For our exhibition The Past is Present, on view until September 22nd, APG's Esther Griffin will be talking with the participating artists about their entries to the show and the way they reference histories and memories. Last but not least, Johanna Warwick.
Johanna Warwick received her BFA in Photography from Ryerson University in 2006 and her MFA in Photography of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2010. She is a British born, Canadian raised photographer now working and living in Baton Rouge, LA where she is has been an Assistant Professor of Art & Photography at Louisiana State University since 2015. Her work was exhibited in several large cities across North America, including New York, Dallas and Toronto.
History and memory seem to be recurring themes in your work, looking at projects like The Bottom, All That Loves Allows and the project shown in this exhibition Monuments to Strangers. What attracts you in these themes?
History is inherent to photography. We rely on photography to show us the past, so it is inseparably connected to memory. History and memory are part of photography as a medium. I have always had a love of history. I find it fascinating to study stories from the past and question how they have informed the present. I question how histories are told. Photography allows me a way to go back to those histories and think about them in new, visual ways.
In your project Monuments to Strangers you investigate the implications of the first photo-mechanical process to reproduce photographs for the public. How did this project come about?
I was finishing up another body of work Between the Ground & Sky. With that project I was looking at the history of how we memorialize, how we leave markers for people that are gone. I was photographing at Danby Mountain where they were excavating marble for gravestones. It was very much a coincidence, but I was visiting an antique shop on my way there and I found the physical blocks that I use for Monuments to Strangers. That was the first time I had ever seen them. They were just so striking, the way they sat on a shelf, all lined up, they almost looked like gravestones themselves. I purchased them and started researching their history, and the series began to unfold.
What do you think are the limitations of photography in the context of sharing the news to the public and creating history and do you feel these limitations exits today as they did in the past?
It is something I didn’t think about as much until I began this project. When I was researching and starting to collect these blocks, I couldn’t find very many women or minorities. I began to consider what this meant for the history that was told in the American Daily Newspaper. Who was represented? and who is left out? I’m hopeful today through a social shift and new awareness of the importance of representation, in film, literature, politics and beyond that we will create a more rounded history for our ancestors.
It is important to remember what we see is not the whole story. That is one of the limitations of photography. We look at photographs and we see what they show, but you don’t see what is to the left of the frame, or the photograph not taken, what is not printed in the magazine or put in history books. You get these gaps in the way the stories are presented.
Do you feel photographers carry a certain responsibility towards the public?
As artists we do have a responsibility as to what the work we make says, as to what we are putting out in the world. In Monuments to Strangers I re-photographed the women that I did find to present them in a way, that could show them as larger than life individuals in comparison to the panoramic piece “The Masses” that can be seen in the exhibition, which shows the abundance of men. I was trying to make a contrast when you see the pieces together.
For the newest project I am working on called The Bottom, I am photographing and doing historical research on my neighborhood. It was segregated, and in 1962 the highway was built right through it. I am photographing my neighbors and the landscape and I believe it is a big responsibility. There was no visual record made of this neighborhood. I want to be very careful about how I tell the story of the history here, to not reduce the community to a stereotype. Photographers historically have photographed marginalized communities, I don’t want the work to repeat this point of view. I want to approach this work to show the devastation of environmental racism, but also the love and support this community is bursting with.
You are also an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University and thus responsible to teach student the art and craft of photography. But what is the most valuable lesson you were ever taught yourself?
Photography is a language. Photographers learn this language, how to use it, how to understand it, how to convey ideas with it and to work with its limitations. I am still constantly learning and trying to work with these parameters.
Who is your inspiration?
Most recently, his name is Akram Zaatari. Last summer, I saw an exhibition of his in Barcelona. It was called Against Photography and it was an intelligent visual questioning of the photographic document. He works with archives of images, re-presents them in new ways and poses new questions. It was by far the most exciting thing I have seen in a long time.