I feel like I’ve known the Maine States Project Editor, Ashley Elizabeth Craig, forever, but I also feel that Ashley knows just about everyone in the photo world. Born in Greenville, SC, she has strong roots in the South and is part of a vital photo community centered around the Savannah College of Art and Design. But for the past several years she has been living in Maine and is truly the heartbeat of the Maine Media Workshops. She is also actively involved in the New England photography communities through SPE and various organizations, including serving as a Corporator for The Griffin Museum of Photography in Boston. Ashley lives in a state that it harbors a rich and varied photography community, with wonderful photographers under every rock and crevice, significant museums and galleries, and one of the best photo book stores in New England. Ashley’s inclusive, generous, and curious nature makes her the perfect person to share photographers from her state. Plus she’s a terrific photographer in her own right, as evidenced today.
Ashley Elizabeth Craig is a southern artist and educator living in Camden, Maine. Her work explores the concept of ‘home’ as a sense of place in both the physical and the emotional sense. She received a BMA in Media Arts from the University of South Carolina and an MFA in Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia. She has taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design, the University of South Carolina, Miami International University of Art and Design (MIUAD), Barry University and has now settled in at the Maine Media Workshops + College.
In late 2012 Ashley, along with two colleagues started a not for profit organization, named Ticka-Arts. Ticka-Arts uncovers hidden talent within the photography community and showcases their work on their website as well as physical exhibitions at rotating locations in the US and the Caribbean.
Ashley is active in the fine art community exhibiting nationally and internationally. She is an active member of the Society of Photographic Educators and is a Corporator at the Griffin Museum of Photography. Ashley also works as an independent curator for both graduate and undergraduate exhibitions with various Universities, Colleges and photographic organizations.
Fondly–A Love Letter to the South
Growing up in the south creates a different type of woman. We are taught to be southern gentile ladies, the backbone of our families, strong and independent women, and teachers as well as students of life. We take the time to sit on the porch, play on swings, and embrace our inner child and that no matter what you’re never too old for a haircut from mom. And most important when life gives you lemons, add some sugar and a little bit of daddy’s ‘shine and white knuckle it.
This body of work is a work in progress – my love letter to the South. Leaving the south and moving to Maine presented me with new obstacles as well as opportunities. While surviving my first winter, learning to drive in snow, teaching new friends how to make grandma’s fried chicken and blasting Sweet Home Alabama every time it comes on the radio’ I have created something new. The images here, I see, as parallels, memories from the south meeting ones from the north and while I miss the south immensely I have found my own piece of the south here in Maine.
Paint us a picture of what it is like being a Maine-based photographer.
We are very tied to the land and the environment around us here. We do produce beautiful landscape/post card images, but behind that is a conversation about environmental issues, conservation, excess, and unemployment. Yes, the winters are hard, but you come to accept it and that informs your art. We work hard and we play hard. When it’s -5 degrees outside and the wind is blowing so much snow around that it has completely barricaded your front door, you just have to crawl out the window, grab a shovel and go make some photographs. The most amazing thing about being a photographer in Maine is the support we have here from other artists.
Has being part of the Maine Media Workshops created a built in community, or are you now familiar with photographers statewide?
Being a part of MMW does open a few doors, but it is a very small community regionally and coming from a larger city, I yearned for more. I reach out to photographers that are all over Maine and just strike up conversations – my thinking is, well it can’t hurt! I pop down to Portland, over to Bangor, and up to Mount Desert Island often and by doing that I am able to meet more artists, gallery owners and am exposed to more work. I do believe that by exposing myself to more work I become a better informed viewer and a better artist.
Where did you grow up and how did you come to choose to live in Maine?
I grew up in South Carolina and stayed there through undergrad. Then I caught the travel bug, but eventually found myself back in the south to attend graduate school at SCAD. I love the south – the traditions, the friendly faces, and even the gossip that somehow manages to get back to your parents before you make it home. The south definitely has its quirks that are very specific to it. A fun example is, “If it doesn’t move, monogram it!” I love the unabashed motivation just do whatever makes me happy that I find there.
