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Tucker Hollingsworth discusses with emerging Minneapolis-based photographer Stephanie L. Rogers about the themes and concepts she engages with in her work. Stephanie graduated from Saint Olaf College as a studio-art major in 2007, and her interests are heavily informed by the Memento Mori tradition (Latin for “remember your mortality”).

TH: Dead bugs, damaged photo-albums. How did you land in the photo-making world, behind a camera?

SLR: I have impulses to document memories. However, for a long time I considered myself a photographic printmaker, so now I’m trying–with difficulty sometimes–to force myself to go out and shoot new images.

TH: Do you know why photography captures your attention?

SLR: I’m interested in how photographs function, and the way photographs function with memories. Because photos are part of our everyday lives as much as they are an art form, I ask questions about how the art form relates to the photos that are our everyday experience.

TH: In other words, your projects relate to the way photographs function in our society.

SLR: Yes –they have a time-based nature, collective effects–and my concerns about mortality and memory are loosely affected by Susan Sontag’s “a photograph is a slice of time that will never happen again,” and Roland Barthes, “every photo is about death.”  Even though both of these quotes are revered and often cited, I think both of them are true.

TH: Would you describe your interest in death as morbid? or a preoccupation?

SLR: No. I think death and mortality are huge themes in my work. But I’m concerned more about how photographs become instrumental to how we remember things. I at least am constantly reminded by . . .

TH: Images’ influences?

SLR: Yes.

(Pause.)

TH: What influenced you to make the New Orleans series?

SLR: Seven-months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I volunteered with a group of friends from school to help rebuild in what ways we could. I naively thought we would be rebuilding–but we weren’t–we were still cleaning up. It was while cleaning out mold-affected houses, I came across families’ photo albums.

TH: Were your thoughts involved that somehow you were violating some kind of space and privacy?

SLR: Yes. Opened-up memory books is a voyeurism.

TH: How did you go from processing or invading someone’s personal space to making these pictures??

SLR: A friend encouraged me to take the photos and worry about it later. “You’re never going to have the chance again.” And I told myself, “I have a camera, it’s loaded with film.” I’ve thought about it a lot since then. Part of what bothered me was that it felt selfish to take five minutes to shoot the film when there was so much clean up work to do. The homeowners were also in a very emotionally raw state, so I didn’t feel that I could ask their permission then. Because I still feel guilty about not asking permission, I would love to hear from the families.

TH: Did you take photos of individual pictures? Were they all anthologies?

SLR: A group of photos. I didn’t have time to think about it–it was an impulse. I’ve now come to realize the work is an intimate, personal look at what people lost. I also think the albums are contextually important.

TH: I like the photos for the fact that the photos in your photos have deteriorated. When looking at them, I like that the dye is swimming on the paper with mold that’s floating on top of that. It reminds me of Justin Newhall’s found photos that were discarded, a similar but different thing. (To compare discoveries, the photos Justin found appear to be images of ex-lovers, intimate images of women that were physically discarded. Click here to see the images.)

Are you interested in photos that are already made?

SLR: Yes, but it comes back to what I experience. The way we remember is influenced by the photo. I’ve found even when someone close to you dies, I have a hard time remembering what they looked like. And if someone from past centuries didn’t have a painting made of them, their faces were lost.

TH: How do you feel about photographs being described as “archival footnotes to memory?”

SLR: I think photographs are more important than that because photos don’t just remind us–family stories are told through them.

Personally, I use my work as a way to process what’s going on in my life–my family is a huge theme. One technique is to take old images and reprint them in new methods.

But I’m more fascinated by the things on the threshold between two things. As an artist, dying is more important to me than birth. The coming into being is also interesting but not as much as death because birth is more pleasant to think about, and therefore we’ve seen more images of sprouts and buds.

TH: Are you working on anything now? 

SLR: Yes, but I’m not ready to share. It’s new work, and it touches on themes of archiving and memory.

Partly because artistically I have a short attention span: four months go by, I’m ready for a new project.

TH: Whose work do you respond to?

SLR: Laura Letinsky.

I’m also intrigued and shocked by Angela Strassheim. Some of her series I feel have exploitative qualities and raise ethical questions. But essentially, I enjoy issues that are dark and issues that go to the depths of human nature– horrifying, if they are sometimes; but it’s important that her work is out there and that someone is bringing up these ideas for others to think about.

TH: Lastly, how do you take photos of bugs?

SLR: The bug series were taken in my neighborhood in Minneapolis or in Cass County Minnesota where I spend a lot of time. The bugs are what I encounter. They get at the idea of what I find incredibly moving about Momento Mori.

To see more of Stephanie’s work, please visit her website: www.stephanielrogers.com

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