Perceiving Pathways | Meggan Gould
The Griffin Museum celebrates the craft of photography in all of its forms, as well as highlighting visual artists at the beginning of their creative journey. Over the past thirty years, showcasing luminaries of photography, we have had the pleasure of working with many emerging talents. Perceiving Pathways is a series of interviews, conducted by Tori Currier, looking at some of the artists who have hung on our walls. In conversations with them about their creative paths, often beginning with their first exhibition with us, we share these conversations about the many ways art practices can evolve, and spotlight the various decisions and influences that come together to create the artworks you see. It is our hope that these engaging conversations are an opportunity to connect with and learn from artists about themselves and their processes, cultivating deeper appreciation of their artwork and a broader understanding of the photographic arts.
Meggan Gould is a photographer, educator, and published author working outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her 2015 Griffin Museum exhibition, Viewfinders, focused on the camera apparatus itself to consider “histories of looking.” We were delighted to speak with Meggan about how her work has evolved since Viewfinders, her new book, Sorry, No Pictures, and her use of alternative processes in her recent series Happy Time.
How would you describe your exhibition experience at the Griffin?
Paula had reached out a few years after meeting in passing at a portfolio review, remembering the Viewfinders specifically and wanting to exhibit them. Unfortunately, I never got to see the exhibition – I had a very young baby and at the last moment had to cancel the travel from New Mexico to Boston because of sickness. Frances and Paula were amazing to work with from afar, and I am always so impressed by the Griffin as a consistent presence supporting both emerging and established artists.
Tell us how your work has evolved since your 2015 exhibition, Viewfinders.
I have continued to make work that pokes at how we look at the world using photography, at the authority of branding, at why/how we are supposed to use technologies in certain ways. I tease apart and deliberately misuse/misinterpret/look askance at tools. I magnify and rework printer test patterns, I dunk household items in jars of recovered pigment inks from my printer, I rework the iconography from cameras into elaborate autobiographical narratives…. I love to have my hand confront the machinery of vision, and everything I end up making is deeply grounded in and indebted to photo geekery, as the viewfinders were. Much of my recent work wanders in and out of photographic print as output, however, employing drawing, stenciling, knitting, sewing—all with a messy overlay of photographic ink, language, and tool dissection.
In the summer of 2021, I published a book, Sorry, No Pictures, using both text and images to probe my personal relationship to the medium. It was the first time I had embraced writing as part of my practice. In it, I write about machines, mothering, teaching, messes, travel, ink stains, open boxes of photosensitive paper, bird-watching, influences, failures, languages, clogged nozzles, clocks, humility, and labor. It felt like an embrace of joy from muddy waters, and a solidification of the permission I have been giving myself to have more fun with iterations of output.
Congratulations on your book! So, in Sorry, No Pictures, you wrote on topics which have emerged in your visual art practice. In which ways do the written word and photographic art work together in your book?
I think of the book as more of a long-form opportunity to come to terms with my own practice – to find joy in unearthing coherence therein – and the images are almost secondary. When I give an artist talk, the relationship between the two is, perhaps, flipped – the images take precedence, and my voice/words are there to move through the images, holding them up, bolstering them. In the book, I allowed myself (for the first time) to give the words dominance; the photographs are used to hint at the larger collection of work.
2020 – 2021 were reflective years for many of us. They, too, have shown us how supportive art communities are. Which new thoughts or discoveries about your work/practice and role in the photography community will inform it in the New Year?
I might say that I wish these years had been particularly reflective! Some eventual reflections emerge amid the tedium and stress…. I did not find the sudden loss of social expectations overly troubling. My practice is not particularly outward-facing in the ways I make work, and my studio is 100 feet from my main house, so I theoretically had the luxury of both time and space to expand into in terms of making. I also, however, had two schooling children suddenly and ALWAYS at home, and somehow that distance of 100 feet was often unnavigable, thanks to other needs. Teaching online and endless meetings on Zoom were the odd emotional drain that they were for everyone. Lessons learned: trust in self and the momentum of routines, trust in projects finding their own momentum through labor. I made a lot of side projects, things that may never become anything else, things that required the slow accretion of tedious time. Every day, for example, I made one lumen print of my daily tea mug next to Zoom meeting set-up, and every day I made a photograph of my domestic prison (!) at 10:10. I found intermittent joy in this reconfigured reality, and allowed my practice to overlap with my domestic life in a way I never have before.
I have enjoyed the pandemic’s condensing of space, allowing artist talks to be virtually attended at a great distance, and I feel like there has been something of a collapse of boundaries. Something I hope to continue into the new year is an ongoing resolution to reach out more to artists whose work I admire, but do not know. Most of us have contact information directly listed on our websites; why don’t we tell people how much their work has moved us? I try to make it a habit to simply send a quick email, or a physical book, to artists, when their work brings me joy. I tell students that much of the role of a critique conversation is simply that of an act of attention, and I love to spread this in a way that seems to have an odd social block to it. We should spread appreciation more!
Other than that, I don’t know what my role in the photography community is, exactly – a provocateur of the medium? I have often felt somewhat outside of much of the photography community, with a very different approach to using/looking at the medium.
Reflecting on your path so far, what is one hope or ambition for 2022?
A few! To stay steady (myself and the world both) in the face of unrelenting political, environmental, pandemic stress feels like the most one can really hope for, on this last day of 2021. To see more art in physical form. To write more.
For Viewfinders, you talked about how history is represented in a viewfinder’s glass through dust and scratches. In a way, they become lenses of times past that we continue to look through. How does your 2020-21 series, Happy Time, extend your ideas of the camera as connected to time? How have your modes of representation changed?
