PhotoNOLA Prize: 2nd Place: Susan Kae Grant: Night Journey
Susan kae Grant‘s magical and other worldly on-going series, Night Journey, garnered the PhotoNOLA Review Prize twice–well deservedly in 2014 and 2017. Her 2nd Place nod in 2017 was for work that brings us into monochromatic dream states, psychological spaces that are at once childlike and and a little bit sinister. Her use of light, shadow, and silhouette reflect a process that is well-considered and methodical. “In creating the final images my intent is to capture and portray unconscious visual memory as opposed to illustrating any one specific dream. In the studio, I work by intuitively reading phrases and spontaneously fabricating images with similar narratives, emotions and gestures as in the lab recordings. Some of the later works also represent and portray familiar objects that float in and out of the dream state while a video component brings fragments of the dreams and memory back to life.“
Her consistent, yet expanding vision is a tribute to Susan’s focused artistry that has resulted in a rich and photographic legacy.
Susan kae Grant is an inventive and influential artist, educator, and early proponent of photographic book arts. Her innovative studio practice and distinct personal vision represent one of the mediums more sustained and recognizable contributions to fabricated photography and book art. She has lectured and exhibited throughout the United States and internationally, from Spain to Japan. Her ongoing touring immersive installation of Night Journey and her curated exhibition Photographic Book Art in the United States (1991-1995) have traveled to over 30 venues between them. Public collections representing her photographs and book-works include George Eastman Museum; J. Paul Getty Museum; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Tokyo Photographic Museum; Victoria & Albert National Art Library; Center for Creative Photography; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Starting in 1981, Grant developed nationally recognized undergraduate and graduate photography and book art programs at Texas Woman’s University, from where many accomplished women artists have since graduated. Her teaching awards include being named 2014 Society for Photographic Education Honored Educator, recognizing her distinguished tenure at TWU and her 25 years of annual photographic bookmaking workshops at the International Center of Photography (NYC). Her limited edition artists’ books include Radioactive Substances, a tribute to Marie Curie for the Smithsonian Institution, and Shadowed Memory, created at the Visual Studies Workshop when she
was artist in residence.
Books and publications featuring her work are wide ranging, from photography periodicals to textbooks to group exhibition catalogs. Notable recent and forthcoming titles include: Framing Beauty: Intimate Visions; Constructed: The Contemporary History of the Constructed Image in Photography Since 1990; and Finding your Audience: An Introduction to Marketing your Photographs by Mary Virginia Swanson.
In the fall of 2017, Grant left academia to concentrate full-time on her studio practice and in 2018 was accorded the status of Cornaro Professor of Visual Art, Emerita at Texas Woman’s University. She is on the staff of the International Center of Photography (NYC) where she continues to teach “The Art of Photographic Bookmaking” (4-day workshop) each spring.
A solo exhibition of works from Grant’s Night Journey series will be on display in October 2018 at The Baldwin Photographic Gallery at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN.
Susan kae Grant’s work is represented by, Conduit Gallery, Dallas, TX and Vamp & Tramp Booksellers, LTD, Birmingham, AL.
Night Journey is an on-going body of work that uses the shadow as metaphor to examine the perceptual and psychological aspects of dreams, memory and the unconscious. The work consists of four complimentary forms; a room-size installation of murals on chiffon with sound recordings; a suite of large-scale individual black and white works on paper; a video projection; and most recently works on paper presented as triptychs. To date the Night Journey series is divided into six working chapters, each of which has subtle differences that evolved over time and mark a new group of images within the series.
Based on personal experience and scientific research, the inspiration for Night Journey can be traced back to my childhood premise that dreams take us to far away places and are perceived as physical and psychological worlds that exist outside of a bedroom. Having recorded dreams using a variety of methods, in 1993 I focused my attention on the nature of REM sleep, and received funding to conduct research at the Southwestern Medical Center Sleep Laboratory in collaboration with sleep scientist, Dr. John Herman. Using myself as subject, I was tape recorded in the laboratory on many occasions while awakened from REM sleep. These “awakenings” along with audio recordings and journal sketches provided vivid access to memory and the dream-state and continue to serve as inspiration for the work.
