Studio visit with Moira McDonald
In conversation with the artist about her references and the way nature informs her work.
December 9, 2017
Why this concentration on the landscape as a genre? So much of your work requires immense patience since it's tied to what you noted as an exploration of "extended time as medium", this can seem quite counter-intuitive since it almost relegates visual representation as secondary.
My love of photography is ultimately what propels my practice, I work in the landscape because I know it to be in dialog with photography itself; a truth I came to recognize within the intention and conception of the photographic medium. After reading Daguerre's first letter to Niepce, most specifically his reference to Niepce's heliographs and usage of the camera as "experiments from nature," coupled with Fox Talbot's description of photographs in his book The Pencil of Nature as “impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist's pencil... that they are the sun-pictures themselves.” Constructing articulate dialogues between the photographic medium and the landscape are, for me, symbiotic investigations that are reverent celebrations of Photography itself.
With that in mind, I have come to know many of the standing rules of photography to be applicable as technological advancements to the medium which are often divergent from what photography actually is: the study and recording of light and time. The technical advancements to photography such as fixative, the latent image, increased film speed, the reproducibility of the negative, even the photograph itself all established themselves as commonplace standards of photography as a whole. Removing my technical research from established practices and allowing myself the freedom to construct my own approaches has significantly widened the potential of the photographic medium for me in several specific and expanding avenues: recognizing and activating time as its own medium, knowing the photograph to be an indexical artifact of the real and challenging the standing requisites of how a photograph is made. The resulting works I make could be seen as secondary to the idea and experience behind their individual creation, but I would argue that the pursuit and construction of a specific and controlled photograph is not a full articulation of photography as a whole and is, perhaps, counter-intuitive to the medium itself.
See more of Moira McDonald's work here
What's going on in your studio right now?
I recently moved to a small village in the redwood forest north of San Francisco which has invited significant change into my practice. Because my work is centered around the landscape, adapting to my new environment has been a big transition. This new place I am in functions much differently than the coastal tundra I previously lived and worked in so I’ve been spending a lot of time observing the landscape here and formulating ways to open up photographic dialogues. This has been my first autumn with falling leaves and redwood duff, for instance, which has been a new source of inquiry for me. I’m also gearing up to start a new approach at exploring extended time as a medium and will begin a new camera-less project photographing for a year at the coming solstice.
Talbot's The Pencil is Nature is such a perfect reference for your work! I think there is such a raw, spiritual dimension to both your work and his notion of the indexical photograph. In an age when the photograph is becoming increasingly manipulated and "controlled", there is a tendency to conflate this control with creative expression and artistic agency. What are some of the idiosyncratic experiments you'd like to realize in the next year?
The leaf drop this autumn was dramatic in comparison to where I had been living and working previously. This fall, I was creating photographs of the leaves by putting papers out beneath the trees for several days at a time to capture the accumulative image of leaf drop on the forest floor. The resulting photographs are compositionally simple unique lumen photographs of various leaf types. I’m not sure the works are ultimately successful at the moment, however, the action of making these photographs has opened up several technical and conceptual avenues for my practice. Because I live in a rain forest, the rains have now come and making this work has lost its window of opportunity; embracing and adjusting to the change in seasons has become increasingly important In my practice. I’m sure I will resume with the project when the landscape allows in the coming autumn.
With that in mind, I’m beginning my first full season of winter rains under the redwood canopy, so I have started making photographs of the rain itself using various methods of approaches to explore rain both as a medium as a way to articulate time through changes in the atmosphere.
Thinking more broadly about time, I am about to begin a long term camera-less project on the Winter Solstice cumulatively exposing a new piece of paper each day for the year. The resulting composition will be a large grid of 365 individual lumen photographs that should all hold their own unique integrity in exposure and tone. I’m curious how beginning a study like this at different times of year would effect the image as a whole so I’ll begin making another composition at the Summer Solstice. There are a lot of unknowns with this project in particular, I’m really looking forward to both realizing these specific works and activating potential new methods of image making that will surely present themselves while exploring this new process.