Marie Smith - Women in Photography
For International Women's Day I'm happy to introduce the fascinating photographic artist and writer Marie Smith.
Marie Smith has a degree in Fine Art and a Masters in History of Art and Photography.
She takes an in-depth look at memory, black female identity and performative Art.
A fan of Adrian Piper, Teju Cole and Zoe Leonard - her work is similarly playful, inquisitive, intelligent and probing.
Marie questions her persona and how much it has been shaped by the urban places in London she has inhabited.
She was a finalist for the Metro Imaging X Satori Mentorship, has had numerous exhibitions and is a Photofusion member.
How did you come to the medium of photography and has it always gone hand in hand with writing for you?
I studied Fine Art for my undergraduate degree and at the time incorporated photography into my practice but I ended up dropping this after I graduated as I wasn’t sure what my focus was. However, I always found myself coming back to photography as I felt that the solitary and intimate process suited me and my thought process.
I made a conscious decision to work in film as I enjoyed the slow method and it made me more considerate to the concepts that I wanted to communicate. The use of text and writing came after I started my MA in History of Art with Photography. I found myself writing essays about photography and taking photographs and I wanted to use my writing as another form of visual language to compliment and to underpin my photography process.
I wanted to create more context to some of my series as my work can be quite abstract. Therefore, I started using handwritten text: this added an element of personification to the series and the notes became objects in their own right. I have recently made the decision to start writing an essay, the first being A Very Easy Death which accompanies the series Blown out like a candle. I enjoyed the process of writing and feel that this element will become more prevalent in my practice, with the essays becoming part of my visual language.
Your work deals with the death of both of your parents in a multi-layered way: through personal writing, delving into Simone de Beauvoir 'A Very Easy Death', symbolism, memory work, etc. What is about photography that you feel adds to this approach?
American academic Deborah Willis has written extensively regarding the importance of the photographs in relation to the African-American identity; and how photography became a tool to autonomise black identity, negating the black identity away from representations which show black people within the context of slavery and eugenics to the family album, thus creating an archive and history for black people which reflects their experience.
The rise of photography and the photographic studio came into fruition around the same time that African American communities were starting to facilitate their own social, cultural and economic independence. I’m thinking specifically about the 1900 Paris Exposition which was curated by African-American scholar W.E.B Du Bois.
This approach was important to reflect upon when making this series as I thought about my own archive, the objects within my Mother’s archive and photographs that had been left to me to reflect upon. Photography has given me a space to curate my concerns in a way that other visual mediums can’t, I’m able to incorporate handwritten text to enhance my ideas. Photography can be consumed in the gallery, within a book or via social media so it is more democratic in that sense and the accessibility is very important.
Your work seems to draw on Conceptual Art and certain playful attributes in that. I'm thinking of artists such as Adrian Piper who used herself to explore ideas of gender/race, etc. How much are you a magpie and how has that informed the way you make art?
I agree that I am drawn to conceptual art and Adrian Piper has been a huge influence on me. While I was doing my A levels I was introduced to her work which has simmered away with me since. Piper’s engages with a performance and creating personas within her practice to investigate how race and identity are. This approach is similar to my process as I do have an element of performance within my work.
As I utilise my identity as a case study, I find performing is a way to dissociate myself from the personal nature of myself. This disassociation is important as I’m able to address wider concerns that are attributed to my identity. I would say that I’m not a magpie but I am drawn to female artists that echo a similar experience as myself. Other artists such as Carrie Mae Weems have a similar tone to their photographic practice.
You seem to be a proponent of psycho-geography - ie: the theory that different places/urban environment make us behave/feel/think in different ways. How do you address this in your artistic practice?
Within my series Observations of Film, I’m seeking to be present in the environment that I inhabit and photography becomes a tool to reframe the architectural structures of my home city London and how this affects your identity.
Buildings are structures that see different people come and go. With each new inhabitant comes a new narrative and also the one that came before it.
A home can demonstrate people’s social status and efforts by government to effect change. I grew up in Loughborough Junction estate which consists of rows of post-war, Brutalist flats. These flats were initially seen as social utopias which then became signatures of poverty. If you grow up within this context it can affect your sense of self and how to negotiate your role in society. Although I don’t inhabit this space anymore and I’m not trying to be nostalgic, the aim of this series is to demonstrate a conscious awareness of my environment.
Can you tell me a bit more about how your work addresses the contemporary black female experience?
With my practice I present my performative identity as a way of reflecting on the contemporary black female experience which is complex and intersectional. As a second generation Afro-Caribbean woman I feel that my identity is in flux and I reflect upon the past while trying to rectify what this means in a contemporary context. You are always reminded of your place within British society (thinking of Windrush scandal) and how tenuous your connections are to Britain. I feel that my practice reflects that the black female can’t and shouldn’t be quantified or represented in one specific way.
Who are the writers that influence your practice?
Teju Cole has a duality to his work as he is a writer as well as a photographer and his book Blind Spot is my go to when I need inspiration. I really enjoy reading anything written by Liz Wells as she is a very considerate writer. Michele Wallace has written extensively about the black experience from a feminist perspective since 1970’s. Deborah Willis has carved a canon of research of the black experience within photography. I can’t omit Stuart Hall from this conversation as his writing was critical in giving Black British people a voice and his writing gave me confidence. I underlined his work a lot for my research during my MA in particular. There are more such as Zoe Leonard (American writer and photographer), Susan Sontag and Griselda Pollock.