My curiosity in conducting research in the sleep lab was to gain access to the subconscious in order to see and experience what the dream-state looked like as opposed to examining the psychoanalytic meaning of dreams. In creating the final images my intent is to capture and portray unconscious visual memory as opposed to illustrating any one specific dream. In the studio, I work by intuitively reading phrases and spontaneously fabricating images with similar narratives, emotions and gestures as in the lab recordings. Some of the later works also represent and portray familiar objects that float in and out of the dream state while a video component brings fragments of the dreams and memory back to life.
To create the work, I photograph shadows of models and props in my Dallas studio using a 4×5 view camera with a digital Leaf back. When fabricating the environments, I strive to design sets with a sense of mystery and ambiguity to provoke a narrative with more questions than answers. When finished, I invite models into the studio and intuitively direct them through a series of gestures and poses until the narrative comes to life. At this point, the dream and inspirational phrases no longer matter. What matters is the emerging narrative.
The most recent works are constructed entirely as triptychs and envision connections made from moments of episodic memory to observations based in reality. By shifting views and focus, I challenge the viewer to contemplate a central narrative that combines images created in the studio with images shot on location in Europe. The juxtapositions elicit multiple meanings and suggest connections to one’s visual memory.
The shadow throughout the series is used to imply a sense of reality without being real. It allows fabrication of a world and a narrative that occurs only in the photograph. The scenarios and spaces portrayed are surrogates for what once was, and are now imagined. In an essay for Women & Their Work Gallery, Independent Curator, Trudy Wilner Stack, describes the work as a “harken back to childhood imaginings, fairy tales and nightmares.” To this regard, I intentionally portray a mysterious space between illusion and reality and provide entry into imaginary and whimsical creations that portray life on the lyrical and playful edge of balance and stability. Within this work, I seek to create theatrical worlds that reference the ridiculous, the tragic and the unexpected.
The Night Journey images on paper are printed by hand on an Epson 9890 as limited edition archival inkjet photographs on Hahnemüle 308 Rag in two sizes: 47”x35” and 27.5”x20”. Edition sizes are 9 and 20 respectively. Triptychs are editions of 3. I am struck by the way the combination of the paper surface and dark color palette illuminates the emotional quality of the dream-state and is reminiscent of a rich charcoal drawing. Each print has a hand-torn white border with a de-bossed signature stamp on the front and labeled and hand-signed en verso.
I am honored by the recognition shown to Night Journey through a variety of written essays and awards including: PhotoNola Review Prize (2017 & 2014); Honorable Mention Award, Griffin Museum Juried Member’s Exhibition (2018); Julia Margaret Cameron Award For Women Photographers, Fine Art Category (2017); 2017 Clarence John Laughlin Award (Finalist); Critical Mass Top 50, Photolucida (2014); Black & White Spider Award (2012); Discoveries of the Meeting Place, Houston Fotofest (2002). – Susan kae Grant
Independent Curator, Trudy Wilner Stack states, “After twenty years of creating a cycle of dream imagery conjured from her unconscious and from deep research into the science and magic of human sleep, Susan kae Grant’s long term project, Night Journey delivers a haunting shadow world of ethereal photographs. The result of a now signature studio practice, Grant first devises inky silhouettes and symbolic forms, and then invests them with emotional and psychic narrative power in seventy resonant tableaux. She frequently alters her exhibition spaces with site-specific lighting and cast shadows to bring a dimensional experience to the viewer. The Night Journey that unfolds retraces her memory and animates her fantasy in a synthesis akin to dreaming. In images that recall Victorian spiritualism, the lurking Nosferatu of F.W. Murnau, and the allegory of Plato’s Cave, the project unlocks clues to the mystery of what we see when we sleep and exposes the surreal imprint of experience. These photographs also help us traverse the strangeness and chaos of breakneck contemporary life, like the dreams that inspired them.“
Roy Flukinger, Curator Emeritus of the UT Harry Ransom Center in Austin, sums up Night Journey beautifully in his statement for PhotoNOLA, “If you travel along with Susan Kae Grant on her “Night Journey” you may well emerge with far more questions than answers. Her images match the grand theatre of her vision and, like the stage scrim which they sometimes remind me of, once struck by light they can both reveal and obscure, delight and mystify, and present you with a familiar song that you have never heard before.”
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