Areca Roe self-describes her photo series, Natural History, as ongoing. However, the current 12 piece series is fresh and delightful, full of whim and surprise, and effective as it explores our personal and societal relationship with nature and our environment.
Take a look at her series in the image gallery as well as excerpts from recent written correspondence between Areca Roe and Tuc Hollingsworth.
MPB: Could you explain the origins and evolution of Natural History?
AR: This project emerged partly because I had to start producing images in grad school, and I was grasping for a project that I could have some more control over, particularly so I could photograph indoors in the dead of winter. It arose almost out of necessity. I also have a longstanding interest in the natural world—so much so that I actually majored in biology/ ecology in my undergrad studies and worked in that field for a while. I began thinking about how our connection to the natural world, or maybe I should say disconnection, could be explored visually. It has opened up a lot of visual possibilities, and I’ve now done a number of projects branching from this topic, including Natural History. Once I arrived at the idea of creating images from nature out of domestic items, and setting them in various environments, I immediately had a dozen ideas so I felt I had hit upon a project that could sustain me for a while. (Not all those ideas were good ones, mind you, but they were ideas none the less!)
MPB: Do you stage your own sets?
AR: Yes, I generally use some part of my house as the setting, or a friend’s house, or another familiar locale. Staging the photo is great fun for me. I love considering all the odd details and textures that are present in the location and incorporating them. In the image “The Den” I photographed in my brother’s house that he shared with two other guys. There was a strange old portrait on the living room wall of two people that none of them had any connection to. It was a detail I never could have planned, and I felt compelled to leave it up. I try to take cues from my environment like this, use what I have, rather than impose my ideas upon it too much. That keeps it more interesting for me. In some of the images, my kind friends and relatives allowed me to photograph them, and I find it refreshing to collaborate in this way. It’s less lonely, certainly! One of the more difficult images to stage in this series was “The Wallpaper.” I had to put up two layers of wallpaper on one of my studio walls, and then after a few months I took it down… which took a lot longer than putting it up, as you might imagine.
MPB: Who are the first people to see your photos after they’re made?
AR: Usually it’s my husband. He’s got a good eye and is incredibly intelligent, so I usually seek out feedback from him about my work.
MPB: There’s comedy as well as curiosity in NATURAL HISTORY. What are your direct influences, even if they’re not visual influences?
AR: Yes, I do think there’s a certain absurdity and strangeness to the images, and I like that. One of my favorite artists right now is Nina Katchadourian—she works in a wide variety of media, and many of her pieces evoke a response of laughter. Her work is odd and surprising, but it’s definitely more than funny. She has some photographs of spider webs that she “fixed” by putting red thread into damaged areas of the web. It’s absurd act of course… the spiders can fix it much more effectively themselves, and they toss the thread out. So it’s initially surprising, but also gets at ideas about our bumbling interference with natural processes.
MPB: What genre of photography would you say your work is most often/if NATURAL HISTORY falls in?
AR: I don’t think a lot about genres. When people ask me what type of photography I do, I’m kind of at a loss to pin it down, and I usually give some lame answer like “art photography.” Some of my photographs are quite constructed and staged, like Natural History, but I also do a lot of documentary style photography, of going out in the world to find my images. I think some of the Natural History images do act a bit like landscapes, or draw from that tradition, such as “The Flowers.”
MPB: How do you feel about your work being didactic — the title itself indicates that possibility, but the human figures have an allegorical feel?
AR: I don’t want my work to be too didactic, certainly. I’d rather have it pose questions, or evoke feelings, than to dictate. In thinking about a title for the series, I wanted something ambiguous, but hinting at the idea of our lost connections with the natural world. As in, we in the western world once had a strong connection with natural world in our daily lives, but we’ve largely insulated ourselves from it now. It’s history.
MPB: If it’s possible, can you describe the goal of NATURAL HISTORY?
AR: I basically wanted to explore the idea of desiring a connection to animals or nature, of ways that that desire might manifest itself. It’s certainly somewhat aesthetically driven as well– I wanted to make images that are interesting to look at.
MPB: What size do you present this work?
AR: I like these to be somewhat large since there are many details in the scenes, so they are generally 24” by 30”.
MPB: Do you make pictures everyday? Do you take photos for Facebook, iPhone library, for yourself to frame as memories?
AR: Not every day, but I do on most days. I love to take snapshots with my phone or a small camera, but I like to put these in a different mental category than images I make to call art. I try to keep that separation of the two image categories– it frees me up to take horrible or cheesy photos.
MPB: You have an opening tonight at the Nash Gallery. Congrats. What else are you working on?
AR: I am currently an Artist in Residence at the Bell Museum. I’m collaborating with them on an interesting project. We are asking for submissions of photographs from the public to create an exhibit, with the topic being nature in winter. I’ll be a kind of curator, and will be making an installation based on the images that came in. I’m very excited to work with the Bell, and to do this kind of participatory and collaborative project.
Link for information and for submissions (which begin Dec. 22nd): www.bellmuseum.umn.edu/FreezeFrame/
I also have some work (from the Habitat series) in a show at the Nash Gallery currently. (The Nash Gallery group show, titled “Regarding Place” opens this evening, Dec. 15th, and runs until Feb. 4th)
MPB: Where is NATURAL HISTORY going next?
AR: I plan to show some of the images from Natural History at Notre Dame University in the Art Department’s Gallery next March-April.
MPB: What do you look for in a photo series? (Your own, others)
AR: It’s hard for me to pinpoint… I get excited by the aesthetics as well as the ideas underlying the images, of course. Series that are innovative, that push boundaries, that are funny or odd in some way are also appealing to me. Series that make me ask questions.