Thursday, January 17, 2013

OXHEART Interview: Elaine Hargrove

Dear friends,

In case you were not aware, I am not just Miss Manhattan but also the Media Liaison for art, music, and performance collaborative OXHEART*. I am proud to say we are having our third show, CANVAS, this Saturday, January 19th, at the Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope. This show marks our first collaboration with the deliciously edgy Gowanus Circus, so be prepared for some phenomenal flights of fancy (fire! contortion! actual flying!) alongside some incredible artwork, rock and roll and, for the first time, a children's show and burlesque (don't worry, though, those shows are at different times, here for more information.) 

This time, I had the pleasure of interviewing one of our artists, Elaine Hargrove. I found Elaine's work addicting--as soon as I saw the images for the show, I knew I needed to see more. Any photographer can take someone's picture, but it takes a smart one and a strong one like Elaine to draw out their humanity in even the most mundane or ridiculous scenarios. Not to sound like a raving cheeseball, but her work spoke to me. I could hear the voices of her subjects and I just wanted them to keep talking to me forever. Get to know Elaine and her work below, and of course please come check them out at OXHEART this weekend. Stay updated with us on Facebook and Twitter as well. I hope to see you there!


Miss M

Interview with Elaine Hargrove, OXHEART CANVAS Artist

Where are you from originally? Where do you live now? 
Originally from Boston, MA, I’m currently a resident of Brooklyn.

What inspires you? What draws you to photograph something?
When I’m making photographs what inspires me are details for better or worse. Details and surprises, and outward expression are beautiful. People and places with details. Some of the things I am most attracted to are handmade, natural, and unique.

On a recent first journey to Mexico I was taken aback at their unabashed use of glitter and loud colors on painted skulls and “folk art.” It was refreshing and delightful and playful to me but also addressed themes of life, death, family, and religion in terms that surpassed my language barrier. It was beautiful how richly these came together.

Some of the art had an unexpected dialog with the images that I am drawn to make, as a glutton for glitter, feathers, bursting color, and skin of natural human beings. The images I make, while fun and indulgent, are also multifaceted addressing themes of love, sexuality, culture, individuality, and passion. And the message is easily accessible.

How long have you been doing photography, and how did you first decide you wanted to get involved with it?
Photography became appealing to me junior year of high school. I found myself skipping academic classes in exchange for the magic and science of the darkroom. Watching an image appear out of water changed my life and enchanted me. As a kid I did lots of drawing, water painting, pastelling, sewing, molding, at home and doodling in church. Photography became something new and definitive in my creative process, and addictive.

Photography reflects life in the most literal language I can use and it’s incredible to me. The connections it creates for me to other people is sometimes uncanny. It inspires me to learn about the world and parts of life in a closer context.

What’s more, there is a hunt and chase for the stars to align and reveal a visual chemistry between people interacting or between my subject and myself as I become a fly on the wall. Sometimes it’s incredible and inspiring to create an interaction with a willing beautiful stranger and come up with something unpredictable.

What makes a good photograph, to you?
It’s hard to define a “good” photograph in our contemporary world flooded with imagery and the craft of photography opened to almost everyone with an interest. I guess a good photograph should be able to hold a viewer's attention for a bit and the artist's too.

What do hope your photographs will say to an audience?
In my current body of work and most of the work I’ve ever made, I want to communicate what’s left behind once you break down broad generalizations of people. I also want viewers to feel good and optimistic and like they can relate somehow to any subject in my portraits.

I tend to photograph "others" often. There are those of us under-represented or ill-represented in western media, i.e. people of color, and people of nontraditional sexual orientation. I aim to photograph them in a non-objectifying manner. I guess I try to see these “others” from the viewpoint of an “other” as an African-American bisexual woman. I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes of “others” as being “at-risk”, “needy”, “problem cases” or even the extreme opposite position of being “culturally proud.” Between these two positions I tend to see a two-dimensional representation of people that are multidimensional.

Beyond that, I want viewers to feel good, and optimistic and like they can somehow relate to any subject or action taking place in my portraits.

I have a photograph of a heavyset Hispanic couple passionately embracing alone deep in the middle of the ocean. Though this simple representation is one I haven’t seen in our popular media, the response to this image across the board is that viewers are tickled and want to experience a similar moment in their own life, rather than rousing the standard issues of culture, body image, lot in life, etc.

When I do shoot “non-traditional people of color” I try not to perpetuate commonly idealized attributes but rather just appreciate individuality and in a way that keeps them connected to all of my subjects.

What do you like to do when you're not producing work?
When I’m not creating art, I do mindless tasks like house work, watch Netflix, stare at social media, cook veggie food if I happen to have shopped, spend time with loved ones, have a shot of tequila, plan the next trip, read a biography for inspiration, on a good day discover nooks and crannies of the city. I also bartend a lot.

What are your goals for your work in the future?
In 2012 I had my first two gallery shows, and I’m happy to say I recently began vending prints of my photos as well as original photo-themed stationary on the NYC streets and had some success with sales. It’s been a bit of a hurdle to get here as creating art comes more natural to me than presenting it. For me, it’s a process getting my work out there, and exposing it to the world but the response is rewarding even if simple. By the finish of 2013 I plan to have an early draft of my first photo book. I also have a plan of curating a summertime group photography exhibition in the works, an exciting and challenging first for me. I’m anxiously anticipating squeezing everything in.

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