Frame 61

Elizabeth Hibbard

Frame 61
Elizabeth Hibbard
 

"I grew up alone with her from a young age until college, and we had a very isolated, boundary-less relationship; I didn’t often feel that we were truly separate people in many ways until much later."

 

Interview by writer Brooke Hailey Hoffert

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?

I was born in 1989 in San Jose, CA, and grew up in a small agricultural community outside of the Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area alone with my mother. I attended my undergraduate studies close to home at University of California, Santa Cruz, which I completed in 2012. I have continued to live and work in Santa Cruz, a small beach community on the central California coast, in the interim between then and now, and I will be moving to Connecticut this fall when I start my MFA at the Yale School of Art this fall of 2018.  

In your work, you deal with the aspect of femininity and its relationship to the female body and juxtapose those subjects with the young and old. What idea or interpretation is your driving force for those images?

The concept for the project was borne out of wanting to try and make images about the unseen forces that shaped my idea of how to be a woman in my body, and how my mother was at the root of much of that. I grew up alone with her from a young age until college, and we had a very isolated, boundary-less relationship; I didn’t often feel that we were truly separate people in many ways until much later. 

I’m very influenced by psychotherapy, and the notion that emotions and histories are carried bodily. So much of being a woman socially feels like it is distilled down to my physical form and image; the body feels as if it supersedes the interior psychological experience of navigating the world. I often find myself resentful of having to be in a body at all and the limitations that bears upon my intellectual pursuits as a woman.

We talk a lot about how advertising and commercial photography contribute to that, such as in Lauren Greenfield’s Girl Culture, but I wanted explore the feeling that maybe even more deeply for me these ideologies feel to have been inscribed privately and in the domestic space, between women, and particularly between mothers and daughters. My ideas on how to be beautiful, how to be good, and how to exist in a socially acceptable manner deserving of love, feel like things that were almost literally planted in my body through this intersubjective relationship between me and my mother. Watching her relationship to her own aging body and how little value she holds for herself in this process, including in regards to her worthiness as a photographic subject, something very common in our culture, I wanted to examine how that relates to what lies ahead for me on the ideological path I and most women started out on. How do we reconcile our social capital being still so contingent upon our bodies as we age?

  The Dining Room 2017

The Dining Room 2017

  The Thread That Binds I 2017

The Thread That Binds I 2017

  The Thread That Binds II 2017

The Thread That Binds II 2017

With your photographs, you are able to capture that medium between a family portrait and a constructed image that interacts with certain notions of the truth. What is your thought process when capturing the fine line between those two ideas?

I can really struggle with allowing a certain level of spontaneity to integrate itself into my shooting process, but when I do I usually find that those are the strongest images, the ones where I let go just a bit. So despite my inclination to be very controlling in my approach, it was important to me to allow for the aesthetic of a family snapshot to come through. The family snapshot is, to me, the manner in which we attempt to represent the relationships between people in a family system for posterity and for public representation. Usually, the goal of these types of images is to portray a certain positive version of the dynamics, however the precision of the camera often leaves shadows of the rest of the story. Family photo albums are also integral to how we create the story of our own memories and histories, often superseding the emotional memories we carry within our individual bodies of the experiences and interactions represented in the photographs. The notion that a family “snapshot” is candid, and therefore more truthful, than a “constructed” photograph, is something I want to draw attention to the fallacy of.  By constructing scenes that are reminiscent of the a family snapshot or portrait but are actually carefully considered representations of the truths I felt were left out of or only hinted at in my family photo album, I am hoping to create some reconciliation between the two “truths.”

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?

I am always writing down ideas for images as I move through the day, sometimes they’re more concrete than others. Often it’s just a little flash, or maybe a composition from a film I am watching that I want to reference and take screenshots of and add these to the same large document. I then organize this periodically and try and rank things in terms of how important they are to fleshing out the greater body of the series, and then make prop / equipment / location / lighting decisions for the shoot beforehand. I have to be very strict about scheduling time for shoots. It can be very emotionally difficult for me to get myself to create this kind of fanfare for something so vague, especially when I am involving other people, so deciding as I plan my week that, say, Wednesday is for photos X and Y and having a checklist of what’s needed worked out helps me push through at least some of that anxiety, making it like any other errand on my to-do list that I have to do rather than something I need to consider the validity of executing at all. My studio is currently my living space, I don’t have the luxury of a separate dedicated workspace, but I shoot in real domestic spaces for the most part, so usually, I’m bringing lighting and studio equipment out into the world rather than setting things up in a studio space. That said, I try to keep the equipment to a bare minimum, I don’t ever want to intimidate subjects with gear, that can interfere with the level of candidness I desire.

