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Risk Taker – An Interview with Colleen Fitzgerald

photo-eye Gallery Colleen Fitzgerald – Risk Taker An Interview with Colleen Fitzgerald about her series Stamina.Now on the Photographer's ShowcaseIn Stamina, Fitzgerald is exploring the landscape with traditional photographic material but in a very unconventional manner. The artist's dynamic semi-sculptural process "reconstructs both reality and the very material that records reality. In doing so, the final product of the photographic work is not a direct representation of the world, but a negotiation of vision."

Colleen Fitzgerald – Land & Sea IX, 2017, Archival Pigment Print, 20x24" Image, Edition of 5, $1,200

Last December I had the opportunity to review portfolios as part of photoNOLA, a photography festival that boasts a series of photographic exhibitions, seminars, and workshops in New Orleans.  As a gallerist, I am privileged to see amazing photography on a daily basis – so I am always thrilled to discover photographers that are bringing something new to the medium, particularly in a way that feels natural and authentic. So, I was delighted when Colleen Fitzgerald sat down at my review table with her project Stamina

In Stamina, Fitzgerald is exploring the landscape with traditional photographic material but in a very unconventional manner. Unexposed 4 x 5" positive film is folded, cut, and bent by Fitzgerald into various three-dimensional shapes, loaded into a custom film holder designed to accommodate manipulated film, and finally exposed using a large format camera. The resulting transparencies are then re-photographed and printed. As Fitzgerald mentions in her project statement, "The process reconstructs both reality and the very material that records reality."

Stamina initially caught my attention based on the subject matter and Fitzgerald's inventive use of materials. Personally, I am fascinated by nature, and my passion for photography was born in the traditional darkroom. Furthermore, I find Stamina to be both conceptually interesting and visually exciting. Each image is masterly crafted and Fitzgerald's process is elaborate, experimental, and playful. There is something captivating about viewing the landscape creased, curled, and folded into cubes – both sharp and obscured. I perceive the images in Stamina as a distant memory, a dream, or an alternate reality. Of course, this is only my interpretation and I suspect that the more time that I spend with Stamina, further curiosity will be inspired.  So, I was not surprised to learn that post review Colleen was awarded Third Place in the 2018 photoNOLA Review Award and to learn that ArtsWorcester of  Massachusetts selected her as the recipient of the 2018 Present Tense Prize for artistic risk-taking.

I am pleased to introduce Colleen as the newest addition to photo-eye’s Photographer's Showcase and to share our conversation about taking risks, her influences,  materials, portfolio reviews, and rice gelato.

Colleen Fitzgerald, Land & Sea X, 2017, Archival Pigment Print, 20x24" Image, Edition of 5, $1,200

Anne Kelly:     You have been praised for being a risk-taker; can you tell us more about your experimental approach to image-making?

Fitzgerald with a manipulated 3D large-format
transparency in her studio
Colleen Fitzgerald:    I think the heart of that question is I believe when making art, fear of failure shouldn’t be part of the equation. I give myself permission to pursue any idea. Take the Stamina series, for example. I’d been working with manipulating film and experimental methods for a long time. But when this idea started, I actually wasn’t trying to invent a new process for myself. I was shooting a landscape with 4x5 inch film, and I accidentally crushed and bent the sheet of film inside the camera. I’m still not quite sure what happened! I decided to develop the film anyway and thought the resulting abstractions from the accidental physical manipulation of the film had potential.

I asked myself – what would happen if film wasn’t flat? What if I could control the physical manipulations and shape of the film inside the camera before I shot with it? What would that mean? For me, it’s essential to remain open to chance and capitalize on the power and potential of mistakes. It took an incredible amount of trial and error, including creating my own camera-back, but I was able to figure out the answer to my question. I let the work evolve. I allow myself to try new things and pursue threads. I often like to approach a subject non-traditionally – no matter how bizarre an idea might seem and regardless of whether it’s going to work or not. I find myself asking, “what if…” a lot.

Colleen Fitzgerald – Land & Sea VII (Full Set), Installation View 15x15" ImageUnmattedEdition of 5

AK:     Let's talk about the thought process behind making the images in your Stamina series. You start with a subject that is three-dimensional, the landscape, and record it with a medium that typically renders a two-dimensional image, but then circumvent that by folding the film into a 3-D object that is then scanned returning them to a two-dimensional image with the illusion of dimension. Can you elaborate on your creative process and how you ended up with producing the final version of your prints in Stamina?

CF:     It’s a complicated process. In pushing materials and tools this way, I hope it brings something imaginative to both the content and form of contemporary photography while providing a new avenue to picturing enduring sites. I think there are potentially still many creative avenues using film we have yet to explore. The prints featured on photo-eye are actually not the result of a scan. The shaped, bent positive film is re-photographed on a lightbox - the film-objects remain three-dimensional as they are being re-photographed from different angles. I like the idea that from a single exposure so many different views of the scene can be made by re-photographing the film as a 3D object this way. This also creates an illusion of depth in the final print, which I think creates a certain mystery about how it was created.

