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Portfolio & Interview: Patty Carroll – Anonymous Women: Reconstructed

photo-eye Gallery Portfolio & Interview: Patty Carroll – Anonymous Women: Rectonstructed photo-eye Gallery is excited to introduce Patty Carroll's series Anonymous Women: Reconstructed to the Photographer's Showcase. In the Reconstructed series Carroll's colorful tableaux depict contemporary women consumed by their possessions within a domestic environment.

Homley, 2014 – Patty Carroll

photo-eye Gallery is excited to introduce Patty Carroll's series Anonymous Women: Reconstructed to the Photographer's Showcase. In the Reconstructed series Carroll's colorful tableaux depict contemporary women consumed by their possessions within a domestic environment. According to the artist the series is a critique of our obsession with collecting, accumulating, and decorating while also inviting hilarity and pathos in an investigation of our relationship with "things."  photo-eye Gallery's Lucas Shaffer interviews Carroll about how she began making pictures and the meanings and process behind the Reconstructed series.

Goldly, 2014 – Patty Carroll

Lucas Shaffer:     Let's start at the very beginning. How did you come to making pictures? What made you want to be a photographer?

Patty Carroll:     Well, actually this is kind of a fun story. My parents owned a chain of suburban newspapers outside of Chicago so I grew up with photographers around us all the time. There was this wonderful photographer who photographed us kids all the time — he was the local portrait guy
Patty Carroll
— and he always had this really weird smell, and I'll never forget this, but of course it was the hypo smell, the fixer and I didn't recognize it until later when I got into the darkroom. What my parents wanted me to do was to go to Northwestern University and major in journalism in college and take up writing and take over the newspapers, and I fought like crazy with them and I ended up in graphic design as a kind of compromise, as a blend between commercial art and fine art. Of course in my senior year we had to take a photography class, an my teacher was Art Sinsabaugh, and I loved it, just loved it. It was great. So my interest started a long time ago. I had cameras as a kid, but I didn't consider it seriously because it was part of the whole scene of newspapers, but then later when I went to school I loved it, and switched over after a year of graphic design to photography and went to grad school for photography.

LS:     Which graduate school did you go to?

PC:     I went to the Institute of Design at IIT in Chicago.

LS:     That's great, that's a great school.

PC:     It is, thanks, and then I ended up teaching there for 14, 15 years afterward. I'm a real ID person, even though my work is, well you wouldn't know it from my work, but I'm a real product of that school. My teachers there were, well, Garry Winogrand, in my second year, and of course Aaron Siskind and Arthur Siegel. So from that tradition came all the traditional ID ex-Bauhaus traditions, or exercises, but then with Garry it was like a whole new world of... just wonderment — and craziness.

LS:     That's exciting, and those are some big names. What was it like to have them as instructors?

PC:     Well, yeah, Garry was particularly wonderful because he taught us that photography is like basketball, you always have to be looking out for the next thing and be quick on your feet. You know, be ready to jump the hoop, so to speak. You have to really look for the moment, and look to put it all together. An even now, even though I'm doing studio work, that's still, that's still really relevant to all photography because you're always looking for, you know, the perfect light or the perfect frame, or perfect moment of expression or whatever.

LS:     Speaking of the studio, can you tell me a little about your current project, the Anonymous Woman? How did it get started?

PC:     The project really started with the heads that I did. My husband and I moved to England for
Anonymous Women; Heads – Patty Carroll
four years, and we didn't know we were coming back, we thought it would be a permanent position. He was the Director at the Royal College of Art and I was teaching at the Royal College, as well as what was then the London College of Printing. And up to then all my work had really been about American subjects, and about Americana, and about being in this world of America and my work was all based out in the world. I did a series on hot dog stands and I did a lot of work at night, some documentary, and I had started this project on Elvis impersonators. We moved to England and I was really out of my element. I was so alone, and I just freaked. My identity, I didn't realize, was, of course, so caught up in that whole suburban American experience I'd grown up in — and so I had this dilemma, this kind of identity crisis, and so I started photographing. I was also, at that time, only known as Mrs. Jones, and I was like "um excuse me I'm a whole other person." So I had this model come into the studio, and we painted her white — mostly torso — and placed domestic objects over her head. It was kind of symbolic way of being identified through domestic things. Some of it was food, some of it was decoration.