  Mom's Hair That She Gave me 2017

Mom's Hair That She Gave me 2017

  Mother's Milk 2018

Mother's Milk 2018

  The Oak Grove 2017

The Oak Grove 2017

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

I’m reading this book right now called The Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s: Works from the Sammlung Verbund, Vienna, which is this wonderful comprehensive look back at many less canonized feminist artists in the 1970s and how their work laid some really exciting experimental groundwork for other more well-known subsequent work. Although my work is obviously very engaged with feminism, I realized lately my undergraduate education had barely scratched the surface of much of this period of work, and I wanted to have a better sense of how I as an artist am continuing a conversation that started with second wave feminism into our current and hopefully more nuanced political and technological climate. Now reading more in depth about artists I was familiar with, such as Carolee Schneemann, Hannah Wilke, and Ana Mendieta, as well as some that are new but very exciting to me, like Gina Pane’s piece, Le Lait Chaud [The Hot Milk], 1972, has been incredibly heartening, in that the concerns I am engaged with as a woman and in my body are indeed part of an old conversation but also a challenge to for me to consider in my work about how the concerns of many of these artists are both very present still today, but have shifted and evolved in some radical ways over the past 40 years or so. Photography itself has evolved so much, and how women represent their bodies in the age of the internet, and the notions of agency that allows and systems of control they continue to perpetuate are all fascinating things to consider as I continue moving forward.

How do you go about naming your work?

I try and muse on an individual image and isolate conceptually what is most important in terms of feeling or an abstract idea to me about the image, and then try to think about how to use vocabulary as a manner of hinting at whatever that may be without analyzing the image for the viewer. I’ve also been experimenting with using longer and more representationally oriented titling for images, rather than distilling down to single words whenever possible, as I usually would do, as a means of further alluding to the narrative of the image without doing all of the conceptual work for the viewer. I want to trust my audience to draw their own conclusions, and derive great pleasure in the disparities in interpretation when I leave room for that in my titles rather than distilling it too concretely with the language I use around the images. I want titles to be information that enhances or adds complexity to the puzzle rather than leads directly to any sort of solution.

  Ascending the Attic Stairs 2017

Ascending the Attic Stairs 2017

  Looking Underneath 2017

Looking Underneath 2017

  In the Mirror That Was Saved from the Fire 2017

In the Mirror That Was Saved from the Fire 2017

  The Young Martyr 2017

The Young Martyr 2017

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I am most excited about starting my MFA program at Yale this fall. I’ve been in the same small community for almost ten years now, and I can’t wait to see how my work will evolve in response to such a radical shift in place, as well as a new and challenging group of peers and faculty to push me and the discourse around my work. Family has always been a deep wellspring of inspiration for my work, and I doubt that will be something I ever feel truly done with, but the kinds of things I’m considering now that I’ll be geographically isolated from that for two years is going to be a welcome perspective shift, albeit a bit terrifying right now.

I’m considering the impact of my geography upon my work more deeply, and trying to find ways to make work that ties together my interests in feminism and the body to the West and a pursuit of perfectionism and health in California. Everyone here is obsessed with eating clean, living clean, as if we are trying to scrub ourselves of something inherently dirty about being human, and as I’ve analyzed the origins of certain ideologies on femininity from within my family and particularly my mother, I’m now trying to look at the evolution of the culture of this place. I’m not sure how this will manifest when I’m in the Northeast, but even imagining leaving soon is giving me more of an outsider’s perspective on my home, which is something I have always loved about photography: the ability it gives me to see the deeply familiar with fresh eyes.

Artist's website

All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date: 30/5/18