Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Uniquely Nostalgic - An Interview with Hilary Hitchcock

Hi again, friend. Long time, no blog, blah blah blah. Two words: wedding invitations. Two more words: custom orders! 'Nuff said. Anywho.....
In one of my recent trips across the Etsy-verse, I stumbled upon someone I'd also seen over on Trunkt (soooooooo much fun to browse, by the way - a whole new world of "wishlists" and "showcases," as if treasuries and favorites weren't enough ways to love on people). My intro to Hilary Hitchcock (aka "curioush") was this image:
Although you can't see any faces, this photograph perfectly recalls images for me of my grandmother. As you may or may not know, I grew up in rural Indiana. Although I hightailed it out of there immediately upon graduating college in search of a more cosmopolitan existence, I have always had a soft spot for all things Midwestern. In fact, my penchant for the vintage likely has its roots in the graceful way "old" things are often left to age alongside the new in small towns like the ones I remember from childhood. Hilary's work, for me, flawlessly captures that unique Midwestern essence.
Because when I truly love something, I can't seem to let it go, I contacted Hilary to see if I could ask her a few questions, and she kindly obliged. Here's what she had to say.

M & G: What three words best describe your work?

HH: Gorgeous, fabulous, amazing. Can I have four? Earth-shattering. No, really, this is a hard one. People tell me that many of my photos have a nostalgic quality. I’d also maybe throw in homey and familiar.

M & G: What inspires you?

HH: I’m a pretty big design fan. The 20th century saw all kinds of interesting architecture and design, and I can find things from most decades that make my heart beat a little faster. I’m also just awestruck by how much imagination and creativity so many people have. Seeing others’ art makes me want to create, and learn about their creative processes.

M & G: What do you think is unique about the way you see and capture the world around you?

HH: I have a hard time feeling like what I’m doing is unique! In essence I’m just documenting my observations of the uniqueness of other people – the houses they built, the autos they’ve parked on the street. What I hear is that a lot of my photos depict subjects that people can relate to. Something that evokes an emotion or a memory. Like there is a moment of recognition – even if what is represented is not within people’s personal experiences (a lot of what I like to take photos of pre-dates me, for sure!) Somebody overseas once wrote me a note that my photos are like a “letter from America” and that was just one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard about my work.

M & G: What role does photography play in your life? What role would you like it to play?

HH: I worked really hard at a job I had for some years, and when that job ended and I got a new one, I realized that I’d been so wrapped up in the previous job that it seemed like it had been years since I’d had any substantial amount of free time. I didn’t know what to do with evenings and weekends that weren’t already spoken for! So I got an itch to do something, to learn something. I’d played around with a digital camera a bit at my old job, so I decided to get one of my own and start irritating everyone around me by constantly taking their photos.

One time a new friend asked me what my hobbies were and I was a little bit embarrassed when I realized I didn’t really have any. So I decided to get one and photography was the natural choice. It’s really helped me in a number of ways. Keeping me focused (so to speak! I really didn’t mean to make such an awful pun!), setting new goals. It’s pretty easy for me to get lost in my own little world, puttering around, looking up and realizing that weeks have passed by and I haven’t grown, changed. I don’t want to stagnate, be exactly the same 30 years from now. So photography kind of keeps me fresh, keeps me moving. I feel the absence when I haven’t picked up the camera in a few weeks.

The role I’d like it to play – I always want it to remain fun. If it ever starts to feel like a chore, like something I’ve got to do, then I’m not sure I’d want to keep doing it. That’s about all I’ve got planned so far. Because planning feels like a chore!

M & G: I grew up in rural Indiana and am struck by how uniquely Midwestern your imagery often is. What is it about the Midwest that makes it special to you?

HH: I feel like I’d have to stereotype a bit about the Midwest to answer that question, but now that I think about it perhaps my images are frequently pretty stereotypical. What I hope comes through is that my work is an appreciation – homage, not an attempt to limit the Midwest to quaint towns and old trucks. I do try to include urban imagery when I document the Midwest as I see it – partly to counter the stereotype of the Midwest as being one big corn field (there’s wheat and soybeans too!), and partly because that’s what surrounds me – I live in St. Louis and really love what my city has to offer.

That said, on to the stereotyping! I have a real fondness for what I think my artist’s statement calls “the design sensibility of days gone by”. And it seems to me that regionally there is a lot of character preserved in buildings, signs. Classic things that aren’t broken, so nobody is “fixing” them. My mom grew up in a rural area in Kansas; both of my parents were little kids during World War II. And they both seem to have an ethic of conservation – get every last drop out of the ball of tea (my dad saves 14 cents a year doing that!), reuse everything until there is nothing left.

I doubt that that attitude and behavior is unique to the Midwest, but my observation is that this sense of continuity, resourcefulness, seems to be widespread. That is, fads take a while to catch on – trends might be a little slow to be adopted. So perhaps things get replaced a little slower here, but that is not at all a bad thing. Because we get to keep what works, what’s beautiful, what’s an intrinsic part of our culture, past what might be its expiration date in another part of the country, where real estate prices tend to dictate that nothing of our ordinary, everyday heritage (batwing gas stations!) gets to stick around for too long.

I once heard somebody describe St. Louis – my home – as economically northern and socially southern. That really rang true to me – and I’d add to that we’re called the Gateway to the West and yet we’re in the eastern half of the United States. So it’s like we’re the best of all worlds!

M & G: How do you see your work evolving in the next five years?

HH: Since I am sort of flying by the seat of my pants still – I don’t have any formal training in photography and am learning by doing, for sure, I’d like to get some education in photography. Begin at the beginning, shoot film and learn to develop it. I’d like to have a darkroom in my house sometime in the next few years. I take some photos with so-called “toy” cameras (Holga, Diana) now, and I’d like to do more of that.

I’m very interested in alternative processes, especially Polaroid transfers. Now that Polaroid film is going the way of the dodo, I probably won’t have more than a few years to keep working with it, so I’d like to make the most of that time.

I’m always finding myself ooh-ing and ah-ing at mixed media artwork at shows and exhibits I attend, so I might see about ways to branch out into that a bit. I’ve been accumulating bits and pieces of junk (I mean priceless treasures!) that I would like to find a way to use with some of my photographs.

Ms. Hilary's having a sale, so I couldn't resist picking up a couple of pieces for my very own. I figure they'll help to make me feel at home in my own house. It's a really good sale, actually, so I'd suggest you do the same.


High Desert Diva said...

Great interview

Judi FitzPatrick said...

Very nice interview, go Hilary.