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Interview and New Portfolio – Molly McCall's Home Movies


photo-eye Gallery Interview and New Portfolio – Molly McCall's Home Movies photo-eye Gallery is excited to introduce Molly McCall’s Home Movies to the Photographer’s Showcase. In Home Movies McCall employs the cinematic qualities of found vintage photographs to construct narratives exploring the passage of time, transition, transformation, and loss. Gallery Associate Lucas Shaffer spoke with Molly McCall about the series, her overall photographic practice, and how she began making images.

Shallow Water, Hand-Painted & Varnished Toned Silver Gelatin Print, Edition of 5 – © Molly McCall
photo-eye Gallery is excited to introduce Molly McCall’s Home Movies to the Photographer’s Showcase. In Home Movies McCall employs the cinematic qualities of found vintage photographs to construct narratives exploring the passage of time, transition, transformation, and loss. Each scene is directed by McCall as she hand-paints color swatches and pattern across the enlarged vintage images essentially reframing them to reveal gestures of unfinished stories and memory's murky sense. The resulting images are familiar yet intriguing visions of vernacular settings. Gallery Associate Lucas Shaffer spoke with Molly McCall about the series, her overall photographic practice, and how she began making images.

Deep Delight, Hand-Painted & Varnished Toned Silver Gelatin Print, 15x17" Image, Edition of 5 – © Molly McCall

Lucas Shaffer:     Can you tell me a little about your background; how did you come to make artwork?

Molly McCall:     Art-making is part of my family legacy. My great-grandfather was an illustrator for the New York Times, and my grandfather was a professional artist, both painting with watercolors and drawing with pen and ink. Our family home was frequently filled with artists and crafts people and I was exposed to many different art methods at a very young age.

I grew up in a large family in the rural countryside of California. Without a television in our home, we were encouraged to create art, theatre, and dance as regular family pastimes. Using my imagination became a part of my daily life, and making art was a way to express my creative thoughts.

In the early 1960’s, my family was chosen to model for the drawings in the iconic coming of age story Jane’s Blanket written by famed play write Arthur Miller as a children’s book for his daughter. Prominent illustrator Al Parker lived nearby and needed a range of girls aged from infant to seven years old to model for the book's narrative. My five sisters and I fit the assignment perfectly. We were photographed by Parker who later transformed the images into drawings for the book. When the book was published in 1963, we were each given a signed copy along with several of the original photographs and the book would become central to my family’s collective memory. It was the first connection I had between drawing, photography, and storytelling and it made an indelible imprint on my creativity.

Search Party, Hand-Painted & Varnished Toned Silver Gelatin Print, 18x12" Image, Edition of 5 – © Molly McCall

LS:     Your series Home Movies uses found images as a base; where does your interest in found imagery come from? 

MM:     Although I spent time in art school studying painting and photography, my first creative career would begin in clothing design, producing a line of handmade accessories using vintage fabrics, buttons, and ribbons. My search for materials led me to vintage shops and flea markets and inevitably I would find old photographs as well. I was naturally drawn to them and found myself collecting snapshots of people and places that sparked narratives in my mind. I would eventually use them as inspiration to write short stories and found them to be an unlimited resource for my imagination.

LS:     How did you start making photographs?

MM:     I began combining drawing and painting with my own photography as a respite from my clothing design career. The switch in the creative process helped renew my visual energy and the results were multi-layered collage paintings that explored childhood stories and narratives. Memory began to emerge in my work as I transposed the photographs into new contexts that rendered their details into ambiguous states. When I started combining painting with vernacular photographs, I could see the narratives become more emotionally charged. By shifting the photo’s sentimental context I could transform images into intimate illusions of time and capture the fragility of memory.​

Sudden Departure, Hand-Painted & Varnished Toned Silver Gelatin Print, 9x18" Image, Edition of 5 – © Molly McCall

LS:     Who or what would you say are the biggest influences on your practice?

My work is strongly influenced by contemporary European painters who also use photography as part of their process. Artists like Uwe Wittwer, Peter Doig, Laura Lancaster, and Anselm Keifer have all influenced my use of fine-art techniques together with photography. Since I am combining two mediums, I am using both to explore the relationships between memory, the passage of time, and transformation.

LS:     The images in Home Movies are altered, marked upon with a colorful dot matrix, how does this alteration affect your work? 

MM:     The dot marks impart a visual metaphor for memory and the fragility and deterioration of detail that occurs over time. They also activate an additional dimension on the picture plane that creates a distance between the image and the viewer by separating the photographic image from the surface. Fundamentally, I am treating the photograph as an object, a picture of a picture, and the abstract transformation divorces it from its context allowing me to infuse my own meaning into the image.


The Easy Way Out, Hand-Painted & Varnished Toned Silver Gelatin Print, 15x18" Image, Edition of 5 – © Molly McCall

LS:     For me, the painted additions also reference printing; is that something you are thinking about while making the image – technology and the act of printmaking?

MM:     The dot pattern technique is inspired by both printmaking and silkscreen and is a principal element of my visual language. The patterning references machinery as a parallel to the method of photography. The camera is a machine that works with the eye, and the dot marks are mechanical, but work with the hand. Further to this, they also provide a visual veil, a subversive method to disrupt the “truth” of the photograph and transform the picture into a new abstract context.

LS:     Your prints are very physical; can you describe the process of making images for Home Movies?

MM:     Selecting the image is the most important part of my process. I look for images that depict narratives that are ambiguous, unsettled, or not quite complete. I photograph the photograph and then manipulate it digitally, reprinting it in the darkroom on silver gelatin fiber-based paper. The prints are toned and painted with a combination of photo oils and acrylic paints and a final layer of varnish. The process is slow and requires time and patience. Knowing when the image is finished involves slowing down, walking away and looking back at the image several times.

Walking with Poe, Hand-Painted & Varnished Toned Silver Gelatin Print, 13x17" Image, Edition of 5 – © Molly McCall
LS:     At its heart, what is Home Movies about?

MM:     Home Movies was inspired while viewing discarded super 8 mm home movie films of unknown families that I found while collecting photographs. I could see a desire to preserve emotional space and time that was universal, as the same stories appeared over and over again in the films. This series explores the collective family memory and narratives witnessed in the films. It revolves around the relationships between space and time, memory, and transformation.

LS:     Are you continuing to make new work in this series; if so, where does Home Movies go from here?

MM:     Currently, I am completely captivated with using film (movies) as a metaphor for the themes of memory, transformation, and the passage of time, and am continuing to build on this series. Although I am not directly printing the actual movies, they are informing my choice of which found photographs will carry out my exploration of these concepts and my interest in creating intimate emotional narratives.

The Visit, Hand-Painted & Varnished Toned Silver Gelatin Print,
12x18" Image, Edition of 5 – © Molly McCall
Home Movies is now on view in the Photographer's Showcase and is available in two editions. The Silver Gelatin Edition includes traditional black-and-white prints generally in the 15x18" image size, hand-painted and varnished by the artist. The archival pigment prints are larger exquisitely reproduced on 36x48" rag paper, and both editions are limited to 5 prints per image beginning at $3000.

For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Staff at 505-988-5152 x202 or gallery@photoeye.com


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