Thursday, June 16, 2016

Fairy post #22 - Interview with artist Lorena Carrington

"Ferny Vista" by Lorena Carrington


with photographic artist and illustrator

Lorena Carrington


In 2015 I met a remarkable photographic artist, Lorena Carrington, at Apple Annie’s cafe in Castlemaine, in Victoria’s gold region. Several images by Lorena lined the walls, including one that I subsequently bought (pictured below). Lorena is a member of The Australian Fairy Tale Society and most of her themes allude to this rich wellspring of inspiration.

"The Spider's Gift" by Lorena Carrington


LJK: How do you create your images? It seems you apply a unique way of mixing raw natural materials with sophisticated computer technology. Please tell us all about your technique and its purpose.

LC: Thanks Louisa. You’re absolutely right - it’s the balance and disparity between the raw materials (dried leaves, twigs, bones etc.) and the technology that allows my works to come into being that I find so compelling.  I collect the ingredients for the images, and photograph them as individual objects.

I use a lightbox to back-light smaller items, and photograph larger objects in the studio or even against the sky to silhouette them. They are then montaged together in Photoshop to create the final image. 

LJK: One of my favourite pictures of yours is entitled “The Spider’s Gift” (also known as “Hot Air Balloon”, pictured & cited above) though I tend to refer to it as “Dandelion”. What are the materials you used to create that image?

LC: The white dandelion shape is made of steam, in this case from a morning cup of tea. The black threads are spiderweb, and other detritus - spider skins, seed pods, etc. The background was photographed near Lavers Hill in the Otways, one of my favourite places in Victoria. 

LJK: All this was a mystery to me when I bought it. For me it captures the essence of a dandelion's contradiction: transience yet continuity, as the seed dances. I like how its simplicity hides complexity of construction, like nature itself.

"The Fox Bridge" by Lorena Carrington

LC: My most technically challenging piece was “The Fox Bridge” which is comprised of over 70 separate photographs. Some friends found a (mostly) whole fox skeleton on a walk in the bush and brought it back for me. It was just a pile of bones at that point, so I photographed them to scale, then digitally pieced them together again. More fun than a jigsaw puzzle!

"The Metamorphosis" by Lorena Carrington
I usually create the silhouettes first, then layer in images to create a background. The files are then sent off to the printer, where they are printed using the Chromira process (using an LED printer to expose true photographic paper) and then mounted into an aluminium or high density foam core backing.

LJK: What is your favourite fairy tale, or fairy character?

LC: One of my favourites is a little known Celtic story entitled “The Stolen Bairn”, published by Sorche Nic Leodhas in Thistle and Time, a book of Scottish tales. 

Visit the link here.

"The Mother's Gift" from The Stolen Bairn by Lorena Carrington

It is also the first story in the wonderful collection Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World

LJK: What attracts you to this tale?

LC: I love that it is a tale about a single mother who rescues her own child. She receives advice from an elder woman, but she is the active character throughout. One of the things I find most frustrating about the contemporary versions of our most popular tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) is that the main (female) protagonist is the one with the least amount of agency, while the ever dashing prince ends up getting all the action, but is always a lifeless two dimensional character. Not fair on either of them! 

LJK: For that tale you created a pair of pictures - “The Mother’s Gift” & “The Mother’s Gift II” (2014) - displayed online and in a postcard set that you gave me, thank you. The heroine made two offerings: one to enter the elf kingdom; the other to bargain for her child. Tell us more?

LC: In the tale, a woman falls from a cliff while foraging for food, and her baby is taken by Sídh (Scottish fairies). She is nursed back to health by a fisherman’s family, then goes out to search for her child. She weaves a shawl from scraps of wool and her own hair, and because it is made with the magic of a mother’s love, it is the softest material you could ever feel. She also makes a harp from bits of bone and driftwood she finds along the shore, and strings it with her own hair and again, because it was made with the magic of a mother’s love, it plays the sweetest music you have ever heard. She buys her way into the Sídh gathering with the shawl, and plays the harp for the king, who is holding her child. He insists on owning the harp, so she bargains for the return of her son. 

I created the two images, showing one of the gifts in each. I hope they also convey some of the emotions she must be going through: the lack of solid ground under her feet, the swelling of ocean water, the swirl of stars in inky skies, and the circular intense concentration on what must be done to get her through this time time of loss and grief. And most importantly hope. 