LS:     Were those things you personally identified with, or were those objects things that could identify a person, that you saw people using to identify themselves?

PC:     In some ways yes and in some ways no. I stared seeing how other women particularly were identified through their marital status and their domestic status which I was then experiencing so it was a commentary on that.

LS:     Was it something in the British culture specifically that brought these feelings up? Was this feeling evident in your life in America as well?

PC:     Well, it was much more prevalent [in England] also because its a much more traditional society. There I was, and even though I was teaching and had my own career, I was really know as the rector's wife. It really brought up those feelings in a way I hadn't considered it before. Even if I had considered it I could always ignore it and go on about my business. I couldn't ignore it there; it was literally hitting me over the head. So it was something I started, and I made [the model] white so she looked like a statue so her identity was further removed from reality.

Planty, 2014 – Patty Carroll

LS:     So how did the Reconstructed Series get started; what were you concerned with?

PC:     I wanted to talk about stuff. Like the great George Carlin bit, "you have stuff and then you don't have enough places to put it, and then you need to buy a bigger house so you can put more stuff in it." It's one of those things. In America we are particularly obsessed with our stuff and identify through it and how shopping and consumerism and all the things in the home are who we are. I really wanted to expand [the project] in that direction. Honestly this isn't how I saw these pictures coming out but that is what happened.

LS:     Tell me a little about that. What was your original intent when you set out to make the pictures?

PC:     Well, my original intent was the woman becoming the stuff.

LS:     Interesting. So the model would be transforming into the objects around her?

PC:     Yeah, but I never figured out how to do that exactly. I keep thinking "Someday I'm going to make this woman out of appliances" but I just haven't quite figured it out yet. The idea is she is made up of her stuff, so it ended up being these claustrophobic pictures that have different kinds of things in each one.

Darkly, 2014 – Patty Carroll

LS:     Is the woman in the image a live model or a mannequin standing in?

PC:     It is a mannequin, but she's too stiff. I know I'm going to put a person in there soon; we've already started it just hasn't materialized correctly yet.

LS:     What was the reason to start with a mannequin? Just that it was easier to work with?

PC:     Well, yes. There's so much stuff in this thing you need something in [the image] that is an anchor point, which is the mannequin and even though you don't necessarily find her right away in the picture because she is often taken over by the stuff of her life she is there. She doesn't have a head, so her head usually consists of something else, a pot or whatever.

LS:     I think there's something interesting about using the mannequin. It's a plastic person, it's an object itself, and it's used to sell goods. Was that your mind while making the work, or are those associations a happy accident from making a practical decision?

PC:     It's a little bit of all of the above, you know, a lot of these things start one way and the changes you have to make are 'just right.' A lot of my process starts from a thing, you know, we have to use this red pot — or whatever — and then it just goes from there. The mannequin was just like, I cant have someone stand in there while we do all of this stuff, but its like you say, related to selling and consuming.

Toasty,  2014 – Patty Carroll

LS:     What is the Reconstructed Series relationship to women, and women's issues? Are you taking a particular stance about how you see women identifying themselves?

PC:     I do think its a critique. Whether it's a for or against it depends on my attitude that day, but I am certainly poking fun even at myself, and critiquing our obsession with stuff. I recognize that I am just as bad as everybody else, or everybody else is just as bad as me. We are a victim of advertising, and at the same time we need to recognize that and address it and call it for what it is.

LS:     Do you ever find yourself walking back from that? Does the process of making pictures help you evaluate your own behavior? Has it brought about change in your own habits?

PC:     That's an interesting question. Yes and no. In my own home I look for simplicity, so I do think it's influenced me. I put all this stuff in the pictures and then come home and want to get rid of it all. I don't want to live with it at all. But on the other hand I still look for the perfect lamp; I look for the perfect lamp at estate sales. And I look at house blogs all the time. I guess I look at my obsessions and I laugh at them.

View Patty Carroll's work on the Photographer's Showcase

For more information or to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly at 505-988-5152 x 121 or