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Fractured: Mini Interviews | Lauren Davies, Leigh Merrill, Ira Wagner

photo-eye Gallery Fractured: Mini Interviews Lauren Davies, Leigh Merrill, Ira Wagner Welcome back to our mini-interview series! This week we talk to Lauren Davies, Leigh Merrill and Ira Wagner. Underlying the subject matter of these three artists is how we shape our environment and how it shapes us.
Welcome back to our mini-interview series! This week we talk to Lauren Davies, Leigh Merrill, and Ira Wagner. Underlying the subject matter of these three artists is how we shape our environment and how it shapes us.

Lauren Davies’s Detroit House 2, unravels before us in threads. Her deconstructed woven photograph is a powerful metaphor for the decline of industrialization in the Rust belt. It addresses the impact of both a rampant global economy and the massive proliferation of web-based commerce in the disintegration of American homes.

Leigh Merrill’s Pink Corner, emphasizes the constructed nature of spaces. The ironic and humorous building is a digital collage composed of many locations. Her work plays with the idea of site-specificity and placelessness.

In Ira Wagner’s Philadelphia Twinhouse, the paired homes are connected but not the same. We can tell by the subtle difference in the architectural elements that make up the site—such as the landscape trim in the shared front lawn and the choice of paint colors for the disparate structure. His work examines the human inclination to mark and delineate spaces to create borders and separateness. 



Lauren Davies | Detroit House 2


Lauren Davies, Detroit House 2, 2019, deconstructed woven photograph, 22 x 24 inches, ready to hang, $1200

Can you tell us about your artistic process?
My photo-based project titled "Industry Unraveled,” presents images of abandoned homes and manufacturing locations produced via digital processes derived from the affordable immediacy of Walmart and web-based commerce. My working process involves uploading digital files to Walmart’s website where the photographs are processed into woven versions of my images. I subsequently deconstruct the photographic Walmart weavings by pulling threads from the image and often incorporate other processes such as over-dying, bleaching, and manual collage using a sewing machine.

The combination of these hand-worked processes creates a visual impression that the image of an obsolete Rust Belt manufacturing location or an abandoned home is dematerializing and unraveling into a sagging pile of disconnected threads. The connection between the object-like image of an abandoned factory and the Walmart weaving process, underscores the shift from bricks and mortar labor to the inexpensive global internet-based economy.

What inspired this image?
I grew up in the Rust Belt. Pittsburgh to be exact. I left that smoggy, gritty city as it was headed into a steep industrial and financial decline. I was fortunate enough to depart for California, art school and a MFA in sculpture. This was followed by living in San Francisco for too many years to count. Eventually the tech industry jolted the Bay Area economy and in a surprising turn of events, I relocated back to the Rust Belt. Cleveland, this time.

Returning to this region completely changed my work as I took a detour into photography and began reconsidering the area where I had grown up. Cleveland, Youngstown, Detroit, Buffalo and Utica continue to reveal how the global economy (amongst a variety of other detrimental issues) left behind an endless number of obsolete factories, derelict shopping malls, shuttered schools and abandoned homes. This seismic shift has impacted nearly everything from economics and politics to health and environmental issues, social structure and community life. All this changed while I was in California living in the heart of the tech industry which eventually prompted an upheaval in my own life. I left and am once again living in the Rust Belt where my attention shifted to regional history and economics as witnessed in both the landscape and architecture.

Do you have an interesting story about your subject matter? 
Overall, this project has forced me out of my studio and out into the world with a camera. I love driving and researching new locations. I became an avid Instagrammer and periodically used it as a research tool to identify new Rust Belt sites to photograph. Via Instagram, I was contacted by a landscape architect who was traveling through Cleveland from India. She was conducting research on how certain types of plants seem to thrive in polluted environments and can sprout up in the middle of an asphalt parking lot. She was curious how we had ended up at all the same locations – what research process was I using? We met for coffee and she explained her highly technical geo-mapping process and I was using Instagram and Google. We ended up at the exact same locations.

After spending decades in California, Lauren Davies recently returned to the Rust Belt. This geographic change shifted her attention to decaying American manufacturing and the impact of global and internet economies on communities around Cleveland, Youngstown, Pittsburgh and Detroit. Combining photography with affordable materials and web-based services and processes, her recent work connects historical narratives to current sense of economic unraveling witnessed in both the landscape and industrial architecture scattered throughout the Rust Belt.

