In her debut solo exhibition at Get This Gallery, Stephanie Dowda's Topophilia investigates how we connect to our environment through black-and-white photographs inspired by philosopher Yi-Fu Tuan's theory of topophilia - the strong connection you have toward a place. The former Dashboard Co-op resident uses national state parks as the subject for her ghostly gelatin silver prints. Dowda is currently a studio artist at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center Studio Program and a Hambidge Fellow. Her solo show shares space with Tommy Nease's solo exhibition nevermore.
Here, CL talks to Dowda about climbing mountains to get a photograph, collaborating with Tommy Nease and her upcoming road trip.
This is your first solo exhibition at Get This Gallery! How did you feel about your debut?
Topophilia is my first solo show with Get This Gallery. I feel completely ecstatic about the exhibition, the work and the support from gallery owner Lloyd Benjamin. It feels like a dream come true, truly perfect.
Did you get to collaborate with Tommy Nease or did you guys work separately?
Even though they were two separate solo exhibitions, they seem to complement each other. Pairing our works was all Lloyd's idea, and I truly think his thought to join our solo shows is genius. There are subtle qualities to our aesthetics and the ideas that motivate our photographs that add to the experience of the overall show. Further, both exhibitions showcase traditional photographic methods, my silver gelatin prints and Tommy's works printed on tintype, it's more and more rare to find photographers working in these processes.
Tell me about coming up with the concept for Topophilia and manipulating the images.
I've been photographing landscapes for some time and would often have unexplainable emotional experiences while in different places. After some time at Hambidge and then later in the same year, I was able to visit the Walter De Maria Lightning Field, and these places sank into me in such a way I could no longer deny that there is an emotional and sensual exchange between people and the natural world. I started research on this thread and found the theory of topophilia as defined by geographer Yi-Fu Tuan. After reading more about Tuan's theories, I devoted my practice to exploring the sensations from place and how humans can also leave their trace behind.
The images are the direct energy of the place. My camera is a vessel for capturing the energy onto film. I don't "manipulate" the image within the camera or in the darkroom necessarily. It's truly that the camera is a tool for capturing the light or energy of the place once I feel it on location.
Your work often employs a ghostly, idyllic setting in nature. How did you define your style?
I've always believed in the ability for film to capture something other than just what is physical, just what we can see. The process starts when I select a location to visit and experience. Often, the locations are in Georgia or the Southeast, I search State Park websites and maps to find places that seem interesting. When I plan bigger trips, like to the desert or west coast, I find places that are ancient. I don't do much research on the history of the place prior to visiting. I like to go to each destination sort of open, unassuming. Then, literally, I just explore. I carry my medium format camera, film, and a marker to write things down with. As I walk trails, come to expanses, climb mountains, or look out over water I just wait for the sensation to come. Sometimes it doesn't and I don't shoot any photographs. Sometimes the feeling seeps in from the ground up and I am nearly paralyzed by sensation. I stop then and shoot - then I write down what I feel. And keep walking. Once I return to Atlanta, I process my film in my darkroom and I compare the negatives to my notes. When I start to print I stay true to what is captured on the film. The negatives are ghostly, abstract, difficult, but it's makes the printing fun and challenging.
How do you think your past and current residencies have helped grow as a photographer and artist?
Residencies have helped me seep into a practice and understand that I am most content when I have ample time to focus on my work. The residencies I've been on (Hambidge and Cabin Time) are location specific, which is really important to my work. Having days to discover place and sensations are key to my growth as a photographer.
What's next for you?
Oh wow, well... I hope lots of things. Topophilia is on view until May 10th. We are planning an artist talk at the gallery for Saturday April 5th. I'm giving a talk at The Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center April 24th. My boyfriend (Scott Daughtridge) and I are exploring the east coast in a few weeks. I will photograph and Scott is doing a series of readings. I have an installation titled, We Are All We've Got, at the Carlos Museum's Veneralia. I'll be printing more and shooting more... there's always so much to do.
Topophilia, a solo exhibition of work by Stephanie Dowda, runs through May 10 at Get This Gallery. More details at the gallery.
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I listen to you every morning..great show..love it