Marisa Redburn - The desire to create a presence, a mood, a scene, a vision, a hallucination, a forgery

Marisa Redburn is a fine art photographer and multimedia artist who grew up in Ventura County, an hour outside Los Angeles. After living in Los Angeles for 12 years, she moved back to Ventura County and has lived in a small agricultural town, Santa Paula for the last two years. She has a distinct focus on film, darkroom and alternative processes. Her works are easily recognisable - cinematic-noir; dark and enigmatic, ambiguous, visceral, and evocative. Creating surreal scenes, her work manifests "a presence, a mood, a scene, a vision, a hallucination, a forgery." Her images are imperfectly perfect, impermanently permanent and incompletely complete.

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To begin with, would you please tell us a little about yourself? How did you get into photography and when did you first started using film in your photographic journey? What led you to start treading on this path?

I am a fine art photographer/multimedia artist. My focus has been large format fine art photography. I am greatly influenced by music, poetry, painting, philosophy, theatre and above all, cinema; from silent films to film noir, from erotica to horror, from the ethereal to the visceral.

My Dad got me into photography. He was always shooting pictures and had a natural eye for light and composition.  

I had Polaroid cameras when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until high school that I got more serious about photography. I started taking classes, in the mid 90’s, in high school.  My Dad gave me his 35mm Canon AE-1. I loved the feel of that camera in my hands,  I loved looking through the lenses. How changing a lens changed the perspective, how dramatic the shadows could be, how much detail I could reveal or not, and most of all, how I could disappear into it all.

For me it was always about film. I dove right into the darkroom, head first. I pretty much fell in love with 35mm before any other format.  I moved on to medium and large format  in community college. As soon as I started shooting large format, I was obsessed. The detail, the shift and tilt, it was like magic.  I love the control of large format and equally love the practice it takes to be able to let go of that control and trust your instincts.  It’s a fine line and it’s all so intimate.  

As a photographer, you become intimate with your film and your camera. Even the weight of the camera and the limitations, it’s like it was meant to be. I enjoy working with film for this reason.  

I like the possibility that I might fail. I like the idea that failure is only further progress. And I like the idea that I could be a part of something so tangible, knowing I will be gone at some point. The vulnerability and the truth. It’s all about these contradictions. They just draw me further in.  

What has sent me treading on this path is the desire to create a presence, a mood, a scene, a vision, a hallucination, a forgery.  For me photography is more than just the desire to illustrate that I was here or I saw this.  It’s personal and introspective. I am here and I will expire. Photography allowed me to see through my own eyes, not through the distortion of the world around me. It is that underneath layer that I am looking for, whether it be an object or a person. It is the conscious, it is the unconscious. It  is about what is and what is not.  

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What does letting go mean to you in the medium of large format photography? At what point do you know you have to let go to realise that it is instinct that must guide you through?

Within this context, letting go is when you are not thinking about the technical aspects of the medium. It sounds like a contradiction but you must thoroughly know your tools to be able to be empty of anything technical in the moment. You must even be willing to let go of the need for technical perfection when it is subservient to the moment. I like to set the stage and to allow myself to able to not think about anything but the interaction between myself and my subject. I like to get lost and be completely open once the stage is set.  

As far as the point in which you know that you have to let go to realize that it is instinct that must guide you...I would say, I know at the beginning of an idea, right when it is germinating. It begins with preparation, incubation, inspiration, production, planning and conception/execution...I try to always trust my instincts, as each choice moulds the next and creates a reaction. Your instincts at the root level are primal and at the core of your being.  It is important to be in tune with your mind in this way.  

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You mentioned that you’re “greatly influenced by cinema; from silent films to film noir, from erotica to horror, from the ethereal to the visceral”. What is it about these types of cinematic genres that speaks to you?  

What speaks to me is work that affects me on a psychological/emotional level. I want to be affected by art. I would say this what I am always looking for whether it be a painting, photograph, film, etc. Although I would not limit myself to the few genres mentioned, I am also influenced by German Expressionism, New German Cinema, Avant-Garde, Experimental, French New Wave, etc...as well as specific cinematographers and directors. I love the art of cinema and I am drawn to highly stylized cinematic vision, symbolic texture, composition, contrast, ambiguity, mystery, tension, passion, pain, delusions, death, obsessions, past, present...

I like dark themes, extremes, and contradictions.  

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I am here and I will expire...Dark themes, extremes, contradictions”. Your work respects our finitude, has push/pull and identifies existentialist themes. I’ve noticed one of your self portrait images is titled “the gaze”. Is this title a reference to something specific in regard to your self portrait or is it a comment on something else?

