chosen medium of collodion used with contemporary digital media represents the outdated behaviors and rules imposed on women by Fundamentalism.
The image titles come from The Awakening by Kate Chopin and are sequenced by their titles’ place within the story. Unlike the character of Mrs. Pontellier, I choose to thrive in my freedom. I seek to unmask, to reveal truth. Growing up in Fundamentalist Christianity, I endured the cognitive dissonance of wearing the smiling facade to mask the oppressive truth. By unmasking that truth, I set myself free from the burden of my silence. This is my protest. I will no longer be silent. I choose to live.
We asked Michelle a few questions about her series, the Chervinsky Scholarship and what is next for her.
Your images clearly address physical and emotional trauma. Was this a cathartic series for you to make? Do you feel it is resolved?
The series was very cathartic. As I started over with a new life in NY, I knew from the beginning that this would be the final piece of the story I had started telling in graduate school. As I worked through the big changes in my life and began deconstructing from religion I was making notes and drawing sketches and starting the piece together the story. It was part of my own healing process to create this series and tell my story. Yes, I do feel like it’s resolved, it’s the end of this part of my story, of breaking free. That’s not to say I don’t still have a huge interest in feminism and freedom from fundamentalism but my personal part in this story is resolved and at this point I don’t think I have would have more to add in the future. I’ve said my piece.
How important was using the collodion process in the creation of the work? Working with your hands, creating a tangible hard object, as opposed to a paper print has the impression of permanence. Taking your intangible emotions and hardening them into a solid vision must have been gratifying.
I love the collodion process and I have since the first workshop I ever took years ago in Los Angeles. I have always loved the handmade photograph in all the possible iterations, and when I started graduate school I was working in collodion for the most part. I don’t think it was so important that this had to be told in collodion in the beginning, but as I worked on the pore conceptual side of why I love alternative processes and collodion specifically it did become pretty clear to me that the importance of collodion to the concept behind the work and the digital/analogue work process compared to the surreal behavior expectations that are so rooted in the Victorian era in a lot of churches, specifically the one I grew up in. I like what you said about the permanence- the process also becomes a part of the catharsis as well as the finished product.
Your work is deeply embedded in literature, including Stevie Smith’s poetry, Kate Chopin’s Awakening and to a certain extent, underlying fundamentalist scripture. For those who aren’t deeply embedded in faith, or who haven’t read the works cited in your series, how do you connect them to the subject?
I read The Awakening when I was 17 or 18. I can specifically remember being offended by this woman leaving her husband and her children for what I felt was selfishness. But something about it stuck with me and I dragged my copy around as I moved around the country. As my feelings about my faith changed I revisited it while in grad school, working on my thesis which was about being raised in the crazy purity culture of churches in the 90’s and I felt like I understood this woman who was suffocating under all the societal expectations she was supposed to be meeting with her life. Once I had left and was in the process of divorce I really deeply identified with Mrs. Pontellier. I was wholly unprepared for people I had thought were my friends to quit speaking to me, look at me with such suspicion and believe I was a bad person. There was such a terrible few months where there were so many hateful, ugly lies being told about me and I understood that character and her end. But I also knew that my ending/new beginning would be different. Instead of sinking into the ocean under the weight of her choices and their consequences, I jumped to swim away and I was determined that life would be good. And oh my goodness, it has been. The poem Not Waving But Drowning was something I have always loved, felt like it described quite a bit about me. But in the circumstance of divorce as a former Evangelical Christian, it was REALLY personal. I hadn’t talked to anyone about how unhappy I was, not even my closest friends until I began formulating my escape because I didn’t think anyone would tell me it was ok, I didn’t think anyone would believe it was a “biblical” reason for divorce at that point so I just kept my mouth shut and I prayed all the time for a change. So when I was making the series this was the only title it could be.
Because this work is deeply personal, What do you want us as viewers to walk away with after experiencing it?