Lauren Davies currently lives in Cleveland.


Leigh Merrill  | Pink Corner


Leigh Merrill, Pink Corner, 2016, archival pigment print, 20 x 22 inches, edition of five, framed, $2740

Can you tell us about your artistic process?
I use photography as a tool to observe and then digitally combine my photographs to construct spaces that do not exist, allowing the creation of images that, through metaphor and illusion, reveal both the desire and simulacrum present around us and within photography itself. The resulting photos are digital-collages of several individual photographs along with digital manipulation. The images appear relatively seamless, simulating the experience of looking at a real place even though it is a collage of many locations.

What inspired this image?

When building this photograph, and with all my work, I seek a delicate balance between truth and fiction. The image can only feel so real and so fake, and that space between opens up a place for intellectual or emotional engagement. When shooting source material, I am drawn to shooting in places that harbor notions of truth and fiction. The source photographs for this particular photograph all came from Las Vegas, Nevada – a location very much embedded with fantasy.

Do you have an interesting story about your subject matter?  

Most of the photographs from the series "This Place," which Pink Corner is a part of, are in dialogue with one another. This photograph became incorporated into other images: as a reflection in a window or as a building in the background of another image. I built an imaginary neighborhood that one might discover when looking at the body of work.

Leigh Merrill is an American Artist born in 1978. Working primarily with photography, Merrill creates digitally collaged photographic and video works that explore our contemporary landscapes and the impact of desire, simulation, and perception on the built environment. Leigh Merrill received her BFA from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, NM and her MFA from Mills College in Oakland, CA.

Leigh Merrill lives and works in Dallas, Texas where she is an Associate Professor of Art at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Ira Wagner | Philadelphia Twinhouse


Ira Wagner, Philadelphia Twinhouse, 2018, archival pigment print, 10 x 13 inches, edition of 15, unframed, $500

What inspired this image?
I discovered the twinhouses while working on another project. In the spring of 2017 I started on a project photographing the landscape along the Northeast Corridor train line between New York and Washington. It’s a landscape I looked at many times in traveling for work between the two cities.

In May of 2017, I wandered into the Great Northeast area of Philadelphia and was struck by these structures. With a lifelong interest in urban history and design, something about these houses spoke to me and I photographed many blocks of them. After looking at the results, I realized that this was something I needed to explore further and found that there are vast areas of these in a whole variety of styles and utilizing a range of materials - bricks, wood, stone, and vinyl siding.

By the time I took the image included in the exhibition in July 2018, I had been working on this project for more than a year and it was at least my eighth trip. I had completed about 100 pictures of essentially the same house  a stone 1 floor version, when I walked onto another block which had a row of houses like the one in the image. This was the only block in that neighborhood with this design. I have a picture of each house on the same side of the street (facing west since the sun would be to my back). But of all the pictures taken on that day, this was the one that has made it into my selections for the project. There’s just something about those two plantings in front that makes this stand out  the single planting on each side of the property line, the careful trim and then the differences  the way the small lawns are mowed, the slightly different white paint on the first level, the replacement siding and roof tiles that don’t quite match up anymore. It nicely summarizes the ideas of the project.

Do you have an interesting story about your subject matter?
On the whole, I photographed these houses in the middle of the day to have similar and flat lighting and, I mostly shoot on weekdays between my days teaching. As a result, there were very few people around. But at the end of 2018, I went back for two final trips to see how these houses looked when decorated (or not) for Christmas. When I photographed one house, which happened to be on a weekend, a pretty big and aggressive guy came storming out asking what I was doing photographing his house. He seemed ready to land a punch. But the house was fully decorated for the holidays and I told him I liked the decorations and was trying to photograph them. That proved hard to argue with since after all, why do you decorate your house unless you want people to notice. But my car was nearby and I took off quickly after that.

 Ira Wagner, behind the scene, Philadelphia, 2018

As I said in the prior story, I went back to see what these houses looked like at Christmas and found the one in the exhibition with its Christmas decorations. I’m attaching that image. Now we have the house with a red bow!

Ira Wagner began studying photography in 2008, after working on Wall Street for more than 25 years. With an interest in urban history and design, he has focused on photographing the urban landscape. He received his MFA from the Hartford Art School in 2013 and is currently teaching photography at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

Stay tuned for next week's post, where we'll talk to Christine Lorenz, Edward James Bateman, and Kelly Cowan

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>> Read more about Fractured

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