Happy Time started with a photography professor of mine, many years ago, who pointed out that clocks are inevitably stuck, in camera and watch advertisement, at ten minutes past ten o’clock. It’s one of these glorious moments that one doesn’t tend to notice, but then cannot unsee, once noticed– and these are the things I have loved to photograph over the years – those insidious things we can’t not notice, once brought to our attention (greasy fingerprint patters on an iPad, markings inside a camera’s viewfinder, glue on the backs of photographs). In the case of the clock, it’s such a capitalist convention – the implication of a smile, meant to make us feel happy/inclined to buy the watch/clock on display. It’s a silly convention made for a photographic moment, and I chose to lean into it during the months of quarantine. Every day, at 10:10, I would stop and make a photograph, hovering in the space of enforced happy time. It’s not a habitual mode of representation for me, to document my daily life in this way, so it also felt forced, tedious, calisthenic-like.
I have simultaneously been turning the happy time clock into long-form (long exposures of hours, days, weeks) camera-less anthotypes, using plant-based emulsions to very, very slowly draw out the happy time moment in the lurid colors of turmeric, prickly pear cactus, spinach, spirulina, pomegranate…. This has become another avenue for exploring the domestic (kitchen!), while simultaneously trying to imagine a feasible future for photography, in the face of environmental catastrophe. What if I couldn’t run endless water, to wash film, in the desert? What if economic collapse triggered the end of data banks and digital file storage? I’m currently making endless material tests, trying to perfect waxed paper negatives, evaluating exposure needs, appropriate paper surfaces, and hovering in the space of unmoving clock faces (10:10, and the Doomsday clock, hovering at 100 seconds to humanity’s midnight doom). The trickery of photographic time, and cultural associations embedded therein, certainly is a steady thread.
As I hinted above, my modes of representation change regularly. Recent work includes embroidered lumen prints, massive stencils on gallery walls, dyed cotton masks and tampons, straight inkjet prints, stitched digital imagery, photosensitive spinach prints…. It has taken me a long time to understand, and eventually embrace, how unwavering the conceptual backbone of what I am looking at stays, despite the physical disparities of the work itself.
These days, how we experience time in general certainly feels unique. There has been a sense of monotony, and a
blurring together. Would you say that your processes for Happy Time, such as photographing at a fixed time each day and creating anthotypes, allow you to explore time in a way that sets photography apart from other art forms?
If anything, I have certainly been exploiting the fundamental nature of the medium—if distilled to light’s action on photosensitive material—in two dramatically different ways. Time did, indeed, feel simultaneously slow and fast over the course of the past two years, and I suppose these two ways of working reflect extremes of photographic possibility. The accretion of a body of work based in “quick” time of standard(ish) 1/60th of a second exposures, but repeated daily, in conjunction with a body of work built up from excruciatingly slow exposures of hours, days, weeks, months…. And all with a never-changing clock face, unfazed by the passage of time (however that passage might feel/be experienced). Time, in both cases, delivers me the photographs.
You’re a photographer, so you’re intrinsically a viewer too! How have your ways of viewing and engaging with photographic art changed over the years? Have they been shaped by how you might prefer your own work to be viewed?
I don’t tire of images, really in any form. I maintain a space for being surprised by what a photograph can do. I like them on walls, I like them in jpegs, I like them in family photo albums, I like them in advertisements, I like them in books, I like them as sculptures. I’m ridiculously open to photographic encounters. If anything has changed for me over the years, it is that I want to know more back stories about artists, and how they came to make the work they make – I want to know the profound complexities of others –maybe because it makes me feel better about my own.
How do I prefer my work to be viewed? This gives me pause. Fundamentally, having anyone encounter work in any manner (even subpar jpegs, floating alone) is, of course, just fine. That said, I have always struggled with the legibility of my work, or my tendency towards obtuse/layered meanings, and accepting that much of that is lost in translation/viewing. I love to give artist lectures, and they become something of a performance of everything I tried to wrap into my book; they put me there to present the work as a package that gets to emerge as more cohesive than it feels while in process, to spin from it a narrative reasoning/reckoning with my words, my personality, my stupid jokes.
What is it you like to know about fellow photographers? How does knowing it influence your perception of their work as well as cultivate the attention and appreciation you mentioned earlier in our discussion?
I’m easily persuaded to like work that might not have spoken to me, otherwise, by falling for an artist’s practice/thought process itself. I find that this usually does not come across in artist statements accompanying a lot of work – statements are often dry or difficult to parse. I like behind-the-scenes glimpses of what a practice entails for others, I love to indulge in knowing how other people work…. I like to know what they obsess over. Perhaps it just makes me feel better about my own blindered obsessions!
As creatives, we’re always looking to grow. So, what is one metric of artistic growth as a photographer?
Meggan Gould is a photographer living and working outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of New Mexico. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied anthropology, the SALT Institute for Documentary Studies, where she studied non-fiction writing, and Speos (Paris Photographic Institute), where she finally began her studies in photography. She received an MFA in photography from the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth. Her photographs have been featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally. Her multifaceted practice uses photography, drawing, sculpture, and installation in an open-ended dissection of vision and photographic tools.
Follow Meggan’s Path to Creativity:
Tori Currier is a curatorial intern at the Griffin Museum of Photography and a senior at Smith College majoring in Art History. Passionate about the photographic arts and public education, she strives to support artists at the Griffin by developing educational features which spotlight their work and amplify their voices.