I hope the final product of the print re-enforces the control the photographer has on framing and controlling the perspective of the landscape, as well as illuminates the materiality of photos and the act of looking itself. I feel leaving white around the edges draws attention to the film border as well as my own gestures on the film. Creating with this process let me transform both the material and the final scene.

Colleen Fitzgerald, Land & Sea II, 2017,
 Archival Pigment Print, 20x24" Image,
 Edition of 5, $1,200
AK:     You have chosen 4x5 color film as a material for several projects; what is it about this material that inspires you?

CF:     I like working with my hands. In some ways, it fits with how I learned photography in a darkroom, which can be more of a physically involved process. There’s an unpredictable element when specifically using manipulated color film, and finding new ways to use the material keeps my interest. I’m drawn to a challenge. There’s also a great deal of detail and surface area to work with when using large format film, so it has many practical applications and benefits for specific projects. If large format is right for the concept, then I use it.

I like using film traditionally as well. I tend to work slower with film, and there is a delay between making the image and being able to see the result. When making Stamina, I might go out shooting, only make one exposure, and then not get to see it developed for a week or typically a lot longer. It’s a very different experience than taking a lot of digital shots at once as I might need to do in other situations. It’s beneficial for me to have several different modes of working and thinking.

AK:     Who would you consider your influences?

CF:     This list grows longer every day. Artistically speaking, I’m originally a drawer and a painter, and I’m often drawn to photographic work that incorporates meaningful physical gestures and challenges the definition of what defines a photograph. I viewed the work of Adam Fuss as an undergraduate, and it helped to shape my view of the diverse potential of using photographic materials in unexpected ways. I enjoy non-traditional processes of contemporary artists like Matthew Brandt, Chris McCaw, Julie Cockburn, and this list goes on and on. I’m also interested in artists that I feel explore themes of transformation in different ways through their work, like Rineke Dijkstra or Sarah Sudhoff, to name just a few. Sally Mann was one of the first living female photographers I remember learning about when I was younger, and her work still has an impact. Those are just some photographic artists that popped into my mind, and I take inspiration from every genre of photography. But my artistic influences certainly aren’t limited to the photo world. People inspire me for different reasons, from my peers to my students, to painters, writers, and athletes. I find new influences every day, and I let my life experiences influence my work.

AK:     You are an educator, photographer, and curator.  Do you think that your various roles influence each other?
Colleen Fitzgerald
CF:     I don’t think of the roles I play within the arts or academia as separate from one another. Teaching and my arts practice inform each in other in different ways all of the time. As an artist often working in experimental methods, I try to also foster a positive learning environment where my students aren’t afraid to also take risks – where they can approach any problem from a variety of innovative angles along with technical skill. I hope I empower students to be confident, curious, creative, and critical thinkers.

I also try to teach students some of the valuable lessons I’ve learned through my arts practice that I wish I knew when I was still in school. Teaching is one of the many ways to provide community in the arts, and I’d say meaningful relationships are the most rewarding part of my career. Overall, overlap exists between my roles either directly or indirectly. Whether I’m making my work, teaching, or planning an exhibit, I’m always working to continually improve.

Colleen Fitzgerald – Land & Sea VIII (B), 2017, Archival Pigment Print, 17x20" Image, Edition of 5, $950

AK:     We met a PhotoNOLA, and I recall that you were well prepared and did an excellent job presenting your work — in fact, you received Third Place in the 2018 PhotoNOLA Review Awards. Tell us about your experience at PhotoNOLA, what advice do you have for other photographers who are or thinking about attending a portfolio review?

CF:     Thank you - I really appreciate that. photoNOLA was my first large review with many reviewers over a short period of time. I went into the process aiming to get valuable feedback and meet other artists. Being selected for an award was a lovely surprise and an unexpected bonus. I was very fortunate to have engaged with thoughtful reviewers, and I’m grateful for the work photoNOLA put into planning that review.
Land & Sea XII (A-I), Nine Pigment Prints
presented together in a grid showing the same piece of 
shaped 3-D positive film from different perspectives.
photoNOLA special edition leave-behind

Regarding review preparation, it’s always a good idea to have a concise body of work, and I like to make unique leave-behinds for reviewers. It’s important for me to clearly understand my goals going into it as well. And as with any review or critique, remain open to hearing different opinions on your work. Formal reviews have the potential to be a strange or stressful experience, so remember you’re there to share artwork and hopefully enjoy the process. Sometimes I like to replace the words “review” or “critique” with “conversation,” and I think, “I’m going to have a conversation about my work.” It can be helpful to frame it that way. Go in open-minded – you never know what might come of the experience (and try to enjoy yourself!)

AK:     And lastly, sweet or salty? What is your favorite dish from all the places you’ve traveled?

Both! I could never choose! It’s so hard for me even to begin to narrow it down… For a treat, I’d have to say a specific riso (rice) gelato and pear ravioli in Italy. Sometimes people think rice gelato sounds strange, but trust me – it’ll change your life.

• • • • •

Colleen Fitzgerald – Land & Sea XIV, 2018
 Archival Pigment Print, 20x24" Image
 Edition of 5, $1,200
» View Stamina by Colleen Fitzgerald

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published. Prices will increase as editions sell. 

For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact photo-eye Gallery Staff:

(505) 988-5152 x202 or

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