Well there is a great part of me that wants it to be seen by women who don’t believe they have a choice to leave a bad situation and that they will know that it will be ok. I hope that people who grew up in the same way that I did will identify with it, and to a certain extent it was a chance for me to tell my side to people who won’t listen to my words. I think what I would wish for everyone though is that it moved them in some way emotionally.
What was winning the Chervinsky Award like for you? How has an exhibition at the Griffin Museum impacted you as an artist?
It was a dream come true to be honest. When I got the email I cried, screamed and freaked out for a bit before I was able to craft a response, I was so happy. The scholarship is going to help not only with finishing the work with framing but also with starting new work and becoming more self-sufficient with printing. Having a show at the Griffin is something I have dreamed about for a long time and it’s an honor to have my first solo exhibit there, as well as a homecoming since I was at Lesley University for my MFA and spent 2 years in the Boston area.
What is the next step in your creative future?
Right now I’m working on images that take a very different direction, my family and my farm and the beauty that life can hold. It feels just as important to tell the story of the beauty of a life well lived, that the world won’t collapse even if you have been taught that it will if you follow your instincts, heart, and what you know is right for you.
Artist’s Statement of Purpose as submitted to the John Chervinsky Scholarship
Since I began graduate school in Boston in 2012 I have been on a journey of deconstruction of faith and reclaimation of my life for myself which catapulted me into a divorce in 2014. I knew then that I would eventually tell the story of this final step in leaving behind the faith I was raised in and an abusive situation. Not Waving But Drowning tells the story of my marriage and my escape. It is my own stand against oppression of any people by religion or other factors.
Although my work has been about my own journey I believe in the power of photography to change and empower people. I feel that it is more important than ever to stand up and tell my story openly. When I left my husband many people believed I should run away and hide in shame. Instead, living the life that is right for me, free from the stifles of religion has brought me joy I never imagined.
I want to share my photography with a larger audience, and to continue developing my career as an emerging photographer. The grant money would allow me to finish printing and framing this series, which would enable me to exhibit the series in its’ entirety. -MRP
About Michelle Rogers Pritzl –
Michelle Rogers Pritzl was born and raised Southern Baptist in Washington DC area. She fell in love with photography in a high school darkroom and has been making images ever since. Pritzl received a BFA from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in 2001, a MA in Art Education from California State University in 2010, and a MFA in Photography from Lesley University College of Art, where she studied with Christopher James, in 2014. Her work explores the tension between past and present in our psychological lives as well as the photographic medium itself, often working in a digital/analogue hybrid and using historic alternative processes.
Pritzl has been widely exhibited in New York, New Orleans, Fort Collins, Boston and Washington DC, as well as internationally. Pritzl was a Critical Mass Top 250 finalist in 2013, 2014, and 2017; she has been featured in Lenscratch, Fraction Magazine, Diffusion Magazine, Lumen Magazine, Shots Magazine, Your Daily Photograph via the Duncan Miller Gallery amongst others.
Pritzl has taught photography and drawing in both high school and college for the last 12 years, including as an adjunct instructor at Lesley University College of Art, and leading workshops at the Griffin Museum of Photography and Vermont Center for Photography. She lives on a farm in the Finger Lakes with her husband John and their son.
About the John Chervinsky Emerging Photographer Scholarship
The opens in a new windowJohn Chervinsky Emerging Photographer Scholarship seeks to recognize, encourage and reward photographers with the potential to create a body of work and sustain solo exhibitions. Awarded annually (until funding expires), the Scholarship provides recipients with a monetary award, exhibition of their work at the Griffin Museum of Photography, and a volume from John’s personal library of photography books. The Scholarship seeks to provide a watershed moment in the professional lives of emerging photographers, providing them with the support and encouragement necessary to develop, articulate and grow their own vision for photography.
If you would like to consider supporting the continuation of John’s legacy Scholarship by making a contribution to the John Chervinsky Emerging Photographer Scholarship Fund, now in its fourth year. In doing so, you honor John’s legacy by making it possible for others to continue his work of tirelessly questioning the world around us.
To see more of opens in a new windowMichelle Rogers Pritzl please check out her website.
Find her on opens in a new windowInstagram at @michellerogerspritzl