By Ruby Love
I spoke with artist Loie Warren at Obsidian in downtown Olympia, surrounded by the din of clanking dishes, espresso being made, and the muted conversation of students in the midst of half-heartedly studying. The walls were lined with Loie’s work—richly contrasted black and white photographs, many featuring the artist’s own hands and arms twisting through the shadows.
We discussed Warren’s work, the process of analog image making, and the nuances of representing one’s body.
The images on display at Obsidian are all analog; either created in the darkroom (as is the case with a particularly interesting set of photograms) or shot in-studio on 35mm or medium format film. While she’d shot digital before, Warren says, “[Digital] doesn’t make sense for me right now. In a world that is already so saturated with photographs, it’s really hard to justify taking another fuuucking photo.” The time and effort and tactility involved in analog photography, however, make it a very different process:
“I really love being in the darkroom, and I could spend eight hours doing it and still be energized. To me, that’s a sign that I should still be doing it, if I can spend that much time [there] and not feel bad. I just love being in the darkroom and in the red light-the lighting is really sexy, kind of. It’s like an alchemical process; all of these chemicals just coming together and the whole process of film is so beautiful to me…the negatives draw silver halide to them in different densities and that’s how darks and lights are shown, and there’s just something really poetic and beautiful to me about that. Film photography has so many more nuances with light. It’s important as a photographer not to drown in digital culture.”
Though she had previously been interested in photography, Warren was introduced to film and working in the darkroom during her freshman year at Evergreen. After taking a break to pursue writing, she returned to photography with Narrative Tableau, a program focusing exclusively on analog studio photography.
Much of Warren work features her body; in particular, parts of her body isolated from the whole by darkness. On using her own body as a subject of her work, Warren says the decision to do so was born of the desire to understand herself, and to give herself agency in representation. “I’m really interested in the body and I’m interested in how my body looks when I am able to decide how it’s viewed.
“Almost all of my work is self-portraits and I can’t get away from it. It’s because I’m confused about it and because I’m interested in it that I like seeing it, and it’s funny to be here with you now surrounded by my body parts. It’s kind of an obsession…if I’m here having coffee with my friends I can’t help but look at it. [The representation] is very purposeful and decided, and I think there’s a degree of discomfort in it, or embarrassment, maybe. I want to get rid of that, and that’s part of why I do it too. Especially my nude self-portraits; they’re kind of excruciating to look at with other people, but I do it because I think it’s important for women to not hide, and to have agency over when their body is object. It’s not that I want to be objectified, but a picture is object and I get to decide in what manner that’s shown. There’s something kind of unsettling or subtly violent, or uncanny about my pictures. There’s something important about showing myself as something more nuanced than beautiful…something maybe a little bit grotesque or upsetting.
“Using one’s own body as a subject is interesting in that the artist is not dictating the representation of someone else’s body, because it is their own.
“I want to make things that have to do with myself and my life…because that’s one of the only areas that I feel comfortable talking about. As someone who is still developing what they want to say or who they are as a maker, I don’t feel comfortable talking about controversial issues that I don’t have a very clear stance on yet. I’m still forming a lot of my thoughts, but one of the things I am totally capable of talking about is my body and my life, at this point. No one can dispute me on that…well, actually they can…”
Representation-even of oneself-is never simple. Warren says the issue of female representation, especially nude representation, can be controversial one:
“Pictures of nude women…it’s a hard thing to talk about. Even as a woman taking self-portraits, people can be critical of using your body in that way, often wondering if [that type of representation] is helpful to women in general. I’ve done a lot of reading about feminine bodies being erased throughout history, but then there’s also this weird tension with body as object and how there are so many photographs of women you see every day, taken by men. But it helps me figure things out, in terms of my body and its relationship to other objects. I think that the body is an object, but it also has these crazy stories around it too. Playing with the relationships of a living, breathing human being next to something else that doesn’t do those things draws out the ways in which they are and are not those things even more.”
I found Warren’s isolation of body parts-especially her hands and arms-to be really interesting as they interact with other objects in the frame. On this isolation, Warren says it’s about engaging the viewer and appreciating the finite nature of image making:
“In a lot of my photos, it’s not my entire body and there is just a piece of it, and I’m really interested in having the viewer piece together where I am in it, and what’s outside of the frame of the photograph. That’s part of a narrative in a photo; having this one plot point and then having to create what’s happening in and around the photo, before and after. That’s something that interests me about photography. It’s not [like you’re] going out into the world and taking candid photos and editing the world around you, it’s composing a world from the ground up.”
Loie Warren’s photographs will be on display at Obsidian (414 4th Ave) until Oct 27. They are well worth checking out, perhaps alongside a bacon chèvre waffle.