LJK: Your piece about Baba Yaga is quite haunting. What does this character represent to you?
"The Bone Lantern" by Lorena Carrington

LC: Ah, the Baba Yaga! She is one of my favourite characters in fairy tales. She is the Russian witch of the woods. Versions of her are present in tales from all round the world, but she is far more than the cliched crone we know from Hansel and Gretel. Yes, in some tales she is wicked, but in others she is the powerful ‘Earth Mother’. She controls the winds, and only seeks to protect the woods that she presides over. She is powerful, unapologetic, and doesn’t take any nonsense from those foolish enough to stumble into her path. I love her. 

But it is her house that I love almost as much. It has its own mind, walks around on chicken legs, and will only let you enter its door if it chooses to. 

It even challenged me in the making of that image. To photograph the legs, I crawled around after a friend’s chicken for a good half an hour, rolling around their patio on my belly while the hen, with incredible dignity, kept just out of sight of the camera lens. 

LJK: How did you hear about The Australian Fairy Tale Society? Why did you join? Which members have you met, in person or online, so far - and in what context? 

LC: I attended a symposium “Into the Woods” at The University of Melbourne’s Centre of Excellence, where I met the wonderful Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario from Monash University. I had heard of the Society before then, and had always meant to join, but Rebecca gave me the high-heeled kick I needed!

LJK: What are some of your wishes or hopes for this Society?

LC: The Society is doing a marvellous job extending our knowledge of fairy tales and debating their meanings and origins. My hope is that we can keep broadening the public’s ideas about fairy tales. They are not simply static tales of ‘Once upon a time’ and ‘Happily ever after’. They are a rich, evolving, and essential part of our cultural community. I’m so excited that the conference is in Melbourne this year, and can’t wait to meet up with so many like-minded souls.

LJK: Where did you study art? 

LC: I studied Visual Art at La Trobe University in the late ‘90s. This was back in the old days of film photography, where we spent all day in the underground darkroom subsisting on tarry coffee, chemical fumes, and the local pop radio station. I loved every minute.

LJK: Who helped shape your skills, ideas and knowledge?

The Merman by Edmund Dulac
LC: My visual fairy tale influences include Golden Age fairy painters such as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen. Photographically I have also been drawn to modernist photography, and the work of Tina Modotti, Edward Weston, Laslo Maholy Nagy et al. While it might not be obvious in my current work, I think their simplicity and love of contrast, tone and form still come through.

As for the tales themselves, I have a growing collection of books on my desk. Grimm of course, especially the raw, dark and often very bizarre first edition of their stories that was released last year. I often come back to Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World. It’s a brilliant collection, edited by Kathleen Ragan. Marina Warner’s book From Beast to Blonde has been a great inspiration too, along with Bruno Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment.

Contemporary writers inspire me too - especially the incredible number of Australian women writers currently exploring new facets of fairy tales: Nike Sulway, Kate Forsyth, Margo Lanagan and Danielle Wood in particular. And we can’t forget Angela Carter of course. 

LJK: Agree! Sophie Masson is great, too. In Spring 2015 you exhibited in Port Fairy. How did that go?

LC: That was my latest solo show, and one of my favourites. Lots of people came to the opening, and were all delightful and intelligent and kind, and I’m sure it wasn’t just the champagne talking.  Blarney Books and Gallery is run by the wonderful Jo Canham. She and her husband Dean (and two children) have created an incredible space. So much more than the sum of its parts: bookshop, gallery, performance space.

"Storywind" by Lorena Carrington
LJK: You’ve have had at least 6 exhibitions over the past year. Congratulations! That’s a lot of exposure - and a lot of work. What are some contexts in which you’ve presented your art recently?

LC: Yes, 6 exhibitions in a year was a little more than I’d recommend! Especially as they were fitted in around other projects. I love exhibiting, but it’s a lot of work, and expensive too, with the cost of printing, gallery hire, openings etc. I’m always thrilled to break even, which thankfully nowadays I mostly do. 

As well as traditional exhibitions, I do try to diversify. In 2014 I presented a three dimensional installation at the Bendigo Library as part of the Bendigo Write on the Fringe Festival, which was a delightful challenge. You can watch a video about it here.

"Lindworm" by Lorena Carrington
Last year I held a series of workshops with kids at local schools and libraries, on silhouette-based illustration, which was enormous fun. I hope to do it again.

I’m also moving into illustration work, which I love more than life itself right now. 

LJK: Do you prefer to work solo, or in collaboration? Or a little of both?