My nude self portrait titled, “The Gaze”, is a nostalgic reference to the art term used in historical art. For this image I was inspired by nudes from the Renaissance period. I wanted to make a self portrait and project myself into that time, a sort of nostalgic fantasy and yet a self study at the same time. A study of this kind involves the self and then is extended outward by involving the viewer.  When I think about the gaze, it never has one role; and it is not singular. The viewer must look, stare with intent, possibly look longer and deeply. Looking involves relationships of power, energy and meanings. And to gaze is not to just look or spectate, it can reflect emotion with absolute silence. It can reflect mastery and control or the loss of control. It is an exchange and the viewer is just as important as the subject/creator. The very act of seeing opens up the question of sexuality, sensuality, morality; it is an engagement with the object of vision. Creating in this way is a sort of act and during this act there is an implied gaze by the viewer. Being the photographer and subject allows me to control the final image and the viewer’s gaze.  

When I made this image I knew my nude body would be looked at. First by myself as the producer, second by myself as subject and lastly by the viewer. I like the alienation that occurs, a split between removing/seeing myself and being seen. The contrast of who I am in reality and who I want to be and what I project to my audience, it leaves me vulnerable and powerful at the same time.

The gap between myself and my own image of myself.  In my world /image I can be anything I want to be and the viewer allows this. With this particular image I have posed in a classic pose, my body is displayed nude for the viewer’s gaze. I want the viewer to feel voyeuristic. I want the set, composition and classic form/subject to pose questions about identification, subjectivity, spectatorship, and the female body.  

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Thomas S. Buechner once expressed that “I'm interested in human vulnerability. We are alone, and my portraits reflect this quality. I don't want anything to get in the way of this feeling.” How do you feel about these comments?

I connect with that statement.

Vulnerability is an inescapable aspect of our human existence.  It is a reality that I just accept and embrace. We confront our own subjective truth. We are alone, transient, fragile and we die. This is part of who we are as human beings.

In art and life vulnerability is such a powerful concept because all people have experienced it, recognize it, and most people go to great lengths to keep their vulnerability hidden. We all have to wear so many masks in our day to day lives; society doesn’t allow for vulnerability or authenticity to be seen. And really all you have to do is scratch the surface and it is there. It’s in the eyes, it’s in a scar or a gesture. You know it because it is what you feel when you allow yourself to be seen, with no guard or pretence. It takes you out of yourself and by experiencing another person’s vulnerabilities it creates an emotional response in you, like a mirror. It is an unspoken empathy, a connection. It’s this connection that is so important in art and vulnerability allows that to happen; each is interdependent upon the other.  It makes us human and it is universal.  

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In my subjective experience of your work, I feel a deep sense of ‘unspoken empathy or connection’ in your imagery - how often do you feel an unspoken empathy or connection with your subjects and objects and is this something that occurs prior to or during the act of photographic making?

I always feel an unspoken empathy and connection with my subjects. I feel this regardless of it being a person, place, or object, etc. I would say it occurs both prior to and during the act of making a photograph.

All of my fine art work is personal work and in being so, as a rule, I don’t shoot models. I’m not looking for a pose/body/face that is simply recognized as ideal beauty. Because of this I choose to photograph friends, family members, artist’s and general eccentrics that I am close to. During the act of making a photograph there is an exchange of trust that occurs on both ends. I don’t want to merely create beauty, but to possibly unveil something deeper. Something beyond the subject itself.  Something that brings some inner reflection for both myself and the subject.  

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If you had open access to just one camera with one type of film, working with a specific subject or object, which camera and type of film would you select? And who or/and what would you like to create with?

I’ve never put much, if any, thought to a “Ultimate-Dream-Camera”. I’ve never thought in those terms. My cameras all have either been handed down, found at yard sales or happened upon in random fashion. The Eastman Kodak Graflex 4x5 Super D is a beautiful camera and I was able to put one to use many years ago. The Graflex Series D was used by Dorothea Lang during the depression era, the Super D was its predecessor. The Super D was equipped with a shutter mechanism that made it possible to use the new semi automatic pre-set stop diaphragm. The semi automatic diaphragm made this camera special and enabled the photographer to focus the subject with an open diaphragm. It also had synchronisation for open flash and a large focusing hood as well. The revolving back enabled horizontal as well as vertical simply by turning the revolving back. One reason to choose this camera is the fact that it allowed large format photography to be hand held while focusing on the subject and you can get this beautiful low perspective. Also you do not need a tripod, just enough will to match the weight of the camera.  With regard to which film I would select, I’ll interpret “open access” as  an unlimited supply,  I choose Polaroid Type 55.

I would wish to create with one person, it would be my grandmother, Mary Diaz.

Lastly, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

I am currently in the process of producing a book of all my aged and uncoated Type 55 positives.

I am also working on a new body of work, and am anticipating to be working with the New55 film in a matter of days.  Aside from my photographic art, I have been working on a music project and I am also making short films as well as music videos.  

For more on Marisa Redburn and her work, please visit her website.