After graduate school I was fortunate enough to begin my teaching career working adjunct at both USC and SCAD. It kept me in the south, close to family and in my comfort zone. Then an opportunity presented itself: Rebecca Nolan – a fantastic mentor, artist and individual – informed me of a position in Miami, FL. This was out of my comfort zone, but she encouraged me and I jumped. Though after a few years of working there, I got tired of the hustle of the city and began looking for other opportunities – just keeping one eye open in case that perfect opportunity jumped out at me. Not long after, low and behold it did! At the SPE national conference in Baltimore, I ran into Elizabeth Greenberg who I knew was looking to fill the Photography Program Director position that was open. Right there on the escalator I blurted out (maybe yelled is the better description), “That’s my job. Let’s talk because I would love that job.” We spoke and after a few interviews I was fortunate enough to land the position and moved to Maine. It is the perfect position for me. I am able to teach, create and produce courses, meet talented photographers, and I have the opportunity to foster a new generation of photographers by hiring for our many positions.
How did you go about selecting the photographers for this week?
This was very difficult for me, as I am sure it is for most. I wanted to show the breadth of work being created in Maine and also wanted to reach outside of my comfort zone. I am fortunate to meet so many talented photographers within my job but I wanted to push myself further, to find those that I may have not met in my day to day.
I follow so many artists and photographers on Instagram and blogs so I always have a “wish list” that I want to reach out to. This gave me the opportunity to do that. I am such a fan girl for so many photographers!
I felt it was important that I had met all of the photographers, in person so that I had a sense of who they are. Some I do not know as well as others but this project has given me the opportunity to reconnect with them. It was also important that I show artists at varying levels of their career, from a seasoned vetran to more of an emerging photographer. Finally It is important to me that people see Maine as more than ‘Vacationland’. Yes we have amazing post card picturesque image makers but we also have photographers using their medium to ask questions and work to reshape how we see the world.
I think of you as a Southern photographer, but you’ve been living in New England for a number of years–has geography changed the kind of work you make?
I have been in Maine for three years now. Initially the distance made it difficult for me to create new work. Throughout most of 2014 – 2016 I was traveling home to make work as often as I could, but was never really happy with it. My time was rushed and managing logistics made it difficult to focus. Because of that I began looking at other photographic genres that interested me. What living in Maine has done is really give me an outlet to explore my hidden love of landscapes. I hop in the car almost every week and explore Maine.
Your new series, Fondly, speaks to being a Southern woman. What distinct characteristics are Southern and have you found any of those in Maine?
The most distinctive characteristic is the light. The light in the south wraps around you like a blanket fresh from the dryer. The grace and gentile nature of people in the south are unlike any that I have met.
I have found strong similarities in both locations. Mainers, similar to Southerners, are strong stoic people who are committed to ‘making it work’. If your husband comes home with a trailer to put in the yard, you do your best to dress it up. Both take the time to soak in the sun on a warm day, to dip your toes in the lake and to enjoy those quiet moments of life. Mainers and Southerners alike are hard working salt of the earth people and within these similarities I find comfort.
What did you discover in making this work?
With this work, I discovered how much I miss the south and miss my family. (Yeah, I said it out loud, Dad!). I saw moving “home” as some type of failure in the past – I have no idea where this notion comes from, but I do recognize a stigma surrounding it. This work showed me that by physically distancing myself from my family, what I was left with was the crafted moments. I miss all of the genuine moments in between that I’m no longer there to capture.
Anything new on the horizon?
Yes! I was fortunate enough to take a class this spring and am working on images that will be paired with writing. I am very excited and am using Instagram to introduce the work. It is still in its infancy, but I have altered my process – freeing myself from previous restrictions and am having a blast.
And finally, describe your perfect day?
Ohhh, that is easy! Iced coffee from Bill, owner of a small local coffee shop that is run out of his home in Rockport – he makes espresso ice cubes! And then a day spent in the bookstore with Tim Whalen looking at work, talking about photographers, past and future projects, and where we go next. Any day spent at Tim’s bookstore is fantastic. You never know who will be there and he is a wealth of information.
Happy hour at 40 Paper getting caught up with friends followed by dinner at home. I am fortunate enough to live with some terrific cooks and family dinners are always an adventure. And to wrap it all up, some karaoke, Tina Turner is my go to.
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Ashley Elizabeth Craig: The States Project: MaineMay 22nd, 2017