LC: Creating images for exhibition, I definitely prefer to work on my own, but I love collaborating with others on projects. Whether it’s with other artists for exhibitions, or illustrating for writers, there’s some immensely satisfying and surprising about working with another creative brain.

LJK: What are some advantages that you foresee in interdisciplinary presentations?

LC: It’s the creative surprises that excite me the most. I get such a thrill when a collaboration creates something that neither of us could have imagined on our own. I read voraciously, so of course love working with writers - I’ve been lucky enough to work recently on a project where the writer and I worked in tandem. While I created images around her writing, she in turn spun words around my images. It was a rare and wonderful privilege.

Writing and illustration feed each other. Together they add depth and nuance to the other.

LJK: What are some challenges for artists in your field?

LC: I hate to say it, but money is probably the big one. Exhibitions are expensive, easily costing a couple of thousand dollars every time, so it’s stressful if work doesn’t sell as well as hoped. As an illustrator, we invest just time but, as with writing, a lot of effort goes in before any hint of return. Even when most of us are in this for more than money, we should be paid fairly. The popular image of the creative industries is that because we love what we do, that should be payment enough. 

LJK: Ah yes, that attitude is pervasive. People have no idea of the implications for artists' lives. 

LC: The creative industry can be a frustrating one to be in. I could keep ranting for a long, long time, but I won’t. I love what I do, and I’m incredibly lucky to have to freedom to be able to do it. My partner and I run a photography business and that helps pay the bills.

LJK: Please tell us about a memorable turning point or seminal moment in your artistic life. It might be something you read, someone who mentored you, or a place you visited...
"Ship" by Lorena Carrington

LC: In 2008, I hadn’t made much work for several years. Having two children will do that to you.  Then, along with several other Castlemaine artists, I put together a group exhibition based around the Willow Pattern story; the English-created Chinese ‘myth’ accompanying the widely loved crockery design. Layering the willow pattern design onto the Australian landscape was the beginning of my silhouette work. It was a small leap from the blue of the willow pattern, to black silhouettes of fairy tales illustrations. 

A couple years later, I was in another show themed around ‘journeys’, and I focused on the journey and quests within fairy tales. That exhibition helped focus my developing interest in narrative and fairy tales through photography. And here I am, still reading fairy tales. 

LJK: What is the artistic / intellectual life like in Castlemaine and its region these days?

LC: Castlemaine is an incredible place for artists, writers, musicians and other creative souls to live. I heard that we have the highest rate of artists per capita in the state (maybe even the country?), and I’m sure writers aren’t far behind. We have the Castlemaine State Festival every two years and Arts Open in the years between, and so much else happening all the time. We have quite a few overlapping communities, from painters and potters who have been here since the ‘70s, to new waves of multimedia artists and designers moving in. We all bump up against each other like beans in a pot, and amazing things come of out it. 

LJK: News of a current or forthcoming project, studies, shows, or other plans for your art? 
"Beauty and the Beast" by Lorena Carrington

LC: I’ve sworn off exhibiting in 2016, and am focusing on putting my head down and creating, but I did write an article ‘Adolescence in Fairy Tales’ and supplied their cover image for the latest (April-May) issue of The Victorian Writer. It’s available here 

I’ve given myself a hermit-year, where I’m making new work, writing, and researching some new topics. I’m particularly interested in the representation and allegorical possibilities of adolescence in fairy tales and, somewhat relatedly, transformation myths. 

LJK: Why “The Bone Lantern” - the name of your blog

"The Bone Lantern" by Lorena Carrington

LC: I had already created an artwork of the same name, and the image sums up what I’m trying to achieve through my work. As with fairy tales, there is always light through the dark, but the darkness too is essential. Death (the bones) and life (the light) together illuminate the soul. I’m always very conscious of the balance and necessity of both. It also sounded vaguely like a newspaper banner. That was good enough for me! 

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While we’re sharing links I can also be found via my website here
and on Twitter @lorena_c.
Here again is Lorena Carrington's Blog

LJK: Thanks for your time. I look forward to seeing more of your work at the 2016 Australian Fairy Tale Conference next Sunday. Oh, and we love the front cover you designed for our flier!

LC: Thanks Louisa! 

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Australian Fairy Tale Society 3rd annual conference

When: Sunday 26th June 2016, all day
Where: Glen Eira Town Hall, Caulfield
Who: Adults only.
- interdisciplinary
- intercultural
- intergender
- intergenerational

Full programme on Australian Fairy Tale Society website. 
Register here

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